(Masterpieces of British Fiction)

Peter Simple was the younger son of the younger son of Lord Privilege, an English viscount. Because there was apparently no chance of the lad’s inheriting any money, he was sent to sea at the age of fifteen as a midshipman so that he could earn a living for himself.

Coming from a country home, Peter knew almost nothing of the world; fortunately, however, he had served at first under a very gentlemanly captain. He was also befriended by an older midshipman, Terence O’Brien. During his first days aboard the Diomede, a British man-of-war, Peter was hazed by his fellow midshipmen because he seemed at times as simple as his surname, but under the tutelage of the crew in general, and O’Brien in particular, he soon learned to become a good sailor. Before many months had passed, he became fairly proficient in seagoing matters and earned the approval of his officers.

At every opportunity, Peter went where there was trouble and excitement. He had no fears; consequently, he got into tight places several times, but serious trouble did not occur until he stowed away in a boat that was sent ashore to spike a gun battery on the French coast. French infantry surprised the raiding party, and Peter and his friend O’Brien were captured; they had remained behind to finish the spiking of the guns while the rest of the sailors made their escape.

Peter had been wounded in the escapade, and the colonel of the regiment and his young daughter nursed him back to health before he was sent to prison. The daughter, Celeste O’Brien, was devoted in her attentions to Peter, although he was an enemy. After his recovery, Peter and his friend O’Brien, who was no relation to the French colonel, were sent to a prison at Givet. Although the military prison was the stoutest in France, they finally made their escape, thanks to O’Brien’s ingenuity, and they crossed France in two sets of disguises. At first, O’Brien dressed as a policeman and escorted Peter as his prisoner. When that ruse was discovered, they disguised themselves as traveling performers. As they passed through one town, they accidentally met Celeste O’Brien and the colonel, who not only kept their secret but gave them a purseful of money. After some difficulty, the two fugitives made their way to England. Peter’s grandfather, Lord Privilege, invited the boy to visit him. Several deaths had occurred in the family, and Peter was now third in line for the title, after his father and uncle, and the latter had no legal male heir. Thanks to his grandfather’s assistance, O’Brien was commissioned a lieutenant. The two were assigned to a frigate and went on a cruise to the West Indies.

During the second cruise, word came to Peter that his uncle was very unhappy over the grandfather’s patronage and help for the young man; Peter, busy at sea,...

(The entire section is 1158 words.)