The Material Question

‘I was maintaining two “community houses” for my relatives and the followers of my ideas, one for eighty-five people in Essentuki, and the other for sixty people in Piatigorsk.

‘The already high cost of living was rising daily. It was becoming more and more difficult, even with large sums of money, to obtain food for the two houses and I barely succeeded in making both ends meet.
‘One rainy morning, while sitting at the window looking out at the street and thinking how to obtain this, that and the other, I saw two odd-looking conveyances pull up at my door, from which a number of shadowy forms slowly emerged.

‘At first it was even difficult for me to make out what they were, but, as my agitated thoughts grew a little calmer, I gradually began to realize that these were people, or more exactly skeletons of people, with only their burning eyes alive, clad in rags and tatters, their bare feet covered with wounds and sores. There were twenty-eight in all, among them eleven children between the ages of one and nine.

‘These people turned out to be relatives of mine, among them my own sister with her six little children.
‘They had been living in Alexandropol, which, among other places, had been attacked by the Turks two months before. As neither the post nor the telegraph service were working and the towns were cut off from each other, the inhabitants of Alexandropol only learned of the approaching attack when the Turks were about three miles from the city. This news gave rise to an indescribable panic.

‘Just picture to yourselves how people must feel when, worn out and strained to the extreme limit, they realize that the enemy, stronger and better armed than their own troops, will inevitably enter the city and will mercilessly and indiscriminately massacre not only the men, but the women, the aged and the children, as was the order of things there.

‘And so my relatives, like all the rest, learned of the approach of the Turks only about an hour beforehand, and, seized with this panic, fled in terror just as they were, without stopping to take anything with them.

‘Quite bewildered and dashing off at random, they first even ran in the wrong direction. It was only when they were too exhausted to go further that they came to themselves a little, realized their mistake and took the direction of Tiflis.

‘After twenty long, painful days of walking over the mountains through almost impassable places, sometimes even crawling on hands and knees, hungry and cold, they finally arrived in Tiflis barely alive.