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The Infant Prodigy
by [?]

That was Chopin he was playing, thought the piano teacher, a lady with a pointed nose; she was of an age when the understanding sharpens as the hopes decay.”But not very original—I will say that afterwards, it sounds well. And his hand positionis entirely amateur. One must be able to lay a coin on the back of the hand—I would use a ruler on him.”

Then there was a young girl, at thatself-conscious and chlorotic time of life when the most ineffable ideas come into the mind. She was thinking to herself: “What is it he is playing? It is expressive of passion, yet he is a child. If he kissed me it would be as though my little brother kissed me—no kiss at all. Is there such a thing as passion all by itself, without any earthly object, a sort of child’s-play passion? What nonsense! If I were to say such things aloud they would just be at me with some more cod-liver oil. Such is life.”

An officer was leaning against a column. He looked on at Bibi’s success and thought: “Yes, you are something and I am something, each in his own way.” So he clapped his heels together and paid to the prodigy the respect which he felt to be due to all the powers that be.

Then there was a critic, and elderly man in a shiny black coat and turned-up trousers splashed with mud. He sat in his free seat and thougt: “”Look at him, this young beggar of a Bibi. As an individual he has still to develop, but as a type he is already quite complete, the artist par excellence. He has in himself all the artist’s exaltation and his utter worthlessness, his charlatanry and his sacred fire, his burning contempt and his secret raptures. Of course I can’t write all that, it is too good. Of course, I should have been an artist myself if I had not seen through the whole business so clearly.”

Then the prodigy stopped playing and a perfect storm arose in the hall. He had to come out again and again from behind his screen. The man with the shiny buttons carried up more wreaths: four laurel wreaths, a lyre made of violets, a bouquet of roses. He had not arms enough to convey all these tributes, the impresario himself mounted the stage to help him. He hung a laurel wreath round Bibi’s neck, he tenderly stroked the black hair—and suddenly as though overcome he bent down and gave the prodigy a kiss, a resounding kiss, square on the mouth. And then the storm became a hurricane. That kiss ran through the room like an electric shock, it went direct to people’s marrow and made them shiver down their backs. They were carried away by a helpless compulsion of sheer noise. Loud shouts mingled with the hysterical clapping of hands. Some of Bibi’s commonplace little friends down there waved their handkerchiefs. But the critic thought: "Of course that kiss had to come—it’s a good old gag. Yes, good Lord, if only one did not see through everything quite so clearly—"

And so the concert drew to a close. It began at half past seven and finished at half past eight. The platform was laden with wreaths and two little pots of flowers stood on the lamp stands of the piano. Bibi played as his last number his Rhapsodie grecque, which turned into the Greek national hymn at the end. His fellow-countrymen in the audience would gladly have sung it with him if the company had not been so august. They made up for it with a powerful noise and hullabaloo, a hot-blooded national demonstration. And the aging critic was thinking: "Yes, the hymn had to come too. They have to exploit every vein—publicity cannot afford to neglect any means to its end. I think I’ll criticize that as inartistic. But perhaps I am wrong, perhaps that is the most artistic thing of all. What is the artist? A jack-in-the-box. Criticism is on a higher plane. But I can’t say that. " And away he went in his muddy trousers.