"Your nerves are out of order," observed the gentleman, with a carelessly easy, though perfectly polite, air. "You are angry with me even for being able to catch cold, though it happened in a most natural way. I was hurrying then to a diplomatic soiree at the house of a lady of high rank in Petersburg, who was aiming at influence in the Ministry. Well, an evening suit, white tie, gloves, though I was God knows where and had to fly through space to reach your earth.... Of course, it took only an instant, but you know a ray of light from the sun takes full eight minutes, and fancy in an evening suit and open waistcoat. Spirits don't freeze, but when one's in fleshly form, well... in brief, I didn't think, and set off, and you know in those ethereal spaces, in the water that is above the firmament, there's such a frost... at least one can't call it frost, you fancy, 150 degrees below zero! You know the game the village girls play -- they invite the unwary to lick an axe in thirty degrees of frost, the tongue instantly freezes to it and the dupe tears the skin off, so it bleeds. But that's only in 30 degrees, in 150 degrees I imagine it would be enough to put your finger on the axe and it would be the end of it... if only there could be an axe there."
"And can there be an axe there?" Ivan interrupted, carelessly and disdainfully. He was exerting himself to the utmost not to believe in the delusion and not to sink into complete insanity
"An axe?" the guest interrupted in surprise.
"Yes, what would become of an axe there?" Ivan cried suddenly, with a sort of savage and insistent obstinacy.
"What would become of an axe in space? Quelle idee! If it were to fall to any distance, it would begin, I think, flying round the earth without knowing why, like a satellite. The astronomers would calculate the rising and the setting of the axe; Gatzuk would put it in his calendar, that's all."
"You are stupid, awfully stupid," said Ivan peevishly. "Fib more cleverly or I won't listen. You want to get the better of me by realism, to convince me that you exist, but I don't want to believe you exist! I won't believe it!"
"But I am not fibbing, it's all the truth; the truth is unhappily hardly ever amusing. I see you persist in expecting something big of me, and perhaps something fine. That's a great pity, for I only give what I can-"