فصل 19

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فصل 19

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CHAPTER 19

Margarita

Follow me, reader! Who told you that there is no true, faithful, eternal love in this world! May the liar’s vile tongue be cut out!

Follow me, my reader, and me alone, and I will show you such a love!

No! The master was mistaken when with bitterness he told Ivanushka in the hospital, at that hour when the night was falling past midnight, that she had forgotten him. That could not be. She had, of course, not forgotten him.

First of all let us reveal the secret which the master did not wish to reveal to Ivanushka. His beloved’s name was Margarita1 Nikolaevna. Everything the master told the poor poet about her was the exact truth. He described his beloved correctly. She was beautiful and intelligent. To that one more thing must be added: it can be said with certainty that many women would have given anything to exchange their lives for the life of Margarita Nikolaevna. The childless thirty-year-old Margarita was the wife of a very prominent specialist, who, moreover, had made a very important discovery of state significance. Her husband was young, handsome, kind, honest, and adored his wife. The two of them, Margarita and her husband, occupied the entire top floor of a magnificent house in a garden on one of the lanes near the Arbat. A charming place! Anyone can be convinced of it who wishes to visit this garden. Let them inquire of me, and I will give them the address, show them the way - the house stands untouched to this day.

Margarita Nikolaevna was not in need of money. Margarita Nikolaevna could buy whatever she liked. Among her husband’s acquaintances there were some interesting people. Margarita Nikolaevna had never touched a primus stove. Margarita Nikolaevna knew nothing of the horrors of life in a communal apartment. In short … she was happy? Not for one minute! Never, since the age of nineteen, when she had married and wound up in this house, had she known any happiness. Gods, my gods! What, then, did this woman need?! What did this woman need, in whose eyes there always burned some enigmatic little fire? What did she need, this witch with a slight cast in one eye, who had adorned herself with mimosa that time in the spring? I do not know. I have no idea. Obviously she was telling the truth, she needed him, the master, and not at all some Gothic mansion, not a private garden, not money. She loved him, she was telling the truth.

Even I, the truthful narrator, though an outsider, feel my heart wrung at the thought of what Margarita endured when she came to the master’s little house the next day (fortunately before she had time to talk with her husband, who had not come back at the appointed time) and discovered that the master was no longer there. She did everything to find out something about him, and, of course, found out nothing. Then she went back to her house and began living in her former place.

But as soon as the dirty snow disappeared from the sidewalks and streets, as soon as the slightly rotten, disquieting spring breeze wafted through the window, Margarita Nikolaevna began to grieve more than in winter. She often wept in secret, a long and bitter weeping. She did not know who it was she loved: a living man or a dead one? And the longer the desperate days went on, the more often, especially at twilight, did the thought come to her that she was bound to a dead man.

She had either to forget him or to die herself. It was impossible to drag on with such a life. Impossible! Forget him, whatever the cost — forget him! But he would not be forgotten, that was the trouble.

‘Yes, yes, yes, the very same mistake!’ Margarita said, sitting by the stove and gazing into the fire lit in memory of the fire that had burned while he was writing Pontius Pilate. ‘Why did I leave him that night? Why? It was madness! I came back the next day, honestly, as I’d promised, but it was too late. Yes, like the unfortunate Matthew Levi, I came back too late!’ All these words were, of course, absurd, because what, in fact, would it have changed if she had stayed with the master that night? Would she have saved him? ‘Ridiculous! …’ we might exclaim, but we shall not do so before a woman driven to despair.

On that same day when all sorts of absurd turmoil took place, provoked by the appearance of the black magician in Moscow, on the Friday when Berlioz’s uncle was chased back to Kiev, when the bookkeeper was arrested and a host of other quite stupid and incomprehensible things took place — Margarita woke up at around noon in her bedroom with bay windows in the tower of the house.

On awakening, Margarita did not weep, as she often did, because she awoke with a presentiment that today something was finally going to happen. Having felt this presentiment, she began to warm it and nurture it in her soul, for fear it might abandon her.

