‘Now if I,’ the deacon continued, ‘make a row, let’s say, in the street, this Philip is obliged without fail to take me to the police­station, and for appearances’ sake, so that it should not seem strange to others, he will of course do so, but as soon as we turn the comer he will let me go, not forgetting to say, “Please, a little tip …”

‘Well, the Unclean One is just the same, you might say, with his servants, the Yezidis.’

I do not know whether he invented this episode on the spur of the moment, or whether it had really taken place.

The artillery officer said that he had never heard about such a phenomenon and that, in his opinion, nothing of the sort could exist. He much regretted that we, intelligent people, should believe in such marvels and, still more, rack our brains about them.

Stolmakh, the teacher, retorted that on the contrary he firmly believed in supernatural phenomena and that, if there were much that positive science could not explain, he was fully convinced that, with the present rapid progress of civilization, contemporary science would soon prove that all mysteries of the metaphysical world could be fully explained by physical causes. ‘In regard to the fact you are now talking about,’ he continued, ‘I think it is one of those magnetic phenomena which are now being investigated by scientists at Nancy.’

He was going to say something more but Pavlov interrupted him, exclaiming: ‘The devil take them and all the devil­-worshippers! Give them each a half­-bottle of vodka and then no devil will hold them back. Let’s drink to the health of lsakov!’ (Isakov was the proprietor of the local vodka distillery.)

These discussions not only did not calm my thoughts, but on the contrary on leaving Pavlov’s I began to think all the more, and at the same time began to have doubts about people whom I had until then considered educated.

The next morning I met by chance the chief physician of the 39th Division, Dr. Ivanov. He had been called to see a sick Armenian neighbour of ours and I was asked to come and serve as interpreter. Dr. Ivanov had a good reputation among the townspeople and had a very large practice. I knew him well as he was often at my uncle’s.