Mr Verloc returning from the Continent at the end of ten days,
brought back a mind evidently unrefreshed by the wonders of
foreign travel and a countenance unlighted by the joys of
home-coming. He entered in the clatter of the shop bell
with an air of sombre and vexed exhaustion. His bag in
hand, his head lowered, he strode straight behind the counter,
and let himself fall into the chair, as though he had tramped all
the way from Dover. It was early morning. Stevie,
dusting various objects displayed in the front windows, turned to
gape at him with reverence and awe.
“Here!” said Mr Verloc, giving a slight kick to
the gladstone bag on the floor; and Stevie flung himself upon it,
seized it, bore it off with triumphant devotion. He was so
prompt that Mr Verloc was distinctly surprised.
Already at the clatter of the shop bell Mrs Neale,
blackleading the parlour grate, had looked through the door, and
rising from her knees had gone, aproned, and grimy with
everlasting toil, to tell Mrs Verloc in the kitchen that
“there was the master come back.”
Winnie came no farther than the inner shop door.
“You’ll want some breakfast,” she said from
Mr Verloc moved his hands slightly, as if overcome by an
impossible suggestion. But once enticed into the parlour he
did not reject the food set before him. He ate as if in a
public place, his hat pushed off his forehead, the skirts of his
heavy overcoat hanging in a triangle on each side of the
chair. And across the length of the table covered with
brown oil-cloth Winnie, his wife, talked evenly at him the wifely
talk, as artfully adapted, no doubt, to the circumstances of this
return as the talk of Penelope to the return of the wandering
Odysseus. Mrs Verloc, however, had done no weaving during
her husband’s absence. But she had had all the
upstairs room cleaned thoroughly, had sold some wares, had seen
Mr Michaelis several times. He had told her the last time
that he was going away to live in a cottage in the country,
somewhere on the London, Chatham, and Dover line. Karl
Yundt had come too, once, led under the arm by that “wicked
old housekeeper of his.” He was “a disgusting
old man.” Of Comrade Ossipon, whom she had received
curtly, entrenched behind the counter with a stony face and a
faraway gaze, she said nothing, her mental reference to the
robust anarchist being marked by a short pause, with the faintest
possible blush. And bringing in her brother Stevie as soon
as she could into the current of domestic events, she mentioned
that the boy had moped a good deal.
“It’s all along of mother leaving us like
Mr Verloc neither said, “Damn!” nor yet
“Stevie be hanged!” And Mrs Verloc, not let
into the secret of his thoughts, failed to appreciate the
generosity of this restraint.
“It isn’t that he doesn’t work as well as
ever,” she continued. “He’s been making
himself very useful. You’d think he couldn’t do
enough for us.”
Mr Verloc directed a casual and somnolent glance at Stevie,
who sat on his right, delicate, pale-faced, his rosy mouth open
vacantly. It was not a critical glance. It had no
intention. And if Mr Verloc thought for a moment that his
wife’s brother looked uncommonly useless, it was only a
dull and fleeting thought, devoid of that force and durability
which enables sometimes a thought to move the world.
Leaning back, Mr Verloc uncovered his head. Before his
extended arm could put down the hat Stevie pounced upon it, and
bore it off reverently into the kitchen. And again Mr
Verloc was surprised.
“You could do anything with that boy, Adolf,” Mrs
Verloc said, with her best air of inflexible calmness.
“He would go through fire for you.
She paused attentive, her ear turned towards the door of the
There Mrs Neale was scrubbing the floor. At
Stevie’s appearance she groaned lamentably, having observed
that he could be induced easily to bestow for the benefit of her
infant children the shilling his sister Winnie presented him with
from time to time. On all fours amongst the puddles, wet
and begrimed, like a sort of amphibious and domestic animal
living in ash-bins and dirty water, she uttered the usual
exordium: “It’s all very well for you, kept doing
nothing like a gentleman.” And she followed it with
the everlasting plaint of the poor, pathetically mendacious,
miserably authenticated by the horrible breath of cheap rum and
soap-suds. She scrubbed hard, snuffling all the time, and
talking volubly. And she was sincere. And on each
side of her thin red nose her bleared, misty eyes swam in tears,
because she felt really the want of some sort of stimulant in the
In the parlour Mrs Verloc observed, with knowledge:
“There’s Mrs Neale at it again with her harrowing
tales about her little children. They can’t be all so
little as she makes them out. Some of them must be big
enough by now to try to do something for themselves. It
only makes Stevie angry.”
These words were confirmed by a thud as of a fist striking the
kitchen table. In the normal evolution of his sympathy
Stevie had become angry on discovering that he had no shilling in
his pocket. In his inability to relieve at once Mrs
Neale’s “little ’uns’” privations,
he felt that somebody should be made to suffer for it. Mrs
Verloc rose, and went into the kitchen to “stop that
nonsense.” And she did it firmly but gently.
She was well aware that directly Mrs Neale received her money she
went round the corner to drink ardent spirits in a mean and musty
public-house—the unavoidable station on the via
dolorosa of her life. Mrs Verloc’s comment upon
this practice had an unexpected profundity, as coming from a
person disinclined to look under the surface of things.
“Of course, what is she to do to keep up? If I were
like Mrs Neale I expect I wouldn’t act any
In the afternoon of the same day, as Mr Verloc, coming with a
start out of the last of a long series of dozes before the
parlour fire, declared his intention of going out for a walk,
Winnie said from the shop:
“I wish you would take that boy out with you,
For the third time that day Mr Verloc was surprised. He
stared stupidly at his wife. She continued in her steady
manner. The boy, whenever he was not doing anything, moped
in the house. It made her uneasy; it made her nervous, she
confessed. And that from the calm Winnie sounded like
exaggeration. But, in truth, Stevie moped in the striking
fashion of an unhappy domestic animal. He would go up on
the dark landing, to sit on the floor at the foot of the tall
clock, with his knees drawn up and his head in his hands.
