Midnight was approaching, time to hurry. Peering into the dim
surroundings, Margarita discerned some candles and an empty pool carved out
of onyx. As Margarita stood in the pool Hella, assisted by Natasha, poured a
thick, hot red liquid all over her. Margarita tasted salt on her lips and
realised that she was being washed in blood. The bath of blood was followed
by another liquid--dense, translucent and pink, and Margarita's head swam
with attar of roses. Next she was laid on a crystal couch and rubbed with
large green leaves until she glowed.
The cat came in and began to help. It squatted on its haunches at
Margarita's feet and began polishing her instep like a shoeblack.
Margarita never remembered who it was who stitched her shoes out of
pale rose petals or how those shoes fastened themselves of their own accord.
A force lifted her up and placed her in front of a mirror: in her hair
glittered a diamond crown. Koroviev appeared and hung on Margarita's breast
a picture of a black poodle in a heavy oval frame with a massive chain.
Queen Margarita found this ornament extremely burdensome, as the chain hurt
her neck and the picture pulled her over forwards. However, the respect with
which Koroviev and Behemoth now treated her was some recompense for the
' There's nothing for it,' murmured Koroviev at the door of the room
with the pool. ' You must wear it round your neck-- you must... Let me give
you a last word of advice, your majesty. The guests at the ball will be
mixed- -oh, very mixed--but you must show no favouritism, queen Margot! If
you don't like anybody ... I realise that you won't show it in your face, of
course not--but you must not even let it cross your mind! If you do, the
guest is bound to notice it instantly. You must be sweet and kind to them
all, your majesty. For that, the hostess of the ball will be rewarded a
hundredfold. And another thing-- don't neglect anybody or fail to notice
them. Just a smile if you haven't time to toss them a word, even just a
little turn of your head! Anything you like except inattention--they can't
bear that. . . .'
Escorted by Koroviev and Behemoth, Margarita stepped out of the bathing
hall and into total darkness.
' Me, me,' whispered the cat, ' let me give the signal! '
' All right, give it,' replied Koroviev from the dark.
' Let the ball commence! ' shrieked the cat in a piercing voice.
Margarita screamed and shut her eyes for several seconds. The ball burst
upon her in an explosion of light, sound and smell. Arm in arm with
Koroviev, Margarita found herself in a tropical forest. Scarlet-breasted
parrots with green tails perched on lianas and hopping from branch to branch
uttered deafening screeches of ' Ecstasy! Ecstasy! ' The forest soon came to
an end and its hot, steamy air gave way to the cool of a ballroom with
columns made of a yellowish, iridescent stone. Like the forest the ballroom
was completely empty except for some naked Negroes in silver turbans holding
candelabra. Their faces paled with excitement when Margarita floated into
the ballroom with her suite, to which Azazello had now attached himself.
Here Koroviev released Margarita's arm and whispered :
' Walk straight towards the tulips! '
A low wall of white tulips rose up in front of Margarita. Beyond it she
saw countless lights in globes, and rows of men in tails and starched white
shirts. Margarita saw then where the sound of ball music had been coming
from. A roar of brass deafened her and the soaring violins that broke
through it poured over her body like blood. The orchestra, all hundred and
fifty of them, were playing a polonaise.
Seeing Margarita the tail-coated conductor turned pale, smiled and
suddenly raised the whole orchestra to its feet with a wave of his arm.
Without a moment's break in the music the orchestra stood and engulfed
Margarita in sound. The conductor turned away from the players and gave a
low bow. Smiling, Margarita waved to him.
' No, no, that won't do,' whispered Koroviev. ' He won't sleep all
night. Shout to him " Bravo, king of the walt2! " '
Margarita shouted as she was told, amazed that her voice, full as a
bell, rang out over the noise of the orchestra. The conductor gave a start
of pleasure, placed his left hand on his heart and with his right went on
waving his white baton at the orchestra.
' Not enough,' whispered Koroviev. ' Look over there at the first
violins and nod to them so that every one of them thinks you recognise him
personally. They are all world famous. Look, there ... on the first
desk--that's Joachim! That's right! Very good . . . Now--on we go.'
