The Material Question

‘I paid for the beds, loaded them on my cart, and also took along one of the unopened barrels of herrings to show to a gardener. Back at the workshop we unloaded and put everything into the shed.

‘Just at that time the old Jew, the father of the boys who were working for me, came in, as he usually did in the evenings to have a chat with his sons and sometimes even to help them with their work.

‘I sat down in my little yard to smoke, and the thought suddenly entered my head to try the herrings on my pigs; perhaps they might eat them. Without explaining anything to the old man, I asked him to help me open the barrel.

‘When the lid was raised, the old Jew bent over to inhale the odour, and immediately his face lit up and he exclaimed:

“Now that’s what I call herrings! Herrings like these I have not seen for a long time, indeed not since I got into this damned country!”

‘I was puzzled. Having lived mostly in Asia where they do not eat herrings, I could never tell good from bad even if I did happen to eat them. They all had the same nasty smell for me. So I was bound to give some credence to this emphatic announcement of the old Jew, the more so since formerly, when he lived in Russia in the town of Rostov, he had had a butcher shop where he also used to sell fish.
‘However, I was still not entirely convinced and asked him whether he might not be mistaken, but he, offended to the core, replied: “What’s that you’re saying? These are genuine, preserved, such and such . . . herrings!” I do not remember what he called them.

‘Still having some doubts, I told him that I had by chance bought up a whole consignment of these herrings, and that, among us, it was a good omen when any goods were opened if some were sold at once: it was a sign that the entire sale would be successful. So now we should at once, without waiting till morning, sell at least a few herrings. And I asked him to try to do this immediately.

‘In this way I wanted to make sure that what the old man had said was true, and to act accordingly.
‘Near my workshop lived many Jews, most of them tradespeople. As it was evening, most of the shops were closed. But just opposite the workshop lived a watchmaker, a certain Friedman. He was called on first and he instantly bought a whole dozen, paying, without any bargaining, fifteen kopeks a pair.
‘The next buyer was the proprietor of the pharmacy on the comer, who at once bought fifty.