Like those paragons of perfection, advertising footmen out of place, he was always 'willing to make himself generally useful.' If any old lady, whose son was in India, gave a ball, Mr. Percy Noakes was master of the ceremonies; if any young lady made a stolen match, Mr. Percy Noakes gave her away; if a juvenile wife presented her husband with a blooming cherub, Mr. Percy Noakes was either godfather, or deputy-godfather; and if any member of a friend's family died, Mr. Percy Noakes was invariably to be seen in the second mourning coach, with a white handkerchief to his eyes, sobbing--to use his own appropriate and expressive description--'like winkin'!'
It may readily be imagined that these numerous avocations were rather calculated to interfere with Mr. Percy Noakes's professional studies. Mr. Percy Noakes was perfectly aware of the fact, and had, therefore, after mature reflection, made up his mind not to study at all--a laudable determination, to which he adhered in the most praiseworthy manner. His sitting-room presented a strange chaos of dress-gloves, boxing-gloves, caricatures, albums, invitation-cards, foils, cricket-bats, cardboard drawings, paste, gum, and fifty other miscellaneous articles, heaped together in the strangest confusion. He was always making something for somebody, or planning some party of pleasure, which was his great forte. He invariably spoke with astonishing rapidity; was smart, spoffish, and eight-and-twenty.
'Splendid idea, 'pon my life!' soliloquised Mr. Percy Noakes, over his morning coffee, as his mind reverted to a suggestion which had been thrown out on the previous night, by a lady at whose house he had spent the evening. 'Glorious idea!--Mrs. Stubbs.'
'Yes, sir,' replied a dirty old woman with an inflamed countenance, emerging from the bedroom, with a barrel of dirt and cinders.--This was the laundress. 'Did you call, sir?'
'Oh! Mrs. Stubbs, I'm going out. If that tailor should call again, you'd better say--you'd better say I'm out of town, and shan't be back for a fortnight; and if that bootmaker should come, tell him I've lost his address, or I'd have sent him that little amount. Mind he writes it down; and if Mr. Hardy should call--you know Mr. Hardy?'
'The funny gentleman, sir?'
'Ah! the funny gentleman. If Mr. Hardy should call, say I've gone to Mrs. Taunton's about that water-party.'
'And if any fellow calls, and says he's come about a steamer, tell him to be here at five o'clock this afternoon, Mrs. Stubbs.'
'Very well, sir.'
Mr. Percy Noakes brushed his hat, whisked the crumbs off his inexpressibles with a silk handkerchief, gave the ends of his hair a persuasive roll round his forefinger, and sallied forth for Mrs. Taunton's domicile in Great Marlborough-street, where she and her daughters occupied the upper part of a house. She was a good- looking widow of fifty, with the form of a giantess and the mind of a child. The pursuit of pleasure, and some means of killing time, were the sole end of her existence. She doted on her daughters, who were as frivolous as herself.
A general exclamation of satisfaction hailed the arrival of Mr. Percy Noakes, who went through the ordinary salutations, and threw himself into an easy chair near the ladies' work-table, with the ease of a regularly established friend of the family. Mrs. Taunton was busily engaged in planting immense bright bows on every part of a smart cap on which it was possible to stick one; Miss Emily Taunton was making a watch-guard; Miss Sophia was at the piano, practising a new song--poetry by the young officer, or the police- officer, or the custom-house officer, or some other interesting amateur.
'You good creature!' said Mrs. Taunton, addressing the gallant Percy. 'You really are a good soul! You've come about the water- party, I know.'
'I should rather suspect I had,' replied Mr. Noakes, triumphantly. 'Now, come here, girls, and I'll tell you all about it.' Miss Emily and Miss Sophia advanced to the table.