Chapter 29. The Fate of the Master and Margarita is Decided
At sunset, high above the town, on the stone roof of one of the most beautiful buildings in Moscow, built about a century and a half ago, stood two figures--Woland and Azazello. They were invisible from the street below, hidden from the vulgar gaze by a balustrade adorned with stucco flowers in stucco urns, although they could see almost to the limits of the city.
Woland was sitting on a folding stool, dressed in his black soutane. His long, broad-bladed sword had been rammed vertically into the cleft between two flagstones, making a sundial. Slowly and inexorably the shadow of the sword was lengthening, creeping towards Satan's black slippers. Resting his sharp chin on his fist, hunched on the stool with one leg crossed over the other, Woland stared unwaveringly at the vast panorama of palaces, huge blocks of flats and condemned slum cottages.
Azazello, without his usual garb of jacket, bowler and patent-leather shoes and dressed instead like Woland in black, stood motionless at a short distance from his master, also staring at the city.
'An interesting city, Moscow, don't you think? '
Azazello stirred and answered respectfully :
'I prefer Rome, messire.'
'Yes, it's a matter of taste,' replied Woland.
After a while his voice rang out again:
'What is that smoke over there--on the boulevard? ' ' That is Griboyedov burning,' said Azazello.
'I suppose that inseparable couple, Koroviev and Behemoth, have been there? '
'Without a doubt, messire.'
There was silence again and both figures on the roof stood watching the setting sun reflected in all the westward-facing windows. Woland's eyes shone with the same fire, even though he sat with his back to the sunset.
Then something made Woland turn his attention to a round tower behind him on the roof. From its walls appeared a grim, ragged, mud-spattered man with a beard, dressed in a chiton and home-made sandals.
'Ha! ' exclaimed Wolaud, with a sneer at the approaching figure. ' You are the last person I expected to see here. What brings you here, of all people? '
'I have come to see you, spirit of evil and lord of the shadows,' the man replied with a hostile glare at Woland.
'Well, tax-gatherer, if you've come to see me, why don't you wish me well? '
'Because I have no wish to see you well,' said the man impudently.
'Then I am afraid you will have to reconcile yourself to my good health,' retorted Woland, his mouth twisted into a grin. ' As soon as you appeared on this roof you made yourself ridiculous. It was your tone of voice. You spoke your words as though you denied the very existence of the shadows or of evil. Think, now : where would your good be if there were no evil and what would the world look like without shadow? Shadows are thrown by people and things. There's the shadow of my sword, for instance. But shadows are also cast by trees and living things. Do you want to strip the whole globe by removing every tree and every creature to satisfy your fantasy of a bare world? You're stupid.'
'I won't argue with you, old sophist,' replied Matthew the Levite.
'You are incapable of arguing with me for the reason I have just mentioned--you are too stupid,' answered Woland and enquired: ' Now tell me briefly and without boring me why you are here? '
'He has sent me.'
'What message did he give you, slave? '
'I am not a slave,' replied Matthew the Levite, growing angrier, ' I am his disciple.'
'You and I are speaking different languages, as always,' said Woland, ' but that does not alter the things we are talking about. Well?'
'He has read the master's writings,' said Matthew the Levite, ' and asks you to take the master with you and reward him by granting him peace. Would that be hard for you to do, spirit of evil?'
'Nothing is hard for me to do,' replied Woland, ' as you well know.' He paused for a while and then added : ' Why don't you take him yourself, to the light? '
'He has not earned light, he has earned rest,' said the Levite sadly.
'Tell him it shall be done,' said Woland, adding with a flash in his eye : ' And leave me this instant.'
'He asks you also to take the woman who loved him and who has suffered for him,' Matthew said to Woland, a note of entreaty in his voice for the first time.
'Do you think that we needed you to make us think of that? Go away.'
Matthew the Levite vanished and Woland called to Azazello :
'Go and see them and arrange it.'
