Abram Yelov

He was even then a walking catalogue, for he knew innumerable titles of books in almost all languages, the names of the authors, and also the date and place of publication of any book, and where it could be obtained.

In the beginning I bought books from him, and later I exchanged or returned those I had already read and he used to help me find whatever other books I needed. We soon became friends.

At that time Abram Yelov was preparing himself to enter the Cadet School and spent almost all his free time cramming for this; but nevertheless, being much attracted to philosophy, he also managed to read a great many books on this subject.

It was owing to his interest in philosophical questions that our close friendship began, and we often used to meet in the evening in the Alexander Gardens, or in the Moushtaïd, and discuss philosophical themes. We often rummaged together through stacks of old books, and I even began helping him, on market days, in his trading.

Our friendship was further strengthened by the following occurrence:

On market days, there was a certain Greek who used to set his stall next to where Yelov traded. This Greek traded in various plaster-of-Paris wares, such as statuettes, busts of famous people, figures of Cupid and Psyche, a shepherd and shepherdess, and all kinds of money-boxes of all sizes, in the form of cats, dogs, pigs, apples, pears, and so forth— in short, in all the rubbish with which it was at one time fashionable to decorate tables, chests of drawers and special what-nots.

One day, during a lull in the trading, Yelov nodded in the direction of these wares and, in his singular way of expressing himself, said:

‘There’s someone making a pile of money, whoever it is that’s making that junk. They say it’s some dirty Italian, a newcomer that makes the trash in his dirty hovel; and those idiots, hawkers like that Greek, stuff his pockets full of the money laboriously earned by the fools who buy these horrors to decorate their idiotic homes. And here we stick all day on one spot, suffering in the cold, so that in the evening we can choke ourselves on a piece of stale maize bread to just barely keep body and soul together; and the next morning we come here again and go through the same cursed grind.’