فصل 23

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فصل 23

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CHAPTER 23

The Great Ball at Satan’s

Midnight was approaching; they had to hurry. Margarita dimly perceived her surroundings. Candles and a jewelled pool remained in her memory. As she stood in the bottom of this pool, Hella, with the assistance of Natasha, doused her with some hot, thick and red liquid. Margarita felt a salty taste on her lips and realized that she was being washed in blood. The bloody mantle was changed for another — thick, transparent, pinkish - and Margarita’s head began to spin from rose oil. Then Margarita was laid on a crystal couch and rubbed with some big green leaves until she shone.

Here the cat burst in and started to help. He squatted down at Margarita’s feet and began rubbing up her soles with the air of someone shining shoes in the street.

Margarita does not remember who stitched slippers for her from pale rose petals or how these slippers got fastened by themselves with golden clasps. Some force snatched Margarita up and put her before a mirror, and a royal diamond crown gleamed in her hair. Koroviev appeared from somewhere and hung a heavy, oval-framed picture of a black poodle by a heavy chain on Margarita’s breast. This adornment was extremely burdensome to the queen. The chain at once began to chafe her neck, the picture pulled her down. But something compensated Margarita for the inconveniences that the chain with the black poodle caused her, and this was the deference with which Koroviev and Behemoth began to treat her.

‘Never mind, never mind, never mind!’ muttered Koroviev at the door of the room with the pool. ‘No help for it, you must, must, must … Allow me, Queen, to give you a last piece of advice. Among the guests there will be different sorts, oh, very different, but no one, Queen Margot, should be shown any preference! Even if you don’t like someone … I understand that you will not, of course, show it on your face - no, no, it’s unthinkable! He’ll notice it, he’ll notice it instantly! You must love him, love him, Queen! The mistress of the ball will be rewarded a hundredfold for that. And also - don’t ignore anyone! At least a little smile, if there’s no time to drop a word, at least a tiny turn of the head! Anything you like, but not inattention, they’ll sicken from that…’ Here Margarita, accompanied by Koroviev and Behemoth, stepped out of the room with the pool into total darkness.

‘I, I,’ whispered the cat, ‘I give the signal!’

‘Go ahead!’ Koroviev replied from the darkness.

The ball!!!‘ shrieked the cat piercingly, and just then Margarita cried out and shut her eyes for a few seconds. The ball fell on her all at once in the form of light, and, with it, of sound and smell. Taken under the arm by Koroviev, Margarita saw herself in a tropical forest. Red-breasted, green-tailed parrots fluttered from liana to liana and cried out deafeningly: ’Delighted!‘ But the forest soon ended, and its bathhouse stuffiness changed at once to the coolness of a ballroom with columns of some yellowish, sparkling stone. This ballroom, just like the forest, was completely empty, except for some naked negroes with silver bands on their heads who were standing by the columns. Their faces turned a dirty brown from excitement when Margarita flew into the ballroom with her retinue, in which Azazello showed up from somewhere. Here Koroviev let go of Margarita’s arm and whispered: ‘Straight to the tulips.’

A low wall of white tulips had grown up in front of Margarita, and beyond it she saw numberless lamps under little shades and behind them the white chests and black shoulders of tailcoaters. Then Margarita understood where the sound of the ball was coming from. The roar of trumpets crashed down on her, and the soaring of violins that burst from under it doused her body as if with blood. The orchestra of about a hundred and fifty men was playing a polonaise.

The tailcoated man hovering over the orchestra paled on seeing Margarita, smiled, and suddenly, with a sweep of his arms, got the whole orchestra to its feet. Not interrupting the music for a moment, the orchestra, standing, doused Margarita with sound. The man over the orchestra turned from it and bowed deeply, spreading his arms wide, and Margarita, smiling, waved her hand to him.

‘No, not enough, not enough,’ whispered Koroviev, ‘he won’t sleep all night. Call out to him: “Greetings to you, waltz king!” ’1

Margarita cried it out, and marvelled that her voice, full as a bell, was heard over the howling of the orchestra. The man started with happiness and put his left hand to his chest, while the right went on brandishing a white baton at the orchestra.