Azazello flew off, leaving Woland alone.
He was not, however, alone for long. The sound of footsteps and animated voices were heard along the roof, and Koroviev and Behemoth appeared. This time the cat had no Primus but was loaded with other things. It was carrying a small gold-framed landscape under one arm, a half-burned cook's apron in its paw, and on its other arm was a whole salmon complete with skin and tail. Both Koroviev and Behemoth smclled of burning. Behemoth's face was covered in soot and his cap was badly burned.
'Greetings, messire,' cried the tireless pair, and Behemoth waved his salmon.
'You're a fine couple,' said Woland.
'Imagine, messire! ' cried Behemoth excitedly : ' they thought I was looting! '
'Judging by that stuff,' replied Woland with a glance at the painting, ' they were right.'
'Believe me, messire . . .' the cat began in an urgently sincere voice.
'No, I don't believe you,' was Woland's short answer.
'Messire, I swear I made heroic efforts to save everything I could, but this was all that was left.'
‘ It would be more interesting if you were to explain why Griboyedov caught fire in the first place.'
Simultaneously Koroviev and Behemoth spread their hands and raised their eyes to heaven. Behemoth exclaimed: ' It's a complete mystery! There we were, harming no one, sitting quietly having a drink and a bite to eat when . . .'
'. . . Suddenly--bang, bang, bang! We were being shot at! Crazed with fright Behemoth and I started running for the street, our pursuers behind us, and we made for Timiryazev! '
'But a sense of duty,' put in Behemoth, ' overcame our cowardice and we went back.'
'Ah, you went back did you? ' said Woland. ' By then, of course, the whole house was burnt to a cinder.'
'To a cinder! ' Koroviev nodded sadly. ' Literally to a cinder, as you so accurately put it. Nothing but smouldering ashes.'
'I rushed into the assembly hall,' said Behemoth, '--the col-onnaded room, messire--in case I could save something valuable. Ah, messire, if I had a wife she would have been nearly widowed at least twenty times! Luckily I'm not married and believe me I'm glad. Who'd exchange a bachelor's life for a yoke round his neck?'
'More of his rubbish,' muttered Woland with a resigned glance upwards.
'Messire, I promise to keep to the point,' said the cat. ' As I was saying--I could only save this little landscape. There was no time to salvage anything else, the flames were singeing my fur. I ran to the larder and rescued this salmon, and into the kitchen where I found this chef's overall. I consider I did everything I could, messire, and I fail to understand the sceptical expression on your face.'
'And what was Koroviev doing while you were looting? ' enquired Woland.
'I was helping the fire brigade, messire,' answered Koroviev, pointing to his torn trousers.
'In that case I suppose it was totally destroyed and they will have to put up a new building.'
'It will be built, messire,' said Koroviev, ' I can assure you of that.'
'Well, let us hope it will be better than the old one,' remarked Woland.
'It will, messire,' said Koroviev.
'Believe me, it will,' added the cat. ' My sixth sense tells me
'Nevertheless here we are, messire,' Koroviev reported, ' and we await your instructions.'
Woland rose from his stool, walked over to the balustrade and turning his back on his retinue stared for a long time over the city in lonely silence. Then he turned back, sat down on his stool again and said :
'I have no instructions. You have done all you could and for the time being I no longer require your services. You may rest. A thunderstorm is coming and then we must be on our way.'
‘ Very good, messire,' replied the two buffoons and vanished behind the round tower in the centre of the roof.
The thunderstorm that Woland bad predicted was already gathering on the horizon. A black cloud was rising in the west;
first a half and then all of the sun was blotted out. The wind on the terrace freshened. Soon it was quite dark.
The cloud from the west enveloped the vast city. Bridges, buildings, were all swallowed up. Everything vanished as though it had never been. A single whip-lash of fire cracked across the sky, then the city rocked to a clap of thunder. There came another ; the storm had begun. In the driving rain Woland was no more to be seen.