But what happened in Moscow after sunset on that Saturday evening when
Woland and his followers left the capital and vanished from Sparrow Hills?
There is no need to mention the flood of incredible rumours which
buzzed round Moscow for long afterwards and even spread to the dimmest and
most distant reaches of the provinces. The rumours are, in any case, too
nauseating to repeat.
On a train journey to Theodosia, the honest narrator himself heard a
story of how in Moscow two thousand people had rushed literally naked out of
a theatre and were driven home in taxis.
The whispered words ' evil spirits ' could be heard in milk queues and
tram queues, in shops, flats and kitchens, in commuter trains and
long-distance expresses, on stations and halts, in weekend cottages and on
Educated and cultured people, of course, took no part in all this
gossip about evil spirits descending on Moscow, and even laughed at those
who did, and tried to bring them to reason. But facts, as they say, are
facts and they could not be brushed aside without some explanation : someone
had come to Moscow. The few charred cinders which were all that was left of
Griboyedov, and much more besides, were eloquent proof of it.
Cultured people took the viewpoint of the police : a gang of
brilliantly skilful hypnotists and ventriloquists had been at work.
Immediate and energetic steps; to arrest them in Moscow and beyond were
naturally taken but unfortunately without the least result. The man calling
himself Woland and all his followers had vanished from Moscow never to
return there or anywhere else. He was ot course suspected of having escaped
abroad, but there was no sign of his being there either.
The investigation of his case lasted for a long time. It was certainly
one of the strangest on record. Besides four gutted buildings and hundreds
of people driven out of their minds, several people had been killed. At
least, two of them were definitely known to have been killed--Berlioz, and
that wretched guide to the sights of Moscow, ex-baron Maigel. His charred
bones were found in flat No. 50 after the fire had been put out. Violence
had been done and violence could not go unchecked.
But there were other victims who suffered as a result of Woland's stay
in Moscow and these were, sad to say, black cats.
A good hundred of these peaceful, devoted and useful animals were shot
or otherwise destroyed in various parts of the country. Thirty-odd cats,
some in a cruelly mutilated condition, were handed in to police stations in
various towns. In Armavir, for instance, one of these innocent creatures was
brought to the police station with its forelegs tied up.
The man had ambushed the cat just as the animal, wearing a very furtive
expression (how can cats help looking furtive? It is not because they are
depraved but because they are afraid of being hurt by creatures stronger
than they are, such as dogs and people. It is easy enough to hurt them but
it is not something that anyone need be proud of)--well, with this furtive
look the cat was just about to jump into some bushes.
Pouncing on the cat and pulling off his tie to pinion it, the man
' Aha! So you've decided to come to Armavir, have you, you hypnotist?
No good pretending to be dumb! We know all about you!'
The man took the cat to the police station, dragging the wretched beast
along by its front legs, which were bound with a green tie so that it was
forced to walk on its hind legs.
' Stop playing the fool! ' shouted the man, surrounded by a crowd of
hooting boys, ' No good trying that trick--walk properly! '
The black cat could only suffer in silence. Deprived by nature of the
gift of speech, it had no means of justifying itself. The poor creature owed
its salvation largely to the police and to its mistress, an old widow. As
soon as the cat was delivered to the police station it was found that the
man smelled violently of spirits, which made him a dubious witness.
Meanwhile the old woman, hearing from her neighbour that her cat had been
abducted, ran to the police station and arrived in time. She gave the cat a
glowing reference, saying that she had had it for five years, since it was a
kitten in fact, would vouch for it as she would for herself, proved that it
had not been caught in any mischief and had never been to Moscow. It had
been born in Armavir, had grown up there and learned to catch mice there.
The cat was untied and returned to its owner, though having learned by
bitter experience the consequences of error and slander.
A few other people besides cats suffered minor inconvenience. Several
arrests were made. Among those arrested for a short time were--in Leningrad
one man called Wollman and one called Wolper, three Woldemars in Saratov,
Kiev and Kharkhov, a Wallach in Kazan, and for some obscure reason a chemist
in Penza by the name of Vetchinkevich. He was, it is true, a very tall man
with a dark complexion and black hair.
Apart from that nine Korovins, four Korovkins and two Karavaevs were
picked up in various places. One man was taken off the Sebastopol train in
handcuffs at Belgorod station for having tried to amuse his
fellow-passengers with card tricks.
