Part 5 out of 6
blamed pockets, to get themselves caught on the frontier. The old
Baron knew what I was worth to his country. And here suddenly a
swine comes along - an ignorant, overbearing swine."
Mr Verloc, stepping slowly down two steps, entered the kitchen,
took a tumbler off the dresser, and holding it in his hand,
approached the sink, without looking at his wife. "It wasn't the
old Baron who would have had the wicked folly of getting me to call
on him at eleven in the morning. There are two or three in this
town that, if they had seen me going in, would have made no bones
about knocking me on the head sooner or later. It was a silly,
murderous trick to expose for nothing a man - like me."
Mr Verloc, turning on the tap above the sink, poured three glasses
of water, one after another, down his throat to quench the fires of
his indignation. Mr Vladimir's conduct was like a hot brand which
set his internal economy in a blaze. He could not get over the
disloyalty of it. This man, who would not work at the usual hard
tasks which society sets to its humbler members, had exercised his
secret industry with an indefatigable devotion. There was in Mr
Verloc a fund of loyalty. He had been loyal to his employers, to
the cause of social stability, - and to his affections too - as
became apparent when, after standing the tumbler in the sink, he
turned about, saying:
"If I hadn't thought of you I would have taken the bullying brute
by the throat and rammed his head into the fireplace. I'd have
been more than a match for that pink-faced, smooth-shaved - "
Mr Verloc, neglected to finish the sentence, as if there could be
no doubt of the terminal word. For the first time in his life he
was taking that incurious woman into his confidence. The
singularity of the event, the force and importance of the personal
feelings aroused in the course of this confession, drove Stevie's
fate clean out of Mr Verloc's mind. The boy's stuttering existence
of fears and indignations, together with the violence of his end,
had passed out of Mr Verloc's mental sight for a time. For that
reason, when he looked up he was startled by the inappropriate
character of his wife's stare. It was not a wild stare, and it was
not inattentive, but its attention was peculiar and not
satisfactory, inasmuch that it seemed concentrated upon some point
beyond Mr Verloc's person. The impression was so strong that Mr
Verloc glanced over his shoulder. There was nothing behind him:
there was just the whitewashed wall. The excellent husband of
Winnie Verloc saw no writing on the wall. He turned to his wife
again, repeating, with some emphasis:
"I would have taken him by the throat. As true as I stand here, if
I hadn't thought of you then I would have half choked the life out
of the brute before I let him get up. And don't you think he would
have been anxious to call the police either. He wouldn't have
dared. You understand why - don't you?"
He blinked at his wife knowingly.
"No," said Mrs Verloc in an unresonant voice, and without looking
at him at all. "What are you talking about?"
A great discouragement, the result of fatigue, came upon Mr Verloc.
He had had a very full day, and his nerves had been tried to the
utmost. After a month of maddening worry, ending in an unexpected
catastrophe, the storm-tossed spirit of Mr Verloc longed for
repose. His career as a secret agent had come to an end in a way
no one could have foreseen; only, now, perhaps he could manage to
get a night's sleep at last. But looking at his wife, he doubted
it. She was taking it very hard - not at all like herself, he
thought. He made an effort to speak.
"You'll have to pull yourself together, my girl," he said
sympathetically. "What's done can't be undone."
Mrs Verloc gave a slight start, though not a muscle of her white
face moved in the least. Mr Verloc, who was not looking at her,
"You go to bed now. What you want is a good cry."
This opinion had nothing to recommend it but the general consent of
mankind. It is universally understood that, as if it were nothing
more substantial than vapour floating in the sky, every emotion of
a woman is bound to end in a shower. And it is very probable that
had Stevie died in his bed under her despairing gaze, in her
protecting arms, Mrs Verloc's grief would have found relief in a
flood of bitter and pure tears. Mrs Verloc, in common with other
human beings, was provided with a fund of unconscious resignation
sufficient to meet the normal manifestation of human destiny.
Without "troubling her head about it," she was aware that it "did
not stand looking into very much." But the lamentable
circumstances of Stevie's end, which to Mr Verloc's mind had only
an episodic character, as part of a greater disaster, dried her
tears at their very source. It was the effect of a white-hot iron
drawn across her eyes; at the same time her heart, hardened and
chilled into a lump of ice, kept her body in an inward shudder, set
her features into a frozen contemplative immobility addressed to a
whitewashed wall with no writing on it. The exigencies of Mrs
Verloc's temperament, which, when stripped of its philosophical
reserve, was maternal and violent, forced her to roll a series of
thoughts in her motionless head. These thoughts were rather
imagined than expressed. Mrs Verloc was a woman of singularly few
words, either for public or private use. With the rage and dismay
of a betrayed woman, she reviewed the tenor of her life in visions
concerned mostly with Stevie's difficult existence from its
earliest days. It was a life of single purpose and of a noble
unity of inspiration, like those rare lives that have left their
mark on the thoughts and feelings of mankind. But the visions of
Mrs Verloc lacked nobility and magnificence. She saw herself
putting the boy to bed by the light of a single candle on the
deserted top floor of a "business house," dark under the roof and
scintillating exceedingly with lights and cut glass at the level of
the street like a fairy palace. That meretricious splendour was
the only one to be met in Mrs Verloc's visions. She remembered
brushing the boy's hair and tying his pinafores - herself in a
pinafore still; the consolations administered to a small and badly
scared creature by another creature nearly as small but not quite
so badly scared; she had the vision of the blows intercepted (often
with her own head), of a door held desperately shut against a man's
rage (not for very long); of a poker flung once (not very far),
which stilled that particular storm into the dumb and awful silence
which follows a thunder-clap. And all these scenes of violence
came and went accompanied by the unrefined noise of deep
vociferations proceeding from a man wounded in his paternal pride,
declaring himself obviously accursed since one of his kids was a
"slobbering idjut and the other a wicked she-devil." It was of her
that this had been said many years ago.
Mrs Verloc heard the words again in a ghostly fashion, and then the
dreary shadow of the Belgravian mansion descended upon her
shoulders. It was a crushing memory, an exhausting vision of
countless breakfast trays carried up and down innumerable stairs,
of endless haggling over pence, of the endless drudgery of
sweeping, dusting, cleaning, from basement to attics; while the
impotent mother, staggering on swollen legs, cooked in a grimy
kitchen, and poor Stevie, the unconscious presiding genius of all
their toil, blacked the gentlemen's boots in the scullery. But
this vision had a breath of a hot London summer in it, and for a
central figure a young man wearing his Sunday best, with a straw
hat on his dark head and a wooden pipe in his mouth. Affectionate
and jolly, he was a fascinating companion for a voyage down the
sparkling stream of life; only his boat was very small. There was
room in it for a girl-partner at the oar, but no accommodation for
passengers. He was allowed to drift away from the threshold of the
Belgravian mansion while Winnie averted her tearful eyes. He was
not a lodger. The lodger was Mr Verloc, indolent, and keeping late
hours, sleepily jocular of a morning from under his bed-clothes,
but with gleams of infatuation in his heavy lidded eyes, and always
with some money in his pockets. There was no sparkle of any kind
on the lazy stream of his life. It flowed through secret places.
But his barque seemed a roomy craft, and his taciturn magnanimity
accepted as a matter of course the presence of passengers.
Mrs Verloc pursued the visions of seven years' security for Stevie,
loyally paid for on her part; of security growing into confidence,
into a domestic feeling, stagnant and deep like a placid pool,
whose guarded surface hardly shuddered on the occasional passage of
Comrade Ossipon, the robust anarchist with shamelessly inviting
eyes, whose glance had a corrupt clearness sufficient to enlighten
any woman not absolutely imbecile.
A few seconds only had elapsed since the last word had been uttered
aloud in the kitchen, and Mrs Verloc was staring already at the
vision of an episode not more than a fortnight old. With eyes
whose pupils were extremely dilated she stared at the vision of her
husband and poor Stevie walking up Brett Street side by side away
from the shop. It was the last scene of an existence created by
Mrs Verloc's genius; an existence foreign to all grace and charm,
without beauty and almost without decency, but admirable in the
continuity of feeling and tenacity of purpose. And this last
vision has such plastic relief, such nearness of form, such a
fidelity of suggestive detail, that it wrung from Mrs Verloc an
anguished and faint murmur, reproducing the supreme illusion of her
life, an appalled murmur that died out on her blanched lips.
"Might have been father and son."
Mr Verloc stopped, and raised a care-worn face. "Eh? What did you
say?" he asked. Receiving no reply, he resumed his sinister
tramping. Then with a menacing flourish of a thick, fleshy fist,
he burst out:
"Yes. The Embassy people. A pretty lot, ain't they! Before a
week's out I'll make some of them wish themselves twenty feet
underground. Eh? What?"
He glanced sideways, with his head down. Mrs Verloc gazed at the
whitewashed wall. A blank wall - perfectly blank. A blankness to
run at and dash your head against. Mrs Verloc remained immovably
seated. She kept still as the population of half the globe would
keep still in astonishment and despair, were the sun suddenly put
out in the summer sky by the perfidy of a trusted providence.
"The Embassy," Mr Verloc began again, after a preliminary grimace
which bared his teeth wolfishly. "I wish I could get loose in
there with a cudgel for half-an-hour. I would keep on hitting till
there wasn't a single unbroken bone left amongst the whole lot.
But never mind, I'll teach them yet what it means trying to throw
out a man like me to rot in the streets. I've a tongue in my head.
All the world shall know what I've done for them. I am not afraid.
I don't care. Everything'll come out. Every damned thing. Let
them look out!"
In these terms did Mr Verloc declare his thirst for revenge. It
was a very appropriate revenge. It was in harmony with the
promptings of Mr Verloc's genius. It had also the advantage of
being within the range of his powers and of adjusting itself easily
to the practice of his life, which had consisted precisely in
betraying the secret and unlawful proceedings of his fellow-men.
Anarchists or diplomats were all one to him. Mr Verloc was
temperamentally no respecter of persons. His scorn was equally
distributed over the whole field of his operations. But as a
member of a revolutionary proletariat - which he undoubtedly was -
he nourished a rather inimical sentiment against social
"Nothing on earth can stop me now," he added, and paused, looking
fixedly at his wife, who was looking fixedly at a blank wall.
The silence in the kitchen was prolonged, and Mr Verloc felt
disappointed. He had expected his wife to say something. But Mrs
Verloc's lips, composed in their usual form, preserved a statuesque
immobility like the rest of her face. And Mr Verloc was
disappointed. Yet the occasion did not, he recognised, demand
speech from her. She was a woman of very few words. For reasons
involved in the very foundation of his psychology, Mr Verloc was
inclined to put his trust in any woman who had given herself to
him. Therefore he trusted his wife. Their accord was perfect, but
it was not precise. It was a tacit accord, congenial to Mrs
Verloc's incuriosity and to Mr Verloc's habits of mind, which were
indolent and secret. They refrained from going to the bottom of
facts and motives.
