Part 4 out of 6
into the current of domestic events, she mentioned that the boy had
moped a good deal.
"It's all along of mother leaving us like this."
Mr Verloc neither said, "Damn!" nor yet "Stevie be hanged!" And
Mrs Verloc, not let into the secret of his thoughts, failed to
appreciate the generosity of this restraint.
"It isn't that he doesn't work as well as ever," she continued.
"He's been making himself very useful. You'd think he couldn't do
enough for us."
Mr Verloc directed a casual and somnolent glance at Stevie, who sat
on his right, delicate, pale-faced, his rosy mouth open vacantly.
It was not a critical glance. It had no intention. And if Mr
Verloc thought for a moment that his wife's brother looked
uncommonly useless, it was only a dull and fleeting thought, devoid
of that force and durability which enables sometimes a thought to
move the world. Leaning back, Mr Verloc uncovered his head.
Before his extended arm could put down the hat Stevie pounced upon
it, and bore it off reverently into the kitchen. And again Mr
Verloc was surprised.
"You could do anything with that boy, Adolf," Mrs Verloc said, with
her best air of inflexible calmness. "He would go through fire for
you. He - "
She paused attentive, her ear turned towards the door of the
There Mrs Neale was scrubbing the floor. At Stevie's appearance
she groaned lamentably, having observed that he could be induced
easily to bestow for the benefit of her infant children the
shilling his sister Winnie presented him with from time to time.
On all fours amongst the puddles, wet and begrimed, like a sort of
amphibious and domestic animal living in ash-bins and dirty water,
she uttered the usual exordium: "It's all very well for you, kept
doing nothing like a gentleman." And she followed it with the
everlasting plaint of the poor, pathetically mendacious, miserably
authenticated by the horrible breath of cheap rum and soap-suds.
She scrubbed hard, snuffling all the time, and talking volubly.
And she was sincere. And on each side of her thin red nose her
bleared, misty eyes swam in tears, because she felt really the want
of some sort of stimulant in the morning.
In the parlour Mrs Verloc observed, with knowledge:
"There's Mrs Neale at it again with her harrowing tales about her
little children. They can't be all so little as she makes them
out. Some of them must be big enough by now to try to do something
for themselves. It only makes Stevie angry."
These words were confirmed by a thud as of a fist striking the
kitchen table. In the normal evolution of his sympathy Stevie had
become angry on discovering that he had no shilling in his pocket.
In his inability to relieve at once Mrs Neale's "little 'uns',"
privations he felt that somebody should be made to suffer for it.
Mrs Verloc rose, and went into the kitchen to "stop that nonsense."
And she did it firmly but gently. She was well aware that directly
Mrs Neale received her money she went round the corner to drink
ardent spirits in a mean and musty public-house - the unavoidable
station on the VIA DOLOROSA of her life. Mrs Verloc's comment upon
this practice had an unexpected profundity, as coming from a person
disinclined to look under the surface of things. "Of course, what
is she to do to keep up? If I were like Mrs Neale I expect I
wouldn't act any different."
In the afternoon of the same day, as Mr Verloc, coming with a start
out of the last of a long series of dozes before the parlour fire,
declared his intention of going out for a walk, Winnie said from
"I wish you would take that boy out with you, Adolf."
For the third time that day Mr Verloc was surprised. He stared
stupidly at his wife. She continued in her steady manner. The
boy, whenever he was not doing anything, moped in the house. It
made her uneasy; it made her nervous, she confessed. And that from
the calm Winnie sounded like exaggeration. But, in truth, Stevie
moped in the striking fashion of an unhappy domestic animal. He
would go up on the dark landing, to sit on the floor at the foot of
the tall clock, with his knees drawn up and his head in his hands.
To come upon his pallid face, with its big eyes gleaming in the
dusk, was discomposing; to think of him up there was uncomfortable.
Mr Verloc got used to the startling novelty of the idea. He was
fond of his wife as a man should be - that is, generously. But a
weighty objection presented itself to his mind, and he formulated
"He'll lose sight of me perhaps, and get lost in the street," he
Mrs Verloc shook her head competently.
"He won't. You don't know him. That boy just worships you. But
if you should miss him - "
Mrs Verloc paused for a moment, but only for a moment.
"You just go on, and have your walk out. Don't worry. He'll be
all right. He's sure to turn up safe here before very long."
This optimism procured for Mr Verloc his fourth surprise of the
"Is he?" he grunted doubtfully. But perhaps his brother-in-law was
not such an idiot as he looked. His wife would know best. He
turned away his heavy eyes, saying huskily: "Well, let him come
along, then," and relapsed into the clutches of black care, that
perhaps prefers to sit behind a horseman, but knows also how to
tread close on the heels of people not sufficiently well off to
keep horses - like Mr Verloc, for instance.
Winnie, at the shop door, did not see this fatal attendant upon Mr
Verloc's walks. She watched the two figures down the squalid
street, one tall and burly, the other slight and short, with a thin
neck, and the peaked shoulders raised slightly under the large
semi-transparent ears. The material of their overcoats was the
same, their hats were black and round in shape. Inspired by the
similarity of wearing apparel, Mrs Verloc gave rein to her fancy.
"Might be father and son," she said to herself. She thought also
that Mr Verloc was as much of a father as poor Stevie ever had in
his life. She was aware also that it was her work. And with
peaceful pride she congratulated herself on a certain resolution
she had taken a few years before. It had cost her some effort, and
even a few tears.
She congratulated herself still more on observing in the course of
days that Mr Verloc seemed to be taking kindly to Stevie's
companionship. Now, when ready to go out for his walk, Mr Verloc
called aloud to the boy, in the spirit, no doubt, in which a man
invites the attendance of the household dog, though, of course, in
a different manner. In the house Mr Verloc could be detected
staring curiously at Stevie a good deal. His own demeanour had
changed. Taciturn still, he was not so listless. Mrs Verloc
thought that he was rather jumpy at times. It might have been
regarded as an improvement. As to Stevie, he moped no longer at
the foot of the clock, but muttered to himself in corners instead
in a threatening tone. When asked "What is it you're saying,
Stevie?" he merely opened his mouth, and squinted at his sister.
At odd times he clenched his fists without apparent cause, and when
discovered in solitude would be scowling at the wall, with the
sheet of paper and the pencil given him for drawing circles lying
blank and idle on the kitchen table. This was a change, but it was
no improvement. Mrs Verloc including all these vagaries under the
general definition of excitement, began to fear that Stevie was
hearing more than was good for him of her husband's conversations
with his friends. During his "walks" Mr Verloc, of course, met and
conversed with various persons. It could hardly be otherwise. His
walks were an integral part of his outdoor activities, which his
wife had never looked deeply into. Mrs Verloc felt that the
position was delicate, but she faced it with the same impenetrable
calmness which impressed and even astonished the customers of the
shop and made the other visitors keep their distance a little
wonderingly. No! She feared that there were things not good for
Stevie to hear of, she told her husband. It only excited the poor
boy, because he could not help them being so. Nobody could.
It was in the shop. Mr Verloc made no comment. He made no retort,
and yet the retort was obvious. But he refrained from pointing out
to his wife that the idea of making Stevie the companion of his
walks was her own, and nobody else's. At that moment, to an
impartial observer, Mr Verloc would have appeared more than human
in his magnanimity. He took down a small cardboard box from a
shelf, peeped in to see that the contents were all right, and put
it down gently on the counter. Not till that was done did he break
the silence, to the effect that most likely Stevie would profit
greatly by being sent out of town for a while; only he supposed his
wife could not get on without him.
"Could not get on without him!" repeated Mrs Verloc slowly. "I
couldn't get on without him if it were for his good! The idea! Of
course, I can get on without him. But there's nowhere for him to
Mr Verloc got out some brown paper and a ball of string; and
meanwhile he muttered that Michaelis was living in a little cottage
in the country. Michaelis wouldn't mind giving Stevie a room to
sleep in. There were no visitors and no talk there. Michaelis was
writing a book.
Mrs Verloc declared her affection for Michaelis; mentioned her
abhorrence of Karl Yundt, "nasty old man"; and of Ossipon she said
nothing. As to Stevie, he could be no other than very pleased. Mr
Michaelis was always so nice and kind to him. He seemed to like
the boy. Well, the boy was a good boy.
"You too seem to have grown quite fond of him of late," she added,
after a pause, with her inflexible assurance.
Mr Verloc tying up the cardboard box into a parcel for the post,
broke the string by an injudicious jerk, and muttered several swear
words confidentially to himself. Then raising his tone to the
usual husky mutter, he announced his willingness to take Stevie
into the country himself, and leave him all safe with Michaelis.
He carried out this scheme on the very next day. Stevie offered no
objection. He seemed rather eager, in a bewildered sort of way.
He turned his candid gaze inquisitively to Mr Verloc's heavy
countenance at frequent intervals, especially when his sister was
not looking at him. His expression was proud, apprehensive, and
concentrated, like that of a small child entrusted for the first
time with a box of matches and the permission to strike a light.
But Mrs Verloc, gratified by her brother's docility, recommended
him not to dirty his clothes unduly in the country. At this Stevie
gave his sister, guardian and protector a look, which for the first
time in his life seemed to lack the quality of perfect childlike
trustfulness. It was haughtily gloomy. Mrs Verloc smiled.
"Goodness me! You needn't be offended. You know you do get
yourself very untidy when you get a chance, Stevie."
Mr Verloc was already gone some way down the street.
