فصل 27

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فصل 27

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CHAPTER 27

The End of Apartment No. 50

When Margarita came to the last words of the chapter — ‘… Thus was the dawn of the fifteenth day of Nisan met by the fifth procurator of Judea, Pontius Pilate’ — it was morning.

Sparrows could be heard in the branches of the willows and lindens in the little garden, conducting a merry, excited morning conversation.

Margarita got up from the armchair, stretched, and only then felt how broken her body was and how much she wanted to sleep. It is interesting to note that Margarita’s soul was in perfect order. Her thoughts were not scattered, she was quite unshaken by having spent the night supernaturally. She was not troubled by memories of having been at Satan’s ball, or that by some miracle the master had been returned to her, that the novel had risen from the ashes, that everything was back in place in the basement in the lane, from which the snitcher Aloisy Mogarych had been expelled. In short, acquaintance with Woland had caused her no psychic damage. Everything was as if it ought to have been so.

She went to the next room, convinced herself that the master was soundly and peacefully asleep, turned off the unnecessary table lamp, and stretched out by the opposite wall on a little couch covered with an old, torn sheet. A minute later she was asleep, and that morning she had no dreams. The basement rooms were silent, the builder’s whole little house was silent, and it was quiet in the solitary lane.

But just then, that is, at dawn on Saturday, an entire floor of a certain Moscow institution was not asleep, and its windows, looking out on a big asphalt-paved square which special machines, driving around slowly and droning, were cleaning with brushes, shone with their full brightness, cutting through the light of the rising sun.

The whole floor was occupied with the investigation of the Woland case, and the lights had burned all night in dozens of offices.

Essentially speaking, the matter had already become clear on the previous day, Friday, when the Variety had had to be closed, owing to the disappearance of its administration and all sorts of outrages which had taken place during the notorious seance of black magic the day before. But the thing was that more and more new material kept arriving all the time and incessantly on the sleepless floor.

Now the investigators of this strange case, which smacked of obvious devilry, with an admixture of some hypnotic tricks and distinct criminality, had to shape into one lump all the many-sided and tangled events that had taken place in various parts of Moscow.

The first to visit the sleepless, electrically lit-up floor was Arkady Apollonovich Sempleyarov, chairman of the Acoustics Commission.

After dinner on Friday, in his apartment located in a house by the Kamenny Bridge, the telephone rang and a male voice asked for Arkady Apollonovich. Arkady Apollonovich’s wife, who picked up the phone, replied sullenly that Arkady Apollonovich was unwell, had retired for the night, and could not come to the phone. However, Arkady Apollonovich came to the phone all the same. To the question of where Arkady Apollonovich was being called from, the voice in the telephone had said very briefly where it was from.

‘This second … at once … this minute …’ babbled the ordinarily very haughty wife of the chairman of the Acoustics Commission, and she flew to the bedroom like an arrow to rouse Arkady Apollonovich from his bed, where he lay experiencing the torments of hell at the recollection of yesterday’s seance and the night’s scandal, followed by the expulsion of his Saratov niece from the apartment.

Not in a second, true, yet not in a minute either, but in a quarter of a minute, Arkady Apollonovich, with one slipper on his left foot, in nothing but his underwear, was already at the phone, babbling into it:

‘Yes, it’s me … I’m listening, I’m listening …’

His wife, forgetting for these moments all the loathsome crimes against fidelity in which the unfortunate Arkady Apollonovich had been exposed, kept sticking herself out the door to the corridor with a frightened face, poking a slipper at the air and whispering:

‘Put the slipper on, the slipper … you’ll catch cold …’ At which Arkady Apollonovich, waving his wife away with his bare foot and making savage eyes at her, muttered into the telephone:

‘Yes, yes, yes, surely … I understand … I’ll leave at once …’

Arkady Apollonovich spent the whole evening on that same floor where the investigation was being conducted.

It was a difficult conversation, a most unpleasant conversation, for he had to tell with complete sincerity not only about this obnoxious seance and the fight in the box, but along with that — as was indeed necessary - also about Militsa Andreevna Pokobatko from Yelokhovskaya Street, and about the Saratov niece, and about much else, the telling of which caused Arkady Apollonovich inexpressible torments.

