15 September 2013

Two Birthday Candles, one Swedish Match

by Leigh Lundin

I salute our literary historian, Louis Willis, for fostering today’s SleuthSayers’ birthday gift, a detective case by none other than Anton Chekhov. Enjoy… at your peril.

The Swedish Match

by Anton Chekhov

portrait of Chekhov
portrait of Anton Chekhov
by brother Nikolai Chekhov
On the morning of October 6, 1885, a well-dressed young man presented himself at the office of the police superintendent of the 2nd division of the S. district, and announced that his employer, a retired cornet of the guards, called Mark Ivanovitch Klyauzov, had been murdered. The young man was pale and extremely agitated as he made this announcement. His hands trembled and there was a look of horror in his eyes.

“To whom have I the honour of speaking?” the superintendent asked him.

“Psyekov, Klyauzov’s steward. Agricultural and engineering expert.”

The police superintendent, on reaching the spot with Psyekov and the necessary witnesses, found the position as follows.

Masses of people were crowding about the lodge in which Klyauzov lived. The news of the event had flown round the neighbourhood with the rapidity of lightning, and, thanks to its being a holiday, the people were flocking to the lodge from all the neighbouring villages. There was a regular hubbub of talk. Pale and tearful faces were to be seen here and there. The door into Klyauzov’s bedroom was found to be locked. The key was in the lock on the inside.

“Evidently the criminals made their way in by the window,” Psyekov observed, as they examined the door.

They went into the garden into which the bedroom window looked. The window had a gloomy, ominous air. It was covered by a faded green curtain. One corner of the curtain was slightly turned back, which made it possible to peep into the bedroom.

“Has anyone looked in the window?” inquired the superintendent.

“No, your honour,” said Yefrem, the gardener, a little, grey-haired old man with the face of a veteran non-commissioned officer. “No one feels like looking when their limbs are shaking!”

“Ech, Mark Ivanovitch! Mark Ivanovitch!” sighed the superintendent, as he looked at the window. “I told you that you would come to a bad end! I told you, poor dear– you wouldn’t listen! Dissipation leads to no good!”

“It’s thanks to Yefrem,” said Psyekov. “We should never have guessed it but for him. It was he who first thought that something was wrong. He came to me this morning and said: ‘Why is it our master hasn’t waked up for so long? He hasn’t been out of his bedroom for a whole week!’ When he said that to me I was struck all of a heap… The thought flashed through my mind at once. He hasn’t made an appearance since Saturday of last week, and to-day’s Sunday. Seven days is no joke!”

“Yes, poor man.” The superintendent sighed again. “A clever fellow, well-educated, and so good-hearted. There was no one like him, one may say, in company. But a rake; the kingdom of heaven be his! I'm not surprised at anything with him! Stepan,” he said, addressing one of the witnesses. “Ride off this minute to my house and send Andryushka to the police captain’s, let him report to him. Say Mark Ivanovitch has been murdered! Yes, and run to the inspector– why should he sit in comfort doing nothing? Let him come here. And you go yourself as fast as you can to the examining magistrate, Nikolay Yermolaitch, and tell him to come here. Wait a bit, I will write him a note.”

The police superintendent stationed watchmen round the lodge, and went off to the steward’s to have tea. Ten minutes later he was sitting on a stool, carefully nibbling lumps of sugar, and sipping tea as hot as a red-hot coal.

“There it is!” he said to Psyekov. “There it is! A gentleman, and a well-to-do one, too … a favourite of the gods, one may say, to use Pushkin’s expression, and what has he made of it? Nothing! He gave himself up to drinking and debauchery, and … here now … he has been murdered!”

Two hours later the examining magistrate drove up. Nikolay Yermolaitch Tchubikov (that was the magistrate’s name), a tall, thick-set old man of sixty, had been hard at work for a quarter of a century. He was known to the whole district as an honest, intelligent, energetic man, devoted to his work. His invariable companion, assistant, and secretary, a tall young man of six and twenty, called Dyukovsky, arrived on the scene of action with him.

“Is it possible, gentlemen?” Tchubikov began, going into Psyekov’s room and rapidly shaking hands with everyone. “Is it possible? Mark Ivanovitch? Murdered? No, it’s impossible! Im-poss-i-ble!”

“There it is,” sighed the superintendent

“Merciful heavens! Why I saw him only last Friday. At the fair at Tarabankovo! Saving your presence, I drank a glass of vodka with him!”

“There it is.” The superintendent sighed once more.

They heaved sighs, expressed their horror, drank a glass of tea each, and went to the lodge.

“Make way!” the police inspector shouted to the crowd.

On going into the lodge the examining magistrate first of all set to work to inspect the door into the bedroom. The door turned out to be made of deal, painted yellow, and not to have been tampered with. No special traces that might have served as evidence could be found. They proceeded to break open the door.

“I beg you gentlemen who are not concerned to retire,” said the examining magistrate, when, after long banging and cracking, the door yielded to the axe and the chisel. “I ask this in the interests of the investigation. Inspector, admit no one!”