To come upon his pallid face, with its big eyes gleaming in the
dusk, was discomposing; to think of him up there was
Mr Verloc got used to the startling novelty of the idea.
He was fond of his wife as a man should be—that is,
generously. But a weighty objection presented itself to his
mind, and he formulated it.
“He’ll lose sight of me perhaps, and get lost in
the street,” he said.
Mrs Verloc shook her head competently.
“He won’t. You don’t know him.
That boy just worships you. But if you should miss
Mrs Verloc paused for a moment, but only for a moment.
“You just go on, and have your walk out.
Don’t worry. He’ll be all right.
He’s sure to turn up safe here before very long.”
This optimism procured for Mr Verloc his fourth surprise of
“Is he?” he grunted doubtfully. But perhaps
his brother-in-law was not such an idiot as he looked. His
wife would know best. He turned away his heavy eyes, saying
huskily: “Well, let him come along, then,” and
relapsed into the clutches of black care, that perhaps prefers to
sit behind a horseman, but knows also how to tread close on the
heels of people not sufficiently well off to keep
horses—like Mr Verloc, for instance.
Winnie, at the shop door, did not see this fatal attendant
upon Mr Verloc’s walks. She watched the two figures
down the squalid street, one tall and burly, the other slight and
short, with a thin neck, and the peaked shoulders raised slightly
under the large semi-transparent ears. The material of
their overcoats was the same, their hats were black and round in
shape. Inspired by the similarity of wearing apparel, Mrs
Verloc gave rein to her fancy.
“Might be father and son,” she said to
herself. She thought also that Mr Verloc was as much of a
father as poor Stevie ever had in his life. She was aware
also that it was her work. And with peaceful pride she
congratulated herself on a certain resolution she had taken a few
years before. It had cost her some effort, and even a few
She congratulated herself still more on observing in the
course of days that Mr Verloc seemed to be taking kindly to
Stevie’s companionship. Now, when ready to go out for
his walk, Mr Verloc called aloud to the boy, in the spirit, no
doubt, in which a man invites the attendance of the household
dog, though, of course, in a different manner. In the house
Mr Verloc could be detected staring curiously at Stevie a good
deal. His own demeanour had changed. Taciturn still,
he was not so listless. Mrs Verloc thought that he was
rather jumpy at times. It might have been regarded as an
improvement. As to Stevie, he moped no longer at the foot
of the clock, but muttered to himself in corners instead in a
threatening tone. When asked “What is it you’re
saying, Stevie?” he merely opened his mouth, and squinted
at his sister. At odd times he clenched his fists without
apparent cause, and when discovered in solitude would be scowling
at the wall, with the sheet of paper and the pencil given him for
drawing circles lying blank and idle on the kitchen table.
This was a change, but it was no improvement. Mrs Verloc
including all these vagaries under the general definition of
excitement, began to fear that Stevie was hearing more than was
good for him of her husband’s conversations with his
friends. During his “walks” Mr Verloc, of
course, met and conversed with various persons. It could
hardly be otherwise. His walks were an integral part of his
outdoor activities, which his wife had never looked deeply
into. Mrs Verloc felt that the position was delicate, but
she faced it with the same impenetrable calmness which impressed
and even astonished the customers of the shop and made the other
visitors keep their distance a little wonderingly.
No! She feared that there were things not good for Stevie
to hear of, she told her husband. It only excited the poor
boy, because he could not help them being so. Nobody
It was in the shop. Mr Verloc made no comment. He
made no retort, and yet the retort was obvious. But he
refrained from pointing out to his wife that the idea of making
Stevie the companion of his walks was her own, and nobody
else’s. At that moment, to an impartial observer, Mr
Verloc would have appeared more than human in his
magnanimity. He took down a small cardboard box from a
shelf, peeped in to see that the contents were all right, and put
it down gently on the counter. Not till that was done did
he break the silence, to the effect that most likely Stevie would
profit greatly by being sent out of town for a while; only he
supposed his wife could not get on without him.
“Could not get on without him!” repeated Mrs
Verloc slowly. “I couldn’t get on without him
if it were for his good! The idea! Of course, I can
get on without him. But there’s nowhere for him to
Mr Verloc got out some brown paper and a ball of string; and
meanwhile he muttered that Michaelis was living in a little
cottage in the country. Michaelis wouldn’t mind
giving Stevie a room to sleep in. There were no visitors
and no talk there. Michaelis was writing a book.
Mrs Verloc declared her affection for Michaelis; mentioned her
abhorrence of Karl Yundt, “nasty old man”; and of
Ossipon she said nothing. As to Stevie, he could be no
other than very pleased. Mr Michaelis was always so nice
and kind to him. He seemed to like the boy. Well, the
boy was a good boy.
“You too seem to have grown quite fond of him of
late,” she added, after a pause, with her inflexible
Mr Verloc tying up the cardboard box into a parcel for the
post, broke the string by an injudicious jerk, and muttered
several swear words confidentially to himself. Then raising
his tone to the usual husky mutter, he announced his willingness
to take Stevie into the country himself, and leave him all safe
He carried out this scheme on the very next day. Stevie
offered no objection. He seemed rather eager, in a
bewildered sort of way. He turned his candid gaze
inquisitively to Mr Verloc’s heavy countenance at frequent
intervals, especially when his sister was not looking at
him. His expression was proud, apprehensive, and
concentrated, like that of a small child entrusted for the first
time with a box of matches and the permission to strike a
light. But Mrs Verloc, gratified by her brother’s
docility, recommended him not to dirty his clothes unduly in the
country. At this Stevie gave his sister, guardian and
protector a look, which for the first time in his life seemed to
lack the quality of perfect childlike trustfulness. It was
haughtily gloomy. Mrs Verloc smiled.
