Mikhail Bulgakov the heart of a dog and other stories



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9


Doctor Bormental did not deal with Sharikov next morning as promised for the simple reason that Polygraph Polygraphovich had vanished from the house. Bormental was in a fury of despair, reproaching himself for having been ass enough not to hide the key of the front door, yelling that it was unforgivable, and concluding with the wish that Sharikov would run under a bus. Philip Philipovich sat in his study running his fingers through his hair and saying:

"I can well imagine what's going on out there, I can well imagine. From Seville to Granada, oh my God."

"He may still be with the house committee," Bormental ran off like one possessed.

In the house committee he had a stand up row with the chairman Shvonder till the latter, enraged, sat down and wrote a notice to the people's court of the Khamovniki district, shouting that he was not the keeper of Professor Preobrazhensky's protege, all the more so as that protege Polygraph had only yesterday shown himself to be a real cad, having taken 7 roubles from the house committee supposedly in order to buy text-books from the cooperative.

Fyodor was paid three roubles to search the whole house from top to bottom, but nowhere was Sharikov to be found.

The only thing that did come to light was that Polygraph had made off at dawn in cap, scarf and coat, having supplied himself with a bottle of rowan-berry vodka from the sideboard, Doctor Bormental's gloves and all his own documents. Darya Petrovna and Zina made no attempt to disguise their demonstrative delight and hope that Sharikov would never return. The day before Sharikov had borrowed three roubles and fifty kopecks from Darya Petrovna.

"Serve you all right!" growled Philip Philipovich, shaking his fists. The telephone rang all that day, and all the next. The doctors received a record number of patients and on the third day in the study they faced up to the question of the necessity of informing the militia about a missing person, whose duty it was to search out Sharikov in the deep waters of the Moscow underworld.

No sooner had the word "militia" been pronounced than the blessed quiet of Obukhov Alley was broken by the growl of a van and the windows of the house shook. After this there was a confident ring and in came Polygraph Polygraphovich with an air of exceptional dignity, quietly took off his cap, hung his coat on a peg and appeared in a new hypostasis. He was wearing a second-hand leather jacket, rubbed leather trousers and high English boots laced up to the knee. An incredibly powerful aroma of cats immediately billowed out to fill the whole hall. Preobrazhensky and Bormental, as if on command, folded their arms on their chests, planted themselves in the doorways and waited for Polygraph Polygraphovich to explain himself. He smoothed down his wiry hair, gave a little cough and looked round in such a way that it became clear that he wished to hide a certain embarrassment beneath an air of jaunty insouciance.

"I, Philip Philipovich," he began at last, "have taken up an official post."

Both doctors uttered an indeterminate strangled sound in their throats and moved. Preobrazhensky, the first to come to himself, held out his hand and said:

"Give me the paper."

On it was printed: "The presenter of this, Comrade Polygraph Polygraphovich Sharikov, is truly employed as head of the sub-department for the control of stray animals (cats, etc.) in the precincts of the city of Moscow in the department of M. K. Kh." [Moscow Communal Welfare.— Ed.]

"So," pronounced Philip Philipovich glumly. "Who got you the job? But I suppose I can guess."

"Yes, of course, Shvonder," replied Sharikov.

"May I ask you — how comes it that you smell so singularly repulsive?"

Sharikov sniffed at his jacket with some anxiety.

"Well, what can you do about it? It does smell ... as everyone knows ... of the job. Yesterday we were strangling cats, strangling 'em one after another..."

Philip Philipovich shuddered and glanced at Bormental. The latter's eyes were reminiscent of two black gun muzzles, focussed point-blank on Sharikov. Without any preliminaries he moved in on Sharikov and with easy confidence seized him by the throat.

"Help!" squealed Sharikov, turning pale.

"Doctor!"

"I shall not permit myself anything unethical, Philip Philipovich, don't worry," replied Bormental grimly and yelled: "Zina and Darya Petrovna!"

Both appeared in the hall.

"Now repeat," said Bormental and very slightly increased the pressure on Sharikov's throat, pushing back his neck against a fur coat: "Forgive me..."