Tchubikov, his assistant, and the police superintendent opened the door and hesitatingly, one after the other, walked into the room. The following spectacle met their eyes. In the solitary window stood a big wooden bedstead with an immense feather bed on it. On the rumpled feather bed lay a creased and crumpled quilt. A pillow, in a cotton pillow case– also much creased, was on the floor. On a little table beside the bed lay a silver watch, and silver coins to the value of twenty kopecks. Some sulphur matches lay there too. Except the bed, the table, and a solitary chair, there was no furniture in the room. Looking under the bed, the superintendent saw two dozen empty bottles, an old straw hat, and a jar of vodka. Under the table lay one boot, covered with dust. Taking a look round the room, Tchubikov frowned and flushed crimson.

“The blackguards!” he muttered, clenching his fists.

“And where is Mark Ivanovitch?” Dyukovsky asked quietly.

“I beg you not to put your spoke in,” Tchubikov answered roughly. “Kindly examine the floor. This is the second case in my experience, Yevgraf Kuzmitch,” he added to the police superintendent, dropping his voice. “In 1870 I had a similar case. But no doubt you remember it… The murder of the merchant Portretov. It was just the same. The blackguards murdered him, and dragged the dead body out of the window.”

Tchubikov went to the window, drew the curtain aside, and cautiously pushed the window. The window opened.

“It opens, so it was not fastened… H'm there are traces on the window-sill. Do you see? Here is the trace of a knee… Some one climbed out… We shall have to inspect the window thoroughly.”

“Nothing special can be observed on the floor,” said Dyukovsky. “No stains, nor scratches. The only thing I have found is a used Swedish match. Here it is. As far as I remember, Mark Ivanovitch didn’t smoke; in a general way he used sulphur ones, never Swedish matches. This match may serve as a clue…”

“Oh, hold your tongue, please!” cried Tchubikov, with a wave of his hand. “He keeps on about his match! I can’t stand these excitable people! Instead of looking for matches, you had better examine the bed!”

On inspecting the bed, Dyukovsky reported: “There are no stains of blood or of anything else, nor are there any fresh rents. On the pillow there are traces of teeth. A liquid, having the smell of beer and also the taste of it, has been spilt on the quilt… The general appearance of the bed gives grounds for supposing there has been a struggle.”

“I know there was a struggle without your telling me! No one asked you whether there was a struggle. Instead of looking out for a struggle you had better be …”

“One boot is here, the other one is not on the scene.”

“Well, what of that?”

“Why, they must have strangled him while he was taking off his boots. He hadn’t time to take the second boot off when …”

“He’s off again! … And how do you know that he was strangled?”

“There are marks of teeth on the pillow. The pillow itself is very much crumpled, and has been flung to a distance of six feet from the bed.”

“He argues, the chatterbox! We had better go into the garden. You had better look in the garden instead of rummaging about here… I can do that without your help.”

When they went out into the garden their first task was the inspection of the grass. The grass had been trampled down under the windows. The clump of burdock against the wall under the window turned out to have been trodden on too. Dyukovsky succeeded in finding on it some broken shoots, and a little bit of wadding. On the topmost burrs, some fine threads of dark blue wool were found.

“What was the colour of his last suit? Dyukovsky asked Psyekov.

“It was yellow, made of canvas.”

“Capital! Then it was they who were in dark blue…”

Some of the burrs were cut off and carefully wrapped up in paper. At that moment Artsybashev-Svistakovsky, the police captain, and Tyutyuev, the doctor, arrived. The police captain greeted the others, and at once proceeded to satisfy his curiosity; the doctor, a tall and extremely lean man with sunken eyes, a long nose, and a sharp chin, greeting no one and asking no questions, sat down on a stump, heaved a sigh and said:

“The Serbians are in a turmoil again! I can’t make out what they want! Ah, Austria, Austria! It’s your doing!”

The inspection of the window from outside yielded absolutely no result, but inspection of the grass and surrounding bushes furnished many valuable clues. Dyukovsky succeeded, for instance, in detecting a long, dark streak in the grass, consisting of stains, and stretching from the window for a good many yards into the garden. The streak ended under one of the lilac bushes in a big, brownish stain. Under the same bush was found a boot, which turned out to be the fellow to the one found in the bedroom.

“This is an old stain of blood,” said Dyukovsky, examining the stain.

At the word ‘blood’, the doctor got up and lazily took a cursory glance at the stain.

“Yes, it’s blood,” he muttered.

“Then he wasn’t strangled since there’s blood,” said Tchubikov, looking malignantly at Dyukovsky.

“He was strangled in the bedroom, and here, afraid he would come to, they stabbed him with something sharp. The stain under the bush shows that he lay there for a comparatively long time, while they were trying to find some way of carrying him, or something to carry him on out of the garden.”

“Well, and the boot?”

