We are building to a pivotal scene. There is much in the following that helps slowly build the story and plot to the crisis. I included the entire conversation without breaking it up because it would be difficult to break up and because I thought you might like to read the whole
In the morning, Aksinya was much more wide awake. When she and Natalya went to German class, Sister Margarethe greeted them at the door, “Good morning, Countess, Lady Natalya.” She stood in front of Aksinya when she tried to move to her seat, “Did you get my note last night?”
“No,” Aksinya lied. “It must have gone astray.”
Sister Margarethe eyes widened, “Surely not.”
“In any case, I shall not sleep through class today. You needn’t worry. You may tell the Reverend Mother and my other teachers that. I spent Sunday evening in study, so I was tired.”
“But you didn’t finish most of the work assigned to you.”
“I did not say what I was studying, only that I was in study.”
Sister Margarethe took a deep breath, “Yes, I see. Take your seats. I will speak to you later.”
“Yes, during class.”
Aksinya and Natalya sat at their desk. Natalya pulled out her books. She spoke Russian, “You did get a note last night.”
Aksinya pressed her lips together, “She…she…I can’t tell it to anyone. I can’t be alone with her. I never can be alone with her—it’s too dangerous for me.”
“I don’t understand.”
“You don’t need to understand. Just realize that I must do everything I can to prevent her from being alone with me.” Aksinya glanced at Natalya, “You must help me in this.”
Natalya frowned and nodded, “Yes, Countess.”
Aksinya pulled out her books, and Sister Margarethe started her lecture. After the teaching, and assignments, Sister Margarethe made her way around the room to collect assignments and check on the new work in progress. She came to Aksinya and Natalya’s desk last.
She gave a perfunctory look at Natalya’s papers and spoke to her for a moment in German. Finally, she praised her, “Your German is improving quickly. Has the Countess been helping you?”
“Yes, sister. She has been working with me every night.”
“That is evident. Every night? Does she take time to do her own work?”
Natalya’s eyes suddenly filled with fear, “I…I…don’t know sister.”
Aksinya slapped her hand flat on the desk, “Please don’t berate my lady-in-waiting for my choices or my behavior. If I chose to put all of my attention to her understanding of German, that is my decision and not yours.”
“So you have been working with Lady Natalya to the exclusion of your other work.”
“Yes, I have. Is there something wrong with that?”
“It is a waste of our teaching.”
“I never said I didn’t get anything from your teaching, only that my primary responsibility right now is my lady-in-waiting’s German proficiency.”
“I take it you won’t relent on this.”
“Not until she can communicate in the language.”
“That could take a while.”
“Perhaps a month. The Lady Natalya is very intelligent and easy to teach. If you gave her more attention, you might notice that.”
Sister Margarethe colored, “I will ignore that last comment because it is unseemly.”
“I don’t like the amount of attention you have shown me over my lady-in-waiting. Please give her more attention especially during this time of learning for her.”
Sister Margarethe’s eyes narrowed, “I will give the appropriate attention to each of you.”
“I need less attention from you—do you understand me?”
“Not really. Let us drop this because I have a question for you.”
Aksinya stared at her.
“Were you in your rooms last night?”
Natalya squirmed in her seat.
Aksinya gave a half-smile, “Of course. That is an unseemly question to ask of me.”
“I thought perhaps you and the note I sent missed one another for that reason.”
Aksinya stared in the nun’s eyes, “We were in our rooms as much as you were in your cell.”
Sister Margarethe colored again, “I will not tell the Reverend Mother. Do not sleep in class again.”
“I can promise nothing, but I will attempt to meet your demands.”
Sister Margarethe turned Aksinya a look, but moderated her features before she turned back to the rest of the class.
Natalya whispered in Russian, “You shouldn’t antagonize her too much.”
Aksinya snarled, “Why not?”
“I just don’t think you should.”
“If you knew…if you only knew. I can’t say it. It is too horrible to contemplate.”
Natalya’s brows knit.
Yesterday, instead of going as she was directed to Sister Margarethe's office for counseling and instruction, Aksinya chose to sneak over to her house with Natalya. You remember the demon told Aksinya that Sister Margarethe in infatuated with Aksinya, and Aksinya is terrified that the Sister Margarethe might try to seduce her. The unwarranted attention the sister keeps giving to Aksinya suddenly comes into focus for her and for us.
Sister Margarethe is direct--did you get the note. Aksinya lies. The Sister's reaction is to Aksinya's lie. She isn't surprised that the note might have gone astray. She is surprised that Aksinya lies so easily. Aksinya is in full preemptive mode here. The Sister smells another lie--Aksinya didn't finish her work. Aksinya equivocates but doesn't lie this time. She was studying, just not her schoolwork. Note Aksinya's worry--she wants to make certain the Sister will speak to her "during class." Aksinya doesn't want to be alone with the Sister for reasons obvious to us.
Sweet Natalya catches Aksinya in her lie--there was a note, and Aksinya tells Natalya in no uncertain terms her worry. She doesn't give the reason why, just her worry. Aksinya demands that Natalya help her.
Then we get a sideways explanation of what the demon suggested and tricked Aksinya into a while ago. Aksinya is helping Natalya with her German to the exclusion of her own work. Natalya kind of lies a little. Then we see Aksinya somewhat angry and demanding, but still in control. A short argument erupts between Aksinya and Sister Margarethe. Aksinya makes claims that are hard to dispute. Her most important work is her lady-in-waiting. This is a great aristocratic answer. Then Aksinya verbally attacks the Sister. She tries to communicate her worry, but she can't say it out loud. The reaction of the Sister is what we might expect. We are not certain she gets Aksinya's point, yet we know she should and her reaction gives us more evidence. The conversation is on multiple levels and the Sister wants to get off it quickly. She realizes herself to some degree what is going on.
Then Sister Margarethe's question--were you in your rooms...Aksinya lies. Natalya gives it away. Then Aksinya turns the question. The conclusion is obvious, the Sister was not in her rooms. She was checking on Aksinya and Natalya--that is how she knew they were not in their rooms. The Sister immediately backs down. She is intelligent and wise. She is also guilty of something--we just don't know what yet. We guess, but we aren't certain. Aksinya seems to think she knows, but we shall see. We shall see.
Natalya's comments round out the entire scene. Natalya knows much more than she lets on. Still for Aksinya, the possibility of the Sister's attention is "too horrible to contemplate."