The Affair at Griboyedov
It was an old two-storied house, painted cream, that stood on the ring
boulevard behind a ragged garden, fenced off from the pavement by
wrought-iron railings. In winter the paved front courtyard was usually full
of shovelled snow, whilst in summer, shaded by a canvas awning, it became a
delightful outdoor extension to the club restaurant.
The house was called ' Griboyedov House ' because it might once have
belonged to an aunt of the famous playwright Alexander Sergeyevich
Griboyedov. Nobody really knows for sure whether she ever owned it or not.
People even say that Griboyedov never had an aunt who owned any such
property. . . . Still, that was its name. What is more, a dubious tale used
to circulate in Moscow of how in the round, colonnaded salon on the second
floor the famous writer had once read extracts from Woe From Wit to that
same aunt as she reclined on a sofa. Perhaps he did ; in any case it doesn't
It matters much more that this house now belonged to MASSOLIT, which
until his excursion to Patriarch's Ponds was headed by the unfortunate
Mikhail Alexandrovich Berlioz. No one, least of all the members of MASSOLIT,
called the place ' Griboyedov House '. Everyone simply called it' Griboyedov
' I spent a couple of hours lobbying at Griboyedov yesterday.'
' Wangled myself a month in Yalta.'
' Good for you! '
Or : ' Go to Berlioz--he's seeing people from four to five this
afternoon at Griboyedov . . .'--and so on.
MASSOLIT had installed itself in Griboyedov very comfortably indeed. As
you entered you were first confronted with a notice-board full of
announcements by the various sports clubs, then with the photographs of
every individual member of MASSOLIT, who were strung up (their photographs,
of course) along the walls of the staircase leading to the first floor.
On the door of the first room on the upper storey was a large notice :
' Angling and Weekend Cottages ', with a picture of a carp caught on a hook.
On the door of the second room was a slightly confusing notice: '
Writers' day-return rail warrants. Apply to M.V. Podlozhnaya.'
The next door bore a brief and completely incomprehensible legend: '
Perelygino'. From there the chance visitor's eye would be caught by
countless more notices pinned to the aunt's walnut doors : ' Waiting List
for Paper--Apply to Poklevkina ';
' Cashier's Office '; ' Sketch-Writers : Personal Accounts ' . . .
At the head of the longest queue, which started downstairs at the
porter's desk, was a door under constant siege labelled ' Housing Problem'.
Past the housing problem hung a gorgeous poster showing a cliff, along
whose summit rode a man on a chestnut horse with a rifle slung over his
shoulder. Below were some palm-trees and a balcony. On it sat a shock-haired
young man gazing upwards with a bold, urgent look and holding a fountain pen
in his hands. The wording read : ' All-in Writing Holidays, from two weeks
(short story, novella) to one year (novel, trilogy): Yalta, Suuk-Su,
Borovoye, Tsikhidziri, Makhinjauri, Leningrad (Winter Palace).' There was a
queue at this door too, but not an excessively long one--only about a
hundred and fifty people.
Following the erratic twists, the steps up and steps down of
Griboyedov's corridors, one found other notices : 'MASSOLIT-Management',
'Cashiers Nos. 2, 5, 4, 5,' 'Editorial Board', ' MASSOLIT-Chairman',
'Billiard Room', then various subsidiary organisations and finally that
colonnaded salon where the aunt had listened with such delight to the
readings of his comedy by her brilliant nephew.
Every visitor to Griboyedov, unless of course he were completely
insensitive, was made immediately aware of how good life was for the lucky
members of MASSOLIT and he would at once be consumed with black envy. At
once, too, he would curse heaven for having failed to endow him at birth
with literary talent, without which, of course, no one could so much as
dream of acquiring a MASSOLIT membership card--that brown card known to all
Moscow, smelling of expensive leather and embellished with a wide gold
Who is prepared to say a word in defence of envy? It is a despicable
emotion, but put yourself in the visitor's place : what he had seen on the
upper fliia was by no means all. The entire ground floor of the aunt's house
was occupied by a restaurant-- and what a restaurant! It was rightly
considered the best in Moscow. Not only because it occupied two large rooms
with vaulted ceilings and lilac-painted horses with flowing manes, not only
because every table had a lamp shaded with lace, not only because it was
barred to the hoi polloi, but above all for the quality of its food.