"All right, I'll say it," the totally defeated Sharikov responded in hoarse tones, suddenly gasped for air, jerked away and tried to shout for help again, only the shout did not come out and his head disappeared completely into the fur.

"Doctor, I implore you..."

Sharikov nodded his head slightly as a sign that he submitted and would repeat:

"Forgive me, much respected Darya Petrovna and Zinaida?"

"Prokofievna," whispered the scared Zina.

"Oof, Prokofievna," said Sharikov, hoarse-voiced, "that I permitted myself..."

"Myself a revolting prank at night in a drunken state..."

"Drunken state..."

"And I will never do it again..."

"Let him go, let him go, Ivan Arnoldovich," begged both the women simultaneously. "You'll strangle him."

Bormental let go of Sharikov and said:

"The van is waiting for you?"

"No," replied Polygraph respectfully. "It just brought me home."

"Zina, tell the van it can go. Now, I want you to bear in mind the following: you have returned to Philip Philipovich's flat?"

"Where else should I go?" replied Sharikov timidly, his eyes wandering.

"Excellent. You will be good, quiet and humble. Otherwise, you will have me to reckon with. Do you understand?"

"I understand," said Sharikov.

Philip Philipovich throughout this violent action perpetrated against Sharikov had remained silent. He had shrunk pitiably against the lintel and was biting his nails, his eyes fixed on the parquet floor. Then he suddenly raised them to Sharikov and asked dully, automatically:

"What do you do with them ... with the dead cats?"

"They'll go for coats," replied Sharikov. "They make squirrels out of them and sell them on workers' credit schemes." (10)

After this there was calm and quiet in the flat and it lasted for two days and two nights. Polygraph Polygraphovich left in the morning in his van, reappeared in the evening, and quietly ate his dinner in the company of Philip Philipovich and Bormental.

In spite of the fact that Bormental and Sharikov slept in the same room, the reception room, they were not on speaking terms, so it was Bormental who became really uncomfortable.

Two days later a thin young girl in cream-coloured stockings with heavily made-up eyes appeared and was clearly overwhelmed at the sight of the splendid flat. In her shabby little coat she followed Sharikov into the hall and bumped into the Professor.

Taken aback, he stopped, narrowed his eyes and said:

"May I inquire?"

"We are going to get married, this is our typist, she's going to live with me. We'll have to put Bormental out of the reception room. He's got a flat of his own," explained Sharikov, frowning and with intense hostility.

Philip Philipovich thought a moment, looked at the embarrassed girl and said:

"May I ask you to step into my study for a moment?"

"I'll come with her," Sharikov said quickly and suspiciously.

At this moment Bormental surfaced as if from under the earth.

"I beg your pardon," he said. "The Professor will have a word with the lady, and you and I will remain here."

"Not if I can help it," Sharikov retorted furiously, trying to follow Philip Philipovich and the desperately embarrassed girl.

"Forgive me, no," Bormental took Sharikov by the wrist and led him into the consulting room.

For five minutes there was no sound from the study and then suddenly they could hear the muffled sobbing of the girl.

Philip Philipovich stood by the table and the girl wept into a crumpled lace handkerchief.

"He said, the scoundrel, that he'd been wounded in battle," the girl sobbed.

"He's lying," replied Philip Philipovich inexorably. He shook his head and went on: "I am sincerely sorry for you, but you know you should not go off with the first man you meet just because he has a steady job — my child, it is not right — there." He opened a drawer of his writing table and took out three thirty-rouble notes.

"I'll poison myself," wept the girl, "there's salt meat at the canteen every day, and he threatens ... says he's a Red commander, says he'll take me to live in a luxurious flat ... pineapples every day... I've a kind psyche, he says, it's only cats I hate. He took a ring from me as a keepsake."

"Well, well, well — a kind psyche. From Seville to Granada," muttered Philip Philipovich. "It will pass, you just have to bear the pain a little time. You are still so young..."

"Surely not under that same gateway?.."

"Now, now, take the money when it's offered to you as a loan," Philip Philipovich concluded gruffly.

After this the door was solemnly opened and Bormental, at the invitation of Philip Philipovich, led in Sharikov. He was looking particularly shifty-eyed and his hair stood on end like a brush.

