Whether Friday's semi-bungled train bombing in my sometime haunt of Parsons Green was intended by London jihadists as a promotional tie-in for our current Tale for Our Time, it nevertheless reminds us of the similarities between today's urban terrorists and those in Joseph Conrad's novel - and of some of the differences. Unlike today's jihadists, contemplating a leisurely life of sedition and treason on generous European welfare programs and fearing nothing more than years of publicly funded legal appeals against deportation or a two-year prison term, the terrorists of Conrad's day faced swift execution. In tonight's episode of The Secret Agent, Winnie Verloc faces what she has done, and dreads the price she will pay for it:
Nothing moved in the parlour till Mrs Verloc raised her head slowly and looked at the clock with inquiring mistrust. She had become aware of a ticking sound in the room. It grew upon her ear, while she remembered clearly that the clock on the wall was silent, had no audible tick. What did it mean by beginning to tick so loudly all of a sudden? Its face indicated ten minutes to nine. Mrs Verloc cared nothing for time, and the ticking went on. She concluded it could not be the clock, and her sullen gaze moved along the walls, wavered, and became vague, while she strained her hearing to locate the sound. Tic, tic, tic.
After listening for some time Mrs Verloc lowered her gaze deliberately on her husband's body. Its attitude of repose was so home-like and familiar that she could do so without feeling embarrassed by any pronounced novelty in the phenomena of her home life. Mr Verloc was taking his habitual ease. He looked comfortable.
By the position of the body the face of Mr Verloc was not visible to Mrs Verloc, his widow. Her fine, sleepy eyes, travelling downward on the track of the sound, became contemplative on meeting a flat object of bone which protruded a little beyond the edge of the sofa. It was the handle of the domestic carving knife with nothing strange about it but its position at right angles to Mr Verloc's waistcoat and the fact that something dripped from it. Dark drops fell on the floorcloth one after another, with a sound of ticking growing fast and furious like the pulse of an insane clock. At its highest speed this ticking changed into a continuous sound of trickling. Mrs Verloc watched that transformation with shadows of anxiety coming and going on her face. It was a trickle, dark, swift, thin. . . . Blood.
Members of The Mark Steyn Club can hear me read Part Seventeen of The Secret Agent simply by clicking here and logging-in. Earlier episodes can be found here.
If you've yet to hear any of our Tales for Our Time, you can do so by joining The Mark Steyn Club. For more details, see here - and don't forget our new Gift Membership. Please join me tomorrow evening for Part Eighteen - and later tonight for our Song of the Week.
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