The Thirteen Gun Salute

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Jack and his friends are starting to despair of the promise of his reinstatement ever being fulfilled, so he puts to sea in the Surprise on the South American mission, despite the twins’ birthday and Diana’s pregnancy.

Off Ireland, they encounter a French ship carrying a former compatriot of Stephen, who is very thankful when they fail to catch up.

They touch in Lisbon, Portugal, where Stephen purchases Sam Panda permission to be ordained, though he is a bastard, from the Patriarch of the Catholic Church, and Sir Joseph arrives overland to cancel their mission. It seems the Spanish got wind of the attempt to disrupt their empire by their nominal ally (a leak from the protector of Wray and Ledward?), but Blaine has allayed their fears, citing the thwarting of the French mission and swearing that the Surprise’s mission is pure privateering.

To further convince them, the Admiralty has decided to reinstate Aubrey and send him to the South China Sea in the Diane, where the French have sent Ledward and Wray to negotiate a treaty with the Sultan of the Malay state of Pula Prabang, offering shipwrights to build men-of-war to prey on Indiamen. The English envoy Mr. Fox (who is due a thirteen-gun salute upon coming aboard) is able, but quietly self-important.

The passage, during which Stephen learns Malay, is uneventful except for one very near brush with a lee shore thanks to the incompetence of the second lieutenant Elliot.

Reaching the island, Stephen makes friends local Chinese money lenders from whom he gets an idea of the weak French financial position; with the Spanish shipwrights engaged when their homeland was allied with the French and now not allowed to leave; and with Van Buren, a Dutch naturalist, who guides Stephen through many dissections and provides valuable intelligence about the court. From him, Stephen learns that Abdul, a young man who is a favorite at court, is the Sultan’s lover, and deduces that Ledward and Wray (suspected homosexuals) have seduced him. He also forces Lesueur, attached to the French delegation as a clerk, to turn over vital documents.

The Sultan must leave on a pilgrimage, and Stephen uses this pause to visit a Buddhist sanctuary atop the island’s famous Thousand Steps, where he sees a rhinoceros and communes with a family of orangutans.

Returning, he discovers the situation has turned deadly—Lesueur murdered, assassins gunning for him and Fox. He arranges for the Spanish shipwrights to flee to the Philippines and for the court Vizier to capture Abdul in bed with Ledward and Wray. This results in Abdul’s execution and in Ledward (the only member of the French delegation that speaks Malay) being banned from the court. With the Vizier’s permission, Stephen quietly murders Ledward and Wray, then dissects them for science with Van Buren to make sure they are never found.

Meanwhile, while sailing round the island in a beautiful pinnace built for him locally, Jack learns the French have accidentally run their frigate Cornélie aground while making repairs from the first lieutenant Jean-Pierre Dumesnil, a nephew of Guillaume Christy-Pallière.

Fox’s negotiations are successful, but his self-importance becomes insufferable as he insists the Diane return immediately to Batavia with the treaty, despite a scheduled rendez-vous with the Surprise. The Surprise does not appear, however, and shortly after Elliot’s incompetence runs the Diane onto a reef. It will be weeks until a tide high enough to get her off and repairs might take longer, so Jack, assured of good weather by experts, allows Fox to depart in the pinnace (Elliot dutifully volunteers to command it). In fact, a typhoon arrives several days later and Jack evacuates to a nearby island, where most of the stores are already ashore to lighten the ship. The Diane is destroyed, stranding the crew members that survive the trip to the island, but a substantial piece of the wreck comes ashore, perhaps enough to build a schooner. (4/27/06)