Betsy smiled with her eyes, and looked intently at Anna.
“It’s a new manner,” she said. “They’ve all adopted that manner. They’ve flung their caps over the windmills. But there are ways and ways of flinging them.”
“Yes, but what are her relations precisely with Kaluzhsky?”
Betsy broke into unexpectedly mirthful and irrepressible laughter, a thing which rarely happened with her.
“You’re encroaching on Princess Myakaya’s special domain now. That’s the question of an enfant terrible,” and Betsy obviously tried to restrain herself, but could not, and went off into peals of that infectious laughter that people laugh who do not laugh often. “You’d better ask them,” she brought out, between tears of laughter.
“No; you laugh,” said Anna, laughing too in spite of herself, “but I never could understand it. I can’t understand the husband’s role in it.”
“The husband? Liza Merkalova’s husband carries her shawl, and is always ready to be of use. But anything more than that in reality, no one cares to inquire. You know in decent society one doesn’t talk or think even of certain details of the toilet. That’s how it is with this.”
“Will you be at Madame Rolandak’s fete?” asked Anna, to change the conversation.
“I don’t think so,” answered Betsy, and, without looking at her friend, she began filling the little transparent cups with fragrant tea. Putting a cup before Anna, she took out a cigarette, and, fitting it into a silver holder, she lighted it.
“It’s like this, you see: I’m in a fortunate position,” she began, quite serious now, as she took up her cup. “I understand you, and I understand Liza. Liza now is one of those naive natures that, like children, don’t know what’s good and what’s bad. Anyway, she didn’t comprehend it when she was very young. And now she’s aware that the lack of comprehension suits her. Now, perhaps, she doesn’t know on purpose,” said Betsy, with a subtle smile. “But, anyway, it suits her. The very same thing, don’t you see, may be looked at tragically, and turned into a misery, or it may be looked at simply and even humorously. Possibly you are inclined to look at things too tragically.”
“How I should like to know other people just as I know myself!” said Anna, seriously and dreamily. “Am I worse than other people, or better? I think I’m worse.”
“Enfant terrible, enfant terrible!” repeated Betsy. “But here they are.”
They heard the sound of steps and a man’s voice, then a woman’s voice and laughter, and immediately thereafter there walked in the expected guests: Sappho Shtoltz, and a young man beaming with excess of health, the so-called Vaska. It was evident that ample supplies of beefsteak, truffles, and Burgundy never failed to reach him at the fitting hour. Vaska bowed to the two ladies, and glanced at them, but only for one second. He walked after Sappho into the drawing-room, and followed her about as though he were chained to her, keeping his sparkling eyes fixed on her as though he wanted to eat her. Sappho Shtoltz was a blonde beauty with black eyes. She walked with smart little steps in high-heeled shoes, and shook hands with the ladies vigorously like a man.