Thus in consequence of her mother's heroic proceedings, and of her
brother's absence on this villegiature, Mrs Verloc found herself
oftener than usual all alone not only in the shop, but in the
house. For Mr Verloc had to take his walks. She was alone longer
than usual on the day of the attempted bomb outrage in Greenwich
Park, because Mr Verloc went out very early that morning and did
not come back till nearly dusk. She did not mind being alone. She
had no desire to go out. The weather was too bad, and the shop was
cosier than the streets. Sitting behind the counter with some
sewing, she did not raise her eyes from her work when Mr Verloc
entered in the aggressive clatter of the bell. She had recognised
his step on the pavement outside.
She did not raise her eyes, but as Mr Verloc, silent, and with his
hat rammed down upon his forehead, made straight for the parlour
door, she said serenely:
"What a wretched day. You've been perhaps to see Stevie?"
"No! I haven't," said Mr Verloc softly, and slammed the glazed
parlour door behind him with unexpected energy.
For some time Mrs Verloc remained quiescent, with her work dropped
in her lap, before she put it away under the counter and got up to
light the gas. This done, she went into the parlour on her way to
the kitchen. Mr Verloc would want his tea presently. Confident of
the power of her charms, Winnie did not expect from her husband in
the daily intercourse of their married life a ceremonious amenity
of address and courtliness of manner; vain and antiquated forms at
best, probably never very exactly observed, discarded nowadays even
in the highest spheres, and always foreign to the standards of her
class. She did not look for courtesies from him. But he was a
good husband, and she had a loyal respect for his rights.
Mrs Verloc would have gone through the parlour and on to her
domestic duties in the kitchen with the perfect serenity of a woman
sure of the power of her charms. But a slight, very slight, and
rapid rattling sound grew upon her hearing. Bizarre and
incomprehensible, it arrested Mrs Verloc's attention. Then as its
character became plain to the ear she stopped short, amazed and
concerned. Striking a match on the box she held in her hand, she
turned on and lighted, above the parlour table, one of the two gas-
burners, which, being defective, first whistled as if astonished,
and then went on purring comfortably like a cat.
Mr Verloc, against his usual practice, had thrown off his overcoat.
It was lying on the sofa. His hat, which he must also have thrown
off, rested overturned under the edge of the sofa. He had dragged
a chair in front of the fireplace, and his feet planted inside the
fender, his head held between his hands, he was hanging low over
the glowing grate. His teeth rattled with an ungovernable
violence, causing his whole enormous back to tremble at the same
rate. Mrs Verloc was startled.
"You've been getting wet," she said.
"Not very," Mr Verloc managed to falter out, in a profound shudder.
By a great effort he suppressed the rattling of his teeth.
"I'll have you laid up on my hands," she said, with genuine
"I don't think so," remarked Mr Verloc, snuffling huskily.
He had certainly contrived somehow to catch an abominable cold
between seven in the morning and five in the afternoon. Mrs Verloc
looked at his bowed back.
"Where have you been to-day?" she asked.
"Nowhere," answered Mr Verloc in a low, choked nasal tone. His
attitude suggested aggrieved sulks or a severe headache. The
unsufficiency and uncandidness of his answer became painfully
apparent in the dead silence of the room. He snuffled
apologetically, and added: "I've been to the bank."
Mrs Verloc became attentive.
"You have!" she said dispassionately. "What for?"
Mr Verloc mumbled, with his nose over the grate, and with marked
"Draw the money out!"
"What do you mean? All of it?"
"Yes. All of it."
Mrs Verloc spread out with care the scanty table-cloth, got two
knives and two forks out of the table drawer, and suddenly stopped
in her methodical proceedings.
"What did you do that for?"
"May want it soon," snuffled vaguely Mr Verloc, who was coming to
the end of his calculated indiscretions.
"I don't know what you mean," remarked his wife in a tone perfectly
casual, but standing stock still between the table and the
"You know you can trust me," Mr Verloc remarked to the grate, with
Mrs Verloc turned slowly towards the cupboard, saying with
"Oh yes. I can trust you."
And she went on with her methodical proceedings. She laid two
plates, got the bread, the butter, going to and fro quietly between
the table and the cupboard in the peace and silence of her home.
On the point of taking out the jam, she reflected practically: "He
will be feeling hungry, having been away all day," and she returned
to the cupboard once more to get the cold beef. She set it under
the purring gas-jet, and with a passing glance at her motionless
husband hugging the fire, she went (down two steps) into the
kitchen. It was only when coming back, carving knife and fork in
hand, that she spoke again.
"If I hadn't trusted you I wouldn't have married you."
Bowed under the overmantel, Mr Verloc, holding his head in both
hands, seemed to have gone to sleep. Winnie made the tea, and
called out in an undertone:
Mr Verloc got up at once, and staggered a little before he sat down
at the table. His wife examining the sharp edge of the carving
knife, placed it on the dish, and called his attention to the cold
beef. He remained insensible to the suggestion, with his chin on
"You should feed your cold," Mrs Verloc said dogmatically.
He looked up, and shook his head. His eyes were bloodshot and his
face red. His fingers had ruffled his hair into a dissipated
untidiness. Altogether he had a disreputable aspect, expressive of
the discomfort, the irritation and the gloom following a heavy
debauch. But Mr Verloc was not a debauched man. In his conduct he
was respectable. His appearance might have been the effect of a
feverish cold. He drank three cups of tea, but abstained from food
entirely. He recoiled from it with sombre aversion when urged by
Mrs Verloc, who said at last:
"Aren't your feet wet? You had better put on your slippers. You
aren't going out any more this evening."
Mr Verloc intimated by morose grunts and signs that his feet were
not wet, and that anyhow he did not care. The proposal as to
slippers was disregarded as beneath his notice. But the question
of going out in the evening received an unexpected development. It
was not of going out in the evening that Mr Verloc was thinking.
His thoughts embraced a vaster scheme. From moody and incomplete
phrases it became apparent that Mr Verloc had been considering the
expediency of emigrating. It was not very clear whether he had in
his mind France or California.
The utter unexpectedness, improbability, and inconceivableness of
such an event robbed this vague declaration of all its effect. Mrs
Verloc, as placidly as if her husband had been threatening her with
the end of the world, said:
Mr Verloc declared himself sick and tired of everything, and
besides - She interrupted him.
"You've a bad cold."
It was indeed obvious that Mr Verloc was not in his usual state,
physically and even mentally. A sombre irresolution held him
silent for a while. Then he murmured a few ominous generalities on
the theme of necessity.
"Will have to," repeated Winnie, sitting calmly back, with folded
arms, opposite her husband. "I should like to know who's to make
you. You ain't a slave. No one need be a slave in this country -
and don't you make yourself one." She paused, and with invincible
and steady candour. "The business isn't so bad," she went on.
"You've a comfortable home."
She glanced all round the parlour, from the corner cupboard to the
good fire in the grate. Ensconced cosily behind the shop of
doubtful wares, with the mysteriously dim window, and its door
suspiciously ajar in the obscure and narrow street, it was in all
essentials of domestic propriety and domestic comfort a respectable
home. Her devoted affection missed out of it her brother Stevie,
now enjoying a damp villegiature in the Kentish lanes under the
care of Mr Michaelis. She missed him poignantly, with all the
force of her protecting passion. This was the boy's home too - the
roof, the cupboard, the stoked grate. On this thought Mrs Verloc
rose, and walking to the other end of the table, said in the
fulness of her heart:
"And you are not tired of me."
Mr Verloc made no sound. Winnie leaned on his shoulder from
behind, and pressed her lips to his forehead. Thus she lingered.
Not a whisper reached them from the outside world.
The sound of footsteps on the pavement died out in the discreet
dimness of the shop. Only the gas-jet above the table went on
purring equably in the brooding silence of the parlour.
During the contact of that unexpected and lingering kiss Mr Verloc,
gripping with both hands the edges of his chair, preserved a
hieratic immobility. When the pressure was removed he let go the
chair, rose, and went to stand before the fireplace. He turned no
longer his back to the room. With his features swollen and an air
of being drugged, he followed his wife's movements with his eyes.
Mrs Verloc went about serenely, clearing up the table. Her
tranquil voice commented the idea thrown out in a reasonable and
domestic tone. It wouldn't stand examination. She condemned it
from every point of view. But her only real concern was Stevie's
welfare. He appeared to her thought in that connection as
sufficiently "peculiar" not to be taken rashly abroad. And that
was all. But talking round that vital point, she approached
absolute vehemence in her delivery. Meanwhile, with brusque
movements, she arrayed herself in an apron for the washing up of
cups. And as if excited by the sound of her uncontradicted voice,
she went so far as to say in a tone almost tart:
"If you go abroad you'll have to go without me."
"You know I wouldn't," said Mr Verloc huskily, and the unresonant
voice of his private life trembled with an enigmatical emotion.
Already Mrs Verloc was regretting her words. They had sounded more
unkind than she meant them to be. They had also the unwisdom of
unnecessary things. In fact, she had not meant them at all. It
was a sort of phrase that is suggested by the demon of perverse
inspiration. But she knew a way to make it as if it had not been.
She turned her head over her shoulder and gave that man planted
heavily in front of the fireplace a glance, half arch, half cruel,
out of her large eyes - a glance of which the Winnie of the
Belgravian mansion days would have been incapable, because of her
respectability and her ignorance. But the man was her husband now,
and she was no longer ignorant. She kept it on him for a whole
second, with her grave face motionless like a mask, while she said
"You couldn't. You would miss me too much."
Mr Verloc started forward.
"Exactly," he said in a louder tone, throwing his arms out and
making a step towards her. Something wild and doubtful in his
expression made it appear uncertain whether he meant to strangle or
to embrace his wife. But Mrs Verloc's attention was called away
from that manifestation by the clatter of the shop bell.
