Of course, Arthur’s appointment and approaching departure for India was communicated; all were pleased to hear of his good fortune, though sorry to lose his society.
“You will, of course, call upon Horace and Pauline when you reach Calcutta,” suggested old Mrs. Barton, “I dare say you may not recollect him, but he will remember you, although you were but a curly-headed boy when he was last in England. You must take out some letters from us to them.”
Edith had a hurried conversation with Kate Cotterell, Julia and Emily Barton, on some little project of her own. This being finished, she beckoned to Arthur, who was smoking and arranging some matters with Tom Barton at the other end of the gallery; then mounting their horses they rode slowly back to Vellenaux, in time to breakfast with Sir Jasper, who was, by no means, an early riser.
With shooting, (with Tom Barton and some half dozen other College chums,) visiting his acquaintances, and taking long rides through the beech woods and over the downs with Edith, who was an excellent equestrian, for his companion, the first six weeks of Arthur’s return passed pleasantly and rapidly away. He then had to post up to London to get measured for his uniform, and general outfit, to say nothing of the numberless commissions which he had been entrusted to execute by his lady acquaintances, in view of the approaching fancy ball. Being his first visit to the Metropolis, Arthur determined to see and hear all that could be and seen heard during his short stay in that wonderful city.
Jack Frost, with his usual attendant and companion, snow, heralded the approach of old Father Christmas, who filed an appearance at Vellenaux on the morning of the twenty-fifth of December, and right heartily was the old fellow welcomed. His advent had been announced at daybreak, by discharges from an old-fashioned field piece which Bridoon (with the permission of his old commander) had mounted on a wooden carriage to commemorate his Peninsular victories, while the Bell Ringers rang out a merry peal from the belfry of the quaint old church in the little village hard by. Then came troops of merry, laughing children, singing and chanting old Christmas Carols, and were rewarded by the old housekeeper with a piping hot breakfast of mince pies, etc., etc.
After morning service in the church, which was numerously attended, the laborers and many of the poorer tenants of the estate were regaled with roast beef and plum pudding, good old October ale and mighty flagons of that cider for which Devonshire is so justly celebrated. During the evening there was a dance and supper in the servants’ hall, to which many of the small farmers with their wives, sons and daughters, had been invited, and a right jovial time they had of it. Dancing, songs, scenes from the magic lantern, hunt the slipper, blind man’s buff, kissing under the mistletoe, and many other Christmas gambols were the order of the evening,—and, if one might judge from the bursts of mirth and laughter that prevailed, this was very much to the satisfaction of all present.