The Nutmeg of Consolation
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The construction of the schooner is well underway and the island’s boar population has been hunted to a dangerously low level by Stephen when the marooned crew of the Diane are attacked by natives. Although completely annihilated, the attackers burn the schooner, cost young midshipman Reade his arm and kill the purser and carpenter. The Dianes are facing starvation when Stephen arranges for their passage to Batavia aboard a Chinese junk that stops to collect valuable swallow nests for soup.
In Batavia, the governor gives Jack a Dutch sloop which he renames the Nutmeg of Colsolation (after one of the titles of the Sultan of Pula Prabang) and intends to use to attack the Cornélie before keeping his last scheduled rendez-vous with the Surprise. Stephen’s intelligence indicates it will set sail soon with little food and still less powder.
Stephen, meanwhile, learns that the bank into which he instructed Sir Joseph to transfer his fortune has failed, and he is nearly penniless again. Stephen agrees to sell the Surprise when Jack offers to buy it, perhaps destroying his dream of purely scientific cruises after the war.
Before the Nutmeg sets sail, Jack agrees to take on two abandoned mids, Oakes and Miller.
Jack learns from a Dutch merchantman where the Cornélie is watering. He plans to sail into the lagoon disguised as a merchantman and board at close range, but the frigate smokes his disguise so he impliments his back-up plan—using a hidden buoy to check his speed, he leads the Cornélie on a day-long chase into the Salibabu Passage, planning to hide behind an island and get the weather-gage during the night. However, the Cornélie is unexpectedly slow, the tide is against them and they fail to reach the island in time. Jack decides to keep up the chase while developing a new strategy. Some fog and an obliging tide allows the Cornélie to close the Nutmeg and the two maul each other savagely. It looks grim when the Surprise arrives with several captured American consorts. The Cornélie turns to run but she has been hulled and sailing against the tide is too much for her weary crew, who are rescued by the Surprise. Jack is grateful that Jean-Pierre Dumesnil (in command, since they captain was killed early in the action) is unharmed, though Oakes must endure the death of his friend Miller.
Putting Lieutenant Fielding in command of the Nutmeg, Jack heads for New South Wales aboard the Surprise to gather supplies for their homeward journey.
They call at Sweeting’s Island to trade for citrus fruit and are shocked to find the entire native population wiped out by the smallpox, save two little girls, who are brought aboard by Stephen and named Sarah and Emily—beloved to the crew, they quickly assimilate to English ways.
In New South Wales, Stephen learns of the birth of his daughter in England, and that his fortune was preserved because he absentmindedly forgot to sign his last name to a letter giving Sir Joseph power of attorney. He also ruins the frigate’s standing with the corrupt and brutal authorities of the prison colony by efficiently maiming a soldier who rails against Irish rebels, then picks a fight based on an imagined slight.
This causes a great deal of harrassment by the colony’s officials, but Stephen quickly discovers how things really get done—by bribing the more learned convicts who serve as clerks. He uses this method to get Padeen (transported for stealing opium) transferred to the plantation of Nathaniel Martin’s friend Paulton, a penniless gentleman taking advantage of his cousin’s colonial estate to finish a novel. This is to be the first step in freeing Padeen but Jack has had to pledge he would aid in no escapes. Very angry at his friend, Stephen goes to tell Padeen this at their rendez-vous but arrives early. While he and Martin amuse themselves by stalking a platypus, the animal (a male) stings Stephen with a poison spur. He is near death by the time the Surprise arrives and Padeen is allowed aboard to care for him as he recovers. (6/23/06)