“That boot bears out my contention that he was murdered while he was taking off his boots before going to bed. He had taken off one boot, the other, that is, this boot he had only managed to get half off. While he was being dragged and shaken the boot that was only half on came off of itself…”

“What powers of deduction! Just look at him!” Tchubikov jeered. “He brings it all out so pat! And when will you learn not to put your theories forward? You had better take a little of the grass for analysis instead of arguing!”

After making the inspection and taking a plan of the locality they went off to the steward’s to write a report and have lunch. At lunch they talked.

“Watch, money, and everything else … are untouched,” Tchubikov began the conversation. “It is as clear as twice two makes four that the murder was committed not for mercenary motives.”

“It was committed by a man of the educated class,” Dyukovsky put in.

“From what do you draw that conclusion?”

“I base it on the Swedish match which the peasants about here have not learned to use yet. Such matches are only used by landowners and not by all of them. He was murdered, by the way, not by one but by three, at least: two held him while the third strangled him. Klyauzov was strong and the murderers must have known that.”

“What use would his strength be to him, supposing he were asleep?”

“The murderers came upon him as he was taking off his boots. He was taking off his boots, so he was not asleep.”

“It’s no good making things up! You had better eat your lunch!”

“To my thinking, your honour,” said Yefrem, the gardener, as he set the samovar on the table, “this vile deed was the work of no other than Nikolashka.”

“Quite possible,” said Psyekov.

“Who’s this Nikolashka?”

“The master’s valet, your honour,” answered Yefrem. “Who else should it be if not he? He’s a ruffian, your honour! A drunkard, and such a dissipated fellow! May the Queen of Heaven never bring the like again! He always used to fetch vodka for the master, he always used to put the master to bed… Who should it be if not he? And what’s more, I venture to bring to your notice, your honour, he boasted once in a tavern, the rascal, that he would murder his master. It’s all on account of Akulka, on account of a woman. He had a soldier’s wife. The master took a fancy to her and got intimate with her, and he was angered by it, to be sure. He’s lolling about in the kitchen now, drunk. He’s crying … making out he is grieving over the master.”

“And anyone might be angry over Akulka, certainly,” said Psyekov. “She is a soldier’s wife, a peasant woman, but… Mark Ivanovitch might well call her Nana. Something in her does suggest Nana… fascinating.”

“I have seen her, I know…” said the examining magistrate, blowing his nose in a red handkerchief.

Dyukovsky blushed and dropped his eyes. The police superintendent drummed on his saucer with his fingers. The police captain coughed and rummaged in his portfolio for something. On the doctor alone the mention of Akulka and Nana appeared to produce no impression. Tchubikov ordered Nikolashka to be fetched. Nikolashka, a lanky young man with a long pock-marked nose and a hollow chest, wearing a reefer jacket that had been his master’s, came into Psyekov’s room and bowed down to the ground before Tchubikov. His face looked sleepy and showed traces of tears. He was drunk and could hardly stand up.

“Where is your master?” Tchubikov asked him.

“He’s murdered, your honour.”

As he said this Nikolashka blinked and began to cry.

“We know that he is murdered. But where is he now? Where is his body?”

“They say it was dragged out of window and buried in the garden.”

“H’m… the results of the investigation are already known in the kitchen then… That’s bad. My good fellow, where were you on the night when your master was killed? On Saturday, that is?”

Nikolashka raised his head, craned his neck, and pondered.

“I can’t say, your honour,” he said. “I was drunk and I don’t remember.”

“An alibi!” whispered Dyukovsky, grinning and rubbing his hands.

“Ah! And why is it there’s blood under your master’s window!”

Nikolashka flung up his head and pondered.

“Think a little quicker,” said the police captain.

“In a minute. That blood’s from a trifling matter, your honour. I killed a hen; I cut her throat very simply in the usual way, and she fluttered out of my hands and took and ran off…That’s what the blood’s from.”

Yefrem testified that Nikolashka really did kill a hen every evening and killed it in all sorts of places, and no one had seen the half-killed hen running about the garden, though of course it could not be positively denied that it had done so.

“An alibi,” laughed Dyukovsky, “and what an idiotic alibi.”

“Have you had relations with Akulka?”

“Yes, I have sinned.”

“And your master carried her off from you?”

“No, not at all. It was this gentleman here, Mr. Psyekov, Ivan Mihalitch, who enticed her from me, and the master took her from Ivan Mihalitch. That’s how it was.”

Psyekov looked confused and began rubbing his left eye. Dyukovsky fastened his eyes upon him, detected his confusion, and started. He saw on the steward’s legs dark blue trousers which he had not previously noticed. The trousers reminded him of the blue threads found on the burdock. Tchubikov in his turn glanced suspiciously at Psyekov.

“You can go!” he said to Nikolashka. “And now allow me to put one question to you, Mr. Psyekov. You were here, of course, on the Saturday of last week?

“Yes, at ten o'clock I had supper with Mark Ivanovitch.”

“And afterwards?”

