On July 12, Nina catches the Count’s eye on the way to dinner, giving him a signal that they have established. She tells him that a certain gentleman has gone out to dine. They run upstairs towards suite 317—the Count’s old suite—before the narrator backtracks.
Within a few weeks, the Count’s friendship with Nina has deepened even more, as the two have established secret signals to go on adventures together.
The Count stopped going to the hotel bar after having to be dragged up the steps by Audrius earlier that week. He had begun to be plagued by restlessness and ennui after only three weeks of his sentence, and he worried how he might feel after three years. But on the first Wednesday in July, while the Count is sitting in the lobby with nothing to do, he notices Nina zipping by.
Nina helps the Count with the sense of restlessness that had continued to build in the first three weeks of his imprisonment because of his lack of purpose and no way to spend his time productively within the hotel.
The Count catches Nina and asks where she is headed. She reluctantly tells him the card room. When he asks why, she hesitates again, but then tells him that four women regularly met in the card room at three o’clock on Wednesdays. If she gets there at 2:30, she can hide in the cupboard, listen in on their conversation, and eat their cookies when they leave. When the Count asks where else she spends her time, she tells him to meet her in the lobby the next day at two o’clock.
Nina’s explanation of where she is going gives more insight into her mischievous and adventurous spirit. At first the Count acts more like a protective adult, but soon his curiosity gets the better of him and he joins Nina on these adventures. These activities later prepare him for taking care of Nina’s daughter, Sofia, with whom he takes much more of a fatherly role.
Thus begins the Count’s education on the inner workings of the hotel. He has lived in the Metropol for four years, but Nina has had ten months of her own kind of confinement. Her father had not put her in school, as he was posted only temporarily in Moscow. Thus, Nina has spent her time discovering every room of the hotel, its purpose, and how it might be used better.
Nina demonstrates that she is familiar with all of the different rooms of the hotel, and also how each one is used and how those rooms can be taken advantage of for one’s own purposes, opening up the hotel to far wider possibilities than if she had simply been satisfied with the rooms available to her as a guest, as the Count had been.
To initiate the Count’s explorations, Nina starts in the basement. She shows him the furnace room—where one could destroy secret messages and illicit love letters. She next opens the electrical room, where one lever could throw the ballroom into darkness and provide perfect cover for stealing pearls. At the far end of the basement, Nina and the Count pass a bright blue door. She says that she has not yet been in that room, and takes out her passkey for the hotel.
Nina begins to pass on the information she has gained and her own creative fantasies, opening up the Count’s mind to the possibilities that the hotel can offer, even in confinement. This new sense of freedom he acquires is symbolized by Nina’s passkey, which opens both literal and metaphorical doors for the Count.
Nina and the Count opens the door to reveal the hotel’s silver service. From floor to ceiling are soup bowls and asparagus servers and silver utensils, enough for a grand banquet. The Count wonders why the Bolsheviks had not taken it all away, and Nina surmises that perhaps they need it. The Count thinks to himself that yes, they would likely be having banquets soon enough, because all leaders eventually like pomp and fanfare, regardless of their political leanings.
The Count’s thoughts here bring in an additional critique of the Bolshevik party. For all their talk of getting rid of tradition and making society equal, they have still kept the hotel’s expensive silver service so that they might eventually throw banquets like a new aristocracy—which is exactly what comes to pass later in the novel.
In the following days, Nina leads the Count from room to room, including the hotel suites, as each room has a different view. If one wants to watch guests arrive at the Bolshoi, the best vantage point is the northwest window of suite 317. So, on July 12, the Count and Nina find themselves in his old suite. They watch as the attendees disappear through the doors, when one final taxi pulls up and a woman in a red dress rushes up the stairs. Nina sighs, wishing that she and the woman could change places. The Count thinks to himself that longing for another life is a universal sentiment.
When Nina observes that she would love to change places with the woman in red across the street, the Count sympathizes greatly, though perhaps out of simpler desires. He too would love the ability to stand across the street without fearing for his life, but he would likely even settle for living in the suite they are standing in, which is representative of the life that he had to give up, and in many ways wishes he could return to.
Later that night, the Count thinks about his visit to his old room. He had noticed the tea service on the table next to a folded newspaper. He imagines that the room’s resident had returned from some outing, ordered afternoon tea, and had whiled away an hour before dressing for dinner. The Count envies the anonymous man’s liberty and looks over his own room.
When the Count returns to his current suite, he is filled with even more jealousy in comparing the room and the life he has lost to the room and the life he currently has. Even though he has plenty of time for leisure, without freedom to accompany that time, he feels that he is spending a meaningless life.
The Count rises from his bed and examines the closet, wondering if it had been built in an old doorframe. He kicks the inner wall in and slips through the crack, discovering himself in the interior of a neighboring closet, attached to a neighboring room whose door had been blocked. He clears the door and moves his furniture to create a new study for himself. He then nails the front door shut so that the only way of entering the room is through the closet in his bedroom. He thinks to himself that a room existing in secret can be “as vast as one cares to imagine.”
Newly armed with Nina’s sense of curiosity and adventure, the Count discovers a new room, doubling his amount of space. Yet at the same time, it is not simply the amount of space that makes him feel less constricted. He implies here that the fact that the room is secret makes it even more invaluable, just as discovering the secret rooms of the hotel made him feel freer and more inspired.