Round the samovar and the hostess the conversation having, in the meanwhile, vacillated in precisely the same way between the three inevitable topics - the latest piece of public news, the theater, and censuring the fellow creature - had finally come to rest on the last topic - that is, malicious gossip.

`Have you heard that even the Maltishcheva - the mother, not the daughter - has ordered a costume in diable rose color?'

`Impossible! No, that's just charming!'

`I wonder that with her sense - for after all she's no fool - she doesn't see how funny she is.'

Every one had something to say in censure or ridicule of the hapless Maltishcheva, and the conversation crackled merrily, like a blazing bonfire.

The husband of Princess Betsy, a good-natured corpulent man, an ardent collector of engravings, hearing that his wife had visitors, had come into the drawing room before leaving for his club. Stepping noiselessly over the thick rugs, he approached Princess Miaghkaia.

`How did you like Nilsson?' he asked.

`Oh, how can you steal up on anyone like that! How you startled me!' she responded. `Please don't talk to me about the opera; you know nothing about music. I'd rather come down to your own level, and discuss with you your majolica and engravings. Come, now, what treasure have you been buying lately at the rag fair?'

`Would you like me to show you? But you don't understand such things.'

`Yes, show me. I've been learning about them at those - what's their names?... those bankers... They have some splendid engravings. They showed them to us.'

`Why, have you been at the Schutzburgs?' asked the hostess from behind the samovar.

`Yes, ma chère. They asked my husband and myself to dinner, and I was told that the sauce at that dinner cost a thousand roubles,' Princess Miaghkaia said, speaking loudly, conscious that all were listening; `and very nasty sauce it was - some green mess. We had to ask them, and I made a sauce for eighty-five kopecks, and everybody was very much pleased with it. I can't afford thousand-rouble sauces.'

`She's unique!' said the lady of the house.

`Amazing!' somebody else added.

The effect produced by Princess Miaghkaia's speeches was always the same, and the secret of the effect she produced lay in the fact that though she spoke not always appropriately, as now, she said homely truths, not devoid of sense. In the society in which she lived such utterances had the same result as the most pungent wit. Princess Miaghkaia could never see why it had that result, but she knew it had, and took advantage of it.

Since everyone had been listening while Princess Miaghkaia spoke, and the conversation around the ambassador's wife had dropped, Princess Betsy tried to bring the whole party together, and she addressed the ambassador's wife.

`Really won't you have tea? Do come and join us.'

`No, we're very comfortable here,' the ambassador's wife responded with a smile, and went on with the interrupted conversation.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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