The Material Question

‘As I have said, there were also some blank rolls with the phonograph. I quickly found a Tekin street musician, and got him to sing and play several of the favourite melodies of the local population, and on the remaining rolls I myself recorded a series of piquant anecdotes in Turkoman.

‘Then I attached two additional ear-tubes to the four that were already on the machine—you may remember that the first Edison phonographs had ear­ tubes—and set off with it to the bazaar, where I opened my original booth.

‘I charged a price of five kopeks an ear-tube, and you will be able to imagine the result if I tell you that, during the whole time I was there, all day long, and particularly on market days, there was scarcely a moment when an ear-tube was free. At the end of each day the amount collected in five kopek pieces was probably not less than the profits of the biggest business in the town.

‘After Krasnovodsk I went to Kizil-Arvat, and while there, I was invited several times to go with my machine to the houses of wealthy Turkomans in the neighbouring villages. For these “request performances” I received a considerable quantity of tiangi and once even two very good Tekin carpets.
‘When I had made a good pile again here, I took the train with the intention of continuing this business in the town of Ashkhabad, but on the train I met one of the members of our community, with whom I made a wager thanks to which this phonographical career of mine came to an end.

‘The comrade I met was the inimitable and fearless Mme Vitvitskaia, who always wore men’s clothes. She had participated in all our perilous expeditions into the depths of Asia, Africa and even Australia and its neighbouring islands.

‘She also was to participate in the coming expedition and, having still a good many months free, had decided to go from Warsaw to Andijan to visit her sister—who was married to a representative of the textile firm of Poznansky—and to take a rest there before the date of our assembling at Chardzhou.
‘On the way we talked a great deal, and, among other things, I told her about my recent enterprises.

‘I do not remember how or for what reason a dispute arose between us, but the result was that it ended with a wager according to which, under very precise conditions and by a definite date, I was to make a certain sum of money.