کتاب: مرشد و مارگریتا / فصل 33


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But all the same — what happened later in Moscow, after that Saturday evening when Woland left the capital, having disappeared from Sparrow Hills at sunset with his retinue?

Of the fact that, for a long time, a dense hum of the most incredible rumours went all over the capital and very quickly spread to remote and forsaken provincial places as well, nothing need be said. It is even nauseating to repeat such rumours.

The writer of these truthful lines himself, personally, on a trip to Feodosiya, heard a story on the train about two thousand persons in Moscow coming out of a theatre stark-naked in the literal sense of the word and in that fashion returning home in taxi-cabs.

The whisper ‘unclean powers’ was heard in queues waiting at dairy stores, in tram-cars, shops, apartments, kitchens, on trains both suburban and long-distance, in stations big and small, at summer resorts and on beaches.

The most developed and cultured people, to be sure, took no part in this tale-telling about the unclean powers that had visited Moscow, even laughed at them and tried to bring the tellers to reason. But all the same a fact, as they say, is a fact, and to brush it aside without explanations is simply impossible: someone had visited the capital. The nice little cinders left over from Griboedov‘s, and many other things as well, confirmed that only too eloquently.

Cultured people adopted the view of the investigation: it had been the work of a gang of hypnotists and ventriloquists with a superb command of their art.

Measures for catching them, in Moscow as well as outside it, were of course immediately and energetically taken, but, most regrettably, produced no results. The one calling himself Woland disappeared with all his company and neither returned to Moscow nor appeared anywhere else, and did not manifest himself in any way. Quite naturally, the suggestion emerged that he had fled abroad, but there, too, he gave no signs of himself.

The investigation of his case continued for a long time. Because, in truth, it was a monstrous case! Not to mention four burned-down buildings and hundreds of people driven mad, there had been murders. Of two this could be said with certainty: of Berlioz, and of that ill-fated employee of the bureau for acquainting foreigners with places of interest in Moscow, the former Baron Meigel. They had been murdered. The charred bones of the latter were discovered in apartment no. 50 on Sadovaya Street after the fire was put out. Yes, there were victims, and these victims called for investigation.

But there were other victims as well, even after Woland left the capital, and these victims, sadly enough, were black cats.

Approximately a hundred of these peaceful and useful animals, devoted to mankind, were shot or otherwise exterminated in various parts of the country. About a dozen cats, some badly disfigured, were delivered to police stations in various cities. For instance, in Armavir one of these perfectly guiltless beasts was brought to the police by some citizen with its front paws tied.

This cat had been ambushed by the citizen at the very moment when the animal, with a thievish look (how can it be helped if cats have this look? It is not because they are depraved, but because they are afraid lest some beings stronger than themselves — dogs or people — cause them some harm or offence. Both are very easy to do, but I assure you there is no credit in doing so, no, none at all!), so, then, with a thievish look the cat was for some reason about to dash into the burdock.

Falling upon the cat and tearing his necktie off to bind it, the citizen muttered venomously and threateningly:

‘Aha! So now you’ve been so good as to come to our Armavir, mister hypnotist? Well, we’re not afraid of you here. Don’t pretend to be dumb! We know what kind of goose you are!’

The citizen brought the cat to the police, dragging the poor beast by its front paws, bound with a green necktie, giving it little kicks to make the cat walk not otherwise than on its hind legs.

‘You quit that,’ cried the citizen, accompanied by whistling boys, ‘quit playing the fool! It won’t do! Kindly walk like everybody else!’

The black cat only rolled its martyred eyes. Being deprived by nature of the gift of speech, it could not vindicate itself in any way. The poor beast owed its salvation first of all to the police, and then to its owner — a venerable old widow. As soon as the cat was delivered to the police station, it was realized that the citizen smelled rather strongly of alcohol, as a result of which his evidence was at once subject to doubt. And the little old lady, having meanwhile learned from neighbours that her cat had been hauled in, rushed to the station and arrived in the nick of time. She gave the most flattering references for the cat, explained that she had known it for five years, since it was a kitten, that she vouched for it as for her own self, and proved that it had never been known to do anything bad and had never been to Moscow. As it had been born in Armavir, so there it had grown up and learned the catching of mice.

The cat was untied and returned to its owner, having tasted grief, it’s true, and having learned by experience the meaning of error and slander.

Besides cats, some minor unpleasantnesses befell certain persons. Detained for a short time were: in Leningrad, the citizens Wolman and Wolper; in Saratov, Kiev and Kharkov, three Volodins; in Kazan, one Volokh; and in Penza — this for totally unknown reasons - doctor of chemical sciences Vetchinkevich. True, he was enormously tall, very swarthy and dark-haired.

