The conversation was cut short by this observation, and a new
subject had to be thought of again.
"Do tell me something amusing but not spiteful," said the
ambassador's wife, a great proficient in the art of that elegant
conversation called by the English, small talk. She addressed
the attache, who was at a loss now what to begin upon.
"They say that that's a difficult task, that nothing's amusing
that isn't spiteful," he began with a smile. "But I'll try. Get
me a subject. It all lies in the subject. If a subject's given
me, it's easy to spin something round it. I often think that the
celebrated talkers of the last century would have found it
difficult to talk cleverly now. Everything clever is so
"That has been said long ago," the ambassador's wife interrupted
The conversation began amiably, but just because it was too
amiable, it came to a stop again. They had to have recourse to
the sure, never-failing topic--gossip.
"Don't you think there's something Louis Quinze about
Tushkevitch?" he said, glancing towards a handsome, fair-haired
young man, standing at the table.
"Oh, yes! He's in the same style as the drawing room and that's
why it is he's so often here."
This conversation was maintained, since it rested on allusions to
what could not be talked on in that room--that is to say, of the
relations of Tushkevitch with their hostess.
Round the samovar and the hostess the conversation had been
meanwhile vacillating in just the same way between three
inevitable topics: the latest piece of public news, the
theater, and scandal. It, too, came finally to rest on the last
topic, that is, ill-natured gossip.
"Have you heard the Maltishtcheva woman--the mother, not the
daughter--has ordered a costume in diable rose color?"
"Nonsense! No, that's too lovely!"