Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1209
Jack Easy was the son of a wealthy landowner in the county of Hampshire, England. Jack’s father and mother had almost spoiled the boy for any good in the world, the former by his oversimplified philosophy of equality, and the latter by her doting. Fortunately for the young lad, the family physician, Doctor Middleton, rescued him from his home and put him in a school where he began to learn that the survival of the fittest was the way of the world. When he left school, it was decided he should go to sea as midshipman with Captain Wilson, a poor relation who was indebted to Mr. Easy for a loan of one thousand pounds and who was in command of the warship Harpy.
Jack soon made friends aboard the Harpy through the use of his fists in beating down bullies among the ship’s company and through the obvious goodwill that the Captain showed him. It was hard at first for the young man to become accustomed to life aboard the warship. The duties of a midshipman kept him busy, but the small living quarters and the discipline proved irksome to the son of a philosopher who preached a doctrine of equality.
Jack’s first naval adventure occurred when the ship was not far from Tarragona. In command of a boat during the capture of a Spanish vessel by a boarding party, he was left behind when the Harpy sailed away. Captain Wilson thought that Easy’s boat had been sunk with all hands. The following night, Easy’s boat captured another Spanish vessel by boarding. Easy ordered the crew and passengers, including an elderly Sicilian and his wife and two beautiful daughters, overboard into a small boat. A few days later, after Easy had vainly tried to find the Harpy, the crew landed on an island and refused to return to the captured ship; but an Ashantee black, Mesty, was loyal to Easy because the midshipman had befriended him and had treated him as an equal. Through the efforts of Mesty, the men were brought back on board in a docile condition, and Easy again set sail to look for the Harpy. After a week had passed, Easy and his crew found the British warship engaged with a Spanish vessel. The timely aid of gunfire from Easy’s prize helped the Harpy take its opponent. Everyone, including Captain Wilson, was amused at the flag that Easy had flown in the engagement. Having no British flag aboard the prize, he had hoisted a lady’s green petticoat.
Malta was the first stop for the Harpy in the Mediterranean. Easy fought a duel there. Thinking he had killed his man, he and a fellow midshipman, Gascoigne, ran away in a native boat they had hired. A storm drove their small craft to the Sicilian shore, where the two young sailors hid in a cart and fell asleep. When they awakened, they found themselves in the yard of a great house. They heard loud cries and rushed into the house in time to prevent the owner from being murdered by two relatives. The man and his family proved to be the passengers whom Easy had put into a small boat when he had taken his prize a month earlier. Before Don Rebiera sent them to Palermo, Easy had fallen deeply in love with the Sicilian nobleman’s daughter, Agnes.
At Palermo, the two midshipmen went aboard a British frigate that took them back to Malta to rejoin the Harpy. Since Easy’s opponent in the duel had not died, Captain Wilson forgave their escapade.
A few weeks later, the Harpy was sailing off the coast of Africa. In another battle to board a vessel, Easy distinguished himself a second time. The prize was taken back to Malta, where Captain Wilson learned that he had been promoted to the command of a larger ship, the Aurora. When he left the Harpy, Captain Wilson took Easy, Gascoigne, and Mesty with him.
Separated from the fleet during a storm, the Aurora was struck by lightning and set afire. Many of her officers and men were killed or injured. Both Easy and Gascoigne were heroic in their efforts to help stop the blaze and get the ship seaworthy enough to reach Malta for repairs. Back at Malta, Easy and Gascoigne had still further adventures. Chosen to accompany a Sicilian nobleman who was visiting the ship, they recognized him as one of the men who had tried to assassinate Don Rebiera. The imposter was arrested by the authorities and returned to Sicily.
Several weeks later, the Aurora sighted a galley, filled with criminals, sinking off the Sicilian coast. A party was sent to release the prisoners and set them ashore. During the operation, Easy recognized the man who had attempted to assassinate Don Rebiera and who had been sent to the galleys just a few weeks before. He notified Captain Wilson, who immediately informed the authorities on the island and then permitted Easy, Gascoigne, and Mesty to go ashore to warn their friends. Easy and his companions arrived at Don Rebiera’s home in time to warn the household of its danger. A battle of a day and a night ensued. At the end of that time, Sicilian troops arrived and rescued the besieged house and its defenders from the band of escaped galley slaves under the leadership of Don Rebiera’s enemy.
The next day, Easy asked Agnes’ father if he might marry her. The father was indebted to Easy and knew that his daughter loved the young midshipman; yet he could not give his permission immediately because of the Church. His family confessor threatened excommunication if the marriage took place.
Easy and Gascoigne were not to be daunted. With the help of Mesty, they pretended to have broken their legs in a carriage accident. Captain Wilson was forced to leave them behind to convalesce when the Aurora left port. As soon as the ship had sailed, Mesty was sent with a bribe to the confessor. The priest, in his turn, tried to get Mesty’s aid in poisoning Easy in order to prevent the marriage. Mesty promised to help the priest but administered the poison to the confessor instead. Don Rebiera then withdrew his objection to the marriage if he could have the written permission of the midshipman’s father, since Easy was still under age. Easy eagerly reported to the Aurora to resign from the navy and return to England to get his father’s permission to marry.
Back in England, Easy learned that his mother had died and his father had become insane. While the son was straightening out the affairs of the family, the father also died, leaving Easy a large fortune. Since the seas were not a safe place to travel as a passenger in a merchant vessel, Easy bought a small ship. Armed with cannon and letters of marque, he sailed for Sicily. There he married Agnes.
He and his bride returned to England after Easy had helped to secure Gascoigne’s resignation from the navy. Neither Easy nor Gascoigne went to sea again but settled down as country gentlemen on Easy’s large estate in Hampshire.