30. Time to Go

‘Do you know,’ said Margarita, ‘ that just as you were going to sleep last night I was reading about the mist that came in from the Mediterranean . . . and those idols, ah, those golden idols! Somehow I co’uldn’t get them out of my mind. I think it’s going to rain soon. Can you feel how it’s freshening? ‘

‘That’s all very fine,’ replied the master, smoking and fanning the smoke away with his hand. ‘ loot’s forget about the idols . . . but what’s to become of us now, I’d like to know? ‘

This conversation took place at sunset, just when Matthew the Levite appeared to Woland on the roof. The basement window was open and if anybody had looked into it he would have been struck by the odd appearance of the two people. Margarita had a plain black gown over her naked body and the master was in his hospital pyjamas. Margarita had nothing else to wear. She had left all her clothes at home and although her top-floor flat was not far away there was, of course, no question of her going there to collect her belongings. As for the master, all of whose suits were back in the wardrobe as though he had never left, he simply did not feel like getting dressed because, as he explained to Margarita, he had a premonition that some more nonsense might be on the way. He had, however, had his first proper shave since that autumn night, because the hospital staff had done no more than trim his beard with electric clippers.

The room, too, looked strange and it was hard to discern any order beneath the chaos. Manuscripts lay all over the floor and the divan. A Ibook was lying, spine upwards, on the armchair. The round table was laid for supper, several bottles standing among the plates of food. Margarita and the master had no idea where all this food and drink had come from–it had simply been there on the table when they woke up.

Having slept until Saturday evening both the master and his love felt completely revived and only one symptom reminded them of their adventures of the night before–both of them felt a slight ache in the left temple. Psychologically both of them had changed considerably, as anyone would have realised who overheard their conversation. But there was no one to overhear them. The advantage of the little yard was that it was always empty. The lime tree and the maple, turning greener with every day, exhaled the perfume of spring and the rising breeze carried it into the basement.

‘The devil! ‘ the master suddenly exclaimed. ‘ Just think of it . . .’ He stubbed out his cigarette in the ashtray and clasped his head in his hands. ‘ Listen–you’re intelligent and you haven’t been in the madhouse as I have … do you seriously believe that we spent last night with Satan? ‘

‘Quite seriously, I do . . .’

‘Oh, of course, of course,’ said the master ironically. ‘ There are obviously two lunatics in the family now–husband and wife!’ He raised his arms to heaven and shouted : ‘ No, the devil knows what it was! . . .’

Instead of replying Margarita collapsed onto the divan, burst into laughter, waved her bare legs in the air and practically shouted :

‘Oh, I can’t help it … I can’t help it … If you could only see yourself! ‘

When the master, embarrassed, had buttoned up his hospital pants, Margarita grew serious.

‘Just now you unwittingly spoke the truth,’ she said. ‘ The devil does know what it was and the devil believe me, will arrange everything! ‘ Her eyes suddenly flashed, she jumped up, danced for joy and shouted: ‘ I’m so happy, so happy, happy, that I made that bargain with him! Hurrah for the devil! I’m afraid, my dear, that you’re doomed to live with a witch! ‘ She flung herself at the master, clasped him round the neck and began kissing his lips, his nose, his cheeks. Floods of unkempt black hair caressed the master’s neck and shoulders while his face burned with kisses.

‘You really are like a witch.’

‘I don’t deny it,’ replied Margarita. ‘ I’m a witch and I’m very glad of it.’

‘All right,’ said the master,’ so you’re a witch. Fine, splendid. They’ve abducted me from the hospital–equally splendid. And they’ve brought us back here, let us grant them that too. Let’s even assume that neither of us will be caught . . . But what, in the name of all that’s holy, are we supposed to live on? Tell me that, will you? You seem to care so little about the problem that it really worries me.’

Just then a pair of blunt-toed boots and the lower part of a pair of trousers appeared in the little basement window. Then the trousers bent at the knee and the daylight was shut out by a man’s ample bottom.

‘Aloysius–are you there, Aloysius? ‘ asked a voice from slightly above the trousers.

‘It’s beginning,’ said the master.

‘Aloysius? ‘ asked Margarita, moving closer to the window. ‘ He was arrested yesterday. Who wants him? What’s your name?’

Instantly the knees and bottom vanished, there came the click of the gate and everything returned to normal. Again, Margarita collapsed on to the divan and laughed until tears started from her eyes. When the fit was over her expression changed completely, she grew serious, slid down from the divan and crawled over to the master’s knees. Staring him in the eyes, she began to stroke his head.

