So now we get the point of almost everything. Freiherr Bockmann makes a proposal to Aksinya that truly tempts her. She can't let it seem she it too interested, but she is truly tempted by what he proposes. Do you think Asmodeus had anything to do with the proposal?
The fire was still burning in the great fireplace, but it was mostly coals with only a light sprinkling of flames. Aunt Brunhilda led Aksinya to a chair and sat her. She took a seat in the chair beside her and held her hand.
The Freiherr stood. He stepped to the fireplace and lit a cigarette. He took a puff and turned around, “You don’t know how pleased we are that you came to us and that you are safe here with us.” He flicked some ash from his cigarette into the coals, “When we heard about your family, I had the priest make a high Mass in their honor. At the time, we thought you had died with them.” He gave her a crooked smile, “We were glad someone survived and that you survived. You being who you are, after all.”
Aksinya lowered her eyes, “Thank you.”
“Your Aunt and I have discussed this since we heard you were coming.” He smiled again, “You are not quite seventeen, am I correct?”
“I am seventeen, Uncle.”
“How much education have you received?”
“None except from our family’s priest and my governess.”
“In the past that might have been sufficient for a young lady. Today, it is woefully deficient. As I remember, you have always been very keen on learning.”
Aksinya tried to appear disinterested, but in spite of herself, she nodded and leaned forward expectantly.
“Yes, I see I am right. Your German is much better than you led us to believe last night. I see you understand me very well.” His eyes crinkled, “You learned it from your mother, I know. And I know you speak French and can read Greek.”
“What do you think about the idea of an education.”
Aksinya smiled, “What did you have in mind, Uncle?”
“There is an excellent gymnasium in this city.”
Aunt Brunhilda laughed, “I went to it myself.”
“What is a gymnasium?”
“It is a school for students who will go on to a university.”
“To a university? Could I attend a university—is it allowed for women?”
Aunt Brunhilda put her hands together, “Yes, it is very possible for you to go on to a university.”
“I would gladly attend, but for what purpose?”
The Freiherr stood straight and threw the butt of his cigarette in the coals, “Ha, the world we once knew well is changing. The future will belong to men and women who have grasped an education, and who have an aristocratic pedigree. The people will need someone to lead them. This is what we wish for you. It is certainly what your father and mother would have desired.”
“I’m not so sure. You tempt me...”
Asmodeus cleared his throat.
Her uncle grinned, “I want to tempt you. I want you to follow this course, and I think you are well fitted to succeed. You always were a studious child.”
Aksinya sighed, “What exactly do you propose, Uncle?”
Aunt Brunhilda clasped Aksinya’s left hand with both of hers. “We wish to enroll you in my old school, Sacré Coeur. It is a school, a gymnasium, for girls here in Wien. The church runs it, and it is connected with a convent of the same name. I know it is something you have never experienced before, but I believe you will blossom in it.”
We begin with a slight remembrance of Aksinya's loss. Her uncle reminds her while he begins his introduction. Do you see the multi-level mystery he invokes. They were happy she survived of all the others--this should get you thinking. I'm not going to tell you why yet. The point is emphasized twice. Then he brings up the next point--to him it is important and important to the demon. Asmodeus chose her clothing. Her uncle should know her age, he assumes she is younger--who might have put that thought in her mind. The first point is her age--she is young yet. The second point is her education. She, like most aristocratic women in this age, was educated by the family governess and priest.
Her uncle then praises her. He praises her German, French, and Greek. She knows German from her mother (a clue), French from the Russian court, and Greek from the Orthodox church. Her uncle's pont is to tempt her toward an education. You might wonder why the demon wants Aksinya to get an education. Keep thinking.
The next idea is the gymnasium. I use a trick of a question in the dialog to tell you what it is. Aksinya doesn't know, so I can explain what it is to the reader. The obvious question to Aksinya is whether a woman can aspire to the university--this was not expected at the time. We get a shot of the culture. Her uncle is tempting her. He uses a hard argument "your mother and father would have wanted it." See the reaction of Aksinya--she realizes what is happening. The demon threatens her just a little, and Aksinya sighs. She realizes she can't win against her aunt and uncle, the demon, and her own desires. We end the first part of this dialog with the revelation that the gymnasium is a convent school run by the church. Do you begin to understand why the demon might want to put Aksinya there--ah, we will find out soon.