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Chapter 20

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 nonexistent 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.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Fiction - Russian literature
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