‘How you’ve suffered, my poor love! I’m the only one who knows how much you’ve suffered. Look, there are grey and white threads in your hair and hard lines round your mouth. My sweetest love, forget everything and stop worrying. You’ve had to do too much thinking ; now I’m going to think for you. I swear to you that everything is going to be perfect! ‘ ‘ I’m not afraid of anything, Margot,’ the master suddenly replied, raising his head and looking just as he had when he had created that world he had never seen yet knew to be true. ‘ I’m not afraid, simply because I have been through everything that a man can go through. I’ve been so frightened that nothing frightens me any longer. But I feel sorry for you, Margot, that’s the point, that’s why I keep coming back to the same question. Think, Margarita–why ruin your life for a sick pauper? Go back home. I feel sorry for you, that’s why I say this.’

‘Oh, dear, dear, dear,’ whispered Margarita, shaking her tousled head, ‘ you weak, faithless, stupid man! Why do you think I spent the whole of last night prancing about naked, why do you think I sold my human nature and became a witch, why do you think I spent months in this dim, damp little hole thinking of nothing but the storm over Jerusalem, why do you think I cried my eyes out when you vanished? You know why–yet when happiness suddenly descends on us and gives us everything, you want to get rid of me! All right, I’ll go. But you’re a cruel, cruel man. You’ve become completely heartless.’

Bitter tenderness filled the master’s heart and without knowing why he burst into tears as he fondled Margarita’s hair. Crying too, she whispered to him as her fingers caressed his temple :

‘There are more than just threads . . . your head is turning white under my eyes . . . my poor suffering head. Look at your eyes! Empty . . . And your shoulders, bent with the weight they’ve borne . . . they’ve crippled you . . .’ Margarita faded into delirium, sobbing helplessly.

Then the master dried his eyes, raised Margarita from her knees, stood up himself and said firmly :

‘That will do. You’ve made me utterly ashamed. I’ll never mention it again, I promise. I know that we are both suffering from some mental sickness which you have probably caught from me . . . Well, we must see it through together.’

Margarita put her Ups close to the master’s ear and whispered :

‘I swear by your life, I swear by the astrologer’s son you created that all will be well!’

‘All right, I’ll believe yon,’ answered the master with a smile, adding : ‘ Where else can such wrecks as you and I find help except from the supernatural? So let’s see what we can find in the other world.’

‘There, now you’re like you used to be, you’re laughing,’ said Margarita. ‘ To hell with all your long words! Supernatural or not supernatural, what do- I care? I’m hungry!’ And she dragged the master towards the table.

‘I can’t feel quite sure that this food isn’t going to disappear through the floor in a puff of smoke or fly out of the window,’ said the master.

‘I promise you it won’t.’

At that moment a nasal voice was heard at the window :

‘Peace be with you.’

The master was startled but Margarita, accustomed to the unfamiliar, cried:

‘ It’s Azazello! Oh, how nice!’ And whispering to the master: ‘ You see–they haven’t abandoned us!’ she ran to open the door.

‘You should at least fasten the front of your dress,’ the master shouted after her.

‘I don’t care,’ replied Margarita from the passage.

His blind eye glistening, Azazello came in, bowed and greeted the master. Margarita cried :

‘ Oh, how glad I am! I’ve never been so happy in my life! Forgive me, Azazello, for meeting you naked like this.’

Azazello begged her not to let it worry her, assuring Margarita that he had not only seen plenty of naked women in his time but even women who had been skinned alive. First putting down a bundle wrapped in dark cloith, he took a seat at the table.

Margarita poured Azazello a brandy, which he drank with relish. The master, without staring at him, gently scratched his left wrist under the table, but it had no effect. Azazello did not vanish into thin air and there was no reason why he should. There was nothing terrible about this stocky little demon with red hair, except perhaps his wall eye, but that afflicts plenty of quite unmagical people, and except for his slightly unusual dress –a kind of cassock or cape–but ordinary people sometimes wear clothes like that too. He drank his brandy like all good men do, a whole glassful at a time and on an empty stomach. The same brandy was already beginning to make the master’s head buzz and he said to himself:

‘No, Margarita’s right… of course this creature is an emissary of the devil. After all only the day before yesterday I was proving to Ivan that he had met Satan at Patriarch’s Ponds, yet now the thought seems to frighten me and I’m inventing excuses like hypnosis and hallucinations . . . Hypnotism–hell!’