' Who is the conductor? ' asked Margarita as she floated away.
' Johann Strauss!' cried the cat. ' May I be hung from a liana in the
tropical forest if any ball has ever had an orchestra like this! I arranged
it! And not one of them was ill or refused to come!'
There were no columns in the next hall, but instead it was flanked by
walls of red, pink, and milky-white roses on one side and on the other by
banks of Japanese double camellias. Fountains played between the walls of
flowers and champagne bubbled in three ornamental basins, the first of which
was a translucent violet in colour, the second ruby, the third crystal.
Negroes in scarlet turbans were busy with silver scoops filling shallow
goblets with champagne from the basins. In a gap in the wall of roses was a
man bouncing up and down on a stage in a red swallow-tail coat, conducting
an unbearably loud jazz band. As soon as he saw Margarita he bent down in
front of her until his hands touched the floor, then straightened up and
said in a piercing yell:
He slapped himself once on one knee, then twice on the other, snatched
a cymbal from the hands of a nearby musician and struck it against a pillar.
As she floated away Margarita caught a glimpse of the virtuoso
bandleader, struggling against the polonaise that she could still hear
behind her, hitting the bandsmen on the head with his cymbal while they
crouched in comic terror.
At last they regained the platform where Koroviev had first met
Margarita with the lamp. Now her eyes were blinded with the light streaming
from innumerable bunches of crystal grapes. Margarita stopped and a little
amethyst pillar appeared under her left hand.
' You can rest your hand on it if you find it becomes too tiring,'
A black-skinned boy put a cushion embroidered with a golden poodle
under Margarita's feet. Obeying the pressure of an invisible hand she bent
her knee and placed her right foot on the cushion.
Margarita glanced around. Koroviev and Azazello were standing in formal
attitudes. Besides Azazello were three young men, who vaguely reminded
Margarita of Abadonna. A cold wind blew in her back. Looking round Margarita
saw that wine was foaming out of the marble wall into a basin made of ice.
She felt something warm and velvety by her left leg. It was Behemoth.
Margarita was standing at the head of a vast carpeted staircase
stretching downwards in front of her. At the bottom, so far away that she
seemed to be looking at it through the wrong end of a telescope, she could
see a vast hall with an absolutely immense fireplace, into whose cold, black
maw one could easily have driven a five-ton lorry. The hall and the
staircase, bathed in painfully bright light, were empty. Then Margarita
heard the sound of distant trumpets. For some minutes they stood motionless.
' Where are the guests? ' Margarita asked Koroviev.
' They will be here at any moment, your majesty. There will be no lack
of them. I confess I'd rather be sawing logs than receiving them here on
' Sawing logs? ' said the garrulous cat. ' I'd rather be a
tram-conductor and there's no job worse than that.'
' Everything must be prepared in advance, your majesty,' explained
Koroviev, his eye glittering behind the broken lens of his monocle. ' There
can be nothing more embarrassing than for the first guest to wait around
uncomfortably, not knowing what to do, while his lawful consort curses him
in a whisper for arriving too early. We cannot allow that at our ball, queen
' I should think not', said the cat.
' Ten seconds to midnight,' said Koroviev, ' it will begin in a
Those ten seconds seemed unusually long to Margarita. They had
obviously passed but absolutely nothing seemed to be happening. Then there
was a crash from below in the enormous fireplace and out of it sprang a
gallows with a half-decayed corpse bouncing on its arm. The corpse jerked
itself loose from the rope, fell to the ground and stood up as a dark,
handsome man in tailcoat and lacquered pumps. A small, rotting coffin then
slithered out of the fireplace, its lid flew off and another corpse jumped
out. The handsome man stepped gallantly towards it and offered his bent arm.
