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Mikhail Bulgakov. The Master and Margarita (1997)
© Mikhail Bulgakov
© Translated from the russian by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky
Origin: "Master i Margarita"
TRANSLATED AND WITH NOTES BY RICHARD PEVEAR
AND LARISSA VOLOKHONSKY
WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY RICHARD PEVEAR
This translation published in PENGUIN BOOKS 1997
A Note on the Text and Acknowledgements
Never Talk with Strangers
The Seventh Proof
There were Doings at Griboedov's
Schizophrenia, as was Said
A Naughty Apartment
The Combat between the Professor and the Poet
News From Yalta
Ivan Splits in Two
Black Magic and Its Exposure
The Hero Enters
Glory to the Cock!
Nikanor Ivanovich's Dream
An Unquiet Day
The Great Ball at Satan's
The Extraction of the Master
How the Procurator Tried to Save Judas of Kiriath
The End of Apartment No.50
The Last Adventures of Koroviev and Behemoth
The Fate of the Master and Margarita is Decided
It's Time! It's Time!
On Sparrow Hills
Forgiveness and Eternal Refuge
Mikhail Bulgakov worked on this luminous book throughout one of the
darkest decades of the century. His last revisions were dictated to his wife
a few weeks before his death in 1940 at the age of forty-nine. For him,
there was never any question of publishing the novel. The mere existence of
the manuscript, had it come to the knowledge of Stalin's police, would
almost certainly have led to the permanent disappearance of its author. Yet
the book was of great importance to him, and he clearly believed that a time
would come when it could be published. Another twenty-six years had to pass
before events bore out that belief and The Master and Margarita, by what
seems a surprising oversight in Soviet literary politics, finally appeared
in print. The effect was electrifying.
The monthly magazine Moskva, otherwise a rather cautious and quiet
publication, carried the first part of The Master and Margarita in its
November 1966 issue. The 150,000 copies sold out within hours. In the weeks
that followed, group readings were held, people meeting each other would
quote and compare favourite passages, there was talk of little else. Certain
sentences from the novel immediately became proverbial. The very language of
the novel was a contradiction of everything wooden, official, imposed. It
was a joy to speak.
When the second part appeared in the January 1967 issue of Moskva, it
was greeted with the same enthusiasm. Yet this was not the excitement caused
by the emergence of a new writer, as when Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's One Day
in the Life of Ivan Denisovich appeared in the magazine Novy Mir in 1962.
Bulgakov was neither unknown nor forgotten. His plays had begun to be
revived in theatres during the late fifties and were published in 1962. His
superb Life of Monsieur de Moliere came out in that same year. His early
stories were reprinted. Then, in 1965, came the Theatrical Novel, based on
his years of experience with Stanislavsky's renowned Moscow Art Theatre. And
finally in 1966 a volume of Selected Prose was published, containing the
complete text of Bulgakov's first novel. The White Guard, written in the
twenties and dealing with nearly contemporary events of the Russian civil
war in his native Kiev and the Ukraine, a book which in its clear-sighted
portrayal of human courage and weakness ranks among the truest depictions of
war in all of literature.
Bulgakov was known well enough, then. But, outside a very small group,
the existence of The Master and Margarita was completely unsuspected. That
certainly accounts for some of the amazement caused by its publication. It
was thought that virtually all of Bulgakov had found its way into print. And
here was not some minor literary remains but a major novel, the author's
crowning work. Then there were the qualities of the novel itself-- its
formal originality, its devastating satire of Soviet life, and of Soviet
literary life in particular, its 'theatrical' rendering of the Great Terror
of the thirties, the audacity of its portrayal of Jesus Christ and Pontius
Pilate, not to mention Satan. But, above all, the novel breathed an air of
freedom, artistic and spiritual, which had become rare indeed, not only in
Soviet Russia. We sense it in the special tone of Bulgakov's writing, a
combination of laughter (satire, caricature, buffoonery) and the most
unguarded vulnerability. Two aphorisms detachable from the novel may suggest
something of the complex nature of this freedom and how it may have struck
the novel's first readers. One is the much-quoted 'Manuscripts don't burn',
which seems to express an absolute trust in the triumph of poetry,
imagination, the free word, over terror and oppression, and could thus
become a watchword of the intelligentsia. The publication of The Master and
Margarita was taken as a proof of the assertion. In fact, during a moment of
fear early in his work on the novel, Bulgakov did burn what he had written.
And yet, as we see, it refused to stay burned. This moment of fear, however,
brings me to the second aphorism - 'Cowardice is the most terrible of vices'
- which is repeated with slight variations several times in the novel. More
penetrating than the defiant 'Manuscripts don't burn', this word touched the
inner experience of generations of Russians. To portray that experience with
such candour required another sort of freedom and a love for something more
than 'culture'. Gratitude for such perfect expression of this other, deeper
freedom must surely have been part of the enthusiastic response of readers
to the novel's first appearance.
And then there was the sheer unlikeliness of its publication. By 1966
the 'thaw' that had followed Stalin's death was over and a new freeze was
coming. The hopes awakened by the publication of One Day in the Life of Ivan
Denisovich, the first public acknowledgement of the existence of the Gulag,
had been disappointed. In 1964 came the notorious trial of the poet Joseph
Brodsky, and a year later the trial of the writers Andrei Sinyavsky and Yuli
Daniel, both sentenced to terms in that same Gulag. Solzhenitsyn saw a new
Stalinization approaching, made worse by the terrible sense of repetition,
stagnation and helplessness. Such was the monotonously grim atmosphere of
the Brezhnev era. And in the midst of it there suddenly burst The Master and
Margarita, not only an anomaly but an impossibility, a sort of cosmic error,
evidence of some hidden but fatal crack in the system of Soviet power.
People kept asking, how could they have let it happen?
Bulgakov began work on the first version of the novel early in 1929, or
possibly at the end of 1928. It was abandoned, taken up again, burned,
resurrected, recast and revised many times. It accompanied Bulgakov through
the period of greatest suffering for his people -- the period of forced
collectivization and the first five-year plan, which decimated Russia's
peasantry and destroyed her agriculture, the period of expansion of the
system of 'corrective labour camps', of the penetration of the secret police
into all areas of life, of the liquidation of the intelligentsia, of vast
party purges and the Moscow 'show trials'. In literature the same struggle
went on in miniature, and with the same results. Bulgakov was not arrested,
but by 1930 he found himself so far excluded that he could no longer publish
or produce his work. In an extraordinarily forthright letter to the central
government, he asked for permission to emigrate, since the hostility of the
literary powers made it impossible for him to live. If emigration was not
permitted, 'and if I am condemned to keep silent in the Soviet Union for the
rest of my days, then I ask the Soviet government to give me a job in my
speciality and assign me to a theatre as a titular director.' Stalin himself
answered this letter by telephone on 17 April, and shortly afterwards the
Moscow Art Theatre hired Bulgakov as an assistant director and literary
consultant. However, during the thirties only his stage adaptations of
Gogol's Dead Souls and Cervantes' Don Quixote were granted a normal run. His
own plays either were not staged at all or were quickly withdrawn, and his
Life of Monsieur de Moliere, written in 1932--5 for the collection Lives of
Illustrious Men, was rejected by the publisher. These circumstances are
everywhere present in The Master and Margarita, which was in part Bulgakov's
challenge to the rule of terror in literature. The successive stages of his
work on the novel, his changing evaluations of the nature of the book and
its characters, reflect events in his life and his deepening grasp of what
was at stake in the struggle. I will briefly sketch what the study of his
archives has made known of this process.
The novel in its definitive version is composed of two distinct but
interwoven parts, one set in contemporary Moscow, the other in ancient
Jerusalem (called Yershalaim). Its central characters are Woland (Satan) and
his retinue, the poet Ivan Homeless, Pontius Pilate, an unnamed writer known
as 'the master', and Margarita. The Pilate story is condensed into four
chapters and focused on four or five large-scale figures. The Moscow story
includes a whole array of minor characters. The Pilate story, which passes
through a succession of narrators, finally joins the Moscow story at the
end, when the fates of Pilate and the master are simultaneously decided. The
earliest version, narrated by a first-person 'chronicler' and entitled The
Engineer's Hoof, was written in the first few months of 1929. It contained
no trace of Margarita and only a faint hint of the master in a minor
character representing the old intelligentsia. The Pilate story was confined
to a single chapter. This version included the essentials of the Moscow
satire, which afterwards underwent only minor revisions and rearrangements.
It began in much the same way as the definitive version, with a dialogue
between a people's poet and an editor (here of an anti-religious magazine.
The Godless) on the correct portrayal of Christ as an exploiter of the
proletariat. A stranger (Woland) appears and, surprised at their unbelief,
astounds them with an eyewitness account of Christ's crucifixion. This
account forms the second chapter, entitled 'The Gospel of Woland'.
Clearly, what first spurred Bulgakov to write the novel was his outrage
at the portrayals of Christ in Soviet anti-religious propaganda (The Godless
was an actual monthly magazine of atheism, published from 1922 to 1940). His
response was based on a simple reversal -- a vivid circumstantial narrative
of what was thought to be a 'myth' invented by the ruling class, and a
breaking down of the self-evident reality of Moscow life by the intrusion of
the 'stranger'. This device, fundamental to the novel, would be more fully
elaborated in its final form. Literary satire was also present from the
start. The fifth chapter of the definitive version, entitled There were
Doings at Griboedov's', already appeared intact in this earliest draft,
where it was entitled 'Mania Furibunda'. In May of 1929, Bulgakov sent this
chapter to a publisher, who rejected it. This was his only attempt to
publish anything from the novel.
The second version, from later in the same year, was a reworking of the
first four chapters, filling out certain episodes and adding the death of
Judas to the second chapter, which also began to detach itself from Woland
and become a more autonomous narrative. According to the author's wife,
Elena Sergeevna, Bulgakov partially destroyed these two versions in the
spring of 1930 -- 'threw them in the fire', in the writer's own words. What
survived were two large notebooks with many pages torn out. This was at the
height of the attacks on Bulgakov . in the press, the moment of his letter
to the government.
After that came some scattered notes in two notebooks, kept
intermittently over the next two years, which was a very difficult time for
Bulgakov. In the upper-right-hand corner of the second, he wrote:
'Lord, help me to finish my novel, 1931.' In a fragment of a later
chapter, entitled 'Woland's Flight', there is a reference to someone
addressed familiarly as ty, who is told that he 'will meet with Schubert and
clear mornings'. This is obviously the master, though he is not called so.
There is also the first mention of the name of Margarita. In Bulgakov's
mind, the main outlines of a new conception of the novel were evidently
This new version he began to write in earnest in October of 1932,
during a visit to Leningrad with Elena Sergeevna, whom he had just married.
(The 'model' for Margarita, who had now entered the composition, she was
previously married to a high-ranking military official, who for some time
opposed her wish to leave him for the writer, leading Bulgakov to think he
would never see her again.) His wife was surprised that he could set to work
without having any notes or earlier drafts with him, but Bulgakov explained,
'I know it by heart.' He continued working, not without long interruptions,
until 1936. Various new tides occurred to him, all still referring to Satan
as the central figure -- The Great Chancellor, Satan, Here I Am, The Black
Theologian, He Has Come, The Hoofed Consultant. As in the earliest version,
the time of the action is 24-- 5 June, the feast of St John, traditionally a
time of magic enchantments (later it was moved to the time of the spring
full moon). The nameless friend of Margarita is called 'Faust' in some
notes, though not in the text itself. He is also called 'the poet', and is
made the author of a novel which corresponds to the 'Gospel of Woland' from
the first drafts. This historical section is now broken up and moved to a
later place in the novel, coming closer to what would be the arrangement in
the final version.
Bulgakov laboured especially over the conclusion of the novel and what
reward to give the master. The ending appears for the first time in a
chapter entitled 'Last Flight', dating from July 1956. It differs little
from the final version. In it, however, the master is told explicitly and
The house on Sadovaya and the horrible Bosoy will vanish from your
memory, but with them will go Ha-Nozri and the forgiven hegemon. These
things are not for your spirit. You will never raise yourself higher, you
will not see Yeshua, you will never leave your refuge.
In an earlier note, Bulgakov had written even more tellingly: 'You will
not hear the liturgy. But you will listen to the romantics . . .' These
words, which do not appear in the definitive text, tell us how painfully
Bulgakov weighed the question of cowardice and guilt in considering the fate
of his hero, and how we should understand the ending of the final version.
They also indicate a thematic link between Pilate, the master, and the
author himself, connecting the historical and contemporary parts of the
In a brief reworking from 1936--7, Bulgakov brought the beginning of
the Pilate story back to the second chapter, where it would remain, and in
another reworking from 1937-8 he finally found the definitive tide for the
novel. In this version, the original narrator, a characterized 'chronicler',
is removed. The new narrator is that fluid voice -- moving freely from
detached observation to ironic double voicing, to the most personal
interjection - which is perhaps the finest achievement of Bulgakov's art.
The first typescript of The Master and Margarita, dating to 1958, was
dictated to the typist by Bulgakov from this last revision, with many
changes along the way. In 1939 he made further alterations in the
typescript, the most important of which concerns the fate of the hero and
heroine. In the last manuscript version, the fate of the master and
Margarita, announced to them by Woland, is to follow Pilate up the path of
moonlight to find Yeshua and peace. In the typescript, the fate of the
master, announced to Woland by Matthew Levi, speaking for Yeshua, is not to
follow Pilate but to go to his 'eternal refuge' with Margarita, in a rather
German-Romantic setting, with Schubert's music and blossoming cherry trees.
