FictionForest

PART THREE : Chapter 20

Leo TolstoyAug 23, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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Vronsky’s life was particularly
happy in that he had a code of principles, which defined
with unfailing certitude what he ought and what he
ought not to do.  This code of principles covered
only a very small circle of contingencies, but then
the principles were never doubtful, and Vronsky, as
he never went outside that circle, had never had a
moment’s hesitation about doing what he ought
to do.  These principles laid down as invariable
rules:  that one must pay a cardsharper, but need
not pay a tailor; that one must never tell a lie to
a man, but one may to a woman; that one must never
cheat anyone, but one may a husband; that one must
never pardon an insult, but one may give one and so
on.  These principles were possibly not reasonable
and not good, but they were of unfailing certainty,
and so long as he adhered to them, Vronsky felt that
his heart was at peace and he could hold his head
up.  Only quite lately in regard to his relations
with Anna, Vronsky had begun to feel that his code
of principles did not fully cover all possible contingencies,
and to foresee in the future difficulties and perplexities
for which he could find no guiding clue.

His present relation to Anna and to
her husband was to his mind clear and simple. 
It was clearly and precisely defined in the code
of principles by which he was guided.

She was an honorable woman who had
bestowed her love upon him, and he loved her, and
therefore she was in his eyes a woman who had a right
to the same, or even more, respect than a lawful wife. 
He would have had his hand chopped off before he would
have allowed himself by a word, by a hint, to humiliate
her, or even to fall short of the fullest respect
a woman could look for.

His attitude to society, too, was
clear.  Everyone might know, might suspect it,
but no one might dare to speak of it.  If any
did so, he was ready to force all who might speak to
be silent and to respect the non-existent honor of
the woman he loved.

His attitude to the husband was the
clearest of all.  From the moment that Anna loved
Vronsky, he had regarded his own right over her as
the one thing unassailable.  Her husband was simply
a superfluous and tiresome person.  No doubt
he was in a pitiable position, but how could that
be helped?  The one thing the husband had a right
to was to demand satisfaction with a weapon in his
hand, and Vronsky was prepared for this at any minute.

But of late new inner relations had
arisen between him and her, which frightened Vronsky
by their indefiniteness.  Only the day before
she had told him that she was with child.  And
he felt that this fact and what she expected of him
called for something not fully defined in that code
of principles by which he had hitherto steered his
course in life.  And he had been indeed caught
unawares, and at the first moment when she spoke to
him of her position, his heart had prompted him to
beg her to leave her husband.  He had said that,
but now thinking things over he saw clearly that it
would be better to manage to avoid that; and at the
same time, as he told himself so, he was afraid whether
it was not wrong.

“If I told her to leave her
husband, that must mean uniting her life with mine;
am I prepared for that?  How can I take her away
now, when I have no money?  Supposing I could
arrange….  But how can I take her away while
I’m in the service?  If I say that ­I
ought to be prepared to do it, that is, I ought to
have the money and to retire from the army.”

And he grew thoughtful.  The
question whether to retire from the service or not
brought him to the other and perhaps the chief though
hidden interest of his life, of which none knew but
he.

Ambition was the old dream of his
youth and childhood, a dream which he did not confess
even to himself, though it was so strong that now
this passion was even doing battle with his love. 
His first steps in the world and in the service had
been successful, but two years before he had made
a great mistake.  Anxious to show his independence
and to advance, he had refused a post that had been
offered him, hoping that this refusal would heighten
his value; but it turned out that he had been too bold,
and he was passed over.  And having, whether he
liked or not, taken up for himself the position of
an independent man, he carried it off with great tact
and good sense, behaving as though he bore no grudge
against anyone, did not regard himself as injured
in any way, and cared for nothing but to be left alone
since he was enjoying himself.  In reality he
had ceased to enjoy himself as long ago as the year
before, when he went away to Moscow.  He felt
that this independent attitude of a man who might
have done anything, but cared to do nothing, was already
beginning to pall, that many people were beginning
to fancy that he was not really capable of anything
but being a straightforward, good-natured fellow. 
His connection with Madame Karenina, by creating
so much sensation and attracting general attention,
had given him a fresh distinction which soothed his
gnawing worm of ambition for a while, but a week before
that worm had been roused up again with fresh force. 
The friend of his childhood, a man of the same set,
of the same coterie, his comrade in the Corps of Pages,
Serpuhovskoy, who had left school with him and had
been his rival in class, in gymnastics, in their scrapes
and their dreams of glory, had come back a few days
before from Central Asia, where he had gained two steps
up in rank, and an order rarely bestowed upon generals
so young.

As soon as he arrived in Petersburg,
people began to talk about him as a newly risen star
of the first magnitude.  A schoolfellow of Vronsky’s
and of the same age, he was a general and was expecting
a command, which might have influence on the course
of political events; while Vronsky, independent and
brilliant and beloved by a charming woman though he
was, was simply a cavalry captain who was readily
allowed to be as independent as ever he liked. 
“Of course I don’t envy Serpuhovskoy and
never could envy him; but his advancement shows me
that one has only to watch one’s opportunity,
and the career of a man like me may be very rapidly
made.  Three years ago he was in just the same
position as I am.  If I retire, I burn my ships. 
If I remain in the army, I lose nothing.  She
said herself she did not wish to change her position. 
And with her love I cannot feel envious of Serpuhovskoy.” 
And slowly twirling his mustaches, he got up from
the table and walked about the room.  His eyes
shone particularly brightly, and he felt in that confident,
calm, and happy frame of mind which always came after
he had thoroughly faced his position.  Everything
was straight and clear, just as after former days
of reckoning.  He shaved, took a cold bath, dressed
and went out.

 

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