The Secret Agent

A Simple Tale

Der Geheimagent

Übersetzt von Ernst Wolfgang Freißler
Synchronisation und Ergänzungen © Doppeltext 2022

















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 æs­thet­ic 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 in­stance, or one of those care­fully closed yel­low flimsy en­vel­opes,
or a soiled volume in pa­per cov­ers with a prom­ising title.
Now and then it happened that one of the faded, yel­low dan­cing girls would get sold to an am­a­teur, as though she had been alive and young.
Some­times it was Mrs Ver­loc who would ap­pear at the call of the cracked bell.
Win­nie Ver­loc was a young wo­man with a full bust, in a tight bod­ice, and with broad hips.
Her hair was very tidy. Steady-eyed like her hus­band, she pre­served an air of un­fathom­able in­dif­fer­ence be­hind the ram­part of the counter.
Then the cus­tom­er of com­par­at­ively tender years would get sud­denly dis­con­cer­ted at hav­ing to deal with a wo­man,
and with rage in his heart would prof­fer a re­quest for a bottle of mark­ing ink, re­tail value six­pence
(price in Ver­loc’s shop one-and-six­pence), which, once out­side, he would drop stealth­ily into the gut­ter.
The even­ing vis­it­ors — the men with col­lars turned up and soft hats rammed down
— nod­ded fa­mil­iarly to Mrs Ver­loc, and with a muttered greet­ing, lif­ted up the flap at the end of the counter in or­der to pass into the back par­lour,
which gave ac­cess to a pas­sage and to a steep flight of stairs.
The door of the shop was the only means of en­trance to the house in which Mr Ver­loc car­ried on his busi­ness of a seller of shady wares,
ex­er­cised his vo­ca­tion of a pro­tect­or of so­ci­ety, and cul­tiv­ated his do­mest­ic vir­tues.
These last were pro­nounced. He was thor­oughly do­mest­ic­ated.
Neither his spir­itu­al, nor his men­tal, nor his phys­ic­al needs were of the kind to take him much abroad.
He found at home the ease of his body and the peace of his con­science,
to­geth­er with Mrs Ver­loc’s wifely at­ten­tions and Mrs Ver­loc’s moth­er’s de­fer­en­tial re­gard.
Win­nie’s moth­er was a stout, wheezy wo­man, with a large brown face.
She wore a black wig un­der a white cap. Her swollen legs rendered her in­act­ive.
She con­sidered her­self to be of French des­cent, which might have been true;
and after a good many years of mar­ried life with a li­censed victu­aller of the more com­mon sort, she provided for the years of wid­ow­hood by let­ting fur­nished apart­ments
for gen­tle­men near Vaux­hall Bridge Road in a square once of some splend­our and still in­cluded in the dis­trict of Bel­gravia.
This to­po­graph­ic­al fact was of some ad­vant­age in ad­vert­ising her rooms;
but the pat­rons of the worthy wid­ow were not ex­actly of the fash­ion­able kind.
Such as they were, her daugh­ter Win­nie helped to look after them. Traces of the French des­cent which the wid­ow boas­ted of were ap­par­ent in Win­nie too.
They were ap­par­ent in the ex­tremely neat and artist­ic ar­range­ment of her glossy dark hair.
Win­nie had also oth­er charms: her youth; her full, roun­ded form; her clear com­plex­ion;
the pro­voca­tion of her un­fathom­able re­serve, which nev­er went so far as to pre­vent con­ver­sa­tion,
car­ried on on the lodgers’ part with an­im­a­tion, and on hers with an equable ami­ab­il­ity.
It must be that Mr Ver­loc was sus­cept­ible to these fas­cin­a­tions.
Mr Ver­loc was an in­ter­mit­tent pat­ron. He came and went without any very ap­par­ent reas­on.
He gen­er­ally ar­rived in Lon­don (like the in­flu­enza) from the Con­tin­ent,
only he ar­rived un­her­al­ded by the Press; and his vis­it­a­tions set in with great sever­ity.
He break­fas­ted in bed, and re­mained wal­low­ing there with an air of quiet en­joy­ment till noon every day — and some­times even to a later hour.
But when he went out he seemed to ex­per­i­ence a great dif­fi­culty in find­ing his way back to his tem­por­ary home in the Bel­gravi­an square.
He left it late, and re­turned to it early — as early as three or four in the morn­ing;
and on wak­ing up at ten ad­dressed Win­nie, bring­ing in the break­fast tray, with joc­u­lar, ex­hausted ci­vil­ity,
in the hoarse, fail­ing tones of a man who had been talk­ing vehe­mently for many hours to­geth­er.
His prom­in­ent, heavy-lid­ded eyes rolled side­ways amor­ously and lan­guidly, the bed­clothes were pulled up to his chin,
and his dark smooth mous­tache covered his thick lips cap­able of much hon­eyed banter.
In Win­nie’s moth­er’s opin­ion Mr Ver­loc was a very nice gen­tle­man. From her life’s ex­per­i­ence gathered in vari­ous “busi­ness houses”
the good wo­man had taken into her re­tire­ment an ideal of gen­tle­man­li­ness as ex­hib­ited by the pat­rons of private-sa­loon bars.
Mr Ver­loc ap­proached that ideal; he at­tained it, in fact.

Joseph Conrad
The Secret Agent / Der Geheimagent
Zweisprachige Ausgabe
Übersetzt von Ernst Wolfgang Freißler

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