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
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
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
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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
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
“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.