The Material Question

It was thus that one day in one of the famous cafés in Paris a man came over to me whom I did not immediately recognize. It was only during the course of conversation that I remembered having met him many times in various towns of the Caucasus, Transcaucasia and the Transcaspian region. Travelling from town to town through these countries, he had been engaged in trading in all kinds of antiques, and had met me because almost everywhere in Asia I was known as an expert on antiques and as a very good dealer in rugs, Chinese porcelain, and cloisonné.

He told me, among other things, that he had managed to salvage a certain capital from the disaster in Russia and that, making use of his knowledge of English, he was engaged in the same business in Europe.

In telling me about his affairs he complained that the chief difficulty was that in Europe the market was flooded with all kinds of imitations, and suddenly he asked me:

‘By the way, my dear fellow-countryman, how about going into partnership with me, if only for the appraisal and valuation of the antiques?’

The result of our talk was that we drew up an agreement which brought about my participation in his business for four years. Before purchasing any of the antiques, he was to bring them to me for my appraisal. Or if they happened to be in places which more or less fitted in with the itinerary of the trips I had to take for many reasons during my activities as a writer, I would go myself to inspect them and communicate my opinion to him in a way agreed upon.

So it continued for a certain time. He would spend the whole year travelling about Europe unearthing and buying all sorts of rare pieces, which he would bring here to America and sell to antique dealers, chiefly in New York. As for me, I was only a partner for appraising the antiques.

However, last year, when the crisis in my material situation reached its zenith, while at the same time this business continued to do well since numerous outlets had been found and Europe was overflowing with merchandise of this kind, I had the idea of restoring my finances by this means; and I decided that the scale of operations carried on by my partner should be expanded as much as possible.