The Material Question

‘All day long an almost constant stream of customers, out­doing one another in loquacity, brought me their broken things for repair or came to pick up those already repaired, so that the greater part of my day was spent in receiving and returning orders. The intervals when there happened to be no customers gave barely enough time, even when I made exceptional haste, for going to buy new parts and the many and varied materials constantly required. Thus the work itself had to be done at night.
‘During the entire period of existence of the workshop, I had to divide my time in this way—the day for customers and the whole night for working.

‘I must say that I was greatly helped in all this work by Vitvitskaïa, who very soon became almost an expert at covering umbrellas, at remodelling corsets and ladies’ hats, and especially at making artificial flowers. I was also helped by the two boys I had taken on at the very beginning, the sons of the old Jew; the elder cleaned and prepared the metal things for galvanizing and polished them afterwards, and the younger ran errands and kindled the fire in the forge and kept the bellows going. Towards the end I was also helped, and by no means badly, by six young girls from local patriarchal families, whose parents, desiring them to have a “complete education”, sent them to my universal workshop to perfect themselves in fine needlework.

‘Even at the beginning, when there were only four of us, the quantity of work done was indeed such that it gave the impression that behind the door leading to the back rooms, on which of course there was a notice “Entrance strictly forbidden to the public”, at least several dozen expert craftsmen were working.
‘The workshop was open in Ashkhabad three and a half months, and during that time I had made fifty thousand roubles. Do you know what such a sum then meant?

‘For comparison, one must remember that at that time the salary of the average Russian public official was thirty-three roubles thirty-three kopeks a month, and that with this sum not only a single man, but one who had a family and even a crowd of children, contrived to live. The salary of a high-ranking officer, from forty-five to fifty roubles, was considered a great deal of money, and the dream of every young man was to earn this much.

‘Meat then cost six kopeks a pound, bread two or three kopeks, good grapes two kopeks; and there were a hundred kopeks in a rouble.