|<- The Ionian Mission||The Far Side of the World ->|
Following his successful Marga campaign, Jack oversees the repairs of the Surprise and the condemnation of the Worcester in Malta; rewarded by a diamond decoration from the Turkish sultan and with Pullings’s promotion to commander, though one without a ship; and richer for the sale of the Bonhomme Richard, though still in dire financial straits.
Stephen, meanwhile, suspects the attentions of Laura Fielding (Italian bride of a captured lieutenant) might be related to intelligence rather than Stephen’s fortune or beauty, both non-existent. Overcoming his attraction and approaching her directly, he learns the French agent Lesueur is in Malta, and contrives to give him false information. He does not know, however, that the acting second secretary of the Navy, Mr. Wray (who cheated Jack at cards in Desolation Island and married Harte’s daughter in The Ionian Mission) is in league with the Frenchman.
Traveling aboard the transport Dromedary, then marching through the desert to Suez, Jack takes command of the East India Company ship Niobe in the Red Sea. His mission is to intercept a galley loaded with French treasure, then land Turkish troops to install a new leader in the French allied town the money was to fortify.
However, the heat is intolerable, the wind against them, and their ringer bey, after a scorpion bite traps him below deck for days, goes swimming to cool off and is eaten by sharks. The Niobe sights the galley, but Jack guesses that it is baiting him under a battery, and sinks it. Using Stephen’s diving bell, they manage to recover the treasure—in reality lead. The entire mission is a bust.
The Egyptian rulers of the area are at odds with the Turks and send Bedouins to rob them on their return march from Suez—Killick protects Jack’s possessions, but everything else (including Stephen and chaplain Martin’s biological collections and the diving bell) is lost.
Back in Malta, Jack reports to Admiral Sir Francis Ives (who has replaced Harte as Commander-in-Chief in the Mediterranean), who tells him that the French must have learned the plan and moved their treasure earlier. Unfortunately, Sir Francis tells Jack, his beloved Surprise will be sent home and sold in a few weeks, his perfect crew broken up, and his promised command given to another.
Intelligence experts, including Wray and Stephen, meet with Sir Francis, where Wray claims to be near sweeping the French from the island and uncovering the high-level leak. He later plans with Lesueur to send Jack and Stephen into a trap in the Adriatic once they are unuseful—a trap in which Wray also hopes to ensnare his father-in-law Harte so he may inherit a fortune and clear his gambling debts.
He indebts himself even further to Stephen during a series of card games, losing all available cash and more—beyond an IOU, he must promise ships for Aubrey and Pullings.
The Surprise goes on convoy duty. In a rendezvous with the blockade of Venice, Stephen learns the Nymphe has rescued Lieutenant Charles Fielding, escaped from the French prison Bitche. Jack offers him passage home, but Fielding demands satisfaction instead; for he has heard rumors of a liaison between Jack and his wife (Mrs. Fielding’s surly dog Ponto loves him for saving it from a well, causing comment).
Stephen realizes they must reach Malta before the news—to prevent exposure, Lesueur will kill Laura Fielding if he loses his hold on her. However, the successful chase of a French privateer delays them and their consort Dryad arrives first. Stephen finds Lesueur and a clerk of the Governor of Malta waiting at her house, but overhears nothing useful. He escapes with Laura on the Surprise for Gibraltar via the Adriatic, where they are to negotiate with the Dey of Mascara.
Harte accompanies them in the ship of the line Pollux, but is to stand off and on outside the bay that shelters Mascara while Aubrey negotiates, so that the Dey does not feel overly important. Harte enters the bay to stick his nose in, to no one’s surprise—least of all, it seems, a French line of battle ship and two frigates that attack, along with the Dey’s batteries.
The Pollux's magazine explodes, destroying Harte and severely damaging the French ship of the line. Trapped inside the bay, the Surprise manages to outmaneuver one frigate, but the French, though their crews are less skillful, have the weather-gage. Jack feints an escape from the bay between two large rocks, aware of a shoal between them, bringing the second frigate alongside. The French run hopelessly aground, demasting in the process.
Jack cracks on for Gibraltar, hoping to bring back his own ship-of-the-line to capture the French before they complete repairs. Stephen writes a letter to Wray. Only a few people knew Jack’s orders, and Stephen would be very surprised if Wray can’t find the mole now. (8/20/05)