The Material Question

‘Fifty thousand roubles—that was considered a real fortune!

‘During the existence of the workshop there were frequent opportunities for making greater profits by going into enterprises on the side. But one of the conditions of the wager was that the money was to be earned only by manual skills and by such small commercial transactions as would necessarily be connected with them, so I did not once yield to this temptation.

‘The wager had long been won while still in Ashkhabad, and the agreed amount earned four times over; nevertheless, as I have said, I decided to go on with the same sort of work in another town.
‘Almost everything had been liquidated. Vitvitskaia had gone to her sister’s, and I was getting ready to leave three days later for Merv.

‘What I have already told you is, I think, sufficient for you to have some idea of what I wished to make clear by this story: namely, that that specific feature of the common psyche of man which is an ideal for you Americans and which you call the commercial fibre, may also exist—and be even more highly developed—along with other fibres which you Americans do not have, among people living on other continents. Nevertheless, to illustrate this further and to give a fuller picture of my activities in those days, I will tell you about one more commercial trick which I played just before I left Ashkhabad.

‘I must tell you that just after I opened my workshop, I announced that I would buy all sorts of things. I did so for two reasons: firstly, I counted on finding parts needed for my repairs, as I had soon bought up in the shops and bazaars everything that could be of use to me for this purpose; and secondly, I hoped that among the old things brought in or offered for inspection at home I might—as often happened— chance upon something rare and valuable.

‘In a word, I was also an antique dealer.

‘A few days before my departure, I met at the bazaar a Georgian whom I had known before near Tiflis, where he had run the buffet at one of the stations of the Transcaucasian Railway. He was now a contractor for army provisions and he offered to sell me several old iron beds, of which he had a surplus.