“Ah!” said Anna indifferently, as though not greatly interested in the matter, and she went on smiling: “How can you or your friends compromise anyone?”
This playing with words, this hiding of a secret, had a great fascination for Anna, as, indeed, it has for all women. And it was not the necessity of concealment, not the aim with which the concealment was contrived, but the process of concealment itself which attracted her.
“I can’t be more Catholic than the Pope,” she said. “Stremov and Liza Merkalova, why, they’re the cream of the cream of society. Besides, they’re received everywhere, and I”—she laid special stress on the I—“have never been strict and intolerant. It’s simply that I haven’t the time.”
“No; you don’t care, perhaps, to meet Stremov? Let him and Alexey Alexandrovitch tilt at each other in the committee— that’s no affair of ours. But in the world, he’s the most amiable man I know, and a devoted croquet player. You shall see. And, in spite of his absurd position as Liza’s lovesick swain at his age, you ought to see how he carries off the absurd position. He’s very nice. Sappho Shtoltz you don’t know? Oh, that’s a new type, quite new.”
Betsy said all this, and, at the same time, from her good-humored, shrewd glance, Anna felt that she partly guessed her plight, and was hatching something for her benefit. They were in the little boudoir.
“I must write to Alexey though,” and Betsy sat down to the table, scribbled a few lines, and put the note in an envelope.
“I’m telling him to come to dinner. I’ve one lady extra to dinner with me, and no man to take her in. Look what I’ve said, will that persuade him? Excuse me, I must leave you for a minute. Would you seal it up, please, and send it off?” she said from the door; “I have to give some directions.”
Without a moment’s thought, Anna sat down to the table with Betsy’s letter, and, without reading it, wrote below: “It’s essential for me to see you. Come to the Vrede garden. I shall be there at six o’clock.” She sealed it up, and, Betsy coming back, in her presence handed the note to be taken.
At tea, which was brought them on a little tea-table in the cool little drawing room, the cozy chat promised by Princess Tverskaya before the arrival of her visitors really did come off between the two women. They criticized the people they were expecting, and the conversation fell upon Liza Merkalova.
“She’s very sweet, and I always liked her,” said Anna.
“You ought to like her. She raves about you. Yesterday she came up to me after the races and was in despair at not finding you. She says you’re a real heroine of romance, and that if she were a man she would do all sorts of mad things for your sake. Stremov says she does that as it is.”
“But do tell me, please, I never could make it out,” said Anna, after being silent for some time, speaking in a tone that showed she was not asking an idle question, but that what she was asking was of more importance to her than it should have been; “do tell me, please, what are her relations with Prince Kaluzhsky, Mishka, as he’s called? I’ve met them so little. What does it mean?”