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 rest upon.
"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 remark