فصل 03

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فصل 03

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CHAPTER 3

The Seventh Proof

‘Yes, it was around ten o’clock in the morning, my esteemed Ivan Nikolaevich,‘ said the professor.

1 The poet passed his hand over his face like a man just coming to his senses, and saw that it was evening at the Patriarch’s Ponds. The water in the pond had turned black, and a light boat was now gliding on it, and one could hear the splash of oars and the giggles of some citizeness in the little boat. The public appeared on the benches along the walks, but again on the other three sides of the square, and not on the side where our interlocutors were.

The sky over Moscow seemed to lose colour, and the full moon could be seen quite distinctly high above, not yet golden but white. It was much easier to breathe, and the voices under the lindens now sounded softer, eveningish.

‘How is it I didn’t notice that he’d managed to spin a whole story? …’ Homeless thought in amazement. ‘It’s already evening! … Or maybe he wasn’t telling it, but I simply fell asleep and dreamed it all?’

But it must be supposed that the professor did tell the story after all, otherwise it would have to be assumed that Berlioz had had the same dream, because he said, studying the foreigner’s face attentively:

‘Your story is extremely interesting, Professor, though it does not coincide at all with the Gospel stories.’

‘Good heavens,’ the professor responded, smiling condescendingly, ‘you of all people should know that precisely nothing of what is written in the Gospels ever actually took place, and if we start referring to the Gospels as a historical source…’ he smiled once more, and Berlioz stopped short, because this was literally the same thing he had been saying to Homeless as they walked down Bronnaya towards the Patriarch’s Ponds.

‘That’s so,’ Berlioz replied, ‘but I’m afraid no one can confirm that what you’ve just told us actually took place either.’

‘Oh, yes! That there is one who can!’ the professor, beginning to speak in broken language, said with great assurance, and with unexpected mysteriousness he motioned the two friends to move closer.

They leaned towards him from both sides, and he said, but again without any accent, which with him, devil knows why, now appeared, now disappeared:

‘The thing is …’ here the professor looked around fearfully and spoke in a whisper, ‘that I was personally present at it all. I was on Pontius Pilate’s balcony, and in the garden when he talked with Kaifa, and on the platform, only secretly, incognito, so to speak, and therefore I beg you - not a word to anyone, total secrecy, shh …’

Silence fell, and Berlioz paled.

‘You … how long have you been in Moscow?’ he asked in a quavering voice.

‘I just arrived in Moscow this very minute,’ the professor said perplexedly, and only here did it occur to the friends to take a good look in his eyes, at which they became convinced that his left eye, the green one, was totally insane, while the right one was empty, black and dead.

‘There’s the whole explanation for you!’ Berlioz thought in bewilderment. ‘A mad German has turned up, or just went crazy at the Ponds. What a story!’

Yes, indeed, that explained the whole thing: the most strange breakfast with the late philosopher Kant, the foolish talk about sunflower oil and Annushka, the predictions about his head being cut off and all the rest — the professor was mad.

Berlioz realized at once what had to be done. Leaning back on the bench, he winked to Homeless behind the professor’s back — meaning, don’t contradict him — but the perplexed poet did not understand these signals.

‘Yes, yes, yes,’ Berlioz said excitedly, ‘incidentally it’s all possible … even very possible, Pontius Pilate, and the balcony, and so forth … Did you come alone or with your wife?’

‘Alone, alone, I’m always alone,’ the professor replied bitterly.

‘And where are your things, Professor?’ Berlioz asked insinuatingly. ‘At the Metropol?1 Where are you staying?’

‘I? … Nowhere,’ the half-witted German answered, his green eye wandering in wild anguish over the Patriarch’s Ponds.

‘How’s that? But … where are you going to live?’

‘In your apartment,’ the madman suddenly said brashly, and winked.

‘I … I’m very glad …’ Berlioz began muttering, ‘but, really, you won’t be comfortable at my place … and they have wonderful rooms at the Metropol, it’s a first-class hotel …’

‘And there’s no devil either?’ the sick man suddenly inquired merrily of Ivan Nikolaevich.

‘No devil…’

‘Don’t contradict him,’ Berlioz whispered with his lips only, dropping behind the professor’s back and making faces.

‘There isn’t any devil!’ Ivan Nikolaevich, at a loss from all this balderdash, cried out not what he ought. ‘What a punishment! Stop playing the psycho!’

Here the insane man burst into such laughter that a sparrow flew out of the linden over the seated men’s heads.

