“No, Ryazanov,” she answered in a tired voice. “You know no less than myself what this is worth. A brazen interviewer, who needs passes for his friends, and, by the way, twenty-five roubles in an envelope. High school boys and girls, students and young ladies attending courses, who beg you for autographed photographs. Some old blockhead with a general’s rank, who hums loudly with me during my aria. The eternal whisper behind you, when you pass by: ‘there she is, that same famous one!’ Anonymous letters, the brazenness of back-stage habitues ... why, you can’t enumerate everything! But surely, you yourself are often beset by female psychopathics of the court-room?”
“Yes,” said Ryazanov decisively.
“That’s all there is to it. But add to that the most terrible thing, that every time I have come to feel a genuine inspiration, I tormentingly feel on the spot the consciousness that I’m pretending and grimacing before people ... And the fear of the success of your rival? And the eternal dread of losing your voice, of straining it or catching a cold? The eternal tormenting bother of throat bandages? No, really, it is heavy to bear renown on one’s shoulders.”
“But the artistic fame?” retorted the lawyer. “The might of genius! This, verily, is a true moral might, which is above the might of any king on earth!”
“Yes, yes, of course you’re right, my dear. But fame, celebrity, are sweet only at a distance, when you only dream about them. But when you have attained them you feel only their thorns. But then, with what anguish you feel every dram of their decrease. And I have forgotten to say something else. Why, we artists undergo a sentence at hard labour. In the morning, exercises; in the daytime, rehearsals; and then there’s scarcely time for dinner and you’re due for the performance. An hour or so for reading or such diversion as you and I are having now, may be snatched only by a miracle. And even so... the diversion is altogether of the mediocre...”
She negligently and wearily made a slight gesture with the fingers of the hand lying on the barrier.
Volodya Chaplinsky, agitated by this conversation, suddenly asked:
“Yes, but tell me, Ellena Victorovna, what would you want to distract your imagination and ennui?”
She looked at him with her enigmatic eyes and answered quietly, even a trifle shyly, it seemed:
“Formerly, people lived more gaily and did not know prejudices of any sort. Well, it seems to me that then I would have been in my place and would have lived with a full life. O, ancient Rome!”
No one understood her, save Ryazanov, who, without looking at her, slowly pronounced in his velvety voice, like that of an actor, the classical, universally familiar, Latin phrase:
“Ave, Caesar, morituri te salutant!”