c. 1868 | St. Petersburg

Tit for Tat

Dostoevsky throws Fido from the train.

“A stupid story, and briefly told,” the general began self-contentedly.

“Two years ago, yes! Or a bit less, just when the new —— railway line was opened, I (already in civilian dress), seeing to some extremely important matters to do with handing over my job, bought myself a first-class ticket: I got in, sat down, smoked. That is, I went on smoking, because I had lit up earlier. I was alone in the compartment. Smoking was not prohibited, but neither was it permitted; sort of half-permitted, as usual; well, and depending on the person. The window’s open. Suddenly, just before the whistle, two ladies with a lapdog place themselves just opposite me—latecomers—one is most magnificently dressed in light blue; the other more modestly, in black silk with a pelerine. They’re not bad looking, have a haughty air, talk in English. I, of course, just sit there smoking. That is, I did have a thought, but nevertheless, since the window’s open, I go on smoking out the window. The dog reposes in the light-blue lady’s lap, a little thing, the size of my fist, black with white paws—even a rarity. Silver collar with a motto. I just sit there. Only I notice that the ladies seem to be angry, about the cigar, of course. One glares through a lorgnette, tortoiseshell. Again I just sit there: because they don’t say anything! If they spoke, warned, asked—for there is, finally, such a thing as human speech! But they’re silent…suddenly—without any warning, I tell you, without the slightest warning, as if she’d taken leave of her senses—the light-blue one snatches the cigar from my hand and throws it out the window. The train flies on, I stare like a halfwit. A wild woman; a wild woman, as if in a totally wild state; a hefty one, though, tall, full, blond, ruddy (even much too ruddy), her eyes flashing at me. Without saying a word, with extraordinary politeness, with the most perfect politeness, with the most, so to speak, refined politeness, I reach out for the dog with two fingers, take it delicately by the scruff of the neck, and whisk it out the window in the wake of my cigar! It let out a little squeal! The train goes flying on…”

“You’re a monster!” cried Nastasya Filippovna, laughing and clapping her hands like a little girl.

“Bravo, bravo!” shouted Ferdyshchenko.

“And I’m right, I’m right, three times right!” the triumphant general went on heatedly. “Because if cigars are prohibited on trains, dogs are all the more so.”

Contributor

Fyodor Dostoevsky

From The Idiot. At the age of twenty-five in 1846, Dostoevsky published his first novel, Poor Folk, to wide acclaim. Three years later he was arrested for associating with liberals, subjected to a mock execution, and sent to Siberia for four years of hard labor. In a five-year period in the 1860s, Dostoevsky wrote Notes from Underground, Crime and Punishment, The Gambler, and The Idiot. In 1876 he became the editor of the Diary, a one-man monthly magazine, which mixed journalism, fiction, and commentary. He died at the age of fifty-nine in 1881.