The second corpse turned into a nimble little woman in black slippers and
black feathers on her head and then man and woman together hurried up the
' The first guests!' exclaimed Koroviev. ' Monsieur Jacques and his
wife. Allow me to introduce to you, your majesty, a most interesting man. A
confirmed forger, a traitor to his country but no mean alchemist. He was
famous,' Koroviev whispered into Margarita's ear, ' for having poisoned the
king's mistress. Not everybody can boast of that, can they? See how
good-looking he is! '
Turning pale and open-mouthed with shock, Margarita looked down and saw
gallows and coffin disappear through a side door in the hall.
' We are delighted! ' the cat roared to Monsieur Jacques as he mounted
Just then a headless, armless skeleton appeared in the fireplace below,
fell down and turned into yet another man in a tailcoat. Monsieur Jacques'
wife had by now reached the head of the staircase where she knelt down, pale
with excitement, and kissed Margarita's foot.
' Your majesty . . .' murmured Madame Jacques.
' Her majesty is charmed! ' shouted Koroviev. 'Your majesty . . .' said
Monsieur Jacques in a low voice.
' We are charmed! ' intoned the cat. The young men beside Azazello,
smiling lifeless but welcoming smiles, were showing Monsieur and Madame
Jacques to one side, wlhere they were offered goblets of champagne by the
Negro attendants. The single man in tails came up the staircase at a run.
' Count Robert,' Koroviev whispered to Margarita. ' An equally
interesting character. Rather amusing, your majesty-- the case is reversed:
he was the queen's lover and poisoned his own wife.'
' We are delighted. Count,' cried Behemoth.
One after another three coffins bounced out o.f the fireplace,
splitting and breaking open as they fell, then someone in a black cloak who
was immediately stabbed in the back by the next person to come down the
chimney. There was a muffled shriek. When an almost totally decomposed
corpse emerged from the fireplace, Margarita frowned and a hand, which
seemed to be Natasha's, offered her a flacon of sal volatile.
The staircase began to fill up. Now on almost every step there were men
in tailcoats accompanied by naked women who only differed in the colour of
their shoes and the feathers on their heads.
Margarita noticed a woman with the downcast gaze of a nun hobbling
towards her, thin, shy, hampered by a stsrange wooden boot on her left leg
and a broad green kerchief round her neck.
' Who's that woman in green? ' Margarita enquired.
' A most charming and respectable lady,' whispered Koroviev. ' Let me
introduce you--Signora Toffana. She was extremely popular among the young
and attractive ladies of Naples and Palermo, especially among those who were
tired of their husbands. Women do get bored with their husbands, your
majesty . . .' ' Yes,' replied Margarita dully, smiling to two men in
evening dress who were bowing to kiss her knee and her foot.
' Well,' Koroviev managed to whisper to Margarita as he simultaneously
cried : ' Duke! A glass of champagne? We are charmed! . . . Well, Signora
Toffana sympathised with those poor women and sold them some liquid in a
bladder. The woman poured the liquid into her husband's soup, who ate it,
thanked her for it and felt splendid. However, after a few hours he would
begin to feel a terrible thirst, then lay down on his bed and a day later
another beautiful Neapolitan lady was as free as air.'
' What's that on her leg? ' asked Margarita, without ceasing to offer
her hand to the guests who had overtaken Signora Toffana on the way up. '
And why is she wearing green round her neck? Has she a withered neck? '
' Charmed, Prince!' shouted Koroviev as he whispered to Margarita : '
She has a beautiful neck, but something unpleasant happened to her in
prison. The thing on her leg, your majesty, is a Spanish boot and she wears
a scarf because when her jailers found out that about five hundred
ill-matched husbands had been dispatched from Naples and Palermo for ever,
they strangled Signora Toffana in a rage.'
' How happy I am, your majesty, that I have the great honour . . .'
whispered Signora Toffana in a nun-like voice, trying to fall on one knee
but hindered by the Spanish boot. Koroviev and Behemoth helped Signora
Toffana to rise.
' I am delighted,' Margarita answered her as she gave her hand to the
People were now mounting the staircase in a flood. Margarita ceased to
notice the arrivals in the hall. Mechanically she raised and lowered her
hand, bared her teeth in a smile for each new guest. The landing behind her
was buzzing with voices, and music like the waves of the sea floated out
from the ball-rooms.