This reserve, expressing, in a way, their profound confidence in
each other, introduced at the same time a certain element of
vagueness into their intimacy. No system of conjugal relations is
perfect. Mr Verloc presumed that his wife had understood him, but
he would have been glad to hear her say what she thought at the
moment. It would have been a comfort.
There were several reasons why this comfort was denied him. There
was a physical obstacle: Mrs Verloc had no sufficient command over
her voice. She did not see any alternative between screaming and
silence, and instinctively she chose the silence. Winnie Verloc
was temperamentally a silent person. And there was the paralysing
atrocity of the thought which occupied her. Her cheeks were
blanched, her lips ashy, her immobility amazing. And she thought
without looking at Mr Verloc: "This man took the boy away to murder
him. He took the boy away from his home to murder him. He took
the boy away from me to murder him!"
Mrs Verloc's whole being was racked by that inconclusive and
maddening thought. It was in her veins, in her bones, in the roots
of her hair. Mentally she assumed the biblical attitude of
mourning - the covered face, the rent garments; the sound of
wailing and lamentation filled her head. But her teeth were
violently clenched, and her tearless eyes were hot with rage,
because she was not a submissive creature. The protection she had
extended over her brother had been in its origin of a fierce an
indignant complexion. She had to love him with a militant love.
She had battled for him - even against herself. His loss had the
bitterness of defeat, with the anguish of a baffled passion. It
was not an ordinary stroke of death. Moreover, it was not death
that took Stevie from her. It was Mr Verloc who took him away.
She had seen him. She had watched him, without raising a hand,
take the boy away. And she had let him go, like - like a fool - a
blind fool. Then after he had murdered the boy he came home to
her. Just came home like any other man would come home to his
wife. . . .
Through her set teeth Mrs Verloc muttered at the wall:
"And I thought he had caught a cold."
Mr Verloc heard these words and appropriated them.
"It was nothing," he said moodily. "I was upset. I was upset on
Mrs Verloc, turning her head slowly, transferred her stare from the
wall to her husband's person. Mr Verloc, with the tips of his
fingers between his lips, was looking on the ground.
"Can't be helped," he mumbled, letting his hand fall. "You must
pull yourself together. You'll want all your wits about you. It
is you who brought the police about our ears. Never mind, I won't
say anything more about it," continued Mr Verloc magnanimously.
"You couldn't know."
"I couldn't," breathed out Mrs Verloc. It was as if a corpse had
spoken. Mr Verloc took up the thread of his discourse.
"I don't blame you. I'll make them sit up. Once under lock and
key it will be safe enough for me to talk - you understand. You
must reckon on me being two years away from you," he continued, in
a tone of sincere concern. "It will be easier for you than for me.
You'll have something to do, while I - Look here, Winnie, what you
must do is to keep this business going for two years. You know
enough for that. You've a good head on you. I'll send you word
when it's time to go about trying to sell. You'll have to be extra
careful. The comrades will be keeping an eye on you all the time.
You'll have to be as artful as you know how, and as close as the
grave. No one must know what you are going to do. I have no mind
to get a knock on the head or a stab in the back directly I am let
Thus spoke Mr Verloc, applying his mind with ingenuity and
forethought to the problems of the future. His voice was sombre,
because he had a correct sentiment of the situation. Everything
which he did not wish to pass had come to pass. The future had
become precarious. His judgment, perhaps, had been momentarily
obscured by his dread of Mr Vladimir's truculent folly. A man
somewhat over forty may be excusably thrown into considerable
disorder by the prospect of losing his employment, especially if
the man is a secret agent of political police, dwelling secure in
the consciousness of his high value and in the esteem of high
personages. He was excusable.
Now the thing had ended in a crash. Mr Verloc was cool; but he was
not cheerful. A secret agent who throws his secrecy to the winds
from desire of vengeance, and flaunts his achievements before the
public eye, becomes the mark for desperate and bloodthirsty
indignations. Without unduly exaggerating the danger, Mr Verloc
tried to bring it clearly before his wife's mind. He repeated that
he had no intention to let the revolutionises do away with him.
He looked straight into his wife's eyes. The enlarged pupils of
the woman received his stare into their unfathomable depths.
"I am too fond of you for that," he said, with a little nervous
A faint flush coloured Mrs Verloc's ghastly and motionless face.
Having done with the visions of the past, she had not only heard,
but had also understood the words uttered by her husband. By their
extreme disaccord with her mental condition these words produced on
her a slightly suffocating effect. Mrs Verloc's mental condition
had the merit of simplicity; but it was not sound. It was governed
too much by a fixed idea. Every nook and cranny of her brain was
filled with the thought that this man, with whom she had lived
without distaste for seven years, had taken the "poor boy" away
from her in order to kill him - the man to whom she had grown
accustomed in body and mind; the man whom she had trusted, took the
boy away to kill him! In its form, in its substance, in its
effect, which was universal, altering even the aspect of inanimate
things, it was a thought to sit still and marvel at for ever and
ever. Mrs Verloc sat still. And across that thought (not across
the kitchen) the form of Mr Verloc went to and fro, familiarly in
hat and overcoat, stamping with his boots upon her brain. He was
probably talking too; but Mrs Verloc's thought for the most part
covered the voice.
Now and then, however, the voice would make itself heard. Several
connected words emerged at times. Their purport was generally
hopeful. On each of these occasions Mrs Verloc's dilated pupils,
losing their far-off fixity, followed her husband's movements with
the effect of black care and, impenetrable attention. Well
informed upon all matters relating to his secret calling, Mr Verloc
augured well for the success of his plans and combinations. He
really believed that it would be upon the whole easy for him to
escape the knife of infuriated revolutionists. He had exaggerated
the strength of their fury and the length of their arm (for
professional purposes) too often to have many illusions one way or
the other. For to exaggerate with judgment one must begin by
measuring with nicety. He knew also how much virtue and how much
infamy is forgotten in two years - two long years. His first
really confidential discourse to his wife was optimistic from
conviction. He also thought it good policy to display all the
assurance he could muster. It would put heart into the poor woman.
On his liberation, which, harmonising with the whole tenor of his
life, would be secret, of course, they would vanish together
without loss of time. As to covering up the tracks, he begged his
wife to trust him for that. He knew how it was to be done so that
the devil himself -
He waved his hand. He seemed to boast. He wished only to put
heart into her. It was a benevolent intention, but Mr Verloc had
the misfortune not to be in accord with his audience.
The self-confident tone grew upon Mrs Verloc's ear which let most
of the words go by; for what were words to her now? What could
words do to her, for good or evil in the face of her fixed idea?
Her black glance followed that man who was asserting his impunity -
the man who had taken poor Stevie from home to kill him somewhere.
Mrs Verloc could not remember exactly where, but her heart began to
beat very perceptibly.
Mr Verloc, in a soft and conjugal tone, was now expressing his firm
belief that there were yet a good few years of quiet life before
them both. He did not go into the question of means. A quiet life
it must be and, as it were, nestling in the shade, concealed among
men whose flesh is grass; modest, like the life of violets. The
words used by Mr Verloc were: "Lie low for a bit." And far from
England, of course. It was not clear whether Mr Verloc had in his
mind Spain or South America; but at any rate somewhere abroad.
This last word, falling into Mrs Verloc's ear, produced a definite
impression. This man was talking of going abroad. The impression
was completely disconnected; and such is the force of mental habit
that Mrs Verloc at once and automatically asked herself: "And what
It was a sort of forgetfulness; but instantly she became aware that
there was no longer any occasion for anxiety on that score. There
would never be any occasion any more. The poor boy had been taken
out and killed. The poor boy was dead.
This shaking piece of forgetfulness stimulated Mrs Verloc's
intelligence. She began to perceive certain consequences which
would have surprised Mr Verloc. There was no need for her now to
stay there, in that kitchen, in that house, with that man - since
the boy was gone for ever. No need whatever. And on that Mrs
Verloc rose as if raised by a spring. But neither could she see
what there was to keep her in the world at all. And this inability
arrested her. Mr Verloc watched her with marital solicitude.
"You're looking more like yourself," he said uneasily. Something
peculiar in the blackness of his wife's eyes disturbed his
optimism. At that precise moment Mrs Verloc began to look upon
herself as released from all earthly ties.
She had her freedom. Her contract with existence, as represented
by that man standing over there, was at an end. She was a free
woman. Had this view become in some way perceptible to Mr Verloc
he would have been extremely shocked. In his affairs of the heart
Mr Verloc had been always carelessly generous, yet always with no
other idea than that of being loved for himself. Upon this matter,
his ethical notions being in agreement with his vanity, he was
completely incorrigible. That this should be so in the case of his
virtuous and legal connection he was perfectly certain. He had
grown older, fatter, heavier, in the belief that he lacked no
fascination for being loved for his own sake. When he saw Mrs
Verloc starting to walk out of the kitchen without a word he was
"Where are you going to?" he called out rather sharply.
Mrs Verloc in the doorway turned at the voice. An instinct of
prudence born of fear, the excessive fear of being approached and
touched by that man, induced her to nod at him slightly (from the
height of two steps), with a stir of the lips which the conjugal
optimism of Mr Verloc took for a wan and uncertain smile.
"That's right," he encouraged her gruffly. "Rest and quiet's what
you want. Go on. It won't be long before I am with you."
Mrs Verloc, the free woman who had had really no idea where she was
going to, obeyed the suggestion with rigid steadiness.
Mr Verloc watched her. She disappeared up the stairs. He was
disappointed. There was that within him which would have been more
satisfied if she had been moved to throw herself upon his breast.
But he was generous and indulgent. Winnie was always
undemonstrative and silent. Neither was Mr Verloc himself prodigal
of endearments and words as a rule. But this was not an ordinary
evening. It was an occasion when a man wants to be fortified and
strengthened by open proofs of sympathy and affection. Mr Verloc
sighed, and put out the gas in the kitchen. Mr Verloc's sympathy
with his wife was genuine and intense. It almost brought tears
into his eyes as he stood in the parlour reflecting on the
loneliness hanging over her head. In this mood Mr Verloc missed
Stevie very much out of a difficult world. He thought mournfully
of his end. If only that lad had not stupidly destroyed himself!
The sensation of unappeasable hunger, not unknown after the strain
of a hazardous enterprise to adventurers of tougher fibre than Mr
Verloc, overcame him again. The piece of roast beef, laid out in
the likeness of funereal baked meats for Stevie's obsequies,
offered itself largely to his notice. And Mr Verloc again partook.
He partook ravenously, without restraint and decency, cutting thick
slices with the sharp carving knife, and swallowing them without
bread. In the course of that refection it occurred to Mr Verloc
that he was not hearing his wife move about the bedroom as he
should have done. The thought of finding her perhaps sitting on
the bed in the dark not only cut Mr Verloc's appetite, but also
took from him the inclination to follow her upstairs just yet.
