The Material Question

But is it worth talking about now?

In writing about this period of my life, there involuntarily arises in my memory that saying of our dear Mullah Nassr Eddin: ‘Do not recall with grief the beautiful hair of the convict’s head!’
As I was writing these last words someone came and sat down at my table.

All my acquaintances without exception know the condition imposed on everyone who comes to talk to me, which is to wait until I have finished writing and begin the conversation myself. Let it be said in passing that, although they have always respected this condition, I have nevertheless very often sensed that, while fulfilling the requirement scrupulously, some of them were grinding their teeth as if ready to drown me in a spoonful of the latest fashionable medicine.

When I had finished writing I turned to the newcomer and, from the first words he spoke, a series of reflections and deductions was started in me, the whole of which brought me to a categorical decision. If, just as I am concluding, I would now refrain from speaking about this categorical decision and the reflections which brought it into being, I would be acting contrary to the fundamental principles which run like a red thread all through this narrative.

To understand my situation at this moment, you must know that the person who came to sit at my table, and who left after receiving the requisite instructions from me, was no other than my secret partner in the wholesale trade in antiques. I say ‘secret’ because no one, not even any of the people nearest to me, knows about these business relations of mine.

I had entered into these relations with him six years previously, a few months after my accident. I was then still very weak physically but, with my customary faculty of thinking re­established, I began to cognize in all its nakedness my material situation of that date, due partly to the enormous expenses of the trip to America and partly to the expenses incurred on account of the serious illnesses of my mother and my wife. As prolonged lying in bed was becoming an increasingly unbearable moral torment for me, I began taking trips by car to try to relieve this suffering by taking in different impressions, and also in order to get wind of some business deal suitable for my condition at the time. Accompanied by several people who were constantly with me, I began to go about everywhere, chiefly to the gathering places of Russian refugees in Paris.