Edward Henry was late, in common with some two hundred other people, of whom the majority were elegant women wearing Paris or almost-Paris gowns with a difference. As on the current of the variegated throng he drifted through corridors into the bijou theatre of the Society, he could not help feeling proud of his own presence there—and yet at the same time he was scorning, in his Five Towns way, the preciosity and the simperings of those his fellow-creatures. Seated in the auditorium, at the end of a row, he was aware of an even keener satisfaction, as people bowed and smiled to him; for the theatre was so tiny and the reunion so choice that it was obviously an honour and a distinction to have been invited to such an exclusive affair. To the evening first fixed for the dramatic soiree of the Azure Society he had received no invitation. But shortly after the postponement due to Elsie April’s indisposition an envelope addressed by Marrier himself, and containing the sacred card, had arrived for him in Bursley. His instinct had been to ignore it, and for two days he had ignored it, and then he noticed in one corner the initials, “E.A.” Strange that it did not occur to him immediately that E.A. stood, or might stand, for Elsie April!
Reflection brings wisdom and knowledge. In the end he was absolutely convinced that E.A. stood for Elsie April; and at the last moment, deciding that it would be the act of a fool and a coward to decline what was practically a personal request from a young and enchanting woman, he had come to London—short of sleep, it is true, owing to local convivialities, but he had come! And, curiously, he had not communicated with Marrier. Marrier had been extremely taken up with the dramatic soiree of the Azure Society—which Edward Henry justifiably but quite privately resented. Was he not paying three pounds a week to Marrier?
And now, there he sat, known, watched, a notoriety, the card who had raised Pilgrim to the skies, probably the only theatrical proprietor in the crowded and silent audience; and he was expecting anxiously to see Elsie April again—across the footlights! He had not seen her since the night of the stone-laying, over a week earlier. He had not sought to see her. He had listened then to the delicate tones of her weak, whispering, thrilling voice, and had expressed regret for Rose Euclid’s plight. But he had done no more. What could he have done? Clearly he could not have offered money to relieve the plight of Rose Euclid, who was the cousin of a girl as wealthy and as sympathetic as Elsie April. To do so would have been to insult Elsie. Yet he felt guilty, none the less. An odd situation! The delicate tones of Elsie’s weak, whispering, thrilling voice on the scaffolding haunted his memory, and came back with strange clearness as he sat waiting for the curtain to ascend.