Asked by Woland, 'But why don't you take him with you into the light?' Levi
replies in a sorrowful voice, 'He does not deserve the light, he deserves
peace.' Bulgakov, still pondering the problem of the master's guilt (and his
own, for what he considered various compromises, including his work on a
play about Stalin's youth), went back to his notes and revisions from 1936,
but lightened their severity with an enigmatic irony. This was to be the
definitive resolution. Clearly, the master is not to be seen as a heroic
martyr for art or a 'Christ-figure'. Bulgakov's gentle irony is a warning
against the mistake, more common in our time than we might think, of
equating artistic mastery with a sort of saintliness, or, in Kierkegaard's
terms, of confusing the aesthetic with the ethical.
In the evolution of The Master and Margarita, the Moscow satire of
Woland and his retinue versus the literary powers and the imposed normality
of Soviet life in general is there from the first, and comes to involve the
master when he appears, acquiring details from the writer's own life and
with them a more personal tone alongside the bantering irreverence of the
demonic retinue. The Pilate story, on the other hand, the story of an act of
cowardice and an interrupted dialogue, gains in weight and independence as
Bulgakov's work progresses. From a single inset episode, it becomes the
centrepiece of the novel, setting off the contemporary events and serving as
their measure. In style and form it is a counterpoint to the rest of the
book. Finally, rather late in the process, the master and Margarita appear,
with Margarita coming to dominate the second part of the novel. Her story is
a romance in the old sense - the celebration of a beautiful woman, of a true
love, and of personal courage.
These three stories, in form as well as content, embrace virtually all
that was excluded from official Soviet ideology and its literature. But if
the confines of 'socialist realism' are utterly exploded, so are the
confines of more traditional novelistic realism. The Master and Margarita as
a whole is a consistently free verbal construction which, true to its own
premises, can re-create ancient Jerusalem in the smallest physical detail,
but can also alter the specifics of the New Testament and play variations on
its principal figures, can combine the realities of Moscow life with
witchcraft, vampirism, the tearing off and replacing of heads, can describe
for several pages the sensation of flight on a broomstick or the gathering
of the infamous dead at Satan's annual spring ball, can combine the most
acute sense of the fragility of human life with confidence in its
indestructibility. Bulgakov underscores the continuity of this verbal world
by having certain phrases -- 'Oh, gods, my gods', 'Bring me poison', 'Even
by moonlight I have no peace' -- migrate from one character to another, or
to the narrator. A more conspicuous case is the Pilate story itself,
successive parts of which are told by Woland, dreamed by the poet Homeless,
written by the master, and read by Margarita, while the whole preserves its
stylistic unity. Narrow notions of the 'imitation of reality' break down
here. But The Master and Margarita is true to the broader sense of the novel
as a freely developing form embodied in the works of Dostoevsky and Gogol,
of Swift and Sterne, of Cervantes, Rabelais and Apuleius. The mobile but
personal narrative voice of the novel, the closest model for which Bulgakov
may have found in Gogol's Dead Souls, is the perfect medium for this
continuous verbal construction. There is no multiplicity of narrators in the
novel. The voice is always the same. But it has unusual range, picking up,
parodying, or ironically undercutting the tones of the novel's many
characters, with undertones of lyric and epic poetry and old popular tales.
Bulgakov always loved clowning and agreed with E. T. A. Hoffmann that
irony and buffoonery are expressions of 'the deepest contemplation of life
in all its conditionality'. It is not by chance that his stage adaptations
of the comic masterpieces of Gogol and Cervantes coincided with the writing
of The Master and Margarita. Behind such specific 'influences' stands the
age-old tradition of folk humour with its carnivalized world-view, its
reversals and dethronings, its relativizing of worldly absolutes -- a
tradition that was the subject of a monumental study by Bulgakov's
countryman and contemporary Mikhail Bakhtin. Bakhtin's Rabelais and His
World, which in its way was as much an explosion of Soviet reality as
Bulgakov's novel, appeared in 1965, a year before The Master and Margarita.
The coincidence was not lost on Russian readers. Commenting on it,
Bulgakov's wife noted that, while there had never been any direct link
between the two men, they were both responding to the same historical
situation from the same cultural basis.
Many observations from Bakhtin's study seem to be aimed directly at
Bulgakov's intentions, none more so than his comment on Rabelais's travesty
of the 'hidden meaning', the 'secret', the 'terrifying mysteries' of
religion, politics and economics: 'Laughter must liberate the gay truth of
the world from the veils of gloomy lies spun by the seriousness of fear,
suffering, and violence.' The settling of scores is also part of the
tradition of carnival laughter. Perhaps the most pure example is the
Testament of the poet Francois Villon, who in the liveliest verse handed out
appropriate 'legacies' to all his enemies, thus entering into tradition and
even earning himself a place in the fourth book of Rabelais's Gargantua and
Pantagruel. So, too, Bakhtin says of Rabelais:
In his novel ... he uses the popular-festive system of images with its
charter of freedoms consecrated by many centuries; and he uses it to inflict
a severe punishment upon his foe, the Gothic age ... In this setting of
consecrated rights Rabelais attacks the fundamental dogmas and sacraments,
the holy of holies of medieval ideology.
And he comments further on the broad nature of this tradition:
For thousands of years the people have used these festive comic images
to express their criticism, their deep distrust of official truth, and their
highest hopes and aspirations. Freedom was not so much an exterior right as
it was the inner content of these images. It was the thousand-year-old
language of feariessness, a language with no reservations and omissions,
about the world and about power.
Bulgakov drew on this same source in settling his scores with the
custodians of official literature and official reality.
The novel's form excludes psychological analysis and historical
commentary. Hence the quickness and pungency of Bulgakov's writing. At the
same time, it allows Bulgakov to exploit all the theatricality of its great
scenes -- storms, flight, the attack of vampires, all the antics of the
demons Koroviev and Behemoth, the seance in the Variety theatre, the ball at
Satan's, but also the meeting of Pilate and Yeshua, the crucifixion as
witnessed by Matthew Levi, the murder of Judas in the moonlit garden of
Bulgakov's treatment of Gospel figures is the most controversial aspect
of The Master and Margarita and has met with the greatest incomprehension.
Yet his premises are made clear in the very first pages of the novel, in the
dialogue between Woland and the atheist Berlioz. By the deepest irony of
all, the 'prince of this world' stands as guarantor of the 'other' world. It
exists, since he exists. But he says nothing directly about it. Apart from
divine revelation, the only language able to speak of the 'other' world is
the language of parable. Of this language Kafka wrote, in his parable 'On
Many complain that the words of the wise are always merely parables and
of no use in daily life, which is the only life we have. When the sage says:
'Go over,' he does not mean that we should cross to some actual place, which
we could do anyhow if it was worth the trouble; he means some fabulous
yonder, something unknown to us, something, too, that he cannot designate
more precisely, and therefore cannot help us here in the least. All these
parables really set out to say simply that the incomprehensible is
incomprehensible, and we know that already. But the cares we have to
struggle with every day: that is a different matter.
Concerning this a man once said: Why such reluctance? If you only
followed the parables, you yourselves would become parables and with that nd
of all your daily cares.
Another said: I bet that is also a parable.
The first said: You win.
The second said: But unfortunately only in parable.
The first said: No, in reality. In parable you lose.
A similar dialogue lies at the heart of Bulgakov's novel. In it there
are those who belong to parable and those who belong to reality. There are
those who go over and those who do not. There are those who win in parable
and become parables themselves, and there are those who win in reality. But
this reality belongs to Woland. Its nature is made chillingly clear in the
brief scene when he and Margarita contemplate his special globe. Woland
'For instance, do you see this chunk of land, washed on one side by the
ocean? Look, it's filling with fire. A war has started there. If you look
closer, you'll see the details.'
Margarita leaned towards the globe and saw the little square of land
spread out, get painted in many colours, and turn as it were into a relief
map. And then she saw the little ribbon of a river, and some village near
it. A little house the size of a pea grew and became the size of a matchbox.
Suddenly and noiselessly the roof of this house flew up along with a cloud
of black smoke, and the walls collapsed, so that nothing was left of the
little two-storey box except a small heap with black smoke pouring from it.
Bringing her eye stffl closer, Margarita made out a small female figure
lying on the ground, and next to her, in a pool of blood, a little child
with outstretched arms.
That's it,' Woland said, smiling, 'he had no time to sin. Abaddon's
work is impeccable.'
When Margarita asks which side this Abaddon is on, Woland replies:
'He is of a rare impartiality and sympathizes equally with both sides
of the fight. Owing to that, the results are always the same for both
There are others who dispute Woland's claim to the power of this world.
They are absent or all but absent from The Master and Margarita. But the
reality of the world seems to be at their disposal, to be shaped by them and
to bear their imprint. Their names are Caesar and Stalin. Though absent in
person, they are omnipresent. Their imposed will has become the measure of
normality and self-evidence. In other words, the normality of this world is
imposed terror. And, as the story of Pilate shows, this is by no means a
twentieth-century phenomenon. Once terror is identified with the world, it
becomes invisible. Bulgakov's portrayal of Moscow under Stalin's terror is
remarkable precisely for its weightless, circus-like theatricality and lack
of pathos. It is a sub-stanceless reality, an empty suit writing at a desk.
The citizens have adjusted to it and learned to play along as they always
do. The mechanism of this forced adjustment is revealed in the chapter
recounting 'Nikanor Ivanovich's Dream', in which prison, denunciation and
betrayal become yet another theatre with a kindly and helpful master of
ceremonies. Berlioz, the comparatist, is the spokesman for this 'normal'
state of affairs, which is what makes his conversation with Woland so
interesting. In it he is confronted with another reality which he cannot
recognize. He becomes 'unexpectedly mortal'. In the story of Pilate,
however, a moment of recognition does come. It occurs during Pilate's
conversation with Yeshua, when he sees the wandering philosopher's head
float off and in its place the toothless head of the aged Tiberius Caesar.
This is the pivotal moment of the novel. Pilate breaks off his dialogue with
Yeshua, he does not 'go over', and afterwards must sit like a stone for two
thousand years waiting to continue their conversation.
Parable cuts through the normality of this world only at moments.
These moments are preceded by a sense of dread, or else by a
presentiment of something good. The first variation is Berlioz's meeting
with Woland. The second is Pilate's meeting with Yeshua. The third is the
'self-baptism' of the poet Ivan Homeless before he goes in pursuit of the
mysterious stranger. The fourth is the meeting of the master and Margarita.
These chance encounters have eternal consequences, depending on the response
of the person, who must act without foreknowledge and then becomes the
consequences of that action.
The touchstone character of the novel is Ivan Homeless, who is there at
the start, is radically changed by his encounters with Woland and the
master, becomes the latter's 'disciple' and continues his work, is present
at almost every turn of the novel's action, and appears finally in the
epilogue. He remains an uneasy inhabitant of 'normal' reality, as a
historian who 'knows everything', but each year, with the coming of the
spring full moon, he returns to the parable which for this world looks like
A Note on the Text and Acknowledgements
At his death, Bulgakov left The Master and Margarita in a slightly
unfinished state. It contains, for instance, certain inconsistencies - two
versions of the 'departure' of the master and Margarita, two versions of
Yeshua's entry into Yershalaim, two names for Yeshua's native town. His
final revisions, undertaken in October of 1939, broke off near the start of
Book Two. Later he dictated some additions to his wife, Elena Sergeevna,
notably the opening paragraph of Chapter 32 ('Gods, my gods! How sad the
evening earth!'). Shortly after his death in 1940, Elena Sergeevna made a
new typescript of the novel. In 1965, she prepared another typescript for
publication, which differs slightly from her 1940 text. This 1965 text was
published by Moskva in November 1966 and January 1967. However, the editors
of the magazine made cuts in it amounting to some sixty typed pages. These
cut portions immediately appeared in samizdat (unofficial Soviet
'self-publishing'), were published by Scherz Verlag in Switzerland in 1967,
and were then included in the Possev Verlag edition (Frankfurt-am-Main,
1969) and the YMCA-Press edition (Paris, 1969). In 1975 a new and now
complete edition came out in Russia, the result of a comparison of the
already published editions with materials in the Bulgakov archive. It
included additions and changes taken from written corrections on other
existing typescripts. The latest Russian edition (1990) has removed the most
important of those additions, bringing the text close once again to Elena
Sergeevna's 1965 typescript. Given the absence of a definitive authorial
text, this process of revision is virtually endless. However, it involves
changes that in most cases have little bearing for a translator.
The present translation has been made from the text of the original
magazine publication, based on Elena Sergeevna's 1965 typescript, with all
cuts restored as in the Possev and YMCA-Press editions. It is complete and
The translators wish to express their gratitude to M. 0. Chudakova for
her advice on the text and to Irina Kronrod for her help in preparing the
R. P., L. V.
The Master and Margarita
'... who are you, then?'
'I am part of that power which eternally wills evil and eternally works
* BOOK ONE *
CHAPTER 1. Never Talk with Strangers
At the hour of the hot spring sunset two citizens appeared at the
Patriarch's Ponds. One of them, approximately forty years old, dressed in a
grey summer suit, was short, dark-haired, plump, bald, and carried his
respectable fedora hat in his hand. His neady shaven face was adorned with
black horn-rimmed glasses of a supernatural size. The odier, a
broad-shouldered young man with tousled reddish hair, his checkered cap
cocked back on his head, was wearing a cowboy shirt, wrinkled white trousers
and black sneakers.