Griboyedov could beat any restaurant in Moscow you cared to name and its
prices were extremely moderate.
There is therefore nothing odd in the conversation which the author of
these lines actually overheard once outside the iron railings of Griboyedov
' Where are you dining today, Ambrose? '
' What a question! Here, of course, Vanya! Archibald Archibaldovich
whispered to me this morning that there's filets de perche an naturel on the
menu tonight. Sheer virtuosity! '
' You do know how to live, Ambrose! ' sighed Vanya, a thin pinched man
with a carbuncle on his neck, to Ambrose, a strapping, red-lipped,
golden-haired, ruddy-cheeked poet.
' It's no special talent,' countered Ambrose. ' Just a perfectly normal
desire to live a decent, human existence. Now I suppose you're going to say
that you can get perch at the Coliseum. So you can. But a helping of perch
at the Coliseum costs thirty roubles fifty kopecks and here it costs five
fifty! Apart from that the perch at the Coliseum are three days old and
what's more if you go to the Coliseum there's no guarantee you won't get a
bunch of grapes thrown in your face by the first young man to burst in from
Theatre Street. No, I loathe the Coliseum,' shouted Ambrose the gastronome
at the top of his voice. ' Don't try and talk me into liking it, Vanya! '
' I'm not trying to talk you into it, Ambrose,' squeaked Vanya. ' You
might have been dining at home.'
' Thank you very much,' trumpeted Ambrose. ' Just imagine your wife
trying to cook filets de perche an naturel in a saucepan, in the kitchen you
share with half a dozen other people! He, he, he! ... Aurevoir, Vanya! ' And
humming to himself Ambrose hurried oft to the verandah under the awning.
Ha, ha, ha! ... Yes, that's how it used to be! ... Some of us old
inhabitants of Moscow still remember the famous Griboyedov. But boiled
fillets of perch was nothing, my dear Ambrose! What about the sturgeon,
sturgeon in a silver-plated pan, sturgeon filleted and served between
lobsters' tails and fresh caviar? And oeufs en cocotte with mushroom puree
in little bowls? And didn't you like the thrushes' breasts? With truffles?
The quails alia Genovese? Nine roubles fifty! And oh, the band, the polite
waiters! And in July when the whole family's in the country and pressing
literary business is keeping you in town--out on the verandah, in the shade
of a climbing vine, a plate of potage printaniere looking like a golden
stain on the snow-white table-cloth? Do you remember, Ambrose? But of course
you do--I can see from your lips you remember. Not just your salmon or your
perch either--what about the snipe, the woodcock in season, the quail, the
grouse? And the sparkling wines! But I digress, reader.
At half past ten on the evening that Berlioz died at Patriarch's Ponds,
only one upstairs room at Griboyedov was lit. In it sat twelve weary
authors, gathered for a meeting and still waiting for Mikhail Alexandrovich.
Sitting on chairs, on tables and even on the two window ledges, the
management committee of MASSOLIT was suffering badly from the heat and
stuffiness. Not a single fresh breeze penetrated the open window. Moscow was
The Master and Margarita
exuding the heat of the day accumulated in its asphalt and it was
obvious that the night was not going to bring; any relief. There was a smell
of onion coming from the restaurant kitchen in the cellar, everybody wanted
a drink, everybody was nervous and irritable.
Beskudnikov, a quiet, well-dressed essayist with eyes that were at once
attentive yet shifty, took out his watch. The hands were just creeping up to
eleven. Beskudnikov tapped the watch face with his finger and showed it to
his neighbour, the poet Dvubratsky, who was sitting on the table, bored and
swinging his feet shod in yellow rubber-soled slippers.
