The Reverse of the Medal
|<- The Far Side of the World||The Letter of Marque ->|
On his way back from the far side of the world, Jack stops in Bridgetown for the depressing court martial of the Hermiones, who are all hanged. He also meets Samual Panda, his half-African illegitimate son who’s on his way to Brazil to become a priest.
Based on information from the local intelligence chief and a letter from Pullings detailing a pursuit of the Danaë, the Surprise departs hunting for the French-American privateer Spartan, which they fail to capture despite a cunning stratagem and after a long chase, lending credence to the crew’s theory that Jack has run out of his famous luck.
The Surprise arrives in England, where instead of going to the breaker’s yards it will be sold out of the service. Stephen finds two major changes upon his homecoming: on one hand he has inherited a fortune from Colonel d’Ullastret; on the other hand Diana has run off to Denmark with Jagiello, the Grapes has burned down, and Sir Joseph Blaine has been all but removed as chief of intelligence by enemies he cannot identify.
Fearing arrest for debt (though it turns out all his legal affairs are still pending), Jack hitches a ride up the coast on a cartel, a transport that touches in Calais to deliver diplomats.
Once back in England, he saves Mr. Palmer, apparently a diplomat returning from France, from men he claims were intelligence agents. Palmer shows his gratitude for his rescue by advising Aubrey to buy depressed government bonds, as peace will be announced in a few days. Although Jack’s father, General Aubrey, a Radical member of Parliament, has often endangered Jack’s standing with the Tory heads of the Admiralty, Jack feels honor bound to pass the information along.
A few days later his reunion with Sophie (who contrary to Jack’s fears is not angry about Sam Panda and even wishes to make him part of the family) is marred when he is arrested for conspiracy to defraud the stock market. He is to be tried by the judge Lord Quinborough, a Tory politician who means to destroy the Radicals.
Stephen, meanwhile, returns the intelligence money from the Danaë to Wray (after Sir Joseph makes arrangements to track the considerable funds), refuses any further missions, collects the money Wray owes him (though Wray cannot pry a penny from his new wife, Miss Harte, who still is plotting to leave him for Babbington), and determines Wray did not deliver his letter to Diana before she fled. He still does not realize that Wray and his superior Ledward are behind Sir Joseph’s competitor, a plot to hand control of naval intelligence to the French, as well as gain knowledge of the Cabinet, of which Blaine is a member.
Stephen uses these funds to put out a reward for Palmer, the only hope of defending Jack, but the man turns up murdered. Stephen also fails to convince Jack that English justice might not be as fair as he thinks, and a humiliating trial follows. Jack is found guilty, thrown out of the Navy but he cannot be sent to prison since Sir Joseph has made arrangements for Stephen to act as liaison to South American revolutionaries and he only sails with Jack. Instead he is sentenced to the pillory where a fabulous number of seamen show up to support and protect him and Quinborough is disgraced in a national scandal.
Stephen buys the Surprise and fits it out as a letter of marque (privateer), with Jack in command, but this does not take away the sting of Jack’s dismissal from the service. Then Stephen is slipped a secret message in French regarding the Blue Peter. In a remote meeting Duhamel returns the diamond to Stephen and asks for help to run away to Québec—Palmer, his best friend, has just been sacrificed (as Stephen would have been if he’d accepted a recent mission) and Duhamel feels he might be next. In exchange for passage Duhamel betrays Wray and Ledward to an astonished Stephen.
Is it wrong when you’re reading sea stories to like the ones that happen on land the most...? This is certainly a shocking installment. Not much of a happy ending here, though it’s nice to see Wray done away with. (2/13/06)