The first was none other than Mikhail Alexandrovich
Berlioz, editor of a fat literary journal and chairman of the
board of one of the major Moscow literary associations, called
Massolit for short, and his young companion was the poet Ivan
Nikolaevich Ponyrev, who wrote under the pseudonym of
Once in the shade of the barely greening lindens, the writers dashed
first thing to a brighdy painted stand with the sign: 'Beer and Soft
Ah, yes, note must be made of the first oddity of this dreadful May
evening. There was not a single person to be seen, not only by the stand,
but also along the whole walk parallel to Malaya Bronnaya Street. At that
hour when it seemed no longer possible to breathe, when the sun, having
scorched Moscow, was collapsing in a dry haze somewhere beyond Sadovoye
Ring, no one came under the lindens, no one sat on a bench, the walk was
'Give us seltzer,' Berlioz asked.
'There is no seltzer,' die woman in the stand said, and for some reason
'Is there beer?' Homeless inquired in a rasping voice.
'Beer'll be delivered towards evening,' the woman replied.
'Then what is there?' asked Berlioz.
'Apricot soda, only warm,' said the woman.
'Well, let's have it, let's have it! . . .'
The soda produced an abundance of yellow foam, and the air began to
smell of a barber-shop. Having finished drinking, the writers immediately
started to hiccup, paid, and sat down on a bench face to the pond and back
Here the second oddity occurred, touching Berlioz alone. He suddenly
stopped hiccuping, his heart gave a thump and dropped away somewhere for an
instant, then came back, but with a blunt needle lodged in it. Besides that,
Berlioz was gripped by fear, groundless, yet so strong that he wanted to
flee the Ponds at once without looking back.
Berlioz looked around in anguish, not understanding what had frightened
him. He paled, wiped his forehead with a handkerchief, thought:
"What's the matter with me? This has never happened before. My heart's
acting up ... I'm overworked . .. Maybe it's time to send it all to the
devil and go to Kislovodsk . . .'
And here the sweltering air thickened before him, and a transparent
citizen of the strangest appearance wove himself out of it. A peaked
jockey's cap on his little head, a short checkered jacket also made of air
... A citizen seven feet tall, but narrow in the shoulders, unbelievably
thin, and, kindly note, with a jeering physiognomy.
The life of Berlioz had taken such a course that he was unaccustomed to
extraordinary phenomena. Turning paler still, he goggled his eyes and
thought in consternation: 'This can't be! . . .'
But, alas, it was, and the long, see-through citizen was swaying before
him to the left and to the right without touching the ground.
Here terror took such possession of Berlioz that he shut his eyes. When
he opened them again, he saw that it was all over, the phantasm had
dissolved, the checkered one had vanished, and with that the blunt needle
had popped out of his heart.
'Pah, the devil!' exclaimed the editor. 'YOU know, Ivan, I nearly had
heatstroke just now! There was even something like a hallucination . ..' He
attempted to smile, but alarm still jumped in his eyes and his hands
trembled. However, he gradually calmed down, fanned himself with his
handkerchief and, having said rather cheerfully: 'Well, and so . . .', went
on with the conversation interrupted by their soda-drinking.
This conversation, as was learned afterwards, was about Jesus Christ.
The thing was that the editor had commissioned from the poet a long
anti-religious poem for the next issue of his journal. Ivan Nikolaevich had
written this poem, and in a very short time, but unfortunately the editor
was not at all satisfied with it. Homeless had portrayed the main character
of his poem - that is, Jesus - in very dark colours, but nevertheless the
whole poem, in the editor's opinion, had to be written over again. And so
the editor was now giving the poet something of a lecture on Jesus, with the
aim of underscoring the poet's essential error.
It is hard to say what precisely had let Ivan Nikolaevich down - the
descriptive powers of his talent or a total unfamiliarity with the question
he was writing about - but his Jesus came out, well, completely alive, the
once-existing Jesus, though, true, a Jesus furnished with all negative
Now, Berlioz wanted to prove to the poet that the main thing was not
how Jesus was, good or bad, but that this same Jesus, as a person, simply
never existed in the world, and all the stories about him were mere fiction,
the most ordinary mythology.
It must be noted that the editor was a well-read man and in his
conversation very skilfully pointed to ancient historians - for instance,
the famous Philo of Alexandria and the brilliantly educated
Flavius Josephus - who never said a word about the existence
of Jesus. Displaying a solid erudition, Mikhail Alexandrovich also informed
the poet, among other things, that the passage in the fifteenth book of
Tacitus's famous Annals, the forty-fourth chapter, where mention is made of
the execution of Jesus, was nothing but a later spurious interpolation.
The poet, for whom everything the editor was telling him was new,
listened attentively to Mikhail Alexandrovich, fixing his pert green eyes on
him, and merely hiccuped from time to time, cursing the apricot soda under
There's not a single Eastern religion,' Berlioz was saying, 'in which,
as a rule, an immaculate virgin did not give birth to a god. And in just the
same wav, without inventing anything new, the Christians created their
Jesus, who in fact never lived. It's on this that the main emphasis should
be placed . . .'
Berlioz's high tenor rang out in the deserted walk, and as Mikhail
Alexandrovich went deeper into the maze, which only a highly educated man
can go into without risking a broken neck, the poet learned more and more
interesting and useful things about the Egyptian Osiris, a
benevolent god and the son of Heaven and Earth, and about the Phoenician god
Tammoz, and about Marduk," and even about a lesser known,
terrible god, Vitzliputzli,' once greatly venerated by the
Aztecs in Mexico. And just at the moment when Mikhail Alexandrovich was
telling the poet how the Aztecs used to fashion figurines of Vitzli-putzli
out of dough -- the first man appeared in the walk.
Afterwards, when, frankly speaking, it was already too late, various
institutions presented reports describing this man. A comparison of them
cannot but cause amazement. Thus, the first of them said that the man was
short, had gold teeth, and limped on his right leg. The second, that the man
was enormously tall, had platinum crowns, and limped on his left leg. The
third laconically averred that the man had no distinguishing marks. It must
be acknowledged that none of these reports is of any value.
First of all, the man described did not limp on any leg, and was
neither short nor enormous, but simply tall. As for his teeth, he had
platinum crowns on the left side and gold on the right. He was wearing an
expensive grey suit and imported shoes of a matching colour. His grey beret
was cocked rakishly over one ear; under his arm 1-e carried a stick with a
black knob shaped like a poodle's head. He looked to be a
little over forty. Mouth somehow twisted. Clean-shaven. Dark-haired. Right
eye black, left -- for some reason -- green. Dark eyebrows, but one higher
than the other. In short, a foreigner.
Having passed by the bench on which the editor and the poet were
placed, the foreigner gave them a sidelong look, stopped, and suddenly sat
down on the next bench, two steps away from the friends.
'A German . . .' thought Berlioz. 'An Englishman . . .' thought
Homeless. 'My, he must be hot in those gloves.'
And the foreigner gazed around at the tall buildings that rectangularly
framed the pond, making it obvious that he was seeing the place for the
first time and that it interested him. He rested his glance on the upper
floors, where the glass dazzlinglv reflected the broken-up sun which was for
ever departing from Mikhail Alexandrovich, then shifted it lower down to
where the windows were beginning to darken before evening, smiled
condescendingly at something, narrowed his eves, put his hands on the knob
and his chin on his hands.
'For instance, Ivan,' Berlioz was saying, 'you portrayed the birth of
Jesus, the son of God, very well and satirically, but the gist of it is that
a whole series of sons of God were born before Jesus, like, say, the
Phoenician Adonis, the Phrygian Atris, the
Persian Mithras. And, to put it briefly, not one of them was
born or ever existed, Jesus included, and what's necessary is that, instead
of portraying his birth or, suppose, the coming of the Magi,'
you portray the absurd rumours of their coming. Otherwise it follows from
your story that he really was born! . . .'
Here Homeless made an attempt to stop his painful hiccuping by holding
his breath, which caused him to hiccup more painfully and loudly, and at
that same moment Berlioz interrupted his speech, because the foreigner
suddenly got up and walked towards the writers. They looked at him in
'Excuse me, please,' the approaching man began speaking, with a foreign
accent but without distorting the words, 'if, not being your acquaintance, I
allow myself... but the subject of your learned conversation is so
interesting that. . .'
Here he politely took off his beret, and the friends had nothing left
but to stand up and make their bows.
'No, rather a Frenchman .. .' thought Berlioz.
'A Pole? . . .' thought Homeless.
It must be added that from his first words the foreigner made a
repellent impression on the poet, but Berlioz rather liked him - that is,
not liked but ... how to put it ... was interested, or whatever.
'May I sit down?' the foreigner asked politely, and the friends somehow
involuntarily moved apart; the foreigner adroidy sat down between them and
at once entered into the conversation:
'Unless I heard wrong, you were pleased to say that Jesus never
existed?' the foreigner asked, turning his green left eye to Berlioz.
'No, you did not hear wrong,' Berlioz replied courteously, 'that is
precisely what I was saying.'
'Ah, how interesting!' exclaimed the foreigner.
'What the devil does he want?' thought Homeless, frowning.
'And you were agreeing with your interlocutor?' inquired the stranger,
turning to Homeless on his right.
'A hundred per cent!' confirmed the man, who was fond of whimsical and
'Amazing!' exclaimed the uninvited interlocutor and, casting a thievish
glance around and muffling his low voice for some reason, he said:
'Forgive my importunity, but, as I understand, along with everything
else, you also do not believe in God?' tie made frightened eyes and added:
'I swear I won't tell anyone!'
'No, we don't believe in God,' Berlioz replied, smiling slightly at the
foreign tourist's fright, but we can speak of it quite freely.'
The foreigner sat back on the bench and asked, even with a slight
shriek of curiosity:
'You are - atheists?!'
Yes, we're atheists,' Berlioz smilingly replied, and Homeless thought,
getting angry: 'Latched on to us, the foreign goose!'
'Oh, how lovely!' the astonishing foreigner cried out and began
swivelling his head, looking from one writer to the other.
'In our country atheism does not surprise anyone,' Berlioz said with
diplomatic politeness. 'The majority of our population consciously and long
ago ceased believing in the fairytales about God.'
Here the foreigner pulled the following stunt: he got up and shook the
amazed editor's hand, accompanying it with these words:
'Allow me to thank you with all my heart!' 'What are you thanking him
for?' Homeless inquired, blinking. 'For some very important information,
which is of great interest to me as a traveller,' the outlandish fellow
explained, raising his finger significantly.
The important information apparendy had indeed produced a strong
impression on the traveller, because he passed his frightened glance over
the buildings, as if afraid of seeing an atheist in every window.
'No, he's not an Englishman ...' thought Berlioz, and Homeless thought:
'Where'd he pick up his Russian, that's the interesting thing!' and frowned
'But, allow me to ask you,' the foreign visitor spoke after some
anxious reflection, 'what, then, about the proofs of God's existence, of
which, as is known, there are exactly five?'
'Alas!' Berlioz said with regret. 'Not one of these proofs is worth
anything, and mankind shelved them long ago. You must agree that in the
realm of reason there can be no proof of God's existence.'
'Bravo!' cried the foreigner. 'Bravo! You have perfectly repeated
restless old Immanuel's thought in this regard. But here's
the hitch: he roundly demolished all five proofs, and then, as if mocking
himself, constructed a sixth of his own.'
'Kant's proof,' the learned editor objected with a subtle smile, 'is
equally unconvincing. Not for nothing did Schiller say that the Kantian
reasoning on this question can satisfy only slaves, and Strauss simply
laughed at this proof.' Berlioz spoke, thinking all the while: 'But, anyhow,
who is he? And why does he speak Russian so well?'
They ought to take this Kant and give him a three-year stretch in
Solovki for such proofs!' Ivan Nikolaevich plumped quite
'Ivan!' Berlioz whispered, embarrassed.
But the suggestion of sending Kant to Solovki not only did not shock
the foreigner, but even sent him into raptures.
'Precisely, precisely,' he cried, and his green left eye, turned to
Berlioz, flashed. 'Just the place for him! Didn't I tell him that time at
"As you will. Professor, but what you've thought up doesn't hang
together. It's clever, maybe, but mighty unclear. You'll be laughed at."'
Berlioz goggled his eyes. 'At breakfast... to Kant? . . . What is this
drivel?' he thought.
'But,' the oudander went on, unembarrassed by Berlioz's amazement and
addressing the poet, 'sending him to Solovki is unfeasible, for the simple
reason that he has been abiding for over a hundred years now in places
considerably more remote than Solovki, and to extract him from there is in
no way possible, I assure you.'
'Too bad!' the feisty poet responded.
'Yes, too bad!' the stranger agreed, his eye flashing, and went on:
'But here is a question that is troubling me: if there is no God, then,
one may ask, who governs human life and, in general, the whole order of
things on earth?'
'Man governs it himself,' Homeless angrily hastened to reply to this
admittedly none-too-clear question.
'Pardon me,' the stranger responded gently, 'but in order to govern,
one needs, after all, to have a precise plan for a certain, at least
somewhat decent, length of time. Allow me to ask you, then, how can man
govern, if he is not only deprived of the opportunity of making a plan for
at least some ridiculously short period - well, say, a thousand years - but
cannot even vouch for his own tomorrow?