"Shop, Adolf. You go."
He stopped, his arms came down slowly.
"You go," repeated Mrs Verloc. "I've got my apron on."
Mr Verloc obeyed woodenly, stony-eyed, and like an automaton whose
face had been painted red. And this resemblance to a mechanical
figure went so far that he had an automaton's absurd air of being
aware of the machinery inside of him.
He closed the parlour door, and Mrs Verloc moving briskly, carried
the tray into the kitchen. She washed the cups and some other
things before she stopped in her work to listen. No sound reached
her. The customer was a long time in the shop. It was a customer,
because if he had not been Mr Verloc would have taken him inside.
Undoing the strings of her apron with a jerk, she threw it on a
chair, and walked back to the parlour slowly.
At that precise moment Mr Verloc entered from the shop.
He had gone in red. He came out a strange papery white. His face,
losing its drugged, feverish stupor, had in that short time
acquired a bewildered and harassed expression. He walked straight
to the sofa, and stood looking down at his overcoat lying there, as
though he were afraid to touch it.
"What's the matter?" asked Mrs Verloc in a subdued voice. Through
the door left ajar she could see that the customer was not gone
"I find I'll have to go out this evening," said Mr Verloc. He did
not attempt to pick up his outer garment.
Without a word Winnie made for the shop, and shutting the door
after her, walked in behind the counter. She did not look overtly
at the customer till she had established herself comfortably on the
chair. But by that time she had noted that he was tall and thin,
and wore his moustaches twisted up. In fact, he gave the sharp
points a twist just then. His long, bony face rose out of a
turned-up collar. He was a little splashed, a little wet. A dark
man, with the ridge of the cheek-bone well defined under the
slightly hollow temple. A complete stranger. Not a customer
Mrs Verloc looked at him placidly.
"You came over from the Continent?" she said after a time.
The long, thin stranger, without exactly looking at Mrs Verloc,
answered only by a faint and peculiar smile.
Mrs Verloc's steady, incurious gaze rested on him.
"You understand English, don't you?"
"Oh yes. I understand English."
There was nothing foreign in his accent, except that he seemed in
his slow enunciation to be taking pains with it. And Mrs Verloc,
in her varied experience, had come to the conclusion that some
foreigners could speak better English than the natives. She said,
looking at the door of the parlour fixedly:
"You don't think perhaps of staying in England for good?"
The stranger gave her again a silent smile. He had a kindly mouth
and probing eyes. And he shook his head a little sadly, it seemed.
"My husband will see you through all right. Meantime for a few
days you couldn't do better than take lodgings with Mr Giugliani.
Continental Hotel it's called. Private. It's quiet. My husband
will take you there."
"A good idea," said the thin, dark man, whose glance had hardened
"You knew Mr Verloc before - didn't you? Perhaps in France?"
"I have heard of him," admitted the visitor in his slow,
painstaking tone, which yet had a certain curtness of intention.
There was a pause. Then he spoke again, in a far less elaborate
"Your husband has not gone out to wait for me in the street by
"In the street!" repeated Mrs Verloc, surprised. "He couldn't.
There's no other door to the house."
For a moment she sat impassive, then left her seat to go and peep
through the glazed door. Suddenly she opened it, and disappeared
into the parlour.
Mr Verloc had done no more than put on his overcoat. But why he
should remain afterwards leaning over the table propped up on his
two arms as though he were feeling giddy or sick, she could not
understand. "Adolf," she called out half aloud; and when he had
"Do you know that man?" she asked rapidly.
"I've heard of him," whispered uneasily Mr Verloc, darting a wild
glance at the door.
Mrs Verloc's fine, incurious eyes lighted up with a flash of
"One of Karl Yundt's friends - beastly old man."
"No! No!" protested Mr Verloc, busy fishing for his hat. But when
he got it from under the sofa he held it as if he did not know the
use of a hat.
"Well - he's waiting for you," said Mrs Verloc at last. "I say,
Adolf, he ain't one of them Embassy people you have been bothered
with of late?"
"Bothered with Embassy people," repeated Mr Verloc, with a heavy
start of surprise and fear. "Who's been talking to you of the
"I! I! Talked of the Embassy to you!"
Mr Verloc seemed scared and bewildered beyond measure. His wife
"You've been talking a little in your sleep of late, Adolf."
"What - what did I say? What do you know?"
"Nothing much. It seemed mostly nonsense. Enough to let me guess
that something worried you."
Mr Verloc rammed his hat on his head. A crimson flood of anger ran
over his face.
"Nonsense - eh? The Embassy people! I would cut their hearts out
one after another. But let them look out. I've got a tongue in my
He fumed, pacing up and down between the table and the sofa, his
open overcoat catching against the angles. The red flood of anger
ebbed out, and left his face all white, with quivering nostrils.
Mrs Verloc, for the purposes of practical existence, put down these
appearances to the cold.
"Well," she said, "get rid of the man, whoever he is, as soon as
you can, and come back home to me. You want looking after for a
day or two."
Mr Verloc calmed down, and, with resolution imprinted on his pale
face, had already opened the door, when his wife called him back in
"Adolf! Adolf!" He came back startled. "What about that money
you drew out?" she asked. "You've got it in your pocket? Hadn't
you better - "
Mr Verloc gazed stupidly into the palm of his wife's extended hand
for some time before he slapped his brow.
"Money! Yes! Yes! I didn't know what you meant."
He drew out of his breast pocket a new pigskin pocket-book. Mrs
Verloc received it without another word, and stood still till the
bell, clattering after Mr Verloc and Mr Verloc's visitor, had
quieted down. Only then she peeped in at the amount, drawing the
notes out for the purpose. After this inspection she looked round
thoughtfully, with an air of mistrust in the silence and solitude
of the house. This abode of her married life appeared to her as
lonely and unsafe as though it had been situated in the midst of a
forest. No receptacle she could think of amongst the solid, heavy
furniture seemed other but flimsy and particularly tempting to her
conception of a house-breaker. It was an ideal conception, endowed
with sublime faculties and a miraculous insight. The till was not
to be thought of it was the first spot a thief would make for. Mrs
Verloc unfastening hastily a couple of hooks, slipped the pocket-
book under the bodice of her dress. Having thus disposed of her
husband's capital, she was rather glad to hear the clatter of the
door bell, announcing an arrival. Assuming the fixed, unabashed
stare and the stony expression reserved for the casual customer,
she walked in behind the counter.
A man standing in the middle of the shop was inspecting it with a
swift, cool, all-round glance. His eyes ran over the walls, took
in the ceiling, noted the floor - all in a moment. The points of a
long fair moustache fell below the line of the jaw. He smiled the
smile of an old if distant acquaintance, and Mrs Verloc remembered
having seen him before. Not a customer. She softened her
"customer stare" to mere indifference, and faced him across the
He approached, on his side, confidentially, but not too markedly
"Husband at home, Mrs Verloc?" he asked in an easy, full tone.
"No. He's gone out."
"I am sorry for that. I've called to get from him a little private
This was the exact truth. Chief Inspector Heat had been all the
way home, and had even gone so far as to think of getting into his
slippers, since practically he was, he told himself, chucked out of
that case. He indulged in some scornful and in a few angry
thoughts, and found the occupation so unsatisfactory that he
resolved to seek relief out of doors. Nothing prevented him paying
a friendly call to Mr Verloc, casually as it were. It was in the
character of a private citizen that walking out privately he made
use of his customary conveyances. Their general direction was
towards Mr Verloc's home. Chief Inspector Heat respected his own
private character so consistently that he took especial pains to
avoid all the police constables on point and patrol duty in the
vicinity of Brett Street. This precaution was much more necessary
for a man of his standing than for an obscure Assistant
Commissioner. Private Citizen Heat entered the street, manoeuvring
in a way which in a member of the criminal classes would have been
stigmatised as slinking. The piece of cloth picked up in Greenwich
was in his pocket. Not that he had the slightest intention of
producing it in his private capacity. On the contrary, he wanted
to know just what Mr Verloc would be disposed to say voluntarily.
He hoped Mr Verloc's talk would be of a nature to incriminate
Michaelis. It was a conscientiously professional hope in the main,
but not without its moral value. For Chief Inspector Heat was a
servant of justice. Find - Mr Verloc from home, he felt
"I would wait for him a little if I were sure he wouldn't be long,"
Mrs Verloc volunteered no assurance of any kind.
"The information I need is quite private," he repeated. "You
understand what I mean? I wonder if you could give me a notion
where he's gone to?"
Mrs Verloc shook her head.
She turned away to range some boxes on the shelves behind the
counter. Chief Inspector Heat looked at her thoughtfully for a
"I suppose you know who I am?" he said.
Mrs Verloc glanced over her shoulder. Chief Inspector Heat was
amazed at her coolness.
"Come! You know I am in the police," he said sharply.
"I don't trouble my head much about it," Mrs Verloc remarked,
returning to the ranging of her boxes.
"My name is Heat. Chief Inspector Heat of the Special Crimes
Mrs Verloc adjusted nicely in its place a small cardboard box, and
turning round, faced him again, heavy-eyed, with idle hands hanging
down. A silence reigned for a time.
"So your husband went out a quarter of an hour ago! And he didn't
say when he would be back?"
"He didn't go out alone," Mrs Verloc let fall negligently.
Mrs Verloc touched the back of her hair. It was in perfect order.
"A stranger who called."
"I see. What sort of man was that stranger? Would you mind
Mrs Verloc did not mind. And when Chief Inspector Heat heard of a
man dark, thin, with a long face and turned up moustaches, he gave
signs of perturbation, and exclaimed:
"Dash me if I didn't think so! He hasn't lost any time."
