The Material Question

‘To explain to you what this thing was, which at this desperate moment could arouse in me such a feeling of gladness, I must first tell you that, when I went to live in Essentuki, the agitation of minds which had spread everywhere in Russia evoked in the consciousness of every more or less sensible person a foreboding of ominous events to come, and I therefore sent for my old mother, then at Alexandropol, to come and live with me. And later, when I went off on the scientific expedition I have mentioned, I entrusted her to those who remained behind in Essentuki.

‘Then, I must tell you that in that year, 1918, in the Caucasus as in all of Russia, the value of the rouble was declining daily, and everyone who had money bought objects of universal use and more stable value, such as precious stones, precious metals, rare antiques and so on. I also converted all my capital into valuables which I always carried on my person.

‘But at the time of the departure of the expedition from Essentuki, since pillaging raged everywhere under the guise of search and requisition, I would have incurred a great risk in carrying all these valuables myself. So I distributed part of them among my companions in the hope that, even if we did not escape the pillaging, there would nevertheless be a chance for some of us to save something; and the rest I divided among those who remained in Essentuki and Piatigorsk, among whom was my mother.
‘One of the things I gave my mother was a brooch which I had bought shortly before in Essentuki from a certain grand duchess who was in great need of money, and, on giving it to my mother, I told her that she should take particular care of it as it was very valuable.

‘I was sure that, constrained by necessity, my family must have sold this brooch soon after my departure; or, if not, that it had been stolen during their constant moving from place to place, because each town at that time was at the mercy of a band of pillagers without respect for anyone or anything; or finally, that it had been lost on the journey twenty times over.

‘In short, I had completely forgotten about this brooch and the thought of bringing it into my calculations could never have arisen in any comer of my brain.

‘But it seems that when I entrusted the brooch to my mother and asked her to take particular care of it, she thought that it must be very valuable to me personally as a remembrance, and had to be returned to me. All these years she had guarded it as the apple of her eye, had avoided showing it to any of her family, and had always carried it about with her like a talisman, sewn up in a little bag. And now, she was glad to be able to return it to me at last, and to be rid of something that had been a constant worry to her.