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But what happened in Moscow after sunset on that Saturday evening when Woland and his followers left the capital and vanished from Sparrow Hills?

There is no need to mention the flood of incredible rumours which buzzed round Moscow for long afterwards and even spread to the dimmest and most distant reaches of the provinces. The rumours are, in any case, too nauseating to repeat.

On a train journey to Theodosia, the honest narrator himself heard a story of how in Moscow two thousand people had rushed literally naked out of a theatre and were driven home in taxis.

The whispered words ' evil spirits ' could be heard in milk queues and tram queues, in shops, flats and kitchens, in commuter trains and long-distance expresses, on stations and halts, in weekend cottages and on beaches.

Educated and cultured people, of course, took no part in all this gossip about evil spirits descending on Moscow, and even laughed at those who did, and tried to bring them to reason. But facts, as they say, are facts and they could not be brushed aside without some explanation : someone had come to Moscow. The few charred cinders which were all that was left of Griboyedov, and much more besides, were eloquent proof of it.

Cultured people took the viewpoint of the police : a gang of brilliantly skilful hypnotists and ventriloquists had been at work.

Immediate and energetic steps; to arrest them in Moscow and beyond were naturally taken but unfortunately without the least result. The man calling himself Woland and all his followers had vanished from Moscow never to return there or anywhere else. He was ot course suspected of having escaped abroad, but there was no sign of his being there either.

The investigation of his case lasted for a long time. It was certainly one of the strangest on record. Besides four gutted buildings and hundreds of people driven out of their minds, several people had been killed. At least, two of them were definitely known to have been killed--Berlioz, and that wretched guide to the sights of Moscow, ex-baron Maigel. His charred bones were found in flat No. 50 after the fire had been put out. Violence had been done and violence could not go unchecked.

But there were other victims who suffered as a result of Woland's stay in Moscow and these were, sad to say, black cats.

A good hundred of these peaceful, devoted and useful animals were shot or otherwise destroyed in various parts of the country. Thirty-odd cats, some in a cruelly mutilated condition, were handed in to police stations in various towns. In Armavir, for instance, one of these innocent creatures was brought to the police station with its forelegs tied up.

The man had ambushed the cat just as the animal, wearing a very furtive expression (how can cats help looking furtive? It is not because they are depraved but because they are afraid of being hurt by creatures stronger than they are, such as dogs and people. It is easy enough to hurt them but it is not something that anyone need be proud of)--well, with this furtive look the cat was just about to jump into some bushes.

Pouncing on the cat and pulling off his tie to pinion it, the man snarled threateningly:

'Aha! So you've decided to come to Armavir, have you, you hypnotist? No good pretending to be dumb! We know all about you!'

The man took the cat to the police station, dragging the wretched beast along by its front legs, which were bound with a green tie so that it was forced to walk on its hind legs.

'Stop playing the fool! ' shouted the man, surrounded by a crowd of hooting boys, ' No good trying that trick--walk properly! '

The black cat could only suffer in silence. Deprived by nature of the gift of speech, it had no means of justifying itself. The poor creature owed its salvation largely to the police and to its mistress, an old widow. As soon as the cat was delivered to the police station it was found that the man smelled violently of spirits, which made him a dubious witness. Meanwhile the old woman, hearing from her neighbour that her cat had been abducted, ran to the police station and arrived in time. She gave the cat a glowing reference, saying that she had had it for five years, since it was a kitten in fact, would vouch for it as she would for herself, proved that it had not been caught in any mischief and had never been to Moscow. It had been born in Armavir, had grown up there and learned to catch mice there.

The cat was untied and returned to its owner, though having learned by bitter experience the consequences of error and slander.

A few other people besides cats suffered minor inconvenience. Several arrests were made. Among those arrested for a short time were--in Leningrad one man called Wollman and one called Wolper, three Woldemars in Saratov, Kiev and Kharkhov, a Wallach in Kazan, and for some obscure reason a chemist in Penza by the name of Vetchinkevich. He was, it is true, a very tall man with a dark complexion and black hair.

Apart from that nine Korovins, four Korovkins and two Karavaevs were picked up in various places. One man was taken off the Sebastopol train in handcuffs at Belgorod station for having tried to amuse his fellow-passengers with card tricks.

