When Bee and Mrs. Jimmie heard it, they treated me with almost the same respect as when they discovered that I knew the head waiter at Baden-Baden. But not quite.
As, however, our one ambition in coming to Russia had been to see Tolstoy himself, we at once began to ask questions of the princess as to how we might best accomplish our object, but to our disappointment her answers were far from encouraging. He was, I was told by everybody, ill, cross as a bear, and in the throes of composition. Could there be a worse possible combination for my purpose?
So much was said discouraging our project that Jimmie was for giving it up, but I think one man never received three such simultaneously contemptuous glances as we three levelled at Jimmie for his craven suggestion. So it happened that one Sunday morning we took a carriage, and, having invited the consul, who spoke Russian, we drove to Tolstoy’s town house, some little distance out of Moscow.
We gave the letter and our visiting-cards to the consul, and he explained our wish to see Tolstoy to the footman who answered our ring. Having evidently received instructions to admit no one, he not only refused us admittance, but declined to take our cards. The consul translated his refusal, and seemed vanquished, but I urged him to make another attempt, and he did so, which was followed by the announcement that the countess was asleep, and the count was out. This being translated to me, I announced, in cheerful English which the footman could not understand, that both of these statements were lies, and for my part I had no doubt that the footman was a direct descendant of Beelzebub.
“Tell him that you know better,” I said. “Tell him that we know the count is too ill to leave the house, and that the countess could not possibly be asleep at this time of day. Tell him if he expects us to believe him, to make up a better one than that.”
“Say something,” urged Bee. “Get us inside the house, if no more.”
“Tell him how far we have come, and how anxious we are to see the count,” said Mrs. Jimmie.
“Oh, better give it up,” said Jimmie, “and come on home.”
The consul obligingly made the desired effort, evidently combining all of our instructions, politely softened by his own judgment. The footman’s face betrayed no yielding, and in order the better to refuse to take our cards he put his hands behind him.
“You see, it’s no use,” said the consul. “Hadn’t we better give it up?”
“He won’t let you in,” said Jimmie, “so don’t make a fuss.”
“I shall make no fuss,” I said, quietly. “But I’ll get in, and I’ll see Tolstoy, and I’ll get all the rest of you in. Give me those cards.”
I took two rubles from my purse, and, taking the cards and letter, I handed them all to the footman, saying in lucid English:
“We are coming in, and you are to take these cards to Count Tolstoy.”