He studied Azazello’s face and was convinced that there was ai certain constraint in his look, some thought which he was holding back. ‘ He’s not just here on a visit, he has been sent here for a purpose,’ thought the master.

His powers of observation had not betrayed him. After his third glass of brandy, which had no apparent effect on him, Azazello said:

‘I must say it’s comfortable, this little basement of yours, isn’t it? The only question is–what on earth are you going to do with yourselves, now that you’re here? ‘

‘That is just what I have been wondering,’ said the masteir with a smile.

‘Why do you make me feel uneasy, Azazello?’ asked Margarita.

‘Oh, come now!’ exclaimed Azazello, ‘ I wouldn’t dream of doing anything to upset you. Oh yes! I nearly forgot . . . messire sends his greetings and asks me to invite you to take a little trip with him–if you’d like to, of course. What do you say to that?’

Margarita gently kicked the master’s foot under the table.

‘With great pleasure,’ replied the master, studying Azazello. who went on:

‘We hope Margarita Nikolayevna won’t refuse? ‘

‘Of course not,’ said Margarita, again brushing the master’s foot with her own.

‘Splendid!’ cried Azazello. ‘ That’s what I like to see– one, two and away! Not like the other day in the Alexander Gardens!’

‘Oh, don’t remind me of that, Azazello, I was so stupid then. But you can’t really blame me–one doesn’t meet the devil every day!’

‘More’s the pity,’ said Azazello. ‘ Think what fun it would be if you did!’

‘I love the speed,’ said Margarita excitedly, ‘ I love the speed and I love being naked . . . just like a bullet from a gun–bang! Ah, how he can shoot!’ cried Margarita turning to the master. ‘ He can hit any pip of a card–under a cushion too!’ Margarita was beginning to get drunk and her eyes were sparkling.

‘Oh–I nearly torgot something else, too,’ exclaimed Azazello, slapping himself on the forehead. ‘ What a fool I am! Messire has sent you a present’–here he spoke to the master–‘ a bottle of wine. Please note that it is the same wine that the Procurator of Judaea drank. Falernian.’

This rarity aroused great interest in both Margarita and the master. Azazello drew a sealed wine jar, completely covered in mildew, out of a piece of an old winding-sheet. They sniffed the wine, then poured it into glasses and looked through it towards the window. The light was already fading with the approach of the storm. Filtered through the glass, the light turned everything to the colour of blood.

‘To Woland! ‘ exclaimed Margarita, raising her glass.

All three put their lips to the glasses and drank a large mouthful. Immediately the light began to fade before the master’s eyes, his breath came in gasps and he felt the end coming. He could just see Margarita, deathly pale, helplessly stretch out her arms towards him, drop her head on to the table and then slide to the floor.

‘Poisoner . . .’ the master managed to croak. He tried to snatch the knife from the table to stab Azazello, but his hand slithered lifelessly from the tablecloth, everything in the basement seemed to turn black and then vanished altogether. He collapsed sideways, grazing his forehead on the edge of the bureau as he fell.

When he was certain that the poison had taken effect, Azazello started to act. First he flew out of the window and in a few moments he was in Margarita’s flat. Precise and efficient as ever, Azazello wanted to check that everything necessary had been done. It had. Azazello saw a depressed-looking woman, waiting for her husband to return, come out of her bedroom and suddenly turn pale, clutch her heart and gasp helplessly :

‘Natasha . . . somebody . . . help . . .’ She fell to the drawing-room floor before she had time to reach the study.

‘All in order,’ said Azazello. A moment later he was back with the murdered lovers. Margarita lay face downward on the carpet. With his iron hands Azazello turned her over like a doll and looked at her. The woman’s face changed before his eyes. Even in the twilight of the oncoming storm he could see how her temporary witch’s squint and her look of cruelty and violence disappeared. Her expression relaxed and softened, her mouth lost its predatory sneer and simply became the mouth of a woman in her last agony. Then Azazello forced her white teeth apart and poured into her mouth a few drops of the same wine that had poisoned her. Margarita sighed, rose without Azazello’s help, sat down and asked weakly :

‘Why, Azazello, why? What have you done to me? ‘

She saw the master lying on the floor, shuddered and whispered:

‘I didn’t expect this . . . murderer! ‘

‘Don’t worry,’ replied Azazello. ‘ He’ll get up again in a minute. Why must you be so nervous! ‘

He sounded so convincing that Margarita believed him at once. She jumped up, alive and strong, and helped to give the master some of the wine. Opening his eyes he gave a stare of grim hatred and repeated his last word :

‘Poisoner . . .’

