He resolved, first, to try the Institute. Nora’s name and address must be on the class registers; but what business had he with the girl’s class registers? As diplomatist his failure was lamentable. He could invent no reasonable excuses, and ignoble defeat was his fate at the hands of the rigid lady who managed the girls department of the Institute. Then he took to prowling about all the streets that lay beyond that second corner that had marked the end of their evening walks, watching for her; searching also, desperately, for some impossible sign about a house that might suggest that she lived in it. Thus he spent the daylight of two evenings watching a little muslin-hung window, because the muslin was tied with a ribbon of a sort he remembered her to have worn, and because he chose to fancy a neatness and a daintiness about the tying that might well be hers. But on the second evening as dusk fell the window opened, and a hairy, red-bearded man in blue shirt sleeves put out his head and leaned on the sill to smoke his pipe and watch the red sky. Johnny swung away savagely, and called himself a fool for his pains; p. 235and indeed, he could ill afford to waste time, for Maidment and Hurst claimed him till five each day, and a few hours in the evening were all that remained; more, Nora would change her lodgings—perhaps had done so already.
After this he screwed his courage so high as to go to the police-station where the charge against Nora’s mother must have been taken, and to ask for her address. But the cast-iron-faced inspector in charge took his name and address instead, as a beginning, and then would tell him nothing. And at last, maddened and reckless, he went to the publican, and demanded the information of him. Now if Johnny had had a little more worldly experience, a little more cunning, and a great deal more coolness, he would have done this at first, and, beginning by ordering a drink, he would have opened a casual conversation, led it to the matter of the window, and in the end would have gained his point quietly and easily. But as it was, he did none of these things. He ordered no drink, and he made a blunt request, taking little thought of its manner, none of the publican’s point of view, and perhaps forgetting that the man was in no way responsible for the rebuffs already endured. The publican, for his part, was already in a bad temper, because of the clumsy tapping of a barrel and ensuing “cheek” of the potman. So he answered Johnny’s demand by asking if he had come to pay for the window; p. 236and receiving the negative reply he had expected, he urgently recommended the intruder’s departure “outside”: in such terms as gave no choice but compliance.