He was intensely disgusted in the secrecy of his heart at the
unofficial conduct of his immediate chief. But he was not
quixotic. He lost all desire to await Mr Verloc's return. What
they had gone out for he did not know, but he imagined it possible
that they would return together. The case is not followed
properly, it's being tampered with, he thought bitterly.
"I am afraid I haven't time to wait for your husband," he said.
Mrs Verloc received this declaration listlessly. Her detachment
had impressed Chief Inspector Heat all along. At this precise
moment it whetted his curiosity. Chief Inspector Heat hung in the
wind, swayed by his passions like the most private of citizens.
"I think," he said, looking at her steadily, "that you could give
me a pretty good notion of what's going on if you liked."
Forcing her fine, inert eyes to return his gaze, Mrs Verloc
"Going on! What IS going on?"
"Why, the affair I came to talk about a little with your husband."
That day Mrs Verloc had glanced at a morning paper as usual. But
she had not stirred out of doors. The newsboys never invaded Brett
Street. It was not a street for their business. And the echo of
their cries drifting along the populous thoroughfares, expired
between the dirty brick walls without reaching the threshold of the
shop. Her husband had not brought an evening paper home. At any
rate she had not seen it. Mrs Verloc knew nothing whatever of any
affair. And she said so, with a genuine note of wonder in her
Chief Inspector Heat did not believe for a moment in so much
ignorance. Curtly, without amiability, he stated the bare fact.
Mrs Verloc turned away her eyes.
"I call it silly," she pronounced slowly. She paused. "We ain't
downtrodden slaves here."
The Chief Inspector waited watchfully. Nothing more came.
"And your husband didn't mention anything to you when he came
Mrs Verloc simply turned her face from right to left in sign of
negation. A languid, baffling silence reigned in the shop. Chief
Inspector Heat felt provoked beyond endurance.
"There was another small matter," he began in a detached tone,
"which I wanted to speak to your husband about. There came into
our hands a - a - what we believe is - a stolen overcoat."
Mrs Verloc, with her mind specially aware of thieves that evening,
touched lightly the bosom of her dress.
"We have lost no overcoat," she said calmly.
"That's funny," continued Private Citizen Heat. "I see you keep a
lot of marking ink here - "
He took up a small bottle, and looked at it against the gas-jet in
the middle of the shop.
"Purple - isn't it?" he remarked, setting it down again. "As I
said, it's strange. Because the overcoat has got a label sewn on
the inside with your address written in marking ink."
Mrs Verloc leaned over the counter with a low exclamation.
"That's my brother's, then."
"Where's your brother? Can I see him?" asked the Chief Inspector
briskly. Mrs Verloc leaned a little more over the counter.
"No. He isn't here. I wrote that label myself."
"Where's your brother now?"
"He's been away living with - a friend - in the country."
"The overcoat comes from the country. And what's the name of the
"Michaelis," confessed Mrs Verloc in an awed whisper.
The Chief Inspector let out a whistle. His eyes snapped.
"Just so. Capital. And your brother now, what's he like - a
sturdy, darkish chap - eh?"
"Oh no," exclaimed Mrs Verloc fervently. "That must be the thief.
Stevie's slight and fair."
"Good," said the Chief Inspector in an approving tone. And while
Mrs Verloc, wavering between alarm and wonder, stared at him, he
sought for information. Why have the address sewn like this inside
the coat? And he heard that the mangled remains he had inspected
that morning with extreme repugnance were those of a youth,
nervous, absent-minded, peculiar, and also that the woman who was
speaking to him had had the charge of that boy since he was a baby.
"Easily excitable?" he suggested.
"Oh yes. He is. But how did he come to lose his coat - "
Chief Inspector Heat suddenly pulled out a pink newspaper he had
bought less than half-an-hour ago. He was interested in horses.
Forced by his calling into an attitude of doubt and suspicion
towards his fellow-citizens, Chief Inspector Heat relieved the
instinct of credulity implanted in the human breast by putting
unbounded faith in the sporting prophets of that particular evening
publication. Dropping the extra special on to the counter, he
plunged his hand again into his pocket, and pulling out the piece
of cloth fate had presented him with out of a heap of things that
seemed to have been collected in shambles and rag shops, he offered
it to Mrs Verloc for inspection.
"I suppose you recognise this?"
She took it mechanically in both her hands. Her eyes seemed to
grow bigger as she looked.
"Yes," she whispered, then raised her head, and staggered backward
"Whatever for is it torn out like this?"
The Chief Inspector snatched across the counter the cloth out of
her hands, and she sat heavily on the chair. He thought:
identification's perfect. And in that moment he had a glimpse into
the whole amazing truth. Verloc was the "other man."
"Mrs Verloc," he said, "it strikes me that you know more of this
bomb affair than even you yourself are aware of."
Mrs Verloc sat still, amazed, lost in boundless astonishment. What
was the connection? And she became so rigid all over that she was
not able to turn her head at the clatter of the bell, which caused
the private investigator Heat to spin round on his heel. Mr Verloc
had shut the door, and for a moment the two men looked at each
Mr Verloc, without looking at his wife, walked up to the Chief
Inspector, who was relieved to see him return alone.
"You here!" muttered Mr Verloc heavily. "Who are you after?"
"No one," said Chief Inspector Heat in a low tone. "Look here, I
would like a word or two with you."
Mr Verloc, still pale, had brought an air of resolution with him.
Still he didn't look at his wife. He said:
"Come in here, then." And he led the way into the parlour.
The door was hardly shut when Mrs Verloc, jumping up from the
chair, ran to it as if to fling it open, but instead of doing so
fell on her knees, with her ear to the keyhole. The two men must
have stopped directly they were through, because she heard plainly
the Chief Inspector's voice, though she could not see his finger
pressed against her husband's breast emphatically.
"You are the other man, Verloc. Two men were seen entering the
And the voice of Mr Verloc said:
"Well, take me now. What's to prevent you? You have the right."
"Oh no! I know too well who you have been giving yourself away to.
He'll have to manage this little affair all by himself. But don't
you make a mistake, it's I who found you out."
Then she heard only muttering. Inspector Heat must have been
showing to Mr Verloc the piece of Stevie's overcoat, because
Stevie's sister, guardian, and protector heard her husband a little
"I never noticed that she had hit upon that dodge."
Again for a time Mrs Verloc heard nothing but murmurs, whose
mysteriousness was less nightmarish to her brain than the horrible
suggestions of shaped words. Then Chief Inspector Heat, on the
other side of the door, raised his voice.
"You must have been mad."
And Mr Verloc's voice answered, with a sort of gloomy fury:
"I have been mad for a month or more, but I am not mad now. It's
all over. It shall all come out of my head, and hang the
There was a silence, and then Private Citizen Heat murmured:
"What's coming out?"
"Everything," exclaimed the voice of Mr Verloc, and then sank very
After a while it rose again.
"You have known me for several years now, and you've found me
useful, too. You know I was a straight man. Yes, straight."
This appeal to old acquaintance must have been extremely
distasteful to the Chief Inspector.
His voice took on a warning note.
"Don't you trust so much to what you have been promised. If I were
you I would clear out. I don't think we will run after you."
Mr Verloc was heard to laugh a little.
"Oh yes; you hope the others will get rid of me for you - don't
you? No, no; you don't shake me off now. I have been a straight
man to those people too long, and now everything must come out."
"Let it come out, then," the indifferent voice of Chief Inspector
Heat assented. "But tell me now how did you get away."
"I was making for Chesterfield Walk," Mrs Verloc heard her
husband's voice, "when I heard the bang. I started running then.
Fog. I saw no one till I was past the end of George Street. Don't
think I met anyone till then."
"So easy as that!" marvelled the voice of Chief Inspector Heat.
"The bang startled you, eh?"
"Yes; it came too soon," confessed the gloomy, husky voice of Mr
Mrs Verloc pressed her ear to the keyhole; her lips were blue, her
hands cold as ice, and her pale face, in which the two eyes seemed
like two black holes, felt to her as if it were enveloped in
On the other side of the door the voices sank very low. She caught
words now and then, sometimes in her husband's voice, sometimes in
the smooth tones of the Chief Inspector. She heard this last say:
"We believe he stumbled against the root of a tree?"
There was a husky, voluble murmur, which lasted for some time, and
then the Chief Inspector, as if answering some inquiry, spoke
"Of course. Blown to small bits: limbs, gravel, clothing, bones,
splinters - all mixed up together. I tell you they had to fetch a
shovel to gather him up with."
Mrs Verloc sprang up suddenly from her crouching position, and
stopping her ears, reeled to and fro between the counter and the
shelves on the wall towards the chair. Her crazed eyes noted the
sporting sheet left by the Chief Inspector, and as she knocked
herself against the counter she snatched it up, fell into the
chair, tore the optimistic, rosy sheet right across in trying to
open it, then flung it on the floor. On the other side of the
door, Chief Inspector Heat was saying to Mr Verloc, the secret
"So your defence will be practically a full confession?"
"It will. I am going to tell the whole story."
"You won't be believed as much as you fancy you will."
And the Chief Inspector remained thoughtful. The turn this affair
was taking meant the disclosure of many things - the laying waste
of fields of knowledge, which, cultivated by a capable man, had a
distinct value for the individual and for the society. It was
sorry, sorry meddling. It would leave Michaelis unscathed; it
would drag to light the Professor's home industry; disorganise the
whole system of supervision; make no end of a row in the papers,
which, from that point of view, appeared to him by a sudden
illumination as invariably written by fools for the reading of
imbeciles. Mentally he agreed with the words Mr Verloc let fall at
last in answer to his last remark.
