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Mikhail Bulgakov. The Master and Margarita - 41

' What for? ' asked the cat sternly.
' To show to my wife and to the police,' said Nikolai Ivanovich firmly.
' We don't usually give certificates,' replied the cat frowning, ' but
as it's for you we'll make an exception.'
Before Nikolai Ivanovich knew what was happening, the naked Hella was
sitting behind a typewriter and the cat dictating to her.
' This is to certify that the Bearer, Nikolai Ivanovich, spent the
night in question at Satan's Ball, having been enticed there in a vehicular
capacity . . . Hella, put in brackets after that " (pig) ".
Signed--Behemoth.'
' What about the date? ' squeaked Nikolai Ivanovich.
' We don't mention the date, the document becomes invalid if it's
dated,' replied the cat, waving the piece of paper. Then the animal produced
a rubber stamp, breathed on it in the approved fashion, stamped ' Paid ' on
the paper and handed the document to Nikolai Ivanovich. He vanished without
trace, to be unexpectedly replaced by another man.
' Now who's this? ' asked Woland contemptuously, shielding his eyes
from the candlelight.
Varenukha hung his head, sighed and said in a low voice :
' Send me back, I'm no good as a vampire. Hella and I nearly frightened
Rimsky to death, but I'll never make a vampire--I'm just not bloodthirsty.
Please let me go.'
'What is he babbling about?' asked Woland, frowning. ' Who is this
Rimsky? What is all this nonsense? '
' Nothing to worry about, messire,' said Azazello and he turned to
Varenukha : ' Don't play the fool or tell lies on the telephone any more.
Understand? You're not going to, are you?.-
Overcome with relief, Varenukha beamed and stammered :
' Thank Go ... I mean . . . your may ... as soon as I've had my supper
. . .' He pressed his hand to his heart and gazed imploringly at Azazello.
' All right. Off you go home! ' said Azazello and Varenukha melted
away.
' Now all of you leave me alone with these two,' ordered Woland,
pointing to the master and Margarita.
Woland's command was obeyed instantly. After a silence he said to the
master :
'So you're going back to your basement near the Arbat. How will you be
able to write now? Where are your dreams, your inspiration? '
' I have no more dreams and my inspiration is dead,' replied the
master, ' nobody interests me any longer except her '--he laid his hand
again on Margarita's head--' I'm finished. My only wish is to return to that
basement.'
' And what about your novel? What about Pilate? '
' I hate that novel,' replied the master. ' I have been through too
much because of it.'
' Please,' begged Margarita piteously, ' don't talk like that. Whv are
you torturing me? You know I've put my whole life into your work,' and she
added, turning to Woland : ' Don't listen to him, messire, he has suffered
too much.'
' But won't you need to re-write some of it? ' asked Woland. ' Or if
you've exhausted your Procurator, why not write about somebody else--that
Aloysius, for instance . . .'
The master smiled.
' Lapshennikova would never print it and in any case that doesn't
interest me.'
' How will you earn your living, then? Won't you mind being poor? '
' Not a bit,' said the master, drawing Margarita to him. Embracing her
round the shoulders he added: ' She'll leave me when she comes to her
senses.'
' I doubt it,' said Woland, teeth clenched. He went on : 'So the
creator of Pontius Pilate proposes to go and starve in a basement? '
Margarita unlinked her arms from the master's and said passionately :
' I've done all I can. I whispered to him the most tempting thing of
all. And he refused.'
' I know what you whispered to him,' said Woland, ' but that is not
what tempts him most. Believe me,' he turned with a smile to the master, '
your novel has some more surprises in store for you.'
' What a grim prospect,' answered the master.
' No, it is not grim at all,' said Woland. ' Nothing terrible will come
of it, I assure you. Well now, Margarita Nikolayevna, everything is
arranged. Have you any further claims on me?'
' How can I, messire? '
' Then take this as a souvenir,' said Woland and took a small golden,
diamond-studded horseshoe from under a cushion.
' No--I couldn't take it. Haven't you done enough for me? ' ' Are you
arguing with me? ' asked Woland, smiling.
As Margarita had no pocket in her gown she wrapped the horseshoe in a
napkin and knotted it. Then something seemed to worry her. She looked out of
the window at the moon and said :
' One thing I don't understand--it still seems to be midnight.
