At the time of which we are speaking, there was in Moscow a certain widow, a Georgian Princess,—a person of ill-defined standing and almost a suspicious character. She was about forty years of age; in her youth she had, probably, bloomed with that peculiar oriental beauty, which so quickly fades; now she powdered and painted herself, and dyed her hair a yellow hue. Various, not altogether favourable, and not quite definite, rumours were in circulation about her; no one had known her husband—and in no one city had she lived for any length of time. She had neither children nor property; but she lived on a lavish scale,—on credit or otherwise. She held a salon, as the saying is, and received a decidedly mixed company—chiefly composed of young men. Her whole establishment, beginning with her own toilette, furniture, and table, and ending with her equipage and staff of servants, bore a certain stamp of inferiority, artificiality, transitoriness ... but neither the Princess herself nor her guests, apparently, demanded anything better. The Princess was reputed to be fond of music and literature, to be a patroness of actors and artists; and she really did take an interest in these “questions,” even to an enthusiastic degree—and even to a pitch of rapture which was not altogether simulated. She indubitably did possess the aesthetic chord. Moreover, she was very accessible, amiable, devoid of pretensions, of affectation, and—a fact which many did not suspect—in reality extremely kind, tender-hearted and obliging.... Rare qualities, and therefore all the more precious, precisely in individuals of that stamp.
“A frivolous woman!” one clever person said concerning her, “and she will infallibly get into paradise! For she forgives everything—and everything will be forgiven her!”—It was also said concerning her that when she disappeared from any town, she always left behind her as many creditors as persons whom she had loaded with benefits. A soft heart can be pressed in any direction you like.