In various places, besides that, nine Korovins, four Korovkins and two Karavaevs were caught.

A certain citizen was taken off the Sebastopol train and bound at the Belgorod station. This citizen had decided to entertain his fellow passengers with card tricks.

In Yaroslavl, a citizen came to a restaurant at lunch-time carrying a primus which he had just picked up from being repaired. The moment they saw him, the two doormen abandoned their posts in the coatroom and fled, and after them fled all the restaurant’s customers and personnel. With that, in some inexplicable fashion, the girl at the cash register had all the money disappear on her.

There was much else, but one cannot remember everything.

Again and again justice must be done to the investigation. Every attempt was made not only to catch the criminals, but to explain all their mischief. And it all was explained, and these explanations cannot but be acknowledged as sensible and irrefutable.

Representatives of the investigation and experienced psychiatrists established that members of the criminal gang, or one of them perhaps (suspicion fell mainly on Koroviev), were hypnotists of unprecedented power, who could show themselves not in the place where they actually were, but in imaginary, shifted positions. Along with that, they could freely suggest to those they encountered that certain things or people were where they actually were not, and, contrariwise, could remove from the field of vision things or people that were in fact to be found within that field of vision.

In the light of such explanations, decidedly everything was clear, even what the citizens found most troublesome, the apparently quite inexplicable invulnerability of the cat, shot at in apartment no. 50 during the attempt to put him under arrest.

There had been no cat on the chandelier, naturally, nor had anyone even thought of returning their fire, the shooters had been aiming at an empty spot, while Koroviev, having suggested that the cat was acting up on the chandelier, was free to stand behind the shooters’ backs, mugging and enjoying his enormous, albeit criminally employed, capacity for suggestion. It was he, of course, who had set fire to the apartment by spilling the benzene.

Styopa Likhodeev had, of course, never gone to any Yalta (such a stunt was beyond even Koroviev’s powers), nor had he sent any telegrams from there. After fainting in the jeweller’s wife’s apartment, frightened by a trick of Koroviev‘s, who had shown him a cat holding a pickled mushroom on a fork, he lay there until Koroviev, jeering at him, capped him with a shaggy felt hat and sent him to the Moscow airport, having first suggested to the representatives of the investigation who went to meet Styopa that Styopa would be getting off the plane from Sebastopol.

True, the criminal investigation department in Yalta maintained that they had received the barefoot Styopa, and had sent telegrams concerning Styopa to Moscow, but no copies of these telegrams were found in the files, from which the sad but absolutely invincible conclusion was drawn that the hypnotizing gang was able to hypnotize at an enormous distance, and not only individual persons but even whole groups of them.

Under these circumstances, the criminals were able to drive people of the most sturdy psychic make-up out of their minds. To say nothing of such trifles as the pack of cards in the pocket of someone in the stalls, the women’s disappearing dresses, or the miaowing beret, or other things of that sort! Such stunts can be pulled by any professional hypnotist of average ability on any stage, including the uncomplicated trick of tearing the head off the master of ceremonies. The talking cat was also sheer nonsense. To present people with such a cat, it is enough to have a command of the basic principles of ventriloquism, and scarcely anyone will doubt that Koroviev’s art went significantly beyond those principles.

Yes, the point here lay not at all in packs of cards, or the false letters in Nikanor Ivanovich’s briefcase! These were all trifles! It was he, Koroviev, who had sent Berlioz to certain death under the tram-car. It was he who had driven the poor poet Ivan Homeless crazy, he who had made him have visions, see ancient Yershalaim in tormenting dreams, and sun-scorched, waterless Bald Mountain with three men hanging on posts. It was he and his gang who had made Margarita Nikolaevna and her housekeeper Natasha disappear from Moscow. Incidentally, the investigation considered this matter with special attention. It had to find out if the two women had been abducted by the gang of murderers and arsonists or had fled voluntarily with the criminal company. On the basis of the absurd and incoherent evidence of Nikolai Ivanovich, and considering the strange and insane note Margarita Nikolaevna had left for her husband, the note in which she wrote that she had gone off to become a witch, as well as the circumstance that Natasha had disappeared leaving all her clothes behind, the investigation concluded that both mistress and housekeeper, like many others, had been hypnotized, and had thus been abducted by the band. There also emerged the probably quite correct thought that the criminals had been attracted by the beauty of the two women.

Yet what remained completely unclear to the investigation was the gang’s motive in abducting the mental patient who called himself the master from the psychiatric clinic. This they never succeeded in establishing, nor did they succeed in obtaining the abducted man’s last name. Thus he vanished for ever under the dead alias of number one-eighteen from the first building.