'And in fact,' here the stranger turned to Berlioz, 'imagine that you,
for instance, start governing, giving orders to others and yourself,
generally, so to speak, acquire a taste for it, and suddenly you get ...hem
... hem ... lung cancer ...' -- here the foreigner smiled sweetly, and if
the thought of lung cancer gave him pleasure -- 'yes, cancer' -- narrowing
his eyes like a cat, he repeated the sonorous word -- 'and so your governing
'You are no longer interested in anyone's fate but your own. Your
family starts lying to you. Feeling that something is wrong, you rush to
learned doctors, then to quacks, and sometimes to fortune-tellers as well.
Like the first, so the second and third are completely senseless, as you
understand. And it all ends tragically: a man who still recently thought he
was governing something, suddenly winds up lying motionless in a wooden box,
and the people around him, seeing that the man lying there is no longer good
for anything, burn him in an oven.
'And sometimes it's worse still: the man has just decided to go to
Kislovodsk' - here the foreigner squinted at Berlioz - 'a trifling matter,
it seems, but even this he cannot accomplish, because suddenly, no one knows
why, he slips and falls under a tram-car! Are you going to say it was he who
governed himself that way? Would it not be more correct to think that he was
governed by someone else entirely?' And here the unknown man burst into a
strange little laugh.
Berlioz listened with great attention to the unpleasant story about the
cancer and the tram-car, and certain alarming thoughts began to torment him.
'He's not a foreigner .. . he's not a foreigner . ..' he thought, 'he's a
most peculiar specimen ... but, excuse me, who is he then?...'
You'd like to smoke, I see?' the stranger addressed Homeless
unexpectedly. "Which kind do you prefer?'
'What, have you got several?' the poet, who had run out of cigarettes,
'Which do you prefer?' the stranger repeated.
'Okay -- Our Brand,' Homeless replied spitefully.
The unknown man immediately took a cigarette case from his pocket and
offered it to Homeless:
'Our Brand . . .'
Editor and poet were both struck, not so much by Our Brand precisely
turning up in the cigarette case, as by the cigarette case itself. It was of
huge size, made of pure gold, and, as it was opened, a diamond triangle
flashed white and blue fire on its lid.
Here the writers thought differently. Berlioz: 'No, a foreigner!', and
Homeless: 'Well, devil take him, eh!...'
The poet and the owner of the cigarette case lit up, but the non-smoker
'I must counter him like this,' Berlioz decided, 'yes, man is mortal,
no one disputes that. But the thing is . ..'
However, before he managed to utter these words, the foreigner spoke:
'Yes, man is mortal, but that would be only half the trouble. The worst
of it is that he's sometimes unexpectedly mortal -- there's the trick! And
generally he's unable to say what he's going to do this same evening.'
'What an absurd way of putting the question ...' Berlioz thought and
'Well, there's some exaggeration here. About this same evening I do
know more or less certainly. It goes without saying, if a brick should fall
on my head on Bronnaya . . '
'No brick,' the stranger interrupted imposingly, 'will ever fall on
anyone's head just out of the blue. In this particular case, I assure you,
you are not in danger of that at all. You will die a different death.'
'Maybe you know what kind precisely?' Berlioz inquired with perfectly
natural irony, getting drawn into an utterly absurd conversation. 'And will
'Willingly,' the unknown man responded. He looked Berlioz up and down
as if he were going to make him a suit, muttered through his teeth something
like: 'One, two . . . Mercury in the second house . . . moon gone ... six -
disaster . . . evening - seven . . .' then announced loudly and joyfully:
'Your head will be cut off!'
Homeless goggled his eyes wildly and spitefully at the insouciant
stranger, and Berlioz asked, grinning crookedly:
'By whom precisely? Enemies? Interventionists?'
'No,' replied his interlocutor, 'by a Russian woman, a Komsomol[24
'Hm . . .' Berlioz mumbled, vexed at the stranger's Utde joke, 'well,
excuse me, but that's not very likely.'
'And I beg you to excuse me,' the foreigner replied, 'but it's so. Ah,
yes, I wanted to ask you, what are you going to do tonight, if it's not a
'It's not a secret. Right now I'll stop by my place on Sadovaya, and
then at ten this evening there will be a meeting at Massolit, and I will
'No, that simply cannot be,' the foreigner objected firmly.
'Because,' the foreigner replied and, narrowing his eyes, looked into
the sky, where, anticipating the cool of the evening, black birds were
tracing noiselessly, 'Annushka has already bought the sunflower oil, and has
not only bought it, but has already spilled it. So the meeting will not take
Here, quite understandably, silence fell under the lindens.
'Forgive me,' Berlioz spoke after a pause, glancing at the
drivel-spouting foreigner, 'but what has sunflower oil got to do with it ...
and which Annushka?'
'Sunflower oil has got this to do with it,' Homeless suddenly spoke,
obviously deciding to declare war on the uninvited interlocutor. 'Have you
ever happened, citizen, to be in a hospital for the mentally ill?'
'Ivan!.. .' Mikhail Alexandrovich exclaimed quietly. But the foreigner
was not a bit offended and burst into the merriest laughter.
'I have, I have, and more than once!' he cried out, laughing, but
without taking his unlaughing eye off the poet. 'Where haven't I been! Only
it's too bad I didn't get around to asking the professor what schizophrenia
is. So you will have to find that out from him yourself, Ivan Nikolaevich!'
'How do you know my name?'
'Gracious, Ivan Nikolaevich, who doesn't know you?' Here the foreigner
took out of his pocket the previous day's issue of the Literary Gazette, and
Ivan Nikolaevich saw his own picture on the very first page and under it his
very own verses. But the proof of fame and popularity, which yesterday had
delighted the poet, this time did not delight him a bit.
'Excuse me,' he said, and his face darkened, 'could you wait one little
moment? I want to sav a couple of words to my friend.'
'Oh, with pleasure!' exclaimed the stranger. 'It's so nice here under
the lindens, and, by the way, I'm not in any hurry.'
'Listen here, Misha,' the poet whispered, drawing Berlioz aside, 'he's
no foreign tourist, he's a spy. A Russian emigre who has
crossed back over. Ask for his papers before he gets away...'
'YOU think so?' Berlioz whispered worriedly, and thought: 'Why, he's
'Believe me,' the poet rasped into his ear, 'he's pretending to be a
fool in order to find out something or other. Just hear how he speaks
Russian.' As he spoke, the poet kept glancing sideways, to make sure the
stranger did not escape. 'Let's go and detain him, or he'll get away . . .'
And the poet pulled Berlioz back to the bench by the arm.
The unknown man was not sitting, but was standing near it, holding in
his hands some booklet in a dark-grey binding, a sturdy envelope made of
good paper, and a visiting card.
'Excuse me for having forgotten, in the heat of our dispute, to
introduce myself. Here is my card, my passport, and an invitation to come to
Moscow for a consultation,' the stranger said weightily, giving both writers
a penetrating glance.
They were embarrassed. 'The devil, he heard everything .. .' Berlioz
thought, and with a polite gesture indicated that there was no need to show
papers. While the foreigner was pushing them at the editor, the poet managed
to make out the word 'Professor' printed in foreign type on the card, and
the initial letter of the last name - a double 'V' - 'W'.
'My pleasure,' the editor meanwhile muttered in embarrassment, and the
foreigner put the papers back in his pocket.
Relations were thus restored, and all three sat down on the bench
'You've been invited here as a consultant. Professor?' asked Berlioz.
'Yes, as a consultant.'
"You're German?' Homeless inquired.
'I? . ..' the professor repeated and suddenly fell to thinking. 'Yes,
perhaps I am German .. .' he said.
'YOU speak real good Russian,' Homeless observed.
'Oh, I'm generally a polyglot and know a great number of languages,'
the professor replied.
'And what is your field?' Berlioz inquired.
'I am a specialist in black magic.'
There he goes!...' struck in Mikhail Alexandrovich's head.
'And . .. and you've been invited here in that capacity?' he asked,
'Yes, in that capacity,' the professor confirmed, and explained: 'In a
state library here some original manuscripts of the tenth-century
necromancer Gerbert of Aurillac have been found. So it is
necessary for me to sort them out. I am the only specialist in the world.'
'Aha! You're a historian?' Berlioz asked with great relief and respect.
'I am a historian,' the scholar confirmed, and added with no rhyme or
reason: This evening there will be an interesting story at the Ponds!'
Once again editor and poet were extremely surprised, but the professor
beckoned them both to him, and when they leaned towards him, whispered:
'Bear in mind that Jesus did exist.'
'You see. Professor,' Berlioz responded with a forced smile, 'we
respect your great learning, but on this question we hold to a different
point of view.'
'There's no need for any points of view,' the strange professor
replied, 'he simply existed, that's all.'
'But there's need for some proof. . .' Berlioz began. "There's no need
for any proofs,' replied the professor, and he began to speak softly, while
his accent for some reason disappeared: 'It's all very simple: In a white
cloak with blood-red lining, with the shuffling gait of a cavalryman, early
in the morning of the fourteenth day of the spring month of Nisan . .
CHAPTER 2. Pontius Pilate
In a white cloak with blood-red lining, with the shuffling gait of a
cavalryman, early in the morning of the fourteenth day of the spring month
of Nisan, there came out to the covered colonnade between the two wings of
the palace of Herod the Great' the procurator of Judea,
More than anything in the world the procurator hated the smell of rose
oil, and now everything foreboded a bad day, because this smell had been
pursuing the procurator since dawn.
It seemed to the procurator that a rosy smell exuded from the cypresses
and palms in the garden, that the smell of leather trappings and sweat from
the convoy was mingled with the cursed rosy flux.
From the outbuildings at the back of the palace, where the first cohort
of the Twelfth Lightning legion, which had come to
Yershalaim[5 ]with the procurator, was quartered, a whiff of
smoke reached the colonnade across the upper terrace of the palace, and this
slightly acrid smoke, which testified that the centuries' mess cooks had
begun to prepare dinner, was mingled with the same thick rosy scent.
'Oh, gods, gods, why do you punish me? . . . Yes, no doubt, this is it,
this is it again, the invincible, terrible illness . .. hemicrania, when
half of the head aches . . . there's no remedy for it, no escape ... I'll
try not to move my head . . .'
On the mosaic floor by the fountain a chair was already prepared, and
the procurator, without looking at anyone, sat in it and reached his hand
out to one side. His secretary deferentially placed a sheet of parchment in
this hand. Unable to suppress a painful grimace, the procurator ran a
cursory, sidelong glance over the writing, returned the parchment to the
secretary, and said with difficulty:
"The accused is from Galilee? Was the case sent to the
'Yes, Procurator,' replied the secretary.
'And what then?'
'He refused to make a decision on the case and sent the
Sanhedrin's[7 ]death sentence to you for confirmation,' the
The procurator twitched his cheek and said quietly:
'Bring in the accused.'
And at once two legionaries brought a man of about twenty-seven from
the garden terrace to the balcony under the columns and stood him before the
procurator's chair. The man was dressed in an old and torn light-blue
chiton. His head was covered by a white cloth with a leather band around the
forehead, and his hands were bound behind his back. Under the man's left eye
there was a large bruise, in the corner of his mouth a cut caked with blood.
The man gazed at the procurator with anxious curiosity.
The latter paused, then asked quiedy in Aramaic:
'So it was you who incited the people to destroy the temple of
The procurator sat as if made of stone while he spoke, and only his
lips moved slighdy as he pronounced the words. The procurator was as if made
of stone because he was afraid to move his head, aflame with infernal pain.
The man with bound hands leaned forward somewhat and began to speak:
'Good man! Believe me . ..'
But me procurator, motionless as before and not raising his voice in
the least, straight away interrupted him:
'Is it me that you are calling a good man? You are mistaken. It is
whispered about me in Yershalaim that I am a fierce monster, and that is
perfecdv correct.' And he added in the same monotone: 'Bring the centurion
It seemed to everyone that it became darker on the balcony when the
centurion of the first century. Mark, nicknamed Ratslayer, presented himself
before the procurator. Ratslayer was a head taller than the tallest soldier
of the legion and so broad in the shoulders that he completely blocked out
the still-low sun.
The procurator addressed the centurion in Latin:
'The criminal calls me "good man". Take him outside for a moment,
explain to him how I ought to be spoken to. But no maiming.'
And everyone except the motionless procurator followed Mark Ratslayer
with their eyes as he motioned to the arrested man, indicating that he
should go with him. Everyone generally followed Ratslayer with their eyes
wherever he appeared, because of his height, and those who were seeing him
for the first time also because the centurion's face was disfigured: his
nose had once been smashed by a blow from a Germanic club.
Mark's heavy boots thudded across the mosaic, the bound man noiselessly
went out with him, complete silence fell in the colonnade, and one could
hear pigeons cooing on the garden terrace near the balcony and water singing
an intricate, pleasant song in the fountain.
