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Almayer's Folly

Chapter 1
Mr Verloc, going out in the morning, left his shop nominally in charge of his
brother-in-law. It could be done, because there was very little business at any
time, and practically none at all before the evening. Mr Verloc cared but little
about his ostensible business. And, moreover, his wife was in charge of his
brother-in-law.
The shop was small, and so was the house. It was one of those grimy brick
houses which existed in large quantities before the era of reconstruction dawned
upon London. The shop was a square box of a place, with the front glazed in
small panes. In the daytime the door remained closed; in the evening it stood
discreetly but suspiciously ajar.
The window contained photographs of more or less undressed dancing girls;
nondescript packages in wrappers like patent medicines; closed yellow paper
envelopes, very flimsy, and marked two-and-six in heavy black figures; a few
numbers of ancient French comic publications hung across a string as if to dry; a
dingy blue china bowl, a casket of black wood, bottles of marking ink, and rubber
stamps; a few books, with titles hinting at impropriety; a few apparently old
copies of obscure newspapers, badly printed, with titles like THE TORCH, THE
GONG - rousing titles. And the two gas jets inside the panes were always turned
low, either for economy's sake or for the sake of the customers.
These customers were either very young men, who hung about the window for a
time before slipping in suddenly; or men of a more mature age, but looking
generally as if they were not in funds. Some of that last kind had the collars of
their overcoats turned right up to their moustaches, and traces of mud on the
bottom of their nether garments, which had the appearance of being much worn
and not very valuable. And the legs inside them did not, as a general rule, seem
of much account either. With their hands plunged deep in the side pockets of
their coats, they dodged in sideways, one shoulder first, as if afraid to start the
bell going.
The bell, hung on the door by means of a curved ribbon of steel, was difficult to
circumvent. It was hopelessly cracked; but of an evening, at the slightest
provocation, it clattered behind the customer with impudent virulence.
It clattered; and at that signal, through the dusty glass door behind the painted
deal counter, Mr Verloc would issue hastily from the parlour at the back. His eyes
were naturally heavy; he had an air of having wallowed, fully dressed, all day on
an unmade bed. Another man would have felt such an appearance a distinct
disadvantage. In a commercial transaction of the retail order much depends on
the seller's engaging and amiable aspect. But Mr Verloc knew his business, and
remained undisturbed by any sort of aesthetic doubt about his appearance. With
 
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