فصل 04

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فصل 04

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CHAPTER 4

The Chase

The hysterical women’s cries died down, the police whistles stopped drilling, two ambulances drove off - one with the headless body and severed head, to the morgue, the other with the beautiful driver, wounded by broken glass; street sweepers in white aprons removed the broken glass and poured sand on the pools of blood, but Ivan Nikolaevich just stayed on the bench as he had dropped on to it before reaching the turnstile. He tried several times to get up, but his legs would not obey him — something akin to paralysis had occurred with Homeless.

The poet had rushed to the turnstile as soon as he heard the first scream, and had seen the head go bouncing along the pavement. With that he so lost his senses that, having dropped on to the bench, he bit his hand until it bled. Of course, he forgot about the mad German and tried to figure out one thing only: how it could be that he had just been talking with Berlioz, and a moment later - the head …

Agitated people went running down the walk past the poet, exclaiming something, but Ivan Nikolaevich was insensible to their words. However, two women unexpectedly ran into each other near him, and one of them, sharp-nosed and bare-headed, shouted the following to the other, right next to the poet’s ear: ‘… Annushka, our Annushka! From Sadovaya! It’s her work … She bought sunflower oil at the grocery, and went and broke the whole litre-bottle on the turnstile! Messed her skirt all up, and swore and swore! … And he, poor man, must have slipped and - right on to the rails …’ Of all that the woman shouted, one word lodged itself in Ivan Nikolaevich’s upset brain: ‘Annushka’…

‘Annushka … Annushka?’ the poet muttered, looking around anxiously. ‘Wait a minute, wait a minute …’

The word ‘Annushka’ got strung together with the words ’sunflower oil‘, and then for some reason with ’Pontius Pilate‘. The poet dismissed Pilate and began linking up the chain that started from the word ’Annushka‘. And this chain got very quickly linked up and led at once to the mad professor.

‘Excuse me! But he did say the meeting wouldn’t take place because Annushka had spilled the oil. And, if you please, it won’t take place! What’s more, he said straight out that Berlioz’s head would be cut off by a woman?! Yes, yes, yes! And the driver was a woman! What is all this, eh?!’ There was not a grain of doubt left that the mysterious consultant had known beforehand the exact picture of the terrible death of Berlioz. Here two thoughts pierced the poet’s brain. The first: ‘He’s not mad in the least, that’s all nonsense!’ And the second: ‘Then didn’t he set it all up himself?’ ‘But in what manner, may we ask?! Ah, no, this we’re going to find out!’

Making a great effort, Ivan Nikolaevich got up from the bench and rushed back to where he had been talking with the professor. And, fortunately, it turned out that the man had not left yet.

The street lights were already lit on Bronnaya, and over the Ponds the golden moon shone, and in the ever-deceptive light of the moon it seemed to Ivan Nikolaevich that he stood holding a sword, not a walking stick, under his arm.

The ex-choirmaster was sitting in the very place where Ivan Nikolaevich had sat just recently. Now the busybody had perched on his nose an obviously unnecessary pince-nez, in which one lens was missing altogether and the other was cracked. This made the checkered citizen even more repulsive than he had been when he showed Berlioz the way to the rails.

With a chill in his heart, Ivan approached the professor and, glancing into his face, became convinced that there were not and never had been any signs of madness in that face.

‘Confess, who are you?’ Ivan asked in a hollow voice.

The foreigner scowled, looked at the poet as if he were seeing him for the first time, and answered inimically:

‘No understand … no speak Russian …’

‘The gent don’t understand,’ the choirmaster mixed in from the bench, though no one had asked him to explain the foreigner’s words.

‘Don’t pretend!’ Ivan said threateningly, and felt cold in the pit of his stomach. ‘You spoke excellent Russian just now. You’re not a German and you’re not a professor! You’re a murderer and a spy! … Your papers!’ Ivan cried fiercely.

The mysterious professor squeamishly twisted his mouth, which was twisted to begin with, then shrugged his shoulders.

‘Citizen!’ the loathsome choirmaster butted in again. ‘What’re you doing bothering a foreign tourist? For that you’ll incur severe punishment!’

And the suspicious professor made an arrogant face, turned, and walked away from Ivan. Ivan felt himself at a loss. Breathless, he addressed the choirmaster.

‘Hey, citizen, help me to detain the criminal! It’s your duty!’

The choirmaster became extraordinarily animated, jumped up and hollered:

‘What criminal? Where is he? A foreign criminal?’ The choirmaster’s eyes sparkled gleefully. That one? If he’s a criminal, the first thing to do is shout “Help!” Or else he’ll get away. Come on, together now, one, two!‘ - and here the choirmaster opened his maw.

Totally at a loss, Ivan obeyed the trickster and shouted ‘Help!’ but the choirmaster bluffed him and did not shout anything.