' Well, really . . .' muttered Dvubratsky.
' I suppose the lad's got stuck out at Klyazma,' said Nastasya
Lukinishna Nepremenova, orphaned daughter of a Moscow business man, who had
turned writer and wrote naval war stories under the pseudonym of ' Bo'sun
' Look here! ' burst out Zagrivov, a writer of popular short stories. '
I don't know about you, but I'd rather be drinking tea out on the balcony
right now instead of stewiing in here. Was this meeting called for ten
o'clock or wasn't it? '
' It must be nice out at Klyazma now,' said IBo'sun George in a tone of
calculated innocence, knowing that the writers' summer colony out at
Perelygino near Klyazma was a sore point. ' I expect the nightingales are
singing there now. Somehow I always seem to work better out of town,
especially in the spring.'
' I've been paying my contributions for three years now to send my sick
wife to that paradise but somehow nothing ever appears on the horizon,' said
Hieronymus Poprikhin the novelist, with bitter venom.
' Some people are lucky and others aren't, that's all,' boomed the
critic Ababkov from the window-ledge.
Bos'un George's little eyes lit up, and softening her contralto rasp
' We mustn't be jealous, comrades. There are only twenty-two dachas,
only seven more are being built, and there are three thousand of us in
' Three thousand one hundred and eleven,' put in someone from a corner.
' Well, there you are,' the Bo'sun went on. ' What can one do?
Naturally the dachas are allocated to those with the most talent. . .'
' They're allocated to the people at the top! ' barked Gluk-haryov, a
Beskudnikov, yawning artificially, left the room.
' One of them has five rooms to himself at Perelygino,' Glukharyov
shouted after him.
' Lavrovich has six rooms to himself,' shouted Deniskin, ' and the
dining-room's panelled in oak! '
' Well, at the moment that's not the point,' boomed Ababkov. ' The
point is that it's half past eleven.'
A noise began, heralding mutiny. Somebody rang up the hated Perelygino
but got through to the wrong dacha, which turned out to belong to Lavrovich,
where they were told that Lavrovich was out on the river. This produced
utter confusion. Somebody made a wild telephone call to the Fine Arts and
Literature Commission, where of course there was no reply.
' He might have rung up! ' shouted Deniskin, Glukharyov and Quant.
Alas, they shouted in vain. Mikhail Alexandrovich was in no state to
telephone anyone. Far, far from Griboyedov, in a vast hall lit by
thousand-candle-power lamps, what had recently been Mikhail Alexandrovich
was lying on three zinc-topped tables. On the first was the naked,
blood-caked body with. a fractured arm and smashed rib-cage, on the second
the head, it;s front teeth knocked in, its vacant open eyes undisturbed by
the blinding light, and on the third--a heap of mangled rags. Round the
decapitated corpse stood the professor of forensic medicine, the
pathological anatomist and his dissector, a few detectives and Mikhail
Alexandrovich's deputy as chairman of MASSOLIT, the writer Zheldybin,
summoned by telephone from the bedside of his sick wife.
A car had been sent for Zheldybin and had first taken him and the
detectives (it was about midnight) to the dead man's flat where his papers
were placed under seal, after which they all drove to the morgue.
The group round the remains of the deceased were conferring on the best
course to take--should they sew the severed head back on to the neck or
allow the body to lie in state in the main hall of Griboyedov covered by a
black cloth as far as the chin?
Yes, Mikhail Alexandrovich was quite incapable of telephoning and
Deniskin, Glukharyov, Quant and Beskudnikov were exciting themselves for
nothing. On the stroke of midnight all twelve writers left the upper storey
and went down to the restaurant. There they said more unkind things about
Mikhail Alexandrovich : all the tables on the verandah were full and they
were obliged to dine in the beautiful but stifling indoor rooms.
