The  Master  is  Released
(The Master and Margarita, Chapter 24)

Mikhail Bulgakov

Everything in Woland's bedroom was as it had been before the ball.  Woland was sitting in his nightshirt on the bed, only this time Hella was not rubbing his knee, and a meal was laid on the table in place of the chessboard.  Koroviev and Azazello had removed their tailcoats and were sitting at table, alongside them the cat, who still refused to be parted from his bow-tie even though it was by now reduced to a grubby shred.  Tottering, Margarita walked up to the table and leaned on it.  Woland beckoned her, as before, to sit beside him on the bed.  "Well, was it very exhausting?"  enquired Woland.  "Oh no, messire," replied Margarita in a scarcely audible voice.  "Noblesse oblige," remarked the cat, pouring out a glassful of clear liquid for Margarita.

"Is that vodka?"  Margarita asked weakly.  The cat jumped up from its chair in indignation.  "Excuse me, your majesty," he squeaked, "do you think I would give vodka to a lady?  That is pure spirit!"  Margarita smiled and tried to push away the glass.  "Drink it up," said Woland and Margarita at once picked up the glass.

"Sit down, Hella," ordered Woland, and explained to Margarita: "The night of the full moon is a night of celebration, and I dine in the company of my close friends and my servants.  Well, how do you feel?  How did you find that exhausting ball?  "

"Shattering!" quavered Koroviev.  "They were all charmed, they all fell in love with her, they were all crushed!  Such tact, such savoir-faire, such fascination, such charm!"

Woland silently raised his glass and clinked it with Margarita's.  She drank obediently, expecting the spirit to knock her out.  It had no ill effect, however.  The reviving warmth flowed through her body, she felt a mild shock in the back of her neck, her strength returned as if she had just woken from a long refreshing sleep and she felt ravenously hungry.  Remembering that she had not eaten since the morning of the day before, her hunger increased and she began wolfing down caviar.

Behemoth cut himself a slice of pineapple, salted and peppered it, ate it and chased it down with a second glass of spirit with a flourish that earned a round of applause.

After Margarita's second glassful the light in the candelabra burned brighter and the coals in the fireplace glowed hotter, yet she did not feel the least drunk.  As her white teeth bit into the meat Margarita savored the delicious juice that poured from it and watched Behemoth smearing an oyster with mustard.

"If I were you I should put a grape on top of it, too," said Hella, digging the cat in the ribs.

"Kindly don't teach your grandmother to suck eggs," Behemoth replied.  "I know how to behave at table, so mind your own business."

"Oh, how nice it is to dine like this, at home," tinkled Koroviev's voice, "just among friends..."

"No, Faggot," said the cat.  "I like the ball it's so grand and exciting.'"

"It's not in the least exciting and not very grand either, and those idiotic bears and the tigers in the bar they nearly gave me migraine with their roaring," said Woland.

"Of course, messire," said the cat.  "If you think it wasn't very grand, I immediately find myself agreeing with you."

"And so I should think," replied Woland.

"I was joking," said the cat meekly "and as for those tigers, I'll have them roasted."

"You can't eat tiger-meat" said Hella.

"Think so?  Well, let me tell you a story," retorted the cat.  Screwing up its eyes with pleasure it told a story of how it had once spent nineteen days wandering in the desert and its only food had been the meat of a tiger it had killed.  They all listened with fascination and when Behemoth came to the end of his story they all chorused in unison:

"Liar!"

"The most interesting thing about that farrago," said Woland, "was that it was a lie from first to last."

"Oh, you think so, do you?"  exclaimed the cat and everybody thought that it was about to protest again, but it only said quietly: "History will be my judge."

"Tell me," revived by the vodka Margot turned to Azazello: "did you shoot that ex-baron?"

"Of course," replied Azazello, "why not?  He needed shooting."

"I had such a shock!"  exclaimed Margarita, "it happened so unexpectedly!"

"There was nothing unexpected about it," Azazello objected, and Koroviev whined:

"Of course she was shocked.  Why, even I was shaking in my shoes!  Bang!  Crash!  Down went the baron!"

"I nearly had hysterics," added the cat, licking a caviar-smeared spoon.

"But there's something I can't understand," said Margarita, her eyes sparkling with curiosity.  "Couldn't the music and general noise of the ball be heard outside?"

"Of course not, your majesty," said Koroviev.  "We saw to that.  These things must be done discreetly."

"Yes, I see...  but what about that man on the staircase when Azazello and I came up...  and the other one at the foot of the staircase?  I had the impression that they were keeping watch on your flat."

"You're right, you're right," cried Koroviev, "you're right, my dear Margarita Nikolayevna!  You have confirmed my suspicions.  Yes, he was watching our flat.  For a while I thought he was some absent-minded professor or a lover mooning about on the staircase.  But no!  I had an uncomfortable feeling he might be watching the flat.  And there was another one at the bottom of the stairs too?  And the one at the main entrance did he look the same?"

"Suppose they come and arrest you?"  asked Margarita.

"Oh, they'll come all right, fairest one, they'll come!"  answered Koroviev.  "I feel it in my bones.  Not now, of course, but they'll come when they're ready.  But I don't think they'll have much luck."