‘Not enough, not enough,’ whispered Koroviev, ‘look to the left, to the first violins, and nod so that each one thinks you’ve recognized him individually. There are only world celebrities here. Nod to that one … at the first stand, that’s Vieuxtemps!2 … There, very good … Now, onward!’ ‘Who is the conductor?’ Margarita asked, flying off.

‘Johann Strauss!’ cried the cat. ‘And they can hang me from a liana in a tropical forest if such an orchestra ever played at any ball! I invited them! And, note, not one got sick or declined!’

In the next room there were no columns. Instead there stood walls of red, pink and milk-white roses on one side, and on the other a wall of Japanese double camellias. Between these walls fountains spurted up, hissing, and bubbly champagne seethed in three pools, the first of which was transparent violet, the second ruby, the third crystal. Next to them negroes in scarlet headbands dashed about, filling flat cups from the pools with silver dippers. The pink wall had a gap in it, where a man in a red swallowtail coat was flailing away on a platform. Before him thundered an unbearably loud jazz band. As soon as the conductor saw Margarita, he bent before her so that his hands touched the floor, then straightened up and cried piercingly: ‘Hallelujah!’

He slapped himself on the knee - one! - then criss-cross on the other knee — two! - then snatched a cymbal from the hands of the end musician and banged it on a column.

As she flew off, Margarita saw only that the virtuoso jazzman, fighting against the polonaise blowing in Margarita’s back, was beating his jazzmen on the heads with the cymbal while they cowered in comic fright.

Finally they flew out on to the landing where, as Margarita realized, she had been met in the dark by Koroviev with his little lamp. Now on this landing the light pouring from clusters of crystal grapes blinded the eye. Margarita was put in place, and under her left arm she found a low amethyst column.

‘You may rest your arm on it if it becomes too difficult,’ Koroviev whispered.

Some black man threw a pillow under Margarita’s feet embroidered 263 with a golden poodle, and she, obedient to someone’s hands, bent her right leg at the knee and placed her foot on it.

Margarita tried to look around. Koroviev and Azazello stood beside her in formal poses. Next to Azazello stood another three young men, vaguely reminding Margarita of Abaddon. It blew cold in her back. Looking there, Margarita saw bubbly wine spurt from the marble wall behind her and pour into a pool of ice. At her left foot she felt something warm and furry. It was Behemoth.

Margarita was high up, and a grandiose stairway covered with carpet descended from her feet. Below, so far away that it was as if Margarita were looking the wrong way through binoculars, she saw a vast front hall with an absolutely enormous fireplace, into the cold and black maw of which a five-ton truck could easily have driven. The front hall and stairway, so flooded with light that it hurt the eyes, were empty. The sound of trumpets now came to Margarita from far away. Thus they stood motionless for about a minute.

‘But where are the guests?’ Margarita asked Koroviev.

‘They’ll come, Queen, they’ll come, they’ll come soon enough. There’ll be no lack of them. And, really, I’d rather go and chop wood than receive them here on the landing.’

‘Chop wood — hahl’ picked up the garrulous cat. ’I’d rather work as a tram conductor, and there’s no worse job in the world than that!‘

‘Everything must be made ready in advance, Queen,’ explained Koroviev, his eye gleaming through the broken monocle. ‘There’s nothing more loathsome than when the first guest to arrive languishes, not knowing what to do, and his lawful beldame nags at him in a whisper for having come before everybody else. Such balls should be thrown in the trash, Queen.’ ‘Definitely in the trash,’ confirmed the cat.

‘No more than ten seconds till midnight,’ said Koroviev. ‘It’ll start presently.’

Those ten seconds seemed extremely long to Margarita. Obviously they had already passed and precisely nothing had happened. But here something suddenly crashed downstairs in the huge fireplace, and from it leaped a gallows with some half-decayed remains dangling from it. The remains fell from the rope, struck the floor, and from it leaped a handsome dark-haired man in a tailcoat and patent leather shoes. A half-rotten little coffin ran out of the fireplace, its lid fell off, and another remains tumbled out of it. The handsome man gallantly leaped over to it and offered it his bent arm. The second remains put itself together into a fidgety woman in black shoes, with black feathers on her head, and then the man and the woman both hastened up the stairs.