On the stroke of midnight the first of these rooms suddenly woke up and
leaped into life with a crash and a roar. A thin male voice gave a desperate
shriek of ' Alleluia!! ' Music. It was the famous Griboyedov jazz band
striking up. Sweat-covered faces lit up, the painted horses on the ceiling
came to life, the lamps seemed to shine brighter. Suddenly, as though
bursting their chains, everybody in the two rooms started dancing, followed
by everybody on the verandah.
Glukharyov danced away with the poetess Tamara Polumesy-atz. Quant
danced, Zhukopov the novelist seized a film actress in a yellow dress and
danced. They all danced--Dragunsky and Cherdakchi danced, little Deniskin
danced with the gigantic Bo'sun George and the beautiful girl architect
Semeikin-Hall was grabbed by a stranger in white straw-cloth trousers.
Members and guests, from Moscow and from out of town, they all danced--the
writer Johann from Kronstadt, a producer called Vitya Kuftik from Rostov
with lilac-coloured eczema all over his face, the leading lights of the
poetry section of MASSOLIT-- Pavianov, Bogokhulsky, Sladky, Shpichkin and
Adelfina Buzdyak, young men of unknown occupation with cropped hair and
shoulders padded with cotton wool, an old, old man with a chive sticking out
of his beard danced with a thin, anaemic girl in an orange silk dress.
Pouring sweat, the waiters carried dripping mugs of beer over the
dancers' heads, yelling hoarsely and venomously ' Sorry, sir! ' Somewhere a
man bellowed through a megaphone:
' Chops once! Kebab twice! Chicken a la King! ' The vocalist was no
longer singing--he was howling. Now and again the crash of cymbals in the
band drowned the noise of dirty crockery flung down a sloping chute to the
scullery. In short--hell.
At midnight there appeared a vision in this hell. On to the verandah
strode a handsome, black-eyed man with a pointed beard and wearing a tail
coat. With regal gaze he surveyed his domain. According to some romantics
there had once been a time when this noble figure had worn not tails but a
broad leather belt round his waist, stuck with pistol-butts, that his
raven-black hair had been tied up in a scarlet kerchief and that his brig
had sailed the Caribbean under the Jolly Roger.
But that, of course, is pure fantasy--the Caribbean doesn't exist, no
desperate buccaneers sail it, no corvette ever chases them, no puffs of
cannon-smoke ever roll across the waves. Pure invention. Look at that
scraggy tree, look at the iron railings, the boulevard. . . . And the ice is
floating in the wine-bucket and at the next table there's a man with
ox-like, bloodshot eyes and it's pandemonium. . . . Oh gods--poison, I need
poison! . . .
Suddenly from one of the tables the word ' Berlioz!! ' flew up and
exploded in the air. Instantly the band collapsed and stopped, as though
someone had punched it. ' What, what, what--what?!! '
' Berlioz!!! '
Everybody began rushing about and screaming.
A wave of grief surged up at the terrible news about Mikhail
Alexandrovich. Someone fussed around shouting that they must all
immediately, here and now, without delay compose a collective telegram and
send it off.
But what telegram, you may ask? And why send it? Send it where? And
what use is a telegram to the man whose battered skull is being mauled by
the rubber hands of a dissector, whose neck is being pierced by the
professor's crooked needles? He's dead, he doesn't want a telegram. It's all
over, let's not overload the post office.
Yes, he's dead . . . but we are still alive!
The wave of grief rose, lasted for a while and then began to recede.
Somebody went back to their table and--furtively to begin with, then
openly--drank a glass of vodka and took a bite to eat. After all, what's the
point of wasting the cotelettes de volatile? What good are we going to do
Mikhail Alexandrovich by going hungry? We're still alive, aren't we?
Naturally the piano was shut and locked, the band went home and a few
journalists left for their newspaper offices to write obituaries. The news
spread that Zheldybin was back from the morgue. He moved into Berlioz's
upstairs office and at once a rumour started that he was going to take over
from Berlioz. Zheldybin summoned all twelve members of the management
committee from the restaurant and in an emergency session they began
discussing such urgent questions as the preparation of the colonnaded hall,
the transfer of the body from the morgue, the times at which members could
attend the lying-in-state and other matters connected with the tragic event.
