The Material Question

‘It was obvious that when the machines were delivered their springs had been fully wound up, and that, having run down in the course of time, they had only to be wound up again. But as there was no key or handle, it was difficult for people who had been given no instructions and lacked even the simplest technical notions, to discover how to rewind the spools.

‘Of course, I did not say anything of this to the clerks, but accepted their invitation to dine with them, and, having eaten some good government cabbage soup and kasha, I went straight home on my antediluvian bicycle and what remained of its tires.

‘That evening the adjutant came back to my workshop and in the same lofty tone asked: “Well, how about it? Have you found out yet why these brand new typewriters won’t work?”

‘Long before this, I had already become an old hand in the art of playing a role. So, assuming the expression called by real actors “respectful timidity and bashful deference”, and employing special and pompous terms borrowed from various Russian technical works, I began to extol the perfections of this make of typewriter in every respect but one, in which unfortunately a change, though complicated and difficult to bring about, was absolutely necessary. As for the work to be done, I estimated that the charge would be almost a quarter of the cost of the machines themselves.

‘The next day these perfectly good machines were solemnly brought to my workshop by almost a whole detachment of soldiers, headed by the adjutant.

‘I accepted them immediately, then announced in a very serious manner that in no case could the machines be ready in less than ten days. The vexed adjutant begged me to finish them sooner if possible, as the work in the office was almost at a standstill.

‘Finally, after much bargaining, I agreed to work at night and to deliver one machine in two days, but in return I begged him to be good enough to order his soldiers to bring the leavings of food from the mess for my three suckling pigs, which I had just bought and was keeping in my little yard.

‘Two days later one of these quite faultless machines was “ready” and I promised the others for the end of the week.

‘Besides the thanks and the eighteen roubles I received for repairing each machine, the soldiers brought food daily to my suckling pigs and took care of them themselves for the three months that I remained in Ashkhabad, during which time my suckling pigs turned into full­grown porkers.