The procurator would have liked to get up, put his temple under the
spout, and stay standing that way. But he knew that even that would not help
Having brought the arrested man from under the columns out to the
garden, Ratslayer took a whip from the hands of a legionary who was standing
at the foot of a bronze statue and, swinging easily, struck the arrested man
across the shoulders. The centurion's movement was casual and light, yet the
bound man instantly collapsed on the ground as if his legs had been cut from
under him; he gasped for ait, the colour drained from his face, and his eyes
With his left hand only. Mark heaved the fallen man into the air like
an empty sack, set him on his feet, and spoke nasally, in poorly pronounced
The Roman procurator is called Hegemon. Use no other
words. Stand at attention. Do you understand me, or do I hit you?'
The arrested man swayed, but got hold of himself, his colour returned,
he caught his breath and answered hoarsely:
T understand. Don't beat me.'
A moment later he was again standing before the procurator.
A lustreless, sick voice sounded:
'Mine?' the arrested man hastily responded, his whole being expressing
a readiness to answer sensibly, without provoking further wrath.
The procurator said softly:
'I know my own. Don't pretend to be stupider than you are. Yours.'
'Yeshua,'" the prisoner replied prompdy.
'Where do you come from?'
The town of Gamala,' replied the prisoner, indicating
with his head that there, somewhere far off to his right, in the north, was
the town of Gamala.
'Who are you by blood?'
'I don't know exactly,' the arrested man replied animatedly, 'I don't
remember my parents. I was told that my father was a Syrian . . .'
"Where is your permanent residence?'
'I have no permanent home,' the prisoner answered shyly, 'I travel from
town to town.'
That can be put more briefly, in a word - a vagrant,' the procurator
said, and asked:
"None. I'm alone in the world.'
'Can you read and write?'
'Do you know any language besides Aramaic?'
A swollen eyelid rose, an eye clouded with suffering fixed the arrested
man. The other eye remained shut.
Pilate spoke in Greek.
'So it was you who was going to destroy the temple building and called
on the people to do that?'
Here the prisoner again became animated, his eyes ceased to show fear,
and he spoke in Greek:
'Never, goo .. .' Here terror flashed in the prisoner's eyes, because
he had nearly made a slip. 'Never, Hegemon, never in my life was I going to
destroy the temple building, nor did I incite anyone to this senseless act.'
Surprise showed on the face of the secretary, hunched over a low table
and writing down the testimony. He raised his head, but immediately bent it
to the parchment again.
'All sorts of people gather in this town for the feast. Among them
there are magicians, astrologers, diviners and murderers,' the procurator
spoke in monotone, 'and occasionally also liars. You, for instance, are a
liar. It is written clearly: "Incited to destroy the temple". People have
testified to it.'
These good people,' the prisoner spoke and, hastily adding 'Hegemon',
went on: '... haven't any learning and have confused everything I told them.
Generally, I'm beginning to be afraid that this confusion may go on for a
very long time. And all because he writes down the things I say incorrecdy.'
Silence fell. By now both sick eyes rested heavily on the prisoner.
'I repeat to you, but for the last time, stop pretending that you're a
madman, robber,' Pilate said softly and monotonously, 'there's not much
written in your record, but what there is is enough to hang you.'
'No, no, Hegemon,' the arrested man said, straining all over in his
wish to convince, 'there's one with a goatskin parchment who follows me,
follows me and keeps writing all the time. But once I peeked into this
parchment and was horrified. I said decidedly nothing of what's written
there. I implored him: "Burn your parchment, I beg you!" But he tore it out
of my hands and ran away.'
'Who is that?' Pilate asked squeamishly and touched his temple with his
'Matthew Levi,' the prisoner explained willingly. 'He
used to be a tax collector, and I first met him on the road in
Bethphage,' where a fig grove juts out at an angle, and I got
to talking with him. He treated me hostilely at first and even insulted me -
that is, thought he insulted me -- by calling me a dog.' Here the prisoner
smiled. 'I personally see nothing bad about this animal, that I should be
offended by this word . . .'
The secretary stopped writing and stealthily cast a surprised glance,
not at the arrested man, but at the procurator.
'. . . However, after listening to me, he began to soften,' Yeshua went
on, 'finally threw the money down in the road and said he would go
journeying with me . . .'
Pilate grinned with one cheek, baring yellow teeth, and said, turning
his whole body towards the secretary:
'Oh, city ofYershalaim! What does one not hear in it! A tax collector,
do you hear, threw money down in the road!'
Not knowing how to reply to that, the secretary found it necessary to
repeat Pilate's smile.
'He said that henceforth money had become hateful to him,' Yeshua
explained Matthew Levi's strange action and added: 'And since then he has
been my companion.'
His teeth still bared, the procurator glanced at the arrested man, then
at the sun, steadily rising over the equestrian statues of the hippodrome,
which lay far below to the right, and suddenly, in some sickening anguish,
thought that the simplest thing would be to drive this strange robber off
the balcony by uttering just two words: 'Hang him.' To drive the convoy away
as well, to leave the colonnade, go into the palace, order the room
darkened, collapse on the bed, send for cold water, call in a plaintive
voice for his dog Banga, and complain to him about the hemicrania. And the
thought of poison suddenly flashed temptingly in the procurator's sick head,
He gazed with dull eyes at the arrested man and was silent for a time,
painfully trying to remember why there stood before him in the pitiless
morning sunlight of Yershalaim this prisoner with his face disfigured by
beating, and what other utterly unnecessary questions he had to ask him.
'Matthew Levi?' the sick man asked in a hoarse voice and closed his
'Yes, Matthew Levi,' the high, tormenting voice came to him.
'And what was it in any case that you said about the temple to the
crowd in the bazaar?'
The responding voice seemed to stab at Pilate's temple, was
inexpressibly painful, and this voice was saying:
'I said, Hegemon, that the temple of the old faith would fall and a new
temple of truth would be built. I said it that way so as to make it more
'And why did you stir up the people in the bazaar, you vagrant, talking
about the truth, of which you have no notion? What is truth?'
And here the procurator thought: 'Oh, my gods! I'm asking him about
something unnecessary at a trial... my reason no longer serves me . . .' And
again he pictured a cup of dark liquid. 'Poison, bring me poison . . .'
And again he heard the voice:
The truth is, first of all, that your head aches, and aches so badly
that you're having faint-hearted thoughts of death. You're not only unable
to speak to me, but it is even hard for you to look at me. And I am now your
unwilling torturer, which upsets me. You can't even think about anything and
only dream that your dog should come, apparently the one being you are
attached to. But your suffering will soon be over, your headache will go
The secretary goggled his eyes at the prisoner and stopped writing in
Pilate raised his tormented eyes to the prisoner and saw that the sun
already stood quite high over the hippodrome, that a ray had penetrated the
colonnade and was stealing towards Yeshua's worn sandals, and that the man
was trying to step out of the sun's way.
Here the procurator rose from his chair, clutched his head with his
hands, and his yellowish, shaven face expressed dread. But he instantly
suppressed it with his will and lowered himself into his chair again.
The prisoner meanwhile continued his speech, but the secretary was no
longer writing it down, and only stretched his neck like a goose, trying not
to let drop a single word.
'Well, there, it's all over,' the arrested man said, glancing
benevolently at Pilate, 'and I'm extremely glad of it. I'd advise you,
Hegemon, to leave the palace for a while and go for a stroll somewhere in
the vicinity - say, in the gardens on the Mount of Olives. A
storm will come . . .' the prisoner turned, narrowing his eyes at the
sun,'... later on, towards evening. A stroll would do you much good, and I
would be glad to accompany you. Certain new thoughts have occurred to me,
which I think you might find interesting, and I'd willingly share them with
you, the more so as you give the impression of being a very intelligent
The secretary turned deathly pale and dropped the scroll on the floor.
'The trouble is,' the bound man went on, not stopped by anyone, 'that
you are too closed off and have definitively lost faith in people. You must
agree, one can't place all one's affection in a dog. Your life is
impoverished, Hegemon.' And here the speaker allowed himself to smile.
The secretary now thought of only one thing, whether to believe his
ears or not. He had to believe. Then he tried to imagine precisely what
whimsical form the wrath of the hot-tempered procurator would take at this
unheard-of impudence from the prisoner. And this the secretary was unable to
imagine, though he knew the procurator well.
Then came the cracked, hoarse voice of the procurator, who said in
'Unbind his hands.'
One of the convoy legionaries rapped with his spear, handed it to
another, went over and took the ropes off the prisoner. The secretary picked
up his scroll, having decided to record nothing for now, and to be surprised
'Admit,' Pilate asked softly in Greek, 'that you are a great
'No, Procurator, I am not a physician,' the prisoner replied,
delightedly rubbing a crimped and swollen purple wrist.
Scowling deeply, Pilate bored the prisoner with his eyes, and these
eyes were no longer dull, but flashed with sparks familiar to all.
'I didn't ask you,' Pilate said, 'maybe you also know Latin?'
'Yes, I do,' the prisoner replied.
Colour came to Pilate's yellowish cheeks, and he asked in Latin:
'How did you know I wanted to call my dog?'
'It's very simple,' the prisoner replied in Latin. 'YOU were moving
your hand in the air' -- and the prisoner repeated Pilate's gesture -- 'as
if you wanted to stroke something, and your lips . . .'
'Yes,' said Pilate.
There was silence. Then Pilate asked a question in Greek:
'And so, you are a physician?'
'No, no,' the prisoner replied animatedly, 'believe me, I'm not a
Very well, then, if you want to keep it a secret, do so. It has no
direct bearing on the case. So you maintain that you did not incite anyone
to destroy ... or set fire to, or in any other way demolish the temple?'
'I repeat, I did not incite anyone to such acts, Hegemon. Do I look
like a halfwit?'
'Oh, no, you don't look like a halfwit,' the procurator replied quiedy
and smiled some strange smile. 'Swear, men, that it wasn't so.'
'By what do you want me to swear?' the unbound man asked, very
'Well, let's say, by your life,' the procurator replied. 'It's high
time you swore by it, since it's hanging by a hair, I can tell you.'
'You don't think it was you who hung it, Hegemon?' the prisoner asked.
'If so, you are very mistaken.'
Pilate gave a start and replied through his teeth:
'I can cut that hair.'
'In that, too, you are mistaken,' the prisoner retorted, smiling
brightly and shielding himself from the sun with his hand. 'YOU must agree
that surely only he who hung it can cut the hair?'
'So, so,' Pilate said, smiling, 'now I have no doubts that the idle
loafers of Yershalaim followed at your heels. I don't know who hung such a
tongue on you, but he hung it well. Incidentally, tell me, is it true that
you entered Yershalaim by the Susa gate riding on an
ass,[18 ]accompanied by a crowd of riff-raff who shouted
greetings to you as some kind of prophet?' Here the procurator pointed to
the parchment scroll.
The prisoner glanced at the procurator in perplexity.
'I don't even have an ass, Hegemon,' he said. 'I did enter Yershalaim
by the Susa gate, but on foot, accompanied only by Matthew Levi, and no one
shouted anything to me, because no one in Yershalaim knew me then.'
'Do you happen to know,' Pilate continued wimout taking his eyes off
the prisoner, 'such men as a certain Dysmas, another named Gestas, and a
third named Bar-Rabban?'
'I do not know these good people,' the prisoner replied.
'And now tell me, why is it that you use me words "good people" all the
time? Do you call everyone that, or what?'
'Everyone,' the prisoner replied. There are no evil people in the
The first I hear of it,' Pilate said, grinning. 'But perhaps I know too
little of life! .. . You needn't record any more,' he addressed the
secretary, who had not recorded anything anyway, and went on talking with
the prisoner. 'YOU read that in some Greek book?'
'No, I figured it out for myself.'
'And you preach it?'
'But take, for instance, the centurion Mark, the one known as
Rat-slayer - is he good?'
'Yes,' replied the prisoner. True, he's an unhappy man. Since the good
people disfigured him, he has become cruel and hard. I'd be curious to know
who maimed him.'
'I can willingly tell you that,' Pilate responded, 'for I was a witness
to it. The good people fell on him like dogs on a bear. There were German!
fastened on his neck, his arms, his legs. The infantry maniple was
encircled, and if one flank hadn't been cut by a cavalry turm, of which I
was the commander -- you, philosopher, would not have had the chance to
speak with the Ratslayer. That was at the battle of
Idistaviso, in the Valley of the Virgins.'
'If I could speak with him,' the prisoner suddenly said musingly, 'I'm
sure he'd change sharply.'
'I don't suppose,' Pilate responded, 'that you'd bring much joy to the
legate of the legion if you decided to talk with any of his officers or
soldiers. Anyhow, it's also not going to happen, fortunately for everyone,
and I will be the first to see to it.'
At that moment a swallow swiftly flitted into the colonnade, described
a circle under the golden ceiling, swooped down, almost brushed the face of
a bronze statue in a niche with its pointed wing, and disappeared behind the
capital of a column. It may be that it thought of nesting there.
During its flight, a formula took shape in the now light and lucid head
of the procurator. It went like this: the hegemon has looked into the case
of the vagrant philosopher Yeshua, alias Ha-Nozri, and found in it no
grounds for indictment. In particular, he has found not the slightest
connection between the acts of Yeshua and the disorders that have lately
taken place in Yershalaim. The vagrant philosopher has proved to be mentally
ill. Consequently, the procurator has not confirmed the death sentence on
Ha-Nozri passed by the Lesser Sanhedrin. But seeing that Ha-Nozri's mad
Utopian talk might cause disturbances in Yershalaim, the procurator is
removing Yeshua from Yershalaim and putting him under confinement in
Stratonian Caesarea on the Mediterranean - that is, precisely where the
procurator's residence was.
