'Now,' continued Mr. Percy Noakes, 'it seems to me that the best way will be, to have a committee of ten, to make all the arrangements, and manage the whole set-out. Then, I propose that the expenses shall be paid by these ten fellows jointly.'
'Excellent, indeed!' said Mrs. Taunton, who highly approved of this part of the arrangements.
'Then, my plan is, that each of these ten fellows shall have the power of asking five people. There must be a meeting of the committee, at my chambers, to make all the arrangements, and these people shall be then named; every member of the committee shall have the power of black-balling any one who is proposed; and one black ball shall exclude that person. This will ensure our having a pleasant party, you know.'
'What a manager you are!' interrupted Mrs. Taunton again.
'Charming!' said the lovely Emily.
'I never did!' ejaculated Sophia.
'Yes, I think it'll do,' replied Mr. Percy Noakes, who was now quite in his element. 'I think it'll do. Then you know we shall go down to the Nore, and back, and have a regular capital cold dinner laid out in the cabin before we start, so that everything may be ready without any confusion; and we shall have the lunch laid out, on deck, in those little tea-garden-looking concerns by the paddle-boxes--I don't know what you call 'em. Then, we shall hire a steamer expressly for our party, and a band, and have the deck chalked, and we shall be able to dance quadrilles all day; and then, whoever we know that's musical, you know, why they'll make themselves useful and agreeable; and--and--upon the whole, I really hope we shall have a glorious day, you know!'
The announcement of these arrangements was received with the utmost enthusiasm. Mrs. Taunton, Emily, and Sophia, were loud in their praises.
'Well, but tell me, Percy,' said Mrs. Taunton, 'who are the ten gentlemen to be?'
'Oh! I know plenty of fellows who'll be delighted with the scheme,' replied Mr. Percy Noakes; 'of course we shall have--'
'Mr. Hardy!' interrupted the servant, announcing a visitor. Miss Sophia and Miss Emily hastily assumed the most interesting attitudes that could be adopted on so short a notice.
'How are you?' said a stout gentleman of about forty, pausing at the door in the attitude of an awkward harlequin. This was Mr. Hardy, whom we have before described, on the authority of Mrs. Stubbs, as 'the funny gentleman.' He was an Astley-Cooperish Joe Miller--a practical joker, immensely popular with married ladies, and a general favourite with young men. He was always engaged in some pleasure excursion or other, and delighted in getting somebody into a scrape on such occasions. He could sing comic songs, imitate hackney-coachmen and fowls, play airs on his chin, and execute concertos on the Jews'-harp. He always eat and drank most immoderately, and was the bosom friend of Mr. Percy Noakes. He had a red face, a somewhat husky voice, and a tremendous laugh.
'How ARE you?' said this worthy, laughing, as if it were the finest joke in the world to make a morning call, and shaking hands with the ladies with as much vehemence as if their arms had been so many pump-handles.
'You're just the very man I wanted,' said Mr. Percy Noakes, who proceeded to explain the cause of his being in requisition.
'Ha! ha! ha!' shouted Hardy, after hearing the statement, and receiving a detailed account of the proposed excursion. 'Oh, capital! glorious! What a day it will be! what fun!--But, I say, when are you going to begin making the arrangements?'
'No time like the present--at once, if you please.'
'Oh, charming!' cried the ladies. 'Pray, do!'
Writing materials were laid before Mr. Percy Noakes, and the names of the different members of the committee were agreed on, after as much discussion between him and Mr. Hardy as if the fate of nations had depended on their appointment. It was then agreed that a meeting should take place at Mr. Percy Noakes's chambers on the ensuing Wednesday evening at eight o'clock, and the visitors departed.