Needless to say, the testimony of Arkady Apollonovich, an intelligent and cultivated man, who had been a witness to the outrageous seance, a sensible and qualified witness, who gave an excellent description of the mysterious masked magician himself and of his two scoundrelly assistants, a witness who remembered perfectly well that the magician’s name was indeed Woland, advanced the investigation considerably. And the juxtaposition of Arkady Apollonovich’s testimony with the testimony of others — among whom were some ladies who had suffered after the seance (the one in violet underwear who had shocked Rimsky and, alas, many others), and the messenger Karpov, who had been sent to apartment no. 50 on Sadovaya Street — at once essentially established the place where the culprit in all these adventures was to be sought.

Apartment no. 50 was visited, and not just once, and not only was it looked over with extreme thoroughness, but the walls were also tapped and the fireplace flues checked, in search of hiding places. However, none of these measures yielded any results, and no one was discovered in the apartment during any of these visits, though it was perfectly clear that there was someone in the apartment, despite the fact that all persons who in one way or another were supposed to be in charge of foreign artistes coming to Moscow decidedly and categorically insisted that there was not and could not be any black magician Woland in Moscow.

He had decidedly not registered anywhere on arrival, had not shown anyone his passport or other papers, contracts, or agreements, and no one had heard anything about him! Kitaitsev, head of the programme department of the Spectacles Commission, swore to God that the vanished Styopa Likhodeev had never sent him any performance programme of any Woland for approval and had never telephoned him about the arrival of such a Woland. So that he, Kitaitsev, utterly failed to see and understand how Styopa could have allowed such a seance in the Variety. And when told that Arkady Apollonovich had seen this magician at the seance with his own eyes, Kitaitsev only spread his arms and raised his eyes to heaven. And from Kitaitsev’s eyes alone one could see and say confidently that he was as pure as crystal.

That same Prokhor Petrovich, chairman of the main Spectacles Commission …

Incidentally, he returned to his suit immediately after the police came into his office, to the ecstatic joy of Anna Richardovna and the great perplexity of the needlessly troubled police.

Also, incidentally, having returned to his place, into his grey striped suit, Prokhor Petrovich fully approved of all the resolutions the suit had written during his short-term absence.

… So, then, this same Prokhor Petrovich knew decidedly nothing about any Woland.

Whether you will or no, something preposterous was coming out: thousands of spectators, the whole staff of the Variety, and finally Sempleyarov, Arkady Apollonovich, a most educated man, had seen this magician, as well as his thrice-cursed assistants, and yet it was absolutely impossible to find him anywhere. What was it, may I ask, had he fallen through the ground right after his disgusting seance, or, as some affirm, had he not come to Moscow at all? But if the first is allowed, then undoubtedly, in falling through, he had taken along the entire top administration of the Variety, and if the second, then would it not mean that the administration of the luckless theatre itself, after first committing some vileness (only recall the broken window in the study and the behaviour of Ace of Diamonds!), had disappeared from Moscow without a trace?

We must do justice to the one who headed the investigation. The vanished Rimsky was found with amazing speed. One had only to put together the behaviour of Ace of Diamonds at the cab stand by the movie theatre with certain given times, such as when the seance ended, and precisely when Rimsky could have disappeared, and then immediately send a telegram to Leningrad. An hour later (towards evening on Friday) came the reply that Rimsky had been discovered in number four-twelve on the fourth floor of the Hotel Astoria, next to the room in which the repertory manager of one of the Moscow theatres, then on tour in Leningrad, was staying — that same room which, as is known, had gilded grey-blue furniture and a wonderful bathroom.1 Discovered hiding in the wardrobe of number four-twelve of the Astoria, Rimsky was questioned right there in Leningrad. After which a telegram came to Moscow reporting that findirector Rimsky was in an unanswerable state, that he could not or did not wish to give sensible replies to questions and begged only to be hidden in a bulletproof room and provided with an armed guard.

A telegram from Moscow ordered that Rimsky be delivered to Moscow under guard, as a result of which Rimsky departed Friday evening, under said guard, on the evening train.

Towards evening on that same Friday, Likhodeev’s trail was also found. Telegrams of inquiry about Likhodeev were sent to all cities, and from Yalta came the reply that Likhodeev had been in Yalta but had left on a plane for Moscow.

The only one whose trail they failed to pick up was Varenukha. The famous theatre administrator known to decidedly all of Moscow had vanished into thin air.

