The Secret of the Night
16. Before The Revolutionary Tribunal
Only, Rouletabille refused to be put into the basket. He would not let them disarm him
until they promised to call a carriage. The Vehicle rolled into the court, and while Pere
Alexis was kept back in his shop at the point of a revolver, Rouletabille quietly got in,
smoking his pipe. The man who appeared to be the chief of the band (the gentleman of
the Neva) got in too and sat down beside him. The carriage windows were shuttered,
preventing all communication with the outside, and only a tiny lantern lighted the
interior. They started. The carriage was driven by two men in brown coats trimmed with
false astrakhan. The dvornicks saluted, believing it a police affair. The concierge made
the sign of the cross.
The journey lasted several hours without other incidents than those brought about by the
tremendous jolts, which threw the two passengers inside one on top of the other. This
might have made an opening for conversation; and the "gentleman of the Neva" tried it;
but in vain. Rouletabille would not respond. At one moment, indeed, the gentleman, who
was growing bored, became so pressing that the reporter finally said in the curt tone he
always used when he was irritated:
"I pray you, monsieur, let me smoke my pipe in peace."
Upon which the gentleman prudently occupied himself in lowering one of the windows,
for it grew stifling.
Finally, after much jolting, there was a stop while the horses were changed and the
gentleman asked Rouletabille to let himself be blindfolded. "The moment has come; they
are going to hang me without any form of trial," thought the reporter, and when, blinded
with the bandage, he felt himself lifted under the arms, there was revolt of his whole
being, that being which, now that it was on the point of dying, did not wish to cease.
Rouletabille would have believed himself stronger, more courageous, more stoical at
least. But blind instinct swept all of this away, that instinct of conservation which had no
concern with the minor bravadoes of the reporter, no concern with the fine heroic
manner, of the determined pose to die finely, because the instinct of conservation, which
is, as its rigid name indicates, essentially materialistic, demands only, thinks of nothing
but, to live. And it was that instinct which made Rouletabille's last pipe die out unpuffed.
The young man was furious with himself, and he grew pale with the fear that he might
not succeed in mastering this emotion, he took fierce hold of himself and his members,
which had stiffened at the contact of seizure by rough hands, relaxed, and he allowed
himself to be led. Truly, he was disgusted with his faintness and weakness. He had seen
men die who knew they were going to die. His task as reporter had led him more than
once to the foot of the guillotine. And the wretches he had seen there had died bravely.
Extraordinarily enough, the most criminal had ordinarily met death most bravely. Of
course, they had had leisure to prepare themselves, thinking a long time in advance of
that supreme moment. But they affronted death, came to it almost negligently, found