Captain Nathaniel Drinkwater brings the frigate Patrician to the Pearl River on the China coast and finds himself caught up in bizarre events.
The ninth adventure of Capt. Nathaniel Drinkwater--but only the second ( In Distant Waters ) published here--places the middle-aged, phlegmatic skipper of H.M. frigate Patrician in the South China Sea in 1808 under secret Admiralty orders to thwart the new Franco-Russian alliance. Guiding ships of the East India Company (practically a power in itself) from Canton to Penang, he must be wary of pirates, the Hong in Canton, the emperor in Peking and a shipload of Russian prisoners. Drinkwater is duped into giving passage to his archenemy Morris, along with the man's fortune in silver and his catamite. The crafty Morris, his Navy career cut short by scandal, plots a private revenge that will ruin Drinkwater and may even let Morris have his heinous way with the Captain. The climax is a bang-up battle between Borneo's fierce Dyaks (of poison dart fame) and Patrician 's beleaguered crew. Drinkwater is a true-blue, if stolid, hero, but shipboard life, including its below-decks stink, is vividly drawn.