One lunchtime at Yaroslavl a man walked into a restaurant carrying a Primus, which he had just had repaired. As soon as they caught sight of him the two cloak-room attendants abandoned their post and ran, followed by all the customers and staff. Afterwards the cashier found that all her day's takings had been stolen.

There was more, much more than anyone can remember. A shock-wave of disquiet ran through the country.

It cannot be said too often that the police did an admirable job, given the circumstances. Everything possible was done, not only to catch the criminals but to provide explanations for what they had done. A reason was found for everything and one must admit that the explanations were undeniably sensible.

Spokesmen for the police and a number of experienced psychiatrists established that the members of the gang, or perhaps one of them (suspicion fell chiefly on Koroviev) were hypnotists of incredible skill, capable of appearing to be in two or more places at once. Furthermore, they were frequently able to persuade people that things or people were where they weren't, or, vice-versa, they could remove objects or people from someone's field of vision that were really there all the time.

In the light of this information everything was explicable, even the extraordinary incident of the bullet-proof cat in flat No. 50. There had, of course, been no cat on the chandelier, no one had fired back at the detectives ; they had been firing at nothing while Koroviev, who had made them believe that there was a cat going berserk on the chandelier, had obviously been standing behind the detectives' backs and deploying his colossal though criminally misused powers of suggestion. It was he, of course, who had poured paraffin all over the room and set fire to it.

Stepa Likhodeyev, of course, had never been to Yalta at all (a trick like that was beyond even Koroviev) and had sent no telegram from Yalta. After fainting in the doorway of his bedroom, frightened by Koroviev's trick of producing a cat eating a pickled mushroom on a fork, he had lain there until Koroviev had rammed a sheepskin hat on his head and sent him to Moscow airport, suggesting to the reception committee of detectives that Stepa was really climbing out of an aeroplane that had flown from Sebastopol.

It is true that the Yalta police claimed to have seen Stepa and to have sent telegrams about him to Moscow, but not a single copy of these telegrams was to be found, which led to the sad but incontrovertible conclusion that the band of hypnotists had the power of hypnotising people at vast distances and then not only individuals but whole groups.

This being the case the criminals were obviously capable of sending even the sanest people mad, so that trivia like packs of cards in a man's pocket or vanishing ladies' dresses or a beret that turned into a cat and suchlike were scarcely worth mentioning. Tricks like that could be done by any mediocre hypnotist on any stage, including the old dodge of wrenching off the compere's head. The talking cat was child's play, too. To show people a talking cat one only had to know the first principles of ventriloquy, and clearly Koroviev's abilities went far beyond basic principles.

No, packs of cards and false letters in Nikanor Ivanovich's briefcase were mere trifles. It was he, Koroviev, who had pushed Berlioz to certain death under the tramcar. It was he who had driven the wretched poet Ivan Bezdomny out of his mind, he who had given him nightmares about ancient Jerusalem and parched, sun-baked Mount Golgotha with the three crucified men. It was he and his gang who had spirited Margarita Niko-layevna and her maid away from Moscow. The police, incidentally, paid special attention to this aspect of the case, trying to discover whether these women had been kidnapped by this gang of murderers and arsonists or whether they had voluntarily run away with the criminals. Basing their findings on the ridiculous and confused evidence provided by Nikolai Ivanovich, taking into account the insane note that Margarita Nikolayevna had left for her husband to say that she was becoming a witch, and considering the fact that Natasha had vanished leaving all her movables at home, the investigators came to the conclusion that both maid and mistress had been hypnotised like so many others and then kidnapped by the gang. There was always, of course, the likely consideration that the crooks had been attracted by two such pretty women.

However, one thing baffled the police completely--what could have been the gang's motive for abducting a mental patient, who called himself the master, from a psychiatric clinic? This completely eluded them, as did the abducted patient's real name. He was therefore filed away for ever under the pseudonym of 'No. 118, Block i.'

Thus nearly everything was explained away and the investigation, as all good things must, came to an end.

Years passed and people began to forget about Woland, Koroviev and the rest. Many things changed in the lives of those who had suffered at the hands of Woland and his associates, and however minor these changes may have been they are still worth following up.