One lunchtime at Yaroslavl a man walked into a restaurant carrying a
Primus, which he had just had repaired. As soon as they caught sight of him
the two cloak-room attendants abandoned their post and ran, followed by all
the customers and staff. Afterwards the cashier found that all her day's
takings had been stolen.
There was more, much more than anyone can remember. A shock-wave of
disquiet ran through the country.
It cannot be said too often that the police did an admirable job, given
the circumstances. Everything possible was done, not only to catch the
criminals but to provide explanations for what they had done. A reason was
found for everything and one must admit that the explanations were
Spokesmen for the police and a number of experienced psychiatrists
established that the members of the gang, or perhaps one of them (suspicion
fell chiefly on Koroviev) were hypnotists of incredible skill, capable of
appearing to be in two or more places at once. Furthermore, they were
frequently able to persuade people that things or people were where they
weren't, or, vice-versa, they could remove objects or people from someone's
field of vision that were really there all the time.
In the light of this information everything was explicable, even the
extraordinary incident of the bullet-proof cat in flat No. 50. There had, of
course, been no cat on the chandelier, no one had fired back at the
detectives ; they had been firing at nothing while Koroviev, who had made
them believe that there was a cat going berserk on the chandelier, had
obviously been standing behind the detectives' backs and deploying his
colossal though criminally misused powers of suggestion. It was he, of
course, who had poured paraffin all over the room and set fire to it.
Stepa Likhodeyev, of course, had never been to Yalta at all (a trick
like that was beyond even Koroviev) and had sent no telegram from Yalta.
After fainting in the doorway of his bedroom, frightened by Koroviev's trick
of producing a cat eating a pickled mushroom on a fork, he had lain there
until Koroviev had rammed a sheepskin hat on his head and sent him to Moscow
airport, suggesting to the reception committee of detectives that Stepa was
really climbing out of an aeroplane that had flown from Sebastopol.
It is true that the Yalta police claimed to have seen Stepa and to have
sent telegrams about him to Moscow, but not a single copy of these telegrams
was to be found, which led to the sad but incontrovertible conclusion that
the band of hypnotists had the power of hypnotising people at vast distances
and then not only individuals but whole groups.
This being the case the criminals were obviously capable of sending
even the sanest people mad, so that trivia like packs of cards in a man's
pocket or vanishing ladies' dresses or a beret that turned into a cat and
suchlike were scarcely worth mentioning. Tricks like that could be done by
any mediocre hypnotist on any stage, including the old dodge of wrenching
off the compere's head. The talking cat was child's play, too. To show
people a talking cat one only had to know the first principles of
ventriloquy, and clearly Koroviev's abilities went far beyond basic
No, packs of cards and false letters in Nikanor Ivanovich's briefcase
were mere trifles. It was he, Koroviev, who had pushed Berlioz to certain
death under the tramcar. It was he who had driven the wretched poet Ivan
Bezdomny out of his mind, he who had given him nightmares about ancient
Jerusalem and parched, sun-baked Mount Golgotha with the three crucified
men. It was he and his gang who had spirited Margarita Niko-layevna and her
maid away from Moscow. The police, incidentally, paid special attention to
this aspect of the case, trying to discover whether these women had been
kidnapped by this gang of murderers and arsonists or whether they had
voluntarily run away with the criminals. Basing their findings on the
ridiculous and confused evidence provided by Nikolai Ivanovich, taking into
account the insane note that Margarita Nikolayevna had left for her husband
to say that she was becoming a witch, and considering the fact that Natasha
had vanished leaving all her movables at home, the investigators came to the
conclusion that both maid and mistress had been hypnotised like so many
others and then kidnapped by the gang. There was always, of course, the
likely consideration that the crooks had been attracted by two such pretty
However, one thing baffled the police completely--what could have been
the gang's motive for abducting a mental patient, who called himself the
master, from a psychiatric clinic? This completely eluded them, as did the
abducted patient's real name. He was therefore filed away for ever under the
pseudonym of 'No. 118, Block i.'
Thus nearly everything was explained away and the investigation, as all
good things must, came to an end.
Years passed and people began to forget about Woland, Koroviev and the
rest. Many things changed in the lives of those who had suffered at the
hands of Woland and his associates, and however minor these changes may have
been they are still worth following up.
