So now Natalya has been convinced to sit and eat with the other ladies. We see the introduction of the two new students to the school.
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.”
Under the eyes of the whole room, the Reverend Mother made her way back to the head table. She stood in front of her chair and raised her arms, “Ladies, may I have your attention. Today, we accepted two new students to Sacré Coeur. They are very special students. May I introduce to you the Countess Aksinya Andreiovna Golitsyna. She is the niece of the Freiherr and Freifrau Bockmann. Freifrau Bockmann is an alum of Sacré Coeur. The Countess is sitting at the older scholar’s table. Please make her welcome when you have the opportunity. Accompanying the countess is her lady-in-waiting, the Lady Natalya Alexandrovna Obolenska. The Lady Natalya is not used to our informality. She is very uncomfortable with our egalitarian ways. Please help her to become familiar with our community. She doesn’t speak German, so you must use your French to good effect.”
Aksinya explained the Reverend Mother’s words to Natalya. Natalya colored and again hid her face.
The Reverend Mother said a prayer and everyone crossed themselves. Then she sat in her high backed chair and the novice sisters began to serve the meal.
So the RM introduces Aksinya and Natalya. This is a simple and basic thing to understand. In this period, the introduction was necessary and critical to social interaction. You were not supposed to converse with another without an introduction. The RM's general introduction provides this service for the school and for the new students.
The RM goes on to explain a little about Aksinya and then about Natalya. Do you note the RM's equivocation. It is done just for Natalya. She tells the school to help Natalya understand their egalitarian ways--the school is not egalitarian or informal, it is just the opposite. They hold to a protocol that is just as strong as the Russian court. The point is that the school and the students must uphold their honor and their position before the Countess and her lady-in-waiting. They are both higher in position than the other ladies. Therefore, the RM explains that they will rise to the level of Aksinya and Natalya and she asks them to accept their ways--not informal at all.
The reason Natalya colored is that she was acknowledged at all. Part of the joke is that they have a French name, Sacré Coeur, and they teach French, so they should be speaking French.
The transition to the meal is the prayer--did you expect anything else in a convent school?