Edward Henry waved a reply to the box.
“Here! I’ll take you there the shortest way,” said Mr. Dakins.
“Welcome to Stirling’s box, Machin!” Robert Brindley greeted the alderman with an almost imperceptible wink. Edward Henry had encountered this wink once or twice before; he could not decide precisely what it meant; it was apt to make him reflective. He did not dislike Robert Brindley, his habit was not to dislike people; he admitted Brindley to be a clever architect, though he objected to the “modern” style of the fronts of his houses and schools. But he did take exception to the man’s attitude towards the Five Towns, of which, by the way, Brindley was just as much a native as himself. Brindley seemed to live in the Five Towns like a highly-cultured stranger in a savage land, and to derive rather too much sardonic amusement from the spectacle of existence therein. Brindley was a very special crony of Stirling’s, and had influenced Stirling. But Stirling was too clever to submit unduly to the influence. Besides, Stirling was not a native; he was only a Scotchman, and Edward Henry considered that what Stirling thought of the district did not matter. Other details about Brindley which Edward Henry deprecated were his necktie, which, for Edward Henry’s taste, was too flowing, his scorn of the Pianisto (despite the man’s tremendous interest in music) and his incipient madness on the subject of books—a madness shared by Stirling. Brindley and the doctor were for ever chattering about books—and buying them.
So that, on the whole, Dr. Stirling’s box was not a place where Edward Henry felt entirely at home. Nevertheless, the two men, having presented Mr. Bryany, did their best, each in his own way, to make him feel at home.
“Take this chair, Machin,” said Stirling, indicating a chair at the front.
“Oh! I can’t take the front chair!” Edward Henry protested.
“Of course you can, my dear Machin!” said Brindley, sharply. “The front chair in a stage-box is the one proper seat in the house for you. Do as your doctor prescribes.”
And Edward Henry accordingly sat down at the front, with Mr. Bryany by his side, and the other two sat behind. But Edward Henry was not quite comfortable. He faintly resented that speech of Brindley’s. And yet he did feel that what Brindley had said was true, and he was indeed glad to be in the front chair of a brilliant stage-box on the grand tier, instead of being packed away in the nethermost twilight of the Grand Circle. He wondered how Brindley and Stirling had managed to distinguish his face among the confusion of faces in that distant obscurity; he, Edward Henry, had failed to notice them, even in the prominence of their box. But that they had distinguished him showed how familiar and striking a figure he was. He wondered, too, why they should have invited him to hob-nob with them. He was