George Bengalsky, for example, after three months in hospital,
recovered and was sent home, but he had to give up his job at the Variety at
the busiest time of the season, when the public was storming the theatre for
tickets : the memory of the black magic and its revelations was too
unbearable. Bengalsky gave up the Variety because he realised that he could
not stand the agony of standing up in front of two thousand people every
evening, being inevitably recognised and endlessly subjected to jeering
questions about how he preferred to be--with or without his head? Apart from
that the compere had lost a lot of the cheerfulness which is essential in
his job. He developed a nasty, compulsive habit of falling into a depression
every spring at the full moon, of suddenly grabbing his neck, staring round
in terror and bursting into tears. These attacks did not last for long, but
nevertheless since he did have them he could hardly go on doing his old job,
and the compere retired and began living on his savings which, by his modest
reckoning, were enough to keep him for fifty years.
He left and never again saw Varenukha, who had acquired universal love
and popularity for his incredible charm and politeness, remarkable even for
a theatre manager. The free-ticket hounds, for instance, regarded him as
their patron saint. At whatever hour they rang the Variety, through the
receiver would always come his soft, sad: ' Hello,' and if the caller asked
for Varenukha to be brought to the telephone the same voice hastened to
reply : ' Speaking--at your service.' But how Ivan Savyelich had suffered
for his politeness!
You can no longer speak to Stepa Likhodeyev if you telephone the
Variety. Immediately after his week's stay in hospital, Stepa was
transferred to Rostov where he was made the manager of a large delicatessen
store. There are rumours that he never touches port these days, that he only
drinks vodka distilled from blackcurrants and is much healthier for it. They
say, too, that he is very silent these days and avoids women.
Stepan Bogdanovich's removal from the Variety did not bring Rimsky the
joy he had dreamed of for so many years. After hospital and a cure at
Kislovodsk, the treasurer, now an old, old man with a shaking head, tendered
his resignation. It was Rimsky's wife who brought his letter of resignation
to the theatre : Grigory Danilovich himself could not find the strength,
even in daytime, to revisit the building where he had seen the moonlit
windowpane rattling and the long arm reaching down to grasp the catch.
Having retired from the Variety, Rimsky got a job at the children's
marionette theatre on the far side of the Moscow River. Here he never even
had to deal with Arkady Apollonich Sempleyarov on the subject of acoustics,
because he in turn had been transferred to Bryansk and put in charge of a
mushroom-canning plant. Now Muscovites eat his salted chanterelles and his
pickled button-mushrooms and they are so delicious that everybody is
delighted with Arkady Apollonich's change of job. It is all so long ago now
that there is no harm in saying that Arkady Appollonich never had much
success at improving the acoustics of Moscow's theatres anyway, and the
situation is much the same today.
Apart from Arkady Apollonich, several other people have given up the
theatre for good, among them Nikanor Ivanovich Bosoi, even though his only
link with the theatre was a fondness for free tickets. Nowadays Nikanor
Ivanovich not only refuses to accept free tickets : he wouldn't set foot
inside a theatre if you paid him and he even turns pale if the subject crops
up in conversation. More than the theatre he now loathes both Pushkin and
that gifted artiste, Savva Potapovich Kurolesov;
in fact he detests that actor to such a degree that last year, catching
sight of a black-bordered announcement in the newspaper that Sawa Potapovicb
had been struck down in the prime of life by a heart attack, Nikanor
Ivanovich turned such a violent shade of purple that he almost joined Savva
Potapovich, and he roared:
' Serve him right! '
What is more, the actor's death stirred so many painful memories for
Nikanor Ivanovich that he went out and, with the full moon for company, got
blind drunk. With every glass that he drank the row of hated figures
lengthened in front of him-- there stood Sergei Gerardovich Dunchill, there
stood the beautiful Ida Herkulanovna, there stood the red-bearded man and
his herd of fearsome geese.
And what happened to them? Nothing. Nothing could ever happen to them
because they never existed, just as the compere, the theatre itself, the
miserly old aunt hoarding currency in her cellar and the rude cooks never
existed either. Nikanor Ivanovich had dreamed it all under the evil
influence of the beastly Koroviev. The only real person in his dream was
Sawa Potapovich the actor, who got involved merely because Ivanor Ivanovich
had so often heard him on the radio. Unlike all the others, he was real.