“Goodness me! You needn’t be offended.
You know you do get yourself very untidy when you get a chance,
Mr Verloc was already gone some way down the street.
Thus in consequence of her mother’s heroic proceedings,
and of her brother’s absence on this villegiature, Mrs
Verloc found herself oftener than usual all alone not only in the
shop, but in the house. For Mr Verloc had to take his
walks. She was alone longer than usual on the day of the
attempted bomb outrage in Greenwich Park, because Mr Verloc went
out very early that morning and did not come back till nearly
dusk. She did not mind being alone. She had no desire
to go out. The weather was too bad, and the shop was cosier
than the streets. Sitting behind the counter with some
sewing, she did not raise her eyes from her work when Mr Verloc
entered in the aggressive clatter of the bell. She had
recognised his step on the pavement outside.
She did not raise her eyes, but as Mr Verloc, silent, and with
his hat rammed down upon his forehead, made straight for the
parlour door, she said serenely:
“What a wretched day. You’ve been perhaps to
“No! I haven’t,” said Mr Verloc
softly, and slammed the glazed parlour door behind him with
For some time Mrs Verloc remained quiescent, with her work
dropped in her lap, before she put it away under the counter and
got up to light the gas. This done, she went into the
parlour on her way to the kitchen. Mr Verloc would want his
tea presently. Confident of the power of her charms, Winnie
did not expect from her husband in the daily intercourse of their
married life a ceremonious amenity of address and courtliness of
manner; vain and antiquated forms at best, probably never very
exactly observed, discarded nowadays even in the highest spheres,
and always foreign to the standards of her class. She did
not look for courtesies from him. But he was a good
husband, and she had a loyal respect for his rights.
Mrs Verloc would have gone through the parlour and on to her
domestic duties in the kitchen with the perfect serenity of a
woman sure of the power of her charms. But a slight, very
slight, and rapid rattling sound grew upon her hearing.
Bizarre and incomprehensible, it arrested Mrs Verloc’s
attention. Then as its character became plain to the ear
she stopped short, amazed and concerned. Striking a match
on the box she held in her hand, she turned on and lighted, above
the parlour table, one of the two gas-burners, which, being
defective, first whistled as if astonished, and then went on
purring comfortably like a cat.
Mr Verloc, against his usual practice, had thrown off his
overcoat. It was lying on the sofa. His hat, which he
must also have thrown off, rested overturned under the edge of
the sofa. He had dragged a chair in front of the fireplace,
and his feet planted inside the fender, his head held between his
hands, he was hanging low over the glowing grate. His teeth
rattled with an ungovernable violence, causing his whole enormous
back to tremble at the same rate. Mrs Verloc was
“You’ve been getting wet,” she said.
“Not very,” Mr Verloc managed to falter out, in a
profound shudder. By a great effort he suppressed the
rattling of his teeth.
“I’ll have you laid up on my hands,” she
said, with genuine uneasiness.
He had certainly contrived somehow to catch an abominable cold
between seven in the morning and five in the afternoon. Mrs
Verloc looked at his bowed back.
“Where have you been to-day?” she asked.
“Nowhere,” answered Mr Verloc in a low, choked
nasal tone. His attitude suggested aggrieved sulks or a
severe headache. The unsufficiency and uncandidness of his
answer became painfully apparent in the dead silence of the
room. He snuffled apologetically, and added:
“I’ve been to the bank.”
Mrs Verloc became attentive.
“You have!” she said dispassionately.
Mr Verloc mumbled, with his nose over the grate, and with
“Draw the money out!”
“What do you mean? All of it?”
“Yes. All of it.”
Mrs Verloc spread out with care the scanty table-cloth, got
two knives and two forks out of the table drawer, and suddenly
stopped in her methodical proceedings.
“What did you do that for?”
“May want it soon,” snuffled vaguely Mr Verloc,
who was coming to the end of his calculated indiscretions.
“I don’t know what you mean,” remarked his
wife in a tone perfectly casual, but standing stock still between
the table and the cupboard.
“You know you can trust me,” Mr Verloc remarked to
the grate, with hoarse feeling.
Mrs Verloc turned slowly towards the cupboard, saying with
“Oh yes. I can trust you.”
And she went on with her methodical proceedings. She
laid two plates, got the bread, the butter, going to and fro
quietly between the table and the cupboard in the peace and
silence of her home. On the point of taking out the jam,
she reflected practically: “He will be feeling hungry,
having been away all day,” and she returned to the cupboard
once more to get the cold beef. She set it under the
purring gas-jet, and with a passing glance at her motionless
husband hugging the fire, she went (down two steps) into the
kitchen. It was only when coming back, carving knife and
fork in hand, that she spoke again.
“If I hadn’t trusted you I wouldn’t have
Bowed under the overmantel, Mr Verloc, holding his head in
both hands, seemed to have gone to sleep. Winnie made the
tea, and called out in an undertone:
Mr Verloc got up at once, and staggered a little before he sat
down at the table. His wife examining the sharp edge of the
carving knife, placed it on the dish, and called his attention to
the cold beef. He remained insensible to the suggestion,
with his chin on his breast.