Downstairs in the restaurant life had returned to normal and would have
continued on its usual nocturnal course until closing time at four, had not
something quite abnormal occurred which shocked the diners considerably more
than the news of Berlioz's death.
The first to be alarmed were the cab drivers waiting outside the gates
of Griboyedov. Jerking up with a start one of them shouted:
' Hey! Look at that!' A little glimmer flared up near the iron railings
and started to bob towards the verandah. Some of the diners stood up, stared
and saw that the nickering light was accompanied by a white apparition. As
it approached the verandah trellis every diner froze, eyes bulging,
sturgeon-laden forks motionless in mid-air. The club porter, who at that
moment had just left the restaurant cloakroom to go outside for a smoke,
stubbed out his cigarette and was just going to advance on the apparition
with the aim of barring its way into the restaurant when for some reason he
changed his mind, stopped and grinned stupidly.
The apparition, passing through an opening in the trellis, mounted the
verandah unhindered. As it did so everyone saw that this was no apparition
but the distinguished poet Ivan Nikolayich Bezdomny.
He was barefoot and wearing a torn, dirty white Russian blouse. To its
front was safety-pinned a paper ikon with a picture of some unknown saint.
He was wearing long white underpants with a lighted candle in his hand and
his right cheek bore a fresh scratch. It would be hard to fathom the depth
of the silence which reigned on the verandah. Beer poured on to the floor
from a mug held sideways by one of the waiters.
The poet raised the candle above his head and said in a loud voice :
' Greetings, friends!' He then looked under the nearest table and
exclaimed with disappointment:
' No, he's not there.'
Two voices were heard. A bass voice said pitilessly : ' An obvious case
The second, a frightened woman's voice enquired nervously :
' How did the police let him on to the streets in that state? '
Ivan Nikolayich heard this and replied :
' They tried to arrest me twice, once in Skatertny Street and once here
on Bronnaya, but I climbed over the fence and that's how I scratched my
cheek! ' Ivan Nikolayich lifted up his candle and shouted: ' Fellow
artists!' (His squeaky voice grew stronger and more urgent.) ' Listen to me,
all of you! He's come! Catch him at once or he'll do untold harm! '
' What's that? What? What did he say? Who's come? ' came the questions
from all sides.
' A professor,' answered Ivan, ' and it was this professor who killed
Misha Berlioz this evening at Patriarch's.'
By now people were streaming on to the verandah from the indoor rooms
and a crowd began milling round Ivan.
' I beg your pardon, would you say that again more clearly? ' said a
low, courteous voice right beside Ivan Nikolayich's ear. ' Tell me, how was
he killed? Who killed him? '
' A foreigner--he's a professor and a spy,' replied Ivan, looking
' What's his name? ' said the voice again into his ear.
' That's just the trouble!' cried Ivan in frustration. ' If only I knew
his name! I couldn't read it properly on his visiting card ... I only
remember the letter ' W '--the name began with a ' W '. What could it have
been? ' Ivan asked himself aloud, clutching his forehead with his hand. '
We, wi, wa . . . wo . . . Walter? Wagner? Weiner? Wegner? Winter? ' The
hairs on Ivan's head started to stand on end from the effort.
' Wolff? ' shouted a woman, trying to help him.
Ivan lost his temper.
' You fool!' he shouted, looking for the woman in the crowd. ' What's
Wolff got to do with it? He didn't do it ... Wo, wa . . . No, I'll never
remember it like this. Now look, everybody-- ring up the police at once and
tell them to send five motorcycles and sidecars with machine-guns to catch
the professor. And don't forget to say that there are two others with him--a
tall fellow in checks with a wobbly pince-nez and a great black cat. . . .