George Bengalsky, for example, after three months in hospital, recovered and was sent home, but he had to give up his job at the Variety at the busiest time of the season, when the public was storming the theatre for tickets : the memory of the black magic and its revelations was too unbearable. Bengalsky gave up the Variety because he realised that he could not stand the agony of standing up in front of two thousand people every evening, being inevitably recognised and endlessly subjected to jeering questions about how he preferred to be--with or without his head? Apart from that the compere had lost a lot of the cheerfulness which is essential in his job. He developed a nasty, compulsive habit of falling into a depression every spring at the full moon, of suddenly grabbing his neck, staring round in terror and bursting into tears. These attacks did not last for long, but nevertheless since he did have them he could hardly go on doing his old job, and the compere retired and began living on his savings which, by his modest reckoning, were enough to keep him for fifty years.

He left and never again saw Varenukha, who had acquired universal love and popularity for his incredible charm and politeness, remarkable even for a theatre manager. The free-ticket hounds, for instance, regarded him as their patron saint. At whatever hour they rang the Variety, through the receiver would always come his soft, sad: ' Hello,' and if the caller asked for Varenukha to be brought to the telephone the same voice hastened to reply : ' Speaking--at your service.' But how Ivan Savyelich had suffered for his politeness!

You can no longer speak to Stepa Likhodeyev if you telephone the Variety. Immediately after his week's stay in hospital, Stepa was transferred to Rostov where he was made the manager of a large delicatessen store. There are rumours that he never touches port these days, that he only drinks vodka distilled from blackcurrants and is much healthier for it. They say, too, that he is very silent these days and avoids women.

Stepan Bogdanovich's removal from the Variety did not bring Rimsky the joy he had dreamed of for so many years. After hospital and a cure at Kislovodsk, the treasurer, now an old, old man with a shaking head, tendered his resignation. It was Rimsky's wife who brought his letter of resignation to the theatre : Grigory Danilovich himself could not find the strength, even in daytime, to revisit the building where he had seen the moonlit windowpane rattling and the long arm reaching down to grasp the catch.

Having retired from the Variety, Rimsky got a job at the children's marionette theatre on the far side of the Moscow River. Here he never even had to deal with Arkady Apollonich Sempleyarov on the subject of acoustics, because he in turn had been transferred to Bryansk and put in charge of a mushroom-canning plant. Now Muscovites eat his salted chanterelles and his pickled button-mushrooms and they are so delicious that everybody is delighted with Arkady Apollonich's change of job. It is all so long ago now that there is no harm in saying that Arkady Appollonich never had much success at improving the acoustics of Moscow's theatres anyway, and the situation is much the same today.

Apart from Arkady Apollonich, several other people have given up the theatre for good, among them Nikanor Ivanovich Bosoi, even though his only link with the theatre was a fondness for free tickets. Nowadays Nikanor Ivanovich not only refuses to accept free tickets : he wouldn't set foot inside a theatre if you paid him and he even turns pale if the subject crops up in conversation. More than the theatre he now loathes both Pushkin and that gifted artiste, Savva Potapovich Kurolesov;

in fact he detests that actor to such a degree that last year, catching sight of a black-bordered announcement in the newspaper that Sawa Potapovicb had been struck down in the prime of life by a heart attack, Nikanor Ivanovich turned such a violent shade of purple that he almost joined Savva Potapovich, and he roared:

'Serve him right! '

What is more, the actor's death stirred so many painful memories for Nikanor Ivanovich that he went out and, with the full moon for company, got blind drunk. With every glass that he drank the row of hated figures lengthened in front of him-- there stood Sergei Gerardovich Dunchill, there stood the beautiful Ida Herkulanovna, there stood the red-bearded man and his herd of fearsome geese.

And what happened to them? Nothing. Nothing could ever happen to them because they never existed, just as the compere, the theatre itself, the miserly old aunt hoarding currency in her cellar and the rude cooks never existed either. Nikanor Ivanovich had dreamed it all under the evil influence of the beastly Koroviev. The only real person in his dream was Sawa Potapovich the actor, who got involved merely because Ivanor Ivanovich had so often heard him on the radio. Unlike all the others, he was real.