"Perhaps not. But it will upset many things. I have been a
straight man, and I shall keep straight in this - "
"If they let you," said the Chief Inspector cynically. "You will
be preached to, no doubt, before they put you into the dock. And
in the end you may yet get let in for a sentence that will surprise
you. I wouldn't trust too much the gentleman who's been talking to
Mr Verloc listened, frowning.
"My advice to you is to clear out while you may. I have no
instructions. There are some of them," continued Chief Inspector
Heat, laying a peculiar stress on the word "them," "who think you
are already out of the world."
"Indeed!" Mr Verloc was moved to say. Though since his return from
Greenwich he had spent most of his time sitting in the tap-room of
an obscure little public-house, he could hardly have hoped for such
"That's the impression about you." The Chief Inspector nodded at
him. "Vanish. Clear out."
"Where to?" snarled Mr Verloc. He raised his head, and gazing at
the closed door of the parlour, muttered feelingly: "I only wish
you would take me away to-night. I would go quietly."
"I daresay," assented sardonically the Chief Inspector, following
the direction of his glance.
The brow of Mr Verloc broke into slight moisture. He lowered his
husky voice confidentially before the unmoved Chief Inspector.
"The lad was half-witted, irresponsible. Any court would have seen
that at once. Only fit for the asylum. And that was the worst
that would've happened to him if - "
The Chief Inspector, his hand on the door handle, whispered into Mr
"He may've been half-witted, but you must have been crazy. What
drove you off your head like this?"
Mr Verloc, thinking of Mr Vladimir, did not hesitate in the choice
"A Hyperborean swine," he hissed forcibly. "A what you might call
a - a gentleman."
The Chief Inspector, steady-eyed, nodded briefly his comprehension,
and opened the door. Mrs Verloc, behind the counter, might have
heard but did not see his departure, pursued by the aggressive
clatter of the bell. She sat at her post of duty behind the
counter. She sat rigidly erect in the chair with two dirty pink
pieces of paper lying spread out at her feet. The palms of her
hands were pressed convulsively to her face, with the tips of the
fingers contracted against the forehead, as though the skin had
been a mask which she was ready to tear off violently. The perfect
immobility of her pose expressed the agitation of rage and despair,
all the potential violence of tragic passions, better than any
shallow display of shrieks, with the beating of a distracted head
against the walls, could have done. Chief Inspector Heat, crossing
the shop at his busy, swinging pace, gave her only a cursory
glance. And when the cracked bell ceased to tremble on its curved
ribbon of steel nothing stirred near Mrs Verloc, as if her attitude
had the locking power of a spell. Even the butterfly-shaped gas
flames posed on the ends of the suspended T-bracket burned without
a quiver. In that shop of shady wares fitted with deal shelves
painted a dull brown, which seemed to devour the sheen of the
light, the gold circlet of the wedding ring on Mrs Verloc's left
hand glittered exceedingly with the untarnished glory of a piece
from some splendid treasure of jewels, dropped in a dust-bin.
The Assistant Commissioner, driven rapidly in a hansom from the
neighbourhood of Soho in the direction of Westminster, got out at
the very centre of the Empire on which the sun never sets. Some
stalwart constables, who did not seem particularly impressed by the
duty of watching the august spot, saluted him. Penetrating through
a portal by no means lofty into the precincts of the House which is
THE House, PAR EXCELLENCE in the minds of many millions of men, he
was met at last by the volatile and revolutionary Toodles.
That neat and nice young man concealed his astonishment at the
early appearance of the Assistant Commissioner, whom he had been
told to look out for some time about midnight. His turning up so
early he concluded to be the sign that things, whatever they were,
had gone wrong. With an extremely ready sympathy, which in nice
youngsters goes often with a joyous temperament, he felt sorry for
the great Presence he called "The Chief," and also for the
Assistant Commissioner, whose face appeared to him more ominously
wooden than ever before, and quite wonderfully long. "What a
queer, foreign-looking chap he is," he thought to himself, smiling
from a distance with friendly buoyancy. And directly they came
together he began to talk with the kind intention of burying the
awkwardness of failure under a heap of words. It looked as if the
great assault threatened for that night were going to fizzle out.
An inferior henchman of "that brute Cheeseman" was up boring
mercilessly a very thin House with some shamelessly cooked
statistics. He, Toodles, hoped he would bore them into a count out
every minute. But then he might be only marking time to let that
guzzling Cheeseman dine at his leisure. Anyway, the Chief could
not be persuaded to go home.
"He will see you at once, I think. He's sitting all alone in his
room thinking of all the fishes of the sea," concluded Toodles
airily. "Come along."
Notwithstanding the kindness of his disposition, the young private
secretary (unpaid) was accessible to the common failings of
humanity. He did not wish to harrow the feelings of the Assistant
Commissioner, who looked to him uncommonly like a man who has made
a mess of his job. But his curiosity was too strong to be
restrained by mere compassion. He could not help, as they went
along, to throw over his shoulder lightly:
"And your sprat?"
"Got him," answered the Assistant Commissioner with a concision
which did not mean to be repellent in the least.
"Good. You've no idea how these great men dislike to be
disappointed in small things."
After this profound observation the experienced Toodles seemed to
reflect. At any rate he said nothing for quite two seconds. Then:
"I'm glad. But - I say - is it really such a very small thing as
you make it out?"
"Do you know what may be done with a sprat?" the Assistant
Commissioner asked in his turn.
"He's sometimes put into a sardine box," chuckled Toodles, whose
erudition on the subject of the fishing industry was fresh and, in
comparison with his ignorance of all other industrial matters,
immense. "There are sardine canneries on the Spanish coast which -
The Assistant Commissioner interrupted the apprentice statesman.
"Yes. Yes. But a sprat is also thrown away sometimes in order to
catch a whale."
"A whale. Phew!" exclaimed Toodles, with bated breath. "You're
after a whale, then?"
"Not exactly. What I am after is more like a dog-fish. You don't
know perhaps what a dog-fish is like."
"Yes; I do. We're buried in special books up to our necks - whole
shelves full of them - with plates. . . . It's a noxious, rascally-
looking, altogether detestable beast, with a sort of smooth face
"Described to a T," commended the Assistant Commissioner. "Only
mine is clean-shaven altogether. You've seen him. It's a witty
"I have seen him!" said Toodles incredulously. "I can't conceive
where I could have seen him."
"At the Explorers, I should say," dropped the Assistant
Commissioner calmly. At the name of that extremely exclusive club
Toodles looked scared, and stopped short.
"Nonsense," he protested, but in an awe-struck tone. "What do you
mean? A member?"
"Honorary," muttered the Assistant Commissioner through his teeth.
Toodles looked so thunderstruck that the Assistant Commissioner
"That's between ourselves strictly," he said.
"That's the beastliest thing I've ever heard in my life," declared
Toodles feebly, as if astonishment had robbed him of all his
buoyant strength in a second.
The Assistant Commissioner gave him an unsmiling glance. Till they
came to the door of the great man's room, Toodles preserved a
scandalised and solemn silence, as though he were offended with the
Assistant Commissioner for exposing such an unsavoury and
disturbing fact. It revolutionised his idea of the Explorers'
Club's extreme selectness, of its social purity. Toodles was
revolutionary only in politics; his social beliefs and personal
feelings he wished to preserve unchanged through all the years
allotted to him on this earth which, upon the whole, he believed to
be a nice place to live on.
He stood aside.
"Go in without knocking," he said.
Shades of green silk fitted low over all the lights imparted to the
room something of a forest's deep gloom. The haughty eyes were
physically the great man's weak point. This point was wrapped up
in secrecy. When an opportunity offered, he rested them
The Assistant Commissioner entering saw at first only a big pale
hand supporting a big head, and concealing the upper part of a big
pale face. An open despatch-box stood on the writing-table near a
few oblong sheets of paper and a scattered handful of quill pens.
There was absolutely nothing else on the large flat surface except
a little bronze statuette draped in a toga, mysteriously watchful
in its shadowy immobility. The Assistant Commissioner, invited to
take a chair, sat down. In the dim light, the salient points of
his personality, the long face, the black hair, his lankness, made
him look more foreign than ever.
The great man manifested no surprise, no eagerness, no sentiment
whatever. The attitude in which he rested his menaced eyes was
profoundly meditative. He did not alter it the least bit. But his
tone was not dreamy.
"Well! What is it that you've found out already? You came upon
something unexpected on the first step."
"Not exactly unexpected, Sir Ethelred. What I mainly came upon was
a psychological state."
The Great Presence made a slight movement. "You must be lucid,
"Yes, Sir Ethelred. You know no doubt that most criminals at some
time or other feel an irresistible need of confessing - of making a
clean breast of it to somebody - to anybody. And they do it often
to the police. In that Verloc whom Heat wished so much to screen
I've found a man in that particular psychological state. The man,
figuratively speaking, flung himself on my breast. It was enough
on my part to whisper to him who I was and to add `I know that you
are at the bottom of this affair.' It must have seemed miraculous
to him that we should know already, but he took it all in the
stride. The wonderfulness of it never checked him for a moment.
There remained for me only to put to him the two questions: Who put
you up to it? and Who was the man who did it? He answered the
first with remarkable emphasis. As to the second question, I
gather that the fellow with the bomb was his brother-in-law - quite
a lad - a weak-minded creature. . . . It is rather a curious affair
- too long perhaps to state fully just now."
"What then have you learned?" asked the great man.