' Now this woman is a terrible bore.' Koroviev no longer bothered to
whisper but shouted it aloud, certain that no one could hear his voice over
the hubbub. ' She loves coming to a ball because it gives her a chance to
complain about her handkerchief.'
Among the approaching crowd Margarita's glance picked out the woman at
whom Koroviev was pointing. She was young, about twenty, with a remarkably
beautiful figure but a look of nagging reproach.
' What handkerchief? ' asked Margarita.
' A maid has been assigned to her,' Koroviev explained, ' who for
thirty years has been putting a handkerchief on her bedside table. It is
there every morning when she wakes up. She burns it in the stove or throws
it in the river but every morning it appears again beside her.'
' What handkerchief?' whispered Margarita, continuing to lower and
raise her hand to the guests.
' A handkerchief with a blue border. One day when she was a waitress in
a cafe the owner enticed her into the storeroom and nine months later she
gave birth to a boy, carried him into the woods, stuffed a handkerchief into
his mouth and then buried him. At the trial she said she couldn't afford to
feed the child.'
' And where is the cafe-owner? ' asked Margarita.
' But your majesty,' the cat suddenly growled, ' what has the
cafe-owner got to do with it? It wasn't he who stifled the baby in the
forest, was it? '
Without ceasing to smile and to shake hands with her right hand, she
dug the sharp nails of her left hand into Behemoth's ear and whispered to
' If you butt into the conversation once more, you little horror . . .'
Behemoth gave a distinctly unfestive squeak and croaked:
' Your majesty . . . you'll make my ear swell . . . why spoil the ball
with a swollen ear? I was speaking from the legal point of view ... I'll be
quiet, I promise, pretend I'm not a cat, pretend I'm a fish if you like but
please let go of my ear!'
Margarita released his ear.
The woman's grim, importunate eyes looked into Margarita's :
' I am so happy, your majesty, to be invited to the great ball of the
' And I am delighted to see you,' Margarita answered her, ' quite
delighted. Do you like champagne? '
' Hurry up, your majesty! ' hissed Koroviev quietly but desperately. '
You're causing a traffic-jam on the staircase.'
' Yes, I like champagne,' said the woman imploringly, and began to
repeat mechanically: ' Frieda, Frieda, Frieda! My name is Frieda, your
' Today you may get drunk, Frieda, and forget about everything,' said
Frieda stretched out both her arms to Margarita, but Koroviev and
Behemoth deftly took an arm each and whisked her off into the crowd.
By now people were advancing from below like a phalanx bent on
assaulting the landing where Margarita stood. The naked women mounting the
staircase between the tail-coated and white-tied men floated up in a
spectrum of coloured bodies that ranged from white through olive, copper and
coffee to quite black. In hair that was red, black, chestnut or flaxen,
sparks flashed from precious stones. Diamond-studded orders glittered on the
jackets and shirt-fronts of the men. Incessantly Margarita felt the touch of
lips to her knee, incessantly she offered her hand to be kissed, her face
stretched into a rigid mask of welcome.
' Charmed,' Koroviev would monotonously intone, ' We are charmed . . .
her majesty is charmed . . .'
' Her majesty is charmed,' came a nasal echo from Azazello, standing
' I am charmed! ' squeaked the cat.
' Madame la marquise,' murmured Koroviev, ' poisoned her father, her
two brothers and two sisters for the sake of an inheritance . . . Her
majesty is delighted, Mme. Minkin! . . . Ah, how pretty she is! A trifle
nervous, though. Why did she have to burn her maid with a pair of
curling-tongs? Of course, in the way she used them it was bound to be fatal
. . . Her majesty is charmed! . . . Look, your majesty--the Emperor Rudolf--
magician and alchemist . . . Another alchemist--he was hanged . . . Ah,
there she is! What a magnificent brothel she used to keep in Strasbourg! . .
