The Secret Sharer

The Secret Sharer


Mr Verloc, tying up the cardboard box into a parcel for the post, broke the string by an injudicious jerk, and muttered several swearwords 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 safe with Michaelis.

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, Stevie.'

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 recognized 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 see Stevie?'

`No! I haven't,' said Mr Verloc, softly, and slammed the glazed parlour door behind him with unexpected energy.

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 startled.

`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.

`I don't think so,' remarked Mr Verloc, snuffling huskily.

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 today?' 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.`What for?'

Mr Verloc mumbled, with his nose over the grate, and with marked unwillingness:

`Draw the money out!'

`What do you mean? All of it?'

`Yes.All of it.'

Mrs Verloc spread out with care the scanty tablecloth, 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 deliberation:

`Oh, yes.I can trust you.'

Joseph Conrad