"Oh, what a shock I had when the Baron fell!  " said Margarita, obviously still feeling the effects of seeing her first murder.  "I suppose you're a good shot?"

"Fair," answered Azazello.

"At how many paces?"

"As many as you like," replied Azazello.  "It's one thing to hit Latunsky's windows with a hammer, but it's quite another to hit him in the heart."

"In the heart!"  exclaimed Margarita, clutching her own heart.  "In the heart!"  she repeated grimly.

"What's this about Latunsky?"  enquired Woland, frowning at Margarita.

Azazello, Koroviev and Behemoth looked down in embarrassment and Margarita replied, blushing:

"He's a critic.  I wrecked his flat this evening."

"Did you now!  Why?"

"Because, messire," Margarita explained, "he destroyed a certain master."

"But why did you put yourself to such trouble?"  asked Woland.

"Let me do it, messire!"  cried the cat joyfully, jumping to its feet.

"You sit down," growled Azazello, rising.  "I'll go at once."

"No!" cried Margarita.  "No, I beg you, messire, you mustn't!"

"As you wish, as you wish," replied Woland.  Azazello sat down again.

"Where were we, precious queen Margot?"  said Koroviev.  "Ah yes, his heart...  He can hit a man's heart all right," Koroviev pointed a long finger at Azazello.  "Anywhere you like.  Just name the auricle or the ventricle."

For a moment Margarita did not grasp the implication of this, then she exclaimed in amazement:

"But they're inside the body you can't see them!"

"My dear," burbled Koroviev, "that's the whole point you can't see them!  That's the joke!  Any fool can hit something you can see!"

Koroviev took the seven of spades out of a box, showed it to Margarita and asked her to point at one of the pips.  Margarita chose the one in the upper right-hand corner.  Hella hid the card under a pillow and shouted:

"Ready!"

Azazello, who was sitting with his back to the pillow, took a black automatic out of his trouser pocket, aimed the muzzle over his shoulder and, without turning round towards the bed, fired, giving Margarita an enjoyable shock.  The seven of spades was removed from under the pillow.  The upper right-hand pip was shot through.

"I wouldn't like to meet you when you've got a revolver," said Margarita with a coquettish look at Azazello.  She had a passion for people who did things well.

"My precious queen," squeaked Koroviev, "I don't recommend anybody to meet him even without his revolver!  I give you my word of honor as an ex-choirmaster that anybody who did would regret it."

During the trial of marksmanship the cat had sat scowling.  Suddenly it announced:

"I bet I can shoot better than that."

Azazello snorted, but Behemoth was insistent and demanded not one but two revolvers.  Azazello drew another pistol from his left hip pocket and with a sarcastic grin handed them both to the cat.  Two pips on the card were selected.  The cat took a long time to prepare, then turned its back on the cushion.  Margarita sat down with her fingers in her ears and stared at the owl dozing on the mantelpiece.  Behemoth fired from both revolvers, at which there came a yelp from Hella, the owl fell dead from the mantelpiece and the clock stopped from a bullet in its vitals.  Hella, one finger bleeding, sank her nails into the cat's fur.  Behemoth in retaliation clawed at her hair and the pair of them rolled on the floor in a struggling heap.  A glass fell off the table and broke.

"Somebody pull this she-devil off me!"  wailed the cat, lashing out at Hella who had thrown the animal on its back and was sitting astride it.  The combatants were separated and Koroviev healed Hella's wounded finger by blowing on it.

"I can't shoot properly when people are whispering about me behind my back!"  shouted Behemoth, trying to stick back into place a large handful of fur that had been torn off his back.

"I bet you," said Woland with a smile at Margarita, "that he did that on purpose.  He can shoot perfectly well."

Hella and the cat made friends again and sealed their reconciliation with a kiss.  Someone removed the card from under the cushion and examined it.  Not a single pip, except the one shot through by Azazello had been touched.

"I don't believe it," said the cat, staring through the hole in the card at the light of the candelabra.

Supper went gaily on.  The candles began to gutter, a warm dry heat suffused the room from the fireplace.  Having eaten her fill, a feeling of well-being came over Margarita.  She watched as Azazello blew smoke-rings at the fireplace and the cat spiked them on the end of his sword.  She felt no desire to go, although by her timing it was late probably, she thought, about six o'clock in the morning.  During a pause Margarita turned to Woland and said timidly:

"Excuse me, but it's time for me to go...  it's getting late..."

"Where are you going in such a hurry?"  enquired Woland politely but a little coldly.  The others said nothing, pretending to be watching the game with the smoke-rings.

"Yes, it's time," said Margarita uneasily and turned round as if looking for a cloak or something else to wear.  Her nakedness was beginning to embarrass her.  She got up from the table.  In silence Woland picked up his greasy dressing-gown from the bed and Koroviev threw it over Margarita's shoulders.