"First, I've learned that the ex-convict Michaelis had nothing to
do with it, though indeed the lad had been living with him
temporarily in the country up to eight o'clock this morning. It is
more than likely that Michaelis knows nothing of it to this
"You are positive as to that?" asked the great man.
"Quite certain, Sir Ethelred. This fellow Verloc went there this
morning, and took away the lad on the pretence of going out for a
walk in the lanes. As it was not the first time that he did this,
Michaelis could not have the slightest suspicion of anything
unusual. For the rest, Sir Ethelred, the indignation of this man
Verloc had left nothing in doubt - nothing whatever. He had been
driven out of his mind almost by an extraordinary performance,
which for you or me it would be difficult to take as seriously
meant, but which produced a great impression obviously on him."
The Assistant Commissioner then imparted briefly to the great man,
who sat still, resting his eyes under the screen of his hand, Mr
Verloc's appreciation of Mr Vladimir's proceedings and character.
The Assistant Commissioner did not seem to refuse it a certain
amount of competency. But the great personage remarked:
"All this seems very fantastic."
"Doesn't it? One would think a ferocious joke. But our man took
it seriously, it appears. He felt himself threatened. In the
time, you know, he was in direct communication with old Stott-
Wartenheim himself, and had come to regard his services as
indispensable. It was an extremely rude awakening. I imagine that
he lost his head. He became angry and frightened. Upon my word,
my impression is that he thought these Embassy people quite capable
not only to throw him out but, to give him away too in some manner
or other - "
"How long were you with him," interrupted the Presence from behind
his big hand.
"Some forty minutes Sir Ethelred, in a house of bad repute called
Continental Hotel, closeted in a room which by-the-by I took for
the night. I found him under the influence of that reaction which
follows the effort of crime. The man cannot be defined as a
hardened criminal. It is obvious that he did not plan the death of
that wretched lad - his brother-in-law. That was a shock to him -
I could see that. Perhaps he is a man of strong sensibilities.
Perhaps he was even fond of the lad - who knows? He might have
hoped that the fellow would get clear away; in which case it would
have been almost impossible to bring this thing home to anyone. At
any rate he risked consciously nothing more but arrest for him."
The Assistant Commissioner paused in his speculations to reflect
for a moment.
"Though how, in that last case, he could hope to have his own share
in the business concealed is more than I can tell," he continued,
in his ignorance of poor Stevie's devotion to Mr Verloc (who was
GOOD), and of his truly peculiar dumbness, which in the old affair
of fireworks on the stairs had for many years resisted entreaties,
coaxing, anger, and other means of investigation used by his
beloved sister. For Stevie was loyal. . . . "No, I can't imagine.
It's possible that he never thought of that at all. It sounds an
extravagant way of putting it, Sir Ethelred, but his state of
dismay suggested to me an impulsive man who, after committing
suicide with the notion that it would end all his troubles, had
discovered that it did nothing of the kind."
The Assistant Commissioner gave this definition in an apologetic
voice. But in truth there is a sort of lucidity proper to
extravagant language, and the great man was not offended. A slight
jerky movement of the big body half lost in the gloom of the green
silk shades, of the big head leaning on the big hand, accompanied
an intermittent stifled but powerful sound. The great man had
"What have you done with him?"
The Assistant Commissioner answered very readily:
"As he seemed very anxious to get back to his wife in the shop I
let him go, Sir Ethelred."
"You did? But the fellow will disappear."
"Pardon me. I don't think so. Where could he go to? Moreover,
you must remember that he has got to think of the danger from his
comrades too. He's there at his post. How could he explain
leaving it? But even if there were no obstacles to his freedom of
action he would do nothing. At present he hasn't enough moral
energy to take a resolution of any sort. Permit me also to point
out that if I had detained him we would have been committed to a
course of action on which I wished to know your precise intentions
The great personage rose heavily, an imposing shadowy form in the
greenish gloom of the room.
"I'll see the Attorney-General to-night, and will send for you to-
morrow morning. Is there anything more you'd wish to tell me now?"
The Assistant Commissioner had stood up also, slender and flexible.
"I think not, Sir Ethelred, unless I were to enter into details
which - "
"No. No details, please."
The great shadowy form seemed to shrink away as if in physical
dread of details; then came forward, expanded, enormous, and
weighty, offering a large hand. "And you say that this man has got
"Yes, Sir Ethelred," said the Assistant Commissioner, pressing
deferentially the extended hand. "A genuine wife and a genuinely,
respectably, marital relation. He told me that after his interview
at the Embassy he would have thrown everything up, would have tried
to sell his shop, and leave the country, only he felt certain that
his wife would not even hear of going abroad. Nothing could be
more characteristic of the respectable bond than that," went on,
with a touch of grimness, the Assistant Commissioner, whose own
wife too had refused to hear of going abroad. "Yes, a genuine
wife. And the victim was a genuine brother-in-law. From a certain
point of view we are here in the presence of a domestic drama."
The Assistant Commissioner laughed a little; but the great man's
thoughts seemed to have wandered far away, perhaps to the questions
of his country's domestic policy, the battle-ground of his
crusading valour against the paynim Cheeseman. The Assistant
Commissioner withdrew quietly, unnoticed, as if already forgotten.
He had his own crusading instincts. This affair, which, in one way
or another, disgusted Chief Inspector Heat, seemed to him a
providentially given starting-point for a crusade. He had it much
at heart to begin. He walked slowly home, meditating that
enterprise on the way, and thinking over Mr Verloc's psychology in
a composite mood of repugnance and satisfaction. He walked all the
way home. Finding the drawing-room dark, he went upstairs, and
spent some time between the bedroom and the dressing-room, changing
his clothes, going to and fro with the air of a thoughtful
somnambulist. But he shook it off before going out again to join
his wife at the house of the great lady patroness of Michaelis.
He knew he would be welcomed there. On entering the smaller of the
two drawing-rooms he saw his wife in a small group near the piano.
A youngish composer in pass of becoming famous was discoursing from
a music stool to two thick men whose backs looked old, and three
slender women whose backs looked young. Behind the screen the
great lady had only two persons with her: a man and a woman, who
sat side by side on arm-chairs at the foot of her couch. She
extended her hand to the Assistant Commissioner.
"I never hoped to see you here to-night. Annie told me - "
"Yes. I had no idea myself that my work would be over so soon."
The Assistant Commissioner added in a low tone. "I am glad to tell
you that Michaelis is altogether clear of this - "
The patroness of the ex-convict received this assurance
"Why? Were your people stupid enough to connect him with - "
"Not stupid," interrupted the Assistant Commissioner, contradicting
deferentially. "Clever enough - quite clever enough for that."
A silence fell. The man at the foot of the couch had stopped
speaking to the lady, and looked on with a faint smile.
"I don't know whether you ever met before," said the great lady.
Mr Vladimir and the Assistant Commissioner, introduced,
acknowledged each other's existence with punctilious and guarded
"He's been frightening me," declared suddenly the lady who sat by
the side of Mr Vladimir, with an inclination of the head towards
that gentleman. The Assistant Commissioner knew the lady.
"You do not look frightened," he pronounced, after surveying her
conscientiously with his tired and equable gaze. He was thinking
meantime to himself that in this house one met everybody sooner or
later. Mr Vladimir's rosy countenance was wreathed in smiles,
because he was witty, but his eyes remained serious, like the eyes
of convinced man.
"Well, he tried to at least," amended the lady.
"Force of habit perhaps," said the Assistant Commissioner, moved by
an irresistible inspiration.
"He has been threatening society with all sorts of horrors,"
continued the lady, whose enunciation was caressing and slow,
"apropos of this explosion in Greenwich Park. It appears we all
ought to quake in our shoes at what's coming if those people are
not suppressed all over the world. I had no idea this was such a
Mr Vladimir, affecting not to listen, leaned towards the couch,
talking amiably in subdued tones, but he heard the Assistant
"I've no doubt that Mr Vladimir has a very precise notion of the
true importance of this affair."
Mr Vladimir asked himself what that confounded and intrusive
policeman was driving at. Descended from generations victimised by
the instruments of an arbitrary power, he was racially, nationally,
and individually afraid of the police. It was an inherited
weakness, altogether independent of his judgment, of his reason, of
his experience. He was born to it. But that sentiment, which
resembled the irrational horror some people have of cats, did not
stand in the way of his immense contempt for the English police.
He finished the sentence addressed to the great lady, and turned
slightly in his chair.
"You mean that we have a great experience of these people. Yes;
indeed, we suffer greatly from their activity, while you" - Mr
Vladimir hesitated for a moment, in smiling perplexity - "while you
suffer their presence gladly in your midst," he finished,
displaying a dimple on each clean-shaven cheek. Then he added more
gravely: "I may even say - because you do."
When Mr Vladimir ceased speaking the Assistant Commissioner lowered
his glance, and the conversation dropped. Almost immediately
afterwards Mr Vladimir took leave.
Directly his back was turned on the couch the Assistant
Commissioner rose too.
"I thought you were going to stay and take Annie home," said the
lady patroness of Michaelis.
"I find that I've yet a little work to do to-night."
"In connection - ?"
"Well, yes - in a way."
"Tell me, what is it really - this horror?"
"It's difficult to say what it is, but it may yet be a CAUSE
CELEBRE," said the Assistant Commissioner.
He left the drawing-room hurriedly, and found Mr Vladimir still in
the hall, wrapping up his throat carefully in a large silk
handkerchief. Behind him a footman waited, holding his overcoat.