The first!‘ exclaimed Koroviev. ’Monsieur Jacques3 and his spouse. I commend to you, Queen, one of the most interesting of men. A confirmed counterfeiter, a traitor to his government, but a rather good alchemist. Famous,‘ Koroviev whispered in Margarita’s ear, ’for having poisoned a king’s mistress. That doesn’t happen to everyone! Look how handsome he is!‘ The pale Margarita, her mouth open, watched as both gallows and coffin disappeared into some side passage in the front hall.

‘Delighted!’ the cat yelled right into the face of Monsieur Jacques as he came up the stairs.

At that moment a headless skeleton with a torn-off arm emerged from the fireplace, struck the ground, and turned into a man in a tailcoat.

Monsieur Jacques’s spouse was already going on one knee before Margarita and, pale with excitement, was kissing Margarita’s foot.

‘Queen …’ Monsieur Jacques’s spouse murmured.

The queen is delighted!‘ cried Koroviev.

‘Queen …’ the handsome Monsieur Jacques said quietly.

‘We’re delighted,’ howled the cat.

The young men, Azazello’s companions, smiling lifeless but affable smiles, were already shouldering Monsieur Jacques and his spouse to one side, towards the cups of champagne that the negroes were holding. The single man in the tailcoat was coming up the stairs at a run.

‘Earl Robert,’4 Koroviev whispered to Margarita, ‘interesting as ever. Note how funny, Queen: the reverse case, this one was a queen’s lover and poisoned his wife.’

‘We’re very glad, Earl,’ cried Behemoth.

Out of the fireplace, bursting open and falling apart, three coffins tumbled one after another, then came someone in a black mantle, whom the next one to run out of the black maw stabbed in the back with a knife. A stifled cry was heard from below. An almost entirely decomposed corpse ran out of the fireplace. Margarita shut her eyes, and someone’s hand held a flacon of smelling salts to her nose. Margarita thought the hand was Natasha’s.

The stairway began to fill up. Now on each step there were tailcoaters, looking quite alike from afar, and naked women with them, who differed from each other only in the colour of their shoes and of the feathers on their heads.

Coming towards Margarita, hobbling, a strange wooden boot on her left foot, was a lady with nunnishly lowered eyes, thin and modest, and with a wide green band around her neck for some reason.

‘Who is this … green one?’ Margarita asked mechanically.

‘A most charming and respectable lady,’ whispered Koroviev, ‘I commend her to you: Madame Tofana.5 Extremely popular among young, lovely Neapolitans, as well as the ladies of Palermo, especially those of them who had grown weary of their husbands. It does happen, Queen, that one grows weary of one’s husband …’ ‘Yes,’ Margarita replied in a hollow voice, smiling at the same time to two tailcoaters who bent before her one after the other, kissing her knee and hand.

‘And so,’ Koroviev managed to whisper to Margarita and at the same time to cry out to someone: ‘Duke! A glass of champagne? I’m delighted! … Yes, so then, Madame Tofana entered into the situation of these poor women and sold them some sort of water in little vials. The wife poured this water into her spouse’s soup, he ate it, thanked her for being so nice, and felt perfectly well. True, a few hours later he would begin to get very thirsty, then go to bed, and a day later the lovely Neapolitan who had fed her husband soup would be free as the spring breeze.’ ‘But what’s that on her foot?’ asked Margarita, tirelessly offering her hand to the guests who came ahead of the hobbling Madame Tofana. ‘And why that green band? A withered neck?’

‘Delighted, Prince!’ cried Koroviev, and at the same time whispered to Margarita: ‘A beautiful neck, but an unpleasantness happened to her in prison. What she has on her foot, Queen, is a Spanish boot,6 and the band is explained this way: when the prison guards learned that some five hundred ill-chosen husbands had departed Naples and Palermo for ever, in the heat of the moment they strangled Madame Tofana in prison.’ ‘How happy I am, O kindest Queen, that the high honour has fallen 266 to me …’ Tofana whispered nunnishly, trying to lower herself to one knee — the Spanish boot hindered her. Koroviev and Behemoth helped her up.

‘I’m very glad,’ Margarita answered her, at the same time offering her hand to others.

Now a steady stream was coming up the stairs from below. Margarita could no longer see what was going on in the front hall. She mechanically raised and lowered her hand and smiled uniformly to the guests. There was a hum in the air on the landing; from the ballrooms Margarita had left, music could be heard, like the sea.