Laying down the carving knife, Mr Verloc listened with careworn
He was comforted by hearing her move at last. She walked suddenly
across the room, and threw the window up. After a period of
stillness up there, during which he figured her to himself with her
head out, he heard the sash being lowered slowly. Then she made a
few steps, and sat down. Every resonance of his house was familiar
to Mr Verloc, who was thoroughly domesticated. When next he heard
his wife's footsteps overhead he knew, as well as if he had seen
her doing it, that she had been putting on her walking shoes. Mr
Verloc wriggled his shoulders slightly at this ominous symptom, and
moving away from the table, stood with his back to the fireplace,
his head on one side, and gnawing perplexedly at the tips of his
fingers. He kept track of her movements by the sound. She walked
here and there violently, with abrupt stoppages, now before the
chest of drawers, then in front of the wardrobe. An immense load
of weariness, the harvest of a day of shocks and surprises, weighed
Mr Verloc's energies to the ground.
He did not raise his eyes till he heard his wife descending the
stairs. It was as he had guessed. She was dressed for going out.
Mrs Verloc was a free woman. She had thrown open the window of the
bedroom either with the intention of screaming Murder! Help! or of
throwing herself out. For she did not exactly know what use to
make of her freedom. Her personality seemed to have been torn into
two pieces, whose mental operations did not adjust themselves very
well to each other. The street, silent and deserted from end to
end, repelled her by taking sides with that man who was so certain
of his impunity. She was afraid to shout lest no one should come.
Obviously no one would come. Her instinct of self-preservation
recoiled from the depth of the fall into that sort of slimy, deep
trench. Mrs Verloc closed the window, and dressed herself to go
out into the street by another way. She was a free woman. She had
dressed herself thoroughly, down to the tying of a black veil over
her face. As she appeared before him in the light of the parlour,
Mr Verloc observed that she had even her little handbag hanging
from her left wrist. . . . Flying off to her mother, of course.
The thought that women were wearisome creatures after all presented
itself to his fatigued brain. But he was too generous to harbour
it for more than an instant. This man, hurt cruelly in his vanity,
remained magnanimous in his conduct, allowing himself no
satisfaction of a bitter smile or of a contemptuous gesture. With
true greatness of soul, he only glanced at the wooden clock on the
wall, and said in a perfectly calm but forcible manner:
"Five and twenty minutes past eight, Winnie. There's no sense in
going over there so late. You will never manage to get back to-
Before his extended hand Mrs Verloc had stopped short. He added
heavily: "Your mother will be gone to bed before you get there.
This is the sort of news that can wait."
Nothing was further from Mrs Verloc's thoughts than going to her
mother. She recoiled at the mere idea, and feeling a chair behind
her, she obeyed the suggestion of the touch, and sat down. Her
intention had been simply to get outside the door for ever. And if
this feeling was correct, its mental form took an unrefined shape
corresponding to her origin and station. "I would rather walk the
streets all the days of my life," she thought. But this creature,
whose moral nature had been subjected to a shock of which, in the
physical order, the most violent earthquake of history could only
be a faint and languid rendering, was at the mercy of mere trifles,
of casual contacts. She sat down. With her hat and veil she had
the air of a visitor, of having looked in on Mr Verloc for a
moment. Her instant docility encouraged him, whilst her aspect of
only temporary and silent acquiescence provoked him a little.
"Let me tell you, Winnie," he said with authority, "that your place
is here this evening. Hang it all! you brought the damned police
high and low about my ears. I don't blame you - but it's your
doing all the same. You'd better take this confounded hat off. I
can't let you go out, old girl," he added in a softened voice.
Mrs Verloc's mind got hold of that declaration with morbid
tenacity. The man who had taken Stevie out from under her very
eyes to murder him in a locality whose name was at the moment not
present to her memory would not allow her go out. Of course he
Now he had murdered Stevie he would never let her go. He would
want to keep her for nothing. And on this characteristic
reasoning, having all the force of insane logic, Mrs Verloc's
disconnected wits went to work practically. She could slip by him,
open the door, run out. But he would dash out after her, seize her
round the body, drag her back into the shop. She could scratch,
kick, and bite - and stab too; but for stabbing she wanted a knife.
Mrs Verloc sat still under her black veil, in her own house, like a
masked and mysterious visitor of impenetrable intentions.
Mr Verloc's magnanimity was not more than human. She had
exasperated him at last.
"Can't you say something? You have your own dodges for vexing a
man. Oh yes! I know your deaf-and-dumb trick. I've seen you at
it before to-day. But just now it won't do. And to begin with,
take this damned thing off. One can't tell whether one is talking
to a dummy or to a live woman."
He advanced, and stretching out his hand, dragged the veil off,
unmasking a still, unreadable face, against which his nervous
exasperation was shattered like a glass bubble flung against a
rock. "That's better," he said, to cover his momentary uneasiness,
and retreated back to his old station by the mantelpiece. It never
entered his head that his wife could give him up. He felt a little
ashamed of himself, for he was fond and generous. What could he
do? Everything had been said already. He protested vehemently.
"By heavens! You know that I hunted high and low. I ran the risk
of giving myself away to find somebody for that accursed job. And
I tell you again I couldn't find anyone crazy enough or hungry
enough. What do you take me for - a murderer, or what? The boy is
gone. Do you think I wanted him to blow himself up? He's gone.
His troubles are over. Ours are just going to begin, I tell you,
precisely because he did blow himself. I don't blame you. But
just try to understand that it was a pure accident; as much an
accident as if he had been run over by a `bus while crossing the
His generosity was not infinite, because he was a human being - and
not a monster, as Mrs Verloc believed him to be. He paused, and a
snarl lifting his moustaches above a gleam of white teeth gave him
the expression of a reflective beast, not very dangerous - a slow
beast with a sleek head, gloomier than a seal, and with a husky
"And when it comes to that, it's as much your doing as mine.
That's so. You may glare as much as you like. I know what you can
do in that way. Strike me dead if I ever would have thought of the
lad for that purpose. It was you who kept on shoving him in my way
when I was half distracted with the worry of keeping the lot of us
out of trouble. What the devil made you? One would think you were
doing it on purpose. And I am damned if I know that you didn't.
There's no saying how much of what's going on you have got hold of
on the sly with your infernal don't-care-a-damn way of looking
nowhere in particular, and saying nothing at all. . . . "
His husky domestic voice ceased for a while. Mrs Verloc made no
reply. Before that silence he felt ashamed of what he had said.
But as often happens to peaceful men in domestic tiffs, being
ashamed he pushed another point.
"You have a devilish way of holding your tongue sometimes," he
began again, without raising his voice. "Enough to make some men
go mad. It's lucky for you that I am not so easily put out as some
of them would be by your deaf-and-dumb sulks. I am fond of you.
But don't you go too far. This isn't the time for it. We ought to
be thinking of what we've got to do. And I can't let you go out
to-night, galloping off to your mother with some crazy tale or
other about me. I won't have it. Don't you make any mistake about
it: if you will have it that I killed the boy, then you've killed
him as much as I."
In sincerity of feeling and openness of statement, these words went
far beyond anything that had ever been said in this home, kept up
on the wages of a secret industry eked out by the sale of more or
less secret wares: the poor expedients devised by a mediocre
mankind for preserving an imperfect society from the dangers of
moral and physical corruption, both secret too of their kind. They
were spoken because Mr Verloc had felt himself really outraged; but
the reticent decencies of this home life, nestling in a shady
street behind a shop where the sun never shone, remained apparently
undisturbed. Mrs Verloc heard him out with perfect propriety, and
then rose from her chair in her hat and jacket like a visitor at
the end of a call. She advanced towards her husband, one arm
extended as if for a silent leave-taking. Her net veil dangling
down by one end on the left side of her face gave an air of
disorderly formality to her restrained movements. But when she
arrived as far as the hearthrug, Mr Verloc was no longer standing
there. He had moved off in the direction of the sofa, without
raising his eyes to watch the effect of his tirade. He was tired,
resigned in a truly marital spirit. But he felt hurt in the tender
spot of his secret weakness. If she would go on sulking in that
dreadful overcharged silence - why then she must. She was a master
in that domestic art. Mr Verloc flung himself heavily upon the
sofa, disregarding as usual the fate of his hat, which, as if
accustomed to take care of itself, made for a safe shelter under
He was tired. The last particle of his nervous force had been
expended in the wonders and agonies of this day full of surprising
failures coming at the end of a harassing month of scheming and
insomnia. He was tired. A man isn't made of stone. Hang
everything! Mr Verloc reposed characteristically, clad in his
outdoor garments. One side of his open overcoat was lying partly
on the ground. Mr Verloc wallowed on his back. But he longed for
a more perfect rest - for sleep - for a few hours of delicious
forgetfulness. That would come later. Provisionally he rested.
And he thought: "I wish she would give over this damned nonsense.
There must have been something imperfect in Mrs Verloc's sentiment
of regained freedom. Instead of taking the way of the door she
leaned back, with her shoulders against the tablet of the
mantelpiece, as a wayfarer rests against a fence. A tinge of
wildness in her aspect was derived from the black veil hanging like
a rag against her cheek, and from the fixity of her black gaze
where the light of the room was absorbed and lost without the trace
of a single gleam. This woman, capable of a bargain the mere
suspicion of which would have been infinitely shocking to Mr
Verloc's idea of love, remained irresolute, as if scrupulously
aware of something wanting on her part for the formal closing of
On the sofa Mr Verloc wriggled his shoulders into perfect comfort,
and from the fulness of his heart emitted a wish which was
certainly as pious as anything likely to come from such a source.
"I wish to goodness," he growled huskily, "I had never seen
Greenwich Park or anything belonging to it."
The veiled sound filled the small room with its moderate volume,
well adapted to the modest nature of the wish. The waves of air of
the proper length, propagated in accordance with correct
mathematical formulas, flowed around all the inanimate things in
the room, lapped against Mrs Verloc's head as if it had been a head
of stone. And incredible as it may appear, the eyes of Mrs Verloc
seemed to grow still larger. The audible wish of Mr Verloc's
overflowing heart flowed into an empty place in his wife's memory.
Greenwich Park. A park! That's where the boy was killed. A park
- smashed branches, torn leaves, gravel, bits of brotherly flesh
and bone, all spouting up together in the manner of a firework.
She remembered now what she had heard, and she remembered it
pictorially. They had to gather him up with the shovel. Trembling
all over with irrepressible shudders, she saw before her the very
implement with its ghastly load scraped up from the ground. Mrs
Verloc closed her eyes desperately, throwing upon that vision the
night of her eyelids, where after a rainlike fall of mangled limbs
the decapitated head of Stevie lingered suspended alone, and fading
out slowly like the last star of a pyrotechnic display. Mrs Verloc
opened her eyes.
