The Fortune of War

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Bligh’s problem in Australia solved, Jack brings the Leopard to New Holland to good news—he is to go home aboard the transport La Flèche to take command of the Acasta, the Royal Navy’s most powerful frigate.

At the Cape, they learn the United States has declared the War of 1812.

In the Atlantic, La Flèche burns when its surgeon’s tobacco ignites the spirits preserving Stephen’s Indies and Desolation Island zoological collection. After starving in boats with their remaining Leopards, Jack and Stephen are rescued by the HMS Java, and are in turn taken prisoner when it is sunk attacking the USS Constitution.

In Boston, Jack recuperates from an arm wound in a private hospital, depressed over the Royal Navy’s stunning losses at the hands of the embryonic American fleet, while Stephen begins mingling in American social circles—he becomes reacquainted with Louisa Wogan and Michael Herapath, Herapath’s Loyalist merchant father, Diana Villiers (whom he is very disturbed to discover has changed to the point he no longer loves her) and her jealous keeper Mr. Johnson, who is Wogan’s chief of intelligence.

Johnson believes, just as Wogan did, that Stephen can become one of their agents. All the while meeting with the elder Herapath about the aid the Federalist/Tory alliance might be able to provide to the British in ending “Mr. Madison’s War,” Stephen allows Johnson to get closer. He reasons that Diana needs his help if she is to return to England (they plan to marry so she can accompany him), and Stephen hopes to learn more about American intelligence and specifically Johnson’s connection to Dubreuil, a savage French agent, and an old enemy of Stephen's from previous missions to Paris.

All goes well at first, because Johnson and Wogan suspect Jack, not Stephen, of being the architect of the poison letter that lead to the execution of so many French agents, but in a friendly conversation Jack accidently gives Johnson enough information for Dubreuil to smoke Stephen’s identity.

Johnson’s designs for Stephen cannot protect him from a vengeful Dubreuil and his lieutenant Pontet-Canet. After escaping from a half-dozen French agents who try to ambush him in the street, Stephen hides with Diana in Johnson’s hotel rooms while the spymaster is on a romantic getaway with Wogan. There, he discovers uncoded copies of all of Johnson’s papers, and grusomely murders Ponet-Canet and Dubreuil when they come spying.

With the help of Michael Herapath and his father (who, for all his tough talk, chickens out at the final moment), a partially recovered Jack manages to smuggle Stephen out of the hotel, which is crawling with French agents and soldiers, in a basket, hide out during the night on one of Mr. Herapath’s merchantmen, and sails in the morning in a small boat to the HMS Shannon, which is blockading the USS Chesapeake in Boston Harbor. Jack is reunited with his cousin Captain Broke, quite the swashbuckler himself.

Johnson wants to recover his book and Diana, so the Chesapeake sets sail, but is boarded and carried by Broke in a short battle. (6/13/05)