The Material Question

‘In addition to spoiled and really useless things they brought me quantities of brand-new things, not damaged at all, which they were unable to use merely because they did not know how to make them work, owing to their ignorance and lack of any even elementary technical knowledge, in short, owing to their stupidity.

‘At that time the latest inventions, such as sewing-machines, bicycles, typewriters, etc., were spreading everywhere at a furious rate. All these things were enthusiastically ordered and bought, but then, owing, as I have already said, to the lack of even the simplest technical knowledge and in the absence of local workshops or specialists, as soon as the slightest thing went wrong with them, they were set aside as useless.

‘I shall give you a few characteristic examples of this ignorance and naïveté, which I admit I then made use of quite deliberately, without experiencing any remorse of conscience whatsoever.

‘I remember how one day a rich, fat Armenian, puffing and bathed in perspiration, accompanied by his daughter, dragged in a sewing­machine to be repaired, which he had bought for her trousseau when he was staying in Nijni Novgorod for the fair.

‘At first this sewing-machine was, as he said, a treasure. It simply could not be praised too highly—it sewed so cleanly and so quickly; but all of a sudden for no rhyme or reason, and much to his vexation, it started going, as he expressed it, in reverse.

‘Looking over the machine, I found it in perfectly good order.

‘You may know that in certain sewing-machines, alongside the lever regulating the seam there is another lever for changing the direction of the feeder, and when this lever is shifted one changes the direction in which the material moves. Obviously someone had touched this lever unawares, and instead of the material being pushed forward, it was now being pulled backwards.

‘I saw at once that to put the machine right I had only to shift the lever into place, and I could have done this then and there. But seeing that I was dealing with a crafty old rogue and learning from the conversation that he was a merchant of caracul skins, I felt sure, well knowing such types, that to cram his own pockets he had tricked more than one Tekki or Bukharian—who are as credulous as children— and I therefore decided to pay him back in his own coin. So I went into a long­winded story about what was wrong with his sewing-machine and told him that several pinions would have to be changed for the machine to work properly again, at the same time cursing by everything under the sun the rascally manufacturers of the day.