Yevgeny's problem is that his seven-year-old son has been caught smoking by the governess, and, what's more, the son actually stole the tobacco from Yevgeny's desk. Yevgeny's wife, the boy's mother, has died, and he regrets that he really has no notion of how to speak to the child about the smoking; he does not think that smoking is all that bad a habit (after all, he does it himself), and he does not know how to impress upon the child the seriousness of lying about the behavior. He tries to explain the concept of "property," but he continues to think to himself, "I am not saying the right thing!"
It is ironic that he is a prosecutor, one accustomed to making and defending arguments, and yet he cannot find the proper way to make this relatively simple argument to a child.
And it struck Yevgeny Petrovitch as strange and absurd that he, an experienced advocate, who spent half his life in the practice of reducing people to silence... was completely at a loss and did not know what to say to the boy.
Soon, Yevgeny actually becomes overwhelmed by feelings of nostalgia and love for his wife, whose eyes her son has, and he realizes he cannot spank the boy. Ultimately, he ends up improvising a story for the child. He has "noticed that the simpler and the less ingenious the plot, the stronger the impression it made on the child." He spins a simple tale about a sensible little boy, the son of an emperor, with only one fault—he smoked—and his smoking leads to his death. This affects his father; their kingdom becomes defenseless, and enemies come to kill the old man and destroy the palace. Yevgeny's son promises, as a result, that he will never smoke again. By turning the lesson into a story, Yevgeny manages to reach his son.