Psyekov was confused, and got up from the table.

“Afterwards… afterwards… I really don’t remember,” he muttered. “I had drunk a good deal on that occasion… I can’t remember where and when I went to bed… Why do you all look at me like that? As though I had murdered him!”

“Where did you wake up?”

“I woke up in the servants’ kitchen on the stove … They can all confirm that. How I got on to the stove I can’t say…”

“Don’t disturb yourself … Do you know Akulina?”

“Oh well, not particularly.”

“Did she leave you for Klyauzov?”

“Yes. Yefrem, bring some more mushrooms! Will you have some tea, Yevgraf Kuzmitch?”

There followed an oppressive, painful silence that lasted for some five minutes. Dyukovsky held his tongue, and kept his piercing eyes on Psyekov’s face, which gradually turned pale. The silence was broken by Tchubikov.

“We must go to the big house,” he said, “and speak to the deceased’s sister, Marya Ivanovna. She may give us some evidence.”

Tchubikov and his assistant thanked Psyekov for the lunch, then went off to the big house. They found Klyauzov’s sister, a maiden lady of five and forty, on her knees before a high family shrine of ikons. When she saw portfolios and caps adorned with cockades in her visitors' hands, she turned pale.

“First of all, I must offer an apology for disturbing your devotions, so to say,” the gallant Tchubikov began with a scrape. “We have come to you with a request. You have heard, of course, already… There is a suspicion that your brother has somehow been murdered. God’s will, you know… Death no one can escape, neither Tsar nor ploughman. Can you not assist us with some fact, something that will throw light?”

“Oh, do not ask me!” said Marya Ivanovna, turning whiter still, and hiding her face in her hands. “I can tell you nothing! Nothing! I implore you! I can say nothing. What can I do? Oh, no, no… not a word of my brother! I would rather die than speak!”

Marya Ivanovna burst into tears and went away into another room. The officials looked at each other, shrugged their shoulders, and beat a retreat.

“A devil of a woman!” said Dyukovsky, swearing as they went out of the big house. “Apparently she knows something and is concealing it. And there is something peculiar in the maid-servant’s expression too… You wait a bit, you devils! We will get to the bottom of it all!

In the evening, Tchubikov and his assistant drove home by the light of a pale-faced moon. They sat in their waggonette, summing up in their minds the incidents of the day. Both were exhausted and sat silent.

Tchubikov never liked talking on the road. In spite of his talkativeness, Dyukovsky held his tongue in deference to the old man. Towards the end of the journey, however, the young man could endure the silence no longer, and began: “That Nikolashka has had a hand in the business,” he said, “non dubitandum est. One can see from his mug too what sort of a chap he is… His alibi gives him away hand and foot. There is no doubt either that he was not the instigator of the crime. He was only the stupid hired tool. Do you agree? The discreet Psyekov plays a not unimportant part in the affair too. His blue trousers, his embarrassment, his lying on the stove from fright after the murder, his alibi, and Akulka.”

“Keep it up, you’re in your glory! According to you, if a man knows Akulka he is the murderer. Ah, you hot-head! You ought to be sucking your bottle instead of investigating cases! You used to be running after Akulka too, does that mean that you had a hand in this business?”

“Akulka was a cook in your house for a month, too, but… I don’t say anything. On that Saturday night I was playing cards with you, I saw you, or I should be after you too. The woman is not the point, my good sir. The point is the nasty, disgusting, mean feeling. The discreet young man did not like to be cut out, do you see. Vanity, do you see… He longed to be revenged. His thick lips are a strong indication of sensuality. Do you remember how he smacked his lips when he compared Akulka to Nana? That he is burning with passion, the scoundrel, is beyond doubt! And so you have wounded vanity and unsatisfied passion. That’s enough to lead to murder. Two of them are in our hands, but who is the third? Nikolashka and Psyekov held him. Who was it smothered him? Psyekov is timid, easily embarrassed, altogether a coward. People like Nikolashka are not equal to smothering with a pillow, they set to work with an axe or a mallet. Some third person must have smothered him, but who?”

Dyukovsky pulled his cap over his eyes, and pondered. He was silent till the waggonette had driven up to the examining magistrate’s house.

“Eureka!” he said, as he went into the house, and took off his overcoat. “Eureka, Nikolay Yermolaitch! I can’t understand how it is it didn’t occur to me before. Do you know who the third is?”

“Do leave off, please! There’s supper ready. Sit down to supper!”

Tchubikov and Dyukovsky sat down to supper. Dyukovsky poured himself out a wine-glassful of vodka, got up, stretched, and with sparkling eyes, said:

“Let me tell you then that the third person who collaborated with the scoundrel Psyekov and smothered him was a woman! Yes! I am speaking of the murdered man’s sister, Marya Ivanovna!”

Tchubikov coughed over his vodka and fastened his eyes on Dyukovsky.

“Are you … not quite right? Is your head … not quite right? Does it ache?”

