Vronsky listened attentively, but he was not so much interested by the meaning of the words as by the attitude of Serpuhovskoy who was already contemplating a struggle with the existing powers, and already had his likes and dislikes in that higher world, while his own interest in the governing world did not go beyond the interests of his regiment. Vronsky felt, too, how powerful Serpuhovskoy might become through his unmistakable faculty for thinking things out and for taking things in, through his intelligence and gift of words, so rarely met with in the world in which he moved. And, ashamed as he was of the feeling, he felt envious.
“Still I haven’t the one thing of most importance for that,” he answered; “I haven’t the desire for power. I had it once, but it’s gone.”
“Excuse me, that’s not true,” said Serpuhovskoy, smiling.
“Yes, it is true, it is true...now!” Vronsky added, to be truthful.
“Yes, it’s true now, that’s another thing; but that now won’t last forever.”
“Perhaps,” answered Vronsky.
“You say perhaps,” Serpuhovskoy went on, as though guessing his thoughts, “but I say for certain. And that’s what I wanted to see you for. Your action was just what it should have been. I see that, but you ought not to keep it up. I only ask you to give me carte blanche. I’m not going to offer you my protection...though, indeed, why shouldn’t I protect you?— you’ve protected me often enough! I should hope our friendship rises above all that sort of thing. Yes,” he said, smiling to him as tenderly as a woman, “give me carte blanche, retire from the regiment, and I’ll draw you upwards imperceptibly.”
“But you must understand that I want nothing,” said Vronsky, “except that all should be as it is.”
Serpuhovskoy got up and stood facing him.
“You say that all should be as it is. I understand what that means. But listen: we’re the same age, you’ve known a greater number of women perhaps than I have.” Serpohovskoy’s smile and gestures told Vronsky that he mustn’t be afraid, that he would be tender and careful in touching the sore place. “But I’m married, and believe me, in getting to know thoroughly one’s wife, if one loves her, as someone has said, one gets to know all women better than if one knew thousands of them.”
“We’re coming directly!” Vronsky shouted to an officer, who looked into the room and called them to the colonel.
Vronsky was longing now to hear to the end and know what Serpuhovskey would say to him.
“And here’s my opinion for you. Women are the chief stumbling block in a man’s career. It’s hard to love a woman and do anything. There’s only one way of having love conveniently without its being a hindrance—that’s marriage. How, how am I to tell you what I mean?” said Serpuhovskoy, who liked similes. “Wait a minute, wait a minute! Yes, just as you can