“The Fatal Eggs”, Chapter II – Weekly Reads
The workweek is drawing to a close and it is time delve back into Bulgakov`s “Fatal Eggs”. Please find Chapter II below.
Have a lovely weekend!
CHAPTER II. Coloured Tendril
So, the Professor switched on the light and looked around. Then he turned on the reflector on the long experimental table, donned his white coat, and fingered some instruments on the table…
Of the thirty thousand mechanical carriages that raced” around Moscow in ‘twenty-eight many whizzed down Herzen Street, swishing over the smooth paving-stones, and every few minutes a 16,22, 48 or 53 tram would career round the corner from Herzen Street to Mokhovaya with much grinding and clanging. A pale and misty crescent moon cast reflections of coloured lights through the laboratory windows and was visible far away and high up beside the dark and heavy dome of the Church of Christ the Saviour.
But neither the moon nor the Moscow spring bustle were of the slightest concern to the Professor. He sat on his three-legged revolving stool turning with tobacco-stained fingers the knob of a splendid Zeiss microscope, in which there was an ordinary unstained specimen of fresh amoebas. At the very moment when Persikov was changing the magnification from five to ten thousand, the door opened slightly, a pointed beard and leather bib appeared, and his assistant called:
“I’ve set up the mesentery, Vladimir Ipatych. Would you care to take a look?”
Persikov slid quickly down from the stool, letting go of the knob midway, and went into his assistant’s room, twirling a cigarette slowly in his fingers. There, on the glass table, a half-suffocated frog stiff with fright and pain lay crucified on a cork mat, its transparent micaceous intestines pulled out of the bleeding abdomen under the microscope.
“Very good,” said Persikov, peering down the eye-piece of the microscope.
He could obviously detect something very interesting in the frog’s mesentery, where live drops of blood were racing merrily along the vessels as clear as daylight. Persikov quite forgot about his amoebas. He and Ivanov spent the next hour-and-a-half taking turns at the microscope and exchanging animated remarks, quite incomprehensible to ordinary mortals.
At last Persikov dragged himself away, announcing:
“The blood’s coagulating, it can’t be helped.”
The frog’s head twitched painfully and its dimming eyes said clearly: “Bastards, that’s what you are…”
Stretching his stiff legs, Persikov got up, returned to his laboratory, yawned, rubbed his permanently inflamed eyelids, sat down on the stool and looked into the microscope, his fingers about to move the knob. But move it he did not. With his right eye Persikov saw the cloudy white plate and blurred pale amoebas on it, but in the middle of the plate sat a coloured tendril, like a female curl. Persikov himself and hundreds of his students had seen this tendril many times before but taken no interest in it, and rightly so. The coloured streak of light merely got in the way and indicated that the specimen was out of focus. For this reason it was ruthlessly eliminated with a single turn of the knob, which spread an even white light over the plate. The zoologist’s long fingers had already tightened on the knob, when suddenly they trembled and let go. The reason for this was Persikov’s right eye. It tensed, stared in amazement and filled with alarm. No mediocre mind to burden the Republic sat by the microscope. No, this was Professor Persikov! All his mental powers were now concentrated in his right eye. For five minutes or so in petrified silence the higher being observed the lower one, peering hard at the out-of-focus specimen. There was complete silence all around. Pankrat had gone to sleep in his cubby-hole in thes vestibule, and only once there came a far-off gentle and musical tinkling of glass in cupboards-that was Ivanov going out and locking his laboratory. The entrance door groaned behind him. Then came the Professor’s voice. To whom his question was addressed no one knows.
“What on earth is that? I don’t understand…”
A late lorry rumbled down Herzen Street, making the old walls of the Institute shake. The shallow glass bowl with pipettes tinkled on the table. The Professor turned pale and put his hands over the microscope, like a mother whose child is threatened by danger. There could now be no question of Persikov turning the knob. Oh no, now he was afraid that some external force might push what he had seen out of his field of vision.
It was a full white morning with a strip of gold which cut across the Institute’s cream porch when the Professor left the microscope and walked over to the window on stiff legs. With trembling fingers he pressed a button, dense black shutters blotted out the morning and a wise scholarly night descended on the room. Sallow and inspired, Persikov placed his feet apart, staring at the parquet floor with his watering eyes, and exclaimed:
“But how can it be? It’s monstrous! Quite monstrous, gentlemen,” he repeated, addressing the toads in the terrarium, who were asleep and made no reply.
