A.P. Chekhov - A Mystery
ON the evening of Easter Sunday the actual Civil Councillor,
Navagin, on his return from paying calls, picked up the sheet of
paper on which visitors had inscribed their names in the hall,
and went with it into his study. After taking off his outer
garments and drinking some seltzer water, he settled himself
comfortably on a couch and began reading the signatures in the
list. When his eyes reached the middle of the long list of
signatures, he started, gave an ejaculation of astonishment and
snapped his fingers, while his face expressed the utmost
"Again!" he said, slapping his knee. "It's extraordinary! Again!
Again there is the signature of that fellow, goodness knows who
he is! Fedyukov! Again!"
Among the numerous signatures on the paper was the signature of
a certain Fedyukov. Who the devil this Fedyukov was, Navagin had
not a notion. He went over in his memory all his acquaintances,
relations and subordinates in the service, recalled his remote
past but could recollect no name like Fedyukov. What was so
strange was that this incognito, Fedyukov, had signed his name
regularly every Christmas and Easter for the last thirteen
years. Neither Navagin, his wife, nor his house porter knew who
he was, where he came from or what he was like.
"It's extraordinary!" Navagin thought in perplexity, as he paced
about the study. "It's strange and incomprehensible! It's like
"Call the porter here!" he shouted.
"It's devilish queer! But I will find out who he is!"
"I say, Grigory," he said, addressing the porter as he entered,
"that Fedyukov has signed his name again! Did you see him?"
"No, your Excellency."
"Upon my word, but he has signed his name! So he must have been
in the hall. Has he been?"
"No, he hasn't, your Excellency."
"How could he have signed his name without being there?"
"I can't tell."
"Who is to tell, then? You sit gaping there in the hall. Try and
remember, perhaps someone you didn't know came in? Think a
"No, your Excellency, there has been no one I didn't know. Our
clerks have been, the baroness came to see her Excellency, the
priests have been with the Cross, and there has been no one
else. . . ."
"Why, he was invisible when he signed his name, then, was he?"
"I can't say: but there has been no Fedyukov here. That I will
swear before the holy image. . . ."
"It's queer! It's incomprehensible! It's ex-traordinary!" mused
Navagin. "It's positively ludicrous. A man has been signing his
name here for thirteen years and you can't find out who he is.
Perhaps it's a joke? Perhaps some clerk writes that name as well
as his own for fun."
And Navagin began examining Fedyukov's signature.
The bold, florid signature in the old-fashioned style with
twirls and flourishes was utterly unlike the handwriting of the
other signatures. It was next below the signature of Shtutchkin,
the provincial secretary, a scared, timorous little man who
would certainly have died of fright if he had ventured upon such
an impudent joke.
"The mysterious Fedyukov has signed his name again!" said
Navagin, going in to see his wife. "Again I fail to find out who
Madame Navagin was a spiritualist, and so for all phenomena in
nature, comprehensible or incomprehensible, she had a very
"There's nothing extraordinary about it," she said. "You don't
believe it, of course, but I have said it already and I say it
again: there is a great deal in the world that is supernatural,
which our feeble intellect can never grasp. I am convinced that
this Fedyukov is a spirit who has a sympathy for you . . . If I
were you, I would call him up and ask him what he wants."
Navagin was free from superstitions, but the phenomenon which
interested him was so mysterious that all sorts of uncanny
devilry intruded into his mind against his will. All the evening
he was imagining that the incognito Fedyukov was the spirit of
some long-dead clerk, who had been discharged from the service
by Navagin's ancestors and was now revenging himself on their
descendant; or perhaps it was the kinsman of some petty official
dismissed by Navagin himself, or of a girl seduced by him. . . .
All night Navagin dreamed of a gaunt old clerk in a shabby
uniform, with a face as yellow as a lemon, hair that stood up
like a brush, and pewtery eyes; the clerk said something in a
sepulchral voice and shook a bony finger at him. And Navagin
almost had an attack of inflammation of the brain.
For a fortnight he was silent and gloomy and kept walking up and
down and thinking. In the end he overcame his sceptical vanity,
and going into his wife's room he said in a hollow voice:
"Zina, call up Fedyukov!"
