فصل 17

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فصل 17

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CHAPTER 17

An Unquiet Day

On Friday morning, that is, the day after the accursed seance, all the available staff of the Variety - the bookkeeper Vassily Stepanovich Lastochkin, two accountants, three typists, both box-office girls, the messengers, ushers, cleaning women — in short, all those available, were not at their places doing their jobs, but were all sitting on the window-sills looking out on Sadovaya and watching what was going on by the wall of the Variety. By this wall a queue of many thousands clung in two rows, its tail reaching to Kudrinskaya Square. At the head of the line stood some two dozen scalpers well known to theatrical Moscow.

The line behaved with much agitation, attracting the notice of the citizens streaming past, and was occupied with the discussion of inflammatory tales about yesterday’s unprecedented seance of black magic. These same tales caused the greatest consternation in the bookkeeper Vassily Stepanovich, who had not been present at the previous evening’s performance. The ushers told of God knows what, among other things that after the conclusion of the famous seance, some female citizens went running around in the street looking quite indecent, and so on in the same vein. The modest and quiet Vassily Stepanovich merely blinked his eyes, listening to the tall tales of these wonders, and decidedly did not know what to undertake, and yet something had to be undertaken, and precisely by him, because he now turned out to be the senior member of the whole Variety team.

By ten o‘clock the line of people desiring tickets had swelled so much that rumour of it reached the police, and with astonishing swiftness detachments were sent, both on foot and mounted, to bring this line into some sort of order. However, in itself even an orderly snake a half-mile long presented a great temptation, and caused utter amazement in the citizens on Sadovaya.

That was outside, but inside the Variety things were also none too great. Early in the morning the telephones began to ring and went on ringing without interruption in Likhodeev’s office, in Rimsky’s office, at the bookkeeper‘s, in the box office, and in Varenukha’s office. Vassily Stepanovich at first made some answer, the box-office girl also answered, the ushers mumbled something into the telephones, but then they stopped altogether, because to questions of where Likhodeev, Varenukha and Rimsky were, there was decidedly no answer. At first they tried to get off by saying ’Likhodeev’s at home‘, but the reply to this was that they had called him at home, and at home they said Likhodeev was at the Variety.

An agitated lady called, started asking for Rimsky, was advised to call his wife, to which the receiver, sobbing, answered that she was his wife and that Rimsky was nowhere to be found. Some sort of nonsense was beginning. The cleaning woman had already told everybody that when she came to the findirector’s office to clean, she saw the door wide open, the lights on, the window to the garden broken, the armchair lying on the floor, and no one in the office.

Shortly after ten o‘clock, Madame Rimsky burst into the Variety. She was sobbing and wringing her hands. Vassily Stepanovich was utterly at a loss and did not know how to counsel her. Then at half past ten came the police. Their first and perfectly reasonable question was: ‘What’s going on here, citizens? What’s this all about?’

The team stepped back, bringing forward the pale and agitated Vassily Stepanovich. He had to call things by their names and confess that the administration of the Variety in the persons of the director, the findirector and the administrator had vanished and no one knew where, that the master of ceremonies had been taken to a psychiatric hospital after yesterday’s seance, and that, to put it briefly, this seance yesterday had frankly been a scandalous seance.

The sobbing Madame Rimsky, having been calmed down as much as possible, was sent home, and the greatest interest was shown in the cleaning woman’s story about the shape in which the findirector’s office had been found. The staff were asked to go to their places and get busy, and in a short while the investigation appeared in the Variety building, accompanied by a sharp-eared, muscular, ash-coloured dog with extremely intelligent eyes. The whisper spread at once among the Variety staff that the dog was none other than the famous Ace of Diamonds. And so it was. His behaviour amazed them all. The moment Ace of Diamonds ran into the findirector’s office, he growled, baring his monstrous yellow fangs, then crouched on his belly and, with some sort of look of anguish and at the same time of rage in his eyes, crawled towards the broken window. Overcoming his fear, he suddenly jumped up on the window-sill and, throwing back his sharp muzzle, howled savagely and angrily. He refused to leave the window, growled and twitched, and kept trying to jump out.

