Princess Betsy drove home from the theater, without waiting for the end of the
last act. She had only just time to go into her dressing room, sprinkle her long,
pale face with powder, rub it, set her dress to rights, and order tea in the big
drawing room, when one after another carriages drove up to her huge house in
Bolshaia Morskaia. Her guests stepped out at the wide entrance, and the stout
porter, who used to read the newspapers in the mornings behind the glass door,
to the edification of the passers-by, noiselessly opened the immense door, letting
the visitors pass by him into the house.
Almost at the same instant the hostess, with freshly arranged coiffure and
freshened face, walked in at one door and her guests at the other door of the
drawing room, a large room with dark walls, downy rugs, and a brightly lighted
table, gleaming with the light of candles, white cloth, silver samovar, and
transparent china tea things.
The hostess sat down at the table and took off her gloves. Chairs were set with
the aid of footmen, moving almost imperceptibly about the room; the party settled
itself, divided into two groups: one round the samovar near the hostess, the other
at the opposite end of the drawing room, round the handsome wife of an
ambassador, in black velvet, with sharply defined black eyebrows. In both groups
conversation wavered, as it always does, for the first few minutes, broken up by
meetings, greetings, offers of tea, and as it were, feeling about for something to
"She's exceptionally good as an actress; one can see she's studied Kaulbach,"
said a diplomatic attache in the group round the ambassador's wife. "Did you
notice how she fell down?..."
"Oh, please ,don't let us talk about Nilsson! No one can possibly say anything
new about her," said a fat, red-faced, flaxen-headed lady, without eyebrows and
chignon, wearing an old silk dress. This was Princess Myakaya, noted for her
simplicity and the roughness of her manners, and nicknamed enfant terrible.
Princess Myakaya, sitting in the middle between the two groups, and listening to
both, took part in the conversation first of one and then of the other. "Three
people have used that very phrase about Kaulbach to me today already, just as
though they had made a compact about it. And I can't see why they liked that
The conversation was cut short by this observation, and a new subject had to be
thought of again.