So perhaps Aloysius Mogarych did not exist either? Far from it. Aloysius Mogarych is still with us, in the very job that Rimsky gave up--treasurer of the Variety Theatre.

About twenty-four hours after his call on Woland, Aloysius had regained consciousness in a train somewhere near Vyatka. Finding that he had absentmindedly left Moscow without his trousers but had somehow brought his landlord's rent-book with him, Aloysius had given the conductor a colossal tip, borrowed a pair of filthy old trousers from him and turned back to Moscow from Vyatka. But he failed to find his landlord's house. The ancient pile had been burnt to the ground. Aloysius, however, was extremely ingenious. Within a fortnight he had moved into an excellent room in Bryusov Street and a few months later he was installed in Rimsky's office. Just as Rimsky had suffered under Stepa, Varenukha's life was now made a misery by Aloysius. Ivan Savyelich's one and only wish is for Aloysius to be removed as far away from the Variety as possible because, as Varenukha sometimes whispers among his close friends, ' he has never met such a swine in his life as that Aloysius and he wouldn't be surprised at anything Aloysius might do '.

The house manager is perhaps biased. Aloysius is not known to have done anything suspicious--indeed he does not appear to have done anything at all, except of course to appoint another barman in place of Sokov. Andrei Fokich died of cancer of the liver nine months after Woland's visit to Moscow. . . .

More years passed and the events described in this truthful account have faded from most people's memories--with a few exceptions.

Every year, at the approach of the vernal full moon, a man of about thirty or a little more can be seen walking towards the lime trees of Patriarch's Ponds. A reddish-haired, green-eyed, modestly dressed man. He is Professor Ivan Nikolayich Poniryov of the Institute of History and Philosophy.

When he reaches the lime trees he always sits down on the same bench on which he sat that evening when Berlioz, now long forgotten by everybody, saw the moon shatter to fragments for the last time in his life. Now that moon, whole and in one piece, white in the early evening and later golden with its outline of a dragon-horse, floats over the erstwhile poet Ivan Nikolayich while seeming to stand still.

Ivan Nikolayich now knows and understands everything. He knows that as a young man he fell victim to some crooked hypnotists, went to hospital and was cured. But he knows that there is still something that is beyond his control. He cannot control what happens at the springtime full moon. As soon as it draws near, as soon as that heavenly body begins to reach that fullness it once had when it hung in the sky high above the two seven-branched candlesticks, Ivan Nikolayich grows uneasy and irritable, loses his appetite, cannot sleep and waits for the moon to wax. When full moon comes nothing can keep Ivan Nikolayich at home. Towards evening he leaves home and goes to Patriarch's Ponds.

As he sits on the bench Ivan Nikolayich openly talks to himself, smokes, peers at the moon or at the familiar turnstile.

Ivan Nikolayich spends an hour or two there, then gets up and walks, always following the same route, across Spiridonovka Street with unseeing eyes towards the side-streets near the Arbat.

He passes an oil-shop, turns by a crooked old gas lamp and creeps up to some railings through which he can see a garden that is splendid, though not yet in flower, and in it--lit on one side by moonlight, dark on the other, with an attic that has a triple-casement window--a house in the Gothic style.

The professor never knows what draws him to those railings or who lives in that house, but he knows that it is useless to fight his instinct at full moon. He knows, too, that in the garden beyond the railings he will inevitably see the same thing every time.

He sees a stout, elderly man sitting on a bench, a man with a beard, a pince-nez and very, very slightly piggish features. Ivan Nikolayich always finds that tenant of the Gothic house in the same dreamy attitude, his gaze turned towards the moon. Ivan Nikolayich knows that having stared at the moon the seated man will turn and look hard at the attic windows, as though expecting them to be flung open and something unusual to appear on the windowsill.

The rest, too, Ivan Nikolayich knows by heart. At this point he has to duck down behind the railings, because the man on the bench begins to twist his head anxiously, his wandering eyes seeking something in the air. He smiles in triumph, then suddenly clasps his hands in delicious agony and mutters quite distinctly:

'Venus! Venus! Oh, what a fool I was . . .!'