Her face was no longer stony. Anybody could have noted the subtle
change on her features, in the stare of her eyes, giving her a new
and startling expression; an expression seldom observed by
competent persons under the conditions of leisure and security
demanded for thorough analysis, but whose meaning could not be
mistaken at a glance. Mrs Verloc's doubts as to the end of the
bargain no longer existed; her wits, no longer disconnected, were
working under the control of her will. But Mr Verloc observed
nothing. He was reposing in that pathetic condition of optimism
induced by excess of fatigue. He did not want any more trouble -
with his wife too - of all people in the world. He had been
unanswerable in his vindication. He was loved for himself. The
present phase of her silence he interpreted favourably. This was
the time to make it up with her. The silence had lasted long
enough. He broke it by calling to her in an undertone.
"Yes," answered obediently Mrs Verloc the free woman. She
commanded her wits now, her vocal organs; she felt herself to be in
an almost preternaturally perfect control of every fibre of her
body. It was all her own, because the bargain was at an end. She
was clear sighted. She had become cunning. She chose to answer
him so readily for a purpose. She did not wish that man to change
his position on the sofa which was very suitable to the
circumstances. She succeeded. The man did not stir. But after
answering him she remained leaning negligently against the
mantelpiece in the attitude of a resting wayfarer. She was
unhurried. Her brow was smooth. The head and shoulders of Mr
Verloc were hidden from her by the high side of the sofa. She kept
her eyes fixed on his feet.
She remained thus mysteriously still and suddenly collected till Mr
Verloc was heard with an accent of marital authority, and moving
slightly to make room for her to sit on the edge of the sofa.
"Come here," he said in a peculiar tone, which might have been the
tone of brutality, but, was intimately known to Mrs Verloc as the
note of wooing.
She started forward at once, as if she were still a loyal woman
bound to that man by an unbroken contract. Her right hand skimmed
slightly the end of the table, and when she had passed on towards
the sofa the carving knife had vanished without the slightest sound
from the side of the dish. Mr Verloc heard the creaky plank in the
floor, and was content. He waited. Mrs Verloc was coming. As if
the homeless soul of Stevie had flown for shelter straight to the
breast of his sister, guardian and protector, the resemblance of
her face with that of her brother grew at every step, even to the
droop of the lower lip, even to the slight divergence of the eyes.
But Mr Verloc did not see that. He was lying on his back and
staring upwards. He saw partly on the ceiling and partly on the
wall the moving shadow of an arm with a clenched hand holding a
carving knife. It flickered up and down. It's movements were
leisurely. They were leisurely enough for Mr Verloc to recognise
the limb and the weapon.
They were leisurely enough for him to take in the full meaning of
the portent, and to taste the flavour of death rising in his gorge.
His wife had gone raving mad - murdering mad. They were leisurely
enough for the first paralysing effect of this discovery to pass
away before a resolute determination to come out victorious from
the ghastly struggle with that armed lunatic. They were leisurely
enough for Mr Verloc to elaborate a plan of defence involving a
dash behind the table, and the felling of the woman to the ground
with a heavy wooden chair. But they were not leisurely enough to
allow Mr Verloc the time to move either hand or foot. The knife
was already planted in his breast. It met no resistance on its
way. Hazard has such accuracies. Into that plunging blow,
delivered over the side of the couch, Mrs Verloc had put all the
inheritance of her immemorial and obscure descent, the simple
ferocity of the age of caverns, and the unbalanced nervous fury of
the age of bar-rooms. Mr Verloc, the Secret Agent, turning
slightly on his side with the force of the blow, expired without
stirring a limb, in the muttered sound of the word "Don't" by way
Mrs Verloc had let go the knife, and her extraordinary resemblance
to her late brother had faded, had become very ordinary now. She
drew a deep breath, the first easy breath since Chief Inspector
Heat had exhibited to her the labelled piece of Stevie's overcoat.
She leaned forward on her folded arms over the side of the sofa.
She adopted that easy attitude not in order to watch or gloat over
the body of Mr Verloc, but because of the undulatory and swinging
movements of the parlour, which for some time behaved as though it
were at sea in a tempest. She was giddy but calm. She had become
a free woman with a perfection of freedom which left her nothing to
desire and absolutely nothing to do, since Stevie's urgent claim on
her devotion no longer existed. Mrs Verloc, who thought in images,
was not troubled now by visions, because she did not think at all.
And she did not move. She was a woman enjoying her complete
irresponsibility and endless leisure, almost in the manner of a
corpse. She did not move, she did not think. Neither did the
mortal envelope of the late Mr Verloc reposing on the sofa. Except
for the fact that Mrs Verloc breathed these two would have been
perfect in accord: that accord of prudent reserve without
superfluous words, and sparing of signs, which had been the
foundation of their respectable home life. For it had been
respectable, covering by a decent reticence the problems that may
arise in the practice of a secret profession and the commerce of
shady wares. To the last its decorum had remained undisturbed by
unseemly shrieks and other misplaced sincerities of conduct. And
after the striking of the blow, this respectability was continued
in immobility and silence.
Nothing moved in the parlour till Mrs Verloc raised her head slowly
and looked at the clock with inquiring mistrust. She had become
aware of a ticking sound in the room. It grew upon her ear, while
she remembered clearly that the clock on the wall was silent, had
no audible tick. What did it mean by beginning to tick so loudly
all of a sudden? Its face indicated ten minutes to nine. Mrs
Verloc cared nothing for time, and the ticking went on. She
concluded it could not be the clock, and her sullen gaze moved
along the walls, wavered, and became vague, while she strained her
hearing to locate the sound. Tic, tic, tic.
After listening for some time Mrs Verloc lowered her gaze
deliberately on her husband's body. It's attitude of repose was so
home-like and familiar that she could do so without feeling
embarrassed by any pronounced novelty in the phenomena of her home
life. Mr Verloc was taking his habitual ease. He looked
By the position of the body the face of Mr Verloc was not visible
to Mrs Verloc, his widow. Her fine, sleepy eyes, travelling
downward on the track of the sound, became contemplative on meeting
a flat object of bone which protruded a little beyond the edge of
the sofa. It was the handle of the domestic carving knife with
nothing strange about it but its position at right angles to Mr
Verloc's waistcoat and the fact that something dripped from it.
Dark drops fell on the floorcloth one after another, with a sound
of ticking growing fast and furious like the pulse of an insane
clock. At its highest speed this ticking changed into a continuous
sound of trickling. Mrs Verloc watched that transformation with
shadows of anxiety coming and going on her face. It was a trickle,
dark, swift, thin. . . . Blood!
At this unforeseen circumstance Mrs Verloc abandoned her pose of
idleness and irresponsibility.
With a sudden snatch at her skirts and a faint shriek she ran to
the door, as if the trickle had been the first sign of a destroying
flood. Finding the table in her way she gave it a push with both
hands as though it had been alive, with such force that it went for
some distance on its four legs, making a loud, scraping racket,
whilst the big dish with the joint crashed heavily on the floor.
Then all became still. Mrs Verloc on reaching the door had
stopped. A round hat disclosed in the middle of the floor by the
moving of the table rocked slightly on its crown in the wind of her
Winnie Verloc, the widow of Mr Verloc, the sister of the late
faithful Stevie (blown to fragments in a state of innocence and in
the conviction of being engaged in a humanitarian enterprise), did
not run beyond the door of the parlour. She had indeed run away so
far from a mere trickle of blood, but that was a movement of
instinctive repulsion. And there she had paused, with staring eyes
and lowered head. As though she had run through long years in her
flight across the small parlour, Mrs Verloc by the door was quite a
different person from the woman who had been leaning over the sofa,
a little swimmy in her head, but otherwise free to enjoy the
profound calm of idleness and irresponsibility. Mrs Verloc was no
longer giddy. Her head was steady. On the other hand, she was no
longer calm. She was afraid.
If she avoided looking in the direction of her reposing husband it
was not because she was afraid of him. Mr Verloc was not frightful
to behold. He looked comfortable. Moreover, he was dead. Mrs
Verloc entertained no vain delusions on the subject of the dead.
Nothing brings them back, neither love nor hate. They can do
nothing to you. They are as nothing. Her mental state was tinged
by a sort of austere contempt for that man who had let himself be
killed so easily. He had been the master of a house, the husband
of a woman, and the murderer of her Stevie. And now he was of no
account in every respect. He was of less practical account than
the clothing on his body, than his overcoat, than his boots - than
that hat lying on the floor. He was nothing. He was not worth
looking at. He was even no longer the murderer of poor Stevie.
The only murderer that would be found in the room when people came
to look for Mr Verloc would be - herself!
Her hands shook so that she failed twice in the task of refastening
her veil. Mrs Verloc was no longer a person of leisure and
responsibility. She was afraid. The stabbing of Mr Verloc had
been only a blow. It had relieved the pent-up agony of shrieks
strangled in her throat, of tears dried up in her hot eyes, of the
maddening and indignant rage at the atrocious part played by that
man, who was less than nothing now, in robbing her of the boy.
It had been an obscurely prompted blow. The blood trickling on the
floor off the handle of the knife had turned it into an extremely
plain case of murder. Mrs Verloc, who always refrained from
looking deep into things, was compelled to look into the very
bottom of this thing. She saw there no haunting face, no
reproachful shade, no vision of remorse, no sort of ideal
conception. She saw there an object. That object was the gallows.
Mrs Verloc was afraid of the gallows.
She was terrified of them ideally. Having never set eyes on that
last argument of men's justice except in illustrative woodcuts to a
certain type of tales, she first saw them erect against a black and
stormy background, festooned with chains and human bones, circled
about by birds that peck at dead men's eyes. This was frightful
enough, but Mrs Verloc, though not a well-informed woman, had a
sufficient knowledge of the institutions of her country to know
that gallows are no longer erected romantically on the banks of
dismal rivers or on wind-swept headlands, but in the yards of
jails. There within four high walls, as if into a pit, at dawn of
day, the murderer was brought out to be executed, with a horrible
quietness and, as the reports in the newspapers always said, "in
the presence of the authorities." With her eyes staring on the
floor, her nostrils quivering with anguish and shame, she imagined
herself all alone amongst a lot of strange gentlemen in silk hats
who were calmly proceeding about the business of hanging her by the
neck. That - never! Never! And how was it done? The
impossibility of imagining the details of such quiet execution
added something maddening to her abstract terror. The newspapers
never gave any details except one, but that one with some
affectation was always there at the end of a meagre report. Mrs
Verloc remembered its nature. It came with a cruel burning pain
into her head, as if the words "The drop given was fourteen feet"
had been scratched on her brain with a hot needle. "The drop given
was fourteen feet."