‘I believe!’ Margarita whispered solemnly. ‘I believe! Something will happen! It cannot not happen, because for what, indeed, has lifelong torment been sent to me? I admit that I lied and deceived and lived a secret life, hidden from people, but all the same the punishment for it cannot be so cruel … Something is bound to happen, because it cannot be that anything will go on for ever. And besides, my dream was prophetic, I’ll swear it was …’ So Margarita Nikolaevna whispered, looking at the crimson curtains as they filled with sun, dressing anxiously, combing her short curled hair in front of the triple mirror.

The dream that Margarita had dreamed that night was indeed unusual. The thing was that during her winter sufferings she had never seen the master in her dreams. He released her for the night, and she suffered only in the daylight hours. But now she had dreamed of him.

The dream was of a place unknown to Margarita — hopeless, dismal, under the sullen sky of early spring. In the dream there was this ragged, fleeting, grey sky, and under it a noiseless flock of rooks. Some gnarled little bridge, and under it a muddy spring runlet. Joyless, destitute, half-naked trees. A lone aspen, and further on, among the trees, beyond some vegetable patch, a little log structure - a separate kitchen, a bathhouse, devil knows what it was! Everything around somehow lifeless and so dismal that one just longed to hang oneself from that aspen by the bridge. Not a puff of breeze, not a movement of the clouds, and not a living soul. What a hellish place for a living man!

And then, imagine, the door of this log structure is thrown open, and he appears. Rather far away, but clearly visible. He is in tatters, it is impossible to make out what he is wearing. Unshaven, hair dishevelled. Sick, anxious eyes. He beckons with his hand, calling her. Gasping in the lifeless air, Margarita ran to him over the tussocks, and at that moment she woke up.

This dream means only one of two things,‘ Margarita Nikolaevna reasoned with herself. ’If he’s dead and beckoned to me, it means he has come for me, and I will die soon. And that’s very good - because then my suffering will soon end. Or else he’s alive, and then the dream can only mean one thing, that he’s reminding me of himself! He wants to say that we will see each other again … Yes, we will see each other very soon!‘ Still in the same agitated state, Margarita got dressed and began impressing it upon herself that, essentially, everything was turning out very luckily, and one must know how to catch such lucky moments and take advantage of them. Her husband had gone on a business trip for a whole three days. During those three days she was at her own disposal, and no one could prevent her from thinking what she liked or dreaming what she liked. All five rooms on the top floor of the house, all of this apartment which in Moscow would be the envy of tens of thousands of people, was entirely at her disposal.

However, being granted freedom for a whole three days, Margarita chose from all this luxurious apartment what was far from the best place. After having tea, she went to a dark, windowless room where suitcases and all sorts of old stuff were kept in two large wardrobes. Squatting down, she opened the bottom drawer of the first of them and took from under a pile of silk scraps the only precious thing she had in life. Margarita held in her hands an old brown leather album which contained a photographic portrait of the master, a bank savings book with a deposit of ten thousand roubles in his name, the petals of a dried rose pressed between sheets of tissue paper, and part of a full-sized notebook covered with typescript and with a charred bottom edge.

Going back to her bedroom with these riches, Margarita Nikolaevna set the photograph up on the triple mirror and sat for about an hour holding the fire-damaged book on her knees, leafing through it and rereading that which, after the burning, had neither beginning nor end: ‘… The darkness that came from the Mediterranean Sea covered the city hated by the procurator. The hanging bridges connecting the temple with the dread Antonia Tower2 disappeared, the abyss descended from the sky and flooded the winged gods over the hippodrome, the Hasmonaean Palace3 with its loopholes, the bazaars, caravanserais, lanes, pools … Yershalaim - the great city - vanished as if it had never existed in the world…’ Margarita wanted to read further, but further there was nothing except an irregular, charred fringe.

Wiping her tears, Margarita Nikolaevna abandoned the notebook, rested her elbows on the dressing table and, reflected in the mirror, sat for a long time without taking her eyes from the photograph. Then the tears dried up. Margarita neatly folded her possessions, and a few minutes later they were again buried under silk rags, and the lock clicked shut in the dark room.

