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The Secret Agent

Chapter 12
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
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