Together the three went down the scented lanes

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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.

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He must somehow devise a way

With the spring the steady application of paint in Harbour Lane burst into a fury. Everywhere the houses and the flagstaffs and the fences took new coats of many colours, changing as the season went, and the paint-pot traffic fell into a vaster confusion. As tops were “in” among the boys, the smell of paint grew day by day, and when the marble season began little else could be smelt. With July came Fairlop Friday, and Bessy wondered at the passing of a great model of a rigged ship on wheels, drawn by horses, and filled with jubilant shipwrights on their way to Epping Forest, in accord with yearly custom. She had grown to consider the forest as a place so far off (though indeed she knew the distance in mere miles) that it came almost as a surprise to see people starting out to drive there in a few hours with so slow a vehicle, and to return the same night.

Bob Smallpiece had written once or twice (he kept an eye on the empty cottage, and looked out for a tenant), but he had never made a visit, as Nan May had asked him. The last news was that his bedridden old mother was worse, and not expected to live.

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Enterprise is what you want

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The shop in Harbour Lane had been a greengrocer’s, a barber’s, a fried-fishmonger’s, and a tripe-seller’s. But chiefly it had been shut up, as it was now. Nobody had ever come into it with much money, it is true, but all had gone out of it with less than they brought. It was said, indeed, that the greengrocer had gone out with nothing but the clothes he wore; but as he went no farther than the end of the street, where he drowned himself from a swing bridge, he needed no more, nor even so much. Mr. Dunkin, the landlord, had bought the place at a low price, as was his way in buying things; but he got very little out of his investment, which was not his way at all. It was a novelty that surprised and irritated Mr. Dunkin. He was a substantial tradesman, who had long relinquished counter work, for there were a dozen assistants in the two departments of his chief shop, eight for grocery and butter, and four for oil and saucepans, paint and mousetraps; and there were half a dozen branches, some in the one trade and some in the other, scattered about in as many neighbouring parishes. He was a large man, of vast p. 76sympathy. The tone of his voice, the grasp of his wide, pulpy hand, told of infinite tenderness toward the sorrows and sins of the world. Even in the early days when he had but one shop (a little one) and no shopman, he would weigh out a pound of treacle with so melting a benignity that the treacle seemed balm of Gilead, and a bounteous gift at the price. He would drive a bargain in a voice of yearning beneficence that left the other party ashamed of his own self-seeking, as well as something the poorer by the deal. It was a voice wherein a purr had a large part—a purr that was hoarse yet soothing, and eloquent of compassion; so that no man was so happy but a talk with Mr. Dunkin would persuade him that the lot was hard indeed, that entitled him to such a wealth of sympathy. It was a wealth that Mr. Dunkin squandered with no restraint but this, that it carried no other sort of wealth with it.

On the whole, Nan May had counted herself fortunate in falling in with Mr. Dunkin. For when, in his fatherly solicitude, he discovered that she had a little money in hand, he undertook to supply her with stock, and to give her certain hints in the mystery of chandlery. He, also, felt no cause for complaint: for he had hoped for a tenant merely, and here was tenant and customer in one. More, she was a widow, knowing nothing of trade, so that it might be possible to sell her what others would not buy, at a little extra profit. As to p. 77rent, moreover, he was doing well. For on the day the deposit was paid, Mrs. May had found little choice among vacant shops, and this was in a situation to suit her plans as to Johnny and his trade; and as she was tired and nervous, full of plain anxiety, sympathetic Mr. Dunkin saw his chance of trying for an extra shilling a week, and got it. And Nan May was left to pay for what painting and cleaning the place might need. It needed a good deal, as Mr. Dunkin had ruefully observed two days before, in expectation of a decorator’s bill if ever a tenant came.

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The door of the little shop opened

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The afternoon had slumbered in the sun, but now the August air freshened with an awakening breath, and Epping Thicks stirred and whispered through a myriad leaves. Far away beyond the heaving greenwoods distant clouds floated flat on the upper air, and a richer gold grew over the hills as the day went westward. This way and that, between and about trees and undergrowth, an indistinct path went straggling by easy grades to the lower ground by Wormleyton Pits; an errant path whose every bend gave choice of green passes toward banks of heather and bracken. It was by this way that an old man and a crippled child had reached the Pits. He was a small old man, white-haired, and a trifle bent; but he went his way with a sturdy tread, satchel at side and butterfly-net in hand. As for the child, she too went sturdily enough, but she hung from a crutch by the right shoulder, and she moved with a p. 10jog and a swing. The hand that gripped the crutch gripped also a little bunch of meadowsweet, and the other clasped tight against her pinafore a tattered old book that would else have fallen to pieces.

Once on the heathery slade, the old man lifted the strap over his head and put the satchel down by a tree clump at the wood’s edge.

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