The dog was taken from the office and turned loose in the lobby, whence he walked out through the main entrance to the street and led those following him to the cab stand. There he lost the trail he had been pursuing. After that Ace of Diamonds was taken away.

The investigation settled in Varenukha’s office, where they began summoning in turn all the Variety staff members who had witnessed yesterday’s events during the seance. It must be said that the investigation had at every step to overcome unforeseen difficulties. The thread kept snapping off in their hands.

There had been posters, right? Right. But during the night they had been pasted over with new ones, and now, strike me dead, there wasn’t a single one to be found! And the magician himself, where had he come from? Ah, who knows! But there was a contract drawn up with him?

‘I suppose so,’ the agitated Vassily Stepanovich replied.

‘And if one was drawn up, it had to go through bookkeeping?’

‘Most assuredly,’ responded the agitated Vassily Stepanovich.

‘Then where is it?’

‘Not here,’ the bookkeeper replied, turning ever more pale and spreading his arms.

And indeed no trace of the contract was found in the files of the bookkeeping office, nor at the findirector‘s, nor at Likhodeev’s or Varenukha’s.

And what was this magician’s name? Vassily Stepanovich did not know, he had not been at the seance yesterday. The ushers did not know, the box-office girl wrinkled her brow, wrinkled it, thought and thought, and finally said: ‘Wo … Woland, seems like …’

Or maybe not Woland? Maybe not Woland. Maybe Faland.

It turned out that in the foreigners’ bureau they had heard precisely nothing either about any Woland, or for that matter any Faland, the magician.

The messenger Karpov said that this same magician was supposedly staying in Likhodeev’s apartment. The apartment was, of course, visited at once — no magician was found there. Likhodeev himself was not there either. The housekeeper Grunya was not there, and where she had gone nobody knew. The chairman of the management, Nikanor Ivanovich, was not there, Bedsornev was not there!

Something utterly preposterous was coming out: the whole top administration had vanished, a strange, scandalous seance had taken place the day before, but who had produced it and at whose prompting, no one knew.

And meanwhile it was drawing towards noon, when the box office was to open. But, of course, there could be no talk of that! A huge piece of cardboard was straight away posted on the doors of the Variety reading: ‘Today’s Show Cancelled’. The line became agitated, beginning at its head, but after some agitation, it nevertheless began to break up, and about an hour later no trace of it remained on Sadovaya. The investigation departed to continue its work elsewhere, the staff was sent home, leaving only the watchmen, and the doors of the Variety were locked.

The bookkeeper Vassily Stepanovich had urgently to perform two tasks. First, to go to the Commission on Spectacles and Entertainment of the Lighter Type with a report on yesterday’s events and, second, to visit the Finspectacle sector so as to turn over yesterday’s receipts — 21,711 roubles.

The precise and efficient Vassily Stepanovich wrapped the money in newspaper, criss-crossed it with string, put it in his briefcase, and, knowing his instructions very well, set out, of course, not for a bus or a tram, but for the cab stand.

The moment the drivers of the three cabs saw a passenger hurrying towards the stand with a tightly stuffed briefcase, all three left empty right under his nose, looking back at him angrily for some reason.

Struck by this circumstance, the bookkeeper stood like a post for a long time, trying to grasp what it might mean.

About three minutes later, an empty cab drove up, but the driver’s face twisted the moment he saw the passenger.

‘Are you free?’ Vassily Stepanovich asked with a cough of surprise.

‘Show your money,’ the driver replied angrily, without looking at the passenger.

With increasing amazement, the bookkeeper, pressing the precious briefcase under his arm, pulled a ten-rouble bill from his wallet and showed it to the driver.

‘I won’t go!’ the man said curtly.

‘I beg your pardon …’ the bookkeeper tried to begin, but the driver interrupted him.

