On the face of it, this is a simple story about a dog biting a man. Police superintendent Otchumyelov is walking across the market square when he witnesses a commotion involving Hryukin, the goldsmith of this sleepy village, who is chasing the white borzoy puppy who has bitten him. Hryukin insists he must be compensated for the damage to his finger, and the superintendent ostensibly takes his side and instructs another policeman to find out whose dog this little scamp is. But now a crowd has gathered, and someone opines that the poor beast belongs to General Zhigalov. This puts a rather different color on the whole thing, and Otchumyelov begins to inquire of the goldsmith as to how the dog could have come to bite him in the first place, whereupon another good citizen offers up the report that the bite victim was trying to get the dog to smoke a cigarette.
Debate ensues over whether the general would own such a dog, not a high-bred variety at all, some day, he must be a runaway, and then others insist he is indeed the general’s, and didn’t the victim deserve the bite after all, trying to make a dog smoke is just asking for trouble, etc., etc. Finally, a servant from the general’s house comes along and they question him. He replies that although this is not one of the general’s dogs, it does in fact belong to the general’s brother, who happens to be visiting.
Here Otchumyelov beams broadly, and goes back to praising the dog and upbraiding Hryukin: the pendulum, as it were, has swung for the last time.
Apparently alone or in relative privacy with Hryukin, he sides with him against the gentry, a member of which is presumed to own the dog. Then as a crowd gathers, he challenges the victim, and once the general’s name is brought into it, the dog is shown much more sympathy. Within a short period of time, Otchumyelov takes off his coat and the puts it on again, because the wind has stirred up; his mind is as changeable as the direction of the blowing wind. As the identity or provenance of the puppy changes along with the version of the precipitating events, according to the information given him, police superintendent Otchumyelov, chameleon-like, changes back and forth from siding with Hryukin and showing contempt for the puppy to praising the dog and criticizing the foolish bite victim. Never let it be said that the police superintendent of this little Russian village does not know which side his bread is buttered on.
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