In the meantime, there was some bother with things happening in other parts of Moscow, outside the Variety Theatre. It was necessary to explain the extraordinary case of the staff all singing ‘Glorious Sea’ (incidentally, Professor Stravinsky managed to put them right within two hours, by means of some subcutaneous injections), of persons presenting other persons or institutions with devil knows what in the guise of money, and also of persons who had suffered from such presentations.

As goes without saying, the most unpleasant, the most scandalous and insoluble of all these cases was the case of the theft of the head of the deceased writer Berlioz right from the coffin in the hall of Griboedov‘s, carried out in broad daylight.

Twelve men conducted the investigation, gathering as on a knitting-needle the accursed stitches of this complicated case scattered all over Moscow.

One of the investigators arrived at Professor Stravinsky’s clinic and first of all asked to be shown a list of the persons who had checked in to the clinic over the past three days. Thus they discovered Nikanor Ivanovich Bosoy and the unfortunate master of ceremonies whose head had been torn off. However, little attention was paid to them. By now it was easy to establish that these two had fallen victim to the same gang, headed by that mysterious magician. But to Ivan Nikolaevich Homeless the investigator paid great attention.

The door of Ivanushka’s room no. 117 opened towards evening on Friday, and into the room came a young, round-faced, calm and mild-mannered man, who looked quite unlike an investigator and yet was one of the best in Moscow. He saw lying on the bed a pale and pinched young man, in whose eyes one could read a lack of interest in what went on around him, whose eyes looked now somewhere into the distance, over his surroundings, now into the young man himself. The investigator gently introduced himself and said he had stopped at Ivan Nikolaevich’s to talk over the events at the Patriarch’s Ponds two days ago.

Oh, how triumphant Ivan would have been if the investigator had come to him earlier — say, on Wednesday night, when Ivan had striven so violently and passionately to make his story about the Patriarch’s Ponds heard! Now his dream of helping to catch the consultant had come true, there was no longer any need to run after anyone, they had come to him on their own, precisely to hear his story about what had happened on Wednesday evening.

But, alas, Ivanushka had changed completely in the time that had passed since the moment of Berlioz’s death: he was ready to answer all of the investigator’s questions willingly and politely, but indifference could be sensed both in Ivan’s eyes and in his intonation. The poet was no longer concerned with Berlioz’s fate.

Before the investigator’s arrival, Ivanushka lay dozing, and certain visions passed before him. Thus, he saw a city, strange, incomprehensible, non-existent, with marble masses, eroded colonnades, roofs gleaming in the sun, with the black, gloomy and merciless Antonia Tower, with the palace on the western hill sunk almost up to its rooftops in the tropical greenery of the garden, with bronze statues blazing in the sunset above this greenery, and he saw armour-clad Roman centuries moving along under the walls of the ancient city.

As he dozed, there appeared before Ivan a man, motionless in an armchair, clean-shaven, with a harried yellow face, a man in a white mantle with red lining, gazing hatefully into the luxurious and alien garden. Ivan also saw a treeless yellow hill with empty cross-barred posts.

And what had happened at the Patriarch’s Ponds no longer interested the poet Ivan Homeless.

‘Tell me, Ivan Nikolaevich, how far were you from the turnstile yourself when Berlioz slipped under the tram-car?’

A barely noticeable, indifferent smile touched Ivan’s lips for some reason, and he replied:

‘I was far away.’

‘And the checkered one was right by the turnstile?’

‘No, he was sitting on a little bench nearby.’

‘You clearly recall that he did not go up to the turnstile at the moment when Berlioz fell?’

‘I recall. He didn’t go up to it. He sat sprawled on the bench.’

These questions were the investigator’s last. After them he got up, gave Ivanushka his hand, wished him a speedy recovery, and expressed the hope that he would soon be reading his poetry again.

‘No,’ Ivan quietly replied, ‘I won’t write any more poetry.’

The investigator smiled politely, allowed himself to express his certainty that, while the poet was presently in a state of some depression, it would soon pass.

‘No,’ Ivan responded, looking not at the investigator but into the distance, at the fading sky, ‘it will never pass. The poems I used to write were bad poems, and now I understand it.’

