In the evening following dinner, Aksinya and Natalya return to Aksinya's house across the street. They are greeted in the most gentle manner and Aksinya and Natalya go up to Aksinya's bedroom. Aksinya has some explaining to do...
Natalya and Aksinya returned to their house across the street. When they left the dining room, Sister Margarethe joined them at the door. Aksinya didn’t acknowledge the nun, but Natalya gave her a greeting in German.
They went across the street and Natalya unlocked the door. The house was warm. A coal fire burned in the fireplace. Two novice nuns, dressed in black and white, came to the foyer to greet them. They removed Aksinya, Natalya, and Sister Margarethe’s cloaks and saw them up to their rooms. They made sure the coal fires and the gaslights were lit, then curtsied and returned to the lower floor. At her door, Aksinya took Natalya’s arm, “Sister Margarethe, would you please bring us tea?”
Aksinya glanced at the nun then pulled Natalya into her room and closed the door. Aksinya placed Natalya in front of an overstuffed chair in the sitting room. She moved hurriedly to the other chair before Natalya could move and pulled it close. She sat quickly knowing Natalya would only sit after her. Natalya sat almost as quickly and leaned expectantly toward Aksinya. Aksinya sucked on her lower lip, “Nata, I do apologize that you were not the first to know about Ernst von Taaffe.”
Natalya smiled, “I realize you did not purposefully keep the information from me.”
Aksinya held the sides of her head, “I was in no condition last night to explain anything to anyone.”
“Tell me about him.” Natalya reached out her hands.
Aksinya grasped them, “He was an interesting man.” Her brow creased, “And he has my book.”
Natalya’s eyes widened, “He has your book.” Natalya sat up a little, “Does he…does he…?”
“Yes, he knows it all. He was the one who tried to help at the Golden Adler.”
“Then he was the gentleman who carried you back to the house?”
“Did he see you…you know, did he see you…?”
“He saw me make the great enchantment.”
Natalya hung her head, “I didn’t get to see it—I wish I had.”
“Hush, don’t say such things. It always embarrasses me. It is not something I am proud of.”
“I am proud of you, Countess…Aksinya.”
Aksinya glanced down, “No one else would be.”
“What about this young man?”
Aksinya made a face, “He praised me for it.”
Natalya tried to hide her smile, “Then, like me, he would be proud of you too.”
“He did, but I don’t want that. He wants to court me. He said he was infatuated with me.”
“For a man to appreciate you for who and what you are seems a very great thing to me. Will you allow him to court you?”
“He won’t give me back my book until I do.”
Natalya laughed, “Then you will only allow him to court you because he has your book?”
Aksinya glanced down, “He promised me another book too.”
Natalya was incredulous, “The only reason you will court him is for a couple of books?”
Aksinya turned her a foul look.
Natalya and Aksinya retire to Aksinya's rooms. They have coal fires and the house is warm which indicates Aksinya's wealth and how much is being spent on the house across the street (hint). Aksinya needs to talk to Natalya. They send Sister Margarethe away. Aksinya treats Natalya as an equal--a fact that is not lost on Natalya. Aksinya is concerned that Natalya, as her confidant, was not the first to know about Ernst. Natalya wants to know about the young man. Aksinya tells her little except that he has her book.
The conversation quickly turns to sorcery. The stepping off point allows Natalya to tell Aksinya that Ernst is like Natalya in his admiration of Aksinya's sorcery. Indeed, Aksinya tells Natalya that Ernst is infatuated with her.
Aksinya doesn't get the whole point of this infatuation. This young woman who is so sexually charged can't imagine a normal relationship between a man and a woman. She understands the relationship as the exchange of a book for a favor. Natalya realizes much more in Ernst's words. Then Natalya's admonition in a question: “The only reason you will court him is for a couple of books?” Aksinya didn't like that, but she isn't prepared for a man in her life. She is innocent of this part of humanity. We will find that this is an area of weakness for Aksinya--an area of great temptation and danger. Tomorrow, more of this conversation.