These words affected her physically too. Her throat became
convulsed in waves to resist strangulation; and the apprehension of
the jerk was so vivid that she seized her head in both hands as if
to save it from being torn off her shoulders. "The drop given was
fourteen feet." No! that must never be. She could not stand THAT.
The thought of it even was not bearable. She could not stand
thinking of it. Therefore Mrs Verloc formed the resolution to go
at once and throw herself into the river off one of the bridges.
This time she managed to refasten her veil. With her face as if
masked, all black from head to foot except for some flowers in her
hat, she looked up mechanically at the clock. She thought it must
have stopped. She could not believe that only two minutes had
passed since she had looked at it last. Of course not. It had
been stopped all the time. As a matter of fact, only three minutes
had elapsed from the moment she had drawn the first deep, easy
breath after the blow, to this moment when Mrs Verloc formed the
resolution to drown herself in the Thames. But Mrs Verloc could
not believe that. She seemed to have heard or read that clocks and
watches always stopped at the moment of murder for the undoing of
the murderer. She did not care. "To the bridge - and over I go."
. . . But her movements were slow.
She dragged herself painfully across the shop, and had to hold on
to the handle of the door before she found the necessary fortitude
to open it. The street frightened her, since it led either to the
gallows or to the river. She floundered over the doorstep head
forward, arms thrown out, like a person falling over the parapet of
a bridge. This entrance into the open air had a foretaste of
drowning; a slimy dampness enveloped her, entered her nostrils,
clung to her hair. It was not actually raining, but each gas lamp
had a rusty little halo of mist. The van and horses were gone, and
in the black street the curtained window of the carters' eating-
house made a square patch of soiled blood-red light glowing faintly
very near the level of the pavement. Mrs Verloc, dragging herself
slowly towards it, thought that she was a very friendless woman.
It was true. It was so true that, in a sudden longing to see some
friendly face, she could think of no one else but of Mrs Neale, the
charwoman. She had no acquaintances of her own. Nobody would miss
her in a social way. It must not be imagined that the Widow Verloc
had forgotten her mother. This was not so. Winnie had been a good
daughter because she had been a devoted sister. Her mother had
always leaned on her for support. No consolation or advice could
be expected there. Now that Stevie was dead the bond seemed to be
broken. She could not face the old woman with the horrible tale.
Moreover, it was too far. The river was her present destination.
Mrs Verloc tried to forget her mother.
Each step cost her an effort of will which seemed the last
possible. Mrs Verloc had dragged herself past the red glow of the
eating-house window. "To the bridge - and over I go," she repeated
to herself with fierce obstinacy. She put out her hand just in
time to steady herself against a lamp-post. "I'll never get there
before morning," she thought. The fear of death paralysed her
efforts to escape the gallows. It seemed to her she had been
staggering in that street for hours. "I'll never get there," she
thought. "They'll find me knocking about the streets. It's too
far." She held on, panting under her black veil.
"The drop given was fourteen feet."
She pushed the lamp-post away from her violently, and found herself
walking. But another wave of faintness overtook her like a great
sea, washing away her heart clean out of her breast. "I will never
get there," she muttered, suddenly arrested, swaying lightly where
she stood. "Never."
And perceiving the utter impossibility of walking as far as the
nearest bridge, Mrs Verloc thought of a flight abroad.
It came to her suddenly. Murderers escaped. They escaped abroad.
Spain or California. Mere names. The vast world created for the
glory of man was only a vast blank to Mrs Verloc. She did not know
which way to turn. Murderers had friends, relations, helpers -
they had knowledge. She had nothing. She was the most lonely of
murderers that ever struck a mortal blow. She was alone in London:
and the whole town of marvels and mud, with its maze of streets and
its mass of lights, was sunk in a hopeless night, rested at the
bottom of a black abyss from which no unaided woman could hope to
She swayed forward, and made a fresh start blindly, with an awful
dread of falling down; but at the end of a few steps, unexpectedly,
she found a sensation of support, of security. Raising her head,
she saw a man's face peering closely at her veil. Comrade Ossipon
was not afraid of strange women, and no feeling of false delicacy
could prevent him from striking an acquaintance with a woman
apparently very much intoxicated. Comrade Ossipon was interested
in women. He held up this one between his two large palms, peering
at her in a business-like way till he heard her say faintly "Mr
Ossipon!" and then he very nearly let her drop to the ground.
"Mrs Verloc!" he exclaimed. "You here!"
It seemed impossible to him that she should have been drinking.
But one never knows. He did not go into that question, but
attentive not to discourage kind fate surrendering to him the widow
of Comrade Verloc, he tried to draw her to his breast. To his
astonishment she came quite easily, and even rested on his arm for
a moment before she attempted to disengage herself. Comrade
Ossipon would not be brusque with kind fate. He withdrew his arm
in a natural way.
"You recognised me," she faltered out, standing before him, fairly
steady on her legs.
"Of course I did," said Ossipon with perfect readiness. "I was
afraid you were going to fall. I've thought of you too often
lately not to recognise you anywhere, at any time. I've always
thought of you - ever since I first set eyes on you."
Mrs Verloc seemed not to hear. "You were coming to the shop?" she
"Yes; at once," answered Ossipon. "Directly I read the paper."
In fact, Comrade Ossipon had been skulking for a good two hours in
the neighbourhood of Brett Street, unable to make up his mind for a
bold move. The robust anarchist was not exactly a bold conqueror.
He remembered that Mrs Verloc had never responded to his glances by
the slightest sign of encouragement. Besides, he thought the shop
might be watched by the police, and Comrade Ossipon did not wish
the police to form an exaggerated notion of his revolutionary
sympathies. Even now he did not know precisely what to do. In
comparison with his usual amatory speculations this was a big and
serious undertaking. He ignored how much there was in it and how
far he would have to go in order to get hold of what there was to
get - supposing there was a chance at all. These perplexities
checking his elation imparted to his tone a soberness well in
keeping with the circumstances.
"May I ask you where you were going?" he inquired in a subdued
"Don't ask me!" cried Mrs Verloc with a shuddering, repressed
violence. All her strong vitality recoiled from the idea of death.
"Never mind where I was going. . . ."
Ossipon concluded that she was very much excited but perfectly
sober. She remained silent by his side for moment, then all at
once she did something which he did not expect. She slipped her
hand under his arm. He was startled by the act itself certainly,
and quite as much too by the palpably resolute character of this
movement. But this being a delicate affair, Comrade Ossipon
behaved with delicacy. He contented himself by pressing the hand
slightly against his robust ribs. At the same time he felt himself
being impelled forward, and yielded to the impulse. At the end of
Brett Street he became aware of being directed to the left. He
The fruiterer at the corner had put out the blazing glory of his
oranges and lemons, and Brett Place was all darkness, interspersed
with the misty halos of the few lamps defining its triangular
shape, with a cluster of three lights on one stand in the middle.
The dark forms of the man and woman glided slowly arm in arm along
the walls with a loverlike and homeless aspect in the miserable
"What would you say if I were to tell you that I was going to find
you?" Mrs Verloc asked, gripping his arm with force.
"I would say that you couldn't find anyone more ready to help you
in your trouble," answered Ossipon, with a notion of making
tremendous headway. In fact, the progress of this delicate affair
was almost taking his breath away.
"In my trouble!" Mrs Verloc repeated slowly.
"And do you know what my trouble is?" she whispered with strange
"Ten minutes after seeing the evening paper," explained Ossipon
with ardour, "I met a fellow whom you may have seen once or twice
at the shop perhaps, and I had a talk with him which left no doubt
whatever in my mind. Then I started for here, wondering whether
you - I've been fond of you beyond words ever since I set eyes on
your face," he cried, as if unable to command his feelings.
Comrade Ossipon assumed correctly that no woman was capable of
wholly disbelieving such a statement. But he did not know that Mrs
Verloc accepted it with all the fierceness the instinct of self-
preservation puts into the grip of a drowning person. To the widow
of Mr Verloc the robust anarchist was like a radiant messenger of
They walked slowly, in step. "I thought so," Mrs Verloc murmured
"You've read it in my eyes," suggested Ossipon with great
"Yes," she breathed out into his inclined ear.
"A love like mine could not be concealed from a woman like you," he
went on, trying to detach his mind from material considerations
such as the business value of the shop, and the amount of money Mr
Verloc might have left in the bank. He applied himself to the
sentimental side of the affair. In his heart of hearts he was a
little shocked at his success. Verloc had been a good fellow, and
certainly a very decent husband as far as one could see. However,
Comrade Ossipon was not going to quarrel with his luck for the sake
of a dead man. Resolutely he suppressed his sympathy for the ghost
of Comrade Verloc, and went on.
"I could not conceal it. I was too full of you. I daresay you
could not help seeing it in my eyes. But I could not guess it.
You were always so distant. . . ."
"What else did you expect?" burst out Mrs Verloc. "I was a
respectable woman - "
She paused, then added, as if speaking to herself, in sinister
resentment: "Till he made me what I am."
Ossipon let that pass, and took up his running. "He never did seem
to me to be quite worthy of you," he began, throwing loyalty to the
winds. "You were worthy of a better fate."
Mrs Verloc interrupted bitterly:
"Better fate! He cheated me out of seven years of life."
"You seemed to live so happily with him." Ossipon tried to
exculpate the lukewarmness of his past conduct. "It's that what's
made me timid. You seemed to love him. I was surprised - and
jealous," he added.
"Love him!" Mrs Verloc cried out in a whisper, full of scorn and
rage. "Love him! I was a good wife to him. I am a respectable
woman. You thought I loved him! You did! Look here, Tom - "
The sound of this name thrilled Comrade Ossipon with pride. For
his name was Alexander, and he was called Tom by arrangement with
the most familiar of his intimates. It was a name of friendship -
of moments of expansion. He had no idea that she had ever heard it
used by anybody. It was apparent that she had not only caught it,
but had treasured it in her memory - perhaps in her heart.
"Look here, Tom! I was a young girl. I was done up. I was tired.
I had two people depending on what I could do, and it did seem as
if I couldn't do any more. Two people - mother and the boy. He
was much more mine than mother's. I sat up nights and nights with
him on my lap, all alone upstairs, when I wasn't more than eight
years old myself. And then - He was mine, I tell you. . . . You
can't understand that. No man can understand it. What was I to
do? There was a young fellow - "
The memory of the early romance with the young butcher survived,
tenacious, like the image of a glimpsed ideal in that heart
quailing before the fear of the gallows and full of revolt against
"That was the man I loved then," went on the widow of Mr Verloc.