. We arc delighted, madame! . . . That woman over there was a Moscow
dressmaker who had the brilliantly funny idea of boring two peep-holes in
the wall of her fitting-room . . .'
' And didn't her lady clients know? enquired Margarita. ' Of course,
they all knew, your majesty,' replied Koroviev. ' Charmed! . . . That young
man over there was a dreamer and an eccentric from childhood. A girl fell in
love with him and he sold her to a brothel-keeper . . .
On and on poured the stream from below. Its source--the huge
fireplace--showed no sign of drying up. An hour passed, then another.
Margarita felt her chain weighing more and more. Something odd was happening
to her hand : she found she could not lift it without wincing. Koroviev's
remarks ceased to interest her. She could no longer distinguish between
slant-eyed Mongol faces, white faces and black faces. They all merged into a
blur and the air between them seemed to be quivering. A sudden sharp pain
like a needle stabbed at Margarita's right hand, and clenching her teeth she
leaned her elbow on the little pedestal. A sound like the rustling of wings
came from the rooms behind her as the horde of guests danced, and Margarita
could feel the massive floors of marble, crystal and mosaic pulsating
Margarita showed as little interest in the emperor Caius Caligula and
Messalina as she did in the rest of the procession of kings, dukes, knights,
suicides, poisoners, gallows-birds, procuresses, jailers, card-sharpers,
hangmen, informers, traitors, madmen, detectives and seducers. Her head swam
with their names, their faces merged into a great blur and only one face
remained fixed in her memory--Malyuta Skuratov with his fiery beard.
Margarita's legs were buckling and she was afraid that she n^ight burst into
tears at any moment. The worst pain came from her right knee, which all the
guests had kissed. It was swollen, the skin on it had turned blue in spite
of Natasha's constant attention to it with a sponge soaked in fragrant
ointment. By the end of the third hour Margarita glanced wearily down and
saw with a start of joy that the flood of guests was thinning out.
' Every ball is the same, your majesty.' whispered Koroviev, ' at about
this time the arrivals begin to decrease. I promise you that this torture
will not last more than a few minutes longer. Here comes a party of witches
from the Brocken, they're always the last to arrive. Yes, there they are.
And a couple of drunken vampires ... is that all? Oh, no, there's one more .
. . no, two more.'
The last two guests mounted the staircase.
' Now this is someone new,' said Koroviev, peering through his monocle.
' Oh, yes, now I remember. Azazello called on him once and advised him, over
a glass of brandy, how to get rid of a man who was threatening to denounce
him. So he made his friend, who was under an obligation to him, spray the
other man's office walls with poison.'
' What's his name? ' asked Margarita.
' I'm afraid I don't know,' said Koroviev, ' You'd better ask Azazello.
' And who's that with him? '
' That's his friend who did the job. Delighted to welcome you! ' cried
Koroviev to the last two guests.
The staircase was empty, and although the reception committee waited a
little longer to make sure, no one else appeared from the fireplace.
A second later, half-fainting, Margarita found herself beside the pool
again where, bursting into tears from the pain in her arm and leg, she
collapsed to the floo:r. Hella and Natasha comforted her, doused her in
blood and massaged her body until she revived again.
' Once more, queen Margot,' whispered Koroviev. ' You must make the
round of the ballrooms just once more to show our guests that they are not
Again Margarita floated away from the pool. In place of Johan Strauss'
orchestra the stage behind the wall of tulips had been taken over by a jazz
band of frenetic apes. An enormous gorilla with shaggy sideburns and holding
a trumpet was leaping clumsily up and down as he conducted. Orang-utan
trumpeters sat in the front row, each with a chimpanzee accordionist on his
shoulders. Two baboons with manes like lions' were playing the piano, their
efforts completely drowned by the roaring, squeaking and banging of the
saxophones, violins and drums played by troops of gibbons, mandrils and
marmosets. Innumerable couples circled round the glass floor with amazing
dexterity, a mass of bodies moving lightly and gracefully as one. Live
butterflies fluttered over the dancing horde, flowers drifted down from the
ceiling. The electric light had been turned out, the capitals of the pillars
were now lit by myriads of glow-worms, and will-o'-the-wisps danced through
Then Margarita found herself by the side of another pool, this time of
vast dimensions and ringed by a colonnade. A gigantic black Neptune was
pouring a broad pink stream from his great mouth. Intoxicating fumes of
champagne rose from the pool. Joy reigned untrammelled. Women, laughing,
handed their bags to their escorts or to the Negroes who ran along the sides
holding towels, and dived shrieking into the pool. Spray rose in showers.