"Thank you, messire," whispered Margarita with a questioning glance at Woland.  In reply he gave her a polite but apathetic smile.  Black depression at once swelled up in Margarita's heart.  She felt herself cheated.  No one appeared to be going to offer her any reward for her services at the ball and nobody made a move to prevent her going.  Yet she realized quite well that she had nowhere to go.  A passing thought that she might have to go back home brought on an inner convulsion of despair.  Dared she ask about the master, as Azazello had so temptingly suggested in the Alexander Gardens?  "No, never!"  she said to herself.

"Goodbye, messire," she said aloud, thinking: "If only I can get out of here, I'll make straight for the river and drown myself!"

"Sit down," Woland suddenly commanded her.  A change came over Margarita's face and she sat down.

"Perhaps you'd like to say something in farewell?"

"Nothing, messire," replied Margarita proudly, "however, if you still need me I am ready to do anything you wish.  I am not at all tired and I enjoyed the ball.  If it had lasted longer I would have been glad to continue offering my knee to be kissed by thousands more gallows-birds and murderers."

Margarita felt she was looking at Woland through a veil; her eyes had filled with tears.

"Well said!"  boomed Woland in a terrifying voice.  "That was the right answer!"

"The right answer!  " echoed Woland's retinue in unison.

"We have put you to the test," said Woland.  "You should never ask anyone for anything.  Never and especially from those who are more powerful than yourself.  They will make the offer and they will give of their own accord.  Sit down, proud woman!"  Woland pulled the heavy dressing-gown from Margarita's back and she again found herself sitting beside him on the bed.  "So, Margot," Woland went on, his voice softening.  "What do you want for having been my hostess tonight?  What reward do you want for having spent the night naked?  What price do you set on your bruised knee?  What damages did you suffer at the hands of my guests, whom just now you called gallows-birds?  Tell me!  You can speak without constraint now, because it was I who made the offer."

Margarita's heart began to knock, she sighed deeply and tried to think of something.

"Come now, be brave!"  said Woland encouragingly.  "Use your imagination!  The mere fact of having watched the murder of that worn-out old rogue of a baron is worth a reward, especially for a woman.  Well?"

Margarita caught her breath.  She was about to utter her secret wish when she suddenly turned pale, opened her mouth and stared.  "Frieda!..  Frieda, Frieda!"  a sobbing, imploring voice cried in her ear.  "My name is Frieda!"  and Margarita said, stuttering:

"Can I ask...  for one thing?"

"Demand, don't ask, madonna mia," replied Woland with an understanding smile.  "You may demand one thing."

With careful emphasis Woland repeated Margarita's own words: "one thing."

Margarita sighed again and said:

"I want them to stop giving Frieda back the handkerchief she used to stifle her baby."

The cat looked up at the ceiling and sighed noisily, but said nothing, obviously remembering the damage done to his ear.

"In view of the fact," said Woland, smiling, "that the possibility of your having taken a bribe from that idiot Frieda is, of course, excluded it would in any case have been unfitting to your queenly rank I don't know what to do.  So there only remains one thing to find yourself some rags and use them to block up all the cracks in my bedroom."

"What do you mean, messire?"  said Margarita, puzzled.

"I quite agree, messire," interrupted the cat.  "Rags that's it!"  And the cat banged its paw on the table in exasperation.

"I was speaking of compassion," explained Woland, the gaze of his fiery eye fixed on Margarita.  "Sometimes it creeps in through the narrowest cracks.  That is why I suggested using rags to block them up..."

"That's what I meant, too!"  exclaimed the cat, for safety's sake edging away from Margarita and covering its pointed ears with paws smeared in pink cream.

"Get out," Woland said to the cat.

"I haven't had my coffee," replied Behemoth.  "How can you expect me to go yet?  Surely you don't divide your guests into two grades on a festive night like this, do you first-grade and second-grade-fresh, in the words of that miserable cheeseparing barman?"

"Shut up," said Woland, then turning to Margarita enquired:

"To judge from everything about you, you seem to be a good person.  Am I right?"

"No," replied Margarita forcefully.  "I know that I can only be frank with you and I tell you frankly I am headstrong.  I only asked you about Frieda because I was rash enough to give her a firm hope.  She's waiting, messire, she believes in my power.  And if she's cheated I shall be in a terrible position.  I shall have no peace for the rest of my life.  I can't help it it just happened."

"That's quite understandable," said Woland.

"So will you do it?"  Margarita asked quietly.

"Out of the question," replied Woland.  "The fact is, my dear queen, that there has been a slight misunderstanding.  Each department must stick to its own business.  I admit that our scope is fairly wide, in fact it is much wider than a number of very sharp-eyed people imagine..."

"Yes, much wider," said the cat, unable to restrain itself and obviously proud of its interjections.

"Shut up, damn you!"  said Woland, and he turned and went on to Margarita.  "But what sense is there, I ask you, in doing something which is the business of another department, as I call it?  So you see I can't do it; you must do it yourself."

"But can I do it?"

Azazello squinted at Margarita, gave an imperceptible flick of his red mop and sneered.

"That's just the trouble to do it," murmured Woland.  He had been turning the globe, staring at some detail on it, apparently absorbed in something else while Margarita had been talking.

"Well, as to Frieda..."  Koroviev prompted her.

"Frieda!" cried Margarita in a piercing voice.

