Dr. Melmoth, the President of Harley College, takes into his care Ellen Langton, the daughter of his friend, Mr. Langton, who is at sea. Ellen is a young, beautiful girl and attracts the attentions of the college boys, especially Edward Walcott, a strapping though immature student, and Fanshawe, a reclusive, meek intellectual. While out walking, the three young people meet a nameless character called “the angler,” a name he gets for appearing an expert fisherman. The angler asks for a word with Ellen, tells her something in secret, and apparently flusters her. Walcott and Fanshawe become suspicious of his intentions.