Surrounded by some half dozen of his most intimate acquaintances, young Carlton was eating his last collegiate breakfast, as he had to leave for Vellenaux that morning by the 8.20 train, the usual toasts and congratulations had been exchanged, and farewell bumpers of champagne drank, when the porter put his head in at the door and announced in a sharp short tone, “times up, cab at the door.” A general rush was made in the direction indicated, Arthur jumped into the vehicle, and amid the shouts and cheers of his friends, was quickly rolled over the stones to the railway terminus. Ding, dong, ding, dong, waugh, waugh, puff, puff, and the train moved slowly out of the station, increasing its velocity until it was whirling along at something very like fifty miles an hour. On reaching Switchem, the station nearest to Vellenaux, Arthur found his horse waiting for him, and from the groom he learned that Sir Jasper was anxiously expecting him, for he had that day accompanied by Edith, gone as far as the lodge gate, a distance much greater than he had walked for some time past. This was very satisfactory for Carlton to know, and with a light heart he sprang into the saddle and cantered merrily along the high road, leading to the park gates, within which the happiest years of his youth had been spent; and the welcome he received from all was of such a character as at once to set at rest any misgivings or apprehensions he might have felt on this score.
Sir Jasper was kind, courteous and almost paternal. Edith could scarcely restrain her delight at the idea of again having in that social circle the playfellow of her childhood and one who had ever been to her as a dear brother, a companion and confidant, one from whom she could always obtain sympathy and advice when annoyed with the petty vexations of childhoods fleeting day. Even Mrs. Fraudhurst, always courteous and polite since his exodus from her scholastic charge, was now more affable and condescending than ever to the Baronet’s protege; but she could afford to be so, for she well knew that he was about to be swept from her path, for years, perhaps forever.
The conversation during dinner that evening was animated and general; all parties appeared in the best possible spirits, and anxious to render Arthur’s return from college an event to be remembered hereafter with feelings of infinite satisfaction. Soon after the removal of the cloth, the ladies retired, leaving our hero and Sir Jasper alone; the latter having finished a glass of fine old crusted port, settled himself comfortably in his easy chair, and thrusting his thumbs in the armholes of his waistcoat, thus addressed his protege.
“Arthur, my boy, you are now, I think, of an age that would warrant you in judging for yourself as to what particular profession or calling you are best suited to pursue, in order to make a successful career through life. Have you ever given this subject a thought? If so, now we are alone, I should like to hear what your views or ideas may be concerning that matter; it is one of great importance, and requires serious consideration.”