The door burst open and a naked, disheveled but completely sober woman with ecstatic eyes ran into the room and stretched out her arms towards Margarita, who said majestically:

"You are forgiven.  You will never be given the handkerchief again."

Frieda gave a shriek and fell spreadeagled, face downward on the floor in front of Margarita.  Woland waved his hand and Frieda vanished.

"Thank you.  Goodbye," said Margarita and rose to go.

"Now, Behemoth," said Woland, "as tonight is a holiday we shan't take advantage of her for being so impractical, shall we?"  He turned to Margarita.  "All right, that didn't count, because I did nothing.  What do you want for yourself?"

There was silence, broken by Koroviev whispering to Margarita:

"Madonna bellissima, this time I advise you to be more sensible.  Or your luck may run out."

"I want you to give me back instantly, this minute, my lover the master," said Margarita, her face contorted.

A gust of wind burst into the room, flattening the candle flames.  The heavy curtain billowed out, the window was flung open, and high above appeared a full moon not a setting moon, but the midnight moon.  A dark green cloth stretched from the windowsill to the floor and down it walked Ivan's night visitor, the man who called himself the master.  He was wearing his hospital clothes dressing-gown, slippers and the black cap from which he was never parted.  His unshaven face twitched in a grimace, he squinted with fear at the candle flames and a flood of moonlight boiled around him.

Margarita recognized him at once, groaned, clasped her hands and ran towards him.  She kissed him on the forehead, the lips, pressed her face to his prickly cheek and her long-suppressed tears streamed down her face.  She could only say, repeating it like a senseless refrain:

"It's you...  it's you...  it's you..."

The master pushed her away and said huskily: "Don't cry, Margot, don't torment me, I'm very ill," and he grasped the windowsill as though preparing to jump out and run away again.  Staring round at the figures seated in the room he cried: "I'm frightened, Margot!  I'm getting hallucinations again...'

Stifled with sobbing, Margarita whispered, stammering:

"No, no...  don't be afraid...  I'm here...  I'm here..."

Deftly and unobtrusively Koroviev slipped a chair behind the master.  He collapsed into it and Margarita fell on her knees at his side, where she grew calmer.  In her excitement she had not noticed that she was no longer naked and that she was now wearing a black silk gown.  The master's head nodded forward and he stared gloomily at the floor.

"Yes," said Woland after a pause, "they have almost broken him."  He gave an order to Koroviev: "Now, sir, give this man something to drink."

In a trembling voice Margarita begged the master: "Drink it, drink it!  Are you afraid?  No, no, believe me, they want to help you!"

The sick man took the glass and drank it, but his hand trembled, he dropped the glass and it shattered on the floor.

"Ma^el tov!"  Koroviev whispered to Margarita.  "Look, he's coming to himself already."

It was true.  The patient's stare was less wild and distraught.

"Is it really you, Margot?"  asked the midnight visitor.

"Yes, it really is," replied Margarita.

"More!" ordered Woland.

When the master had drained the second glass his eyes were fully alive and conscious.  "That's better," said Woland with a slight frown.  " Now we can talk.  Who are you?  "

"I am no one," replied the master with a lopsided smile.

"Where have you just come from?"

"From the madhouse.  I am a mental patient," replied the visitor.

Margarita could not bear to hear this and burst into tears again.  Then she wiped her eyes and cried:

"It's terrible terrible!  He is a master, messire, I warn you!  Cure him he's worth it!"

"You realize who I am, don't you?"  Woland asked.  "Do you know where you are?"

"I know," answered the master.  "My next-door neighbor in the madhouse is that boy, Ivan Bezdomny.  He told me about you."

"Did he now!"  replied Woland.  "I had the pleasure of meeting that young man at Patriarch's Ponds.  He nearly drove me mad, trying to prove that I didn't exist.  But you believe in me, I hope?"

"I must," said the visitor, "although I would much prefer it if I could regard you as a figment of my own hallucination.  Forgive me," added the master, recollecting himself.

"By all means regard me as such if that makes you any happier," replied Woland politely.

"No, no!"  said Margarita with anxiety, shaking the master by the shoulder.  "Think again!  It really is him!"

"But I really am like a hallucination.  Look at my profile in the moonlight," said Behemoth.  The cat moved into a shaft of moonlight and was going to say something else, but was told to shut up and only said: "All right, all right, I'll be quiet.  I'll be a silent hallucination."

"Tell me, why does Margarita call you the master?"  enquired Woland.

The man laughed and said:

"An understandable weakness of hers.  She has too high an opinion of a novel that I've written."

"Which novel?"

"A novel about Pontius Pilate."

Again the candle flames flickered and jumped and the crockery rattled on the table as Woland gave a laugh like a clap of thunder.  Yet no one was frightened or shocked by the laughter; Behemoth even applauded.

"About what?  About whom?"  said Woland, ceasing to laugh.  "But that's extraordinary!  In this day and age?  Couldn't you have chosen another subject?  Let me have a look."  Woland stretched out his hand palm uppermost.

"Unfortunately I cannot show it to you," replied the master, "because I burned it in my stove."