Margarita Nikolaevna was putting her coat on in the front hall in order to go for a walk. The beautiful Natasha, her housemaid, asked what to prepare for the main course, and, receiving the reply that it made no difference, got into conversation with her mistress for her own amusement, and began telling her God knows what, something about how yesterday in the theatre a conjurer began performing such tricks that everybody gasped, gave away two flacons of foreign perfume and a pair of stockings free to everybody, and then, when the seance ended, the audience came outside and — bang — everybody turned out to be naked! Margarita Nikolaevna dropped on to the chair in front of the hall mirror and burst out laughing.

‘Natasha! You ought to be ashamed,’ Margarita Nikolaevna said, ‘you, a literate, intelligent girl … they tell devil knows what lies in the queues, and you go repeating them!’ Natasha flushed deeply and objected with great ardour that, no, they weren’t lying, and that she herself had personally seen today, in a grocer’s on the Arbat, one citizeness who came into the shop wearing shoes, but as she was paying at the cash register, the shoes disappeared from her feet, and she was left in just her stockings. Eyes popping out, and a hole in her heel! And the shoes were magic ones from that same seance.

‘And she left like that?’

‘And she left like that!’ Natasha cried, blushing still more from not being believed. ‘And yesterday, Margarita Nikolaevna, the police arrested around a hundred people in the evening. Women from this seance were running down Tverskaya in nothing but their bloomers.’ ‘Well, of course, it’s Darya who told you that,’ said Margarita Nikolaevna. ‘I noticed long ago that she’s a terrible liar.’

The funny conversation ended with a pleasant surprise for Natasha. Margarita Nikolaevna went to the bedroom and came back holding a pair of stockings and a flacon of eau-de-cologne. Telling Natasha that she, too, wanted to perform a trick, Margarita Nikolaevna gave her both the stockings and the bottle, and said her only request was that she not run around on Tverskaya in nothing but stockings and that she not listen to Darya. Having kissed each other, mistress and housemaid parted.

Leaning against the comfortable soft back of the trolley-bus seat, Margarita Nikolaevna rode down the Arbat, now thinking her own thoughts, now listening to the whispers of two citizens sitting in front of her.

They were exchanging whispers about some nonsense, looking around warily from time to time to make sure no one was listening. The hefty, beefy one with pert, piggish eyes, sitting by the window, was quietly telling his small neighbour that the coffin had to be covered with a black cloth …

‘It can’t be!’ the small one whispered, amazed. ‘This is something unheard-of! … And what has Zheldybin done?’

Amidst the steady humming of the trolley-bus, words came from the window:

‘Criminal investigation … scandal … well, outright mysticism! …’

From these fragmentary scraps, Margarita Nikolaevna somehow put together something coherent. The citizens were whispering about some dead person (they did not name him) whose head had been stolen from the coffin that morning … This was the reason why Zheldybin was now so worried. And the two who were whispering on the trolley-bus also had some connection with the robbed dead man.

‘Will we have time to stop for flowers?’ the small one worried. The cremation is at two, you say?‘

Margarita Nikolaevna finally got tired of listening to this mysterious palaver about a head stolen from a coffin, and she was glad it was time for her to get off.

A few minutes later Margarita Nikolaevna was sitting on one of the benches under the Kremlin wall, settling herself in such a way that she could see the Manège.4

Margarita squinted in the bright sunlight, remembered her last night’s dream, remembered how, exactly a year ago to the day and the hour, she had sat next to him on this same bench. And in just the same way as then, her black handbag lay beside her on the bench. He was not beside her this day, but Margarita Nikolaevna mentally conversed with him all the same: ‘If you’ve been exiled, why don’t you send me word of yourself? People do send word. Have you stopped loving me? No, for some reason I don’t believe that. It means you were exiled and died … Release me, then, I beg you, give me freedom to live, finally, to breathe the air! …’ Margarita Nikolaevna answered for him herself: ‘You are free … am I holding you?’ Then she objected to him: ‘No, what kind of answer is that? No, go from my memory, then I’ll be free…’ People walked past Margarita Nikolaevna. Some man gave the well-dressed woman a sidelong glance, attracted by her beauty and her solitude. He coughed and sat down at the end of the same bench that Margarita Nikolaevna was sitting on. Plucking up his courage, he began: ‘Definitely nice weather today …’

But Margarita gave him such a dark look that he got up and left.

