We have to encompass the culture of the times. In 1918, much heating was still done by open coal fires especially in more ancient homes. The poor and the wealthy made due with this kind of heating until electricity made forced air heating more common. The middle class had radiators and boilers. The oddity here, and I will show you more of it, is there is a wood fire. Wood roars; coal burns. Generally, a coal fire might be augmented with wood in a wealthy house especially if they intend to show off. Note the Freiherr and Freifrau do indeed want to show off.
Aunt Brunhilda cleared her throat, “You poor dear.” Aunt Brunhilda guided Aksinya into a large room with an enormous fireplace. In it, a hot wood and coal fire roared.
Aksinya felt drawn to it. She moved to the fire like a moth to a flame. Aunt Brunhilda pulled her back before she could step into the coals. She held tightly to Aksinya. The Freiherr drew a chair close and Aunt Brunhilda pushed Aksinya into it. Aksinya closed her eyes. The heat clasped her in its grasp, and a slight smile stole onto her lips. She raised her arm, “Thank you, Aunt, Uncle.”
Her uncle and aunt pulled their chairs close to her on either side. Her aunt held her hand. The Freiherr sat and a look of concern crossed his face. After a while he clasped his chin, “When you feel better, we can go to supper. Would you like something now?”
Aksinya shook her head.
“I’ll bring you a glass of wine.” The Freiherr stepped to the sideboard. He selected a bottle and filled a glass. He took it and held it near Aksinya’s hand, “Please, countess, drink this. It will warm you and make you feel better.”
Aksinya took the glass in her shaking hand and tasted the dark brown aperitif. The sherry was very fine and rich. She sipped on it while her aunt patted her other hand.
In a while, Aksinya sat a little straighter. Aunt Brunhilda squeezed her fingers, “Do you feel better, countess.”
“Yes. Thank you, Aunt Brunhilda. I have not felt myself for a long time.”
“You were always a sensitive child.” Aunt Brunhilda touched Aksinya’s face then moved her hand a little higher and touched the tips of her hair, “Dear child, what happened to your hair?”
Aksinya took a deep breath, “I lost it with my family.”
“Did you cut it off yourself?”
Aksinya hung her head.
“Yes. It looks like you did. You poor girl.” Her aunt took Aksinya’s hand and held it against her face, “Tomorrow, I promise, my beautician will trim your hair and make it look much better.”
“But I don’t want to trim it. I don’t want to…to… forget…”
“We will not forget. Your mother and father were great friends as well as relations of ours.”
Aksinya could feel the eyes of the demon on her, “Thank you, but I don’t wish to cut it—I insist.”
“Then, would you let me style it for you? If you won’t have it trimmed, we shall make the most of it.”
A servant came to the door and rang a small bell.
There is so much unspoken in this scene. Here, we have three touchstone events. The first is the fire. I told you a little about fire. Fire indicates status. Yesterday, I showed you Aksinya's desire for death. We understood this, but now we see a little of it manifest itself. I will not make a lot of this, her survival instinct is too great--she is not self destructive, but I wanted to let her put on a show for the demon. It is a game, so Asmodeus said. Her aunt and uncle play a part in the game, but they have no idea the rules that govern it or Aksinya. Note, that her aunt pulled her back--a little foreshadowing, but not of great consequence. I just wanted to show Aksinya when she had little control over herself. Remember, this was the demon's doing.
The second is the sherry. She refuses, but her uncle still pours her a glass. He promised her wine, but brought sherry. If you remember, Asmodeus told her to do what her uncle asked. This works on multiple levels because even if you realize Aksinya is acceding to the will of her uncle (whether intentionally or unintentionally), her uncle's action is an indication of his personality and character. Her acceptance just reinforces her own problem--luxuria.
The third is the hair. We cannot ever forget the hair. It is and must be part of the plot and theme throughout the novel. She gave her hair as the surety of her contract with the demon. The ignorant actions of aunt press deeply into the wounds Aksinya bears, yet look at her response. She simply states directly though her aunt can't understand. Do you see the multilevel here too. Part of the act of mourning in many cultures is to cut the hair. Her aunt may or may not recognize this--many readers will see this. For Aksinya, her hair is absolutely a sign of her mourning--the loss of her family. It is a sign of her contract--her greatest anguish. It is the loss of the one thing she thought was beautiful about herself. Talk about pitiful, and Aunt Brunhilda is picking in the wound with a blunt pair of scissors (isn't that a great analogy?). Aksinya is literally rescued by the supper bell.