The Secret of the Night HTML version

8. The Litile Chapel Of The Guards
Rouletabille took a long walk which led him to the Troitsky Bridge, then, re-descending
the Naberjnaia, he reached the Winter Palace. He seemed to have chased away all
preoccupation, and took a child's pleasure in the different aspects of the life that
characterizes the city of the Great Peter. He stopped before the Winter Palace, walked
slowly across the square where the prodigious monolith of the Alexander Column rises
from its bronze socket, strolled between the palace and the colonnades, passed under an
immense arch: everything seemed Cyclopean to him, and he never had felt so tiny, so
insignificant. None the less he was happy in his insignificance, he was satisfied with
himself in the presence of these colossal things; everything pleased him this morning.
The speed of the isvos, the bickering humor of the osvotchicks, the elegance of the
women, the fine presences of the officers and their easy naturalness under their uniforms,
so opposed to the wooden posturing of the Berlin military men whom he had noticed at
the "Tilleuls" and in the Friederichstrasse between two trains. Everything enchanted him
- the costume even of the moujiks, vivid blouses, the red shirts over the trousers, the full
legs and the boots up to the knees, even the unfortunates who, in spite of the soft
atmosphere, were muffled up in sheepskin coats, all impressed him favorably, everything
appeared to him original and congenial.
Order reigned in the city. The guards were polite, decorative and superb in bearing. The
passers-by in that quarter talked gayly among themselves, often in French, and had
manners as civilized as anywhere in the world. Where, then, was the Bear of the North?
He never had seen bears so well licked. Was it this very city that only yesterday was in
revolution? This was certainly the Alexander Park where troops a few weeks before had
fired on children who had sought refuge in the trees, like sparrows. Was this the very
pavement where the Cossacks had left so many bodies? Finally he saw before him the
Nevsky Prospect, where the bullets rained like hail not long since upon a people dressed
for festivities and very joyous. Nichevo! Nichevo! All that was so soon forgotten. They
forgot yesterday as they forget to-morrow. The Nihilists? Poets, who imagined that a
bomb could accomplish anything in that Babylon of the North more important than the
noise of its explosion! Look at these people who pass. They have no more thought for the
old attack than for those now preparing in the shadow of the "tracktirs." Happy men, full
of serenity in this bright quarter, who move about their affairs and their pleasures in the
purest air, the lightest, the most transparent on earth. No, no; no one knows the joy of
mere breathing if he has not breathed the air there, the finest in the north of the world,
which gives food and drink of beautiful white eau-de-vie and yellow pivo, and strikes the
blood and makes one a beast vigorous and joyful and fatalistic, and mocks at the Nihilists
and, as well, at the ten thousand eyes of the police staring from under the porches of
houses, from under the skulls of dvornicks - all police, the dvornicks; all police, also the
joyous concierges with extended hands. Ah, ah, one mocks at it all in such air, provided
one has roubles in one's pockets, plenty of roubles, and that one is not besotted by
reading those extraordinary books that preach the happiness of all humanity to students
and to poor girl-students too. Ah, ah, seed of the Nihilists, all that! These poor little
fellows and poor little girls who have their heads turned by lectures that they cannot