"I'm sorry but I don't believe you," said Woland.  "You can't have done.  Manuscripts don't burn."  He turned to Behemoth and said: "Come on.  Behemoth, give me the novel."

The cat jumped down from its chair and where he had been sitting was a pile of manuscripts.  With a bow the cat handed the top copy to Woland.  Margarita shuddered and cried out, moved to tears:

"There's the manuscript!  There it is!"

She flung herself at Woland's feet and cried ecstatically:

"You are all-powerful!"

Woland took it, turned it over, put it aside and turned, unsmiling, to stare at the master.  Without apparent cause the master had suddenly relapsed into uneasy gloom; he got up from his chair, wrung his hands and turning towards the distant moon he started to tremble, muttering:

"Even by moonlight there's no peace for me at night...  Why do they torment me?  Oh, ye gods..."

Margarita clutched his hospital dressing-gown, embraced him and moaned tearfully:

"Oh God, why didn't that medicine do you any good?"

"Don't be upset," whispered Koroviev, edging up to the master, "another little glassful and I'll have one myself to keep you company..."

A glass winked in the moonlight.  It began to work.  The master sat down again and his expression grew calmer.

"Well, that makes everything quite clear," said Woland, tapping the manuscript with his long finger.

"Quite clear," agreed the cat, forgetting its promise to be a silent hallucination.  "I see the gist of this great opus quite plainly now.  What do you say, Azazello?"

"I say," drawled Azazello, "that you ought to be drowned."

"Be merciful, Azazello," the cat replied, "and don't put such thoughts into my master's head.  I'd come and haunt you every night and beckon you to follow me.  How would you like that, Azazello?"

"Now Margarita," said Woland, "say whatever you wish to say."

Margarita's eyes shone and she said imploringly to Woland:

"May I whisper to him?"

Woland nodded and Margarita leaned over the master's ear and whispered something into it.  Aloud, he replied:

"No, it's too late.  I want nothing more out of life except to see you.  But take my advice and leave me, otherwise you will be destroyed with me.'

"No, I won't leave you," replied Margarita, and to Woland she said: "Please send us back to his basement in that street near the Arbat, light the lamp again and make everything as it was before."

The master laughed, and clasping Margarita's disheveled head he said:

"Don't listen to this poor woman, messire!  Somebody else is living in that basement now and no one can turn back the clock."  He laid his cheek on his mistress's head, embraced Margarita and murmured: "My poor darling..."

"No one can turn the clock back, did you say?"  said Woland "That's true.  But we can always try.  Azazello!"

Immediately a bewildered man in his underclothes crashed through the ceiling to the floor, with a suitcase in his hand and wearing a cap.  Shaking with fear, the man bowed.

"Is your name Mogarych?"  Azazello asked him.

"Aloysius Mogarych," said the new arrival, trembling.

"Are you the man who lodged a complaint against this man" pointing to the master "after you had read an article about him by Latunsky, and denounced him for harboring illegal literature?"  asked Azazello.

The man turned blue and burst into tears of penitence.

"You did it because you wanted to get his flat, didn't you?"  said Azazello in a confiding, nasal whine.

The cat gave a hiss of fury and Margarita, with a howl of:

"I'll teach you to thwart a witch!"  dug her nails into Aloysius Mogarych's face.

There was a brisk scuffle.

"Stop it!"  cried the master in an agonized voice.  "Shame on you, Margot!"

"I protest!  There's nothing shameful in it!"  squeaked the cat.

Koroviev pulled Margarita away.

"I put in a bathroom..."  cried Mogarych, his face streaming blood.  His teeth were chattering and he was babbling with fright.  "I gave it a coat of whitewash..."

"What a good thing that you put in a bathroom," said Azazello approvingly.  "He'll be able to have baths now."  And he shouted at Mogarych: "Get out!"

The man turned head over heels and sailed out of the open window of Woland's bedroom.

His eyes starting from his head, the master whispered:

"This beats Ivan's story!"  He stared round in amazement then said to the cat: "Excuse me, but are you..."  he hesitated, not sure how one talked to a cat:  "Are you the same cat who boarded the tramcar?"

"I am," said the cat, flattered, and added: "It's nice to hear someone speak so politely to a cat.  People usually address cats as 'pussy', which I regard as an infernal liberty."

"It seems to me that you're not entirely a cat..."  replied the master hesitantly.  "The hospital people are bound to catch me again, you know," he added to Woland resignedly.

"Why should they?"  said Koroviev reassuringly.  Some papers and books appeared in his hand: "Is this your case-history?"

"Yes..."

Koroviev threw the case-history into the fire.  "Remove the document and you remove the man," said Koroviev with satisfaction.  "And is this your landlord's rent-book?"

"Yes..."

"What is the tenant's name?  Aloysius Mogarych?"  Koroviev blew on the page.  "Hey presto!  He's gone and, please note, he was never there.  If the landlord is surprised, tell him he was dreaming about Aloysius.  Mogarych?  What Mogarych?  Never heard of him!"  At this the rent-book evaporated from Koroviev's hands.  "Now it's back on the landlord's desk."

"You were right," said the master, amazed at Koroviev's efficiency, "when you said that once you remove the document, you remove the man as well.  I no longer exist now I have no papers."