Ivan’s solitary, hoarse cry did not produce any good results. Two girls shied away from him, and he heard the word ‘drunk’.

‘Ah, so you’re in with him!’ Ivan cried out, waxing wroth. ‘What are you doing, jeering at me? Out of my way!’

Ivan dashed to the right, and so did the choirmaster; Ivan dashed to the left, and the scoundrel did the same.

‘Getting under my feet on purpose?’ Ivan cried, turning ferocious. ‘I’ll hand you over to the police!’

Ivan attempted to grab the blackguard by the sleeve, but missed and caught precisely nothing: it was as if the choirmaster fell through the earth.

Ivan gasped, looked into the distance, and saw the hateful stranger. He was already at the exit to Patriarch’s Lane; moreover, he was not alone. The more than dubious choirmaster had managed to join him. But that was still not all: the third in this company proved to be a tom-cat, who appeared out of nowhere, huge as a hog, black as soot or as a rook, and with a desperate cavalryman’s whiskers. The trio set off down Patriarch’s Lane, the cat walking on his hind legs.

Ivan sped after the villains and became convinced at once that it would be very difficult to catch up with them.

The trio shot down the lane in an instant and came out on Spiridonovka. No matter how Ivan quickened his pace, the distance between him and his quarry never diminished. And before the poet knew it, he emerged, after the quiet of Spiridonovka, by the Nikitsky Gate, where his situation worsened. The place was swarming with people. Besides, the gang of villains decided to apply the favourite trick of bandits here: a scattered getaway.

The choirmaster, with great dexterity, bored his way on to a bus speeding towards the Arbat Square and slipped away. Having lost one of his quarry, Ivan focused his attention on the cat and saw this strange cat go up to the footboard of an ‘A’ tram waiting at a stop, brazenly elbow aside a woman, who screamed, grab hold of the handrail, and even make an attempt to shove a ten-kopeck piece into the conductress’s hand through the window, open on account of the stuffiness.

Ivan was so struck by the cat’s behaviour that he froze motionless by the grocery store on the comer, and here he was struck for a second time, but much more strongly, by the conductress’s behaviour. As soon as she saw the cat getting into the tram-car, she shouted with a malice that even made her shake: ‘No cats allowed! Nobody with cats allowed! Scat! Get off, or I’ll call the police!’

Neither the conductress nor the passengers were struck by the essence of the matter: not just that a cat was boarding a tram-car, which would have been good enough, but that he was going to pay!

The cat turned out to be not only a solvent but also a disciplined animal. At the very first shout from the conductress, he halted his advance, got off the footboard, and sat down at the stop, rubbing his whiskers with the ten-kopeck piece. But as soon as the conductress yanked the cord and the tram-car started moving off, the cat acted like anyone who has been expelled from a tram-car but still needs a ride. Letting all three cars go by, the cat jumped on to the rear coupling-pin of the last one, wrapped its paws around some hose sticking out of the side, and rode off, thus saving himself ten kopecks.

Occupied with the obnoxious cat, Ivan almost lost the main one of the three — the professor. But, fortunately, the man had not managed to slip away. Ivan saw the grey beret in the throng at the head of Bolshaya Nikitskaya, now Herzen, Street. In the twinkling of an eye, Ivan arrived there himself. However, he had no luck. The poet would quicken his pace, break into a trot, shove passers-by, yet not get an inch closer to the professor.

Upset as he was, Ivan was still struck by the supernatural speed of the chase. Twenty seconds had not gone by when, after the Nikitsky Gate, Ivan Nikolaevich was already dazzled by the lights of the Arbat Square. Another few seconds, and here was some dark lane with slanting sidewalks, where Ivan Nikolaevich took a tumble and hurt his knee. Again a lit-up thoroughfare — Kropotkin Street — then a lane, then Ostozhenka, then another lane, dismal, vile and sparsely lit. And it was here that Ivan Nikolaevich definitively lost him whom he needed so much. The professor disappeared.

Ivan Nikolaevich was perplexed, but not for long, because he suddenly realized that the professor must unfailingly be found in house no. 13, and most assuredly in apartment 47.

Bursting into the entrance, Ivan Nikolaevich flew up to the second floor, immediately found the apartment, and rang impatiently. He did not have to wait long. Some little girl of about five opened the door for Ivan and, without asking him anything, immediately went away somewhere.

In the huge, extremely neglected front hall, weakly lit by a tiny carbon arc lamp under the high ceiling, black with grime, a bicycle without tyres hung on the wall, a huge iron-bound trunk stood, and on a shelf over the coat rack a winter hat lay, its long ear-flaps hanging down. Behind one of the doors, a resonant male voice was angrily shouting something in verse from a radio set.

