The Commodore

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The Surprise returns to England in company with the Berenice and the Ringle, a Chesapeake clipper which Jack wins from Dundas in a card game, but neither Jack nor Stephen are happy with their homecoming.

Jack learns his wife has been keeping company with a former suitor, while Sophie has become suspicious of him because the Java cloth he gives her as a gift was also used to make Clarissa Oakes’s wedding dress.

Stephen receives three blows: Blaine has deduced from Clarissa’s information that the traitor is the Duke of Habachtsthal, but he is a royal and untouchable; Stephen's daughter Brigid will not interact with others in any way; and Diana has fled, after becoming convinced she is somehow responsible, and left their daughter in the care of Padeen and the now-widowed Clarissa.

Jack is named commodore of a squadron that will suppress the slave trade—though its real objective is to stop a French invasion of Ireland a few months down the line. His pennant ship shall be the Bellona, commanded by Pullings (promoted to post captain), and his squadron will include the line-of-battle ship Stately, the frigates Thames and Aurora, and assorted sloops and brigs.

Just before the squadron sails, Sir Joseph arrives with more distressing news for Stephen—Habachtsthal, a vengeful man, has connected him to the deaths of Ledward and Wray and deduced that Clarissa betrayed him. He means to bring Stephen up on charges of springing Clarissa and Padeen from New South Wales (he has held up their pardons), for which he would face, at the least, imprisonment and the seizure of his fortunes, at most the gallows. Jack lends him Reade and the Ringle, and he relocates his treasure (still in gold), Clarissa, Padeen and Brigid (who has started to come out of her shell, interacting with Padeen and Stephen in Irish) to Spain, where they can hide and where Brigid can be treated by an autism expert.

They rejoin the squadron, where Jack is having some personnel problems: Captain Thomas of the Thames is a strict disciplinarian whom Jack must check to avoid mutiny in his ship, while Duff of the Stately is a paederast (homosexual) and carries on affairs with foremast hands, which alienates his officers. Jack’s unsatisfactory separation from Sophie also has been having an ill effect, but when Stephen informs him that Sophie’s imaginary lover is in fact engaged, he takes his friend’s advice to beg her forgiveness—though he’s had no liaison with Clarissa he is hardly innocent.

Despite these troubles, the squadron performs spectacularly on its mission of "shocking" slavers, taking many prizes and freeing the “cargo,” while Jack, who had previously been indifferent to slavery, gets a close-up view of the barbaric trade. This success is mostly thanks to Mr. Whewell, a master’s mate from the Thames whom Jack makes acting lieutenant in the Bellona because of his experience sailing in West Indies merchantmen.

Stephen, meanwhile, sees all manner of animals in Africa under the guidance of Mrs. Christine Wood, wife of the governor. While hiking a few days into the African interior, Stephen contracts the yellow fever, which is nearly always fatal. He barely survives and is hardly back to normal before the squadron heads for Ireland.

They find the French but are unable to intercept them until they reach the Irish coast. There the French squadron is defeated, a ship of the line, several frigates and their troop transports taken. An Irish mob gathers outside the grounded French pennant ship and seems ready to rush the Marines to get the rifles the French were carrying them, but with an impassioned speech, Stephen shakes their faith in Napoleon, citing his conversion to Islam during the Egypt campaigns and his shabby treatment of the Pope, while pointing out that their rebellion is doomed without support from French troops.

Ashore in Ireland, he also meets a distant cousin who informs him the Duke of Habachtsthal has had his throat cut in London (doubtless one of Blaine’s operations)—and that Diana is in the area. He calls on her, and the two reconcile at first sight. (7/16/06)