‘There, for example,’ Margarita said mentally to him who possessed her. ‘Why, in fact, did I chase that man away? I’m bored, and there’s nothing bad about this Lovelace, unless it’s the stupid word “definitely” … Why am I sitting alone under the wall like an owl? Why am I excluded from life?’ She became thoroughly sad and downcast. But here suddenly the same morning wave of expectation and excitement pushed at her chest. ‘Yes, it will happen!’ The wave pushed her a second time, and now she realized that it was a wave of sound. Through the noise of the city there came ever more distinctly the approaching beat of a drum and the sounds of slightly off-key trumpets.

The first to appear was a mounted policeman riding slowly past the garden fence, with three more following on foot. Then a slowly rolling truck with the musicians. After that, a new, open hearse moving slowly, a coffin on it all covered with wreaths, and at the comers of the platform four standing persons — three men and one woman.

Even from a distance, Margarita discerned that the faces of the people standing on the hearse, accompanying the deceased on his last journey, were somehow strangely bewildered. This was particularly noticeable with regard to the citizeness who stood at the left rear corner of the hearse. This citizeness’s fat cheeks were as if pushed out still more from inside by some piquant secret, her puffy little eyes glinted with an ambiguous fire. It seemed that just a little longer and the citizeness, unable to help herself, would wink at the deceased and say: ‘Have you ever seen the like? Outright mysticism! …’ The same bewildered faces showed on those in the cortege, who, numbering three hundred or near it, slowly walked behind the hearse.

Margarita followed the procession with her eyes, listening to the dismal Turkish drum fading in the distance, producing one and the same ‘boom, boom, boom’, and thought: ‘What a strange funeral … and what anguish from that “boom”! Ah, truly, I’d pawn my soul to the devil just to find out whether he’s alive or not … It would be interesting to know who they’re burying.’ ‘Berlioz, Mikhail Alexandrovich,’ a slightly nasal male voice came from beside her, ‘chairman of Massolit.’

The surprised Margarita Nikolaevna turned and saw a citizen on her bench, who had apparently sat down there noiselessly while Margarita was watching the procession and, it must be assumed, absent-mindedly asked her last question aloud.

The procession meanwhile was slowing down, probably delayed by traffic lights ahead.

‘Yes,’ the unknown citizen went on, ‘they’re in a surprising mood. They’re accompanying the deceased and thinking only about what happened to his head.’

‘What head?’ asked Margarita, studying her unexpected neighbour. This neighbour turned out to be short of stature, a fiery redhead with a fang, in a starched shirt, a good-quality striped suit, patent leather shoes, and with a bowler hat on his head. His tie was brightly coloured. The surprising thing was that from the pocket where men usually carry a handkerchief or a fountain pen, this gentleman had a gnawed chicken bone sticking out.

‘You see,’ the redhead explained, ‘this morning in the hall of Griboedov’s, the deceased’s head was filched from the coffin.‘

‘How can that be?’ Margarita asked involuntarily, remembering at the same time the whispering on the trolley-bus.

‘Devil knows how!’ the redhead replied casually. ‘I suppose, however, that it wouldn’t be a bad idea to ask Behemoth about it. It was an awfully deft snatch! Such a scandal! … And, above all, it’s incomprehensible — who needs this head and for what!’ Occupied though Margarita Nikolaevna was with her own thoughts, she was struck all the same by the unknown citizen’s strange twaddle.

‘Excuse me!’ she suddenly exclaimed. ‘What Berlioz? The one that today’s newspapers …’

The same, the same …‘

‘So it means that those are writers following the coffin!’ Margarita asked, and suddenly bared her teeth.

‘Well, naturally they are!’

‘And do you know them by sight?’

‘All of them to a man,’ the redhead replied.

‘Tell me,’ Margarita began to say, and her voice became hollow, ‘is the critic Latunsky among them?’

‘How could he not be?’ the redhead replied. ‘He’s there at the end of the fourth row.’

The blond one?‘ Margarita asked, narrowing her eyes.

