Absolution and Eternal Refuge
How sad, ye gods, how sad the world is at evening, how mysterious the
mists over the swamps. You will know it when vou have wandered astray in
those mists, when you have suffered greatly before dying, when you have
walked through the world carrying an unbearable burden. You know it too when
you are weary and ready to leave this earth without regret; its mists, its
swamps and its rivers ; ready to give yourself into the arms of death with a
light heart, knowing that death alone can comfort you.
The magic black horses were growing tired, carrying their riders more
slowly as inexorable night began to overtake them. Sensing it behind him
even the irrepressible Behemoth was hushed, and digging his claws into the
saddle he flew on in silence, his tail streaming behind him.
Night laid its black cloth over forest and meadow, night lit a
scattering of sad little lights far away below, lights that for Margarita
and the master were now meaningless and alien. Night overtook the cavalcade,
spread itself over them from above and began to seed the lowering sky with
white specks of stars.
Night thickened, flew alongside, seized the riders' cloaks and pulling
them from their shoulders, unmasked their disguises. When Margarita opened
her eyes in the freshening wind she saw the features of all the galloping
riders change, and when a full, purple moon rose towards them over the edge
of a forest, all deception vanished and fell away into the marsh beneath as
their magical, trumpery clothing faded into the mist.
It would have been hard now to recognise Koroviev-Faggot, self-styled
interpreter to the mysterious professor who needed none, in the figure who
now rode immediately alongside Woland at Margarita's right hand. In place of
the person who had left Sparrow Hills in shabby circus clothes under the
name of Koroviev-Faggot, there now galloped, the gold chain of his bridle
chinking softly, a knight clad in dark violet with a grim and unsmiling
face. He leaned his chin on his chest, looked neither at the moon nor the
earth, thinking his own thoughts as he flew along beside Woland.
' Why has he changed so? ' Margarita asked Woland above the hiss of the
' That knight once made an ill-timed joke,' replied Woland, turning his
fiery eye on Margarita. ' Once when we were talking of darkness and light he
made a somewhat unfortunate pun. As a penance he was condemned to spend
rather more rime as a practical joker than he had bargained for. But tonight
is one of those moments when accounts are settled. Our knight has paid his
score and the account is closed.'
Night stripped away, too. Behemoth's fluffy tail and his fur and
scattered it in handfuls. The creature who had been the pet of the prince of
darkness was revealed as a slim youth, a page-demon, the greatest jester
that there has ever been. He too was now silent and flew without a sound,
holding up Us young face towards the light that poured from the moon.
On the flank, gleaming in steel armour, rode Azazello, his face
transformed by the moon. Gone was the idiotic wall eye, gone was his false
squint. Both Azazello's eyes were alike, empty and black, his face white and
cold. Azazello was now in his real guise, the demon of the waterless desert,
Margarita could not see herself but she could see the change that had
come ove the master. His hair had whitened in the moonlight and had gathered
behind him into a mane that flew in the wind. Whenever the wind blew the
master's cloak away from his legs, Margarita could see the spurs that winked
at the heels of his jackboots. Like the page-demon the master rode staring
at the moon, though smiling at it as though it were a dear, familiar friend,
and--a habit acquired in room No. 118-- talking to himself.
Woland, too, rode in his true aspect. Margarita could not say what the
reins of his horse were made of; she thought that they might be strings of
moonlight and the horse itself only a blob of darkness, its mane a cloud and
its rider's spurs glinting stars.
They rode for long in silence until the country beneath began to
change. The grim forests slipped away into the gloom below, drawing with
them the dull curved blades of rivers. The moonlight was now reflected from
scattered boulders with dark gulleys between them.
Woland reined in his horse on the flat, grim top of a hill and the
riders followed him at a walk, hearing the crunch of flints and pebbles
under the horses' shoes. The moon flooded the ground with a harsh green
light and soon Margarita noticed on the bare expanse a chair, with the vague
figure of a man seated on it, apparently deaf or lost in thought. He seemed
not to hear the stony ground shuddering beneath the weight of the horses and
he remained unmoved as the riders approached.
In the brilliant moonlight, brighter than an arc-light, Margarita could
see the seemingly blind man wringing his hands and staring at the moon with
unseeing eyes. Then she saw that beside the massive stone chair, which
sparkled fitfully in the moonlight, there lay a huge, grey dog with pointed
ears, gazing like his master, at the moon. At the man's feet were the
fragments of a jug and a reddish-black pool of liquid. The riders halted.
' We have read your novel,' said Woland, turning to the master,' and we
can only say that unfortunately it is not finished. I would like to show you
your hero. He has been sitting here and sleeping for nearly two thousand
years, but when the full moon comes he is tortured, as you see, with
insomnia. It plagues not only him, but his faithful guardian, his dog. If it
is true that cowardice is the worst sin of all, then the dog at least is not
guilty of it. The only thing that frightened this brave animal was a
thunderstorm. But one who loves must share the fate of his loved one.' '
What is he saying?' asked Margarita, and her calm face was veiled with
' He always says ' said Woland, ' the same thing. He is saying that
there is no peace for him by moonlight and that his duty is a hard one. He
says it always, whether he is asleep or awake, and he always sees the same
thing--a path of moonlight. He longs to walk along it and talk to his
prisoner, Ha-Notsri, because he claims he had more to say to him on that
distant fourteenth day of Nisan. But he never succeeds in reaching that path
and no one ever comes near him. So it is not surprising that he talks to
himself. For an occasional change he adds that most of all he detests his
immortality and his incredible fame. He claims that he would gladly change
places with that vagrant, Matthew the Levite.'