The investigator left Ivanushka, having obtained some quite important material. Following the thread of events from the end to the beginning, they finally succeeded in reaching the source from which all the events had come. The investigator had no doubt that these events began with the murder at the Patriarch’s Ponds. Of course, neither Ivanushka nor this checkered one had pushed the unfortunate chairman of Massolit under the tram-car; physically, so to speak, no one had contributed to his falling under the wheels. But the investigator was convinced that Berlioz had thrown himself under the tram-car (or tumbled under it) while hypnotized.

Yes, there was already a lot of material, and it was known who had to be caught and where. But the thing was that it proved in no way possible to catch anyone. We must repeat, there undoubtedly was someone in the thrice-cursed apartment no. 50. Occasionally the apartment answered telephone calls, now in a rattling, now in a nasal voice, occasionally one of its windows was opened, what’s more, the sounds of a gramophone came from it. And yet each time it was visited, decidedly no one was found there. And it had already been visited more than once and at different times of day. And not only that, but they had gone through it with a net, checking every comer. The apartment had long been under suspicion. Guards were placed not just at the way to the courtyard through the gates, but at the back entrance as well. Not only that, but guards were placed on the roof by the chimneys. Yes, apartment no. 50 was acting up, and it was impossible to do anything about it.

So the thing dragged on until midnight on Friday, when Baron Meigel, dressed in evening clothes and patent-leather shoes, solemnly proceeded into apartment no. 50 in the quality of a guest. One could hear the baron being let in to the apartment. Exactly ten minutes later, without any ringing of bells, the apartment was visited, yet not only were the hosts not found in it, but, which was something quite bizarre, no signs of Baron Meigel were found in it either.

And so, as was said, the thing dragged on in this fashion until dawn on Saturday. Here new and very interesting data were added. A six-place passenger plane, coming from the Crimea, landed at the Moscow airport. Among the other passengers, one strange passenger got out of it. This was a young citizen, wildly overgrown with stubble, unwashed for three days, with inflamed and frightened eyes, carrying no luggage and dressed somewhat whimsically. The citizen was wearing a tall sheepskin hat, a Georgian felt cape over a nightshirt, and new, just-purchased, blue leather bedroom slippers. As soon as he separated from the ladder by which they descended from the plane, he was approached. This citizen had been expected, and in a little while the unforgettable director of the Variety, Stepan Bogdanovich Likhodeev, was standing before the investigators. He threw in some new data. It now became clear that Woland had penetrated the Variety in the guise of an artiste, having hypnotized Styopa Likhodeev, and had then contrived to fling this same Styopa out of Moscow and God knows how many miles away. The material was thus augmented, yet that did not make things easier, but perhaps even a bit harder, because it was becoming obvious that to lay hold of a person who could perform such stunts as the one of which Stepan Bogdanovich had been the victim would not be so easy. Incidentally, Likhodeev, at his own request, was confined in a secure cell, and next before the investigators stood Varenukha, just arrested in his own apartment, to which he had returned after a blank disappearance of almost two days.

Despite the promise he had given Azazello not to lie any more, the administrator began precisely with a lie. Though, by the way, he cannot be judged very harshly for it. Azazello had forbidden him to lie and be rude on the telephone, but in the present case the administrator spoke without the assistance of this apparatus. His eyes wandering, Ivan Savelyevich declared that on Thursday afternoon he had got drunk in his office at the Variety, all by himself, after which he went somewhere, but where he did not remember, drank starka2 somewhere, but where he did not remember, lay about somewhere under a fence, but where he again did not remember. Only after the administrator was told that with his behaviour, stupid and senseless, he was hindering the investigation of an important case and would of course have to answer for it, did Varenukha burst into sobs and whisper in a trembling voice, looking around him, that he had lied solely out of fear, apprehensive of the revenge of Woland’s gang, into whose hands he had already fallen, and that he begged, implored and yearned to be locked up in a bulletproof cell.

‘Pah, the devil! Really, them and their bulletproof cells!’ grumbled one of the investigators.

‘They’ve been badly frightened by those scoundrels,’ said the investigator who had visited Ivanushka.

They calmed Varenukha down the best they could, said they would protect him without any cell, and here it was learned that he had not drunk any starka under a fence, and that he had been beaten by two, one red-haired and with a fang, the other fat …

‘Ah, resembling a cat?’

