“The Master and Margarita”, Chapter III – Weekly Reads

Everyone believed the professor except Berlioz. The last straw of his patience was the announcement of this abnormal person that he was going to move into his apartment. Leaving Bezdomny to look after the crazy man, Berlioz was going to take action against the foreigner, but first he had to run to the telephone booth. One call and the problem is solved.

On the way, he reflected on the words thrown after him that the devil exists and there is a seventh proof of this. He did not have time to bring his thoughts to their logical conclusion.


Chapter III – The Seventh Proof

‘Yes, it was about ten o’clock in the morning, my dear Ivan Nikolayich,’ said the professor. The poet drew his hand across his face like a man who has just woken up and noticed that it was now evening. The water in the pond had turned black,
a little boat was gliding across it and he could hear the splash of an oar and a girl’s laughter in the boat. People were beginning to appear in the avenues and were sitting on the benches on all sides of the square except on
the side where our friends were talking.
Over Moscow it was as if the sky had blossomed : a clear, full moon had risen, still white and not yet golden. It was much less stuffy and the voices under the lime trees now had an even-tide softness.
‘Why didn’t I notice what a long story he’s been telling us? ‘ thought Bezdomny in amazement. ‘ It’s evening already! Perhaps he hasn’t told it at all but I simply fell asleep and dreamed it?’
But if the professor had not told the story Berlioz must have been having the identical dream because he said, gazing attentively into the stranger’s face :
‘Your story is extremely interesting, professor, but it diners completely from the accounts in the gospels.’
‘But surely,’ replied the professor with a condescending smile, ‘ you of all people must realise that absolutely nothing written in the gospels actually happened. If you want to regard the gospels as a proper historical source . . .’ He smiled again and Berlioz was silenced. He had just been saying exactly the same thing to Bezdomny on their walk from Bronnaya Street to Patriarch’s Ponds.
‘I agree,’ answered Berlioz, ‘ but I’m afraid that no one is in a position to prove the authenticity of your version either.’
‘Oh yes! I can easily confirm it! ‘ rejoined the professor with great confidence, lapsing into his foreign accent and mysteriously beckoning the two friends closer. They bent towards him from both sides and he began, this time without a trace of his accent which seemed to come and go without rhyme or reason :
‘The fact is . . .’ here the professor glanced round nervously and dropped his voice to a whisper, ‘ I was there myself. On the balcony with Pontius Pilate, in the garden when he talked to Caiaphas and on the platform, but secretly, incognito so to speak, so don’t breathe a word of it to anyone and please keep it an absolute secret, sshhh . . .’
There was silence. Berlioz went pale.
‘How . . . how long did you say you’d been in Moscow? ‘ he asked in a shaky voice.
‘I have just this minute arrived in Moscow,’ replied the professor, slightly disconcerted. Only then did it occur to the two friends to look him properly in the eyes. They saw that his green left eye was completely mad, his right eye black, expressionless and dead.
‘That explains it all,’ thought Berlioz perplexedly. ‘ He’s some mad German who’s just arrived or else he’s suddenly gone out of his mind here at Patriarch’s. What an extraordinary business! ‘ This really seemed to account for everything–the mysterious breakfast with the philosopher Kant, the idiotic ramblings about sunflower-seed oil and Anna, the prediction about Berlioz’s head being cut off and all the rest: the professor was a lunatic.
Berlioz at once started to think what they ought to do. Leaning back on the bench he winked at Bezdomny behind the professor’s back, meaning ‘ Humour him! ‘ But the poet, now thoroughly confused, failed to understand the signal.
‘Yes, yes, yes,’ said Berlioz with great animation. ‘ It’s quite possible, of course. Even probable–Pontius Pilate, the balcony, and so on.
. . . Have you come here alone or with your wife? ‘
‘Alone, alone, I am always alone,’ replied the professor bitterly.
‘But where is your luggage, professor?’ asked Berlioz cunningly. ‘ At the Metropole? Where are you staying? ‘
‘Where am I staying? Nowhere. . . .’ answered the mad German, staring moodily around Patriarch’s Ponds with his g:reen eye
‘What! . . . But . . . where are you going to live? ‘
‘In your flat,’ the lunatic suddenly replied casually and winked.
‘I’m … I should be delighted . . .’ stuttered Berlioz, : ‘but I’m afraid you wouldn’t be very comfortable at my place . . – the rooms at the Metropole are excellent, it’s a first-class hotel . . .’
‘And the devil doesn’t exist either, I suppose? ‘ the madman suddenly enquired cheerfully of Ivan Nikolayich.
‘And the devil . . .’
‘Don’t contradict him,’ mouthed Berlioz silently, leaning back and grimacing behind the professor’s back.
‘There’s no such thing as the devil! ‘ Ivan Nikolayich burst out, hopelessly muddled by all this dumb show, ruining all Berlioz’s plans by shouting: ‘ And stop playing the amateur psychologist! ‘