‘But this one is a boring woman,’ Koroviev no longer whispered, but spoke aloud, knowing that in the hubbub of voices no one would hear him. ‘She adores balls, and keeps dreaming of complaining about her handkerchief.’

Margarita’s glance picked out among those coming up the woman at whom Koroviev was pointing. She was young, about twenty, of remarkably beautiful figure, but with somehow restless and importunate eyes.

‘What handkerchief?’ asked Margarita.

‘She has a chambermaid assigned to her,’ explained Koroviev, ‘who for thirty years has been putting a handkerchief on her night table during the night. She wakes up and the handkerchief is there. She’s tried burning it in the stove and drowning it in the river, but nothing helps.’ ‘What handkerchief?’ whispered Margarita, raising and lowering her arm.

‘A blue-bordered one. The thing is that when she worked in a café, the owner once invited her to the pantry, and nine months later she gave birth to a boy, took him to the forest, stuffed the handkerchief into his mouth, and then buried the boy in the ground. At the trial she said she had no way of feeding the child.’ ‘And where is the owner of the café?’ asked Margarita.

‘Queen,’ the cat suddenly creaked from below, ‘what, may I ask, does the owner have to do with it? It wasn’t he who smothered the infant in the forest!’

Margarita, without ceasing to smile and proffer her right hand, dug the sharp nails of the left into Behemoth’s ear and whispered to him:

‘If you, scum, allow yourself to interfere in the conversation again …’

Behemoth squeaked in a not very ball-like fashion and rasped:

‘Queen … the ear will get swollen … why spoil the ball with a swollen ear? … I was speaking legally, from the legal point of view

… I say no more, I say no more. Consider me not a cat but a post, only let go of my ear!‘

Margarita released his ear, and the importunate, gloomy eyes were before her.

‘I am happy, Queen-hostess, to be invited to the great ball of the full moon!’

‘And I am glad to see you,’ Margarita answered her, ‘very glad. Do you like champagne?’

‘What are you doing, Queen?!’ Koroviev cried desperately but soundlessly in Margarita’s ear. ‘There’ll be a traffic jam!’

‘Yes, I do,’ the woman said imploringly, and suddenly began repeating mechanically: ‘Frieda,7 Frieda, Frieda! My name is Frieda, Queen!’

‘Get drunk tonight, Frieda, and don’t think about anything,’ said Margarita.

Frieda reached out both arms to Margarita, but Koroviev and Behemoth very adroitly took her under the arms and she blended into the crowd.

Now people were coming in a solid wall from below, as if storming the landing where Margarita stood. Naked women’s bodies came up between tailcoated men. Their swarthy, white, coffee-bean-coloured, and altogether black bodies floated towards Margarita. In their hair - red, black, chestnut, light as flax - precious stones glittered and danced, spraying sparkles into the flood of light. And as if someone had sprinkled the storming column of men with droplets of light, diamond studs sprayed light from their chests. Every second now Margarita felt lips touch her knee, every second she held out her hand to be kissed, her face was contracted into a fixed mask of greeting.

‘I’m delighted,’ Koroviev sang monotonously, ‘we’re delighted … the queen is delighted …’

‘The queen is delighted …’ Azazello echoed nasally behind her back.

‘I’m delighted!’ the cat kept exclaiming.

‘The marquise.. ,’8 muttered Koroviev, ‘poisoned her father, two brothers and two sisters for the inheritance … The queen is delighted! … Madame Minkin …9 Ah, what a beauty! A bit nervous. Why burn the maid’s face with the curling-irons? Of course, in such conditions one gets stabbed … The queen is delighted! … Queen, one second of attention! The emperor Rudolf10 — sorcerer and alchemist … Another alchemist - got hanged … Ah, here she is! Ah, what a wonderful brothel she ran in Strasbourg! … We’re delighted! … A Moscow dressmaker,11 we all love her for her inexhaustible fantasy … She kept a shop and invented a terribly funny trick: drilled two round holes in the wall …’ ‘And the ladies didn’t know?’ asked Margarita.