“You should feed your cold,” Mrs Verloc said
He looked up, and shook his head. His eyes were
bloodshot and his face red. His fingers had ruffled his
hair into a dissipated untidiness. Altogether he had a
disreputable aspect, expressive of the discomfort, the irritation
and the gloom following a heavy debauch. But Mr Verloc was
not a debauched man. In his conduct he was
respectable. His appearance might have been the effect of a
feverish cold. He drank three cups of tea, but abstained
from food entirely. He recoiled from it with sombre
aversion when urged by Mrs Verloc, who said at last:
“Aren’t your feet wet? You had better put on
your slippers. You aren’t going out any more this
Mr Verloc intimated by morose grunts and signs that his feet
were not wet, and that anyhow he did not care. The proposal
as to slippers was disregarded as beneath his notice. But
the question of going out in the evening received an unexpected
development. It was not of going out in the evening that Mr
Verloc was thinking. His thoughts embraced a vaster
scheme. From moody and incomplete phrases it became
apparent that Mr Verloc had been considering the expediency of
emigrating. It was not very clear whether he had in his
mind France or California.
The utter unexpectedness, improbability, and inconceivableness
of such an event robbed this vague declaration of all its
effect. Mrs Verloc, as placidly as if her husband had been
threatening her with the end of the world, said:
Mr Verloc declared himself sick and tired of everything, and
besides—She interrupted him.
“You’ve a bad cold.”
It was indeed obvious that Mr Verloc was not in his usual
state, physically and even mentally. A sombre irresolution
held him silent for a while. Then he murmured a few ominous
generalities on the theme of necessity.
“Will have to,” repeated Winnie, sitting calmly
back, with folded arms, opposite her husband. “I
should like to know who’s to make you. You
ain’t a slave. No one need be a slave in this
country—and don’t you make yourself one.”
She paused, and with invincible and steady candour.
“The business isn’t so bad,” she went on.
“You’ve a comfortable home.”
She glanced all round the parlour, from the corner cupboard to
the good fire in the grate. Ensconced cosily behind the
shop of doubtful wares, with the mysteriously dim window, and its
door suspiciously ajar in the obscure and narrow street, it was
in all essentials of domestic propriety and domestic comfort a
respectable home. Her devoted affection missed out of it
her brother Stevie, now enjoying a damp villegiature in the
Kentish lanes under the care of Mr Michaelis. She missed
him poignantly, with all the force of her protecting
passion. This was the boy’s home too—the roof,
the cupboard, the stoked grate. On this thought Mrs Verloc
rose, and walking to the other end of the table, said in the
fulness of her heart:
“And you are not tired of me.”
Mr Verloc made no sound. Winnie leaned on his shoulder
from behind, and pressed her lips to his forehead. Thus she
lingered. Not a whisper reached them from the outside
The sound of footsteps on the pavement died out in the
discreet dimness of the shop. Only the gas-jet above the
table went on purring equably in the brooding silence of the
During the contact of that unexpected and lingering kiss Mr
Verloc, gripping with both hands the edges of his chair,
preserved a hieratic immobility. When the pressure was
removed he let go the chair, rose, and went to stand before the
fireplace. He turned no longer his back to the room.
With his features swollen and an air of being drugged, he
followed his wife’s movements with his eyes.
Mrs Verloc went about serenely, clearing up the table.
Her tranquil voice commented the idea thrown out in a reasonable
and domestic tone. It wouldn’t stand
examination. She condemned it from every point of
view. But her only real concern was Stevie’s
welfare. He appeared to her thought in that connection as
sufficiently “peculiar” not to be taken rashly
abroad. And that was all. But talking round that
vital point, she approached absolute vehemence in her
delivery. Meanwhile, with brusque movements, she arrayed
herself in an apron for the washing up of cups. And as if
excited by the sound of her uncontradicted voice, she went so far
as to say in a tone almost tart:
“If you go abroad you’ll have to go without
“You know I wouldn’t,” said Mr Verloc
huskily, and the unresonant voice of his private life trembled
with an enigmatical emotion.
Already Mrs Verloc was regretting her words. They had
sounded more unkind than she meant them to be. They had
also the unwisdom of unnecessary things. In fact, she had
not meant them at all. It was a sort of phrase that is
suggested by the demon of perverse inspiration. But she
knew a way to make it as if it had not been.
She turned her head over her shoulder and gave that man
planted heavily in front of the fireplace a glance, half arch,
half cruel, out of her large eyes—a glance of which the
Winnie of the Belgravian mansion days would have been incapable,
because of her respectability and her ignorance. But the
man was her husband now, and she was no longer ignorant.
She kept it on him for a whole second, with her grave face
motionless like a mask, while she said playfully:
“You couldn’t. You would miss me too
Mr Verloc started forward.
“Exactly,” he said in a louder tone, throwing his
arms out and making a step towards her. Something wild and
doubtful in his expression made it appear uncertain whether he
meant to strangle or to embrace his wife. But Mrs
Verloc’s attention was called away from that manifestation
by the clatter of the shop bell.
“Shop, Adolf. You go.”
He stopped, his arms came down slowly.
“You go,” repeated Mrs Verloc.
“I’ve got my apron on.”
Mr Verloc obeyed woodenly, stony-eyed, and like an automaton
whose face had been painted red. And this resemblance to a
mechanical figure went so far that he had an automaton’s
absurd air of being aware of the machinery inside of him.
He closed the parlour door, and Mrs Verloc moving briskly,
carried the tray into the kitchen. She washed the cups and
some other things before she stopped in her work to listen.
