The Material Question

‘I went to his house that same evening and we went down into the cellar to look at the beds, but there was such an intolerable stench that it was almost impossible to stay there. Hastily examining the beds, I fled as quickly as possible, and began negotiations only after we reached the street. I learned then that the stench in the cellar came from herrings that were stored there, twenty barrels of them, which he had bought at Astrakhan for the local officers’ mess. When the first two barrels were delivered and opened, the herrings were found to have gone bad and were rejected. The Georgian, fearing to lose his reputation, did not wish to offer them anywhere else, so he took them back and placed them temporarily in his cellar and then almost forgot about them. It was only now, after three months, when his whole house reeked of them, that he had made up his mind to get rid of them as soon as possible.

‘What vexed him was not only that he had lost money on them, but that in addition he would even have to pay to have them carted to the dump-heap, as otherwise the sanitary commission might hear about it and fine him.

‘While he was telling me all this, my thoughts began to work, according to the habit formed in me during this period, and I asked myself whether it might not be possible, by some combination or other, to derive profit even from this affair.
‘ I began to calculate:

‘ “He has twenty barrels of rotten herrings which must be thrown away. But the barrels themselves are worth at least a rouble apiece. If only I could get them emptied for nothing! Otherwise, carting them away would cost almost as much as they are worth . . .”

‘Then suddenly it dawned on me that surely herrings—especially rotten ones—would make good manure. And I thought that a gardener, in order to get such good manure for nothing, would surely agree in return to fetch the barrels, empty them, rinse them out, and bring them to me at the workshop. After smoking them I would be able to sell them at once, as barrels were in great demand, and in this way in half an hour I should make twenty roubles. And nobody would lose anything, but on the contrary everybody would gain by this, even the Georgian who had lost on the merchandise, but would now at least save the expense of carting.

‘Having thus thought things out, I said to the Georgian: “If you will take a little more off the beds, I will arrange for these barrels to be carted away without any cost to you.”

‘He agreed, and I promised to rid him of this source of infection the next morning.