‘Every one of them knew, Queen,’ answered Koroviev. ‘Delighted! … This twenty-year-old boy was distinguished from childhood by strange qualities, a dreamer and an eccentric. A girl fell in love with him, and he went and sold her to a brothel…’ A river came streaming from below, and there was no end to this river in sight. Its source - the enormous fireplace - continued to feed it. Thus one hour passed and a second commenced. Here Margarita began to notice that her chain had become heavier than before. Something strange also happened with her arm. Now, before raising it, Margarita had to wince. Koroviev’s interesting observations ceased to amuse Margarita. Slant-eyed Mongolian faces, white faces and black became undifferentiated to her, they merged at times, and the air between them would for some reason begin to tremble and flow. A sharp pain, as if from a needle, suddenly pierced Margarita’s right arm, and, clenching her teeth, she rested her elbow on the post. Some rustling, as if from wings against the walls, was now coming from the ballroom, and it was clear that unprecedented hordes of guests were dancing there, and it seemed to Margarita that even the massive marble, mosaic and crystal floors of this prodigious room were pulsing rhythmically.

Neither Gaius Caesar Caligula12 nor Messalina13 interested Margarita any longer, nor did any of the kings, dukes, cavaliers, suicides, poisoners, gallowsbirds, procuresses, prison guards and sharpers, executioners, informers, traitors, madmen, sleuths, seducers. All their names became jumbled in her head, the faces stuck together into one huge pancake, and only a single face lodged itself painfully in her memory — the face, framed in a truly fiery beard, of Maliuta Skuratov.14 Margarita’s legs kept giving way, she was afraid of bursting into tears at any moment. The worst suffering was caused by her right knee, which was being kissed. It became swollen, the skin turned blue, even though Natasha’s hand appeared by this knee several times with a sponge, wiping it with something fragrant. At the end of the third hour, Margarita glanced down with completely desperate eyes and gave a joyful start — the stream of guests was thinning out.

‘Balls always assemble according to the same laws, Queen,’ whispered Koroviev. ‘Presently the wave will begin to subside. I swear we’re enduring the final minutes. Here’s the group of revellers from Brocken, they always come last. Yes, here they are. Two drunken vampires … that’s all? Ah, no, here’s one more … no, two!’15 The last two guests were coming up the stairs!

‘It’s some new one,’ Koroviev was saying, squinting through his lens. ‘Ah, yes, yes. Azazello visited him once and, over the cognac, whispered some advice to him on how to get rid of a certain man whose exposures he was extremely afraid of. And so he told an acquaintance who was dependent on him to spray the walls of the office with poison…’ ‘What’s his name?’ asked Margarita.

‘Ah, really, I myself don’t know yet,’ Koroviev replied, ‘well have to ask Azazello.’

‘And who is with him?’

‘Why, that same efficient subordinate of his. Delighted!’ cried Koroviev to the last two.

The stairway was empty. They waited a little longer as a precaution. But no one else came from the fireplace.

A second later, without knowing how it happened, Margarita found herself in the same room with the pool, and there, bursting into tears at once from the pain in her arm and leg, she collapsed right on the floor. But Hella and Natasha, comforting her, again drew her under the bloody shower, again massaged her body, and Margarita revived.

There’s more, there’s more, Queen Margot,‘ whispered Koroviev, appearing beside her. ’You must fly around the rooms, so that the honourable guests don’t feel they’ve been abandoned.‘

And once more Margarita flew out of the room with the pool. On the stage behind the tulips, where the waltz king’s orchestra had been playing, there now raged an ape jazz band. A huge gorilla with shaggy side-whiskers, a trumpet in his hand, capering heavily, was doing the conducting. Orang-utans sat in a row blowing on shiny trumpets. Perched on their shoulders were merry chimpanzees with concertinas. Two hamadryads with manes like lions played grand pianos, but these grand pianos were not heard amidst the thundering, squeaking and booming of saxophones, fiddles and drums in the paws of gibbons, mandrills and marmosets. On the mirror floor a countless number of couples, as if merged, amazing in the deftness and cleanness of their movements, all turning in the same direction, swept on like a wall threatening to clear away everything in its path. Live satin butterflies bobbed above the heads of the dancing hordes, flowers poured down from the ceiling. In the capitals of the columns, each time the electricity went off, myriads of fireflies lit up, and marsh-lights floated in the air.

