1777--the French seacoast, impending war, pirates and a sixteen-year-old boy ready for adventure. He gets it, enough to last him a lifetime, when the wood-whittling convict Jean the Nightbird involves him in a search for the notorious pirate captain, Petit-Radet. Messages under stones, shadows that speak with the voice of father's new friend, a ship that slips away in the night, midnight murders and a battle at sea...and Petit-Radet is caught. Young Morgat at the gallows sees that Petit-Radit is indeed his and his father's dear friend Mr. Burns, who talked philosophy by the hour and told him that adventure is only empty illusion; whose ship was called The Anchor of Mercy (which means forgiveness, the last resort of mortal man); he is remembered as the cultured Mr. Burns, forgiven as the vicious Petit-Radet. Human characters with human dimensions and ambivalence; great adventure seen with the limited resources of a young boy; dignified Dickensonian English and a historical period well-blended in--a walloping tale, and well worth reading.