Another stood ready to open the door. The Assistant Commissioner
was duly helped into his coat, and let out at once. After
descending the front steps he stopped, as if to consider the way he
should take. On seeing this through the door held open, Mr
Vladimir lingered in the hall to get out a cigar and asked for a
light. It was furnished to him by an elderly man out of livery
with an air of calm solicitude. But the match went out; the
footman then closed the door, and Mr Vladimir lighted his large
Havana with leisurely care.
When at last he got out of the house, he saw with disgust the
"confounded policeman" still standing on the pavement.
"Can he be waiting for me," thought Mr Vladimir, looking up and
down for some signs of a hansom. He saw none. A couple of
carriages waited by the curbstone, their lamps blazing steadily,
the horses standing perfectly still, as if carved in stone, the
coachmen sitting motionless under the big fur capes, without as
much as a quiver stirring the white thongs of their big whips. Mr
Vladimir walked on, and the "confounded policeman" fell into step
at his elbow. He said nothing. At the end of the fourth stride Mr
Vladimir felt infuriated and uneasy. This could not last.
"Rotten weather," he growled savagely.
"Mild," said the Assistant Commissioner without passion. He
remained silent for a little while. "We've got hold of a man
called Verloc," he announced casually.
Mr Vladimir did not stumble, did not stagger back, did not change
his stride. But he could not prevent himself from exclaiming:
"What?" The Assistant Commissioner did not repeat his statement.
"You know him," he went on in the same tone.
Mr Vladimir stopped, and became guttural. "What makes you say
"I don't. It's Verloc who says that."
"A lying dog of some sort," said Mr Vladimir in somewhat Oriental
phraseology. But in his heart he was almost awed by the miraculous
cleverness of the English police. The change of his opinion on the
subject was so violent that it made him for a moment feel slightly
sick. He threw away his cigar, and moved on.
"What pleased me most in this affair," the Assistant went on,
talking slowly, "is that it makes such an excellent starting-point
for a piece of work which I've felt must be taken in hand - that
is, the clearing out of this country of all the foreign political
spies, police, and that sort of - of - dogs. In my opinion they
are a ghastly nuisance; also an element of danger. But we can't
very well seek them out individually. The only way is to make
their employment unpleasant to their employers. The thing's
becoming indecent. And dangerous too, for us, here."
Mr Vladimir stopped again for a moment.
"What do you mean?"
"The prosecution of this Verloc will demonstrate to the public both
the danger and the indecency."
"Nobody will believe what a man of that sort says," said Mr
"The wealth and precision of detail will carry conviction to the
great mass of the public," advanced the Assistant Commissioner
"So that is seriously what you mean to do."
"We've got the man; we have no choice."
"You will be only feeding up the lying spirit of these
revolutionary scoundrels," Mr Vladimir protested. "What do you
want to make a scandal for? - from morality - or what?"
Mr Vladimir's anxiety was obvious. The Assistant Commissioner
having ascertained in this way that there must be some truth in the
summary statements of Mr Verloc, said indifferently:
"There's a practical side too. We have really enough to do to look
after the genuine article. You can't say we are not effective.
But we don't intend to let ourselves be bothered by shams under any
Mr Vladimir's tone became lofty.
"For my part, I can't share your view. It is selfish. My
sentiments for my own country cannot be doubted; but I've always
felt that we ought to be good Europeans besides - I mean
governments and men."
"Yes," said the Assistant Commissioner simply. "Only you look at
Europe from its other end. But," he went on in a good-natured
tone, "the foreign governments cannot complain of the inefficiency
of our police. Look at this outrage; a case specially difficult to
trace inasmuch as it was a sham. In less than twelve hours we have
established the identity of a man literally blown to shreds, have
found the organiser of the attempt, and have had a glimpse of the
inciter behind him. And we could have gone further; only we
stopped at the limits of our territory."
"So this instructive crime was planned abroad," Mr Vladimir said
quickly. "You admit it was planned abroad?"
"Theoretically. Theoretically only, on foreign territory; abroad
only by a fiction," said the Assistant Commissioner, alluding to
the character of Embassies, which are supposed to be part and
parcel of the country to which they belong. "But that's a detail.
I talked to you of this business because its your government that
grumbles most at our police. You see that we are not so bad. I
wanted particularly to tell you of our success."
"I'm sure I'm very grateful," muttered Mr Vladimir through his
"We can put our finger on every anarchist here," went on the
Assistant Commissioner, as though he were quoting Chief Inspector
Heat. "All that's wanted now is to do away with the agent
provocateur to make everything safe."
Mr Vladimir held up his hand to a passing hansom.
"You're not going in here," remarked the Assistant Commissioner,
looking at a building of noble proportions and hospitable aspect,
with the light of a great hall falling through its glass doors on a
broad flight of steps.
But Mr Vladimir, sitting, stony-eyed, inside the hansom, drove off
without a word.
The Assistant Commissioner himself did not turn into the noble
building. It was the Explorers' Club. The thought passed through
his mind that Mr Vladimir, honorary member, would not be seen very
often there in the future. He looked at his watch. It was only
half-past ten. He had had a very full evening.
After Chief Inspector Heat had left him Mr Verloc moved about the
From time to time he eyed his wife through the open door. "She
knows all about it now," he thought to himself with commiseration
for her sorrow and with some satisfaction as regarded himself. Mr
Verloc's soul, if lacking greatness perhaps, was capable of tender
sentiments. The prospect of having to break the news to her had
put him into a fever. Chief Inspector Heat had relieved him of the
task. That was good as far as it went. It remained for him now to
face her grief.
Mr Verloc had never expected to have to face it on account of
death, whose catastrophic character cannot be argued away by
sophisticated reasoning or persuasive eloquence. Mr Verloc never
meant Stevie to perish with such abrupt violence. He did not mean
him to perish at all. Stevie dead was a much greater nuisance than
ever he had been when alive. Mr Verloc had augured a favourable
issue to his enterprise, basing himself not on Stevie's
intelligence, which sometimes plays queer tricks with a man, but on
the blind docility and on the blind devotion of the boy. Though
not much of a psychologist, Mr Verloc had gauged the depth of
Stevie's fanaticism. He dared cherish the hope of Stevie walking
away from the walls of the Observatory as he had been instructed to
do, taking the way shown to him several times previously, and
rejoining his brother-in-law, the wise and good Mr Verloc, outside
the precincts of the park. Fifteen minutes ought to have been
enough for the veriest fool to deposit the engine and walk away.
And the Professor had guaranteed more than fifteen minutes. But
Stevie had stumbled within five minutes of being left to himself.
And Mr Verloc was shaken morally to pieces. He had foreseen
everything but that. He had foreseen Stevie distracted and lost -
sought for - found in some police station or provincial workhouse
in the end. He had foreseen Stevie arrested, and was not afraid,
because Mr Verloc had a great opinion of Stevie's loyalty, which
had been carefully indoctrinated with the necessity of silence in
the course of many walks. Like a peripatetic philosopher, Mr
Verloc, strolling along the streets of London, had modified
Stevie's view of the police by conversations full of subtle
reasonings. Never had a sage a more attentive and admiring
disciple. The submission and worship were so apparent that Mr
Verloc had come to feel something like a liking for the boy. In
any case, he had not foreseen the swift bringing home of his
connection. That his wife should hit upon the precaution of sewing
the boy's address inside his overcoat was the last thing Mr Verloc
would have thought of. One can't think of everything. That was
what she meant when she said that he need not worry if he lost
Stevie during their walks. She had assured him that the boy would
turn up all right. Well, he had turned up with a vengeance!
"Well, well," muttered Mr Verloc in his wonder. What did she mean
by it? Spare him the trouble of keeping an anxious eye on Stevie?
Most likely she had meant well. Only she ought to have told him of
the precaution she had taken.
Mr Verloc walked behind the counter of the shop. His intention was
not to overwhelm his wife with bitter reproaches. Mr Verloc felt
no bitterness. The unexpected march of events had converted him to
the doctrine of fatalism. Nothing could be helped now. He said:
"I didn't mean any harm to come to the boy."
Mrs Verloc shuddered at the sound of her husband's voice. She did
not uncover her face. The trusted secret agent of the late Baron
Stott-Wartenheim looked at her for a time with a heavy, persistent,
undiscerning glance. The torn evening paper was lying at her feet.
It could not have told her much. Mr Verloc felt the need of
talking to his wife.
"It's that damned Heat - eh?" he said. "He upset you. He's a
brute, blurting it out like this to a woman. I made myself ill
thinking how to break it to you. I sat for hours in the little
parlour of Cheshire Cheese thinking over the best way. You
understand I never meant any harm to come to that boy."
Mr Verloc, the Secret Agent, was speaking the truth. It was his
marital affection that had received the greatest shock from the
premature explosion. He added:
"I didn't feel particularly gay sitting there and thinking of you."
He observed another slight shudder of his wife, which affected his
sensibility. As she persisted in hiding her face in her hands, he
thought he had better leave her alone for a while. On this
delicate impulse Mr Verloc withdrew into the parlour again, where
the gas jet purred like a contented cat. Mrs Verloc's wifely
forethought had left the cold beef on the table with carving knife
and fork and half a loaf of bread for Mr Verloc's supper. He
noticed all these things now for the first time, and cutting
himself a piece of bread and meat, began to eat.
His appetite did not proceed from callousness. Mr Verloc had not
eaten any breakfast that day. He had left his home fasting. Not
being an energetic man, he found his resolution in nervous
excitement, which seemed to hold him mainly by the throat. He
could not have swallowed anything solid. Michaelis' cottage was as
destitute of provisions as the cell of a prisoner. The ticket-of-
leave apostle lived on a little milk and crusts of stale bread.