The spiritualistic lady was delighted; she sent for a sheet of
cardboard and a saucer, made her husband sit down beside her,
and began upon the magic rites.
Fedyukov did not keep them waiting long. . . .
"What do you want?" asked Navagin.
"Repent," answered the saucer.
"What were you on earth?"
"A sinner. . . ."
"There, you see!" whispered his wife, "and you did not believe!"
Navagin conversed for a long time with Fedyukov, and then called
up Napoleon, Hannibal, Askotchensky, his aunt Klavdya Zaharovna,
and they all gave him brief but correct answers full of deep
significance. He was busy with the saucer for four hours, and
fell asleep soothed and happy that he had become acquainted with
a mysterious world that was new to him. After that he studied
spiritualism every day, and at the office, informed the clerks
that there was a great deal in nature that was supernatural and
marvellous to which our men of science ought to have turned
their attention long ago.
Hypnotism, mediumism, bishopism, spiritualism, the fourth
dimension, and other misty notions took complete possession of
him, so that for whole days at a time, to the great delight of
his wife, he read books on spiritualism or devoted himself to
the saucer, table-turning, and discussions of supernatural
phenomena. At his instigation all his clerks took up
spiritualism, too, and with such ardour that the old managing
clerk went out of his mind and one day sent a telegram: "Hell.
Government House. I feel that I am turning into an evil spirit.
What's to be done? Reply paid. Vassily Krinolinsky."
After reading several hundreds of treatises on spiritualism
Navagin had a strong desire to write something himself. For five
months he sat composing, and in the end had written a huge
monograph, entitled: My Opinion. When he had finished this essay
he determined to send it to a spiritualist journal.
The day on which it was intended to despatch it to the journal
was a very memorable one for him. Navagin remembers that on that
never-to-be-forgotten day the secretary who had made a fair copy
of his article and the sacristan of the parish who had been sent
for on business were in his study. Nayagin's face was beaming.
He looked lovingly at his creation, felt between his fingers how
thick it was, and with a happy smile said to the secretary:
"I propose, Filipp Sergeyitch, to send it registered. It will be
safer. . . ." And raising his eyes to the sacristan, he said: "I
have sent for you on business, my good man. I am putting my
youngest son to the high school and I must have a certificate of
baptism; only could you let me have it quickly?"
"Very good, your Excellency!" said the sacristan, bowing. "Very
good, I understand. . . ."
"Can you let me have it by to-morrow?"
"Very well, your Excellency, set your mind at rest! To-morrow it
shall be ready! Will you send someone to the church to-morrow
before evening service? I shall be there. Bid him ask for
Fedyukov. I am always there. . . ."
"What!" cried the general, turning pale.
"You, . . . you are Fedyukov?" asked Navagin, looking at him
with wide-open eyes.
"Just so, Fedyukov."
"You. . . . you signed your name in my hall?"
"Yes . . ." the sacristan admitted, and was overcome with
confusion. "When we come with the Cross, your Excellency, to
grand gentlemen's houses I always sign my name. . . . I like
doing it. . . . Excuse me, but when I see the list of names in
the hall I feel an impulse to sign mine. . . ."
In dumb stupefaction, understanding nothing, hearing nothing,
Navagin paced about his study. He touched the curtain over the
door, three times waved his hands like a jeune premier in a
ballet when he sees her, gave a whistle and a meaningless smile,
and pointed with his finger into space.
"So I will send off the article at once, your Excellency," said
These words roused Navagin from his stupour. He looked blankly
at the secretary and the sacristan, remembered, and stamping,
his foot irritably, screamed in a high, breaking tenor:
"Leave me in peace! Lea-eave me in peace, I tell you! What you
want of me I don't understand."
The secretary and the sacristan went out of the study and
reached the street while he was still stamping and shouting:
"Leave me in peace! What you want of me I don't understand.
Lea-eave me in peace!"
actual Civil Councillor: 4th in the table of ranks in the civil
service, equivalent to the military rank of Major-General