“I am quite well. Very good. Suppose I have gone out of my mind, but how do you explain her confusion on our arrival? How do you explain her refusal to give information? Admitting that that is trivial– very good! All right! But think of the terms they were on! She detested her brother! She is an Old Believer, he was a profligate, a godless fellow… that is what has bred hatred between them! They say he succeeded in persuading her that he was an angel of Satan! He used to practise spiritualism in her presence!”

“Well, what then?”

“Don’t you understand? She’s an Old Believer, she murdered him through fanaticism! She has not merely slain a wicked man, a profligate, she has freed the world from Antichrist– and that she fancies is her merit, her religious achievement! Ah, you don’t know these old maids, these Old Believers! You should read Dostoevsky! And what does Lyeskov say … and Petchersky! It’s she, it’s she, I’ll stake my life on it. She smothered him! Oh, the fiendish woman! Wasn’t she, perhaps, standing before the ikons when we went in to put us off the scent? ‘I’ll stand up and say my prayers,’ she said to herself. ‘They will think I am calm and don’t expect them.’ That’s the method of all novices in crime. Dear Nikolay Yermolaitch! My dear man! Do hand this case over to me! Let me go through with it to the end! My dear fellow! I have begun it, and I will carry it through to the end.”

Tchubikov shook his head and frowned.

“I am equal to sifting difficult cases myself,” he said. “And it’s your place not to put yourself forward. Write what is dictated to you, that is your business!”

Dyukovsky flushed crimson, walked out, and slammed the door.

“A clever fellow, the rogue,” Tchubikov muttered, looking after him. “Ve-ery clever! Only inappropriately hasty. I shall have to buy him a cigar-case at the fair for a present.”

Next morning, a lad with a big head and a hare lip came from Klyauzovka. He gave his name as the shepherd Danilko, and furnished a very interesting piece of information.

“I had had a drop,” said he. “I stayed on till midnight at my crony’s. As I was going home, being drunk, I got into the river for a bathe. I was bathing and what do I see! Two men coming along the dam carrying something black. ‘Tyoo!’ I shouted at them. They were scared, and cut along as fast as they could go into the Makarev kitchen-gardens. Strike me dead, if it wasn’t the master they were carrying!”

Towards evening of the same day Psyekov and Nikolashka were arrested and taken under guard to the district town. In the town they were put in the prison tower.

Twelve days passed.

It was morning. The examining magistrate, Nikolay Yermolaitch, was sitting at a green table at home, looking through the papers related to the ‘Klyauzov case’. Dyukovsky paced up and down the room restlessly, like a wolf in a cage.

“You are convinced of the guilt of Nikolashka and Psyekov,” he said, nervously pulling at his youthful beard. “Why is it you refuse to be convinced of the guilt of Marya Ivanovna? Haven’t you evidence enough?”

“I don’t say that I don’t believe in it. I am convinced of it, but somehow I can’t believe it. There is no real evidence. It’s all theoretical, as it were, Fanaticism and one thing and another…”

“And you must have an axe and bloodstained sheets! You lawyers! Well, I will prove it to you then! Do give up your slip-shod attitude to the psychological aspect of the case. Your Marya Ivanovna ought to be in Siberia! I’ll prove it. If theoretical proof is not enough for you, I have something material… It will show you how right my theory is! Only let me go about a little!”

“What are you talking about?”

“The Swedish match! Have you forgotten? I haven’t forgotten it! I’ll find out who struck it in the murdered man’s room! It was not struck by Nikolashka, nor by Psyekov, neither of whom turned out to have matches when searched, but a third person, that is Marya Ivanovna. And I will prove it! … Only let me drive about the district, make some inquiries…”

“Oh, very well, sit down. Let us proceed to the examination.”

Dyukovsky sat down to the table and thrust his long nose into the papers.

“Bring in Nikolay Tetchov!” cried the examining magistrate.

Nikolashka was brought in. He was pale and thin as a chip. He was trembling.

“Tetchov!” began Tchubikov. “In 1879 you were convicted of theft and condemned to a term of imprisonment. In 1882 you were condemned for theft a second time, and a second time sent to prison. We know all about it.”

A look of surprise came up into Nikolashka’s face. The examining magistrate’s omniscience amazed him, but soon wonder was replaced by an expression of extreme distress. He broke into sobs, and asked leave to go to wash, and calm himself. He was led out.

“Bring in Psyekov!” said the examining magistrate.

Psyekov was led in. The young man’s face had greatly changed during those twelve days. He was thin, pale, and wasted. There was a look of apathy in his eyes.

“Sit down, Psyekov,” said Tchubikov. “I hope that to-day you will be sensible and not persist in lying as on other occasions. All this time you have denied your participation in the murder of Klyauzov, in spite of the mass of evidence against you. It is senseless. Confession is some mitigation of guilt. Today I am talking to you for the last time. If you don’t confess to-day, to-morrow it will be too late. Come, tell us.”

“I know nothing, and I don’t know your evidence,” whispered Psyekov.