‘Yes, yes, yes,’ whispered the administrator, sinking with fear and looking around him every second, coming out with further details of how he had existed for some two days in apartment no. 50 in the quality of a tip-off vampire, who had all but caused the death of the findirector Rimsky …

Just then Rimsky, brought on the Leningrad train, was being led in. However, this mentally disturbed, grey-haired old man, trembling with fear, in whom it was very difficult to recognize the former findirector, would not tell the truth for anything, and proved to be very stubborn in this respect. Rimsky insisted that he had not seen any Hella in his office window at night, nor any Varenukha, but had simply felt bad and in a state of unconsciousness had left for Leningrad. Needless to say, the ailing findirector concluded his testimony with a request that he be confined to a bulletproof cell.

Annushka was arrested just as she made an attempt to hand a ten-dollar bill to the cashier of a department store on the Arbat. Annushka’s story about people flying out the window of the house on Sadovaya and about the little horseshoe which Annushka, in her own words, had picked up in order to present it to the police, was listened to attentively.

‘The horseshoe was really made of gold and diamonds?’ Annushka was asked.

‘As if I don’t know diamonds,’ replied Annushka.

‘But he gave you ten-rouble bills, you say?’

‘As if I don’t know ten-rouble bills,’ replied Annushka.

‘Well, and when did they turn into dollars?’

‘I don’t know anything about any dollars, I never saw any dollars!’ Annushka replied shrilly. ‘I’m in my rights! I got recompensed, I was buying cloth with it,’ and she went off into some balderdash about not being answerable for the house management that allowed unclean powers on to the fifth floor, making life unbearable.

Here the investigator waved at Annushka with his pen, because everyone was properly sick of her, and wrote a pass for her to get out on a green slip of paper, after which, to everyone’s pleasure, Annushka disappeared from the building.

Then there followed one after another a whole series of people, Nikolai Ivanovich among them, just arrested owing solely to the foolishness of his jealous wife, who towards morning had informed the police that her husband had vanished. Nikolai Ivanovich did not surprise the investigators very much when he laid on the table the clownish certificate of his having spent the time at Satan’s ball. In his stories of how he had carried Margarita Nikolaevna’s naked housekeeper on his back through the air, somewhere to hell and beyond, for a swim in a river, and of the preceding appearance of the bare Margarita Nikolaevna in the window, Nikolai Ivanovich departed somewhat from the truth. Thus, for instance, he did not consider it necessary to mention that he had arrived in the bedroom with the discarded shift in his hands, or that he had called Natasha ‘Venus’. From his words it looked as if Natasha had flown out the window, got astride him, and dragged him away from Moscow …

‘Obedient to constraint, I was compelled to submit,’ Nikolai Ivanovich said, and finished his tale with a request that not a word of it be told to his wife. Which was promised him.

The testimony of Nikolai Ivanovich provided an opportunity for establishing that Margarita Nikolaevna as well as her housekeeper Natasha had vanished without a trace. Measures were taken to find them.

Thus every second of Saturday morning was marked by the unrelenting investigation. In the city during that time, completely impossible rumours emerged and floated about, in which a tiny portion of truth was embellished with the most luxuriant lies. It was said that there had been a seance at the Variety after which all two thousand spectators ran out to the street in their birthday suits, that a press for making counterfeit money of a magic sort had been nabbed on Sadovaya Street, that some gang had kidnapped five managers from the entertainment sector, but the police had immediately found them all, and many other things that one does not even wish to repeat.

Meanwhile it was getting on towards dinner time, and then, in the place where the investigation was being conducted, the telephone rang. From Sadovaya came a report that the accursed apartment was again showing signs of life. It was said that its windows had been opened from inside, that sounds of a piano and singing were coming from it, and that a black cat had been seen in a window, sitting on the sill and basking in the sun.

At around four o‘clock on that hot day, a big company of men in civilian clothes got out of three cars a short distance from no. 302-bis on Sadovaya Street. Here the big group divided into two small ones, the first going under the gateway of the house and across the courtyard directly to the sixth entrance, while the second opened the normally boarded-up little door leading to the back entrance, and both started up separate stairways to apartment no. 50.

Just then Koroviev and Azazello — Koroviev in his usual outfit and not the festive tailcoat — were sitting in the dining room of the apartment finishing breakfast. Woland, as was his wont, was in the bedroom, and where the cat was nobody knew. But judging by the clatter of dishes coming from the kitchen, it could be supposed that Behemoth was precisely there, playing the fool, as was his wont.

