Friday, 14 October 2011

Inductive Detection

He wrote in his notebook, "How delightful on a bright, frosty day when a new sleigh with a rug comes to the door." 
    The General had sent a surprisingly grand, light Finnish sledge of gilded osier and spruce, with birch blades.  An altogether excellent turn-out - with a matching Finka - but no splash-board.
    The surly Jehu, chewing cedar nuts on the box-seat, wore a long coat bordered with matted furs of castor and zibeline.  The liver-coloured racer with nervous, pointed ears, and a mane that sparkled like spun glass, pawed the fresh sleighing snow and quivered with suppressed eagerness. 
    A small boy with a pinched grubby face - one of the town's inevitable street-waifs clambered on to the rear runners.
    The Stationmaster, whom Anton distinguished by that official's singular, venerable, black and red, pancake-shaped cap, sang out cheerily a warning note.
    "Whip behind!"
    The hackman whipt behind.
    A plaintive voice called, "Dai kopeiku!"
    Anton drew aside the lap-robe and tossed a coin to the urchin, as the cast-off child scrambled dejectedly to his feet from a sidewalk of freshly trodden slush.
    The whip cracked again.
    Before them, the pitted road was clean once more, bleached by new-fallen snow.
    Anton had long confessed a sneaking regard for the inductive method of detection popularised by Shklyarevsky* who had imitated the pirated novels of Émile Gaboriau; and, as the sledge surged over the ukhábam – the transverse ruts which furrowed the road – he studied closely the strenuous piaffing of the Orloff in the shafts and deduced, beyond dispute, that the beast in her palmier days must have been harnessed to a distinctly different rig. 
    They were running alongside verst upon verst of hurdle fences raised as snow screens to protect the mainline rails and marshalling tracks from drifts.
    Despite this containment the trotter persisted in veering heavily to the left.
    The animal furnished material for an absorbing deductive digression.
    Anton noticed the drivers's off-side flick of his whip and corrective twitch of the ribbons ; the reins glittered with sharpened metal blades embedded in the thong to strike the roadster's stifles.
    Approaching his task with all the rigour of a good diagnostician, D-r Tchékhov noted, too, that the stinging lash was fashioned from a sazhen length of stolen telegraph wire.
    Another thing. The animal’s left hindleg was sickle-hocked and, when the sled had first moved off, Anton had observed at once the raised hoof on that deformed limb was weighted with a horseshoe kidney† of impacted snow.
    This degenerating weakness of the gambrel and tendency to yaw, coupled with her one-sided gait, were all signs which pointed conclusively to the fact that, in her previous employ, the creature had spent practically all her working life in the out-rigger position of a troika, with the off fore-leg leading.  
    Detektiv Tchékhov could not refrain from imparting his suspicions, and tested his theory on the driver, who grunted his assent.
    “If I gave her her head, given half a chance, she'd chase her own tail!”
    The high-set tail rose and fell before them in rapid motion, as if the mare was cracking nuts.

*  A. A. Shklyarevsky, author of The Undiscovered Crime (1878), the latter being
    a provisional working title of Chekhov’s A Textbook Case in this segment of his
    manuscript in progress (later deleted and replaced with The Fatal Debut).
†  Motifs drawn directly from his medical studies are rare in this period of Chekhov’s
    literary development.  A horseshoe kidney is a congenital defect producing a fusion
    of two human kidneys into a horseshoe shape.

Additional Editorial Note
This draft requires much discreet amendment. Either the copyist has slipped up or Chekhov is in error! The  horse is called kon' (male) on ms page 1 and loshad' (female) on ms page 2.  Also on page 1 it is called a Finnish horse, and on page 2 an Orloff trotter!

For the origins of this text see my previous posting, D-r  Tchékhov, Detektiv.

No comments:

Post a Comment