At the end of the action of the text of HMS Surprise, Patrick O'Brian leaves "Surprise" on passage home from Madeira to England, after the meeting with "Euryalus", "Ethalion" and Dundas, with Sophie and her maid on board.
After the end of the novel, they take a fast carronade-armed French privateer ("corsair") brig, "Le Requin", cruising the trade route. Never averse to the chance of extra profit, particularly with the expense of his forthcoming marriage and house purchase in mind, Jack decides she is to act as tender to "Surprise" and plans a joint cruise on the return passage, to "Take, harry or Distroy" enemy shipping en route, the brig to be condemned at the Plymouth prize court on return. Tom Pullings is put in command of her with a prize crew, with Jack's orders for Gibraltar in order to put the French captives ashore as well as Sophie and her maid (to enable them to sail convoyed back to England and to avoid the dangers of action); a rendezvous between the two vessels off Finisterre is agreed for 10 days after their parting company, to team up jointly to raid Spanish shipping along the Northern Biscay coast as well as the Gironde estuary and generally to take whatever prize opportunity may present itself. It is now the thirteenth day; Jack and "Surprise" have already beenwaiting there on station for four days, hove to or sailing back and forth under reduced canvas, impatience rapidly mounting.
"Will there be prize money for us all, then, Jack?" enquired Stephen, more in hope than expectation.
"I shall get my share, like an admiral, since Pullings sails under my orders," replied Jack, "but he was not in sight of us when he took the tartan. And so, the rest will be for him and the prize crew, do you see, Stephen? For that is the way of it in the Sea Service."
Stephen's eyes dropped, betraying their renewed disappointment and glancing again at the short despatch which had been lying on Jack's desk for the last two days:
Prize Le Requin, Lisbon Roads, Thursday
I have brought Requin's Tartan Prize into Lisbon Roads, where she shall Lie until we shall take her up again for Passidge to the Prize Court at Gibraltar upon our return from England.
I do trust you will forgive this Diversion, Sir, which was necessary not only for the sake of the Prize for whom we have too few men to crew, but also for need of most urgent Supplies for Le Requin, there being not more than one half dozen cases of Port left in any Place or Store aboard the Brig, and this the best place to Gett it excepting O Porto itself.
All Annoyance to the Enemy! I have the Honour to remain, Sir, as always, your most obd't Servant
"Stephen, I would value your opinion exceedingly, as a medical man, and as one who has studied the temper of man as well as his body. What say you to this? It came to me but today, on the cutter to which we spoke in the forenoon."
Jack tossed a paper to Stephen.
Brig Le Requin, Tuesday, Cape St. Vincent bearing broad on the starboard Bow 25 miles
I have the Honour to acquaint you with the Newes that we have took a fine Spanish Tartan on Passidge for Cadiz, rich Laden with Oil, Wine of Xeres, Sundryes & Cloth of Quality. We were in Hott Chace of her for half a day, but our long Bow Ordnance, admirably laid by Church, did cutt and loose her Stays, her canvas then did Fly Off and Come Down with Alackrity, reducing her Topp Hamper & shewing the fair Lines of her Bottom as she roll'd. Her speed reduced in consequence & her then fell off the Wind, we clos'd alongside and Grappled a-Breast of her, at which she did most fiercely Repulse our Advance, but we Lay'd Hold of her Quarters & our Jib Boom running full up her Spanker in a rush we Took her from a-stern at which she did quietly Submit to our full Possession, & so we hadd her Surrender.
We shall take her to Lisbon or O Porto, there to enjoy...
Stephen read no further; he glanced up at Jack. "He has been too long at sea, to be sure, poor man, and there's the truth of it."
"Aye", replied Jack, "I do believe you have him smoak'd there, Stephen. I thought so too." He was silent for a few seconds, staring into his almost-empty glass. "Too long at sea. Yes, that is the way of it. Been too long at sea. Perhaps we all have, Stephen - perhaps we all have."
© 2001 Roger Marsh