It remained to dictate it to the secretary.
The swallow's wings whiffled right over the hegemon's head, the bird
darted to the fountain basin and then flew out into freedom. The procurator
raised his eyes to the prisoner and saw the dust blaze up in a pillar around
'Is that all about him?' Pilate asked the secretary.
'Unfortunately not,' the secretary replied unexpectedly and handed
Pilate another piece of parchment.
'What's this now?' Pilate asked and frowned.
Having read what had been handed to him, he changed countenance even
more: Either the dark blood rose to his neck and face, or something else
happened, only his skin lost its yellow tinge, turned brown, and his eyes
seemed to sink.
Again it was probably owing to the blood rising to his temples and
throbbing in them, only something happened to the procurator's vision. Thus,
he imagined that the prisoner's head floated off somewhere, and another
appeared in its place. On this bald head sat a scant-pointed
golden diadem. On the forehead was a round canker, eating into the skin and
smeared with ointment. A sunken, toothless mouth with a pendulous,
capricious lower lip. It seemed to Pilate that the pink columns of the
balcony and the rooftops of Yershalaim far below, beyond the garden,
vanished, and everything was drowned in the thickest green ofCaprean
gardens. And something strange also happened to his hearing: it was as if
trumpets sounded far away, muted and menacing, and a nasal voice was very
clearly heard, arrogandy drawling: 'The law of lese-majesty. . .'
Thoughts raced, short, incoherent and extraordinary: 'I'm lost! . . .'
then: 'We're lost! . . .' And among them a totally absurd one, about some
immortality, which immortality for some reason provoked unendurable anguish.
Pilate strained, drove the apparition away, his gaze returned to the
balcony, and again the prisoner's eyes were before him.
'Listen, Ha-Nozri,' the procurator spoke, looking at Yeshua somehow
strangely: the procurator's face was menacing, but his eyes were alarmed,
'did you ever say anything about the great Caesar? Answer! Did you? . . .
Yes ... or ... no?' Pilate drew the word 'no' out somewhat longer than is
done in court, and his glance sent Yeshua some thought that he wished as if
to instil in the prisoner.
To speak the truth is easy and pleasant,' the prisoner observed.
'I have no need to know,' Pilate responded in a stifled, angry voice,
'whether it is pleasant or unpleasant for you to speak the truth. You will
have to speak it anyway. But, as you speak, weigh every word, unless you
want a not only inevitable but also painful death.'
No one knew what had happened with the procurator of Judea, but he
allowed himself to raise his hand as if to protect himself from a ray of
sunlight, and from behind his hand, as from behind a shield, to send the
prisoner some sort of prompting look.
'Answer, then,' he went on speaking, 'do you know a certain Judas from
Kiriath, and what precisely did you say to him about Caesar,
if you said anything?'
'It was like this,' the prisoner began talking eagerly. The evening
before last, near the temple, I made the acquaintance of a young man who
called himself Judas, from the town of Kiriath. He invited me to his place
in the Lower City and treated me to . . .'
'A good man?' Pilate asked, and a devilish fire flashed in his eyes.
'A very good man and an inquisitive one,' the prisoner confirmed. 'He
showed the greatest interest in my thoughts and received me very cordially.
'Lit the lamps . . .' Pilate spoke through his teeth, in
the same tone as the prisoner, and his eyes glinted.
Tes,' Yeshua went on, slighdy surprised that the procurator was so well
informed, 'and asked me to give my view of state authority. He was extremely
interested in this question.'
'And what did you say?' asked Pilate. 'Or are you going to reply that
you've forgotten what you said?' But there was already hopelessness in
'Among other things,' the prisoner recounted, 'I said that all
authority is violence over people, and that a time will come when there will
be no authority of die Caesars, nor any other authority. Man will pass into
the kingdom of truth and justice, where generally there will be no need for
'I didn't go on,' said the prisoner. 'Here men ran in, bound me, and
took me away to prison.'
The secretary, trying not to let drop a single word, rapidly traced die
words on his parchment.
'There never has been, is not, and never will be any authority in this
world greater or better for people than the authority of the emperor
Tiberius!' Pilate's cracked and sick voice swelled. For some reason die
procurator looked at the secretary and the convoy with hatred.
'And it is not for you, insane criminal, to reason about it!' Here
Pilate shouted: 'Convoy, off the balcony!' And turning to the secretary, he
added: 'Leave me alone widi the criminal, this is a state matter!'
The convoy raised dieir spears and with a measured tramp of hobnailed
caligae walked off die balcony into the garden, and the secretary followed
For some time the silence on the balcony was broken only by the water
singing in the fountain. Pilate saw how the watery dish blew up over the
spout, how its edges broke off, how it fell down in streams.
The prisoner was the first to speak.
'I see that some misfortune has come about because I talked with that
young man from Kiriath. I have a foreboding, Hegemon, that he will come to
grief, and I am very sorry for him.'
'I think,' the procurator replied, grinning strangely, 'that there is
now someone else in the world for whom you ought to feel sorrier than' for
Judas of Kiriath, and who is going to have it much worse than Judas! . . .
So, then. Mark Ratslayer, a cold and convinced torturer, die people who, as
I see,' the procurator pointed to Yeshua's disfigured face, 'beat you for
your preaching, the robbers Dysmas and Gestas, who widi their confreres
killed four soldiers, and, finally, the dirty traitor Judas -- are all good
'Yes,' said the prisoner.
'And the kingdom of truth will come?'
'It will, Hegemon,' Yeshua answered with conviction.
'It will never come!' Pilate suddenly cried out in such a terrible
voice that Yeshua drew back. Thus, many years before, in the Valley of the
Virgins, Pilate had cried to his horsemen the words: 'Cut them down! Cut
them down! The giant Ratslayer is trapped!' He raised his voice, cracked
with commanding, still more, and called out so that his words could be heard
in the garden: 'Criminal! Criminal! Criminal!' And dien, lowering his voice,
he asked: 'Yeshua Ha-Nozri, do you believe in any gods?'
'God is one,' replied Yeshua, 'I believe in him.'
Then pray to him! Pray hard! However ...' here Pilate's voice gave out,
'that won't help. No wife?' Pilate asked with anguish for some reason, not
understanding what was happening to him. " 'No, I'm alone.'
'Hateful city . . .' die procurator suddenly muttered for some reason,
shaking his shoulders as if he were cold, and rubbing his hands as though
washing them, 'if they'd put a knife in you before your meeting with Judas
of Kiriath, it really would have been better.'
'Why don't you let me go, Hegemon?' the prisoner asked unexpectedly,
and his voice became anxious. 'I see they want to kill me.'
A spasm contorted Pilate's face, he turned to Yeshua the inflamed,
red-veined whites of his eyes and said:
'Do you suppose, wretch, that the Roman procurator will let a man go
who has said what you have said? Oh, gods, gods! Or do you think I'm ready
to take your place? I don't share your thoughts! And listen to me: if from
this moment on you say even one word, if you speak to anyone at all, beware
of me! I repeat to you -- beware!'
'Hegemon . . .'
'Silence!' cried Pilate, and his furious gaze followed the swallow that
had again fluttered on to the balcony. 'To me!' Pilate shouted.
And when the secretary and the convoy returned to their places, Pilate
announced that he confirmed the death sentence passed at the meeting of the
Lesser Sanhedrin on the criminal Yeshua Ha-Nozri, and the secretary wrote
down what Pilate said.
A moment later Mark Ratslayer stood before the procurator. The
procurator ordered him to hand the criminal over to the head of the secret
service, along with the procurator's directive that Yeshua Ha-Nozri was to
be separated from the other condemned men, and also that the soldiers of the
secret service were to be forbidden, on pain of severe punishment, to talk
with Yeshua about anything at all or to answer any of his questions.
At a sign from Mark, the convoy closed around Yeshua and led him from
Next there stood before the procurator a handsome, light-bearded man
with eagle feathers on the crest of his helmet, golden lions' heads shining
on his chest, and golden plaques on his sword belt, wearing triple-soled
boots laced to the knees, and with a purple cloak thrown over his left
shoulder. This was the legate in command of the legion.
The procurator asked him where the Sebastean cohort was stationed at
the moment. The legate told him that the Sebasteans had cordoned off the
square in front of the hippodrome, where the sentencing of the criminals was
to be announced to the people.
Then the procurator ordered the legate to detach two centuries from the
Roman cohort. One of them, under the command of Ratslayer, was to convoy the
criminals, the carts with the implements for the execution and the
executioners as they were transported to Bald Mountain, and
on arrival was to join the upper cordon. The other was to be sent at once to
Bald Mountain and immediately start forming the cordon. For the same
purpose, that is, to guard the mountain, the procurator asked the legate to
send an auxiliary cavalry regiment -- the Syrian ala.
After the legate left the balcony, the procurator ordered the secretary
to summon to the palace the president of the Sanhedrin, two of its members,
and the head of the temple guard in Yershalaim, adding that he asked things
to be so arranged that before conferring with all these people, he could
speak with the president previously and alone.
The procurator's order was executed quickly and precisely, and the sun,
which in those days was scorching Yershalaim with an extraordinary
fierceness, had not yet had time to approach its highest point when, on the
upper terrace of the garden, by the two white marble lions that guarded the
stairs, a meeting took place between the procurator and the man fulfilling
the duties of president of the Sanhedrin, the high priest of the Jews,
It was quiet in the garden. But when he came out from under the
colonnade to the sun-drenched upper level of the garden with its palm trees
on monstrous elephant legs, from which there spread before the procurator
the whole of hateful Yershalaim, with its hanging bridges, fortresses, and,
above all, that utterly indescribable heap of marble with golden dragon
scales for a roof - the temple of Yershalaim - the procurator's sharp ear
caught, far below, where the stone wall separated the lower terraces of the
palace garden from the city square, a low rumble over which from time to
time there soared feeble, thin moans or cries.
The procurator understood that there, on the square, a numberless crowd
of Yershalaim citizens, agitated by the recent disorders, had already
gathered, that this crowd was waiting impatiently for the announcement of
the sentences, and that restless water sellers were crying in its midst.
The procurator began by inviting the high priest on to the balcony, to
take shelter from the merciless heat, but Kaifa politely apologized[26
]and explained that he could not do that on the eve of the feast.
Pilate covered his slightly balding head with a hood and began the
conversation. This conversation took place in Greek.
Pilate said that he had looked into the case of Yeshua Ha-Nozri and
confirmed the death sentence.
Thus, three robbers - Dysmas, Gestas and Bar-Rabban - and this Yeshua
Ha-Nozri besides, were condemned to be executed, and it was to be done that
day. The first two, who had ventured to incite the people to rebel against
Caesar, had been taken in armed struggle by the Roman authorities, were
accounted to the procurator, and, consequently, would not be talked about
here. But the second two, Bar-Rabban and Ha-Nozri, had been seized by the
local authorities and condemned by the Sanhedrin. According to the law,
according to custom, one of these two criminals had to be released in honour
of the great feast of Passover, which would begin that day. And so the
procurator wished to know which of the two criminals the Sanhedrin intended
to set free: Bar-Rabban or Ha-Nozri?
Kaifa inclined his head to signify that the question was clear to him,
'The Sanhedrin asks that Bar-Rabban be released.' The procurator knew
very well that the high priest would give precisely that answer, but his
task consisted in showing that this answer provoked his astonishment.
This Pilate did with great artfulness. The eyebrows on the arrogant
face rose, the procurator looked with amazement straight into the high
'I confess, this answer stuns me,' the procurator began softly, 'I'm
afraid there may be some misunderstanding here.'
Pilate explained himself. Roman authority does not encroach in the
least upon the rights of the local spiritual authorities, the high priest
knows that very well, but in the present case we are faced with an obvious
error. And this error Roman authority is, of course, interested in
In fact, the crimes of Bar-Rabban and Ha-Nozri are quite incomparable
in their gravity. If the latter, obviously an insane person, is guilty of
uttering preposterous things in Yershalaim and some other places, the
former's burden of guilt is more considerable. Not only did he allow himself
to call directly for rebellion, but he also killed a guard during the
attempt to arrest him. Bar-Rabban is incomparably more dangerous than
On the strength of all the foregoing, the procurator asks the high
priest to reconsider the decision and release the less harmful of the two
condemned men, and that is without doubt Ha-Nozri. And so? ...
Kaifa said in a quiet but firm voice that the Sanhedrin had thoroughly
familiarized itself with the case and informed him a second time that it
intended to free Bar-Rabban.
'What? Even after my intercession? The intercession of him through
whose person Roman authority speaks? Repeat it a third time. High Priest.'
'And a third time I repeat that we are setting Bar-Rabban free,' Kaifa
It was all over, and there was nothing more to talk about. Ha-Nozri was
departing for ever, and there was no one to cure the dreadful, wicked pains
of the procurator, there was no remedy for them except death. But it was not
this thought which now struck Pilate. The same incomprehensible anguish that
had already visited him on the balcony pierced his whole being. He tried at
once to explain it, and the explanation was a strange one: it seemed vaguely
to the procurator that there was something he had not finished saying to the
condemned man, and perhaps something he had not finished hearing.
Pilate drove this thought away, and it flew off as instantly as it had
come flying. It flew off, and the anguish remained unexplained, for it could
not well be explained by another brief thought that flashed like lightning
and at once went out -- 'Immortality . . . immortality has come . . .' Whose
immortality had come? That the procurator did not understand, but the
thought of this enigmatic immortality made him grow cold in the scorching
'Very well,' said Pilate, 'let it be so.'