No sound reached her. The customer was a long time in the
shop. It was a customer, because if he had not been Mr
Verloc would have taken him inside. Undoing the strings of
her apron with a jerk, she threw it on a chair, and walked back
to the parlour slowly.
At that precise moment Mr Verloc entered from the shop.
He had gone in red. He came out a strange papery
white. His face, losing its drugged, feverish stupor, had
in that short time acquired a bewildered and harassed
expression. He walked straight to the sofa, and stood
looking down at his overcoat lying there, as though he were
afraid to touch it.
“What’s the matter?” asked Mrs Verloc in a
subdued voice. Through the door left ajar she could see
that the customer was not gone yet.
“I find I’ll have to go out this evening,”
said Mr Verloc. He did not attempt to pick up his outer
Without a word Winnie made for the shop, and shutting the door
after her, walked in behind the counter. She did not look
overtly at the customer till she had established herself
comfortably on the chair. But by that time she had noted
that he was tall and thin, and wore his moustaches twisted
up. In fact, he gave the sharp points a twist just
then. His long, bony face rose out of a turned-up
collar. He was a little splashed, a little wet. A
dark man, with the ridge of the cheek-bone well defined under the
slightly hollow temple. A complete stranger. Not a
Mrs Verloc looked at him placidly.
“You came over from the Continent?” she said after
The long, thin stranger, without exactly looking at Mrs
Verloc, answered only by a faint and peculiar smile.
Mrs Verloc’s steady, incurious gaze rested on him.
“You understand English, don’t you?”
“Oh yes. I understand English.”
There was nothing foreign in his accent, except that he seemed
in his slow enunciation to be taking pains with it. And Mrs
Verloc, in her varied experience, had come to the conclusion that
some foreigners could speak better English than the
natives. She said, looking at the door of the parlour
“You don’t think perhaps of staying in England for
The stranger gave her again a silent smile. He had a
kindly mouth and probing eyes. And he shook his head a
little sadly, it seemed.
“My husband will see you through all right.
Meantime for a few days you couldn’t do better than take
lodgings with Mr Giugliani. Continental Hotel it’s
called. Private. It’s quiet. My husband
will take you there.”
“A good idea,” said the thin, dark man, whose
glance had hardened suddenly.
“You knew Mr Verloc before—didn’t you?
Perhaps in France?”
“I have heard of him,” admitted the visitor in his
slow, painstaking tone, which yet had a certain curtness of
There was a pause. Then he spoke again, in a far less
“Your husband has not gone out to wait for me in the
street by chance?”
“In the street!” repeated Mrs Verloc,
surprised. “He couldn’t. There’s no
other door to the house.”
For a moment she sat impassive, then left her seat to go and
peep through the glazed door. Suddenly she opened it, and
disappeared into the parlour.
Mr Verloc had done no more than put on his overcoat. But
why he should remain afterwards leaning over the table propped up
on his two arms as though he were feeling giddy or sick, she
could not understand. “Adolf,” she called out
half aloud; and when he had raised himself:
“Do you know that man?” she asked rapidly.
“I’ve heard of him,” whispered uneasily Mr
Verloc, darting a wild glance at the door.
Mrs Verloc’s fine, incurious eyes lighted up with a
flash of abhorrence.
“One of Karl Yundt’s friends—beastly old
“No! No!” protested Mr Verloc, busy fishing
for his hat. But when he got it from under the sofa he held
it as if he did not know the use of a hat.
“Well—he’s waiting for you,” said Mrs
Verloc at last. “I say, Adolf, he ain’t one of
them Embassy people you have been bothered with of
“Bothered with Embassy people,” repeated Mr
Verloc, with a heavy start of surprise and fear.
“Who’s been talking to you of the Embassy
“I! I! Talked of the Embassy to
Mr Verloc seemed scared and bewildered beyond measure.
His wife explained:
“You’ve been talking a little in your sleep of
“What—what did I say? What do you
“Nothing much. It seemed mostly nonsense.
Enough to let me guess that something worried you.”
Mr Verloc rammed his hat on his head. A crimson flood of
anger ran over his face.
“Nonsense—eh? The Embassy people! I
would cut their hearts out one after another. But let them
look out. I’ve got a tongue in my head.”
He fumed, pacing up and down between the table and the sofa,
his open overcoat catching against the angles. The red
flood of anger ebbed out, and left his face all white, with
quivering nostrils. Mrs Verloc, for the purposes of
practical existence, put down these appearances to the cold.
“Well,” she said, “get rid of the man,
whoever he is, as soon as you can, and come back home to
me. You want looking after for a day or two.”
Mr Verloc calmed down, and, with resolution imprinted on his
pale face, had already opened the door, when his wife called him
back in a whisper:
“Adolf! Adolf!” He came back
startled. “What about that money you drew out?”
she asked. “You’ve got it in your pocket?
Hadn’t you better—”
Mr Verloc gazed stupidly into the palm of his wife’s
extended hand for some time before he slapped his brow.
“Money! Yes! Yes! I didn’t know
what you meant.”
He drew out of his breast pocket a new pigskin
pocket-book. Mrs Verloc received it without another word,
and stood still till the bell, clattering after Mr Verloc and Mr
Verloc’s visitor, had quieted down. Only then she
peeped in at the amount, drawing the notes out for the
purpose. After this inspection she looked round
thoughtfully, with an air of mistrust in the silence and solitude
of the house. This abode of her married life appeared to
her as lonely and unsafe as though it had been situated in the
midst of a forest. No receptacle she could think of amongst
the solid, heavy furniture seemed other but flimsy and
particularly tempting to her conception of a house-breaker.