So perhaps Aloysius Mogarych did not exist either? Far from it.
Aloysius Mogarych is still with us, in the very job that Rimsky gave
up--treasurer of the Variety Theatre.
About twenty-four hours after his call on Woland, Aloysius had regained
consciousness in a train somewhere near Vyatka. Finding that he had
absentmindedly left Moscow without his trousers but had somehow brought his
landlord's rent-book with him, Aloysius had given the conductor a colossal
tip, borrowed a pair of filthy old trousers from him and turned back to
Moscow from Vyatka. But he failed to find his landlord's house. The ancient
pile had been burnt to the ground. Aloysius, however, was extremely
ingenious. Within a fortnight he had moved into an excellent room in Bryusov
Street and a few months later he was installed in Rimsky's office. Just as
Rimsky had suffered under Stepa, Varenukha's life was now made a misery by
Aloysius. Ivan Savyelich's one and only wish is for Aloysius to be removed
as far away from the Variety as possible because, as Varenukha sometimes
whispers among his close friends, ' he has never met such a swine in his
life as that Aloysius and he wouldn't be surprised at anything Aloysius
might do '.
The house manager is perhaps biased. Aloysius is not known to have done
anything suspicious--indeed he does not appear to have done anything at all,
except of course to appoint another barman in place of Sokov. Andrei Fokich
died of cancer of the liver nine months after Woland's visit to Moscow. . .
More years passed and the events described in this truthful account
have faded from most people's memories--with a few exceptions.
Every year, at the approach of the vernal full moon, a man of about
thirty or a little more can be seen walking towards the lime trees of
Patriarch's Ponds. A reddish-haired, green-eyed, modestly dressed man. He is
Professor Ivan Nikolayich Poniryov of the Institute of History and
When he reaches the lime trees he always sits down on the same bench on
which he sat that evening when Berlioz, now long forgotten by everybody, saw
the moon shatter to fragments for the last time in his life. Now that moon,
whole and in one piece, white in the early evening and later golden with its
outline of a dragon-horse, floats over the erstwhile poet Ivan Nikolayich
while seeming to stand still.
Ivan Nikolayich now knows and understands everything. He knows that as
a young man he fell victim to some crooked hypnotists, went to hospital and
was cured. But he knows that there is still something that is beyond his
control. He cannot control what happens at the springtime full moon. As soon
as it draws near, as soon as that heavenly body begins to reach that
fullness it once had when it hung in the sky high above the two
seven-branched candlesticks, Ivan Nikolayich grows uneasy and irritable,
loses his appetite, cannot sleep and waits for the moon to wax. When full
moon comes nothing can keep Ivan Nikolayich at home. Towards evening he
leaves home and goes to Patriarch's Ponds.
As he sits on the bench Ivan Nikolayich openly talks to himself,
smokes, peers at the moon or at the familiar turnstile.
Ivan Nikolayich spends an hour or two there, then gets up and walks,
always following the same route, across Spiridonovka Street with unseeing
eyes towards the side-streets near the Arbat.
He passes an oil-shop, turns by a crooked old gas lamp and creeps up to
some railings through which he can see a garden that is splendid, though not
yet in flower, and in it--lit on one side by moonlight, dark on the other,
with an attic that has a triple-casement window--a house in the Gothic
The professor never knows what draws him to those railings or who lives
in that house, but he knows that it is useless to fight his instinct at full
moon. He knows, too, that in the garden beyond the railings he will
inevitably see the same thing every time.
He sees a stout, elderly man sitting on a bench, a man with a beard, a
pince-nez and very, very slightly piggish features. Ivan Nikolayich always
finds that tenant of the Gothic house in the same dreamy attitude, his gaze
turned towards the moon. Ivan Nikolayich knows that having stared at the
moon the seated man will turn and look hard at the attic windows, as though
expecting them to be flung open and something unusual to appear on the
The rest, too, Ivan Nikolayich knows by heart. At this point he has to
duck down behind the railings, because the man on the bench begins to twist
his head anxiously, his wandering eyes seeking something in the air. He
smiles in triumph, then suddenly clasps his hands in delicious agony and
mutters quite distinctly:
' Venus! Venus! Oh, what a fool I was . . .!'
