The narrator explains that the job of the historians is to look back on a period and identify various dates that represent turning points, like January 3, 1928, with the launch of the First Five Year Plan, or November 17, 1929, when Stalin paved the way for a return to autocracy. But those dates, the narrator explains, did not throw Moscow into upheaval. The 1920s, instead, were like the turn of a kaleidoscope, where events would cause the city to settle into a slightly new configuration.
The narrator explains that the late 1920s brought change and, by necessity, adaptation to the city of Moscow itself. Using the metaphor of the kaleidoscope, the city would adjust slightly with each new big event, eventually creating what looks like a very different Moscow, but upon closer examination only represents a few crucial adjustments.
In 1930, Theatre Square and the Metropol are much the same as they had always been: Vasily still sits at the concierge desk across from Arkady; Mr. Halecki still sits in the manager’s office (though with the Bishop as the new assistant manager). The Boyarsky still serves the very best from Emile Zhukhovsky, who is chopping away in the center of the kitchen (though the narrator notes that he uses the knife to point as much as to chop). Andrey still keeps the restaurant spinning, prompt as ever. But there is one addition to the Boyarksy’s staff: the Count, who has worked his way up to head waiter.
The narrator then explains both the things that have changed and the things that have remained the same in the Metropol: while many of the hotel’s staff members are still working away, the Count has joined them. So, while Moscow has adapted over the course of the last four years, the Count has also adapted and even thrived in his new job in the Boyarsky.
Emile, Andrey, and the Count, whom the narrator calls “the Triumvirate,” gather for their daily meeting. On this day, there are no parties or anything out of the ordinary. The Count peers at the list of reservations, giving Andrey suggestions as to where he should seat people.
The Count’s addition to the Boyarsky staff has also provided him with a new set of close friends, now that they have become peers to him. The Count uses the seating arrangement skills he learned as a boy, adapting them to his new job.
The sous-chef comes in with the special for the evening: a cucumber soup and rack of lamb. The Count tries the dish and notes the addition of mint. Andrey asks what he might recommend with the lamb. Wine labels were returned to the Metropol’s cellar in 1927, after a Russian diplomat had tried to order a bottle of Bordeaux for the French ambassador. The Count gives his suggestions for those who can afford a more expensive wine, and for those who cannot.
Though the Bolsheviks had deemed the wine list counter to the ideals of the revolution, the return of the labels proves that it is sometimes counterproductive to eradicate all traditions simply because they are traditional.
Before they adjourn, the Count presents one more matter: the envelope that had been slipped under his door, which is filled with saffron. Emile is delighted. The men then scheme about how to acquire oranges for a dish Emile wants to serve. Andrey says he can find them; Emile tells them that they should reconvene at half past twelve.
Once again, a small detail introduced in a prior chapter proves its importance: the saffron the Count has acquired provides the Triumvirate with another key ingredient to a delicious dish Emile had been wanting to serve, and a key step towards a night filled with camaraderie.
The Count leaves the Boyarsky in a good mood due to several factors: the increase in temperature in the preceding weeks, his success in finding saffron, and his commendation from Emile. The Count passes through the lobby, where a boy from the mail room calls out “Comrade” several times before the Count feels him tugging at his own sleeve. The boy gives the Count a letter from Mishka, which he promptly opens.
Even though the Count has become part of the working class by taking the job in the Boyarsky, it is clear that he still does not feel completely integrated into Communist society because he is totally unresponsive to being called “Comrade.”
Mishka’s letter describes how he was unable to sleep the night before writing the letter and had stumbled outside at four in the morning. He strolled along the Nevsky Prospekt and felt that he was walking “the length of Russian literature,” passing the cemetery where Dostoevsky and Tchaikovsky are buried, the house where Pushkin died, and places in which Gogol and Tolstoy wrote. He was overcome with emotion that Russian literature would carry on.
The Count has not been the only one noticing the change in Russian society: as Mishka observes the different legacies of Russian literature, he appreciates that the form will continue to evolve, which is what had excited him so much about the Russian Revolution and the rise of the Bolshevik party in the first place.
The Count stops reading after the first page, deeply moved, particularly because he can see how Mishka will carry on himself. Four years earlier, Mishka had moved to Kiev with Katerina. Three years later, she left him for another man. Six months after that, Mishka returned to Saint Petersburg to hole himself up in books. And now he is inspired once again by the very street on which he had fallen in love with Katerina.
The Count takes Mishka’s letter optimistically, and is happy that his best friend seems so content, even though the progression of Mishka’s life has recently had its share of tragic twists and turns. Yet had the Count finished reading the letter, he might have been more concerned for Mishka, because one of his favorite writers had committed suicide.
The Count picks up the letter again but is interrupted by three youths leaving the Piazza, who carry on a conversation next to him. The group consists of a handsome young man and a blonde and brunette woman. A fourth member of the party, a shorter and younger man, returns with a jacket for the blonde. She accepts it without thanking him.
This time, discovering by chance a small detail about Nina helps the Count identify her years later, due to the fact that she does not thank the young man—because she had told the Count in her youth that she would never thank someone for something she did not ask for.
The Count realizes that the young woman is Nina (due to her lack of thanks). He is delighted to see her. Nina tells the rest of her company to wait for her, and the two take each other in, having not seen each other for two years. Nina explains that she and the others are leaving the next morning to help collectivize the farms in the Ivanovo province. She says she has to go, and then leaves with her comrades.
Nina has become fully integrated into the Party cause, as she is leaving the next day to help with farm collectivization. Even though she has moved beyond her interest in princesses, her party loyalty will be tested by the resistance of peasants to this collectivization and the subsequent famine.
The Count pays a visit to Marina to fix a button on his jacket. He insists on fixing it himself, as Marina taught him to sew when he began working at the Boyarsky so that he could take care of his own appearance.
The Count demonstrates another way in which he has changed: learning a working-class skill (sewing) to be more in control of his appearance and more presentable at his job.
As the Count sews, he mentions to Marina that he ran into Nina. He tells Marina that Nina is still self-assured, passionate, and curious, but that she seems almost humorless. He worries that she won’t be able to enjoy her youth. Marina tells him not to worry, that life would eventually alleviate her seriousness. The Count is comforted by this thought.
Although Marina assures the Count that life (i.e., fate) will intervene in Nina’s future, fate is not always positive. For though fate will give Nina a daughter, her imminent conflict with the Party also will soon cause her disappearance.
The Count then realizes the time: 4:05pm. The Count quickly dashes through the lobby and vaults up the stairs until he arrives at suite 311. When he arrives, he finds the door open. He enters the suite and goes to the bedroom, as Anna Urbanova lets her dress slip to the floor.
The Count’s and Anna’s intermittent romance makes their relationship less of a fling and more of a longstanding romantic partnership, as they return to each other again and again over the years.