‘Got any threes?’

The completely bewildered bookkeeper took two three-rouble bills from his wallet and showed them to the driver.

‘Get in,’ he shouted, and slapped down the flag of the meter so that he almost broke it. ‘Let’s go!’

‘No change, is that it?’ the bookkeeper asked timidly.

‘A pocket full of change!’ the driver bawled, and the eyes in the mirror went bloodshot. ‘It’s my third case today. And the same thing happened with the others, too. Some son of a bitch gives me a tenner, I give him change - four-fifty. He gets out, the scum! About five minutes later, I look: instead of a tenner, it’s a label from a seltzer bottle!’ Here the driver uttered several unprintable words. ‘Another one, beyond Zubovskaya. A tenner. I give him three roubles change. He leaves. I go to my wallet, there’s a bee there — zap in the finger! Ah, you! …’ and again the driver pasted on some unprintable words. ‘And no tenner. Yesterday, in the Variety here’ (unprintable words), ’some vermin of a conjurer did a seance with ten-rouble bills’ (unprintable words) …

The bookkeeper went numb, shrank into himself, and pretended it was the first time he had heard even the word ‘Variety’, while thinking to himself: ‘Oh-oh! …’

Having got where he had to go, having paid satisfactorily, the bookkeeper entered the building and went down the corridor towards the manager’s office, and realized on his way that he had come at the wrong time. Some sort of tumult reigned in the offices of the Spectacles Commission. A messenger girl ran past the bookkeeper, her kerchief all pushed back on her head and her eyes popping.

‘Nothing, nothing, nothing, my dears!’ she shouted, addressing no one knew whom. ‘The jacket and trousers are there, but inside the jacket there’s nothing!’

She disappeared through some door, and straight away from behind it came the noise of smashing dishes. The manager of the commission’s first sector, whom the bookkeeper knew, ran out of the secretary’s room, but he was in such a state that he did not recognize the bookkeeper and disappeared without a trace.

Shaken by all this, the bookkeeper reached the secretary’s room, which was the anteroom to the office of the chairman of the commission, and here he was definitively dumbfounded.

From behind the closed door of the office came a terrible voice, undoubtedly belonging to Prokhor Petrovich, the chairman of the commission. ‘Must be scolding somebody!’ the consternated bookkeeper thought and, looking around, saw something else: in a leather armchair, her head thrown back, sobbing unrestrainedly, a wet handkerchief in her hand, legs stretched out into the middle of the room, lay Prokhor Petrovich’s personal secretary — the beautiful Anna Richardovna.

Anna Richardovna’s chin was all smeared with lipstick, and down her peachy cheeks black streams of sodden mascara flowed from her eyelashes.

Seeing someone come in, Anna Richardovna jumped up, rushed to the bookkeeper, clutched the lapels of his jacket, began shaking him and shouting:

‘Thank God! At least one brave man has been found! Everybody ran away, everybody betrayed us! Let’s go, let’s go to him, I don’t know what to do!’ And, still sobbing, she dragged the bookkeeper into the office.

Once in the office, the bookkeeper first of all dropped his briefcase, and all the thoughts in his head turned upside-down. And, it must be said, not without reason.

At a huge writing desk with a massive inkstand an empty suit sat and with a dry pen, not dipped in ink, traced on a piece of paper. The suit was wearing a necktie, a fountain pen stuck from its pocket, but above the collar there was neither neck nor head, just as there were no hands sticking out of the sleeves. The suit was immersed in work and completely ignored the turmoil that reigned around it. Hearing someone come in, the suit leaned back and from above the collar came the voice, quite familiar to the bookkeeper, of Prokhor Petrovich: ‘What is this? Isn’t it written on the door that I’m not receiving?’

The beautiful secretary shrieked and, wringing her hands, cried out:

‘You see? You see?! He’s not there! He’s not! Bring him back, bring him back!’