‘Well, now that is positively interesting!’ the professor said, shaking with laughter. ‘What is it with you — no matter what one asks for, there isn’t any!’ He suddenly stopped laughing and, quite understandably for a mentally ill person, fell into the opposite extreme after laughing, became vexed and cried sternly: ‘So you mean there just simply isn’t any?’

‘Calm down, calm down, calm down, Professor,’ Berlioz muttered, for fear of agitating the sick man. ‘You sit here for a little minute with Comrade Homeless, and I’ll just run to the comer to make a phone call, and then we’ll take you wherever you like. You don’t know the city …’

Berlioz’s plan must be acknowledged as correct: he had to run to the nearest public telephone and inform the foreigners’ bureau, thus and so, there’s some consultant from abroad sitting at the Patriarch’s Ponds in an obviously abnormal state. So it was necessary to take measures, lest some unpleasant nonsense result.

‘To make a call? Well, then make your call,’ the sick man agreed sadly, and suddenly begged passionately: ‘But I implore you, before you go, at least believe that the devil exists! I no longer ask you for anything more. Mind you, there exists a seventh proof of it, the surest of all! And it is going to be presented to you right now!’

‘Very good, very good,’ Berlioz said with false tenderness and, winking to the upset poet, who did not relish at all the idea of guarding the mad German, set out for the exit from the Ponds at the comer of Bronnaya and Yermolaevsky Lane.

And the professor seemed to recover his health and brighten up at once.

‘Mikhail Alexandrovich!’ he shouted after Berlioz.

The latter gave a start, looked back, but reassured himself with the thought that the professor had also learned his name and patronymic from some newspaper.

Then the professor called out, cupping his hands like a megaphone:

‘Would you like me to have a telegram sent at once to your uncle in Kiev?’

And again Berlioz winced. How does the madman know about the existence of a Kievan uncle? That has certainly never been mentioned in any newspapers. Oh-oh, maybe Homeless is right after all? And suppose his papers are phoney? Ah, what a strange specimen … Call, call! Call at once! They’ll quickly explain him!

And, no longer listening to anything, Berlioz ran on.

Here, just at the exit to Bronnaya, there rose from a bench to meet the editor exactly the same citizen who in the sunlight earlier had formed himself out of the thick swelter. Only now he was no longer made of air, but ordinary, fleshly, and Berlioz clearly distinguished in the beginning twilight that he had a little moustache like chicken feathers, tiny eyes, ironic and half drunk, and checkered trousers pulled up so high that his dirty white socks showed.

Mikhail Alexandrovich drew back, but reassured himself by reflecting that it was a stupid coincidence and that generally there was no time to think about it now.

‘Looking for the turnstile, citizen?’ the checkered type inquired in a cracked tenor. ‘This way, please! Straight on and you’ll get where you’re going. How about a little pint pot for my information … to set up an ex-choirmaster!…’ Mugging, the specimen swept his jockey’s cap from his head.

Berlioz, not stopping to listen to the cadging and clowning choirmaster, ran up to the turnstile and took hold of it with his hand. He turned it and was just about to step across the rails when red and white light splashed in his face. A sign lit up in a glass box: ‘Caution Tram-Car!’

And right then this tram-car came racing along, turning down the newly laid line from Yermolaevsky to Bronnaya. Having turned, and coming to the straight stretch, it suddenly lit up inside with electricity, whined, and put on speed.

The prudent Berlioz, though he was standing in a safe place, decided to retreat behind the stile, moved his hand on the crossbar, and stepped back. And right then his hand slipped and slid, one foot, unimpeded, as if on ice, went down the cobbled slope leading to the rails, the other was thrust into the air, and Berlioz was thrown on to the rails.

Trying to get hold of something, Berlioz fell backwards, the back of his head lightly striking the cobbles, and had time to see high up — but whether to right or left he no longer knew — the gold-tinged moon. He managed to turn on his side, at the same moment drawing his legs to his stomach in a frenzied movement, and, while turning, to make out the face, completely white with horror, and the crimson armband of the woman driver bearing down on him with irresistible force. Berlioz did not cry out, but around him the whole street screamed with desperate female voices.

The woman driver tore at the electric brake, the car dug its nose into the ground, then instantly jumped up, and glass flew from the windows with a crash and a jingle. Here someone in Berlioz’s brain cried desperately: ‘Can it be? …’ Once more, and for the last time, the moon flashed, but now breaking to pieces, and then it became dark.

The tram-car went over Berlioz, and a round dark object was thrown up the cobbled slope below the fence of the Patriarch’s walk. Having rolled back down this slope, it went bouncing along the cobblestones of the street.

It was the severed head of Berlioz.

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