At this the lunatic gave such a laugh that it startled the sparrows out of the tree above them.
‘Well now, that is interesting,’ said the professor, quaking with laughter. ‘ Whatever I ask you about–it doesn’t exist! ‘ He suddenly stopped laughing and with a typical madman’s reaction he immediately went to the other extreme, shouting angrily and harshly : ‘ So you think the devil doesn’t exist? ‘
‘Calm down, calm down, calm down, professor,’ stammered Berlioz, frightened of exciting this lunatic. ‘ You stay here a minute with comrade Bezdomny while I run round the corner and make a ‘phone call and then we’ll take you where you want to go. You don’t know your way around town, sitter all… .’ Berlioz’s plan was obviously right–to run to the nearest telephone box and tell the Aliens’ Bureau that there was a foreign professor sitting at Patriarch’s Ponds who was clearly insane. Something had to be done or there might be a nasty scene.
‘Telephone? Of course, go and telephone if you want to,’ agreed the lunatic sadly, and then suddenly begged with passion :
‘But please–as a farewell request–at least say you believe in the devil! I won’t ask anything more of you. Don’t forget that there’s still the seventh proof–the soundest! And it’s just about to be demonstrated to you!
‘All right, all right,’ said Berlioz pretending to agree. With a wink to the wretched Bezdomny, who by no means relished the thought of keeping watch on this crazy German, he rushed towards the park gates at the corner of Bronnaya and Yermolayevsky Streets. At once the professor seemed to recover his reason and good spirits.
‘Mikhail Alexandrovich! ‘ he shouted after Berlioz, who shuddered as he turned round and then remembered that the professor could have learned his name from a newspaper. The professor, cupping his hands into a trumpet, shouted :
‘Wouldn’t you like me to send a telegram to your uncle in Kiev? ‘
Another shock – how did this madman know that he had an uncle in Kiev? Nobody had ever put that in any newspaper. Could Bezdomny be right about him after all? And what about those phoney-looking documents of his? Definitely
a weird character . . . ring up, ring up the Bureau at once . . . they’ll come and sort it all out in no time. Without waiting to hear any more, Berlioz ran on.
At the park gates leading into Bronnaya Street, the identical man, whom a short while ago the editor had seen materialise out of a mirage, got up from a bench and walked toward him. This time, however, he was not made of air but of flesh and blood. In the early twilight Berlioz could clearly distinguish his feathery little moustache, his little eyes, mocking and half drunk, his check trousers pulled up so tight that his dirty white socks were showing.
Mikhail Alexandrovich stopped, but dismissed it as a ridiculous coincidence. He had in any case no time to stop and puzzle it out now.
‘Are you looking for the turnstile, sir? ‘ enquired the check-clad man in a quavering tenor. ‘ This way, please! Straight on for the exit. How about the price of a drink for showing you the way, sir? … church choirmaster out of work, sir … need a helping hand, sir. . . .’ Bending double, the weird creature pulled off his jockey cap in a sweeping gesture.
Without stopping to listen to the choirmaster’s begging and whining, Berlioz ran to the turnstile and pushed it. Having passed through he was just about to step off the pavement and cross the tramlines when a white and red light flashed in his face and the pedestrian signal lit up with the words ‘ Stop! Tramway!’ A tram rolled into view, rocking slightly along the newly-laid track that ran down Yermolayevsky Street and into Bronnaya. As it turned to join the main line it suddenly switched its inside lights on, hooted and accelerated.
Although he was standing in safety, the cautious Berlioz decided to retreat behind the railings. He put his hand on the turnstile and took a step backwards. He missed his grip and his foot slipped on the cobbles as inexorably as though on ice. As it slid towards the tramlines his other leg gave way and Berlioz was thrown across the track. Grabbing wildly, Berlioz fell prone. He struck his head violently on the cobblestones and the gilded moon flashed hazily across his vision. He just had time to turn on his back, drawing his legs up to his stomach with a frenzied movement and as he turned over he saw the woman tram-driver’s face, white with horror above her red necktie, as she bore down on him with irresistible force and speed. Berlioz made no sound, but all round him the street rang with the desperate shrieks of women’s voices. The driver grabbed the electric brake, the car pitched forward, jumped the rails and with a tinkling crash the glass broke in all its windows. At this moment Berlioz heard a despairing voice: ‘ Oh, no …! ‘
Once more and for the last time the moon flashed before his eyes but it split into fragments and then went black. Berlioz vanished from sight under the tramcar and a round, dark object rolled across the cobbles, over the kerbstone and bounced along the pavement.
It was a severed head.

Source: The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov. Translated from the russian by Michael Glenny. Published by Collins and Harvill Press, London, 1967