"I suppose he could see it in my eyes too. Five and twenty
shillings a week, and his father threatened to kick him out of the
business if he made such a fool of himself as to marry a girl with
a crippled mother and a crazy idiot of a boy on her hands. But he
would hang about me, till one evening I found the courage to slam
the door in his face. I had to do it. I loved him dearly. Five
and twenty shillings a week! There was that other man - a good
lodger. What is a girl to do? Could I've gone on the streets? He
seemed kind. He wanted me, anyhow. What was I to do with mother
and that poor boy? Eh? I said yes. He seemed good-natured, he
was freehanded, he had money, he never said anything. Seven years
- seven years a good wife to him, the kind, the good, the generous,
the - And he loved me. Oh yes. He loved me till I sometimes
wished myself - Seven years. Seven years a wife to him. And do
you know what he was, that dear friend of yours? Do you know what
he was? He was a devil!"
The superhuman vehemence of that whispered statement completely
stunned Comrade Ossipon. Winnie Verloc turning about held him by
both arms, facing him under the falling mist in the darkness and
solitude of Brett Place, in which all sounds of life seemed lost as
if in a triangular well of asphalt and bricks, of blind houses and
"No; I didn't know," he declared, with a sort of flabby stupidity,
whose comical aspect was lost upon a woman haunted by the fear of
the gallows, "but I do now. I - I understand," he floundered on,
his mind speculating as to what sort of atrocities Verloc could
have practised under the sleepy, placid appearances of his married
estate. It was positively awful. "I understand," he repeated, and
then by a sudden inspiration uttered an - "Unhappy woman!" of lofty
commiseration instead of the more familiar "Poor darling!" of his
usual practice. This was no usual case. He felt conscious of
something abnormal going on, while he never lost sight of the
greatness of the stake. "Unhappy, brave woman!"
He was glad to have discovered that variation; but he could
discover nothing else.
"Ah, but he is dead now," was the best he could do. And he put a
remarkable amount of animosity into his guarded exclamation. Mrs
Verloc caught at his arm with a sort of frenzy.
"You guessed then he was dead," she murmured, as if beside herself.
"You! You guessed what I had to do. Had to!"
There were suggestions of triumph, relief, gratitude in the
indefinable tone of these words. It engrossed the whole attention
of Ossipon to the detriment of mere literal sense. He wondered
what was up with her, why she had worked herself into this state of
wild excitement. He even began to wonder whether the hidden causes
of that Greenwich Park affair did not lie deep in the unhappy
circumstances of the Verlocs' married life. He went so far as to
suspect Mr Verloc of having selected that extraordinary manner of
committing suicide. By Jove! that would account for the utter
inanity and wrong-headedness of the thing. No anarchist
manifestation was required by the circumstances. Quite the
contrary; and Verloc was as well aware of that as any other
revolutionist of his standing. What an immense joke if Verloc had
simply made fools of the whole of Europe, of the revolutionary
world, of the police, of the press, and of the cocksure Professor
as well. Indeed, thought Ossipon, in astonishment, it seemed
almost certain that he did! Poor beggar! It struck him as very
possible that of that household of two it wasn't precisely the man
who was the devil.
Alexander Ossipon, nicknamed the Doctor, was naturally inclined to
think indulgently of his men friends. He eyed Mrs Verloc hanging
on his arm. Of his women friends he thought in a specially
practical way. Why Mrs Verloc should exclaim at his knowledge of
Mr Verloc's death, which was no guess at all, did not disturb him
beyond measure. They often talked like lunatics. But he was
curious to know how she had been informed. The papers could tell
her nothing beyond the mere fact: the man blown to pieces in
Greenwich Park not having been identified. It was inconceivable on
any theory that Verloc should have given her an inkling of his
intention - whatever it was. This problem interested Comrade
Ossipon immensely. He stopped short. They had gone then along the
three sides of Brett Place, and were near the end of Brett Street
"How did you first come to hear of it?" he asked in a tone he tried
to render appropriate to the character of the revelations which had
been made to him by the woman at his side.
She shook violently for a while before she answered in a listless
"From the police. A chief inspector came, Chief Inspector Heat he
said he was. He showed me - "
Mrs Verloc choked. "Oh, Tom, they had to gather him up with a
Her breast heaved with dry sobs. In a moment Ossipon found his
"The police! Do you mean to say the police came already? That
Chief Inspector Heat himself actually came to tell you."
"Yes," she confirmed in the same listless tone. "He came just like
this. He came. I didn't know. He showed me a piece of overcoat,
and - just like that. Do you know this? he says."
"Heat! Heat! And what did he do?"
Mrs Verloc's head dropped. "Nothing. He did nothing. He went
away. The police were on that man's side," she murmured
tragically. "Another one came too."
"Another - another inspector, do you mean?" asked Ossipon, in great
excitement, and very much in the tone of a scared child.
"I don't know. He came. He looked like a foreigner. He may have
been one of them Embassy people."
Comrade Ossipon nearly collapsed under this new shock.
"Embassy! Are you aware what you are saying? What Embassy? What
on earth do you mean by Embassy?"
"It's that place in Chesham Square. The people he cursed so. I
don't know. What does it matter!"
"And that fellow, what did he do or say to you?"
"I don't remember. . . . Nothing . . . . I don't care. Don't ask
me," she pleaded in a weary voice.
"All right. I won't," assented Ossipon tenderly. And he meant it
too, not because he was touched by the pathos of the pleading
voice, but because he felt himself losing his footing in the depths
of this tenebrous affair. Police! Embassy! Phew! For fear of
adventuring his intelligence into ways where its natural lights
might fail to guide it safely he dismissed resolutely all
suppositions, surmises, and theories out of his mind. He had the
woman there, absolutely flinging herself at him, and that was the
principal consideration. But after what he had heard nothing could
astonish him any more. And when Mrs Verloc, as if startled
suddenly out of a dream of safety, began to urge upon him wildly
the necessity of an immediate flight on the Continent, he did not
exclaim in the least. He simply said with unaffected regret that
there was no train till the morning, and stood looking thoughtfully
at her face, veiled in black net, in the light of a gas lamp veiled
in a gauze of mist.
Near him, her black form merged in the night, like a figure half
chiselled out of a block of black stone. It was impossible to say
what she knew, how deep she was involved with policemen and
Embassies. But if she wanted to get away, it was not for him to
object. He was anxious to be off himself. He felt that the
business, the shop so strangely familiar to chief inspectors and
members of foreign Embassies, was not the place for him. That must
be dropped. But there was the rest. These savings. The money!
"You must hide me till the morning somewhere," she said in a
"Fact is, my dear, I can't take you where I live. I share the room
with a friend."
He was somewhat dismayed himself. In the morning the blessed `tecs
will be out in all the stations, no doubt. And if they once got
hold of her, for one reason or another she would be lost to him
"But you must. Don't you care for me at all - at all? What are
you thinking of?"
She said this violently, but she let her clasped hands fall in
discouragement. There was a silence, while the mist fell, and
darkness reigned undisturbed over Brett Place. Not a soul, not
even the vagabond, lawless, and amorous soul of a cat, came near
the man and the woman facing each other.
"It would be possible perhaps to find a safe lodging somewhere,"
Ossipon spoke at last. "But the truth is, my dear, I have not
enough money to go and try with - only a few pence. We
revolutionists are not rich."
He had fifteen shillings in his pocket. He added:
"And there's the journey before us, too - first thing in the
morning at that."
She did not move, made no sound, and Comrade Ossipon's heart sank a
little. Apparently she had no suggestion to offer. Suddenly she
clutched at her breast, as if she had felt a sharp pain there.
"But I have," she gasped. "I have the money. I have enough money.
Tom! Let us go from here."
"How much have you got?" he inquired, without stirring to her tug;
for he was a cautious man.
"I have the money, I tell you. All the money."
"What do you mean by it? All the money there was in the bank, or
what?" he asked incredulously, but ready not to be surprised at
anything in the way of luck.
"Yes, yes!" she said nervously. "All there was. I've it all."
"How on earth did you manage to get hold of it already?" he
"He gave it to me," she murmured, suddenly subdued and trembling.
Comrade Ossipon put down his rising surprise with a firm hand.
"Why, then - we are saved," he uttered slowly.
She leaned forward, and sank against his breast. He welcomed her
there. She had all the money. Her hat was in the way of very
marked effusion; her veil too. He was adequate in his
manifestations, but no more. She received them without resistance
and without abandonment, passively, as if only half-sensible. She
freed herself from his lax embraces without difficulty.
"You will save me, Tom," she broke out, recoiling, but still
keeping her hold on him by the two lapels of his damp coat. "Save
me. Hide me. Don't let them have me. You must kill me first. I
couldn't do it myself - I couldn't, I couldn't - not even for what
I am afraid of."
She was confoundedly bizarre, he thought. She was beginning to
inspire him with an indefinite uneasiness. He said surlily, for he
was busy with important thoughts:
"What the devil ARE you afraid of?"
"Haven't you guessed what I was driven to do!" cried the woman.
Distracted by the vividness of her dreadful apprehensions, her head
ringing with forceful words, that kept the horror of her position
before her mind, she had imagined her incoherence to be clearness
itself. She had no conscience of how little she had audibly said
in the disjointed phrases completed only in her thought. She had
felt the relief of a full confession, and she gave a special
meaning to every sentence spoken by Comrade Ossipon, whose
knowledge did not in the least resemble her own. "Haven't you
guessed what I was driven to do!" Her voice fell. "You needn't be
long in guessing then what I am afraid of," she continued, in a
bitter and sombre murmur. "I won't have it. I won't. I won't. I
won't. You must promise to kill me first!" She shook the lapels
of his coat. "It must never be!"
He assured her curtly that no promises on his part were necessary,
but he took good care not to contradict her in set terms, because
he had had much to do with excited women, and he was inclined in
general to let his experience guide his conduct in preference to
applying his sagacity to each special case. His sagacity in this
case was busy in other directions. Women's words fell into water,
but the shortcomings of time-tables remained. The insular nature
of Great Britain obtruded itself upon his notice in an odious form.
"Might just as well be put under lock and key every night," he
thought irritably, as nonplussed as though he had a wall to scale
with the woman on his back. Suddenly he slapped his forehead. He
had by dint of cudgelling his brains just thought of the
Southampton - St Malo service. The boat left about midnight.
There was a train at 10.30. He became cheery and ready to act.
"From Waterloo. Plenty of time. We are all right after all. . . .
What's the matter now? This isn't the way," he protested.
Mrs Verloc, having hooked her arm into his, was trying to drag him
into Brett Street again.
"I've forgotten to shut the shop door as I went out," she
whispered, terribly agitated.
The shop and all that was in it had ceased to interest Comrade
Ossipon. He knew how to limit his desires. He was on the point of
saying "What of that? Let it be," but he refrained. He disliked
argument about trifles. He even mended his pace considerably on
the thought that she might have left the money in the drawer. But
his willingness lagged behind her feverish impatience.
The shop seemed to be quite dark at first. The door stood ajar.
