REGINALD IN RUSSIA

Reginald sat in a corner of the Princess’s salon and tried

to forgive the furniture, which started out with an obvious

intention of being Louis Quinze, but relapsed at frequent

intervals into Wilhelm II.

He classified the Princess with that distinct type of

woman that looks as if it habitually went out to feed hens

in the rain.

Her name was Olga; she kept what she hoped and believed to

be a fox-terrier, and professed what she thought were

Socialist opinions. It is not necessary to be called Olga

if you are a Russian Princess; in fact, Reginald knew quite

a number who were called Vera; but the fox-terrier and the

Socialism are essential.

“The Countess Lomshen keeps a bull-dog,” said the

Princess suddenly. “In England is it more chic to have a

bull-dog than a fox-terrier?”

Reginald threw his mind back over the canine fashions of

the last ten years and gave an evasive answer.

“Do you think her handsome, the Countess Lomshen?” asked

the Princess.

Reginald thought the Countess’s complexion suggested an

exclusive diet of macaroons and pale sherry. He said so.

“But that cannot be possible,” said the Princess

triumphantly; “I’ve seen her eating fish-soup at Donon’s.”

The Princess always defended a friend’s complexion if it

was really bad. With her, as with a great many of her sex,

charity began at homeliness and did not generally progress

much farther.

Reginald withdrew his macaroon and sherry theory, and

became interested in a case of miniatures.

“That?” said the Princess; “that is the old Princess

Lorikoff. She lived in Millionaya Street, near the Winter

Palace, and was one of the Court ladies of the Old Russian

school. Her knowledge of people and events was extremely

limited; but she used to patronize every one who came in

contact with her. There was a story that when she died and

left the Millionaya for Heaven she addressed St. Peter in

her formal staccato French: `Je suis la Princesse

Lor-i-koff. Il me donne grand plaisir a faire votre

connaissance. Je vous en prie me presenter au Bon Dieu.’

St. Peter made the desired introduction, and the Princess

addressed le Bon Dieu: `Je suis la Princesse Lor-i-koff. Il

me donne grand plaisir a faire votre connaissance. On a

souvent parle de vous a l’eglise de la rue

Million.’ “

“Only the old and the clergy of Established churches know

how to be flippant gracefully,” commented Reginald; “which

reminds me that in the Anglican Church in a certain foreign

capital, which shall be nameless, I was present the other

day when one of the junior chaplains was preaching in aid of

distressed somethings or other, and he brought a really

eloquent passage to a close with the remark, `The tears of

the afflicted, to what shall I liken them—to diamonds?’

The other junior chaplain, who had been dozing out of

professional jealousy, awoke with a start and asked

hurriedly, `Shall I play to diamonds, partner?’ It didn’t

improve matters when the senior chaplain remarked dreamily

but with painful distinctness, `Double diamonds.’ Every one

looked at the preacher, half expecting him to redouble, but

be contented himself with scoring what points he could under

the circumstances.”

“You English are always so frivolous,” said the

Princess. “In Russia we have too many troubles to permit of

our being light-hearted.”

Reginald gave a delicate shiver, such as an Italian

greyhound might give in contemplating the approach of an ice

age of which he personally disapproved, and resigned himself

to the inevitable political discussion.

“Nothing that you hear about us in England is true,” was

the Princess’s hopeful beginning.

“I always refused to learn Russian geography at school,”

observed Reginald; “I was certain some of the names must be

wrong.”

“Everything is wrong with our system of government,”

continued the Princess placidly. “The Bureaucrats think

only of their pockets, and the people are exploited and

plundered in every direction, and everything is

mismanaged.”

“With us,” said Reginald, “a Cabinet usually gets the

credit of being depraved and worthless beyond the bounds of

human conception by the time it has been in office about

four years.”

“But if it is a bad Government you can turn it out at

the election,” argued the Princess. “As far as I

remember, we generally do,” said Reginald.

“But here it is dreadful, every one goes to such

extremes. In England you never go to extremes.”

“We go to the Albert Hall,” explained Reginald.

“There is always a see-saw with us between repression and

violence,” continued the Princess; “and the pity of it is

the people are really not in the least inclined to be

anything but peaceable. Nowhere will you find people more

good-natured, or family circles where there is more

affection.”

“There I agree with you,” said Reginald. “I know a boy

who lives somewhere on the French Quay who is a case in

point. His hair curls naturally, especially on Sundays, and

he plays bridge well, even for a Russian, which is saying

much. I don’t think he has any other accomplishments, but

his family affection is really of a very high order. When

his maternal grandmother died he didn’t go as far as to give

up bridge altogether but be declared on nothing but black

suits for the next three months. That, I think, was really

beautiful.”

The Princess was not impressed.

“I think you must be very self-indulgent and live only

for amusement,” she said. “A life of pleasure-seeking and

card-playing and dissipation brings only dissatisfaction.

You will find that out some day.”

“Oh, I know it turns out that way sometimes,” assented

Reginald. “Forbidden fizz is often the sweetest.”

But the remark was wasted on the Princess, who preferred

champagne that had at least a suggestion of dissolved

barley-sugar.

“I hope you will come and see me again,” she said in a

tone that prevented the hope from becoming too infectious;

adding as a happy after-thought, “you must come to stay

with us in the country.”

Her particular part of the country was a few hundred

versts the other side of Tamboff, with some fifteen miles of

agrarian disturbance between her and the nearest neighbour.

Reginald felt that there is some privacy which should be

sacred from intrusion.