‘Ash-coloured … See, he’s raising his eyes to heaven.’

‘Looking like a parson?’

That’s him!‘

Margarita asked nothing more, peering at Latunsky.

‘And I can see,’ the redhead said, smiling, ‘that you hate this Latunsky!’

There are some others I hate,‘ Margarita answered through her teeth, ’but it’s not interesting to talk about it.‘

The procession moved on just then, with mostly empty automobiles following the people on foot.

‘Oh, well, of course there’s nothing interesting in it, Margarita Nikolaevna!’

Margarita was surprised.

‘Do you know me?’

In place of an answer, the redhead took off his bowler hat and held it out.

‘A perfect bandit’s mug!’ thought Margarita, studying her street interlocutor.

‘Well, I don’t know you,’ Margarita said drily.

‘Where could you know me from? But all the same I’ve been sent to you on a little business.’

Margarita turned pale and recoiled.

‘You ought to have begun with that straight off,’ she said, ‘instead of pouring out devil knows what about some severed head! You want to arrest me?’

‘Nothing of the kind!’ the redhead exclaimed. ‘What is it — you start a conversation, and right away it’s got to be an arrest! I simply have business with you.’

‘I don’t understand, what business?’

The redhead looked around and said mysteriously:

‘I’ve been sent to invite you for a visit this evening.’

‘What are you raving about, what visit?’

‘To a very distinguished foreigner,’ the redhead said significantly, narrowing one eye.

Margarita became very angry.

‘A new breed has appeared — a street pander!’ she said, getting up to leave.

‘Thanks a lot for such errands!’ the redhead exclaimed grudgingly, and he muttered ‘Fool!’ to Margarita Nikolaevna’s back.

‘Scoundrel!’ she replied, turning, and straight away heard the redhead’s voice behind her:

The darkness that came from the Mediterranean Sea covered the city hated by the procurator. The hanging bridges connecting the temple with the dread Antonia Tower disappeared … Yershalaim — the great city — vanished as if it had never existed in the world … So you, too, can just vanish away along with your burnt notebook and dried-up rose! Sit here on the bench alone and entreat him to set you free, to let you breathe the air, to go from your memory!‘ Her face white, Margarita came back to the bench. The redhead was looking at her, narrowing his eyes.

‘I don’t understand any of this,’ Margarita began quietly. ‘It’s possible to find out about the pages … get in, snoop around … You bribed Natasha, right? But how could you find out my thoughts?’ She scowled painfully and added: ‘Tell me, who are you? From which institution?’ ‘What a bore …’ the redhead muttered and then said aloud, ‘I beg your pardon, didn’t I tell you that I’m not from any institution? Sit down, please.’

Margarita obeyed unquestioningly, but even so, as she was sitting down, she asked once more:

‘Who are you?’

‘Well, all right, my name is Azazello, but anyhow that tells you nothing.’

‘And you won’t tell me how you found out about the pages and about my thoughts?’

‘No, I won’t,‘ Azazello replied drily.

‘But do you know anything about him?’ Margarita whispered imploringly.

‘Well, suppose I do.’

‘I implore you, tell me only one thing … is he alive? … Don’t torment me!’

‘Well, he’s alive, he’s alive,’ Azazello responded reluctantly.

‘Oh, God! … ’

‘Please, no excitements and exclamations,’ Azazello said, frowning.

‘Forgive me, forgive me,’ the now obedient Margarita murmured, ‘of course, I got angry with you. But, you must agree, when a woman is invited in the street to pay a visit somewhere … I have no prejudices, I assure you,’ Margarita smiled joylessly, ‘but I never see any foreigners, I have no wish to associate with them … and, besides, my husband … my drama is that I’m living with someone I don’t love … but I consider it an unworthy thing to spoil his life … I’ve never seen anything but kindness from him …’ Azazello heard out this incoherent speech with visible boredom and said sternly:

‘I beg you to be silent for a moment.’

Margarita obediently fell silent.

‘The foreigner to whom I’m inviting you is not dangerous at all. And not a single soul will know of this visit. That I can guarantee you.’

‘And what does he need me for?’ Margarita asked insinuatingly.

‘You’ll find that out later.’