"Scoundrel," the girl scolded, her tear-reddened mascara-stained eyes and blotchily powdered nose flashing.

"Why have you a scar on your forehead? Be so good as to explain to this lady," asked Philip Philipovich insinuatingly.

Sharikov went the whole hog:

"I was wounded at the Kolchak front," he barked.

The girl rose to her feet and went out, crying bitterly.

"Stop!" Philip Philipovich called after her. "Wait. The ring, please," he said, turning to Sharikov.

Obediently, Sharikov took from his finger a hollow ring with an emerald.

"Right, then," he said with sudden anger. "I'll see you remember this. Tomorrow I'll organise a few reductions of the office staff."

"Don't be afraid of him," Bormental called after her. "I won't let him do anything." He gave Sharikov a look which sent him backing away until he bumped the back of his head on a cupboard.

"What's her name?" Bormental asked him. "Her name," he roared and suddenly became wild and terrifying.

"Vasnetsova," replied Sharikov, looking round desperately for some line of retreat.

"Every day," said Bormental, holding the lapel of Sharikov's jacket, "I shall myself, personally, inquire at pest control whether or not Citizen Vasnetsova has been made redundant. And if you so much as ... if I find out that she has been made redundant ... I will shoot you with my own hands. Be careful, Sharikov — I am warning you in clear Russian."

Sharikov kept his eyes fixed firmly on Bormental's nose.

"I know where to lay hands on revolvers myself," muttered Sharikov, though in a very flat voice, then, with a sudden cunning twist, broke free and dived for the door.

"Take care!" Bormental's shout echoed after him.

The night and half the following day hung heavy as a cloud before the storm. There was a hush. Everyone was silent. But on the following day, when Polygraph Polygraphovich, who was troubled by a nagging presentiment from morning, had left gloomily with the van for his place of work, Professor Preobrazhensky received at a most unusual hour one of his ex-patients, a stout, tall man in military uniform. He had been most insistent on obtaining an appointment and had actually succeeded doing so. On entering the study he politely clicked his heels before the Professor.

"Are you having pain again, dear Sir?" asked the haggard Philip Philipovich. "Sit down, please."



"Merci. No, Professor," replied the guest, putting his hat down on the corner of the table. "I owe you a great debt ... but, er ... I came for another reason, Philip Philipovich, full of respect as I am ... hm ... to warn you. It's clearly nonsense. Simply he's a nasty bit of work." The patient fumbled about in his briefcase and produced a paper. "It's a good thing the report came straight to me..."

Philip Philipovich saddled his nose with his pince-nez, which he put on over his glasses, and began to read. He took his time, mumbling to himself, the expression of his face changing from one moment to the next: "...Likewise threatening to kill the chairman of the house committee Comrade Shvonder from which it is clear that he is in possession of a gun. And he pronounces counter-revolutionary speeches and even orders his social servant Zinaida Prokofievna Bunina to burn Engels in the stove, which proves him a typical Menshevik together with his assistant Bormental, Ivan Arnoldovich, who secretly and without registration lives in his flat. Signature of the Head of the Sub-Department of Pest Control P. P. Sharikov witnessed by the Chairman of the House Committee Shvonder and the secretary Pestrukhin."

"May I keep this?" inquired Philip Philipovich, going all blotchy. "Or, forgive me, do you need it in furtherance of the process of law?"

"I beg your pardon, Professor," the patient was deeply insulted and his nostrils dilated. "You really do hold us in great contempt, it seems. I..." And at this point he began to swell like a turkey-cock.

"Well then, excuse me, dear Sir, pray excuse me!" muttered Philip Philipovich. "Forgive me, I really had no intention of insulting you. My dear fellow, don't be angry with me, he's got on my nerves to such an extent."

"I should rather think he has," the patient was entirely mollified. "But what trash! It would be interesting to take a look at him. Moscow is buzzing with all sorts of legends about you..."

Philip Philipovich merely made a despairing gesture. At this point the guest noticed that the Professor had developed a stoop and even appeared to have gone somewhat greyer lately.




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