The crystal bottom of the pool glowed with a faint light which shone through
the sparkling wine to light up the silvery bodies of the swimmers, who
climbed out of the pool again completely drunk. Laughter rang out beneath
the pillars until it drowned even the jazz ba.nd.
In all this debauch Margarita distinctly saw one totally drunken
woman's face with eyes that were wild with intoxication yet still
Margarita's head began to spin with the fumes of the wine and she was
just about to move on when the cat staged one of his tricks in the swimming
pool. Behemoth made a few magic passes in front of Neptune's moiath ;
immediately all the champagne drained out of the pool, an-d Neptune began
spewing forth a stream of brown liquid. Shrieking with delight the women
screamed : ' Brandy! ' In a few seconds the pool was full. Spinning round
three times like a top the cat leaped into the air and dived into the
turbulent sea of brandy. It crawled out, spluttering, its tie soaked, the
gilding gone from its whiskers, and minus its lorgnette. Only one woman
dared follow Behemoth's example --the dressmaker--procuress and her escort,
a handsome young mulatto. They both dived into the brandy, but before she
had time to see any more Margarita was led away by Koroviev.
They seemed to take wing and in their flight Margarita first saw great
stone tanks full of oysters, then a row of hellish furnaces blazing away
beneath the glass floor and attended by a frantic crew of diabolical chefs.
In the confusion she remembered a glimpse of dark caverns lit by candles
where girls were serving meat that sizzled on glowing coals and revellers
drank Margarita's health from vast mugs of beer. Then came polar bears
playing accordions and dancing a Russian dance on a stage, a salamander
doing conjuring tricks unharmed by the flames around it ... And for a second
time Margarita felt her strength beginning to flag.
' The last round,' whispered Koroviev anxiously, ' and then we're
Escorted by Koroviev, Margarita returned to the ballroom, but now the
dance had stopped and the guests were crowded between the pillars, leaving
an open space in the middle of the room. Margarita could not remember who
helped her up to a platform which appeared in the empty space. When she had
mounted it, to her amazement she heard a bell strike midnight, although by
her reckoning midnight was long past. At the last chime of the invisible
clock silence fell on the crowd of guests.
Then Margarita saw Woland. He approached surrounded by Abadonna,
Azazello and several young men in black resembling Abadonna. She now noticed
another platform beside her own, prepared for Woland. But he did not make
use of it. Margarita was particularly surprised to notice that Woland
appeared at the ball in exactly the same state in which he had been in the
bedroom. The same dirty, patched nightshirt hung from his shoulders and his
feet were in darned bedroom slippers. Woland was armed with his sword but he
leaned on the naked weapon as though it were a walking stick.
Limping, Woland stopped beside his platform. At once Azazello appeared
in front of him bearing a dish. On that dish Margarita saw the severed head
of a man with most of its front teeth missing. There was still absolute
silence, only broken by the distant sound, puzzling in the circumstances, of
a door-bell ringing.
' Mikhail Alexandrovich,' said Woland quietly to the head, at which its
eyelids opened. With a shudder Margarita saw that the eyes in that dead face
were alive, fully conscious and tortured with pain.
