A fortnight passed.
It was morning. The magistrate Nicholas Yermolaïyevitch was sitting in his office before a green table, turning over the papers of the “Klausoff case”; Dukovski was striding restlessly up and down like a wolf in a cage.
In the second part of Chekov’s story of murder and investigation, the authorities press the suspects to confess and follow the trail to an unlikely co-conspirator.
Read more tales like this in Masterpieces of Mystery in Four Volumes: Detective Stories, which is available at Project Gutenberg.
“You are convinced of the guilt of Nicholas and Psyekoff,” he said, nervously plucking at his young beard. “Why will you not believe in the guilt of Maria Ivanovna? Are there not proofs enough for you?”
“I don’t say I am not convinced. I am convinced, but somehow I don’t believe it! There are no real proofs, but just a kind of philosophizing—fanaticism, this and that—”
“You can’t do without an axe and bloodstained sheets. Those jurists! Very well, I’ll prove it to you! You will stop sneering at the psychological side of the affair! To Siberia with your Maria Ivanovna! I will prove it! If philosophy is not enough for you, I have something substantial for you. It will show you how correct my philosophy is. Just give me permission—”
“What are you going on about?”
“About the safety match! Have you forgotten it? I haven’t! I am going to find out who struck it in the murdered man’s room. It was not Nicholas that struck it; it was not Psyekoff, for neither of them had any matches when they were examined; it was the third person, Maria Ivanovna. I will prove it to you. Just give me permission to go through the district to find out.”
“That’s enough! Sit down. Let us go on with the examination.”
Dukovski sat down at a little table, and plunged his long nose in a bundle of papers.
“Bring in Nicholas Tetekhoff!” cried the examining magistrate.
They brought Nicholas in. Nicholas was pale and thin as a rail. He was trembling.
“Tetekhoff!” began Chubikoff. “In 1879 you were tried in the Court of the First Division, convicted of theft, and sentenced to imprisonment. In 1882 you were tried a second time for theft, and were again imprisoned. We know all—”
Astonishment was depicted on Nicholas’s face. The examining magistrate’s omniscience startled him. But soon his expression of astonishment changed to extreme indignation. He began to cry and requested permission to go and wash his face and quiet down. They led him away.
“Bring in Psyekoff!” ordered the examining magistrate.
They brought in Psyekoff. The young man had changed greatly during the last few days. He had grown thin and pale, and looked haggard. His eyes had an apathetic expression.
“Sit down, Psyekoff,” said Chubikoff. “I hope that today you are going to be reasonable, and will not tell lies, as you did before. All these days you have denied that you had anything to do with the murder of Klausoff, in spite of all the proofs that testify against you. That is foolish. Confession will lighten your guilt. This is the last time I am going to talk to you. If you do not confess today, tomorrow it will be too late. Come, tell me all—”
“I know nothing about it. I know nothing about your proofs,” answered Psyekoff, almost inaudibly.
“It’s no use! Well, let me relate to you how the matter took place. On Saturday evening you were sitting in Klausoff’s sleeping room, and drinking vodka and beer with him.” (Dukovski fixed his eyes on Psyekoff’s face, and kept them there all through the examination.) “Nicholas was waiting on you. At one o’clock, Marcus Ivanovitch announced his intention of going to bed. He always went to bed at one o’clock. When he was taking off his boots, and was giving you directions about details of management, you and Nicholas, at a given signal, seized your drunken master and threw him on the bed. One of you sat on his legs, the other on his head. Then a third person came in from the passage—a woman in a black dress, whom you know well, and who had previously arranged with you as to her share in your criminal deed. She seized a pillow and began to smother him. While the struggle was going on the candle went out. The woman took a box of safety matches from her pocket, and lit the candle. Was it not so? I see by your face that I am speaking the truth. But to go on. After you had smothered him, and saw that he had ceased breathing, you and Nicholas pulled him out through the window and laid him down near the burdock. Fearing that he might come round again, you struck him with something sharp. Then you carried him away, and laid him down under a lilac bush for a short time. After resting awhile and considering, you carried him across the fence. Then you entered the road. After that comes the dam. Near the dam, a peasant frightened you. Well, what is the matter with you?”