“That’s useless! Well then, allow me to tell you how it happened. On Saturday evening, you were sitting in Klyauzov’s bedroom drinking vodka and beer with him.” (Dyukovsky riveted his eyes on Psyekov’s face, and did not remove them during the whole monologue.) “Nikolay was waiting upon you. Between twelve and one Mark Ivanovitch told you he wanted to go to bed. He always did go to bed at that time. While he was taking off his boots and giving you some instructions regarding the estate, Nikolay and you at a given signal seized your intoxicated master and flung him back upon the bed. One of you sat on his feet, the other on his head. At that moment the lady, you know who, in a black dress, who had arranged with you beforehand the part she would take in the crime, came in from the passage. She picked up the pillow, and proceeded to smother him with it. During the struggle, the light went out. The woman took a box of Swedish matches out of her pocket and lighted the candle. Isn’t that right? I see from your face that what I say is true. Well, to proceed… Having smothered him, and being convinced that he had ceased to breathe, Nikolay and you dragged him out of window and put him down near the burdocks. Afraid that he might regain consciousness, you struck him with something sharp. Then you carried him, and laid him for some time under a lilac bush. After resting and considering a little, you carried him… lifted him over the hurdle. Then went along the road… Then comes the dam; near the dam you were frightened by a peasant. But what is the matter with you?”

Psyekov, white as a sheet, got up, staggering.

“I am suffocating!” he said. “Very well… So be it… Only I must go… Please.”

Psyekov was led out.

“At last he has admitted it!” said Tchubikov, stretching at his ease. “He has given himself away! How neatly I caught him there.”

“And he didn’t deny the woman in black!” said Dyukovsky, laughing. “I am awfully worried over that Swedish match, though! I can’t endure it any longer. Good-bye! I am going!”

Dyukovsky put on his cap and went off. Tchubikov began interrogating Akulka.

Akulka declared that she knew nothing about it.

“I have lived with you and with nobody else!” she said.

At six o’clock in the evening, Dyukovsky returned. He was more excited than ever. His hands trembled so much that he could not unbutton his overcoat. His cheeks were burning. It was evident that he had not come back without news.

“Veni, vidi, vici!” he cried, dashing into Tchubikov’s room and sinking into an arm-chair. “I vow on my honour, I begin to believe in my own genius. Listen, damnation take us! Listen and wonder, old friend! It’s comic and it’s sad. You have three in your grasp already … haven’t you? I have found a fourth murderer, or rather murderess, for it is a woman! And what a woman! I would have given ten years of my life merely to touch her shoulders. But, listen. I drove to Klyauzovka and proceeded to describe a spiral round it. On the way I visited all the shopkeepers and innkeepers, asking for Swedish matches. Everywhere I was told ‘No.’ I have been on my round up to now. Twenty times I lost hope, and as many times regained it. I have been on the go all day long, and only an hour ago came upon what I was looking for. A couple of miles from here they gave me a packet of a dozen boxes of matches. One box was missing … I asked at once: ‘Who bought that box?’ ‘So-and-so. She took a fancy to them. They crackle.’ My dear fellow! Nikolay Yermolaitch! What can sometimes be done by a man who has been expelled from a seminary and studied Gaboriau is beyond all conception! From today I shall began to respect myself! Ough… Well, let us go!”

“Go where?”

“To her, to the fourth. We must make haste or I shall explode with impatience! Do you know who she is? You will never guess. The young wife of our old police superintendent, Yevgraf Kuzmitch, Olga Petrovna; that’s who it is! She bought that box of matches!”

“You… you… Are you out of your mind?”

safety match
“It’s very natural! In the first place she smokes and in the second she was head over ears in love with Klyauzov. He rejected her love for the sake of an Akulka. Revenge. I remember now, I once came upon them behind the screen in the kitchen. She was cursing him, while he was smoking her cigarette and puffing the smoke into her face. But do come along; make haste, for it is getting dark already. Let us go!”

“I have not gone so completely crazy yet as to disturb a respectable, honourable woman at night for the sake of a wretched boy!”

“Honourable, respectable… You are a rag then, not an examining magistrate! I have never ventured to abuse you, but now you force me to it! You rag! You old fogey! Come, dear Nikolay Yermolaitch, I entreat you!”

The examining magistrate waved his hand in refusal and spat in disgust.

“I beg you! I beg you, not for my own sake, but in the interests of justice! I beseech you, indeed! Do me a favour, if only for once in your life!”

Dyukovsky fell on his knees.

“Nikolay Yermolaitch, do be so good! Call me a scoundrel, a worthless wretch if I am in error about that woman! It is such a case, you know! It is a case! More like a novel than a case. The fame of it will be all over Russia. They will make you examining magistrate for particularly important cases! Do understand, you unreasonable old man!”

The examining magistrate frowned and irresolutely put out his hand towards his hat.

“Well, the devil take you!” he said. “Let us go.”

