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The Secret Agent Installment 21 of 93 Previous Next
The Secret Agent, by Joseph Conrad

He spoke carelessly, without heat, almost without feeling, and Ossipon, secretly much affected, tried to copy this detachment.

“If the police here knew their business they would shoot you full of holes with revolvers, or else try to sand-bag you from behind in broad daylight.”

The little man seemed already to have considered that point of view in his dispassionate self-confident manner.

“Yes,” he assented with the utmost readiness.  “But for that they would have to face their own institutions.  Do you see?  That requires uncommon grit.  Grit of a special kind.”

Ossipon blinked.

“I fancy that’s exactly what would happen to you if you were to set up your laboratory in the States.  They don’t stand on ceremony with their institutions there.”

“I am not likely to go and see.  Otherwise your remark is just,” admitted the other.  “They have more character over there, and their character is essentially anarchistic.  Fertile ground for us, the States—very good ground.  The great Republic has the root of the destructive matter in her.  The collective temperament is lawless.  Excellent.  They may shoot us down, but—”

“You are too transcendental for me,” growled Ossipon, with moody concern.

“Logical,” protested the other.  “There are several kinds of logic.  This is the enlightened kind.  America is all right.  It is this country that is dangerous, with her idealistic conception of legality.  The social spirit of this people is wrapped up in scrupulous prejudices, and that is fatal to our work.  You talk of England being our only refuge!  So much the worse.  Capua!  What do we want with refuges?  Here you talk, print, plot, and do nothing.  I daresay it’s very convenient for such Karl Yundts.”

He shrugged his shoulders slightly, then added with the same leisurely assurance: “To break up the superstition and worship of legality should be our aim.  Nothing would please me more than to see Inspector Heat and his likes take to shooting us down in broad daylight with the approval of the public.  Half our battle would be won then; the disintegration of the old morality would have set in in its very temple.  That is what you ought to aim at.  But you revolutionists will never understand that.  You plan the future, you lose yourselves in reveries of economical systems derived from what is; whereas what’s wanted is a clean sweep and a clear start for a new conception of life.  That sort of future will take care of itself if you will only make room for it.  Therefore I would shovel my stuff in heaps at the corners of the streets if I had enough for that; and as I haven’t, I do my best by perfecting a really dependable detonator.”

Ossipon, who had been mentally swimming in deep waters, seized upon the last word as if it were a saving plank.

“Yes.  Your detonators.  I shouldn’t wonder if it weren’t one of your detonators that made a clean sweep of the man in the park.”

A shade of vexation darkened the determined sallow face confronting Ossipon.

“My difficulty consists precisely in experimenting practically with the various kinds.  They must be tried after all.  Besides—”

Ossipon interrupted.

“Who could that fellow be?  I assure you that we in London had no knowledge—Couldn’t you describe the person you gave the stuff to?”

The other turned his spectacles upon Ossipon like a pair of searchlights.

“Describe him,” he repeated slowly.  “I don’t think there can be the slightest objection now.  I will describe him to you in one word—Verloc.”

Ossipon, whom curiosity had lifted a few inches off his seat, dropped back, as if hit in the face.

“Verloc!  Impossible.”

The self-possessed little man nodded slightly once.

“Yes.  He’s the person.  You can’t say that in this case I was giving my stuff to the first fool that came along.  He was a prominent member of the group as far as I understand.”

“Yes,” said Ossipon.  “Prominent.  No, not exactly.  He was the centre for general intelligence, and usually received comrades coming over here.  More useful than important.  Man of no ideas.  Years ago he used to speak at meetings—in France, I believe.  Not very well, though.  He was trusted by such men as Latorre, Moser and all that old lot.  The only talent he showed really was his ability to elude the attentions of the police somehow.  Here, for instance, he did not seem to be looked after very closely.  He was regularly married, you know.  I suppose it’s with her money that he started that shop.  Seemed to make it pay, too.”

Ossipon paused abruptly, muttered to himself “I wonder what that woman will do now?” and fell into thought.

The other waited with ostentatious indifference.  His parentage was obscure, and he was generally known only by his nickname of Professor.  His title to that designation consisted in his having been once assistant demonstrator in chemistry at some technical institute.  He quarrelled with the authorities upon a question of unfair treatment.  Afterwards he obtained a post in the laboratory of a manufactory of dyes.  There too he had been treated with revolting injustice.  His struggles, his privations, his hard work to raise himself in the social scale, had filled him with such an exalted conviction of his merits that it was extremely difficult for the world to treat him with justice—the standard of that notion depending so much upon the patience of the individual.  The Professor had genius, but lacked the great social virtue of resignation.

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