'Oh God,' Ivan Nikolayich starts to whisper as he hides behind the railings with his burning gaze fixed on the mysterious stranger. ' Another victim of the moon . . . Another one like me . . .'

And the man goes on talking :

'Oh, what a fool I was! Why, why didn't I fly away with her? What was I afraid of, stupid old ass that I am? I had to ask for that document! . . . Well, you must just put up with it, you old cretin!' So it goes on until a window opens on the dark side of the house, something white appears in it and an unpleasant female voice rings out:

'Where are you, Nikolai Ivanovich? What the hell are you doing out there? Do you want to catch malaria? Come and drink your tea! '

At this the man blinks and says in a lying voice :

'I'm just having a breath of fresh air, my dear! The air out here is so nice! '

Then he gets up from his bench, furtively shakes his fist at the window which has just closed and stumps indoors.

'He's lying, he's lying! Oh God, how he's lying! ' mumbles Ivan Nikolayich as he walks from the railings. ' He doesn't come down to the garden for the fresh air--he sees something in that springtime sky, something high above the garden! What wouldn't I give to find out his secret, to know who the Venus is that he lost and now tries vainly to catch by waving his arms in the air.'

The professor returns home a sick man. His wife pretends not to notice it and hurries him into bed, but she stays up and sits by the lamp with a book, watching the sleeping man with a bitter look. She knows that at dawn Ivan Nikolayich will wake up with an agonised cry, will start to weep and rave. That is why she keeps in front of her on the tablecloth a hypodermic syringe ready in a dish of spirit and an ampoule of liquid the colour of strong tea.

Later the poor woman is free to go to sleep without misgiving. After his injection Ivan Nikolayich will sleep until morning with a calm expression and he will dream, unknown to her, dreams that are sublimely happy.

It is always the same thing that wakens the scholar and wrings that pitiful cry from him. He sees a strange, noseless executioner who, jumping up and uttering a grunt as he does so, pierces the heart of the maddened Hestas, lashed to a gibbet. But what makes the dream so horrible is not so much the executioner as the lurid, unnatural light that comes from a cloud, seething and drenching the earth, of the kind that only accompanies natural disasters.

After his injection the sleeper's vision changes. From the bed to the moon stretches a broad path of moonlight and up it is climbing a man in a white cloak with a blood-red lining. Beside him walks a young man in a torn chiton and with a disfigured face. The two are talking heatedly, arguing, trying to agree about something.

'Ye gods! ' says the man in the cloak, turning his proud face to his companion. ' What a disgusting method of execution! But please, tell me,'--here the pride in his face turns to supplication--' it did not take place, did it? I beg you--tell me that it never took place? '

'No, of course it never took place,' answers his companion in a husky voice. ' It was merely your imagination.'

'Can you swear to that? ' begged the man in the cloak.

'I swear it! ' answers his companion, his eyes smiling.

'That is all I need to know! ' gasps the man in the cloak as he strides on towards the moon, beckoning his companion on. Behind them walks a magnificently calm, gigantic dog with pointed ears.

Then the moonbeam begins to shake, a river of moonlight floods out of it and pours in all directions. From the flood materialises a woman of incomparable beauty and leads towards Ivan a man with a stubble-grown face, gazing fearfully round him. Ivan Nikolayich recognises him at once. It is No. 118, his nocturnal visitor. In his dream Ivan stretches out his arms towards him and asks greedily :

'So was that how it ended? '

'That is how it ended, disciple,' replies No. 118 as the woman approaches Ivan and says :

'Of course. It has ended ; and everything has an end . . . I'll kiss you on the forehead and everything will be as it should be . . .'

She leans over Ivan and kisses him on the forehead and Ivan strains towards her to look into her eyes, but she draws back, draws back and walks away towards the moon with her companion. . . .

Then the moon goes mad, deluges Ivan with streams of light, sprays light everywhere, a moonlight flood invades the room, the light sways, rises, drowns the bed. It is then that Ivan sleeps with a look of happiness on his face.

In the morning he wakes silent, but quite calm and well. His bruised memory has subsided again and until the next full moon no one will trouble the professor--neither the noseless man who killed Hestas nor the cruel Procurator of Judaea, fifth in that office, the knight Pontius Pilate.

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