‘And what are those footsteps on the stairs?’ asked Koroviev, toying with the little spoon in his cup of black coffee.

‘That’s them coming to arrest us,’ Azazello replied and drank off a glass of cognac.

‘Ahh … well, well …’ Koroviev replied to that.

The ones going up the front stairway were already on the third-floor landing. There a couple of plumbers were pottering over the harmonica of the steam heating. The newcomers exchanged significant glances with the plumbers.

‘They’re all at home,’ whispered one of the plumbers, tapping a pipe with his hammer.

Then the one walking at the head openly took a black Mauser from under his coat, and another beside him took out the skeleton keys. Generally, those going to apartment no. 50 were properly equipped. Two of them had fine, easily unfolded silk nets in their pockets. Another of them had a lasso, another had gauze masks and ampoules of chloroform.

In a second the front door to apartment no. 50 was open and all the visitors were in the front hall, while the slamming of the door in the kitchen at the same moment indicated the timely arrival of the second group from the back stairs.

This time there was, if not complete, at least some sort of success. The men instantly dispersed through all the rooms and found no one anywhere, but instead on the table of the dining room they discovered the remains of an apparently just-abandoned breakfast, and in the living room, on the mantelpiece, beside a crystal pitcher, sat an enormous black cat. He was holding a primus in his paws.

Those who entered the living room contemplated this cat for quite a long time in total silence.

‘Hm, yes … that’s quite something …’ one of the men whispered.

‘Ain’t misbehaving, ain’t bothering anybody, just reparating my primus,’ said the cat with an unfriendly scowl, ‘and I also consider it my duty to warn you that the cat is an ancient and inviolable animal.’

‘Exceptionally neat job,’ whispered one of the men, and another said loudly and distinctly:

‘Well, come right in, you inviolable, ventriloquous cat!’

The net unfolded and soared upwards, but the man who cast it, to everyone’s utter astonishment, missed and only caught the pitcher, which straight away smashed ringingly.

‘You lose!’ bawled the cat. ‘Hurrah!’ and here, setting the primus aside, he snatched a Browning from behind his back. In a trice he aimed it at the man standing closest, but before the cat had time to shoot, fire blazed in the man’s hand, and at the blast of the Mauser the cat plopped head first from the mantelpiece on to the floor, dropping the Browning and letting go of the primus.

‘It’s all over,’ the cat said in a weak voice, sprawled languidly in a pool of blood, ‘step back from me for a second, let me say farewell to the earth. Oh, my friend Azazello,’ moaned the cat, bleeding profusely, ‘where are you?’ The cat rolled his fading eyes in the direction of the dining-room door. ‘You did not come to my aid in the moment of unequal battle, you abandoned poor Behemoth, exchanging him for a glass of — admittedly very good — cognac! Well, so, let my death be on your conscience, and I bequeath you my Browning…’ ‘The net, the net, the net…’ was anxiously whispered around the cat. But the net, devil knows why, got caught in someone’s pocket and refused to come out.

‘The only thing that can save a mortally wounded cat,’ said the cat, ‘is a swig of benzene.’ And taking advantage of the confusion, he bent to the round opening in the primus and had a good drink of benzene. The blood at once stopped flowing from under his left front leg. The cat jumped up, alive and cheerful, seized the primus under his paw, shot back on to the mantelpiece with it, and from there, shredding the wallpaper, climbed the wall and some two seconds later was high above the visitors and sitting on a metal curtain rod.

Hands instantly clutched the curtain and tore it off together with the rod, causing sunlight to flood the shaded room. But neither the fraudulently recovered cat nor the primus fell down. The cat, without parting with his primus, managed to shoot through the air and land on the chandelier hanging in the middle of the room.

‘A stepladder!’ came from below.

‘I challenge you to a duel!’ bawled the cat, sailing over their heads on the swinging chandelier, and the Browning was again in his paw, and the primus was lodged among the branches of the chandelier. The cat took aim and, flying like a pendulum over the heads of the visitors, opened fire on them. The din shook the apartment. Crystal shivers poured down from the chandelier, the mantelpiece mirror was cracked into stars, plaster dust flew, spent cartridges bounced over the floor, window-panes shattered, benzene spouted from the bullet-pierced primus. Now there was no question of taking the cat alive, and the visitors fiercely and accurately returned his fire from the Mausers, aiming at his head, stomach, chest and back. The shooting caused panic on the asphalt courtyard.