Mrs Verloc, leaning against the front, gasped out:
"Nobody has been in. Look! The light - the light in the parlour."
Ossipon, stretching his head forward, saw a faint gleam in the
darkness of the shop.
"There is," he said.
"I forgot it." Mrs Verloc's voice came from behind her veil
faintly. And as he stood waiting for her to enter first, she said
louder: "Go in and put it out - or I'll go mad."
He made no immediate objection to this proposal, so strangely
motived. "Where's all that money?" he asked.
"On me! Go, Tom. Quick! Put it out. . . . Go in!" she cried,
seizing him by both shoulders from behind.
Not prepared for a display of physical force, Comrade Ossipon
stumbled far into the shop before her push. He was astonished at
the strength of the woman and scandalised by her proceedings. But
he did not retrace his steps in order to remonstrate with her
severely in the street. He was beginning to be disagreeably
impressed by her fantastic behaviour. Moreover, this or never was
the time to humour the woman. Comrade Ossipon avoided easily the
end of the counter, and approached calmly the glazed door of the
parlour. The curtain over the panes being drawn back a little he,
by a very natural impulse, looked in, just as he made ready to turn
the handle. He looked in without a thought, without intention,
without curiosity of any sort. He looked in because he could not
help looking in. He looked in, and discovered Mr Verloc reposing
quietly on the sofa.
A yell coming from the innermost depths of his chest died out
unheard and transformed into a sort of greasy, sickly taste on his
lips. At the same time the mental personality of Comrade Ossipon
executed a frantic leap backward. But his body, left thus without
intellectual guidance, held on to the door handle with the
unthinking force of an instinct. The robust anarchist did not even
totter. And he stared, his face close to the glass, his eyes
protruding out of his head. He would have given anything to get
away, but his returning reason informed him that it would not do to
let go the door handle. What was it - madness, a nightmare, or a
trap into which he had been decoyed with fiendish artfulness? Why
- what for? He did not know. Without any sense of guilt in his
breast, in the full peace of his conscience as far as these people
were concerned, the idea that he would be murdered for mysterious
reasons by the couple Verloc passed not so much across his mind as
across the pit of his stomach, and went out, leaving behind a trail
of sickly faintness - an indisposition. Comrade Ossipon did not
feel very well in a very special way for a moment - a long moment.
And he stared. Mr Verloc lay very still meanwhile, simulating
sleep for reasons of his own, while that savage woman of his was
guarding the door - invisible and silent in the dark and deserted
street. Was all this a some sort of terrifying arrangement
invented by the police for his especial benefit? His modesty
shrank from that explanation.
But the true sense of the scene he was beholding came to Ossipon
through the contemplation of the hat. It seemed an extraordinary
thing, an ominous object, a sign. Black, and rim upward, it lay on
the floor before the couch as if prepared to receive the
contributions of pence from people who would come presently to
behold Mr Verloc in the fullness of his domestic ease reposing on a
sofa. From the hat the eyes of the robust anarchist wandered to
the displaced table, gazed at the broken dish for a time, received
a kind of optical shock from observing a white gleam under the
imperfectly closed eyelids of the man on the couch. Mr Verloc did
not seem so much asleep now as lying down with a bent head and
looking insistently at his left breast. And when Comrade Ossipon
had made out the handle of the knife he turned away from the glazed
door, and retched violently.
The crash of the street door flung to made his very soul leap in a
panic. This house with its harmless tenant could still be made a
trap of - a trap of a terrible kind. Comrade Ossipon had no
settled conception now of what was happening to him. Catching his
thigh against the end of the counter, he spun round, staggered with
a cry of pain, felt in the distracting clatter of the bell his arms
pinned to his side by a convulsive hug, while the cold lips of a
woman moved creepily on his very ear to form the words:
"Policeman! He has seen me!"
He ceased to struggle; she never let him go. Her hands had locked
themselves with an inseparable twist of fingers on his robust back.
While the footsteps approached, they breathed quickly, breast to
breast, with hard, laboured breaths, as if theirs had been the
attitude of a deadly struggle, while, in fact, it was the attitude
of deadly fear. And the time was long.
The constable on the beat had in truth seen something of Mrs
Verloc; only coming from the lighted thoroughfare at the other end
of Brett Street, she had been no more to him than a flutter in the
darkness. And he was not even quite sure that there had been a
flutter. He had no reason to hurry up. On coming abreast of the
shop he observed that it had been closed early. There was nothing
very unusual in that. The men on duty had special instructions
about that shop: what went on about there was not to be meddled
with unless absolutely disorderly, but any observations made were
to be reported. There were no observations to make; but from a
sense of duty and for the peace of his conscience, owing also to
that doubtful flutter of the darkness, the constable crossed the
road, and tried the door. The spring latch, whose key was reposing
for ever off duty in the late Mr Verloc's waistcoat pocket, held as
well as usual. While the conscientious officer was shaking the
handle, Ossipon felt the cold lips of the woman stirring again
creepily against his very ear:
"If he comes in kill me - kill me, Tom."
The constable moved away, flashing as he passed the light of his
dark lantern, merely for form's sake, at the shop window. For a
moment longer the man and the woman inside stood motionless,
panting, breast to breast; then her fingers came unlocked, her arms
fell by her side slowly. Ossipon leaned against the counter. The
robust anarchist wanted support badly. This was awful. He was
almost too disgusted for speech. Yet he managed to utter a
plaintive thought, showing at least that he realised his position.
"Only a couple of minutes later and you'd have made me blunder
against the fellow poking about here with his damned dark lantern."
The widow of Mr Verloc, motionless in the middle of the shop, said
"Go in and put that light out, Tom. It will drive me crazy."
She saw vaguely his vehement gesture of refusal. Nothing in the
world would have induced Ossipon to go into the parlour. He was
not superstitious, but there was too much blood on the floor; a
beastly pool of it all round the hat. He judged he had been
already far too near that corpse for his peace of mind - for the
safety of his neck, perhaps!
"At the meter then! There. Look. In that corner."
The robust form of Comrade Ossipon, striding brusque and shadowy
across the shop, squatted in a corner obediently; but this
obedience was without grace. He fumbled nervously - and suddenly
in the sound of a muttered curse the light behind the glazed door
flicked out to a gasping, hysterical sigh of a woman. Night, the
inevitable reward of men's faithful labours on this earth, night
had fallen on Mr Verloc, the tried revolutionist - "one of the old
lot" - the humble guardian of society; the invaluable Secret Agent
[delta] of Baron Stott-Wartenheim's despatches; a servant of law
and order, faithful, trusted, accurate, admirable, with perhaps one
single amiable weakness: the idealistic belief in being loved for
Ossipon groped his way back through the stuffy atmosphere, as black
as ink now, to the counter. The voice of Mrs Verloc, standing in
the middle of the shop, vibrated after him in that blackness with a
"I will not be hanged, Tom. I will not - "
She broke off. Ossipon from the counter issued a warning: "Don't
shout like this," then seemed to reflect profoundly. "You did this
thing quite by yourself?" he inquired in a hollow voice, but with
an appearance of masterful calmness which filled Mrs Verloc's heart
with grateful confidence in his protecting strength.
"Yes," she whispered, invisible.
"I wouldn't have believed it possible," he muttered. "Nobody
would." She heard him move about and the snapping of a lock in the
parlour door. Comrade Ossipon had turned the key on Mr Verloc's
repose; and this he did not from reverence for its eternal nature
or any other obscurely sentimental consideration, but for the
precise reason that he was not at all sure that there was not
someone else hiding somewhere in the house. He did not believe the
woman, or rather he was incapable by now of judging what could be
true, possible, or even probable in this astounding universe. He
was terrified out of all capacity for belief or disbelief in regard
of this extraordinary affair, which began with police inspectors
and Embassies and would end goodness knows where - on the scaffold
for someone. He was terrified at the thought that he could not
prove the use he made of his time ever since seven o'clock, for he
had been skulking about Brett Street. He was terrified at this
savage woman who had brought him in there, and would probably
saddle him with complicity, at least if he were not careful. He
was terrified at the rapidity with which he had been involved in
such dangers - decoyed into it. It was some twenty minutes since
he had met her - not more.
The voice of Mrs Verloc rose subdued, pleading piteously: "Don't
let them hang me, Tom! Take me out of the country. I'll work for
you. I'll slave for you. I'll love you. I've no one in the
world. . . . Who would look at me if you don't!" She ceased for a
moment; then in the depths of the loneliness made round her by an
insignificant thread of blood trickling off the handle of a knife,
she found a dreadful inspiration to her - who had been the
respectable girl of the Belgravian mansion, the loyal, respectable
wife of Mr Verloc. "I won't ask you to marry me," she breathed out
in shame-faced accents.
She moved a step forward in the darkness. He was terrified at her.
He would not have been surprised if she had suddenly produced
another knife destined for his breast. He certainly would have
made no resistance. He had really not enough fortitude in him just
then to tell her to keep back. But he inquired in a cavernous,
strange tone: "Was he asleep?"
"No," she cried, and went on rapidly. "He wasn't. Not he. He had
been telling me that nothing could touch him. After taking the boy
away from under my very eyes to kill him - the loving, innocent,
harmless lad. My own, I tell you. He was lying on the couch quite
easy - after killing the boy - my boy. I would have gone on the
streets to get out of his sight. And he says to me like this:
`Come here,' after telling me I had helped to kill the boy. You
hear, Tom? He says like this: `Come here,' after taking my very
heart out of me along with the boy to smash in the dirt."
She ceased, then dreamily repeated twice: "Blood and dirt. Blood
and dirt." A great light broke upon Comrade Ossipon. It was that
half-witted lad then who had perished in the park. And the fooling
of everybody all round appeared more complete than ever - colossal.
He exclaimed scientifically, in the extremity of his astonishment:
"The degenerate - by heavens!"
"Come here." The voice of Mrs Verloc rose again. "What did he
think I was made of? Tell me, Tom. Come here! Me! Like this! I
had been looking at the knife, and I thought I would come then if
he wanted me so much. Oh yes! I came - for the last time. . . .
With the knife."
He was excessively terrified at her - the sister of the degenerate
- a degenerate herself of a murdering type . . . or else of the
lying type. Comrade Ossipon might have been said to be terrified
scientifically in addition to all other kinds of fear. It was an
immeasurable and composite funk, which from its very excess gave
him in the dark a false appearance of calm and thoughtful
deliberation. For he moved and spoke with difficulty, being as if
half frozen in his will and mind - and no one could see his ghastly
face. He felt half dead.
He leaped a foot high. Unexpectedly Mrs Verloc had desecrated the
unbroken reserved decency of her home by a shrill and terrible
"Help, Tom! Save me. I won't be hanged!"
