The Secret of the Night
18. A Singular Experience
The five minutes ticked away and the watch commenced to strike the hour's seven
strokes. Did it sound the death of Rouletabille? Perhaps not! For at the first silver tinkle
they saw Rouletabille shake himself, and raise his head, with his face alight and his eyes
shining. They saw him stand up, spread out his arms and cry:
"I have found it!"
Such joy shone in his countenance that there seemed to be an aureole around him, and
none of those there doubted that he had the solution of the impossible problem.
"I have found it! I have found it!"
They gathered around him. He waved them away as in a waking dream.
"Give me room. I have found it, if my experiment works out. One, two, three, four,
What was he doing? He counted his steps now, in long paces, as in dueling preliminaries.
And the others, all of them, followed him in silence, puzzled, but without protest, as if
they, too, were caught in the same strange day-dream. Steadily counting his steps he
crossed thus the court, which was vast. "Forty, forty-one, forty-two," he cried excitedly.
"This is certainly strange, and very promising."
The others, although they did not understand, reframed from questioning him, for they
saw there was nothing to do but let him go ahead without interruption, just as care is
taken not to wake a somnambulist abruptly. They had no mistrust of his motives, for the
idea was simply untenable that Rouletabille was fool enough to hope to save himself
from them by an imbecile subterfuge. No, they yielded to the impression his inspired
countenance gave them, and several were so affected that they unconsciously repeated his
gestures. Thus Rouletabille reached the edge of the court where judgment had been
pronounced against him. There he had to mount a rickety flight of stairs, whose steps he
counted. He reached a corridor, but moving away from the side where the door was
opening to the exterior he turned toward a staircase leading to the upper floor, and still
counted the steps as be climbed them. Some of the company followed him, others hurried
ahead of him. But he did not seem aware of either the one or the other, as he walked
along living only in his thoughts. He reached the landing-place, hesitated, pushed open a
door, and found himself in a room furnished with a table, two chairs, a mattress and a
huge cupboard. He went to the cupboard, turned the key and opened it. The cupboard was
empty. He closed it again and put the key in his pocket. Then he went out onto the
landing-place again. There he asked for the key of the chamber-door he had just left.
They gave it to him and he locked that door and put that key also in his pocket. Now he
returned into the court. He asked for a chair. It was brought him. Immediately he placed
his head in his hands, thinking hard, took the chair and carried it over a little behind the