The Material Question

‘From the delighted tone of these buyers I knew that the old man was right. The next morning, at daybreak, I hired carts and brought over to my place all the barrels except the two already opened, which were really quite spoiled and from which had come that terrible stench. These I immediately sent off to the town dump.

‘The remaining eighteen barrels of herrings turned out to be not only good, but of the very best quality.

‘Evidently, neither the buyer for the officers’ mess nor the Georgian merchant, a native of Tiflis, where they do not eat herrings, knew any more about them than I did, that is, nothing at all; and from their peculiar smell they had considered them spoiled, and the Georgian had resigned himself to his loss.

‘In three days, with the help of the old Jew, to whom I paid half a kopek per herring—which made him extremely happy—all the herrings were sold, wholesale and retail.

‘By this time I had liquidated all my affairs, and on the eve of my departure I invited that Georgian, with my many other acquaintances, to a farewell supper. At table I related how well this affair had turned out for me, and, pulling the money out of my pocket, I offered to share my profits with him. But the Georgian, holding to a commercial principle firmly established among the old inhabitants of Transcaucasia and the Transcaspian region, refused to accept the money. He said that, when he had let me have the goods, he was certain they were quite worthless, and, if it had proved otherwise, it was a stroke of good luck for me and of bad luck for him, and therefore he considered it unfair to take advantage of my kindness. Moreover, the next day, when I left for Merv, I found among my things in the carriage a goat­skin of wine from this Georgian.


‘After the episode of this peculiar workshop of mine, several years passed, in which, while working unceasingly to prepare all the conditions necessary for the accomplishment of the fundamental aim of my life, I had to occupy myself quite often with all kinds of money­making affairs.

‘Although the many adventures and unexpected happenings of these years might be of great interest to you from both the psychological and the practical points of view, yet, not wishing to digress from the question raised this evening, I will not speak of them now, the more so since I intend to write an entire book about these years and similar periods of my life.