The Secret Agent
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 a firm, steady-eyed impudence, which
seemed to hold back the threat of some abominable menace, he would proceed to sell
over the counter some object looking obviously and scandalously not worth the money
which passed in the transaction: a small cardboard box with apparently nothing inside, for