"Oh no, I beg your pardon," exclaimed Koroviev.  "That is just another hallucination.  Here are your papers!"  He handed the master some documents, then said with a wink to Margarita: "And here is your property, Margarita Nikolayevna."  Koroviev handed Margarita a manuscript-book with burnt edges, a dried rose, a photograph and, with special care, a savings-bank book: "The ten thousand that you deposited, Margarita Nikolayevna.  We have no use for other people's money."

"May my paws drop off before I touch other people's money," exclaimed the cat, bouncing up and down on a suitcase to flatten the copies of the ill-fated novel that were inside it.

"And a little document of yours," Koroviev went on, handing Margarita a piece of paper.  Then turning to Woland he announced respectfully: "That is everything, messire."

"No, it's not everything," answered Woland, turning away from the globe.  "What would you like me to do with your retinue, madonna?  I have no need of them myself."

Natasha, stark naked, flew in at the open window and cried to Margarita:

"I hope you'll be very happy, Margarita Nikolayevna!"  She nodded towards the master and went on: "You see, I knew about it all the time."

"Servants know everything," remarked the cat, wagging its paw sagely.  "It's a mistake to think they're blind."

"What do you want, Natasha?"  asked Margarita.  "Go back home."

"Dear Margarita Nikolayevna," said Natasha imploringly and fell on her knees, "ask him," she nodded towards Woland, "to let me stay a witch.  I don't want to go back to that house!  Last night at the ball Monsieur Jacques made me an offer."  Natasha unclenched her fist and showed some gold coins.

Margarita looked inquiringly at Woland, who nodded.  Natasha embraced Margarita, kissed her noisily and with a triumphant cry flew out of the window.

Natasha was followed by Nikolai Ivanovich.  He had regained human form, but was extremely glum and rather cross.

"Now here's someone I shall be especially glad to release," said Woland, looking at Nikolai Ivanovich with repulsion.  "I shall be delighted to see the last of him."

"Whatever you do, please give me a certificate," said Nikolai Ivanovich, anxiously but with great insistence, "to prove where I was last night."

"What for?"  asked the cat sternly.

"To show to my wife and to the police," said Nikolai Ivanovich firmly.

"We don't usually give certificates," replied the cat frowning, "but as it's for you we'll make an exception."

Before Nikolai Ivanovich knew what was happening, the naked Hella was sitting behind a typewriter and the cat dictating to her.

"This is to certify that the Bearer, Nikolai Ivanovich, spent the night in question at Satan's Ball, having been enticed there in a vehicular capacity...  Hella, put in brackets after that 'pig'.  Signed Behemoth.

"What about the date?"  squeaked Nikolai Ivanovich.

"We don't mention the date, the document becomes invalid if it's dated," replied the cat, waving the piece of paper.  Then the animal produced a rubber stamp, breathed on it in the approved fashion, stamped "Paid" on the paper and handed the document to Nikolai Ivanovich.  He vanished without trace, to be unexpectedly replaced by another man.

"Now who's this?  " asked Woland contemptuously, shielding his eyes from the candlelight.

Varenukha hung his head, sighed and said in a low voice:

"Send me back, I'm no good as a vampire.  Hella and I nearly frightened Rimsky to death, but I'll never make a vampire I'm just not bloodthirsty.  Please let me go."

"What is he babbling about?"  asked Woland, frowning.  "Who is this Rimsky?  What is all this nonsense?"

"Nothing to worry about, messire," said Azazello and he turned to Varenukha: "Don't play the fool or tell lies on the telephone any more.  Understand?  You're not going to, are you?"

Overcome with relief, Varenukha beamed and stammered:

"Thank Go...  I mean...  your may...  as soon as I've had my supper..."  He pressed his hand to his heart and gazed imploringly at Azazello.

"All right.  Off you go home!"  said Azazello and Varenukha melted away.

"Now all of you leave me alone with these two," ordered Woland, pointing to the master and Margarita.

Woland's command was obeyed instantly.  After a silence he said to the master:

"So you're going back to your basement near the Arbat.  How will you be able to write now?  Where are your dreams, your inspiration?"

"I have no more dreams and my inspiration is dead," replied the master, "nobody interests me any longer except her" he laid his hand again on Margarita's head "I'm finished.  My only wish is to return to that basement."

"And what about your novel?  What about Pilate?"

"I hate that novel," replied the master.  "I have been through too much because of it."

"Please," begged Margarita piteously, "don't talk like that.  Why are you torturing me?  You know I've put my whole life into your work," and she added, turning to Woland: "Don't listen to him, messire, he has suffered too much."

"But won't you need to re-write some of it?"  asked Woland.  "Or if you've exhausted your Procurator, why not write about somebody else that Aloysius, for instance..."

The master smiled.

"Lapshennikova would never print it and in any case that doesn't interest me."

"How will you earn your living, then?  Won't you mind being poor?"

"Not a bit," said the master, drawing Margarita to him.  Embracing her round the shoulders he added: "She'll leave me when she comes to her senses."

"I doubt it," said Woland, teeth clenched.  He went on: "So the creator of Pontius Pilate proposes to go and starve in a basement?"