Ivan Nikolaevich was not the least at a loss in the unfamiliar surroundings and rushed straight into the corridor, reasoning thus: ‘Of course, he’s hiding in the bathroom.’ The corridor was dark. Having bumped into the wall a few times, Ivan saw a faint streak of light under a door, felt for the handle, and pulled it gently. The hook popped out, and Ivan found himself precisely in the bathroom and thought how lucky he was.

However, his luck was not all it might have been! Ivan met with a wave of humid heat and, by the light of the coals smouldering in the boiler, made out big basins hanging on the walls, and a bath tub, all black frightful blotches where the enamel had chipped off. And there, in this bath tub, stood a naked citizeness, all soapy and with a scrubber in her hand. She squinted near-sightedly at the bursting-in Ivan and, obviously mistaking him in the infernal light, said softly and gaily: ‘Kiriushka! Stop this tomfoolery! Have you lost your mind? … Fyodor Ivanych will be back any minute. Get out right now!’ and she waved at Ivan with the scrubber.

The misunderstanding was evident, and Ivan Nikolaevich was, of course, to blame for it. But he did not want to admit it and, exclaiming reproachfully: ‘Ah, wanton creature! …’, at once found himself for some reason in the kitchen. No one was there, and on the oven in the semi-darkness silently stood about a dozen extinguished primuses.1 A single moonbeam, having seeped through the dusty, perennially unwashed window, shone sparsely into the comer where, in dust and cobwebs, a forgotten icon hung, with the ends of two wedding candles2 peeking out from behind its casing. Under the big icon, pinned to it, hung a little one made of paper.

No one knows what thought took hold of Ivan here, but before running out the back door, he appropriated one of these candles, as well as the paper icon. With these objects, he left the unknown apartment, muttering something, embarrassed at the thought of what he had just experienced in the bathroom, involuntarily trying to guess who this impudent Kiriushka might be and whether the disgusting hat with ear-flaps belonged to him.

In the desolate, joyless lane the poet looked around, searching for the fugitive, but he was nowhere to be seen. Then Ivan said firmly to himself:

‘Why, of course, he’s at the Moscow River! Onward!’

Someone ought, perhaps, to have asked Ivan Nikolaevich why he supposed that the professor was precisely at the Moscow River and not in some other place. But the trouble was that there was no one to ask him. The loathsome lane was completely empty.

In the very shortest time, Ivan Nikolaevich could be seen on the granite steps of the Moscow River amphitheatre.3

Having taken off his clothes, Ivan entrusted them to a pleasant, bearded fellow who was smoking a hand-rolled cigarette, sitting beside a torn white Tolstoy blouse and a pair of unlaced, worn boots. After waving his arms to cool off, Ivan dived swallow-fashion into the water. It took his breath away, so cold the water was, and the thought even flashed in him that he might not manage to come up to the surface. However, he did manage to come up, and, puffing and snorting, his eyes rounded in terror, Ivan Nikolaevich began swimming through the black, oil-smelling water among the broken zigzags of street lights on the bank.

When the wet Ivan came dancing back up the steps to the place where the bearded fellow was guarding his clothes, it became clear that not only the latter, but also the former — that is, the bearded fellow himself — had been stolen. In the exact spot where the pile of clothes had been, a pair of striped drawers, the torn Tolstoy blouse, the candle, the icon and a box of matches had been left. After threatening someone in the distance with his fist in powerless anger, Ivan put on what was left for him.

Here two considerations began to trouble him: first, that his Massolit identification card, which he never parted with, was gone, and, second, whether he could manage to get through Moscow unhindered looking the way he did now? In striped drawers, after all … True, it was nobody’s business, but still there might be some hitch or delay.

Ivan tore off the buttons where the drawers fastened at the ankle, figuring that this way they might pass for summer trousers, gathered up the icon, the candle and the matches, and started off, saying to himself:

‘To Griboedov’s! Beyond all doubt, he’s there.‘

The city was already living its evening life. Trucks flew through the dust, chains clanking, and on their platforms men lay sprawled belly up on sacks. All windows were open. In each of these windows a light burned under an orange lampshade, and from every window, every door, every gateway, roof, and attic, basement and courtyard blared the hoarse roar of the polonaise from the opera Evgeny Onegin.4 Ivan Nikolaevich’s apprehensions proved fully justified: passers-by did pay attention to him and turned their heads. As a result, he took the decision to leave the main streets and make his way through back lanes, where people are not so importunate, where there were fewer chances of them picking on a barefoot man, pestering him with questions about his drawers, which stubbornly refused to look like trousers.

This Ivan did, and, penetrating the mysterious network of lanes around the Arbat, he began making his way along the walls, casting fearful sidelong glances, turning around every moment, hiding in gateways from time to time, avoiding intersections with traffic lights and the grand entrances of embassy mansions.

And all along his difficult way, he was for some reason inexpressibly tormented by the ubiquitous orchestra that accompanied the heavy basso singing about his love for Tatiana.

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