Here someone peeked in the door of the office, gasped, and flew out. The bookkeeper felt his legs trembling and sat on the edge of a chair, but did not forget to pick up his briefcase. Anna Richardovna hopped around the bookkeeper, worrying his jacket, and exclaiming: ‘I always, always stopped him when he swore by the devil! So now the devil’s got him!’ Here the beauty ran to the writing desk and in a tender, musical voice, slightly nasal from weeping, called out: ‘Prosha! Where are you!’

‘Who here is “Prosha” to you?’ the suit inquired haughtily, sinking still deeper into the armchair.

‘He doesn’t recognize me! Me he doesn’t! Do you understand? …‘ the secretary burst into sobs.

‘I ask you not to sob in the office!’ the hot-tempered striped suit now said angrily, and with its sleeve it drew to itself a fresh stack of papers, with the obvious aim of appending its decision to them.

‘No, I can’t look at it, I can’t!‘ cried Anna Richardovna, and she ran out to the secretary’s room, and behind her, like a shot, flew the bookkeeper.

‘Imagine, I’m sitting here,’ Anna Richardovna recounted, shaking with agitation, again clutching at the bookkeeper’s sleeve, ‘and a cat walks in. Black, big as a behemoth. Of course, I shout “scat” to it. Out it goes, and in comes a fat fellow instead, also with a sort of cat-like mug, and says: “What are you doing, citizeness, shouting ’scat’ at visitors?” And — whoosh — straight to Prokhor Petrovich. Of course, I run after him, shouting: “Are you out of your mind?” And this brazen-face goes straight to Prokhor Petrovich and sits down opposite him in the armchair. Well, that one … he’s the kindest-hearted man, but edgy. He blew up, I don’t deny it. An edgy man, works like an ox — he blew up. “Why do you barge in here unannounced?” he says. And that brazen-face, imagine, sprawls in the armchair and says, smiling: “I’ve come,” he says, “to discuss a little business with you.” Prokhor Petrovich blew up again: “I’m busy.” And the other one, just think, answers: “You’re not busy with anything …” Eh? Well, here, of course, Prokhor Petrovich’s patience ran out, and he shouted: “What is all this? Get him out of here, devil take me!” And that one, imagine, smiles and says: “Devil take you? That, in fact, can be done!” And - bang! Before I had time to scream, I look: the one with the cat’s mug is gone, and th … there … sits … the suit … Waaa! …‘ Stretching her mouth, which had lost all shape entirely, Anna Richardovna howled.

After choking with sobs, she caught her breath, but then began pouring out something completely incoherent:

‘And it writes, writes, writes! You could lose your mind! Talks on the telephone! A suit! They all ran away like rabbits!’

The bookkeeper only stood and shook. But here fate came to his aid. Into the secretary’s room, with calm, business-like strides, marched the police, to the number of two men. Seeing them, the beauty sobbed still harder, jabbing towards the door of the office with her hand.

‘Let’s not cry now, citizeness,’ the first said calmly, and the bookkeeper, feeling himself quite superfluous there, ran out of the secretary’s room and a minute later was already in the fresh air. There was some sort of draught in his head, a soughing as in a chimney, and through this soughing he heard scraps of the stories the ushers told about yesterday’s cat, who had taken part in the seance. ‘Oh-ho-ho! Might that not be our same little puss?’ Having got nowhere with the commission, the conscientious Vassily Stepanovich decided to visit its affiliate, located in Vagankovsky Lane, and to calm himself a little he walked the distance to the affiliate on foot.

The affiliate for city spectacles was housed in a peeling old mansion set back from the street, and was famous for the porphyry columns in its vestibule. But it was not the columns that struck visitors to the affiliate that day, but what was going on at the foot of them.

Several visitors stood in stupefaction and stared at a weeping girl sitting behind a small table on which lay special literature about various spectacles, which the girl sold. At that moment, the girl was not offering any of this literature to anyone, and only waved her hand at sympathetic inquiries, while at the same time, from above, from below, from the sides, and from all sections of the affiliate poured the ringing of at least twenty overwrought telephones.