Then Margarita found herself in a room with a pool of monstrous size bordered by a colonnade. A giant black Neptune spouted a wide pink stream from his maw. A stupefying smell of champagne rose from the pool. Here unconstrained merriment held sway. Ladies, laughing, gave their handbags to their cavaliers or the negroes who rushed about with towels in their hands, and with a cry dived swallow-like into the pool. Foamy columns shot up. The crystal bottom of the pool shone with light from below that broke through the density of the wine, and in it the silvery swimming bodies could be seen. The ladies got out of the pool completely drunk. Loud laughter resounded under the columns, booming like the jazz band.

All that was remembered from this turmoil was the completely drunken face of a woman with senseless and, even in their senselessness, imploring eyes, and only one name — Frieda — was recalled.

Margarita’s head began to spin from the smell of the wine, and she was about to leave when the cat arranged a number in the pool that detained her. Behemoth performed some magic by Neptune’s maw, and at once the billowing mass of champagne, hissing and gurgling, left the pool, and Neptune began spewing out a stream neither glittering nor foaming but of a dark-yellow colour. The ladies - shrieking and screaming ‘Cognac!’ - rushed from the pool-side and hid behind the columns. In a few seconds the pool was filled, and the cat, turning three times in the air, dropped into the heaving cognac. He crawled out, spluttering, his bow-tie limp, the gilding on his whiskers gone, along with the opera glasses. Only one woman dared to follow Behemoth’s example - that same frolicsome dressmaker, with her cavalier, an unknown young mulatto. The two threw themselves into the cognac, but here Koroviev took Margarita under the arm and they left the bathers.

It seemed to Margarita that she flew somewhere, where she saw mountains of oysters in huge stone basins. Then she flew over a glass floor with infernal furnaces burning under it and devilish white cooks darting among them. Then somewhere, already ceasing to comprehend anything, she saw dark cellars where some sort of lamps burned, where girls served meat sizzling on red-hot coals, where her health was drunk from big mugs. Then she saw polar bears playing concertinas and dancing the Kamarinsky16 on a platform. A salamander-conjurer17 who did not burn in the fireplace … And for the second time her strength began to ebb.

‘One last appearance,’ Koroviev whispered to her anxiously, ‘and then we’re free!’

Accompanied by Koroviev, she again found herself in the ballroom, but now there was no dancing in it, and the guests in a numberless throng pressed back between the columns, leaving the middle of the room open. Margarita did not remember who helped her to get up on the dais that appeared in the middle of this open space in the room. When she was up on it, to her own amazement, she heard a clock strike midnight somewhere, though by her reckoning it was long past. At the last stroke of the clock, which came from no one knew where, silence fell on the crowd of guests.

Then Margarita saw Woland again. He walked in surrounded by Abaddon, Azazello and several others who resembled Abaddon - dark-haired and young. Now Margarita saw that opposite her dais another had been prepared for Woland. But he did not make use of it. What struck Margarita was that Woland came out for this last great appearance at the ball looking just the same as he had looked in the bedroom. The same dirty, patched shirt18 hung on his shoulders, his feet were in worn-out bedroom slippers. Woland had a sword, but he used this bare sword as a cane, leaning on it.

Limping, Woland stopped at his dais, and immediately Azazello was before him with a platter in his hands, and on this platter Margarita saw a man’s severed head with the front teeth knocked out. Total silence continued to reign, broken only once by the far-off sound, inexplicable under the circumstances, of a doorbell, coming as if from the front hall.

‘Mikhail Alexandrovich,’ Woland addressed the head in a low voice, and then the slain man’s eyelids rose, and on the dead face Margarita saw, with a shudder, living eyes filled with thought and suffering.

‘Everything came to pass, did it not?’ Woland went on, looking into the head’s eyes. ‘The head was cut off by a woman, the meeting did not take place, and I am living in your apartment. That is a fact. And fact is the most stubborn thing in the world. But we are now interested in what follows, and not in this already accomplished fact. You have always been an ardent preacher of the theory that, on the cutting off of his head, life ceases in a man, he turns to ashes and goes into non-being. I have the pleasure of informing you, in the presence of my guests, though they serve as proof of quite a different theory, that your theory is both solid and clever. However, one theory is as good as another. There is also one which holds that it will be given to each according to his faith.19 Let it come true! You go into non-being, and from the cup into which you are to be transformed, I will joyfully drink to being!’ Woland raised his sword. Straight away the flesh of the head turned dark and shrivelled, then fell off in pieces, the eyes disappeared, and soon Margarita saw on the platter a yellowish skull with emerald eyes, pearl teeth and a golden foot. The lid opened on a hinge.

