The Cook's Wedding and Other Stories
"SOMEONE came from the Grigoryevs' to fetch a book, but I said you were not at home.
The postman brought the newspaper and two letters. By the way, Yevgeny Petrovitch, I
should like to ask you to speak to Seryozha. To-day, and the day before yesterday, I have
noticed that he is smoking. When I began to expostulate with him, he put his fingers in
his ears as usual, and sang loudly to drown my voice."
Yevgeny Petrovitch Bykovsky, the prosecutor of the circuit court, who had just come
back from a session and was taking off his gloves in his study, looked at the governess as
she made her report, and laughed.
"Seryozha smoking . . ." he said, shrugging his shoulders. "I can picture the little cherub
with a cigarette in his mouth! Why, how old is he?"
"Seven. You think it is not important, but at his age smoking is a bad and pernicious
habit, and bad habits ought to be eradicated in the beginning."
"Perfectly true. And where does he get the tobacco?"
"He takes it from the drawer in your table."
"Yes? In that case, send him to me."
When the governess had gone out, Bykovsky sat down in an arm-chair before his writing-
table, shut his eyes, and fell to thinking. He pictured his Seryozha with a huge cigar, a
yard long, in the midst of clouds of tobacco smoke, and this caricature made him smile; at
the same time, the grave, troubled face of the governess called up memories of the long
past, half-forgotten time when smoking aroused in his teachers and parents a strange, not
quite intelligible horror. It really was horror. Children were mercilessly flogged and
expelled from school, and their lives were made a misery on account of smoking, though
not a single teacher or father knew exactly what was the harm or sinfulness of smoking.
Even very intelligent people did not scruple to wage war on a vice which they did not
understand. Yevgeny Petrovitch remembered the head-master of the high school, a very
cultured and good-natured old man, who was so appalled when he found a high-school
boy with a cigarette in his mouth that he turned pale, immediately summoned an
emergency committee of the teachers, and sentenced the sinner to expulsion. This was
probably a law of social life: the less an evil was understood, the more fiercely and
coarsely it was attacked.
The prosecutor remembered two or three boys who had been expelled and their
subsequent life, and could not help thinking that very often the punishment did a great
deal more harm than the crime itself. The living organism has the power of rapidly
adapting itself, growing accustomed and inured to any atmosphere whatever, otherwise
man would be bound to feel at every moment what an irrational basis there often is