It was dark when the examining magistrate’s waggonette rolled up to the police superintendent’s door.

“What brutes we are!” said Tchubikov, as he reached for the bell. “We are disturbing people.”

“Never mind, never mind, don’t be frightened. We will say that one of the springs has broken.”

Tchubikov and Dyukovsky were met in the doorway by a tall, plump woman of three and twenty, with eyebrows as black as pitch and full red lips. It was Olga Petrovna herself.

“Ah, how very nice,” she said, smiling all over her face. “You are just in time for supper. My Yevgraf Kuzmitch is not at home, he is staying at the priest’s. But we can get on without him. Sit down. Have you come from an inquiry?”

“Yes. We have broken one of our springs, you know,” began Tchubikov, going into the drawing-room and sitting down in an easy-chair.

“Take her by surprise at once and overwhelm her,” Dyukovsky whispered to him.

“A spring, er… yes… We just drove up…”

“Overwhelm her, I tell you! She will guess if you go drawing it out.”

“Oh, do as you like, but spare me,” muttered Tchubikov, getting up and walking to the window. “I can’t! You cooked the mess, you eat it!”

“Yes, the spring,” Dyukovsky began, going up to the superintendent’s wife and wrinkling his long nose. “We have not come in to… er-er-er … supper, nor to see Yevgraf Kuzmitch. We have come to ask you, madam, where is Mark Ivanovitch whom you have murdered?”

“What? What Mark Ivanovitch?” faltered the superintendent’s wife, and her full face was suddenly in one instant suffused with crimson. “I… don’t understand.”

“I ask you in the name of the law! Where is Klyauzov? We know all about it!”

“Through whom?” the superintendent’s wife asked slowly, unable to face Dyukovsky’s eyes.

“Kindly inform us where he is!”

“But how did you find out? Who told you?”

“We know all about it. I insist in the name of the law.”

The examining magistrate, encouraged by the lady’s confusion, went up to her.

“Tell us and we will go away. Otherwise we…”

“What do you want with him?”

“What is the object of such questions, madam? We ask you for information. You are trembling, confused… Yes, he has been murdered, and if you will have it, murdered by you! Your accomplices have betrayed you!”

The police superintendent’s wife turned pale.

“Come along,” she said quietly, wringing her hands. “He is hidden in the bath-house. Only for God’s sake, don’t tell my husband! I implore you! It would be too much for him.”

The superintendent’s wife took a big key from the wall, and led her visitors through the kitchen and the passage into the yard. It was dark in the yard. There was a drizzle of fine rain. The superintendent’s wife went on ahead. Tchubikov and Dyukovsky strode after her through the long grass, breathing in the smell of wild hemp and slops, which made a squelching sound under their feet. It was a big yard. Soon there were no more pools of slops, and their feet felt ploughed land. In the darkness they saw the silhouette of trees, and among the trees a little house with a crooked chimney.

“This is the bath-house,” said the superintendent’s wife, “but, I implore you, do not tell anyone.”

Going up to the bath-house, Tchubikov and Dyukovsky saw a large padlock on the door.

“Get ready your candle-end and matches,” Tchubikov whispered to his assistant.

The superintendent’s wife unlocked the padlock and let the visitors into the bath-house. Dyukovsky struck a match and lighted up the entry. In the middle of it stood a table. On the table, beside a podgy little samovar, was a soup tureen with some cold cabbage-soup in it, and a dish with traces of some sauce on it.

“Go on!”

They went into the next room, the bath-room. There, too, was a table. On the table there stood a big dish of ham, a bottle of vodka, plates, knives and forks.

“But where is he? Where’s the murdered man?”

He is on the top shelf,” whispered the superintendent’s wife, turning paler than ever and trembling.

Dyukovsky took the candle-end in his hand and climbed up to the upper shelf. There he saw a long, human body, lying motionless on a big feather bed. The body emitted a faint snore.

“They have made fools of us, damn it all!” Dyukovsky cried. “This is not he! It is some living blockhead lying here. Hey! Who are you, damnation take you!”

The body drew in its breath with a whistling sound and moved. Dyukovsky prodded it with his elbow. It lifted up its arms, stretched, and raised its head.

“Who is that poking?” a hoarse, ponderous bass voice inquired. “What do you want?”

Dyukovsky held the candle-end to the face of the unknown and uttered a shriek. In the crimson nose, in the ruffled, uncombed hair, in the pitch-black moustaches of which one was jauntily twisted and pointed insolently towards the ceiling, he recognised Cornet Klyauzov.

“You… Mark … Ivanovitch! Impossible!”

The examining magistrate looked up, dumbfounded.

“It is I, yes… And it’s you, Dyukovsky! What the devil do you want here? And whose ugly mug is that down there? Holy Saints, it’s the examining magistrate! How in the world did you come here?”

Klyauzov hurriedly got down and embraced Tchubikov. Olga Petrovna whisked out of the door.