It was an ideal conception, endowed with sublime faculties and a
miraculous insight. The till was not to be thought
of. It was the first spot a thief would make for. Mrs
Verloc unfastening hastily a couple of hooks, slipped the
pocket-book under the bodice of her dress. Having thus
disposed of her husband’s capital, she was rather glad to
hear the clatter of the door bell, announcing an arrival.
Assuming the fixed, unabashed stare and the stony expression
reserved for the casual customer, she walked in behind the
A man standing in the middle of the shop was inspecting it
with a swift, cool, all-round glance. His eyes ran over the
walls, took in the ceiling, noted the floor—all in a
moment. The points of a long fair moustache fell below the
line of the jaw. He smiled the smile of an old if distant
acquaintance, and Mrs Verloc remembered having seen him
before. Not a customer. She softened her
“customer stare” to mere indifference, and faced him
across the counter.
He approached, on his side, confidentially, but not too
“Husband at home, Mrs Verloc?” he asked in an
easy, full tone.
“No. He’s gone out.”
“I am sorry for that. I’ve called to get
from him a little private information.”
This was the exact truth. Chief Inspector Heat had been
all the way home, and had even gone so far as to think of getting
into his slippers, since practically he was, he told himself,
chucked out of that case. He indulged in some scornful and
in a few angry thoughts, and found the occupation so
unsatisfactory that he resolved to seek relief out of
doors. Nothing prevented him paying a friendly call to Mr
Verloc, casually as it were. It was in the character of a
private citizen that walking out privately he made use of his
customary conveyances. Their general direction was towards
Mr Verloc’s home. Chief Inspector Heat respected his
own private character so consistently that he took especial pains
to avoid all the police constables on point and patrol duty in
the vicinity of Brett Street. This precaution was much more
necessary for a man of his standing than for an obscure Assistant
Commissioner. Private Citizen Heat entered the street,
manoeuvring in a way which in a member of the criminal classes
would have been stigmatised as slinking. The piece of cloth
picked up in Greenwich was in his pocket. Not that he had
the slightest intention of producing it in his private
capacity. On the contrary, he wanted to know just what Mr
Verloc would be disposed to say voluntarily. He hoped Mr
Verloc’s talk would be of a nature to incriminate
Michaelis. It was a conscientiously professional hope in
the main, but not without its moral value. For Chief
Inspector Heat was a servant of justice. Finding Mr Verloc
from home, he felt disappointed.
“I would wait for him a little if I were sure he
wouldn’t be long,” he said.
Mrs Verloc volunteered no assurance of any kind.
“The information I need is quite private,” he
repeated. “You understand what I mean? I wonder
if you could give me a notion where he’s gone
Mrs Verloc shook her head.
She turned away to range some boxes on the shelves behind the
counter. Chief Inspector Heat looked at her thoughtfully
for a time.
“I suppose you know who I am?” he said.
Mrs Verloc glanced over her shoulder. Chief Inspector
Heat was amazed at her coolness.
“Come! You know I am in the police,” he said
“I don’t trouble my head much about it,” Mrs
Verloc remarked, returning to the ranging of her boxes.
“My name is Heat. Chief Inspector Heat of the
Special Crimes section.”
Mrs Verloc adjusted nicely in its place a small cardboard box,
and turning round, faced him again, heavy-eyed, with idle hands
hanging down. A silence reigned for a time.
“So your husband went out a quarter of an hour
ago! And he didn’t say when he would be
“He didn’t go out alone,” Mrs Verloc let
Mrs Verloc touched the back of her hair. It was in
“A stranger who called.”
“I see. What sort of man was that stranger?
Would you mind telling me?”
Mrs Verloc did not mind. And when Chief Inspector Heat
heard of a man dark, thin, with a long face and turned up
moustaches, he gave signs of perturbation, and exclaimed:
“Dash me if I didn’t think so! He
hasn’t lost any time.”
He was intensely disgusted in the secrecy of his heart at the
unofficial conduct of his immediate chief. But he was not
quixotic. He lost all desire to await Mr Verloc’s
return. What they had gone out for he did not know, but he
imagined it possible that they would return together. The
case is not followed properly, it’s being tampered with, he
“I am afraid I haven’t time to wait for your
husband,” he said.
Mrs Verloc received this declaration listlessly. Her
detachment had impressed Chief Inspector Heat all along. At
this precise moment it whetted his curiosity. Chief
Inspector Heat hung in the wind, swayed by his passions like the
most private of citizens.
“I think,” he said, looking at her steadily,
“that you could give me a pretty good notion of
what’s going on if you liked.”
Forcing her fine, inert eyes to return his gaze, Mrs Verloc
“Going on! What is going on?”
“Why, the affair I came to talk about a little with your
That day Mrs Verloc had glanced at a morning paper as
usual. But she had not stirred out of doors. The
newsboys never invaded Brett Street. It was not a street
for their business. And the echo of their cries drifting
along the populous thoroughfares, expired between the dirty brick
walls without reaching the threshold of the shop. Her
husband had not brought an evening paper home. At any rate
she had not seen it. Mrs Verloc knew nothing whatever of
any affair. And she said so, with a genuine note of wonder
in her quiet voice.
Chief Inspector Heat did not believe for a moment in so much
ignorance. Curtly, without amiability, he stated the bare
Mrs Verloc turned away her eyes.
“I call it silly,” she pronounced slowly.
She paused. “We ain’t downtrodden slaves
The Chief Inspector waited watchfully. Nothing more
“And your husband didn’t mention anything to you
when he came home?”