He paused, then went over to the button, raised the shutters, turned out all the lights and looked into the microscope. His face grew tense and he raised his bushy yellow eyebrows.
“Aha, aha,” he muttered. “It’s gone. I see. I understand,” he drawled, staring with crazed and inspired eyes at the extinguished light overhead. “It’s simple.”
Again he let down the hissing shutters and put on the light. Then looked into the microscope and grinned happily, almost greedily.
“I’ll catch it,” he said solemnly and gravely, crooking his finger. “I’ll catch it. Perhaps the sun will do it too.”
The shutters shot up once more. Now you could see the sun. It was shining on the walls of the Institute and slanting down onto the pavements of Herzen Street. The Professor looked through the window, working out where the sun would be in the afternoon. He kept stepping back and forwards, doing a little dance, and eventually lay stomach down on the window-sill.
After that he got down to some important and mysterious work. He covered the microscope with a bell glass. Then he melted a piece of sealing-wax in the bluish flame of the Bun-sen burner, sealed the edge of the glass to the table and made a thumb print on the blobs of wax. Finally he turned off the gas and went out, locking the laboratory door firmly behind him.
There was semi-darkness in the Institute corridors.
The Professor reached Pankrat’s door and knocked for a long time to no effect. At last something inside growled like a watchdog, coughed and snorted and Pankrat appeared in the lighted doorway wearing long striped underpants tied at the ankles. His eyes glared wildly at the scientist and he whimpered softly with sleep.
“I must apologise for waking you up, Pankrat,” said the
Professor, peering at him over his spectacles. “But please don’t go into my laboratory this morning, dear chap. I’ve left some work there that must on no account be moved. Understand?”
“Grrr, yessir,” Pankrat replied, not understanding a thing.
He staggered a bit and growled.
“Now listen here, Pankrat, you just wake up,” the zoologist ordered, prodding him lightly in the ribs, which produced a look of fright on Pankrat’s face and a glimmer of comprehension in his eyes. “I’ve locked the laboratory,” Persikov went on, “so you need not clean it until I come back. Understand?”
“Yessir,” Pankrat croaked.
“That’s fine then, go back to bed.”
Pankrat turned round, disappeared inside and collapsed onto the bed. The Professor went into the vestibule. Putting on his grey summer coat and soft hat, he remembered what he had observed in the microscope and stared at his galoshes for a few seconds, as if seeing them for the first time. Then he put on the left galosh and tried to put the right one over it, but it wouldn’t go on.
“What an incredible coincidence that he called me away,” said the scientist. “Otherwise I would never have noticed it. But what does it mean? The devil only knows!..”
The Professor smiled, squinted at his galoshes, took off the left one and put on the right. “Good heavens! One can’t even imagine all the consequences…” The Professor prodded off the left galosh, which had irritated him by not going on top of the right, and walked to the front door wearing one galosh only. He also lost his handkerchief and went out, slamming the heavy door. On the porch he searched in his pockets for some matches, patting his sides, found them eventually and set off down the street with an unlit cigarette in his mouth.
The scientist did not meet a soul all the way to the church. There he threw back his head and stared at the golden dome. The sun was licking it avidly on one side.
“Why didn’t I notice it before? What a coincidence! Well, I never! Silly ass!” The Professor looked down and stared pensively at his strangely shod feet. “Hm, what shall I do? Go back to Pankrat? No, there’s no waking him. It’s a pity to throw the wretched thing away. I’ll have to carry it.” He removed the galosh and set off carrying it distastefully.
An old car drove out of Prechistenka with three passengers. Two men, slightly tipsy, with a garishly made-up woman in those baggy silk trousers that were all the rage in 1928 sitting on their lap.
“Hey, Dad!” she shouted in a low husky voice. “Did you sell the other galosh for booze?”
“The old boy got sozzled at the Alcazar,” howled the man on the left, while the one on the right leaned out of the car and shouted:
“Is the night-club in Volkhonka still open, Dad? That’s where we’re making for!”
The Professor looked at them sternly over the top of his glasses, let the cigarette fall out of his mouth and then immediately forgot they existed. A beam was cutting its way through Prechistensky Boulevard, and the dome of Christ the Saviour had begun to burn. The sun had come out.
Source: “The Fatal Eggs”, Mikhail Bulgakov, translated by Kathleen Gook-Horujy, Raduga, Moscow, 1990