Meanwhile I'm going to search Griboyedov--I can sense that he's here! '
Ivan was by now in a state of some excitement. Pushing the bystanders
aside he began waving his candle about, pouring wax on himself, and started
to look under the tables. Then somebody said ' Doctor! ' and a fat, kindly
face, clean-shaven, smelling of drink and with horn-rimmed spectacles,
appeared in front of Ivan.
' Comrade Bezdomny,' said the face solemnly, ' calm down! You're upset
by the death of our beloved Mikhail Alexandrovich . . . no, I mean plain
Misha Berlioz. We all realise how you feel. You need rest. You'll be taken
home to bed in a moment and then you can relax and forget all about it. . .'
' Don't you realise,' Ivan interrupted, scowling, ' that we've got to
catch the professor? And all you can do is come creeping up to me talking
all this rubbish! Cretin! '
' Excuse me. Comrade Bezdomny! ' replied the face, blushing, retreating
and already wishing it had never let itself get involved in this affair.
' No, I don't care who you are--I won't excuse you,' said Ivan
Nikolayich with quiet hatred.
A spasm distorted his face, he rapidly switched the candle from his
right to his left hand, swung his arm and punched the sympathetic face on
Several people reached the same conclusion at once and hurled
themselves at Ivan. The candle went out, the horn-rims fell off the face and
were instantly smashed underfoot. Ivan let out a dreadful war-whoop audible,
to everybody's embarrassment, as far as the boulevard, and began to defend
himself. There came a tinkle of breaking crockery, women screamed.
While the waiters tied up the poet with dish-cloths, a conversation was
in progress in the cloakroom between the porter and the captain of the brig.
' Didn't you see that he was wearing underpants? ' asked the pirate
' But Archibald Archibaldovich--I'm a coward,' replied the porter, '
how could I stop him from coming in? He's a member!'
' Didn't you see that he was wearing underpants? ' repeated the pirate.
' Please, Archibald Archibaldovich,--' said the porter, turning purple,
' what could I do? I know there are ladies on the ver-andah, but...'
' The ladies don't matter. They don't mind,' replied the pirate,
roasting the porter with his glare. ' But the police mind! There's only one
way a man can walk round Moscow in his underwear--when he's being escorted
by the police on the way to a police station! And you, if you call yourself
a porter, ought to know that if you see a man in that state it's your duty
not to waste a moment but to start blowing your whistle I Do you hear? Can't
you hear what's happening on the verandah? '
The wretched porter could hear the sounds of smashing crockery, groans
and women's screams from the verandah only too well.
' Now what do you propose to do about it? ' enquired the buccaneer.
The skin on the porter's face took on a leprous shade and his eyes went
blank. It seemed to him that the other man's black hair, now neatly parted,
was covered by a fiery silk kerchief. Starched shirtfront and tail-coat
vanished, a pistol was sticking out of his leather belt. The porter saw
himself dangling from the foretop yard-arm, his tongue protruding from his
lifeless, drooping head. He could even hear the waves lapping against the
ship's side. The porter's knees trembled. But the buccaneer took pity on him
and switched off his terrifying glare.
' All right, Nikolai--but mind it never happens again! We can't have
porters like you in a restaurant--you'd better go and be a verger in a
church.' Having said this the captain gave a few rapid, crisp, clear orders:
' Send the barman. Police. Statement. Car. Mental hospital.' And he added :
A quarter of an hour later, to the astonishment of the people in the
restaurant, on the boulevard and at the windows of the surrounding houses,
the barman, the porter, a policeman, a waiter and the poet Ryukhin were to
be seen emerging from the gates of Griboyedov dragging a young man trussed
up like a mummy, who was weeping, spitting, lashing out at Ryukhin and
shouting for the whole street to hear :
' You swine! . . . You swine! . . . '
A buzzing crowd collected, discussing the incredible scene. It was of
course an abominable, disgusting, thrilling, revolting scandal which only
ended when a lorry drove away from the gates of Griboyedov carrying the
unfortunate Ivan Nikolayich, the policeman, the barman and Ryukhin.
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