‘I understand … I must give myself to him,’ Margarita said pensively.

To which Azazello grunted somehow haughtily and replied thus:

‘Any woman in the world, I can assure you, would dream of just that,’ Azazello’s mug twisted with a little laugh, ‘but I must disappoint you, it won’t happen.’

‘What kind of foreigner is that?!’ Margarita exclaimed in bewilderment, so loudly that people passing by turned to look at her. ‘And what interest do I have in going to him?’ Azazello leaned towards her and whispered meaningfully:

‘Well, a very great interest … you’d better use the opportunity …’

‘What?’ exclaimed Margarita, and her eyes grew round. ‘If I understand you rightly, you’re hinting that I may find out about him there?’

Azazello silently nodded.

‘I’ll go!’ Margarita exclaimed with force and seized Azazello by the hand. ‘I’ll go wherever you like!’

Azazello, with a sigh of relief, leaned against the back of the bench, covering up the name ‘Niura’ carved on it in big letters, and saying ironically:

‘Difficult folk, these women!’ he put his hands in his pockets and stretched his legs way out. ‘Why, for instance, was I sent on this business? Behemoth should have gone, he’s a charmer…’ Margarita said, with a crooked and bitter smile:

‘Stop mystifying me and tormenting me with your riddles. I’m an unhappy person, and you’re taking advantage of it … I’m getting myself into some strange story, but I swear, it’s only because you lured me with words about him! My head’s spinning from all these puzzlements …’ ‘No dramas, no dramas,’ Azazello returned, making faces, ‘you must also put yourself in my position. To give some administrator a pasting, or chuck an uncle out of the house, or gun somebody down, or any other trifle of the sort — that’s right in my line. But talking with a woman in love, no thanks! … It’s half an hour now that I’ve been wangling you into it … So you’ll go?’ ‘I will,’ Margarita Nikolaevna answered simply.

‘Be so good as to accept this, then,’ said Azazello, and, pulling a round little golden box from his pocket, he offered it to Margarita with the words: ‘Hide it now, the passers-by are looking. It’ll come in useful, Margarita Nikolaevna, you’ve aged a lot from grief in the last half-year.’ Margarita flushed but said nothing, and Azazello went on: Tonight, at exactly half past nine, be so good as to take off all your clothes and rub your face and your whole body with this ointment. Then do whatever you like, only don’t go far from the telephone. At ten I’ll call you and tell you all you need to know. You won’t have to worry about a thing, you’ll be delivered where you need to go and won’t be put to any trouble. Understood?‘ Margarita was silent for a moment, then replied:

‘Understood. This thing is pure gold, you can tell by the weight. So, then, I understand perfectly well that I’m being bribed and drawn into some shady story for which I’m going to pay dearly …’ ‘What is all this?’ Azazello almost hissed. ‘You’re at it again?’

‘No, wait!’

‘Give me back the cream!’

Margarita clutched the box more tightly in her hand and said:

‘No, wait! … I know what I’m getting into. But I’m getting into it on account of him, because I have no more hope for anything in this world. But I want to tell you that if you’re going to ruin me, you’ll be ashamed! Yes, ashamed! I’m perishing on account of love!’ — and striking herself on the breast, Margarita glanced at the sun.

‘Give it back!’ Azazello cried angrily. ‘Give it back and devil take the whole thing. Let them send Behemoth!’

‘Oh, no!’ exclaimed Margarita, shocking the passers-by. ‘I agree to everything, I agree to perform this comedy of rubbing in the ointment, agree to go to the devil and beyond! I won’t give it back!’ ‘Hah!’ Azazello suddenly shouted and, goggling his eyes at the garden fence, began pointing off somewhere with his finger.

Margarita turned to where Azazello was pointing, but found nothing special there. Then she turned back to Azazello, wishing to get an explanation of this absurd ‘Hah!’ but there was no one to give an explanation: Margarita Nikolaevna’s mysterious interlocutor had disappeared.

Margarita quickly thrust her hand into her handbag, where she had put the box before this shouting, and made sure it was there. Then, without reflecting on anything, Margarita hurriedly ran out of the Alexandrovsky Garden.

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