The Material Question

‘Having learned there that I was living in Essentuki and that communications with that town were then open, they managed with the help of friends to hire two covered carts; and, barely moving along what was called the Georgian military road, they finally landed at my door, as I have just said, in such a state that they were not even recognizable.

‘Imagine the situation of a man who sees such a picture and who, in spite of the extreme difficulties of the moment, considers himself to be, and in fact is, the only one able to shelter them, clothe them, care for them and, in short, set them on their feet.

‘All these unforeseen expenses, as well as the cost of the expedition and the money left to provide for those who stayed behind in the Mineral Water towns, had used up all my reserves by the time I arrived, with a whole following, in Tiflis. Not only was my ready money gone, but also those valuables which my wife and I, during our constant moving about, had been able to carry with us.

‘As for the other valuable things I had collected for many years, although a few had been disposed of, at the very beginning of the chaotic events in Russia, by some of my pupils from the two capitals who afterwards came with their families to be near me in Essentuki, all the rest, including the two unique collections I have mentioned, remained partly in Petrograd and partly in Moscow, and I had no idea what had become of them.

‘By the second day after my arrival in Tiflis, matters had come to such a pass that I found myself without a single cent in my pocket. I had to beg the wife of one of my people to lend, or simply give me, her last ring, containing a small diamond of approximately one and a quarter carats, which I immediately sold so that everyone might eat that evening.

‘Things were made still more difficult by the illness I had contracted while crossing the Caucasus Mountains, where one is subjected to enormous differences of temperature between the day and night.

My condition became worse, since I could not lie in bed, but, with a temperature as high as 104°, was compelled to run about the city in order to find at any cost some way out of this desperate situation.
‘I acquainted myself with all the prospects of the local business world and, having seen that, in spite of the general depression throughout Transcaucasia, the trade in both new and old Oriental carpets was still flourishing, I at once decided to occupy myself with this business.