Mrs Verloc simply turned her face from right to left in sign
of negation. A languid, baffling silence reigned in the
shop. Chief Inspector Heat felt provoked beyond
“There was another small matter,” he began in a
detached tone, “which I wanted to speak to your husband
about. There came into our hands a—a—what we
believe is—a stolen overcoat.”
Mrs Verloc, with her mind specially aware of thieves that
evening, touched lightly the bosom of her dress.
“We have lost no overcoat,” she said calmly.
“That’s funny,” continued Private Citizen
Heat. “I see you keep a lot of marking ink
He took up a small bottle, and looked at it against the
gas-jet in the middle of the shop.
“Purple—isn’t it?” he remarked,
setting it down again. “As I said, it’s
strange. Because the overcoat has got a label sewn on the
inside with your address written in marking ink.”
Mrs Verloc leaned over the counter with a low exclamation.
“That’s my brother’s, then.”
“Where’s your brother? Can I see him?”
asked the Chief Inspector briskly. Mrs Verloc leaned a
little more over the counter.
“No. He isn’t here. I wrote that label
“Where’s your brother now?”
“He’s been away living with—a
friend—in the country.”
“The overcoat comes from the country. And
what’s the name of the friend?”
“Michaelis,” confessed Mrs Verloc in an awed
The Chief Inspector let out a whistle. His eyes
“Just so. Capital. And your brother now,
what’s he like—a sturdy, darkish
“Oh no,” exclaimed Mrs Verloc fervently.
“That must be the thief. Stevie’s slight and
“Good,” said the Chief Inspector in an approving
tone. And while Mrs Verloc, wavering between alarm and
wonder, stared at him, he sought for information. Why have
the address sewn like this inside the coat? And he heard
that the mangled remains he had inspected that morning with
extreme repugnance were those of a youth, nervous, absent-minded,
peculiar, and also that the woman who was speaking to him had had
the charge of that boy since he was a baby.
“Easily excitable?” he suggested.
“Oh yes. He is. But how did he come to lose
Chief Inspector Heat suddenly pulled out a pink newspaper he
had bought less than half-an-hour ago. He was interested in
horses. Forced by his calling into an attitude of doubt and
suspicion towards his fellow-citizens, Chief Inspector Heat
relieved the instinct of credulity implanted in the human breast
by putting unbounded faith in the sporting prophets of that
particular evening publication. Dropping the extra special
on to the counter, he plunged his hand again into his pocket, and
pulling out the piece of cloth fate had presented him with out of
a heap of things that seemed to have been collected in shambles
and rag shops, he offered it to Mrs Verloc for inspection.
“I suppose you recognise this?”
She took it mechanically in both her hands. Her eyes
seemed to grow bigger as she looked.
“Yes,” she whispered, then raised her head, and
staggered backward a little.
“Whatever for is it torn out like this?”
The Chief Inspector snatched across the counter the cloth out
of her hands, and she sat heavily on the chair. He thought:
identification’s perfect. And in that moment he had a
glimpse into the whole amazing truth. Verloc was the
“Mrs Verloc,” he said, “it strikes me that
you know more of this bomb affair than even you yourself are
Mrs Verloc sat still, amazed, lost in boundless
astonishment. What was the connection? And she became
so rigid all over that she was not able to turn her head at the
clatter of the bell, which caused the private investigator Heat
to spin round on his heel. Mr Verloc had shut the door, and
for a moment the two men looked at each other.
Mr Verloc, without looking at his wife, walked up to the Chief
Inspector, who was relieved to see him return alone.
“You here!” muttered Mr Verloc heavily.
“Who are you after?”
“No one,” said Chief Inspector Heat in a low
tone. “Look here, I would like a word or two with
Mr Verloc, still pale, had brought an air of resolution with
him. Still he didn’t look at his wife. He
“Come in here, then.” And he led the way
into the parlour.
The door was hardly shut when Mrs Verloc, jumping up from the
chair, ran to it as if to fling it open, but instead of doing so
fell on her knees, with her ear to the keyhole. The two men
must have stopped directly they were through, because she heard
plainly the Chief Inspector’s voice, though she could not
see his finger pressed against her husband’s breast
“You are the other man, Verloc. Two men were seen
entering the park.”
And the voice of Mr Verloc said:
“Well, take me now. What’s to prevent
you? You have the right.”
“Oh no! I know too well who you have been giving
yourself away to. He’ll have to manage this little
affair all by himself. But don’t you make a mistake,
it’s I who found you out.”
Then she heard only muttering. Inspector Heat must have
been showing to Mr Verloc the piece of Stevie’s overcoat,
because Stevie’s sister, guardian, and protector heard her
husband a little louder.
“I never noticed that she had hit upon that
Again for a time Mrs Verloc heard nothing but murmurs, whose
mysteriousness was less nightmarish to her brain than the
horrible suggestions of shaped words. Then Chief Inspector
Heat, on the other side of the door, raised his voice.
“You must have been mad.”
And Mr Verloc’s voice answered, with a sort of gloomy
“I have been mad for a month or more, but I am not mad
now. It’s all over. It shall all come out of my
head, and hang the consequences.”
There was a silence, and then Private Citizen Heat
“What’s coming out?”
“Everything,” exclaimed the voice of Mr Verloc,
and then sank very low.
After a while it rose again.
“You have known me for several years now, and
you’ve found me useful, too. You know I was a
straight man. Yes, straight.”
This appeal to old acquaintance must have been extremely
distasteful to the Chief Inspector.
His voice took on a warning note.
“Don’t you trust so much to what you have been
promised. If I were you I would clear out. I
don’t think we will run after you.”