And so, almost everything was explained, and the investigation came to an end, as everything generally comes to an end.

Several years passed, and the citizens began to forget Woland, Koroviev and the rest. Many changes took place in the lives of those who suffered from Woland and his company, and however trifling and insignificant those changes are, they still ought to be noted.

Georges Bengalsky, for instance, after spending three months in the clinic, recovered and left it, but had to give up his work at the Variety, and that at the hottest time, when the public was flocking after tickets: the memory of black magic and its exposure proved very tenacious. Bengalsky left the Variety, for he understood that to appear every night before two thousand people, to be inevitably recognized and endlessly subjected to jeering questions of how he liked it better, with or without his head, was much too painful.

And, besides that, the master of ceremonies had lost a considerable dose of his gaiety, which is so necessary in his profession. He remained with the unpleasant, burdensome habit of falling, every spring during the full moon, into a state of anxiety, suddenly clutching his neck, looking around fearfully and weeping. These fits would pass, but all the same, since he had them, he could not continue in his former occupation, and so the master of ceremonies retired and started living on his savings, which, by his modest reckoning, were enough to last him fifteen years.

He left and never again met Varenukha, who has gained universal popularity and affection by his responsiveness and politeness, incredible even among theatre administrators. The free-pass seekers, for instance, never refer to him otherwise than as father-benefactor. One can call the Variety at any time and always hear in the receiver a soft but sad voice: ‘May I help you?’ And to the request that Varenukha be called to the phone, the same voice hastens to answer: ‘At your service.’ And, oh, how Ivan Savelyevich has suffered from his own politeness!

Styopa Likhodeev was to talk no more over the phone at the Variety. Immediately after his release from the clinic, where he spent eight days, Styopa was transferred to Rostov, taking up the position of manager of a large food store. Rumour has it that he has stopped drinking cheap wine altogether and drinks only vodka with blackcurrant buds, which has greatly improved his health. They say he has become taciturn and keeps away from women.

The removal of Stepan Bogdanovich from the Variety did not bring Rimsky the joy of which he had been so greedily dreaming over the past several years. After the clinic and Kislovodsk, old, old as could be, his head wagging, the findirector submitted a request to be dismissed from the Variety. The interesting thing was that this request was brought to the Variety by Rimsky’s wife. Grigory Danilovich himself found it beyond his strength to visit, even during the daytime, the building where he had seen the cracked window-pane flooded with moonlight and the long arm making its way to the lower latch.

Having left the Variety, the findirector took a job with a children’s marionette theatre in Zamoskvorechye. In this theatre he no longer had to run into the much esteemed Arkady Apollonovich Sempleyarov on matters of acoustics. The latter had been promptly transferred to Briansk and appointed manager of a mushroom cannery. The Muscovites now eat salted and pickled mushrooms and cannot praise them enough, and they rejoice exceedingly over this transfer. Since it is a bygone thing, we may now say that Arkady Apollonovich’s relations with acoustics never worked out very well, and as they had been, so they remained, no matter how he tried to improve them.

Among persons who have broken with the theatre, apart from Arkady Apollonovich, mention should be made of Nikanor Ivanovich Bosoy, though he had been connected with the theatre in no other way than by his love for free tickets. Nikanor Ivanovich not only goes to no sort of theatre, either paying or free, but even changes countenance at any theatrical conversation. Besides the theatre, he has come to hate, not to a lesser but to a still greater degree, the poet Pushkin and the talented actor Sawa Potapovich Kurolesov. The latter to such a degree that last year, seeing a black-framed announcement in the newspaper that Sawa Potapovich had suffered a stroke in the full bloom of his career, Nikanor Ivanovich turned so purple that he almost followed after Sawa Potapovich, and bellowed: ‘Serves him right!’ Moreover, that same evening Nikanor Ivanovich, in whom the death of the popular actor had evoked a great many painful memories, alone, in the sole company of the full moon shining on Sadovaya, got terribly drunk. And with each drink, the cursed line of hateful figures got longer, and in this line were Dunchil, Sergei Gerardovich, and the beautiful Ida Herculanovna, and that red-haired owner of fighting geese, and the candid Kanavkin, Nikolai.

Well, and what on earth happened to them? Good heavens! Precisely nothing happened to them, or could happen, since they never actually existed, as that affable artiste, the master of ceremonies, never existed, nor the theatre itself, nor that old pinchfist of an aunt Porokhovnikova, who kept currency rotting in the cellar, and there certainly were no golden trumpets or impudent cooks. All this Nikanor Ivanovich merely dreamed under the influence of the nasty Koroviev. The only living person to fly into this dream was precisely Savva Potapovich, the actor, and he got mixed up in it only because he was ingrained in Nikanor Ivanovich’s memory owing to his frequent performances on the radio. He existed, but the rest did not.

