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Political changes at the Admiralty have not worked in Jack’s favor—he has in fact not been made wealthy by the capture of the treasure ships, though he’s made enough money to pay most of his debt. Still in temporary command of the Lively he heads for Port Mahon (now controlled by the French) for a rendez-vous with Stephen, only to learn his friend has been captured and is being tortured. Jack mounts a daring but singularly bloody rescue.
Sir Joseph, on the brink of retirement, is very grateful to Stephen, and therefore agrees to give Jack a mission to deliver an ambassador to India in the Surprise, on which Jack was a midshipman long ago, to allow Stephen time to recover from his torture in a pleasant climate, a chance to resume is studies as a naturalist and to rehabilitate his reputation as a scientist, not an intelligence agent.
Unfortunately, Diana and Canning (who is married) have run off to Bombay, and Stephen has been using his intelligence sources to learn about them, while salving the pain with heavy doses of the opiate laudinum.
Jack and Sophie come to an secret “understanding” before he departs, but the whole length of the voyage he fears she’ll forsake him for the other suitors Mrs. Williams has been encouraging.
En route, they come close to floundering in hundred-foot seas, and Stephen, after much anticipation, gets to see an albatross.
In Bombay, Stephen reveals that Canning’s wife will soon arrive, and taking advantage of Diana’s desperation, asks her to marry him. She considers while the Surprise departs to deliver the ambassador farther north. Unfortunately, he dies en route, and the Surprise heads for home without returning to Bombay, where Stephen expected to receive Diana's answer.
In the Indian Ocean, they encounter the East India Company’s valuable merchant fleet, being prayed upon by Admiral Linois and a French squadron. Jack manages to fight them off, but the Surprise is badly damaged, and must return to Bombay, where the Canning arranges for the company to ship freight on Jack’s return voyage, of which Jack will receive a share, making it possible for him to marry Sophie.
Canning is wise to what’s happening and challenges Stephen, who kills him with pistols, but is wounded and must operate on himself to prevent infection. Diana requests to care for Stephen on the homeward voyage (an implicit agreement to marry him), but Jack feels it’s wise to keep them apart, and arriving at Gibraltar they find Diana has run off to America with a Mr. Johnson.
Sophie also is nowhere to be found, having apparently not received Jack’s request she meet him there to be married, but they run across a transport ship on the way back to England and, sure enough, Sophie is aboard ready to make him a happy husband. (6/29/04)