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The Master and Margarita.  Mikhail Bulgakov
Chapter 23. Satan's Rout
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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 discomfort.

'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:

'Alleluia!'

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,' whispered Koroviev.

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 this platform.'

'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 Margot.'

'I should think not', said the cat.

'Ten seconds to midnight,' said Koroviev, ' it will begin in a moment.'

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 staircase.

'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 the steps.

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 next arrival.

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 the cat:

'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 full moon.'

'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 majesty! '

'Today you may get drunk, Frieda, and forget about everything,' said Margarita.

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 behind her.

'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 rhythmically.

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 being neglected.'

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 the air.

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 imploring--Frieda.

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 free.'

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 he is.'

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 foreign visitors.'

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 Koroviev.

'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 floor.

'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 :

'Drink!'

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.