So, maybe Aloisy Mogarych did not exist either? Oh, no! He not only existed, but he exists even now and precisely in the post given up by Rimsky, that is, the post of findirector of the Variety.

Coming to his senses about twenty-four hours after his visit to Woland, on a train somewhere near Vyatka, Aloisy realized that, having for some reason left Moscow in a darkened state of mind, he had forgotten to put on his trousers, but instead had stolen, with an unknown purpose, the completely useless household register of the builder. Paying a colossal sum of money to the conductor, Aloisy acquired from him an old and greasy pair of pants, and in Vyatka he turned back. But, alas, he did not find the builder’s little house. The decrepit trash had been licked clean away by a fire. But Aloisy was an extremely enterprising man. Two weeks later he was living in a splendid room on Briusovsky Lane, and a few months later he was sitting in Rimsky’s office. And as Rimsky had once suffered because of Styopa, so now Varenukha was tormented because of Aloisy. Ivan Savelyevich’s only dream is that this Aloisy should be removed somewhere out of sight, because, as Varenukha sometimes whispers in intimate company, he supposedly has never in his life met ‘such scum as this Aloisy’, and he supposedly expects anything you like from this Aloisy.

However, the administrator is perhaps prejudiced. Aloisy has not been known for any shady business, or for any business at all, unless of course we count his appointing someone else to replace the barman Sokov. For Andrei Fokich died of liver cancer in the clinic of the First MSU some ten months after Woland’s appearance in Moscow.

Yes, several years have passed, and the events truthfully described in this book have healed over and faded from memory. But not for everyone, not for everyone.

Each year, with the festal spring full moon,1 a man of about thirty or thirty-odd appears towards evening under the lindens at the Patriarch’s Ponds. A reddish-haired, green-eyed, modestly dressed man. He is a researcher at the Institute of History and Philosophy, Professor Ivan Nikolaevich Ponyrev.

Coming under the lindens, he always sits down on the same bench on which he sat that evening when Berlioz, long forgotten by all, saw the moon breaking to pieces for the last time in his life. Whole now, white at the start of the evening, then gold with a dark horse-dragon, it floats over the former poet Ivan Nikolaevich and at the same time stays in place at its height.

Ivan Nikolaevich is aware of everything, he knows and understands everything. He knows that as a young man he fell victim to criminal hypnotists and was afterwards treated and cured. But he also knows that there are things he cannot manage. He cannot manage this spring full moon. As soon as it begins to approach, as soon as the luminary that once hung higher than the two five-branched candlesticks begins to swell and fill with gold, Ivan Nikolaevich becomes anxious, nervous, he loses appetite and sleep, waiting till the moon ripens. And when the full moon comes, nothing can keep Ivan Nikolaevich at home. Towards evening he goes out and walks to the Patriarch’s Ponds.

Sitting on the bench, Ivan Nikolaevich openly talks to himself, smokes, squints now at the moon, now at the memorable turnstile.

Ivan Nikolaevich spends an hour or two like this. Then he leaves his place and, always following the same itinerary, goes with empty and unseeing eyes through Spiridonovka to the lanes of the Arbat.

He passes the kerosene shop, turns by a lopsided old gaslight, and steals up to a fence, behind which he sees a luxuriant, though as yet unclothed, garden, and in it a Gothic mansion, moon-washed on the side with the triple bay window and dark on the other.

The professor does not know what draws him to the fence or who lives in the mansion, but he does know that there is no fighting with himself on the night of the full moon. Besides, he knows that he will inevitably see one and the same thing in the garden behind the fence.

He will see an elderly and respectable man with a little beard, wearing a pince-nez, and with slightly piggish features, sitting on a bench. Ivan Nikolaevich always finds this resident of the mansion in one and the same dreamy pose, his eyes turned towards the moon. It is known to Ivan Nikolaevich that, after admiring the moon, the seated man will unfailingly turn his gaze to the bay windows and fix it on them, as if expecting that they would presently be flung open and something extraordinary would appear on the window-sill. The whole sequel Ivan Nikolaevich knows by heart. Here he must bury himself deeper behind the fence, for presently the seated man will begin to turn his head restlessly, to snatch at something in the air with a wandering gaze, to smile rapturously, and then he will suddenly clasp his hands in a sort of sweet anguish, and then he will murmur simply and rather loudly: ‘Venus! Venus! … Ah, fool that I am! …’

‘Gods, gods!’ Ivan Nikolaevich will begin to whisper, hiding behind the fence and never taking his kindling eyes off the mysterious stranger. ‘Here is one more of the moon’s victims … Yes, one more victim, like me …’

And the seated man will go on talking:

‘Ah, fool that I am! Why, why didn’t I fly off with her? What were you afraid of, old ass? Got yourself a certificate! Ah, suffer now, you old cretin! …’

It will go on like this until a window in the dark part of the mansion bangs, something whitish appears in it, and an unpleasant female voice rings out:

‘Nikolai Ivanovich, where are you? What is this fantasy? Want to catch malaria? Come and have tea!’