“I am suffocating!” replied Psyekoff. “Very well—have it so. Only let me go out, please!”
They led Psyekoff away.
“At last! He has confessed!” cried Chubikoff, stretching himself luxuriously. “He has betrayed himself! And didn’t I get round him cleverly! Regularly caught him napping—”
“And he doesn’t deny the woman in the black dress!” exulted Dukovski. “But all the same, that safety match is tormenting me frightfully. I can’t stand it any longer. Good-bye! I am off!”
Dukovski put on his cap and drove off. Chubikoff began to examine Aquilina. Aquilina declared that she knew nothing whatever about it.
At six that evening Dukovski returned. He was more agitated than he had ever been before. His hands trembled so that he could not even unbutton his greatcoat. His cheeks glowed. It was clear that he did not come empty-handed.
“Veni, vidi, vici!” he cried, rushing into Chubikoff’s room, and falling into an armchair. “I swear to you on my honour, I begin to believe that I am a genius! Listen, devil take us all! It is funny, and it is sad. We have caught three already—isn’t that so? Well, I have found the fourth, and a woman at that. You will never believe who it is! But listen. I went to Klausoff’s village, and began to make a spiral round it. I visited all the little shops, public houses, dram shops on the road, everywhere asking for safety matches. Everywhere they said they hadn’t any. I made a wide round. Twenty times I lost faith, and twenty times I got it back again. I knocked about the whole day, and only an hour ago I got on the track. Three versts from here. They gave me a packet of ten boxes. One box was missing. Immediately: ‘Who bought the other box?’ ‘Such-a-one! She was pleased with them!’ Old man! Nicholas Yermolaïyevitch! See what a fellow who was expelled from the seminary and who has read Gaboriau can do! From today on I begin to respect myself! Oof! Well, come!”
“To her, to number four! We must hurry, otherwise—otherwise I’ll burst with impatience! Do you know who she is? You’ll never guess! Olga Petrovna, Marcus Ivanovitch’s wife—his own wife—that’s who it is! She is the person who bought the matchbox!”
“You—you—you are out of your mind!”
“It’s quite simple! To begin with, she smokes. Secondly, she was head and ears in love with Klausoff, even after he refused to live in the same house with her, because she was always scolding his head off. Why, they say she used to beat him because she loved him so much. And then he positively refused to stay in the same house. Love turned sour. ‘Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.’ But come along! Quick, or it will be dark. Come!”
“I am not yet sufficiently crazy to go and disturb a respectable honourable woman in the middle of the night for a crazy boy!”
“Respectable, honourable! Do honourable women murder their husbands? After that you are a rag, and not an examining magistrate! I never ventured to call you names before, but now you compel me to. Rag! Dressing-gown!—Dear Nicholas Yermolaïyevitch, do come, I beg of you—!”
The magistrate made a deprecating motion with his hand.
“I beg of you! I ask, not for myself, but in the interests of justice. I beg you! I implore you! Do what I ask you to, just this once!”
Dukovski went down on his knees.
“Nicholas Yermolaïyevitch! Be kind! Call me a blackguard, a ne’er-do-well, if I am mistaken about this woman. You see what an affair it is. What a case it is. A romance! A woman murdering her own husband for love! The fame of it will go all over Russia. They will make you investigator in all important cases. Understand, O foolish old man!”
The magistrate frowned, and undecidedly stretched his hand toward his cap.
“Oh, the devil take you!” he said. “Let us go!”
It was dark when the magistrate’s carriage rolled up to the porch of the old country house in which Olga Petrovna had taken refuge with her brother.
“What pigs we are,” said Chubikoff, taking hold of the bell, “to disturb a poor woman like this!”
“It’s all right! It’s all right! Don’t get frightened! We can say that we have broken a spring.”
