Are you ready for the answer? Did you guess it? I hope you can picture this scene as I tried to build it for you. Here I tried to mix comedy with pathos. The gentle and loving Natalya couldn't imagine the freight train that was about to hit her. Aksinya knew...
Natalya frowned and appeared as if she was about to cry. She complained, “But why isn’t it good order to wait on my mistress?”
The Reverend Mother pressed her lips together and seemed completely reluctant to say what she knew she must say. The other young women around the table strained to hear the Reverend Mother’s words.
Finally, the Reverend Mother opened her mouth, “Please, Lady Natalya. Because of your social position, most of the ladies in this room should serve you. You must sit and eat with us otherwise the good order of our school will be in question.”
Lady Natalya’s mouth fell open. The other young women at the table mouths’ hung open. Tears formed in Lady Natalya’s eyes but she quickly and with embarrassment fell into the seat beside Aksinya. Aksinya put her arms around Natalya and held her close. The girl was obviously crying. The Reverend Mother moved to her and put her arms around the both of them. She clucked soft sounds under her breath, “Please don’t be sad Lady Natalya. You may serve your lady all you desire, but you must eat at table with her.”
Natalya let out a great wail, “But I have never sat at table with her before. I have never sought to put myself above her. Never.”
Aksinya whispered in Russian, “Silly, we sat together like sisters and ate together like friends during our whole trip here. Please act like the great lady you are, Lady Natalya.”
At that word, Natalya sat upright. She covered her face with her napkin for a moment then sighed and laid it in her lap.
Aksinya smiled. The Reverend Mother smiled, “That’s much more pleasant, Lady Natalya. Thank you.”
Here is a minor tragedy for Natalya that allows me to clearly show you the state of aristocracy and the importance of position in 1918. Natalya is a lady of the court, a lady-in-waiting. She expects to serve. The sweet and gentle Natalya is very bright, but still she desires to serve. That is her purpose. She has latched on to Aksinya because Aksinya rescued her. At each step, Aksinya, whether intentionally or unintentionally has been building up Natalya. We aren't certain if this is Aksinya's unconscious knowledge or her intentional manipulation. In any case, you can see Aksinya realizes exactly how this little event will end. She couldn't have planned it better--that is if she planned it at all. Do you see that Aksinya's knowledge makes everything as though she did plan it. This parallels the actions in temptation of the demon. He makes things happen for the purpose of tempting others. Aksinya is making these events happen, and we are not certain if she is doing them purposefully or not. We will soon see she is very purposeful.
So, the RM must state the thing she does not want to state. To say such a thing right out in the open is considered the epitome of bad taste. Everyone knows their place in this society--everyone, except Natalya, but then, we knew Natalya was broken in some way. This will come out more later. The RM says it--the dreaded words--the ladies of the school should be serving Natalya just as she serves Aksinya, therefore, Natalya must sit and eat with them. The reason is that Natalya is of a higher rank than any of the other girls and women in the room.
Natalya gets it. She is embarrassed for more than one reason, but shame keeps a system of aristocracy going (to a degree). Aksinya comforts Natalya and the RM comforts them both. She is a kind woman.
Aksinya then gently reminds Natalya that they have eaten like equals before. Ah, this takes the sting from the embarrassment, and then the beautiful reminder from Aksinya--act like the great lady that you are. Don't worry, there is more to this dining room scene. We'll see it tomorrow.