But this shooting did not last long and began to die down of itself. The thing was that it caused no harm either to the cat or to the visitors. Not only was no one killed, but no one was even wounded. Everyone, including the cat, remained totally unharmed. One of the visitors, to verify it definitively, sent some five bullets at the confounded animal’s head, while the cat smartly responded with a full clip, but it was the same — no effect was produced on anybody. The cat swayed on the chandelier, which swung less and less, blowing into the muzzle of his Browning and spitting on his paw for some reason.

The faces of those standing silently below acquired an expression of utter bewilderment. This was the only case, or one of the only cases, when shooting proved to be entirely inefficacious. One might allow, of course, that the cat’s Browning was some sort of toy, but one could by no means say the same of the visitors’ Mausers. The cat’s very first wound — there obviously could not be the slightest doubt of it — was nothing but a trick and a swinish sham, as was the drinking of the benzene.

One more attempt was made to get hold of the cat. The lasso was thrown, it caught on one of the candles, the chandelier fell down. The crash seemed to shake the whole structure of the house, but it was no use. Those present were showered with splinters, and the cat flew through the air over them and settled high under the ceiling on the upper part of the mantelpiece mirror’s gilded frame. He had no intention of escaping anywhere, but, on the contrary, while sitting in relative safety, even started another speech: ‘I utterly fail to comprehend,’ he held forth from on high, ‘the reasons for such harsh treatment of me …’

And here at its very beginning this speech was interrupted by a heavy, low voice coming from no one knew where:

‘What’s going on in the apartment? They prevent me from working …’

Another voice, unpleasant and nasal, responded:

‘Well, it’s Behemoth, of course, devil take him!’

A third, rattling voice said:

‘Messire! It’s Saturday. The sun is setting. Time to go.’

‘Excuse me, I can’t talk any more,’ the cat said from the mirror, ‘time to go.’ He hurled his Browning and knocked out both panes in the window. Then he splashed down some benzene, and this benzene caught fire by itself, throwing a wave of flame up to the very ceiling.

Things caught fire somehow unusually quickly and violently, as does not happen even with benzene. The wallpaper at once began to smoke, the torn-down curtain started burning on the floor, and the frames of the broken windows began to smoulder. The cat crouched, miaowed, shot from the mirror to the window-sill, and disappeared through it together with his primus. Shots rang out outside. A man sitting on the iron fire-escape at the level of the jeweller’s wife’s windows fired at the cat as he flew from one window-sill to another, making for the corner drainpipe of the house which, as has been said, was built in the form of a ‘U’. By way of this pipe, the cat climbed up to the roof. There, unfortunately also without any result, he was shot at by the sentries guarding the chimneys, and the cat cleared off into the setting sun that was flooding the city.

Just then in the apartment the parquet blazed up under the visitors’ feet, and in that fire, on the same spot where the cat had sprawled with his sham wound, there appeared, growing more and more dense, the corpse of the former Baron Meigel with upthrust chin and glassy eyes. To get him out was no longer possible.

Leaping over the burning squares of parquet, slapping themselves on their smoking chests and shoulders, those who were in the living room retreated to the study and front hall. Those who were in the dining room and bedroom ran out through the corridor. Those in the kitchen also came running and rushed into the front hall. The living room was already filled with fire and smoke. Someone managed, in flight, to dial the number of the fire department and shout briefly into the receiver: ‘Sadovaya, three-oh-two-bis! …’

To stay longer was impossible. Flames gushed out into the front hall. Breathing became difficult.

As soon as the first little spurts of smoke pushed through the broken windows of the enchanted apartment, desperate human cries arose in the courtyard:

‘Fire! Fire! We’re burning!’

In various apartments of the house, people began shouting into telephones:

‘Sadovaya! Sadovaya, three-oh-two-bis!’

Just then, as the heart-quailing bells were heard on Sadovaya, ringing from long red engines racing quickly from all parts of the city, the people rushing about the yard saw how, along with the smoke, there flew out of the fifth-storey window three dark, apparently male silhouettes and one silhouette of a naked woman.

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