Chubikoff and Dukovski were met at the threshold by a tall buxom woman of three and twenty, with pitch-black brows and juicy red lips. It was Olga Petrovna herself, apparently not the least distressed by the recent tragedy.
“Oh, what a pleasant surprise!” she said, smiling broadly. “You are just in time for supper. Kuzma Petrovitch is not at home. He is visiting the priest, and has stayed late. But we’ll get on without him! Be seated. You have come from the examination?”
“Yes. We broke a spring, you know,” began Chubikoff, entering the sitting room and sinking into an armchair.
“Take her unawares—at once!” whispered Dukovski; “take her unawares!”
“A spring—hum—yes—so we came in.”
“Take her unawares, I tell you! She will guess what the matter is if you drag things out like that.”
“Well, do it yourself as you want. But let me get out of it,” muttered Chubikoff, rising and going to the window.
“Yes, a spring,” began Dukovski, going close to Olga Petrovna and wrinkling his long nose. “We did not drive over here—to take supper with you or—to see Kuzma Petrovitch. We came here to ask you, respected madam, where Marcus Ivanovitch is, whom you murdered!”
“What? Marcus Ivanovitch murdered?” stammered Olga Petrovna, and her broad face suddenly and instantaneously flushed bright scarlet. “I don’t—understand!”
“I ask you in the name of the law! Where is Klausoff? We know all!”
“Who told you?” Olga Petrovna asked in a low voice, unable to endure Dukovski’s glance.
“Be so good as to show us where he is!”
“But how did you find out? Who told you?”
“We know all! I demand it in the name of the law!”
The examining magistrate, emboldened by her confusion, came forward and said:
“Show us, and we will go away. Otherwise, we—”
“What do you want with him?”
“Madam, what is the use of these questions? We ask you to show us! You tremble, you are agitated. Yes, he has been murdered, and, if you must have it, murdered by you! Your accomplices have betrayed you!”
Olga Petrovna grew pale.
“Come!” she said in a low voice, wringing her hands.
“I have him—hid—in the bath house! Only for heaven’s sake, do not tell Kuzma Petrovitch. I beg and implore you! He will never forgive me!”
Olga Petrovna took down a big key from the wall, and led her guests through the kitchen and passage to the courtyard. The courtyard was in darkness. Fine rain was falling. Olga Petrovna walked in advance of them. Chubikoff and Dukovski strode behind her through the long grass, as the odour of wild hemp and dishwater splashing under their feet reached them. The courtyard was wide. Soon the dishwater ceased, and they felt freshly broken earth under their feet. In the darkness appeared the shadowy outlines of trees, and among the trees a little house with a crooked chimney.
“That is the bath house,” said Olga Petrovna. “But I implore you, do not tell my brother! If you do, I’ll never hear the end of it!”
Going up to the bath house, Chubikoff and Dukovski saw a huge padlock on the door.
“Get your candle and matches ready,” whispered the examining magistrate to his deputy.
Olga Petrovna unfastened the padlock, and let her guests into the bath house. Dukovski struck a match and lit up the anteroom. In the middle of the anteroom stood a table. On the table, beside a sturdy little samovar, stood a soup tureen with cold cabbage soup and a plate with the remnants of some sauce.
They went into the next room, where the bath was. There was a table there also. On the table was a dish with some ham, a bottle of vodka, plates, knives, forks.
“But where is it—where is the murdered man?” asked the examining magistrate.
“On the top tier,” whispered Olga Petrovna, still pale and trembling.
Dukovski took the candle in his hand and climbed up to the top tier of the sweating frame. There he saw a long human body lying motionless on a large feather bed. A slight snore came from the body.
“You are making fun of us, devil take it!” cried Dukovski. “That is not the murdered man! Some live fool is lying here. Here, whoever you are, the devil take you!”
The body drew in a quick breath and stirred. Dukovski stuck his elbow into it. It raised a hand, stretched itself, and lifted its head.