Shouldn't it be morning? '
' It's pleasant to stop the clock on a festive night such as this,'
replied Woland. ' And now--good luck!'
Margarita stretched both hands to Woland in entreaty, but found she
could come no nearer to him.
' Goodbye! Goodbye!'
' Au revoir,' said Woland.
Margarita in her black cloak and the master in his hospital
dressing-gown walked out into the corridor of Berlioz's flat, where the
light was burning and Woland's retinue was waiting for them. As they passed
along the corridor Hella, helped by the cat, carried the suitcase with the
novel and Margarita Nikolayev-na's few belongings.
At the door of the flat Koroviev bowed and vanished, while the others
escorted them down the staircase. It was empty. As they passed the third
floor landing a faint bump was heard, but no one paid it any attention. At
the front door of staircase 6 Azazello blew into the air and as they entered
the dark courtyard they saw a man in boots and peaked cap sound asleep on
the doorstep and a large, black car standing by the entrance with dimmed
lights. Barely visible in the driver's seat was the outline of a crow.
Margarita was just about to sit down when she gave a stifled cry of
despair:
' Oh God, I've lost the horseshoe.'
' Get into the car,' said Azazello, ' and wait for me. I'll be back in
a moment as soon as I've looked into this.' He walked back through the
doorway.
What had happened was this: shortly before Margarita, the master and
their escort had left No. 50, a shrivelled woman carrying a bag and a tin
can had emerged from No. 48, the flat immediately below. It was Anna--the
same Anna who the previous Wednesday had spilt the sunflower-seed oil near
the turnstile with such disastrous consequences for Berlioz.
Nobody knew and no one probably ever will know what this woman was
doing in Moscow or what she lived on. She was to be seen every day either
with her tin can or her bag or both, sometimes at the oil-shop, sometimes at
the market, sometimes outside the block of flats or on the staircase, but
mostly in the kitchen of flat No. 48, where she lived. She was notorious for
being a harbinger of disaster wherever she went and she was nicknamed ' Anna
the Plague '.
Anna the Plague usually got up very early in the morning, but this
morning something roused her long before dawn, soon after midnight. Her key
turned in the door, her nose poked through and was followed by Anna herself,
who slammed the door behind her. She was just about to set off on some
errand when the door banged on the upstairs landing, a man came bounding
downstairs, crashed into Anna and knocked her sideways so hard that she hit
the back of her head against the wall.
' Where the hell do you think you're going like that--in your
underpants? ' whined Anna, rubbing the back of her head.
The man, who was wearing underclothes and a cap and carrying a
suitcase, answered in a sleepy voice with his eyes closed:
' Bath . . . whitewash . . . cost me a fortune . . .' and bursting into
tears he bellowed : ' I've been kicked out! '
Then he dashed off--not downstairs but upstairs again to where the
windowpane had been broken by Poplavsky's foot, and through it he glided
feet first out into the courtyard. Forgetting about her aching head, Anna
gasped and rushed up to the broken window. She lay flat on the landing floor
and stuck her head out in the courtyard, expecting to see the mortal remains
of the man with the suitcase lit up by the courtyard lamp. But there was
absolutely nothing to be seen on the courtyard pavement.
As far as Anna could tell, this weird sleepwalker had flown out of the
house like a bird, leaving not a trace. She crossed herself and thought: '
It's that No. 50! No wonder people say it's haunted . . .'
The thought had hardly crossed her mind before the door upstairs
slammed again and someone else came running down. Anna pressed herself to
the wall and saw a respectable looking gentleman with a little beard and, so
it seemed to her, a slightly piggish face, who slipped past her and like the
first man left the building through the window, also without hitting the
ground below. Anna had long since forgotten her original reason for coming
out, and stayed on the staircase, crossing herself, moaning and talking to
herself. After a short while a third man, with no beard but with a round
clean-shaven face and wearing a shirt, emerged and shot through the window
in turn.
To give Anna her due she was of an enquiring turn of mind and she
decided to wait and see if there were to be any further marvels. The
upstairs door opened again and a whole crowd started coming downstairs, this
time not running but walking like ordinary people. Anna ran down from the
window back to her own front door, quickly opened it, hid behind it and kept
her eye, wild with curiosity, fixed to the crack which she left open.
