Part 2, Chapter 19 Summary
On the day of the horse races, Vronsky comes early to the regiment’s mess hall and eats carefully so he will not gain any weight. While he waits for his steak, he feigns reading a novel to avoid conversation with any of the others. He is thinking about Anna Karenina’s promise to see him after the races today. He has not seen her for three days, but her husband has just arrived home from abroad, so he is not sure she will be able to make it or how he can find out for certain.
Their last meeting had been at his cousin Betsy’s summer villa, and they have occasionally gone to the Karenins’ summer villa. Vronsky decides he will go to see Anna Karenina, claiming his cousin wants to know if she will be at the races; he imagines seeing her and his face lights up.
Two men, newcomers to the regiment, are in the next room playing billiards before entering and trying to engage Vronsky in conversation. He is uncooperative and even rude with the men, and they finally retreat back to the billiard room. The next to enter the room is Captain Yashvin, who bangs his hand heavily down on Vronsky’s shoulder. Vronsky is angry until he sees who it is that has disturbed him; then his face lights up with his usual friendliness.
Yashvin is “a gambler and a rake,” a man not only without moral principles but actually possessing immoral principles. He is Vronsky’s greatest friend in the regiment for two reasons. First is his prodigious physical strength, as he is able to drink heavily and go without sleep without being at all affected by it. Second is his strength of character. He commands both fear and respect among his men, and he plays cards (often wagering tens of thousands and often after prodigious drinking) with such skill and decision that he is noted as the best player in the English Club.
Vronsky feels as if Yashvin likes him for himself, not for his money or his name. Of anyone in the regiment, Vronsky would have liked to tell Yashvin about his love. He knows the captain would understand his consuming passion and would understand that it is not simply a passing sentiment but something significant and serious. Vronsky has not spoken to him about this, but he knows his friend is aware of it and understands it.
Yashvin won eight thousand at cards yesterday (though the loser will only pay him five thousand), so Vronsky teases that he can afford to lose the bets he placed on Vronsky’s races. It is merely a jest, for Vronsky has no intention of losing. The two men leave the mess hall together.