Margarita unlinked her arms from the master's and said passionately:

"I've done all I can.  I whispered to him the most tempting thing of all.  And he refused."

"I know what you whispered to him," said Woland, "but that is not what tempts him most.  Believe me," he turned with a smile to the master, "your novel has some more surprises in store for you."

"What a grim prospect," answered the master.

"No, it is not grim at all," said Woland.  "Nothing terrible will come of it, I assure you.  Well now, Margarita Nikolayevna, everything is arranged.  Have you any further claims on me?"

"How can I, messire?"

"Then take this as a souvenir," said Woland and took a small golden, diamond-studded horseshoe from under a cushion.

"No I couldn't take it.  Haven't you done enough for me?"

"Are you arguing with me?"  asked Woland, smiling.

As Margarita had no pocket in her gown she wrapped the horseshoe in a napkin and knotted it.  Then something seemed to worry her.  She looked out of the window at the moon and said:

"One thing I don't understand it still seems to be midnight.  Shouldn't it be morning?"

"It's pleasant to stop the clock on a festive night such as this," replied Woland.  "And now good luck!"

Margarita stretched both hands to Woland in entreaty, but found she could come no nearer to him.

"Goodbye!  Goodbye!"

"Au revoir," said Woland.

Margarita in her black cloak and the master in his hospital dressing-gown walked out into the corridor of Berlioz's flat, where the light was burning and Woland's retinue was waiting for them.  As they passed along the corridor Hella, helped by the cat, carried the suitcase with the novel and Margarita Nikolayevna's few belongings.  At the door of the flat Koroviev bowed and vanished, while the others escorted them down the staircase.  It was empty.  As they passed the third floor landing a faint bump was heard, but no one paid it any attention.  At the front door of staircase six Azazello blew into the air and as they entered the dark courtyard they saw a man in boots and peaked cap sound asleep on the doorstep and a large, black car standing by the entrance with dimmed lights.  Barely visible in the driver's seat was the outline of a crow.

Margarita was just about to sit down when she gave a stifled cry of despair:

"Oh God, I've lost the horseshoe."

"Get into the car," said Azazello, "and wait for me.  I'll be back in a moment as soon as I've looked into this."  He walked back through the doorway.

What had happened was this: shortly before Margarita, the master and their escort had left No. 50, a shriveled woman carrying a bag and a tin can had emerged from No. 48, the flat immediately below.  It was Anna the same Anna who the previous Wednesday had spilt the sunflower-seed oil near the turnstile with such disastrous consequences for Berlioz.

Nobody knew and no one probably ever will know what this woman was doing in Moscow or what she lived on.  She was to be seen every day either with her tin can or her bag or both, sometimes at the oil-shop, sometimes at the market, sometimes outside the block of flats or on the staircase, but mostly in the kitchen of flat No. 48, where she lived.  She was notorious for being a harbinger of disaster wherever she went and she was nicknamed "Anna the Plague."

Anna the Plague usually got up very early in the morning, but this morning something roused her long before dawn, soon after midnight.  Her key turned in the door, her nose poked through and was followed by Anna herself, who slammed the door behind her.  She was just about to set off on some errand when the door banged on the upstairs landing, a man came bounding downstairs, crashed into Anna and knocked her sideways so hard that she hit the back of her head against the wall.

"Where the hell do you think you're going like that in your underpants?"  whined Anna, rubbing the back of her head.

The man, who was wearing underclothes and a cap and carrying a suitcase, answered in a sleepy voice with his eyes closed:

"Bath...  whitewash...  cost me a fortune..."  and bursting into tears he bellowed: "I've been kicked out!"

Then he dashed off not downstairs but upstairs again to where the windowpane had been broken by Poplavsky's foot, and through it he glided feet first out into the courtyard.  Forgetting about her aching head, Anna gasped and rushed up to the broken window.  She lay flat on the landing floor and stuck her head out in the courtyard, expecting to see the mortal remains of the man with the suitcase lit up by the courtyard lamp.  But there was absolutely nothing to be seen on the courtyard pavement.

As far as Anna could tell, this weird sleepwalker had flown out of the house like a bird, leaving not a trace.  She crossed herself and thought: "It's that No. 50!  No wonder people say it's haunted..."

The thought had hardly crossed her mind before the door upstairs slammed again and someone else came running down.  Anna pressed herself to the wall and saw a respectable looking gentleman with a little beard and, so it seemed to her, a slightly piggish face, who slipped past her and like the first man left the building through the window, also without hitting the ground below.  Anna had long since forgotten her original reason for coming out, and stayed on the staircase, crossing herself, moaning and talking to herself.  After a short while a third man, with no beard but with a round clean-shaven face and wearing a shirt, emerged and shot through the window in turn.

To give Anna her due she was of an enquiring turn of mind and she decided to wait and see if there were to be any further marvels.  The upstairs door opened again and a whole crowd started coming downstairs, this time not running but walking like ordinary people.  Anna ran down from the window back to her own front door, quickly opened it, hid behind it and kept her eye, wild with curiosity, fixed to the crack which she left open.

