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Anna Karenina 76


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as though they had made a compact about it. And I cant see why they liked that remark so." 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 ambassadors 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 thats a difficult task, that nothings amusing that isnt spiteful," he began with a smile. "But Ill try. Get me a subject. It all lies in the subject. If a subjects given me, its 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 stale..." "That has been said long ago," the ambassadors wife interrupted him, laughing. 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. "Dont you think theres something Louis Quinze about Tushkevitch?" he said, glancing towards a handsome, fair-haired young man, standing at the table. "Oh, yes! Hes in the same style as the drawing room and thats why it is hes so often here." This conversation was maintained, since it rested on allusions to what could not be talked of 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, thats too lovely!" "I wonder that with her sense--for shes not a fool, you know-- that she doesnt see how funny she is." Everyone had something to say in censure or ridicule of the luckless Madame Maltishtcheva, and the conversation crackled merrily, like a burning faggot-stack. The husband of Princess Betsy, a good-natured fat man, an ardent collector of engravings, hearing that his wife had visitors, came into the drawing room before going to his club. Stepping noiselessly over the thick rugs, he went up to Princess Myakaya. "How did you like Nilsson?" he asked. "Oh, how can you steal upon anyone like that! How you startled me!" she responded. "Please dont talk to me about the opera; you know nothing about music. Id better meet you on your own ground, and talk about your majolica and engravings. Come now, what treasure have you been buying lately at the old curiosity shops?" "Would you like me to show you? But you dont understand such things." "Oh, do show me! Ive been learning about them at those--whats their names?...the bankers...theyve some splendid engravings. They showed them to us." "Why, have you been at the Schuetzburgs?" asked the hostess from the samovar. "Yes, _ma chere_. They asked my husband and me to dinner, and told us the sauce at that dinner cost a hundred pounds," Princess Myakaya said, speaking loudly, and conscious everyone was listening; "and very nasty sauce it was, some green mess. We had to ask them, and I made them sauce for eighteen pence, and everybody was very much pleased with it. I cant run to hundred-pound sauces." "Shes unique!" said the lady of the house. "Marvelous!" said someone. The sensation produced by Princess Myakayas speeches was always unique, and the secret of the sensation she produced lay in the fact that though she spoke not always appropriately, as now, she said simple things with some sense in them. In the society in which she lived such plain statements produced the effect of the wittiest epigram. Princess Myakaya could never see why it had that effect, but she knew it had, and took advantage of it. As everyone had been listening while Princess Myakaya spoke, and so the conversation around the ambassadors wife had dropped, Princess Betsy tried to bring the whole party together, and turned to the ambassadors wife. "Will you really not have tea? You should come over here by us." "No, were very happy here," the ambassadors wife responded with a smile, and she went on with the conversation that had been begun. "It was a very agreeable conversation. They were criticizing the Karenins,

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