The Secret Agent
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 toll, 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 a distance.
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 this."
Mr Verloc neither said, "Damn!" nor yet "Stevie be hanged!" And Mrs Verloc, not let
into the secret of his thoughts, failed to appreciate the generosity of this restraint.