Captain Richard Delancey receives his first command, the Merlin, a threemasted sloop of war, sailing from Gibraltar, circa 1800, to hunt down French corvettes. Delancey, nearly 40 and unmarried, is a modest fellow, poor, strong, weatherbeaten, a man who ""had known adversity and disappointment"" and whose eyes well at the first sight of his ship. With a heart like that, a character can grow, and Delancey does, meeting his challenges with wit rather than derringdo. His adventures have no special focus or theme, but they climax in a race against time when peace with the enemy threatens to cut off his source of prize money to pay for restoration of his family house. In short, Delancey is indeed playing touch and go with peace. When he finally captures a large French ship, the enemy captain (a madman) locks himself into his munitions room and offers to obliterate the locked ships unless they make port at Cherbourg. ""Delancey said casually, 'Nice weather for one's last day on earth, don't you think?'"" Rather restrained, but refreshingly so.