An odd sick-looking man, pale with a stubbly beard, in a black cap and dressing-gown, was walking unsteadily downstairs, carefully helped by a lady wearing what looked to Anna in the gloom like a black cassock.  The lady was wearing some transparent slippers, obviously foreign, but so torn and shredded that she was almost barefoot.  It was indecent bedroom slippers and quite obviously naked except for a black gown billowing out as she walked!  "That No. 50!"  Anna's mind was already savoring the story she was going to tell the neighbors tomorrow.

After this lady came a naked girl carrying a suitcase and helped by an enormous black cat.  Rubbing her eyes, Anna could barely help bursting into a shriek of pure amazement.  Last in the procession was a short, limping foreigner with a wall eye, no jacket, a white evening-dress waistcoat and a bow tie.  Just as the whole party had filed downstairs past Anna's door, something fell on to the landing with a gentle thump.

When the sound of footsteps had died away, Anna wriggled out of her doorway like a snake, put down her tin can, dropped on to her stomach and started groping about on the landing floor.  Suddenly she found herself holding something heavy wrapped in a table-napkin.  Her eyes started from her head as she untied the napkin and lifted the jewel close to eyes that burned with a wolfish greed.  A storm of thoughts whirled round her mind:

"See no sights and tell no tales!  Shall I take it to my nephew?  Or split it up into pieces?  I could ease the stones out and sell them off one at a time..."

Anna hid her find in the front of her blouse, picked up her tin can and was just about to abandon her errand and slip back indoors when she was suddenly confronted by the coatless man with the white shirtfront, who whispered to her in a soft voice:

"Give me that horseshoe wrapped in a serviette!"

"What serviette?  What horseshoe?"  said Anna, prevaricating with great skill.  "Never seen a serviette.  What's the matter with you drunk?"

Without another word but with fingers as hard and as cold as the handrail of a bus, the man in the white shirtfront gripped Anna's throat so tightly that he prevented all air from entering her lungs.  The tin can fell from her hand.  Having stopped Anna from breathing for a while, the jacketless stranger removed his fingers from her neck.  Gasping for breath, Anna smiled.

"Oh, you mean the little horseshoe?"  she said.  "Of course!  Is it yours?  I looked and there it was wrapped in a serviette, I picked it up on purpose in case anybody else might find it and vanish with it!"

With the horseshoe in his possession again, the stranger began bowing and scraping to Anna, shook her by the hand and thanked her warmly in a thick foreign accent:

"I am most deeply grateful to you, madame.  This horseshoe is dear to me as a memory.  Please allow me to give you two hundred roubles for saving it."  At which he pulled the money from his waistcoat pocket and gave it to Anna, who could only exclaim with a bewildered grin:

"Oh, thank you so much!  Merci!"

In one leap the generous stranger had jumped down a whole flight of stairs, but before vanishing altogether he shouted up at her, this time without a trace of an accent:

"Next time you find someone else's things, you old witch, hand it in to the police instead of stuffing it down your front!"

Utterly confused by events and by the singing in her ears, Anna could do nothing for a long time but stand on the staircase and croak: "Merci!  Merci!"  until long after the stranger had vanished.

Having returned Woland's present to Margarita, Azazello said goodbye to her, enquiring if she was comfortably seated; Hella gave her a smacking kiss and the cat pressed itself affectionately to her hand.  With a wave to the master as he lowered himself awkwardly into his seat and a wave to the crow, the party vanished into thin air, without bothering to return indoors and walk up the staircase.  The crow switched on the headlights and drove out of the courtyard past the man asleep at the entrance.  Finally the lights of the big black car were lost as they merged into the rows of streetlamps on silent, empty Sadovaya Street.

An hour later Margarita was sitting, softly weeping from shock and happiness, in the basement of the little house in one of the side streets off the Arbat.  In the master's study all was as it had been before that terrible autumn night of the year before.  On the table, covered with a velvet cloth, stood a vase of lily-of-the-valley and a shaded lamp.  The charred manuscript-book lay in front of her, beside it a pile of undamaged copies.  The house was silent.  Next door on a divan, covered by his hospital dressing-gown, the master lay in a deep sleep, his regular breathing inaudible from the next room.

Drying her tears, Margarita picked up one of the unharmed folios and found the place that she had been reading before she had met Azazello beneath the Kremlin wall.  She had no wish to sleep.  She smoothed the manuscript tenderly as one strokes a favorite cat and turning it over in her hands she inspected it from every angle, stopping now on the title page, now at the end.  A fearful thought passed through her mind that it was nothing more than a piece of wizardry, that the folio might vanish from sight, that she would wake up and find that she was in her bedroom at home and it was time to get up and stoke the boiler.  But this was only a last terrible fantasy, the echo of long-borne suffering.  Nothing vanished, the all-powerful Woland really was all-powerful and Margarita was able to leaf through the manuscript to her heart's content, till dawn if she wanted to, stare at it, kiss it and re-read the words:

"The mist that came from the Mediterranean sea blotted out the city that Pilate so detested..."

Mikhail Bulgakov  (18911940)
"The Master and Margarita", Chapter 24, 19291940
Translated from Russian by Michael Glenny