And then Reggie Byng arrived in his grey racing car, more cheerful than any of them.
Fate could not have mocked George more subtly. A sorrow’s crown of sorrow is remembering happier things, and the sight of Reggie in that room reminded him that on the last occasion when they had talked together across this same table it was he who had been in a Fool’s Paradise and Reggie who had borne a weight of care. Reggie this morning was brighter than the shining sun and gayer than the carolling birds.
“Hullo-ullo-ullo-ullo-ullo-ullo-ul-Lo! Topping morning, isn’t it!” observed Reggie. “The sunshine! The birds! The absolute what-do-you-call-it of everything and so forth, and all that sort of thing, if you know what I mean! I feel like a two-year-old!”
George, who felt older than this by some ninety-eight years, groaned in spirit. This was more than man was meant to bear.
“I say,” continued Reggie, absently reaching out for a slice of bread and smearing it with marmalade, “this business of marriage, now, and all that species of rot! What I mean to say is, what about it? Not a bad scheme, taking it big and large? Or don’t you think so?”
George writhed. The knife twisted in the wound. Surely it was bad enough to see a happy man eating bread and marmalade without having to listen to him talking about marriage.
“Well, anyhow, be that as it may,” said Reggie, biting jovially and speaking in a thick but joyous voice. “I’m getting married today, and chance it. This morning, this very morning, I leap off the dock!”
George was startled out of his despondency.
George remembered the conventions.
“I congratulate you.”
“Thanks, old man. And not without reason. I’m the luckiest fellow alive. I hardly knew I was alive till now.”
“Isn’t this rather sudden?”
Reggie looked a trifle furtive. His manner became that of a conspirator.
“I should jolly well say it is sudden! It’s got to be sudden. Dashed sudden and deuced secret! If the mater were to hear of it, there’s no doubt whatever she would form a flying wedge and bust up the proceedings with no uncertain voice. You see, laddie, it’s Miss Faraday I’m marrying, and the mater—dear old soul—has other ideas for Reginald. Life’s a rummy thing, isn’t it! What I mean to say is, it’s rummy, don’t you know, and all that.”
“Very,” agreed George.
“Who’d have thought, a week ago, that I’d be sitting in this jolly old chair asking you to be my best man? Why, a week ago I didn’t know you, and, if anybody had told me Alice Faraday was going to marry me, I’d have given one of those hollow, mirthless laughs.”
“Do you want me to be your best man?”