‘Oh well, insults are the usual reward for a job well done!’ said Azazello. ‘ Are you blind? You’ll soon see sense.’

The master got up, looked round briskly and asked :

‘Now what does all this mean? ‘

‘It means,’ replied Azazello, ‘ that it’s time for us to go. The thunderstorm has already begun–can you hear? It’s getting dark. The horses are pawing the ground and making your little garden shudder. You must say goodbye, quickly.’

‘Ah, I understand,’ said the master, gating round, ‘ you have killed us. We are dead. How clever–and how timely. Now I see it all.’

‘Oh come,’ replied Azazello, ‘ what did I hear you say? Your beloved calls you the master, you’re an intelligent being–how can you be dead? It’s ridiculous . . ‘

‘I understand what you mean,’ cried the master, ‘ don’t go on! You’re right–a thousand times right! ‘

‘The great Woland! ‘ Margarita said to him urgently, ‘ the great Woland! His solution was much better than mine! But the novel, the novel!’ she shouted at the master,’ take the novel with you, wherever you may be going! ‘

‘No need,’ replied the master,’ I can remember it all by heart.’

‘But you . . . you won’t forget a word? ‘ asked Margarita, embracing her lover and wiping the blood from his bruised forehead.

‘Don’t worry. I shall never forget anything again,’ he answered.

‘Then the fire! ‘ cried Azazello. ‘ The fire–where it all began and where we shall end it! ‘

‘The fire! ‘ Margarita cried in a terrible voice. The basement windows were banging, the blind was blown aside by the wind. There was a short, cheerful clap of thunder. Azazello thrust his bony hand into the stove, pulled out a smouldering log and used it to light the tablecloth. Then he set fire to a pile of old newspapers on the divan, then the manuscript and the curtains.

The master, intoxicated in advance by the thought of the ride to come, threw a book from the bookcase on to the table, thrust its leaves into the burning tablecloth and the book burst merrily into flame. ‘ Burn away, past! ‘

‘Burn, suffering! ‘ cried Margarita.

Crimson pillars of fire were swaying all over the room, when the three ran out of the smoking door, up the stone steps and out into the courtyard. The first thing they saw was the landlord’s cook sitting on the ground surrounded by potato peelings and bunches of onions. Her position was hardly surprising–three black horses were standing in the yard, snorting, quivering and kicking up the ground in fountains. Margarita mounted the first, then Azazello and the master last. Groaning, the cook was about to raise her hand to make the sign of the cross when Azazello shouted threateningly from the saddle :

‘If you do, I’ll cut off your arm! ‘ He whistled and the horses, smashing the branches of the lime tree, whinnied and plunged upwards into a low black cloud. From below came the cook’s faint, pathetic cry :

‘Fire . . .’

The horses were already galloping over the roofs of Moscow.

‘I want to say goodbye to someone,’ shouted the master to Azazello, who was cantering along in front of him. Thunder drowned the end of the master’s sentence. Azazello nodded and urged his horse into a gallop. A cloud was rushing towards them, though it had not yet begun to spatter rain.

They flew over the boulevard, watching as the little figures ran in all directions to shelter from the rain. The first drops were falling. They flew over a pillar of smoke–all that was left of Griboyedov. On they flew over the city in the gathering darkness. Lightning flashed above them. Then the roofs changed to treetops. Only then did the rain begin to lash them and turned them into three great bubbles in the midst of endless water.

Margarita was already used to the sensation of flight, but the master was not and he was amazed how quickly they reached their destination, where he wished to say goodbye to the only other person who meant anything to him. Through the veil of rain he immediately recognised Stravinsky’s clinic, the river and the pine-forest on the far bank that he had stared at for so long. They landed among a clump of trees in a meadow not far from the clinic.

‘I’ll wait for you here,’ shouted Azazello, folding his arms. For a moment he was lit up by a flash of lightning then vanished again in the grey pall. ‘ You can say goodbye, but hurry!’

The master and Margarita dismounted and flew, like watery shadows, through the clinic garden. A moment later the master was pushing aside the balcony grille of No. 117 with a practised hand. Margarita followed him. They walked into Ivan’s room, invisible and unnoticed, as the storm howled and thundered. The master stopped by the bed.

