The Secret of the Night
17. the last cravat
The gentleman of the Neva said to him: "If you have nothing further to say, we will go
into the courtyard."
Rouletabille understood at last that hanging him in the room where judgment had been
pronounced was rendered impossible by the violence of the prisoner just executed. Not
only the rope and the ring-bolt had been torn away, but part of the beam had splintered.
"There is nothing more," replied Rouletabille.
He was mistaken. Something occurred to him, an idea flashed so suddenly that he became
white as his shirt, and had to lean on the arm of the gentleman of the Neva in order to
The door was open. All the men who had voted his death filed out in gloomy silence. The
gentleman of the Neva, who seemed charged with the last offices for the prisoner, pushed
him gently out into the court.
It was vast, and surrounded by a high board wall; some small buildings, with closed
doors, stood to right and left. A high chimney, partially demolished, rose from one
corner. Rouletabille decided the whole place was part of some old abandoned mill.
Above his head the sky was pale as a winding sheet. A thunderous, intermittent,
rhythmical noise appraised him that he could not be far from the sea.
He had plenty of time to note all these things, for they had stopped the march to
execution a moment and had made him sit down in the open courtyard on an old box. A
few steps away from him under the shed where he certainly was going to be hanged, a
man got upon a stool (the stool that would serve Rouletabille a few moments later) with
his arm raised, and drove with a few blows of a mallet a great ring-bolt into a beam above
The reporter's eyes, which had not lost their habit of taking everything in, rested again on
a coarse canvas sack that lay on the ground. The young man felt a slight tremor, for he
saw quickly that the sack swathed a human form. He turned his head away, but only to
confront another empty sack that was intended for him. Then he closed his eyes. The
sound of music came from somewhere outside, notes of the balalaika. He said to himself,
"Well, we certainly are in Finland"; for he knew that, if the guzla is Russian the balalaika
certainly is Finnish. It is a kind of accordeon that the peasants pick plaintively in the
doorways of their toubas. He had seen and heard them the afternoon that he went to
Pergalovo, and also a little further away, on the Viborg line. He pictured to himself the
ruined structure where he now found himself shut in with the revolutionary tribunal, as it
must appear from the outside to passers-by; unsinister, like many others near it, sheltering
under its decaying roof a few homes of humble workers, resting now as they played the
balalaika at their thresholds, with the day's labor over.