' Oh God,' Ivan Nikolayich starts to whisper as he hides behind the
railings with his burning gaze fixed on the mysterious stranger. ' Another
victim of the moon . . . Another one like me . . .'
And the man goes on talking :
' Oh, what a fool I was! Why, why didn't I fly away with her? What was
I afraid of, stupid old ass that I am? I had to ask for that document! . . .
Well, you must just put up with it, you old cretin!' So it goes on until a
window opens on the dark side of the house, something white appears in it
and an unpleasant female voice rings out:
' Where are you, Nikolai Ivanovich? What the hell are you doing out
there? Do you want to catch malaria? Come and drink your tea! '
At this the man blinks and says in a lying voice :
' I'm just having a breath of fresh air, my dear! The air out here is
so nice! '
Then he gets up from his bench, furtively shakes his fist at the window
which has just closed and stumps indoors.
' He's lying, he's lying! Oh God, how he's lying! ' mumbles Ivan
Nikolayich as he walks from the railings. ' He doesn't come down to the
garden for the fresh air--he sees something in that springtime sky,
something high above the garden! What wouldn't I give to find out his
secret, to know who the Venus is that he lost and now tries vainly to catch
by waving his arms in the air.'
The professor returns home a sick man. His wife pretends not to notice
it and hurries him into bed, but she stays up and sits by the lamp with a
book, watching the sleeping man with a bitter look. She knows that at dawn
Ivan Nikolayich will wake up with an agonised cry, will start to weep and
rave. That is why she keeps in front of her on the tablecloth a hypodermic
syringe ready in a dish of spirit and an ampoule of liquid the colour of
Later the poor woman is free to go to sleep without misgiving. After
his injection Ivan Nikolayich will sleep until morning with a calm
expression and he will dream, unknown to her, dreams that are sublimely
It is always the same thing that wakens the scholar and wrings that
pitiful cry from him. He sees a strange, noseless executioner who, jumping
up and uttering a grunt as he does so, pierces the heart of the maddened
Hestas, lashed to a gibbet. But what makes the dream so horrible is not so
much the executioner as the lurid, unnatural light that comes from a cloud,
seething and drenching the earth, of the kind that only accompanies natural
After his injection the sleeper's vision changes. From the bed to the
moon stretches a broad path of moonlight and up it is climbing a man in a
white cloak with a blood-red lining. Beside him walks a young man in a torn
chiton and with a disfigured face. The two are talking heatedly, arguing,
trying to agree about something.
' Ye gods! ' says the man in the cloak, turning his proud face to his
companion. ' What a disgusting method of execution! But please, tell
me,'--here the pride in his face turns to supplication--' it did not take
place, did it? I beg you--tell me that it never took place? '
' No, of course it never took place,' answers his companion in a husky
voice. ' It was merely your imagination.'
' Can you swear to that? ' begged the man in the cloak.
' I swear it! ' answers his companion, his eyes smiling.
' That is all I need to know! ' gasps the man in the cloak as he
strides on towards the moon, beckoning his companion on. Behind them walks a
magnificently calm, gigantic dog with pointed ears.
Then the moonbeam begins to shake, a river of moonlight floods out of
it and pours in all directions. From the flood materialises a woman of
incomparable beauty and leads towards Ivan a man with a stubble-grown face,
gazing fearfully round him. Ivan Nikolayich recognises him at once. It is
No. 118, his nocturnal visitor. In his dream Ivan stretches out his arms
towards him and asks greedily :
' So was that how it ended? '
' That is how it ended, disciple,' replies No. 118 as the woman
approaches Ivan and says :
' Of course. It has ended ; and everything has an end . . . I'll kiss
you on the forehead and everything will be as it should be . . .'
She leans over Ivan and kisses him on the forehead and Ivan strains
towards her to look into her eyes, but she draws back, draws back and walks
away towards the moon with her companion. . . .
Then the moon goes mad, deluges Ivan with streams of light, sprays
light everywhere, a moonlight flood invades the room, the light sways,
rises, drowns the bed. It is then that Ivan sleeps with a look of happiness
on his face.
In the morning he wakes silent, but quite calm and well. His bruised
memory has subsided again and until the next full moon no one will trouble
the professor--neither the noseless man who killed Hestas nor the cruel
Procurator of Judaea, fifth in that office, the knight Pontius Pilate.
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