After weeping for a while, the girl suddenly gave a start and cried out hysterically:

‘Here it comes again!’ and unexpectedly began singing in a tremulous soprano:

‘Glorious sea, sacred Baikal …’1

A messenger appeared on the stairs, shook his fist at someone, and began singing along with the girl in a dull, weak-voiced baritone:

‘Glorious boat, a barrel of cisco …’2

The messenger’s voice was joined by distant voices, the choir began to swell, and finally the song resounded in all comers of the affiliate. In the neighbouring room no. 6, which housed the account comptroller’s section, one powerful, slightly husky octave stood out particularly.

‘Hey, Barguzin3 … make the waves rise and fall! …’ bawled the messenger on the stairs.

Tears flowed down the girl’s face, she tried to clench her teeth, but her mouth opened of itself, as she sang an octave higher than the messenger:

‘This young lad’s ready to frisk-o!’

What struck the silent visitors to the affiliate was that the choristers, scattered in various places, sang quite harmoniously, as if the whole choir stood there with its eyes fixed on some invisible director.

Passers-by in Vagankovsky Lane stopped by the fence of the yard, wondering at the gaiety that reigned in the affiliate.

As soon as the first verse came to an end, the singing suddenly ceased, again as if to a director’s baton. The messenger quietly swore and disappeared.

Here the front door opened, and in it appeared a citizen in a summer jacket, from under which protruded the skirts of a white coat, and with him a policeman.

‘Take measures, doctor, I implore you!’ the girl cried hysterically.

The secretary of the affiliate ran out to the stairs and, obviously burning with shame and embarrassment, began falteringly:

‘You see, doctor, we have a case of some sort of mass hypnosis, and so it’s necessary that …’ He did not finish the sentence, began to choke on his words, and suddenly sang out in a tenor.

‘Shilka and Nerchinsk …’4

‘Fool!’ the girl had time to shout, but, without explaining who she was abusing, produced instead a forced roulade and herself began singing about Shilka and Nerchinsk.

‘Get hold of yourself! Stop singing!’ the doctor addressed the secretary.

There was every indication that the secretary would himself have given anything to stop singing, but stop singing he could not, and together with the choir he brought to the hearing of passers-by in the lane the news that ‘in the wilderness he was not touched by voracious beast, nor brought down by bullet of shooters.’ The moment the verse ended, the girl was the first to receive a dose of valerian from the doctor, who then ran after the secretary to give the others theirs.

‘Excuse me, dear citizeness,’ Vassily Stepanovich addressed the girl, ‘did a black cat pay you a visit?’

‘What cat?’ the girl cried in anger. ‘An ass, it’s an ass we’ve got sitting in the affiliate!’ And adding to that: ‘Let him hear, I’ll tell everything’ - she indeed told what had happened.

It turned out that the manager of the city affiliate, ‘who has made a perfect mess of lightened entertainment’ (the girl’s words), suffered from a mania for organizing all sorts of little clubs.

‘Blew smoke in the authorities’ eyes!’ screamed the girl.

In the course of a year this manager had succeeded in organizing a club of Lermontov studies,5 of chess and checkers, of ping-pong, and of horseback riding. For the summer, he was threatening to organize clubs of fresh-water canoeing and alpinism. And so today, during lunch-break, this manager comes in …

‘… with some son of a bitch on his arm,’ the girl went on, ‘hailing from nobody knows where, in wretched checkered trousers, a cracked pince-nez, and … with a completely impossible mug! …’ And straight away, the girl said, he recommended him to all those eating in the affiliate’s dining room as a prominent specialist in organizing choral-singing clubs.

The faces of the future alpinists darkened, but the manager immediately called on everyone to cheer up, while the specialist joked a little, laughed a little, and swore an oath that singing takes no time at all, but that, incidentally, there was a whole load of benefits to be derived from it.