“Who is sneaking in here?” asked a hoarse, heavy bass. “What do you want?”
Dukovski raised the candle to the face of the unknown, and cried out. In the red nose, dishevelled, unkempt hair, the pitch-black moustache, one of which was jauntily twisted and pointed insolently toward the ceiling, he recognized the gallant cavalryman Klausoff.
“You—Marcus—Ivanovitch? Is it possible?”
The examining magistrate glanced sharply up at him, and stood spellbound.
“Yes, it is I. That’s you, Dukovski? What the devil do you want here? And who’s that other mug down there? Great snakes! It is the examining magistrate! What fate has brought him here?”
Klausoff rushed down and threw his arms round Chubikoff in a cordial embrace. Olga Petrovna slipped through the door.
“How did you come here? Let’s have a drink, devil take it! Tra-ta-ti-to-tum—let us drink! But who brought you here? How did you find out that I was here? But it doesn’t matter! Let’s have a drink!”
Klausoff lit the lamp and poured out three glasses of vodka.
“That is—I don’t understand you,” said the examining magistrate, running his hands over him. “Is this you or not you!”
“Oh, shut up! You want to preach me a sermon? Don’t trouble yourself! Young Dukovski, empty your glass! Friends, let us bring this—What are you looking at? Drink!”
“All the same, I do not understand!” said the examining magistrate, mechanically drinking off the vodka. “What are you here for?”
“Why shouldn’t I be here, if I am all right here?”
Klausoff drained his glass and took a bite of ham.
“I am in captivity here, as you see. In solitude, in a cavern, like a ghost or a bogey. Drink! She carried me off and locked me up, and—well, I am living here, in the deserted bath house, like a hermit. I am fed. Next week I think I’ll try to get out. I’m tired of it here!”
“Incomprehensible!” said Dukovski.
“What is incomprehensible about it?”
“Incomprehensible! For Heaven’s sake, how did your boot get into the garden?”
“We found one boot in the sleeping room and the other in the garden.”
“And what do you want to know that for? It’s none of your business! Why don’t you drink, devil take you? If you wakened me, then drink with me! It is an interesting tale, brother, that of the boot! I didn’t want to go with Olga. I don’t like to be bossed. She came under the window and began to abuse me. She always was a termagant. You know what women are like, all of them. I was a bit drunk, so I took a boot and heaved it at her. Ha-ha-ha! Teach her not to scold another time! But it didn’t! Not a bit of it! She climbed in at the window, lit the lamp, and began to hammer poor tipsy me. She thrashed me, dragged me over here, and locked me in. She feeds me now—on love, vodka, and ham! But where are you off to, Chubikoff? Where are you going?”
The examining magistrate swore, and left the bath house. Dukovski followed him, crestfallen. They silently took their seats in the carriage and drove off. The road never seemed to them so long and disagreeable as it did that time. Both remained silent. Chubikoff trembled with rage all the way. Dukovski hid his nose in the collar of his overcoat, as if he was afraid that the darkness and the drizzling rain might read the shame in his face.
When they reached home, the examining magistrate found Dr. Tyutyeff awaiting him. The doctor was sitting at the table, and, sighing deeply, was turning over the pages of the Neva.
“Such goings on there are in the world!” he said, meeting the examining magistrate with a sad smile. “Austria is at it again! And Gladstone also to some extent—”
Chubikoff threw his cap under the table, and shook himself.
“Devils’ skeletons! Don’t plague me! A thousand times I have told you not to bother me with your politics! This is no question of politics! And you,” said Chubikoff, turning to Dukovski and shaking his fist, “I won’t forget this in a thousand years!”
“But the safety match? How could I know?”
“Choke yourself with your safety match! Get out of my way! Don’t make me mad, or the devil only knows what I’ll do to you! Don’t let me see a trace of you!”
Dukovski sighed, took his hat, and went out.
“I’ll go and get drunk,” he decided, going through the door, and gloomily wending his way to the public house.