Here he turned, gazed around at the world visible to him, and was
surprised at the change that had taken place. The bush laden with roses had
vanished, vanished were the cypresses bordering the upper terrace, and the
pomegranate tree, and the white statue amidst the greenery, and the greenery
itself. In place of it all there floated some purple mass,
water weeds swayed in it and began moving off somewhere, and Pilate himself
began moving with them. He was carried along now, smothered and burned, by
the most terrible wrath - the wrath of impotence.
'Cramped,' said Pilate, 'I feel cramped!'
With a cold, moist hand he tore at the clasp on the collar of his
cloak, and it fell to the sand.
'It's sultry today, there's a storm somewhere,' Kaifa responded, not
taking his eyes off the procurator's reddened face, and foreseeing all the
torments that still lay ahead, he thought: 'Oh, what a terrible month of
Nisan we're having this year!'
'No,' said Pilate, 'it's not because of the sultriness, I feel cramped
with you here, Kaifa.' And, narrowing his eyes, Pilate smiled and added:
"Watch out for yourself. High Priest.'
The high priest's dark eyes glinted, and with his face - no less
artfully than the procurator had done earlier -- he expressed amazement.
'What do I hear. Procurator?' Kaifa replied proudly and calmly. "You
threaten me after you yourself have confirmed the sentence passed? Can that
be? We are accustomed to the Roman procurator choosing his words before he
says something. What if we should be overheard, Hegemon?'
Pilate looked at the high priest with dead eyes and, baring his teeth,
produced a smile.
'What's your trouble. High Priest? Who can hear us where we are now? Do
you think I'm like that young vagrant holy fool who is to be executed today?
Am I a boy, Kaifa? I know what I say and where I say it. There is a cordon
around the garden, a cordon around the palace, so that a mouse couldn't get
through any crack! Not only a mouse, but even that one, what's his name . .
. from the town of Kiriath, couldn't get through. Incidentally, High Priest,
do you know him? Yes ... if that one got in here, he'd feel bitterly sorry
for himself, in this you will, of course, believe me? Know, then, that from
now on. High Priest, you will have no peace! Neither you nor your people' -
and Pilate pointed far off to the right, where the temple blazed on high
-'it is I who tell you so, Pontius Pilate, equestrian of the Golden
'I know, I know!' the black-bearded Kaifa fearlessly replied, and his
eyes flashed. He raised his arm to heaven and went on: "The Jewish people
know that you hate them with a cruel hatred, and will cause them much
suffering, but you will not destroy them utterly! God will protect them! He
will hear us, the almighty Caesar will hear, he will protect us from Pilate
'Oh, no!' Pilate exclaimed, and he felt lighter and lighter with every
word: there was no more need to pretend, no more need to choose his words,
"fou have complained about me too much to Caesar, and now my hour has come,
Kaifa! Now the message will fly from me, and not to the governor in Antioch,
and not to Rome, but directly to Capreae, to the emperor himself, the
message of how you in Yershalaim are sheltering known criminals from death.
And then it will not be water from Solomon's Pool that I give Yershalaim to
drink, as I wanted to do for your own good! No, not water! Remember how on
account of you I had to remove the shields with the emperor's insignia from
the walls, had to transfer troops, had, as you see, to come in person to
look into what goes on with you here! Remember my words: it is not just one
cohort that you will see here in Yershalaim, High Priest - no! The whole
Fulminata legion will come under the city walls, the Arabian cavalry will
arrive, and then you will hear bitter weeping and wailing! You will remember
Bar-Rabban then, whom you saved, and you will regret having sent to his
death a philosopher with his peaceful preaching!'
The high priest's face became covered with blotches, his eyes burned.
Like the procurator, he smiled, baring his teeth, and replied:
'Do you yourself believe what you are saying now. Procurator? No, you
do not! It is not peace, not peace, that the seducer of the people of
Yershalaim brought us, and you, equestrian, understand that perfectly well.
You wanted to release him so that he could disturb the people, outrage the
faith, and bring the people under Roman swords! But I, the high priest of
the Jews, as long as I live, will not allow the faith to be outraged and
will protect the people! Do you hear, Pilate?' And Kaifa raised his arm
menacingly: 'Listen, Procurator!'
Kaifa fell silent, and the procurator again heard a noise as if of the
sea, rolling up to the very walls of the garden of Herod the Great. The
noise rose from below to the feet and into the face of the procurator. And
behind his back, there, beyond the wings of the palace, came alarming
trumpet calls, the heavy crunch of hundreds of feet, the clanking of iron.
The procurator understood that the Roman infantry was already setting out,
on his orders, speeding to the parade of death so terrible for rebels and
'Do you hear. Procurator?' the high priest repeated quietly. 'Are you
going to tell me that all this' - here the high priest raised both arms and
the dark hood fell from his head - 'has been caused by the wretched robber
The procurator wiped his wet, cold forehead with the back of his hand,
looked at the ground, then, squinting at the sky, saw that the red-hot ball
was almost over his head and that Kaifa's shadow had shrunk to nothing bv
the lion's tail, and said quietly and indifferently:
'It's nearly noon. We got carried away by our conversation, and yet we
Having apologized in refined terms before the high priest, he invited
him to sit down on a bench in the shade of a magnolia and wait until he
summoned the other persons needed for the last brief conference and gave one
more instruction connected with the execution.
Kaifa bowed politely, placing his hand on his heart, and stayed irir
the garden while Pilate returned to the balcony. There he told the
secretary, who had been waiting for him, to invite to the garden the legate
of the legion and the tribune of the cohort, as well as the two members of
the Sanhedrin and the head of the temple guard, who had been awaiting his
summons on the lower garden terrace, in a round gazebo with a fountain. To
this Pilate added that he himself would come out to the garden at once, and
withdrew into the palace.
While the secretary was gathering the conference, the procurator met,
in a room shielded from the sun by dark curtains, with a certain man, whose
face was half covered by a hood, though he could not have been bothered by
the sun's rays in this room. The meeting was a very short one. The
procurator quietly spoke a few words to the man, after which he withdrew and
Pilate walked out through the colonnade to the garden.
There, in the presence of all those he had desired to see, the
procurator solemnly and drily stated that he confirmed the death sentence on
Yeshua Ha-Nozri, and officially inquired of the members of the Sanhedrin as
to whom among the criminals they would like to grant life. Having received
the reply that it was Bar-Rabban, the procurator said:
Very well,' and told the secretary to put it into the record at once,
clutched in his hand the clasp that the secretary had picked up from the
sand, and said solemnly: Tt is time!'
Here all those present started down the wide marble stairway between
walls of roses that exuded a stupefying aroma, descending lower and lower
towards the palace wall, to the gates opening on to the big, smoothly paved
square, at the end of which could be seen the columns and statues of the
As soon as the group entered the square from the garden and mounted the
spacious stone platform that dominated the square, Pilate, looking around
through narrowed eyelids, assessed the situation.
The space he had just traversed, that is, the space from the palace
wall to the platform, was empty, but before him Pilate could no longer see
the square - it had been swallowed up by the crowd, which would have poured
over the platform and the cleared space as well, had it not been kept at bay
by a triple row of Sebastean soldiers to the left of Pilate and soldiers of
the auxiliary Iturean cohort to his right.
And so, Pilate mounted the platform, mechanically clutching the useless
clasp in his fist and squinting his eyes. The procurator was squinting not
because the sun burned his eyes -- no! For some reason he did not want to
see the group of condemned men who, as he knew perfectly well, were now
being brought on to the platform behind him.
As soon as the white cloak with crimson lining appeared high up on the
stone cliff over the verge of the human sea, the unseeing Pilate was struck
in the ears bv a wave of sound: 'Ha-a-a . . .' It started mutedly, arising
somewhere far away by the hippodrome, then became thunderous and, having
held out for a few seconds, began to subside. They've seen me,' the
procurator thought. The wave had not reached its lowest point before it
started swelling again unexpectedly and, swaying, rose higher than the
first, and as foam boils up on the billows of the sea, so a whistling boiled
up on this second wave and, separate, distinguishable from the thunder, the
wails of women. They've been led on to the platform,' thought Pilate, 'and
the wails mean that several women got crushed as the crowd surged forward.'
He waited for some time, knowing that no power could silence the crowd
before it exhaled all that was pent up in it and fell silent of itself.
And when this moment came, the procurator threw up his right arm, and
the last noise was blown away from the crowd.
Then Pilate drew into his breast as much of the hot air as he could and
shouted, and his cracked voice carried over thousands of heads:
'In the name of the emperor Caesar! . . .'
Here his ears were struck several times by a clipped iron shout: the
cohorts of soldiers raised high their spears and standards and shouted out
'Long live Caesar!'
Pilate lifted his face and thrust it straight into the sun. Green fire
flared up behind his eyelids, his brain took flame from it, and hoarse
Aramaic words went flying over the crowd:
'Four criminals, arrested in Yershalaim for murder, incitement to
rebellion, and outrages against the laws and the faith, have been sentenced
to a shameful execution - by hanging on posts! And this execution will
presently be carried out on Bald Mountain! The names of the criminals are
Dysmas, Gestas, Bar-Rabban and Ha-Nozri. Here they stand before you!'
Pilate pointed to his right, not seeing any criminals, but knowing they
were there, in place, where they ought to be.
The crowd responded with a long rumble as if of surprise or relief.
When it died down, Pilate continued:
'But only three of them will be executed, for, in accordance with law
and custom, in honour of the feast of Passover, to one of the condemned, as
chosen by the Lesser Sanhedrin and confirmed by Roman authority, the
magnanimous emperor Caesar will return his contemptible life!'
Pilate cried out the words and at the same time listened as the rumble
was replaced by a great silence. Not a sigh, not a rustle reached his ears
now, and there was even a moment when it seemed to Pilate that everything
around him had vanished altogether. The hated city died, and he alone is
standing there, scorched by the sheer rays, his face set against the sky.
Pilate held the silence a little longer, and then began to cry out:
'The name of the one who will now be set free before you is . . .' He
made one more pause, holding back the name, making sure he had said all,
because he knew that the dead city would resurrect once the name of the
lucky man was spoken, and no further words would be heard. 'All?' Pilate
whispered soundlessly to himself. 'All. The name!' And, rolling the letter
'r' over the silent city, he cried:
Here it seemed to him that the sun, clanging, burst over him and
flooded his ears with fire. This fire raged with roars, shrieks, wails,
guffaws and whistles.
Pilate turned and walked back across the platform to the stairs,
looking at nothing except the multicoloured squares of the flooring under
his feet, so as not to trip. He knew that behind his back the platform was
being showered with bronze coins, dates, that people in the howling mob were
climbing on shoulders, crushing each other, to see the miracle with their
own eyes - how a man already in the grip of death escaped that grip! How the
legionaries take the ropes off him, involuntarily causing him burning pain
in his arms, dislocated during his interrogation; how he, wincing and
groaning, nevertheless smiles a senseless, crazed smile.
He knew that at the same time the convoy was already leading the three
men with bound arms to the side stairs, so as to take them to the road going
west from the city, towards Bald Mountain. Only when he was off the
platform, to the rear of it, did Pilate open his eyes, knowing that he was
now safe -- he could no longer see the condemned men.
Mingled with the wails of the quieting crowd, yet distinguishable from
them, were the piercing cries of heralds repeating, some in Aramaic, others
in Greek, all that the procurator had cried out from the platform. Besides
that, there came to his ears the tapping, clattering and approaching thud of
hoofs, and a trumpet calling out something brief and merry. These sounds
were answered by the drilling whistles of bovs on the roofs of houses along
the street that led from the bazaar to the hippodrome square, and by cries
of 'Look out!'
A soldier, standing alone in the cleared space of the square with a
standard in his hand, waved it anxiously, and then the procurator, the
legate of the legion, the secretary and the convoy stopped.
A cavalry ala, at an ever-lengthening trot, flew out into the square,
so as to cross it at one side, bypassing the mass of people, and ride down a
lane under a stone wall covered with creeping vines, taking the shortest
route to Bald Mountain.
At a flying trot, small as a boy, dark as a mulatto, the commander of
the ala, a Syrian, coming abreast of Pilate, shouted something in a high
voice and snatched his sword from its sheath. The angry, sweating black
horse shied and reared. Thrusting his sword back into its sheath, the
commander struck the horse's neck with his crop, brought him down, and rode
off into the lane, breaking into a gallop. After him, three by three,
horsemen flew in a cloud of dust, the tips of their light bamboo lances
bobbing, and faces dashed past the procurator - looking especially swarthy
under their white turbans - with merrily bared, gleaming teeth.
Raising dust to the sky, the ala burst into the lane, and the last to
ride past Pilate was a soldier with a trumpet slung on his back, blazing in
Shielding himself from the dust with his hand and wrinkling his face
discontentedly, Pilate started on in the direction of the gates to the
palace garden, and after him came the legate, the secretary, and the convoy.
It was around ten o'clock in the morning.
CHAPTER 3. The Seventh Proof
'Yes, it was around ten o'clock in the morning, my esteemed Ivan
Nikolaevich,' said the professor.
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
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,
'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 secredy, 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
'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?* 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
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
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
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
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
Berlioz, not stopping to listen to the cadging and clowning
choir-master, 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
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.
