“Do many Russians visit America?” asked Tolstoy.
“Oh, yes, quite a number, and they are among our most agreeable visitors. Prince Serge Wolkonsky travelled so much and made so many addresses that he made Russia more popular than ever.”
“Do you know how popular you are in America?” said Jimmie, blushing at his own temerity.
“I know how many of my books are sold there, and I get many kind letters from Americans.”
“Isn’t he considered the greatest living man of letters in America?” said Jimmie, appealingly to me boyishly.
“Undoubtedly,” I replied, smiling, because Tolstoy smiled.
“Whom do you consider the greatest living author?” asked Jimmie.
“Mrs. Humphrey Ward,” said Tolstoy, decisively.
This was a thunderbolt which stopped the conversation of the other members of the party.
“And one of your greatest Americans,” went on Tolstoy, “was Henry George.”
“From a literary point of view, or—”
“From the point of view of humanity and of the Christian.”
Jimmie and I leaned back involuntarily. Judged by these standards, we were none of us either Christians or human, in our party at least.
The Countess Tolstoy, who seemed to be in not the slightest awe of her illustrious husband, having become somewhat impatient during this conversation, now turned to me and said:
“It has been so interesting to talk with your sister and Mrs. Jimmie about Paris fashions. We see so little here that is not second hand, and your journey is so fascinating. It seems incredible that you can be travelling simply for pleasure and over such a number of countries! Where do you go next?”
“We have come from everywhere,” I said, laughing, “and we are going anywhere.”
The countess clasped her hands and said:
“How I envy you, but doesn’t it cost you a great deal of money?”
“I suppose it does,” I said, regretfully. “I am going to travel as long as my money holds out, but the rest are not so hampered.”
“Alas, if I could only go with you,” said the countess, “but we are under such heavy expense now. It used to be easier when we had three or four children nearer of an age who could be educated together. Then it cost less. But now this boy, my youngest, necessitates different tutors for everything, and it costs as much to educate this last one of thirteen as it did any four of the others.”
“But then you educate so thoroughly,” I said. “Russians always speak five or six, sometimes ten languages, including dialects. With us our wealthy people generally send their children to a good private school and afterward prepare them by tutor for college. Then the richest send them for a trip around the world, or perhaps a year abroad, and that ends it. But the ordinary American has only a public school education. Americans are not linguists naturally.”