It seems strange to us and slightly funny that an aristocrat expected to be dressed and undressed by their servants. What I try to show you is how expected and common it was at the time. Although Aksinya called Natalya her friend, Aksinya still expects to be waited on--that is the way of the world. Still those ways may change.
After supper, Aksinya and Natalya went back up to their rooms. Natalya undressed Aksinya and put a silk nightgown on her. She brushed out Aksinya’s short hair. After a while, Aksinya took the brush from Natalya’s hand. She told Natalya, “Put on your nightgown and come to my room.” Natalya returned quickly.
Aksinya patted the top of her bed. She sat and Aksinya began to brush her long hair. Natalya put her face in her hands, “I really wish you wouldn’t do that, mistress.”
“Tomorrow, Lady Natalya, we will begin our studies together. We will still be a Countess and a lady, but we will also be students and friends together.”
Natalya turned abruptly, “Do you really think of me as your friend?”
“Yes.” Aksinya smiled, “I never really had a friend before. You are my friend, Lady Natalya. Would you address me as, Aksinya?”
“No…no, I could never do that.”
“What if I just call you, Nata?”
“That’s what my mother called me, but I don’t think it would be allowed.”
“Allowed? Aren’t I allowed to call you whatever I desire?”
“Then, in private, I shall call you Nata. I want you to call me, Aksinya.”
“In private. Anywhere you wish, but in private would be fine.” Natalya took another deep breath, “Very well. I will try, Ak…ak…sinya.”
“Thank you, Nata. Tomorrow, we will begin a new kind of life together and in our world, it is a new thing, is it not?”
We see the normal expectation, Natalya dresses Aksinya for bed and then prepares her for bed. That's the nightgown and brushing the hair. Aksinya asks Natalya to prepare for bed and turns the tables on her. Can you see this happening. Can you see Natalya's embarrassment and Aksinya's joy. Aksinya is serving her lady-in-waiting, and the lady-in-waiting doesn't like it. This is classical culture in this time. I have even experienced similar things myself in the modern era in Europe.
Look at Aksinya's response: we will still be Countess and lady, but we will be...friends. How that small statement would make Natalya's heart soar. Yet, she is so worried about that statement, she has to ask: do you think of me as your friend? It is not so unbelievable as it is unexpected and yet so odd to Natalya who obviously had few if any friends.
Then we see, Aksinya confesses she didn't have any friends before, and we have to ask ourselves again about the Aksinya we don't know. Aksinya clenches her points with an extravagant intimacy--call me by my first name. This is culturally a big deal at the time. Thus Natalya's answer: I could never do that. Aksinya opens the bidding with the offer to call Natalya, Nata a common Russian diminutive and endearment for Natalya. Aksinya guessed right because this was what Natalya's mother called her. Natalya's answer is classic too: it wouldn't be allowed.
Then, Aksinya pulls the nobility's power--I can do whatever I want. Which is true. Natalya barely accedes, and we know she will have problems with this little rule of Aksinya's. Still, this represents the point at the end of the chapter. The main point that Aksinya has been making to Natalya the entire time. They will begin a new kind of life together, and Natalya's answer, so ambivalent--yes mistress, shows although Aksinya's thinks her feet are planted in a different place, perhaps Natalya's and, by extension, Aksinya's are really not.
The end of this little scene is an example of how I like to end a chapter. In a single dialog with a chencher, I wrap up the entire chapter. The end words convey all the emotion and effect of everything on Natalya as well as the effort of Aksinya. So in response to Aksinya's opining about the changes they will and have seen, Natalya simply says, "Yes mistress," and by that indicates that she doesn't believe the changes will or have affected her.
Tomorrow we begin a new chapter in Daemon (working title), chapter 7.