Ivan was lying motionless, as he had been when he had first watched the storm from his enforced rest-home. This time, however, he was not crying. After staring for a while at the dark shape that entered his room from the balcony, he sat up, stretched out his arms and said joyfully :

‘Oh, it’s you! I’ve been waiting for you! It’s you, my neighbour!’

To this the master answered :

‘ Yes, it’s me, but I’m afraid I shan’t be your neighbour any longer. I am flying away for ever and I’ve only come to say goodbye.’

‘I knew, I guessed,’ replied Ivan quietly, then asked :

‘Did you meet him? ‘

‘Yes,’ said the master, ‘ I have come to say goodbye to you because you’re the only person I have been able to talk to in these last days.’

Ivan beamed and said :

‘I’m so glad you came. You see, I ‘m going to keep my word, I shan’t write any more stupid poetry. Something else interests me now–‘ Ivan smiled and stared crazily past the figure of the master–‘ I want to write something quite different. I have come to understand a lot of things since I’ve been lying here.’

The master grew excited at this and said as he sat down on the edge of Ivan’s bed:

‘That’s good, that’s good. You must write the sequel to it.’

Ivan’s eyes sparkled.

‘But won’t you be writing it?’ Then he looked down and added thoughtfully : ‘ Oh, yes, of course . . . what am I saying.’ Ivan stared at the ground, frightened.

‘No,’ said the master, and his voice seemed to Ivan unfamiliar and hollow. ‘ I won’t write about him any more. I shall be busy with other things.’

The roar of the storm was pierced by a distant whistle.

‘Do you hear? ‘ asked the master.

‘The noise of the storm . . .’

‘No, they’re calling me, it’s time for me to go,’ explained the master and got up from the bed.

‘Wait! One more thing,’ begged Ivan. ‘ Did you find her? Had she been faithful to you? ‘

‘Here she is,’ replied the master, pointing to the wall. The dark figure of Margarita materialised from the wall and moved over to the bed. She looked at the young man in the bed and her eyes filled with sorrow.

‘Poor, poor boy . . .’ she whispered silently, and bent over the bed.

‘How beautiful she is,’ said Ivan, without envy but sadly and touchingly. ‘ Everything has worked out wonderfully for you, you lucky fellow. And here am I, sick . . .’ He thought for a moment, then added thoughtfully : ‘ Or perhaps I’m not so sick after all . . .’

‘That’s right,’ whispered Margarita, bending right down to Ivan. ‘ I’ll kiss you and everything will be as it should be … believe me, I know . . .’

Ivan put his arms round her neck and she kissed him.

‘Farewell, disciple,’ said the master gently and began to melt into the air. He vanished, Margarita with him. The grille closed.

Ivan felt uneasy. He sat up in bed, gazing round anxiously, groaned, talked to himself, got up. The storm was raging with increasing violence and it was obviously upsetting him. It upset him so much that his hearing, lulled by the permanent silence, caught the sound of anxious footsteps, murmured voices outside his door. Trembling, he called out irritably :

‘Praskovya Fyodorovna!’

As the nurse came into the room, she gave Ivan a -worried, enquiring look:

‘What’s the matter? ‘ she asked. ‘ Is the storm frightening you? Don’t worry–I’ll bring you something in a moment . . . I’ll call the doctor right away . . .’

‘No, Praskovya Fyodorovna, you needn’t call the doctor,’ said Ivan, staring anxiously not at her but at the wall, ‘ there’s nothing particularly wrong with me. I’m in my right mind now, don’t be afraid. But you might tell me,’ asked Ivan confidentially, ‘ what has just happened next door in No. 118? ‘

‘In 118? ‘ Praskovya Fyodorovna repeated hesitantly. Her eyes flickered in embarrassment. ‘ Nothing has happened there.’ But her voice betrayed her. Ivan noticed this at once and said:

‘Oh, Praskovya Fyodorovna! You’re such a truthful person . . . Are you afraid I’ll get violent? No, Praskovya Fyodorovna, I won’t. You had better tell me, you see I can sense it all through that wall.’

‘Your neighbour has just died,’ whispered Praskovya Fyodorovna, unable to overcome her natural truthfulness and goodness, and she gave a frightened glance at Ivan, who was suddenly clothed in lightning. But nothing terrible happened. He only raised his finger and said :

‘I knew it! I am telling you, Praskovya Fyodorovna, that another person has just died in Moscow too. I even know who ‘ –here Ivan smiled mysteriously–‘ it is a woman!’

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