Here, of course, the seated man will recover his senses and reply in a lying voice:

‘I wanted a breath of air, a breath of air, dearest! The air is so nice! …’

And here he will get up from the bench, shake his fist on the sly at the closing ground-floor window, and trudge back to the house.

‘Lying, he’s lying! Oh, gods, how he’s lying!’ Ivan Nikolaevich mutters as he leaves the fence. ‘It’s not the air that draws him to the garden, he sees something at the time of this spring full moon, in the garden, up there! Ah, I’d pay dearly to penetrate his mystery, to know who this Venus is that he’s lost and now fruitlessly feels for in the air, trying to catch her! …’ And the professor returns home completely ill. His wife pretends not to notice his condition and urges him to go to bed. But she herself does not go to bed and sits by the lamp with a book, looking with grieving eyes at the sleeper. She knows that Ivan Nikolaevich will wake up at dawn with a painful cry, will begin to weep and thrash. Therefore there lies before her, prepared ahead of time, on the tablecloth, under the lamp, a syringe in alcohol and an ampoule of liquid the colour of dark tea.

The poor woman, tied to a gravely ill man, is now free and can sleep without apprehensions. After the injection, Ivan Nikolaevich will sleep till morning with a blissful face, having sublime and blissful dreams unknown to her.

It is always one and the same thing that awakens the scholar and draws pitiful cries from him on the night of the full moon. He sees some unnatural, noseless executioner who, leaping up and hooting somehow with his voice, sticks his spear into the heart of Gestas, who is tied to a post and has gone insane. But it is not the executioner who is frightening so much as the unnatural lighting in this dream, caused by some dark cloud boiling and heaving itself upon the earth, as happens only during world catastrophes.

After the injection, everything changes before the sleeping man. A broad path of moonlight stretches from his bed to the window, and a man in a white cloak with blood-red lining gets on to this path and begins to walk towards the moon. Beside him walks a young man in a torn chiton and with a disfigured face. The walkers talk heatedly about something, they argue, they want to reach some understanding.

‘Gods, gods!’ says that man in the cloak, turning his haughty face to his companion. ‘Such a banal execution! But, please,’ here the face turns from haughty to imploring, ‘tell me it never happened! I implore you, tell me, it never happened?’

‘Well, of course it never happened,’ his companion replies in a hoarse voice, ‘you imagined it.’

‘And you can swear it to me?’ the man in the cloak asks ingratiatingly.

‘I swear it!’ replies his companion, and his eyes smile for some reason.

‘I need nothing more!’ the man in the cloak exclaims in a husky voice and goes ever higher towards the moon, drawing his companion along. Behind them a gigantic, sharp-eared dog walks calmly and majestically.

Then the moonbeam boils up, a river of moonlight begins to gush from it and pours out in all directions. The moon rules and plays, the moon dances and frolics. Then a woman of boundless beauty forms herself in the stream, and by the hand she leads out to Ivan a man overgrown with beard who glances around fearfully. Ivan Nikolaevich recognizes him at once. It is number one-eighteen, his nocturnal guest. In his dream Ivan Nikolaevich reaches his arms out to him and asks greedily: ‘So it ended with that?’

‘It ended with that, my disciple,’ answers number one-eighteen, and then the woman comes up to Ivan and says:

‘Of course, with that. Everything has ended, and everything ends … And I will kiss you on the forehead, and everything with you will be as it should be …’

She bends over Ivan and kisses him on the forehead, and Ivan reaches out to her and peers into her eyes, but she retreats, retreats, and together with her companion goes towards the moon …

Then the moon begins to rage, it pours streams of light down right on Ivan, it sprays light in all directions, a flood of moonlight engulfs the room, the light heaves, rises higher, drowns the bed. It is then that Ivan Nikolaevich sleeps with a blissful face.

The next morning he wakes up silent but perfectly calm and well. His needled memory grows quiet, and until the next full moon no one will trouble the professor — neither the noseless killer of Gestas, nor the cruel fifth procurator of Judea, the equestrian Pontius Pilate.


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