' It all came true, didn't it? ' said Woland, staring at the eyes of
the head. ' Your head was cut off by a woman, the meeting didn't take place
and I am living in your flat. That is a fact. And a fact is the most
obdurate thing in the world. But what interests us now is the future, not
the facts of the past. You have always been a fervent proponent of the
theory that when a man's head is cut off his life stops, he turns to dust
and he ceases to exist. I am glad to be able to tell you in front of all my
guests-- despite the fact that their presence here is proof to the contrary
--that your theory is intelligent and sound. Now--one theory deserves
another. Among them there is one which maintains that a man will receive his
deserts in accordance with his beliefs. So be it! You shall depart into the
void and from the goblet into which your skull is about to be transformed I
shall have the pleasure of drinking to life eternal! '
Woland raised his sword. Immediately the skin of the head darkened and
shrank, then fell away in shreds, the eyes disappeared and in a second
Margarita saw on the dish a yellowed skull, with emerald eyes and pearl
teeth, mounted on a golden stand. The top of the skull opened with a hinge.
' In a second, messire,' said Koroviev, noticing Woland's enquiring
glance, ' he will stand before you. I can hear the creak of his shoes and
the tinkle as he puts down the last glass of champagne of his lifetime. Here
A new guest, quite alone, entered the ballroom. Outwardly he was no
different from the thousands of other male guests, except in one thing--he
was literally staggering with fright. Blotches glowed on his cheeks and his
eyes were swivelling with alarm. The guest was stunned. Everything that he
saw shocked him, above all the way Woland was dressed.
Yet he was greeted with marked courtesy.
' Ah, my dear Baron Maigel,' Woland said with a welcoming smile to his
guest, whose eyes were starting out of his head. ' I am happy to introduce
to you,' Woland turned towards his guests, ' Baron Maigel, who works for the
Entertainments Commission as a guide to the sights of the capital for
Then Margarita went numb. She recognised this man Maigel. She had
noticed him several times in Moscow theatres and restaurants. ' Has he died
too? ' Margarita wondered. But the matter was soon explained.
' The dear Baron,' Woland continued with a broad smile, ' was charming
enough to ring me up as soon as I arrived in Moscow and to offer me his
expert services as a guide to the sights of the city. Naturally I was happy
to invite him to come and see me.'
Here Margarita noticed that Azazello handed the dish with the skull to
' By the way. Baron,' said Woland, suddenly lowering his voice
confidentially, ' rumours have been going round that you have an
unquenchable curiosity. This characteristic, people say, together with your
no less developed conversational gifts, has begun to attract general
attention. What is more, evil tongues have let slip the words "
eavesdropper" and " spy." What is more, there is a suggestion that this may
bring you to an unhappy end in less than a month from now. So in order to
save you from the agonising suspense of waiting, we have decided to come to
your help, making use of the fact that you invited yourself to see me with
the aim of spying and eavesdropping as much as you could.'
The Baron turned paler than the pallid Abadonna and then something
terrible happened. Abadonna stepped in front of the Baron and for a second
took off his spectacles. At that moment there was a flash and a crack from
Azazello's hand and the Baron staggered, crimson blood spurting from his
chest and drenching his starched shirtfront and waistcoat. Koroviev placed
the skull under the pulsating stream of blood and when the goblet was full
handed it to Woland. The Baron's lifeless body had meanwhile crumpled to the
' Your health, ladies and gentlemen,' said Woland and raised the goblet
to his lips.
An instant metamorphosis took place. The nightshirt and darned slippers
vanished. Woland was wearing a black gown with a sword at his hip. He strode
over to Margarita, offered her the goblet and said in a commanding voice :
Margarita felt dizzy, but the cup was already at her lips and a voice
was whispering in her ears :
' Don't be afraid, your majesty . . . don't be afraid, your majesty,
the blood has long since drained away into the earth and grapes have grown
on the spot.'
Her eyes shut, Margarita took a sip and the sweet juice ran through her
veins, her ears rang. She was deafened by cocks crowing, a distant band
played a march. The crowd of guests faded--the tailcoated men and the women
withered to dust and before her eyes the bodies began to rot, the stench of
the tomb filled the air. The columns dissolved, the lights went out, the
fountains dried up and vanished with the camellias and the tulips. All that
remained was what had been there before : poor Berlioz's drawing-room, with
a shaft of light falling through its half-open door. Margarita opened it
wide and went in.
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