‘Right this second, Messire,’ said Koroviev, noticing Woland’s questioning look, ‘hell appear before you. In this sepulchral silence I can hear the creaking of his patent leather shoes and the clink of the goblet he has just set down on the table, having drunk champagne for the last time in his life. Here he is.’ A solitary new guest was entering the room, heading towards Woland. Outwardly he did not differ in any way from the numerous other male guests, except for one thing: this guest was literally reeling with agitation, which could be seen even from afar. Flushed spots burned on his cheeks, and his eyes darted about in total alarm. The guest was dumbstruck, and that was perfectly natural: he was astounded by everything, and above all, of course, by Woland’s attire.

However, the guest was met with the utmost kindness.

‘Ah, my dearest Baron Meigel,’ Woland, smiling affably, addressed the guest, whose eyes were popping out of his head. ‘I’m happy to commend to you,’ Woland turned to the other guests, ‘the most esteemed Baron Meigel, an employee of the Spectacles Commission, in charge of acquainting foreigners with places of interest in the capital.’ Here Margarita froze, because she recognized this Meigel. She had come across him several times in Moscow theatres and restaurants. ‘Excuse me …’ thought Margarita, ‘but that means - what - that he’s also dead? …’ But the matter straight away clarified itself.

‘The dear baron,’ Woland went on, smiling joyfully, ‘was so charming that, having learned of my arrival in Moscow, he rang me up at once, offering his services along the line of his expertise, that is, acquainting people with places of interest. It goes without saying that I was happy to invite him here.’ Just then Margarita saw Azazello hand the platter with the skull to Koroviev.

‘Ah, yes, incidentally, Baron,’ Woland said, suddenly lowering his voice intimately, ‘rumours have spread about your extreme curiosity. They say that, combined with your no less developed talkativeness, it was beginning to attract general attention. What’s more, wicked tongues have already dropped the word - a stool-pigeon and a spy. And, what’s still more, it is hinted that this will bring you to a sorry end in no more than a month. And so, in order to deliver you from this painful anticipation, we have decided to come to your aid, taking advantage of the fact that you invited yourself here precisely with the purpose of eavesdropping and spying out whatever you can.’ The baron turned paler than Abaddon, who was exceptionally pale by nature, and then something strange took place. Abaddon stood in front of the baron and took off his glasses for a second. At the same moment something flashed fire in Azazello’s hand, something clapped softly, the baron began to fall backwards, crimson blood spurted from his chest and poured down his starched shirt and waistcoat. Koroviev put the cup to the spurt and handed the full cup to Woland. The baron’s lifeless body was by that time already on the floor.

‘I drink your health, ladies and gentlemen,’ Woland said quietly and, raising the cup, touched it to his lips.

Then a metamorphosis occurred. The patched shirt and worn slippers disappeared. Woland was in some sort of black chlamys with a steel sword on his hip. He quickly approached Margarita, offered her the cup, and said imperiously:

‘Drink!’

Margarita became dizzy, she swayed, but the cup was already at her lips, and voices, she could not make out whose, whispered in both her ears:

‘Don’t be afraid, Queen … Don’t be afraid, Queen, the blood has long since gone into the earth. And where it was spilled, grapevines are already growing.’

Margarita, without opening her eyes, took a gulp, and a sweet current ran through her veins, a ringing began in her ears. It seemed to her that cocks were crowing deafeningly, that somewhere a march was being played. The crowds of guests began to lose their shape: tailcoaters and women fell to dust. Decay enveloped the room before Margarita’s eyes, a sepulchral smell flowed over it. The columns fell apart, the fires went out, everything shrank, there were no more fountains, no camellias, no tulips. And there was simply this: the modest living room of the jeweller’s widow, and a strip of light falling from a slightly opened door. And Margarita went through this slightly opened door.

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