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 'Pondus Pilate'. The poet dismissed Pilate and
began Unking 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
'But in what manner, may we ask?! Ah, no, this we're going to find
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
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
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
'Hey, citizen, help me to detain the criminal! It's your duty!'
The choirmaster became extraordinarily animated, jumped up and
'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
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
Spiri-donovka. 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
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 corner, 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
'No cats allowed! Nobody with cats allowed! Scat! Get off, or I'll call
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 sail 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
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
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. 15, 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 gendy. 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 cidzeness, 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 sofdy 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.' A single
moonbeam, having seeped through the dusty, perennially unwashed window,
shone sparsely into the corner where, in dust and cobwebs, a forgotten icon
hung, with the ends of two wedding candles[2 ]peeking out from
behind its casing. Under the big icon, pinned to it, hung a little one made
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.
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.
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 frori time to time,
avoiding intersections with traffic lights and the grand entrances of
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.
CHAPTER 5. There were Doings at Griboedov's
The old, two-storeyed, cream-coloured house stood on the ring
boulevard, in the depths of a seedy garden, separated from the sidewalk by a
fancy cast-iron fence. The small terrace in front of the house was paved
with asphalt, and in wintertime was dominated by a snow pile with a shovel
stuck in it, but in summertime turned into the most magnificent section of
the summer restaurant under a canvas tent.
The house was called 'The House of Griboedov' on the grounds that it
was alleged to have once belonged to an aunt of the writer Alexander
Sergeevich Griboedov. Now, whether it did or did not belong to
her, we do not exactly know. On recollection, it even seems that Griboedov
never had any such house-owning aunt . . . Nevertheless, that was what the
house was called. Moreover, one Moscow liar had it that there, on the second
floor, in a round hall with columns, the famous writer had supposedly read
passages from Woe From Wit to this very aunt while she reclined on a sofa.
However, devil knows, maybe he did, it's of no importance.
What is important is that at the present time this house was owned by
that same Massolit which had been headed by the unfortunate Mikhail
Alexandrovich Berlioz before his appearance at the Patriarch's Ponds.
In the casual manner of Massolit members, no one called the house The
House of Griboedov', everyone simply said 'Griboedov's': 'I spent two hours
yesterday knocking about Griboedov's.' 'Well, and so?' 'Got myself a month
in Yalta.' 'Bravo!' Or: 'Go to Berlioz, he receives today from four to five
at Griboedov's . . .' and so on.
Massolit had settled itself at Griboedov's in the best and cosiest way
imaginable. Anyone entering Griboedov's first of all became involuntarily
acquainted with the announcements of various sports clubs, and with group as
well as individual photographs of the members of Massolit, hanging (the
photographs) on the walls of the staircase leading to the second floor.
On the door to the very first room of this upper floor one could see a
big sign: 'Fishing and Vacation Section', along with the picture of a carp
caught on a line.
On the door of room no. 2 something not quite comprehensible was
written: 'One-day Creative Trips. Apply to M. V. Spurioznaya.'
The next door bore a brief but now totally incomprehensible
inscription: 'Perelygino'. After which the chance visitor to
Griboedov's would not know where to look from the motley inscriptions on the
aunt's walnut doors: 'Sign up for Paper with Poklevkina', 'Cashier',
'Personal Accounts of Sketch-Writers'. . .
If one cut through the longest line, which already went downstairs and
out to the doorman's lodge, one could see the sign 'Housing Question' on a
door which people were crashing every second.
Beyond the housing question there opened out a luxurious poster on
which a cliff was depicted and, riding on its crest, a horseman in a felt
cloak with a rifle on his shoulder. A little lower -- palm trees and a
balcony; on the balcony -- a seated young man with a forelock, gazing
somewhere aloft with very lively eyes, holding a fountain pen in his hand.
The inscription: 'Full-scale Creative Vacations from Two Weeks
(Story/Novella) to One Year (Novel/Trilogy). Yalta, Suuk-Su, Borovoe,
Tsikhidziri, Makhindzhauri, Leningrad (Winter Palace).' There
was also a line at this door, but not an excessive one -- some hundred and
Next, obedient to the whimsical curves, ascents and descents of the
Griboedov house, came the 'Massolit Executive Board', 'Cashiers nos. 2, 3,
4, 5', 'Editorial Board', 'Chairman of Massolit', 'Billiard Room', various
auxiliary institutions and, finally, that same hall with the colonnade where
the aunt had delighted in the comedy other genius nephew.
Any visitor finding himself in Griboedov's, unless of course he was a
total dim-wit, would realize at once what a good life those lucky fellows,
the Massolit members, were having, and black envy would immediately start
gnawing at him. And he would immediately address bitter reproaches to heaven
for not having endowed him at birth with literary talent, lacking which
there was naturally no dreaming of owning a Massolit membership card, brown,
smelling of costly leather, with a wide gold border -- a card known to all
Who will speak in defence of envy? This feeling belongs to the nasty
category, but all the same one must put oneself in the visitor's position.
For what he had seen on the upper floor was not all, and was far from all.
The entire ground floor of the aunt's house was occupied by a restaurant,
and what a restaurant! It was justly considered the best in Moscow. And not
only because it took up two vast halls with arched ceilings, painted with
violet, Assyrian-maned horses, not only because on each table there stood a
lamp shaded with a shawl, not only because it was not accessible to just
anybody coming in off the street, but because in the quality of its fare
Griboedov's beat any restaurant in Moscow up and down, and this fare was
available at the most reasonable, by no means onerous, price.
Hence there was nothing surprising, for instance, in the following
conversation, which the author of these most truthful lines once heard near
the cast-iron fence of Griboedov's:
'Where are you dining today, Amvrosy?'
'What a question! Why, here, of course, my dear Foka! Archibald
Archibaldovich whispered to me today that there will be perch au naturel
done to order. A virtuoso little treat!'
'You sure know how to live, Amvrosy!' skinny, run-down Foka, with a
carbuncle on his neck, replied with a sigh to the ruddy-lipped giant,
golden-haired, plump-cheeked Amvrosy-the-poet.
'I have no special knowledge,' Amvrosy protested, 'just the ordinary
wish to live like a human being. You mean to say, Foka, that perch can be
met with at the Coliseum as well. But at the Coliseum a portion of perch
costs thirteen roubles fifteen kopecks, and here -- five-fifty! Besides, at
the Coliseum they serve three-day-old perch, and, besides, there's no
guarantee you won't get slapped in the mug with a bunch of grapes at the
Coliseum by the first young man who bursts in from Theatre Alley. No, I'm
categorically opposed to the Coliseum,' the gastronome Amvrosv boomed for
the whole boulevard to hear. 'Don't try to convince me, Foka!'
'I'm not trying to convince you, Amvrosy,' Foka squeaked. 'One can also
dine at home.'
'I humbly thank you,' trumpeted Amvrosy, 'but I can imagine your wife,
in the communal kitchen at home, trying to do perch au naturel to order in a
saucepan! Hee, hee, hee! ... Aurevwar, Foka!' And, humming, Amvrosy directed
his steps to the veranda under the tent.
Ahh, yes! ... Yes, there was a time! ... Old Muscovites will remember
the renowned Griboedov's! What is poached perch done to order!
Cheap stuff, my dear Amvrosy! But sterlet, sterlet in a silvery chafing
dish, sterlet slices interiaid with crayfish tails and fresh caviar? And
eggs en cocotte with mushroom puree in little dishes? And how did you like
the fillets of thrush? With truffles? Quail a la genoise? Nine-fifty! And
the jazz, and the courteous service! And in July, when the whole family is
in the country, and you are kept in the city by urgent literary business -
on the veranda, in the shade of the creeping vines, in a golden spot on the
cleanest of tablecloths, a bowl of soup printanier? Remember, Amvrosy? But
why ask! I can see by your lips that you do. What is your whitefish, your
perch! But the snipe, the great snipe, the jack snipe, the woodcock in their
season, the quail, the curlew? Cool seltzer fizzing in your throat?! But
enough, you are getting distracted, reader! Follow me!. . .
At half past ten on the evening when Berlioz died at the Patriarch's
Ponds, only one room was lit upstairs at Griboedov's, and in it languished
twelve writers who had gathered for a meeting and were waiting for Mikhail
Sitting on chairs, and on tables, and even on the two window-sills in
the office of the Massolit executive board, they suffered seriously from the
heat. Not a single breath of fresh air came through the open windows. Moscow
was releasing the heat accumulated in the asphalt all day, and it was clear
that night would bring no relief. The smell of onions came from the basement
of the aunt's house, where the restaurant kitchen was at work, they were all
thirsty, they were all nervous and angry.
The belletrist Beskudnikov - a quiet, decently dressed man with
attentive and at the same rime elusive eyes - took out his watch. The hand
was crawling towards eleven. Beskudnikov tapped his finger on the face and
showed it to the poet Dvubratsky, who was sitting next to him on the table
and in boredom dangling his feet shod in yellow shoes with rubber treads.
'Anyhow,' grumbled Dvubratsky.
"The laddie must've got stuck on the Klyazma,' came the thick-voiced
response of Nastasya Lukinishna Nepremenova, orphan of a Moscow merchant,
who had become a writer and wrote stories about sea battles under the
pen-name of Bos'n George.
'Excuse me!' boldly exclaimed Zagrivov, an author of popular sketches,
'but I personally would prefer a spot of tea on the balcony to stewing in
here. The meeting was set for ten o'clock, wasn't it?'
'It's nice now on the Klyazma,' Bos'n George needled those present,
knowing that Perelygino on the Klyazma, the country colony for writers, was
everybody's sore spot. 'There's nightingales singing already. I always work
better in the country, especially in spring.'
'It's the third year I've paid in so as to send my wife with goitre to
this paradise, but there's nothing to be spied amidst the waves,' the
novelist leronym Poprikhin said venomously and bitterly.
'Some are lucky and some aren't,' the critic Ababkov droned from the
Bos'n George's little eyes lit up wim glee, and she said, softening her
We mustn't be envious, comrades. There's twenty-two
dachas in all, and only seven more being built, and there's
three thousand of us in Massolit.'
'Three thousand one hundred and eleven,' someone put in from the
'So you see,' the Bos'n went on, 'what can be done? Naturally, it's the
most talented of us that got the dachas . . .'
'The generals!' Glukharev the scenarist cut right into the squabble.
Beskudnikov, with an artificial yawn, walked out of the room.
'Five rooms to himself in Perelygino,' Glukharev said behind him.
'Lavrovich has six to himself,' Deniskin cried out, 'and the dining
room's panelled in oak!'
'Eh, that's not the point right now,' Ababkov droned, 'it's that it's
half past eleven.'
A clamour arose, something like rebellion was brewing. They started
telephoning hated Perelygino, got the wrong dacha, Lavrovich's, found out
that Lavrovich had gone to the river, which made them totally upset. They
called at random to the commission on fine literature, extension 950, and of
course found no one there.
'He might have called!' shouted Deniskin, Glukharev and Quant.
Ah, they were shouting in vain: Mikhail Alexandrovich could not call
anywhere. Far, far from Griboedov's, in an enormous room lit by
thousand-watt bulbs, on three zinc tables, lay what had still recently been
On the first lay the naked body, covered with dried blood, one arm
broken, the chest caved in; on the second, the head with the front teeth
knocked out, with dull, open eyes unafraid of the brightest light; and on
the third, a pile of stiffened rags.
Near the beheaded body stood a professor of forensic medicine, a
pathological anatomist and his dissector, representatives of the
investigation, and Mikhail Alexandrovich's assistant in Massolit, the writer
Zheldybin, summoned by telephone from his sick wife's side.
A car had come for Zheldybin and first of all taken him together with
the investigators (this was around midnight) to the dead man's apartment,
where the sealing of his papers had been carried out, after which they all
went to the morgue.
And now those standing by the remains of the deceased were debating
what was the better thing to do: to sew the severed head to the neck, or to
lay out the body in the hall at Griboedov's after simply covering the dead
man snugly to the chin with a black cloth?
No, Mikhail Alexandrovich could not call anywhere, and Deniskin,
Glukharev and Quant, along with Beskudnikov, were being indignant and
shouting quite in vain. Exactly at midnight, all twelve writers left the
upper floor and descended to the restaurant. Here again they silendy berated
Mikhail Alexandrovich: all the tables on the veranda, naturally, were
occupied, and they had to stay for supper in those beautiful but airless
And exactly at midnight, in the first of these halls, something
crashed, jangled, spilled, leaped. And all at once a high male voice
desperately cried out 'Hallelujah!' to the music. The famous Griboedov jazz
band struck up. Sweat-covered faces seemed to brighten, it was as if the
horses painted on the ceiling came alive, the lamps seemed to shine with
added light, and suddenly, as if tearing loose, both halls broke into dance,
and following them the veranda broke into dance.
Glukharev danced with the poetess Tamara Polumesyats, Quant danced,
Zhukopov the novelist danced with some movie actress in a yellow dress.
Dragunsky danced, Cherdakchi danced, little Deniskin danced with the
enormous Bos'n George, the beautiful Semeikina-Gall, an architect, danced in
the tight embrace of a stranger in white canvas trousers. Locals and invited
guests danced, Muscovites and out-of-towners, the writer Johann from
Kronstadt, a certain Vitya Kuftik from Rostov, apparendy a stage director,
with a purple spot all over his cheek, the most eminent representatives of
the poetry s