The Material Question

‘In short, I skinned him for twelve roubles fifty kopeks, promising to put the machine right in three days; but, of course, he had scarcely reached the door when it was already put right, numbered and placed with the finished articles.

‘I remember well how, on another occasion, an officer entered the workshop and said to me in a tone of great importance:

‘ “Go to the office of the regional commandant and tell the clerk in charge that I order him”—by the way, Russian officers of that period never spoke to anyone except to give orders—“to show you the typewriters. When you have looked at them let me know what is wrong with them.”
‘And off he went as he had come.

‘His offhand, imperious tone astonished me and somehow infuriated me. So I decided to go there without fail, chiefly in order to find out what sort of a “bird” this officer was and perhaps also to find a way of putting one over on him, which I must admit, I always enjoyed doing, because, beneath an expression of naïve innocence, I knew how to punish such insolent persons very venomously.
‘I went the same day to that office, announced myself to the head clerk and explained the reason of my visit. I discovered that it was the adjutant himself who had come to see me.

‘While I was examining the typewriters, of which there were three, the loquacious clerk, whom I had already made my friend thanks to a cigarette and a piquant anecdote of officer life, explained to me the following:

‘These machines, recently received from St. Petersburg, at first worked excellently; but soon one, then another, and then the third got out of order, all in the same way: the ribbon stopped unwinding. The adjutant, the quartermaster and others, all tried to put them in order, but, try as they might, no one succeeded, and for the last three days the office work had again to be written by hand.
‘While the clerk was telling me all this, I had examined the typewriters and already knew what the trouble was.

‘Some of you doubtless remember that, formerly, in certain makes of typewriters, the ribbon spools were unwound by the pressure of a spring placed in a special box in the lower part of the back of the machine, and were wound up by turning the box itself. As the ribbon moved slowly, the spring, being of considerable length, took quite a long time to run down, but from time to time it had to be wound up again.