Mr Verloc was heard to laugh a little.
“Oh yes; you hope the others will get rid of me for
you—don’t you? No, no; you don’t shake me
off now. I have been a straight man to those people too
long, and now everything must come out.”
“Let it come out, then,” the indifferent voice of
Chief Inspector Heat assented. “But tell me now how
did you get away.”
“I was making for Chesterfield Walk,” Mrs Verloc
heard her husband’s voice, “when I heard the
bang. I started running then. Fog. I saw no one
till I was past the end of George Street. Don’t think
I met anyone till then.”
“So easy as that!” marvelled the voice of Chief
Inspector Heat. “The bang startled you,
“Yes; it came too soon,” confessed the gloomy,
husky voice of Mr Verloc.
Mrs Verloc pressed her ear to the keyhole; her lips were blue,
her hands cold as ice, and her pale face, in which the two eyes
seemed like two black holes, felt to her as if it were enveloped
On the other side of the door the voices sank very low.
She caught words now and then, sometimes in her husband’s
voice, sometimes in the smooth tones of the Chief
Inspector. She heard this last say:
“We believe he stumbled against the root of a
There was a husky, voluble murmur, which lasted for some time,
and then the Chief Inspector, as if answering some inquiry, spoke
“Of course. Blown to small bits: limbs, gravel,
clothing, bones, splinters—all mixed up together. I
tell you they had to fetch a shovel to gather him up
Mrs Verloc sprang up suddenly from her crouching position, and
stopping her ears, reeled to and fro between the counter and the
shelves on the wall towards the chair. Her crazed eyes
noted the sporting sheet left by the Chief Inspector, and as she
knocked herself against the counter she snatched it up, fell into
the chair, tore the optimistic, rosy sheet right across in trying
to open it, then flung it on the floor. On the other side
of the door, Chief Inspector Heat was saying to Mr Verloc, the
“So your defence will be practically a full
“It will. I am going to tell the whole
“You won’t be believed as much as you fancy you
And the Chief Inspector remained thoughtful. The turn
this affair was taking meant the disclosure of many
things—the laying waste of fields of knowledge, which,
cultivated by a capable man, had a distinct value for the
individual and for the society. It was sorry, sorry
meddling. It would leave Michaelis unscathed; it would drag
to light the Professor’s home industry; disorganise the
whole system of supervision; make no end of a row in the papers,
which, from that point of view, appeared to him by a sudden
illumination as invariably written by fools for the reading of
imbeciles. Mentally he agreed with the words Mr Verloc let
fall at last in answer to his last remark.
“Perhaps not. But it will upset many things.
I have been a straight man, and I shall keep straight in
“If they let you,” said the Chief Inspector
cynically. “You will be preached to, no doubt, before
they put you into the dock. And in the end you may yet get
let in for a sentence that will surprise you. I
wouldn’t trust too much the gentleman who’s been
talking to you.”
Mr Verloc listened, frowning.
“My advice to you is to clear out while you may. I
have no instructions. There are some of them,”
continued Chief Inspector Heat, laying a peculiar stress on the
word “them,” “who think you are already out of
“Indeed!” Mr Verloc was moved to say. Though
since his return from Greenwich he had spent most of his time
sitting in the tap-room of an obscure little public-house, he
could hardly have hoped for such favourable news.
“That’s the impression about you.” The
Chief Inspector nodded at him. “Vanish. Clear
“Where to?” snarled Mr Verloc. He raised his
head, and gazing at the closed door of the parlour, muttered
feelingly: “I only wish you would take me away
to-night. I would go quietly.”
“I daresay,” assented sardonically the Chief
Inspector, following the direction of his glance.
The brow of Mr Verloc broke into slight moisture. He
lowered his husky voice confidentially before the unmoved Chief
“The lad was half-witted, irresponsible. Any court
would have seen that at once. Only fit for the
asylum. And that was the worst that would’ve happened
to him if—”
The Chief Inspector, his hand on the door handle, whispered
into Mr Verloc’s face.
“He may’ve been half-witted, but you must have
been crazy. What drove you off your head like
Mr Verloc, thinking of Mr Vladimir, did not hesitate in the
choice of words.
“A Hyperborean swine,” he hissed forcibly.
“A what you might call a—a gentleman.”
The Chief Inspector, steady-eyed, nodded briefly his
comprehension, and opened the door. Mrs Verloc, behind the
counter, might have heard but did not see his departure, pursued
by the aggressive clatter of the bell. She sat at her post
of duty behind the counter. She sat rigidly erect in the
chair with two dirty pink pieces of paper lying spread out at her
feet. The palms of her hands were pressed convulsively to
her face, with the tips of the fingers contracted against the
forehead, as though the skin had been a mask which she was ready
to tear off violently. The perfect immobility of her pose
expressed the agitation of rage and despair, all the potential
violence of tragic passions, better than any shallow display of
shrieks, with the beating of a distracted head against the walls,
could have done. Chief Inspector Heat, crossing the shop at
his busy, swinging pace, gave her only a cursory glance.
And when the cracked bell ceased to tremble on its curved ribbon
of steel nothing stirred near Mrs Verloc, as if her attitude had
the locking power of a spell. Even the butterfly-shaped gas
flames posed on the ends of the suspended T-bracket burned
without a quiver. In that shop of shady wares fitted with
deal shelves painted a dull brown, which seemed to devour the
sheen of the light, the gold circlet of the wedding ring on Mrs
Verloc’s left hand glittered exceedingly with the
untarnished glory of a piece from some splendid treasure of
jewels, dropped in a dust-bin.