“However did you come? Let’s have a drink! Dash it all! Tra-ta-ti-to-tom… Let’s have a drink! Who brought you here, though? How did you get to know I was here? It doesn’t matter, though! Have a drink!”

Klyauzov lighted the lamp and poured out three glasses of vodka.

“The fact is, I don’t understand you,” said the examining magistrate, throwing out his hands. “Is it you, or not you?”

“Stop that. Do you want to give me a sermon? Don’t trouble yourself! Dyukovsky boy, drink up your vodka! Friends, let us pass the… What are you staring at? Drink!”

“All the same, I can’t understand,” said the examining magistrate, mechanically drinking his vodka. “Why are you here?”

“Why shouldn’t I be here if I am comfortable here?”

Klyauzov sipped his vodka and ate some ham.

“I am staying with the superintendent’s wife, as you see. In the wilds among the ruins, like some house goblin. Drink! I felt sorry for her, you know, old man! I took pity on her, and, well, I am living here in the deserted bath-house, like a hermit, I am well fed. Next week I am thinking of moving on; I've had enough of it.”

“Inconceivable!” said Dyukovsky.

“What is inconceivable?”

“Inconceivable! For God’s sake, how did your boot get into the garden?”

“What boot?”

“We found one of your boots in the bedroom and the other in the garden.”

“And what do you want to know that for? It is not your business. But do drink, dash it all. Since you woke me, you may as well drink! There’s an interesting tale about that boot, my boy. I didn’t want to come to Olga’s. I didn’t feel inclined, you know, I’d had a drop too much… She came under the window and began scolding me. You know how women… as a rule. Being drunk, I up and flung my boot at her. Ha-ha! ‘Don’t scold,’ I said. She clambered in at the window, lighted the lamp, and gave me a good drubbing, as I was drunk. I have plenty to eat here… Love, vodka, and good things! But where are you off to? Tchubikov, where are you off to?”

The examining magistrate spat on the floor and walked out of the bath-house. Dyukovsky followed him with his head hanging. Both got into the waggonette in silence and drove off. Never had the road seemed so long and dreary. Both were silent. Tchubikov shook with anger all the way. Dyukovsky hid his face in his collar as though he were afraid the darkness and the drizzling rain might read his shame on his face.

On getting home, the examining magistrate found Doctor Tyutyuev there. The doctor was sitting at the table and heaving deep sighs as he turned over the pages of the Neva.

“The things that are going on in the world,” he said, greeting the examining magistrate with a melancholy smile. “Austria is at it again… and Gladstone, too, in a way…”

Tchubikov flung his hat under the table and began to tremble.

“You devil of a skeleton! Don’t bother me! I’ve told you a thousand times over, don’t bother me with your politics! It’s not the time for politics! And as for you,” he turned upon Dyukovsky and shook his fist at him, “as for you… I’ll never forget it, as long as I live!”

“But the Swedish match, you know! How could I tell…”

“Choke yourself with your match! Go away and don’t irritate me, or goodness knows what I shall do to you. Don’t let me set eyes on you.”

Dyukovsky heaved a sigh, took his hat, and went out.

“I’ll go and get drunk!” he decided, as he went out of the gate, and he sauntered dejectedly towards the tavern.

When the superintendent’s wife got home from the bath-house she found her husband in the drawing-room.

“What did the examining magistrate come about?” asked her husband.

“He came to say that they had found Klyauzov. Only fancy, they found him staying with another man’s wife.”

“Ah, Mark Ivanovitch, Mark Ivanovitch!” sighed the police superintendent, turning up his eyes. “I told you that dissipation would lead to no good! I told you so, but you wouldn’t heed me!”

  • Tune in next week for more Swedish Match skullduggery.


  1. Well, didn't that just turn a mystery tale on its head. This may have been the first Chekov story I've read. Sherlock Holmes he's not!

  2. 7500+ words - you made us work for our piece of birthday cake today, Mr Lundin.
    Interesting, but can't say Mr Chekhov is ever likely to climb to the top of my reading list.
    (Clever heading, by the way.)

  3. Oy vey. It was obvious from the beginning that they had no real reason for concluding the man had been murdered. Have we gotten smarter, or is it just that the mystery story has developed a lot since Chekhov's day?

  4. Writing mysteries certainly wasn't Mr. Chekhove's forte, and he probably couldn't get published as a writer of mysteries in any magazines today.

  5. Yes, Janet, exactly right.

    ABA, thank you! The Victorian writing's a bit much to read, but think how much work I put into translating! (sure, sure)

    Elizabeth, I think the genre has evolved considerably, although some television presentations are thin on linking clues to solutions.

    Louis, this is all your fault, you know! (grin)

    Anon… It's going to take this detective a while to figure that out!

  6. Leigh, I looked up TL,DR. Here ya' go:

  7. Leigh, I'm not sure "Victorian writing" is the problem here. Seems to me, Russian writers just tend to enjoy digression. I kept thinking This is like reading Tolstoy, while working through the story. LOL



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