Moreover, when Mr Verloc arrived he had already gone upstairs after
his frugal meal. Absorbed in the toil and delight of literary
composition, he had not even answered Mr Verloc's shout up the
"I am taking this young fellow home for a day or two."
And, in truth, Mr Verloc did not wait for an answer, but had
marched out of the cottage at once, followed by the obedient
Now that all action was over and his fate taken out of his hands
with unexpected swiftness, Mr Verloc felt terribly empty
physically. He carved the meat, cut the bread, and devoured his
supper standing by the table, and now and then casting a glance
towards his wife. Her prolonged immobility disturbed the comfort
of his refection. He walked again into the shop, and came up very
close to her. This sorrow with a veiled face made Mr Verloc
uneasy. He expected, of course, his wife to be very much upset,
but he wanted her to pull herself together. He needed all her
assistance and all her loyalty in these new conjunctures his
fatalism had already accepted.
"Can't be helped," he said in a tone of gloomy sympathy. "Come,
Winnie, we've got to think of to-morrow. You'll want all your wits
about you after I am taken away."
He paused. Mrs Verloc's breast heaved convulsively. This was not
reassuring to Mr Verloc, in whose view the newly created situation
required from the two people most concerned in it calmness,
decision, and other qualities incompatible with the mental disorder
of passionate sorrow. Mr Verloc was a humane man; he had come home
prepared to allow every latitude to his wife's affection for her
Only he did not understand either the nature or the whole extent of
that sentiment. And in this he was excusable, since it was
impossible for him to understand it without ceasing to be himself.
He was startled and disappointed, and his speech conveyed it by a
certain roughness of tone.
"You might look at a fellow," he observed after waiting a while.
As if forced through the hands covering Mrs Verloc's face the
answer came, deadened, almost pitiful.
"I don't want to look at you as long as I live."
"Eh? What!" Mr Verloc was merely startled by the superficial and
literal meaning of this declaration. It was obviously
unreasonable, the mere cry of exaggerated grief. He threw over it
the mantle of his marital indulgence. The mind of Mr Verloc lacked
profundity. Under the mistaken impression that the value of
individuals consists in what they are in themselves, he could not
possibly comprehend the value of Stevie in the eyes of Mrs Verloc.
She was taking it confoundedly hard, he thought to himself. It was
all the fault of that damned Heat. What did he want to upset the
woman for? But she mustn't be allowed, for her own good, to carry
on so till she got quite beside herself.
"Look here! You can't sit like this in the shop," he said with
affected severity, in which there was some real annoyance; for
urgent practical matters must be talked over if they had to sit up
all night. "Somebody might come in at any minute," he added, and
waited again. No effect was produced, and the idea of the finality
of death occurred to Mr Verloc during the pause. He changed his
tone. "Come. This won't bring him back," he said gently, feeling
ready to take her in his arms and press her to his breast, where
impatience and compassion dwelt side by side. But except for a
short shudder Mrs Verloc remained apparently unaffected by the
force of that terrible truism. It was Mr Verloc himself who was
moved. He was moved in his simplicity to urge moderation by
asserting the claims of his own personality.
"Do be reasonable, Winnie. What would it have been if you had lost
He had vaguely expected to hear her cry out. But she did not
budge. She leaned back a little, quieted down to a complete
unreadable stillness. Mr Verloc's heart began to beat faster with
exasperation and something resembling alarm. He laid his hand on
her shoulder, saying:
"Don't be a fool, Winnie."
She gave no sign. It was impossible to talk to any purpose with a
woman whose face one cannot see. Mr Verloc caught hold of his
wife's wrists. But her hands seemed glued fast. She swayed
forward bodily to his tug, and nearly went off the chair. Startled
to feel her so helplessly limp, he was trying to put her back on
the chair when she stiffened suddenly all over, tore herself out of
his hands, ran out of the shop, across the parlour, and into the
kitchen. This was very swift. He had just a glimpse of her face
and that much of her eyes that he knew she had not looked at him.
It all had the appearance of a struggle for the possession of a
chair, because Mr Verloc instantly took his wife's place in it. Mr
Verloc did not cover his face with his hands, but a sombre
thoughtfulness veiled his features. A term of imprisonment could
not be avoided. He did not wish now to avoid it. A prison was a
place as safe from certain unlawful vengeances as the grave, with
this advantage, that in a prison there is room for hope. What he
saw before him was a term of imprisonment, an early release and
then life abroad somewhere, such as he had contemplated already, in
case of failure. Well, it was a failure, if not exactly the sort
of failure he had feared. It had been so near success that he
could have positively terrified Mr Vladimir out of his ferocious
scoffing with this proof of occult efficiency. So at least it
seemed now to Mr Verloc. His prestige with the Embassy would have
been immense if - if his wife had not had the unlucky notion of
sewing on the address inside Stevie's overcoat. Mr Verloc, who was
no fool, had soon perceived the extraordinary character of the
influence he had over Stevie, though he did not understand exactly
its origin - the doctrine of his supreme wisdom and goodness
inculcated by two anxious women. In all the eventualities he had
foreseen Mr Verloc had calculated with correct insight on Stevie's
instinctive loyalty and blind discretion. The eventuality he had
not foreseen had appalled him as a humane man and a fond husband.
From every other point of view it was rather advantageous. Nothing
can equal the everlasting discretion of death. Mr Verloc, sitting
perplexed and frightened in the small parlour of the Cheshire
Cheese, could not help acknowledging that to himself, because his
sensibility did not stand in the way of his judgment. Stevie's
violent disintegration, however disturbing to think about, only
assured the success; for, of course, the knocking down of a wall
was not the aim of Mr Vladimir's menaces, but the production of a
moral effect. With much trouble and distress on Mr Verloc's part
the effect might be said to have been produced. When, however,
most unexpectedly, it came home to roost in Brett Street, Mr
Verloc, who had been struggling like a man in a nightmare for the
preservation of his position, accepted the blow in the spirit of a
convinced fatalist. The position was gone through no one's fault
really. A small, tiny fact had done it. It was like slipping on a
bit of orange peel in the dark and breaking your leg.
Mr Verloc drew a weary breath. He nourished no resentment against
his wife. He thought: She will have to look after the shop while
they keep me locked up. And thinking also how cruelly she would
miss Stevie at first, he felt greatly concerned about her health
and spirits. How would she stand her solitude - absolutely alone
in that house? It would not do for her to break down while he was
locked up? What would become of the shop then? The shop was an
asset. Though Mr Verloc's fatalism accepted his undoing as a
secret agent, he had no mind to be utterly ruined, mostly, it must
be owned, from regard for his wife.
Silent, and out of his line of sight in the kitchen, she frightened
him. If only she had had her mother with her. But that silly old
woman - An angry dismay possessed Mr Verloc. He must talk with his
wife. He could tell her certainly that a man does get desperate
under certain circumstances. But he did not go incontinently to
impart to her that information. First of all, it was clear to him
that this evening was no time for business. He got up to close the
street door and put the gas out in the shop.
Having thus assured a solitude around his hearthstone Mr Verloc
walked into the parlour, and glanced down into the kitchen. Mrs
Verloc was sitting in the place where poor Stevie usually
established himself of an evening with paper and pencil for the
pastime of drawing these coruscations of innumerable circles
suggesting chaos and eternity. Her arms were folded on the table,
and her head was lying on her arms. Mr Verloc contemplated her
back and the arrangement of her hair for a time, then walked away
from the kitchen door. Mrs Verloc's philosophical, almost
disdainful incuriosity, the foundation of their accord in domestic
life made it extremely difficult to get into contact with her, now
this tragic necessity had arisen. Mr Verloc felt this difficulty
acutely. He turned around the table in the parlour with his usual
air of a large animal in a cage.
Curiosity being one of the forms of self-revelation, - a
systematically incurious person remains always partly mysterious.
Every time he passed near the door Mr Verloc glanced at his wife
uneasily. It was not that he was afraid of her. Mr Verloc
imagined himself loved by that woman. But she had not accustomed
him to make confidences. And the confidence he had to make was of
a profound psychological order. How with his want of practice
could he tell her what he himself felt but vaguely: that there are
conspiracies of fatal destiny, that a notion grows in a mind
sometimes till it acquires an outward existence, an independent
power of its own, and even a suggestive voice? He could not inform
her that a man may be haunted by a fat, witty, clean-shaved face
till the wildest expedient to get rid of it appears a child of
On this mental reference to a First Secretary of a great Embassy,
Mr Verloc stopped in the doorway, and looking down into the kitchen
with an angry face and clenched fists, addressed his wife.
"You don't know what a brute I had to deal with."
He started off to make another perambulation of the table; then
when he had come to the door again he stopped, glaring in from the
height of two steps.
"A silly, jeering, dangerous brute, with no more sense than -
After all these years! A man like me! And I have been playing my
head at that game. You didn't know. Quite right, too. What was
the good of telling you that I stood the risk of having a knife
stuck into me any time these seven years we've been married? I am
not a chap to worry a woman that's fond of me. You had no business
to know." Mr Verloc took another turn round the parlour, fuming.
"A venomous beast," he began again from the doorway. "Drive me out
into a ditch to starve for a joke. I could see he thought it was a
damned good joke. A man like me! Look here! Some of the highest
in the world got to thank me for walking on their two legs to this
day. That's the man you've got married to, my girl!"
He perceived that his wife had sat up. Mrs Verloc's arms remained
lying stretched on the table. Mr Verloc watched at her back as if
he could read there the effect of his words.
"There isn't a murdering plot for the last eleven years that I
hadn't my finger in at the risk of my life. There's scores of
these revolutionists I've sent off, with their bombs in their