He rushed forward, groping for her mouth with a silencing hand, and
the shriek died out. But in his rush he had knocked her over. He
felt her now clinging round his legs, and his terror reached its
culminating point, became a sort of intoxication, entertained
delusions, acquired the characteristics of delirium tremens. He
positively saw snakes now. He saw the woman twined round him like
a snake, not to be shaken off. She was not deadly. She was death
itself - the companion of life.
Mrs Verloc, as if relieved by the outburst, was very far from
behaving noisily now. She was pitiful.
"Tom, you can't throw me off now," she murmured from the floor.
"Not unless you crush my head under your heel. I won't leave you."
"Get up," said Ossipon.
His face was so pale as to be quite visible in the profound black
darkness of the shop; while Mrs Verloc, veiled, had no face, almost
no discernible form. The trembling of something small and white, a
flower in her hat, marked her place, her movements.
It rose in the blackness. She had got up from the floor, and
Ossipon regretted not having, run out at once into the street. But
he perceived easily that it would not do. It would not do. She
would run after him. She would pursue him shrieking till she sent
every policeman within hearing in chase. And then goodness only
knew what she would say of him. He was so frightened that for a
moment the insane notion of strangling her in the dark passed
through his mind. And he became more frightened than ever! She
had him! He saw himself living in abject terror in some obscure
hamlet in Spain or Italy; till some fine morning they found him
dead too, with a knife in his breast - like Mr Verloc. He sighed
deeply. He dared not move. And Mrs Verloc waited in silence the
good pleasure of her saviour, deriving comfort from his reflective
Suddenly he spoke up in an almost natural voice. His reflections
had come to an end.
"Let's get out, or we will lose the train."
"Where are we going to, Tom?" she asked timidly. Mrs Verloc was no
longer a free woman.
"Let's get to Paris first, the best way we can. . . . Go out first,
and see if the way's clear."
She obeyed. Her voice came subdued through the cautiously opened
"It's all right."
Ossipon came out. Notwithstanding his endeavours to be gentle, the
cracked bell clattered behind the closed door in the empty shop, as
if trying in vain to warn the reposing Mr Verloc of the final
departure of his wife - accompanied by his friend.
In the hansom, they presently picked up, the robust anarchist
became explanatory. He was still awfully pale, with eyes that
seemed to have sunk a whole half-inch into his tense face. But he
seemed to have thought of everything with extraordinary method.
"When we arrive," he discoursed in a queer, monotonous tone, "you
must go into the station ahead of me, as if we did not know each
other. I will take the tickets, and slip in yours into your hand
as I pass you. Then you will go into the first-class ladies'
waiting-room, and sit there till ten minutes before the train
starts. Then you come out. I will be outside. You go in first on
the platform, as if you did not know me. There may be eyes
watching there that know what's what. Alone you are only a woman
going off by train. I am known. With me, you may be guessed at as
Mrs Verloc running away. Do you understand, my dear?" he added,
with an effort.
"Yes," said Mrs Verloc, sitting there against him in the hansom all
rigid with the dread of the gallows and the fear of death. "Yes,
Tom." And she added to herself, like an awful refrain: "The drop
given was fourteen feet."
Ossipon, not looking at her, and with a face like a fresh plaster
cast of himself after a wasting illness, said: "By-the-by, I ought
to have the money for the tickets now."
Mrs Verloc, undoing some hooks of her bodice, while she went on
staring ahead beyond the splashboard, handed over to him the new
pigskin pocket-book. He received it without a word, and seemed to
plunge it deep somewhere into his very breast. Then he slapped his
coat on the outside.
All this was done without the exchange of a single glance; they
were like two people looking out for the first sight of a desired
goal. It was not till the hansom swung round a corner and towards
the bridge that Ossipon opened his lips again.
"Do you know how much money there is in that thing?" he asked, as
if addressing slowly some hobgoblin sitting between the ears of the
"No," said Mrs Verloc. "He gave it to me. I didn't count. I
thought nothing of it at the time. Afterwards - "
She moved her right hand a little. It was so expressive that
little movement of that right hand which had struck the deadly blow
into a man's heart less than an hour before that Ossipon could not
repress a shudder. He exaggerated it then purposely, and muttered:
"I am cold. I got chilled through."
Mrs Verloc looked straight ahead at the perspective of her escape.
Now and then, like a sable streamer blown across a road, the words
"The drop given was fourteen feet" got in the way of her tense
stare. Through her black veil the whites of her big eyes gleamed
lustrously like the eyes of a masked woman.
Ossipon's rigidity had something business-like, a queer official
expression. He was heard again all of a sudden, as though he had
released a catch in order to speak.
"Look here! Do you know whether your - whether he kept his account
at the bank in his own name or in some other name."
Mrs Verloc turned upon him her masked face and the big white gleam
of her eyes.
"Other name?" she said thoughtfully.
"Be exact in what you say," Ossipon lectured in the swift motion of
the hansom. "It's extremely important. I will explain to you.
The bank has the numbers of these notes. If they were paid to him
in his own name, then when his - his death becomes known, the notes
may serve to track us since we have no other money. You have no
other money on you?"
She shook her head negatively.
"None whatever?" he insisted.
"A few coppers."
"It would be dangerous in that case. The money would have then to
be dealt specially with. Very specially. We'd have perhaps to
lose more than half the amount in order to get these notes changed
in a certain safe place I know of in Paris. In the other case I
mean if he had his account and got paid out under some other name -
say Smith, for instance - the money is perfectly safe to use. You
understand? The bank has no means of knowing that Mr Verloc and,
say, Smith are one and the same person. Do you see how important
it is that you should make no mistake in answering me? Can you
answer that query at all? Perhaps not. Eh?"
She said composedly:
"I remember now! He didn't bank in his own name. He told me once
that it was on deposit in the name of Prozor."
"You are sure?"
"You don't think the bank had any knowledge of his real name? Or
anybody in the bank or - "
She shrugged her shoulders.
"How can I know? Is it likely, Tom?
"No. I suppose it's not likely. It would have been more
comfortable to know. . . . Here we are. Get out first, and walk
straight in. Move smartly."
He remained behind, and paid the cabman out of his own loose
silver. The programme traced by his minute foresight was carried
out. When Mrs Verloc, with her ticket for St Malo in her hand,
entered the ladies' waiting-room, Comrade Ossipon walked into the
bar, and in seven minutes absorbed three goes of hot brandy and
"Trying to drive out a cold," he explained to the barmaid, with a
friendly nod and a grimacing smile. Then he came out, bringing out
from that festive interlude the face of a man who had drunk at the
very Fountain of Sorrow. He raised his eyes to the clock. It was
time. He waited.
Punctual, Mrs Verloc came out, with her veil down, and all black -
black as commonplace death itself, crowned with a few cheap and
pale flowers. She passed close to a little group of men who were
laughing, but whose laughter could have been struck dead by a
single word. Her walk was indolent, but her back was straight, and
Comrade Ossipon looked after it in terror before making a start
The train was drawn up, with hardly anybody about its row of open
doors. Owing to the time of the year and to the abominable weather
there were hardly any passengers. Mrs Verloc walked slowly along
the line of empty compartments till Ossipon touched her elbow from
She got in, and he remained on the platform looking about. She
bent forward, and in a whisper:
"What is it, Tom? Is there any danger? Wait a moment. There's
She saw him accost the man in uniform. They talked for a while.
She heard the guard say "Very well, sir," and saw him touch his
cap. Then Ossipon came back, saying: "I told him not to let
anybody get into our compartment."
She was leaning forward on her seat. "You think of everything. . .
. You'll get me off, Tom?" she asked in a gust of anguish, lifting
her veil brusquely to look at her saviour.
She had uncovered a face like adamant. And out of this face the
eyes looked on, big, dry, enlarged, lightless, burnt out like two
black holes in the white, shining globes.
"There is no danger," he said, gazing into them with an earnestness
almost rapt, which to Mrs Verloc, flying from the gallows, seemed
to be full of force and tenderness. This devotion deeply moved her
- and the adamantine face lost the stern rigidity of its terror.
Comrade Ossipon gazed at it as no lover ever gazed at his
mistress's face. Alexander Ossipon, anarchist, nicknamed the
Doctor, author of a medical (and improper) pamphlet, late lecturer
on the social aspects of hygiene to working men's clubs, was free
from the trammels of conventional morality - but he submitted to
the rule of science. He was scientific, and he gazed
scientifically at that woman, the sister of a degenerate, a
degenerate herself - of a murdering type. He gazed at her, and
invoked Lombroso, as an Italian peasant recommends himself to his
favourite saint. He gazed scientifically. He gazed at her cheeks,
at her nose, at her eyes, at her ears. . . . Bad! . . . Fatal! Mrs
Verloc's pale lips parting, slightly relaxed under his passionately
attentive gaze, he gazed also at her teeth. . . . Not a doubt
remained . . . a murdering type. . . . If Comrade Ossipon did not
recommend his terrified soul to Lombroso, it was only because on
scientific grounds he could not believe that he carried about him
such a thing as a soul. But he had in him the scientific spirit,
which moved him to testify on the platform of a railway station in
nervous jerky phrases.
"He was an extraordinary lad, that brother of yours. Most
interesting to study. A perfect type in a way. Perfect!"
He spoke scientifically in his secret fear. And Mrs Verloc,
hearing these words of commendation vouchsafed to her beloved dead,
swayed forward with a flicker of light in her sombre eyes, like a
ray of sunshine heralding a tempest of rain.
"He was that indeed," she whispered softly, with quivering lips.
"You took a lot of notice of him, Tom. I loved you for it."
"It's almost incredible the resemblance there was between you two,"
pursued Ossipon, giving a voice to his abiding dread, and trying to
conceal his nervous, sickening impatience for the train to start.
"Yes; he resembled you."
These words were not especially touching or sympathetic. But the
fact of that resemblance insisted upon was enough in itself to act
upon her emotions powerfully. With a little faint cry, and
throwing her arms out, Mrs Verloc burst into tears at last.
Ossipon entered the carriage, hastily closed the door and looked
out to see the time by the station clock. Eight minutes more. For
the first three of these Mrs Verloc wept violently and helplessly
without pause or interruption. Then she recovered somewhat, and
sobbed gently in an abundant fall of tears. She tried to talk to
her saviour, to the man who was the messenger of life.
"Oh, Tom! How could I fear to die after he was taken away from me
so cruelly! How could I! How could I be such a coward!"
She lamented aloud her love of life, that life without grace or
charm, and almost without decency, but of an exalted faithfulness
of purpose, even unto murder. And, as often happens in the lament
of poor humanity, rich in suffering but indigent in words, the
truth - the very cry of truth - was found in a worn and artificial
shape picked up somewhere among the phrases of sham sentiment.
"How could I be so afraid of death! Tom, I tried. But I am
afraid. I tried to do away with myself. And I couldn't. Am I
hard? I suppose the cup of horrors was not full enough for such as