' Twenty-four thousand moons in penance for one moon long ago, isn't
that too much? ' asked Margarita.
' Are you going to repeat the business with Frieda again?' said Woland.
' But you needn't distress yourself, Margarita. All will be as it should ;
that is how the world is made.'
' Let him go! ' Margarita suddenly shouted in a piercing voice, as she
had shouted when she was a witch. Her cry shattered a rock in the
mountainside, sending it bouncing down into the abyss with a deafening
crash, but Margarita could not tell if it was the falling rock or the sound
of satanic laughter. Whether it was or not, Woland laughed and said to
' Shouting at the mountains will do no good. Landslides are common here
and he is used to them by now. There is no need for you to plead for him,
Margarita, because his cause has already been pleaded by the man he longs to
join.' Woland turned round to the master and went on: ' Now is your chance
to complete your novel with a single sentence.'
The master seemed to be expecting this while he had been standing
motionless, watching the seated Procurator. He cupped his hands to a trumpet
and shouted with such force that the echo sprang back at him from the bare,
treeless hills :
' You are free! Free! He is waiting for you!'
The mountains turned the master's voice to thunder and the thunder
destroyed them. The grim cliffsides crumbled and fell. Only the platform
with the stone chair remained. Above the black abyss into which the
mountains had vanished glowed a great city topped by glittering idols above
a garden overgrown with the luxuriance of two thousand years. Into the
garden stretched the Procurator's long-awaited path of moonlight and the
first to bound along it was the dog with pointed ears. The man in the white
cloak with the blood-red lining rose from his chair and shouted something in
a hoarse, uneven voice. It was impossible to tell if he was laughing or
crying, or what he was shouting. He could only be seen hurrying along the
moonlight path after his faithful watchdog.
' Am I to follow him? ' the master enquired uneasily, with a touch on
' No,' answered Woland, ' why try to pursue what is completed? '
' That way, then?' asked the master, turning and pointing back to where
rose the city they had just left, with its onion-domed monasteries,
fragmented sunlight reflected in its windows.
' No, not that way either,' replied Woland, his voice rolling down the
hillsides like a dense torrent. ' You are a romantic, master! Your novel has
been read by the man that your hero Pilate, whom you have just released, so
longs to see.' Here Woland turned to Margarita : ' Margarita Nikolayevna! I
am convinced that you have done your utmost to devise the best possible
future for the master, but believe me, what I am offering you and what
Yeshua has begged to be given to you is even better! Let us leave them alone
with each other,' said Woland, leaning out of his saddle towards the master
and pointing to the departing Procurator. ' Let's not disturb them. Who
knows, perhaps they may agree on something.'
At this Woland waved his hand towards Jerusalem, which vanished.
' And there too,' Woland pointed backwards. ' What good is your little
basement now? ' The reflected sun faded from the windows. ' Why go back? '
Woland continued, quietly and persuasively. ' 0 thrice romantic master,
wouldn't you like to stroll under the cherry blossom with your l.ove in the
daytime and listen to Schubert in the evening? Won't you enjoy writing by
candlelight with a goose quill? Don't you want, like Faust, to sit over a
retort in the hope of fashioning a new homunculus? That's where you must
go--where a house and an old servant are already waiting for you and the
candle;s are lit--although they are soon to be put out because you will
arrive at dawn. That is your way, master, that way! Farewell--I must go!'
' Farewell! ' cried Margarita and the master together. Then the black
Woland, taking none of the paths, dived into the abyss, followed with a roar
by his retinue. The mountains, the platform, the moonbeam pathway,
Jerusalem--all were gone. The black horses, too, had vanished. The master
and Margarita saw the promised dawn, which rose in instant succession to the
midnight moon. In the first rays of the morning the master and his beloved
crossed a little moss-grown stone bridge. They left the stream behind them
and followed a sandy path.
' Listen to the silence,' said Margarita to tlhe master, the sand
rustling under her bare feet. ' Listen to the silence and enjoy it. Here is
the peace that you never knew in your lifetime. Look, there is your home for
eternity, which is your reward. I can already see a Venetian window and a
cllimbing vine which grows right up to the roof. It's your home, your home
for ever. In the evenings people will come to see you--people who interest
you, people who will never upset you. They will play to you and sing to you
and you will see how beautiful the room is by candlelight. You shall go to
sleep with your dirty old cap on, you shall go to sleep with a smile on your
lips. Sleep will give you strength and make you wise. And you can never send
me away-- I shall watch over your sleep.'
So said Margarita as she walked with the master towards their
everlasting home. Margarita's words seemed to him to flow like the
whispering stream behind them, and the master's memory, his accursed,
needling memory, began to fade. He had been freed, just as he had set free
the character he had created. His hero had now vanished irretrievably into
the abyss; on the night of Sunday, the day of the Resurrection, pardon had
been granted to the astrologer's son, fifth Procurator of Judaea, the cruel
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