Oliver proceeded to Christ Church, Oxford, and thence (without waiting for a degree) to make the Grand Tour; in the course of which and in company with his cousin, Dick Pelham, and a Mr. Batty Langton, a Christ Church friend, he visited Florence, Rome, Naples, Athens, and Constantinople, returning through Rome again and by way of Venice, Switzerland, Paris. He reached home to find that his mother, who believed in keeping young men employed, had procured him a cornetcy in Lord Lomond’s Troop of Horse. He was now in possession of an ample fortune. He would certainly succeed to the baronetcy, and to the Vyell acres, which were mostly entailed.
But the grave itself could not give lessons in greed to a true Whig family of that period. Lady Jane had it in her blood, every tradition of it. Her son (though within a few months he rose to command of a troop) detested all military routine save active service. He despised the triumphs of the Senate. To keep him out of mischief—or, rather, as you shall hear, to extricate him from it—the good dame made application to the Duke of Newcastle; and so in the year 1737, at the age of twenty-one, Captain Oliver Vyell was appointed to the lucrative post of Collector to the port of Boston.
He had held it, now, for close upon seven years.
Now, in his twenty-eighth year, Oliver Vyell, handsome of face, standing six feet two inches in his stockings, well built and of iron constitution, might fairly be called a sensual man, but not fairly a sensualist. The distinction lay in his manliness. He was a man, every inch of him.
He enjoyed hard riding even more than hard gaming, and far more than hard drinking; courted fatigue as a form of bodily indulgence; would tramp from twenty to thirty miles in any weather on a chance of sport; loved the bite of the wind, the shock of cold water; and was a bold swimmer in a generation that shunned the exercise.
He awoke next morning to find the sun shining in on his window after a boisterous night. He looked at his watch and rang a small bell that stood on the table by his bed. Within ten seconds Manasseh appeared, and was commanded first to draw up the blind and then, though the hour was early, to bring shaving-water with all speed.
While the negro went on his errand Captain Vyell arose, slipped on his dressing-gown, and strolled to the window. It looked upon the ocean, over a clean stretch of beach that ran north-west, starting from the pier-head of the harbour and fringing the town’s outskirt. Half a dozen houses formed this outskirt or suburb—decent weather-boarded houses standing in their own gardens along a curved cliff overlooking the beach. The beach was of hardest sand, and just beneath the Collector’s window so level that it served for a second bowling-green, or ten-pin-alley. Thus it ran out for some twenty rods and then shelved abruptly. Captain Vyell, who had an eye for such phenomena, judged that this bank had formed itself quite recently, since the building of the pier.