Well, of course, as the girl said, the first to pop up were Fanov and Kosarchuk, well-known affiliate toadies, who announced that they would sign up. Here the rest of the staff realized that there was no way around the singing, and they, too, had to sign up for the club. They decided to sing during the lunch break, since the rest of the time was taken up by Lermontov and checkers. The manager, to set an example, declared that he was a tenor, and everything after that went as in a bad dream. The checkered specialist-choirmaster bawled out: ‘Do, mi, sol, do!’ - dragged the most bashful from behind the bookcases, where they had tried to save themselves from singing, told Kosarchuk he had perfect pitch, began whining, squealing, begging them to be kind to an old singing-master, tapped the tuning fork on his knuckle, beseeched them to strike up ‘Glorious Sea’.

Strike up they did. And gloriously. The checkered one really knew his business. They finished the first verse. Here the director excused himself, said: ‘Back in a minute …’, and disappeared. They thought he would actually come back in a minute. But ten minutes went by and he was not there. The staff was overjoyed - he had run away!

Then suddenly, somehow of themselves, they began the second verse. They were all led by Kosarchuk, who may not have had perfect pitch, but did have a rather pleasant high tenor. They sang it through. No director! They moved to their places, but had not managed to sit down when, against their will, they began to sing. To stop was impossible. After three minutes of silence, they would strike up again. Silence — strike up! Then they realized that they were in trouble. The manager locked himself in his office from shame!

Here the girl’s story was interrupted — the valerian had not done much good.

A quarter of an hour later, three trucks drove up to the fence in Vagankovsky, and the entire staff of the affiliate, the manager at its head, was loaded on to them.

As soon as the first truck, after lurching in the gateway, drove out into the lane, the staff members, who were standing on the platform holding each other’s shoulders, opened their mouths, and the whole lane resounded with the popular song. The second truck picked it up, then the third. And so they drove on. Passers-by hurrying about their own business would cast only a fleeting glance at the trucks, not surprised in the least, thinking it was a group excursion to the country. And they were indeed going to the country, though not on an excursion, but to Professor Stravinsky’s clinic.

Half an hour later, the bookkeeper, who had lost his head completely, reached the financial sector, hoping finally to get rid of the box-office money. Having learned from experience by now, he first peeked cautiously into the oblong hall where, behind frosted-glass windows with gold lettering, the staff was sitting. Here the bookkeeper discovered no signs of alarm or scandal. It was quiet, as it ought to be in a decent institution.

Vassily Stepanovich stuck his head through the window with ‘Cash Deposits’ written over it, greeted some unfamiliar clerk, and politely asked for a deposit slip.

‘What do you need it for?’ the clerk in the window asked.

The bookkeeper was amazed.

‘I want to turn over some cash. I’m from the Variety.’

‘One moment,’ the clerk replied and instantly closed the opening in the window with a grille.

‘Strange! …’ thought the bookkeeper. His amazement was perfectly natural. It was the first time in his life that he had met with such a circumstance. Everybody knows how hard it is to get money; obstacles to it can always be found. But there had been no case in the bookkeeper’s thirty years of experience when anyone, either an official or a private person, had had a hard time accepting money.

But at last the little grille moved aside, and the bookkeeper again leaned to the window.

‘Do you have a lot?’ the clerk asked.

‘Twenty-one thousand seven hundred and eleven roubles.’

‘Oho!’ the clerk answered ironically for some reason and handed the bookkeeper a green slip.

Knowing the form well, the bookkeeper instantly filled it out and began to untie the string on the bundle. When he unpacked his load, everything swam before his eyes, he murmured something painfully.

Foreign money flitted before his eyes: there were stacks of Canadian dollars, British pounds, Dutch guldens, Latvian lats, Estonian kroons …

‘There he is, one of those tricksters from the Variety!’ a menacing voice resounded over the dumbstruck bookkeeper. And straight away Vassily Stepanovich was arrested.

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