An odd sick-looking man, pale with a stubbly beard, in a black cap and
dressing-gown, was walking unsteadily downstairs, carefully helped by a lady
wearing what looked to Anna in the gloom like a black cassock. The lady was
wearing some transparent slippers, obviously foreign, but so torn and
shredded that she was almost barefoot. It was indecent--bedroom slippers and
quite obviously naked except for a black gown billowing out as she walked! '
That No. 50!' Anna's mind was already savouring the story she was going to
tell the neighbours tomorrow.
After this lady came a naked girl carrying a suitcase and helped by an
enormous black cat. Rubbing her eyes, Anna could barely help bursting into a
shriek of pure amazement. Last in the procession was a short, limping
foreigner with a wall eye, no jacket, a white evening-dress waistcoat and a
bow tie. Just as the whole party had filed downstairs past Anna's door,
something fell on to the landing with a gentle thump.
When the sound of footsteps had died away, Anna wriggled out of her
doorway like a snake, put down her tin can, dropped on to her stomach and
started groping about on the landing floor. Suddenly she found herself
holding something heavy wrapped in a table-napkin. Her eyes started from her
head as she untied the napkin and lifted the jewel close to eyes that burned
with a wolfish greed. A storm of thoughts whirled round her mind:
' See no sights and tell no tales! Shall I take it to my nephew? Or
split it up into pieces? I could ease the stones out and sell them off one
at a time. . . .'
Anna hid her find in the front of her blouse, picked up her tin can and
was just about to abandon her errand and slip back indoors when she was
suddenly confronted by the coatless man with the white shirtfront, who
whispered to her in a soft voice :
' Give me that horseshoe wrapped in a serviette! '
' What serviette? What horseshoe? ' said Anna, prevaricating with great
skill. ' Never seen a serviette. What's the matter with you--drunk? '
Without another word but with fingers as hard and as cold as the
handrail of a bus, the man in the white shirtfront gripped Anna's throat so
tightly that he prevented all air from entering her lungs. The tin can fell
from her hand. Having stopped Anna from breathing for a while, the
jacketless stranger removed his fingers from her neck. Gasping for breath,
Anna smiled.
' Oh, you mean the little horseshoe? ' she said. ' Of course! Is it
yours? I looked and there it was wrapped in a serviette, I picked it up on
purpose in case anybody else might find it and vanish with it! '
With the horseshoe in his possession again, the stranger began bowing
and scraping to Anna, shook her by the hand and thanked her warmly in a
thick foreign accent:
' I am most deeply grateful to you, madame. This horseshoe is dear to
me as a memory. Please allow me to give you two hundred roubles for saving
it.' At which he pulled the money from his waistcoat pocket and gave it to
Anna, who could only exclaim with a bewildered grin :
' Oh, thank you so much! Merci!'
In one leap the generous stranger had jumped down a whole flight of
stairs, but before vanishing altogether he shouted up at her, this time
without a trace of an accent:
' Next time you find someone else's things, you old witch, hand it in
to the police instead of stuffing it down your front! '
Utterly confused by events and by the singing in her ears, Anna could
do nothing for a long time but stand on the staircase and croak: ' Mem!
Merci! ' until long after the stranger had vanished.
Having returned Woland's present to Margarita, Azazello said goodbye to
her, enquiring if she was comfortably seated ; Hella gave her a smacking
kiss and the cat pressed itself affectionately to her hand. With a wave to
the master as he lowered himself awkwardly into his seat and a wave to the
crow, the party vanished into thin air, without bothering to return indoors
and walk up the staircase. The crow switched on the headlights and drove out
of the courtyard past the man asleep at the entrance. Finally the lights of
the big black car were lost as they merged into the rows of streetlamps on
silent, empty Sadovaya Street.
An hour later Margarita was sitting, softly weeping from shock and
happiness, in the basement of the little house in one of the sidestreets off
the Arbat. In the master's study all was as it had been before that terrible
autumn night of the year before. On the table, covered with a velvet cloth,
stood a vase of lily-of-the-valley and a shaded lamp. The charred
manuscript-book lay in front of her, beside it a pile of undamaged copies.
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