setting is England and Australia in the mid-1860’s. Patrick Scanlan, an orphan of seven, is sold into slavery at a weaving mill in London. Half starved, and often whipped for refusing to work, he manages to escape from the weaving mill and onto the dangerous London streets with their whores, thugs and thieves. He survives his childhood years by stealing.
He chances upon Thief Takers, bounty hunters, lying in wait to kill Claude Duvall, a famous highwayman. Warned by Patrick, Duvall fights his way out of the trap. Patrick joins Duvall in his robberies and becomes one of the elite class of thieves, a Two Pops And A Galloper, a mounted highwayman with two pistols, who robs the rich travelers on the highways.
Thief Takers try to arrest Duvall and Patrick. Patrick shoots the Thief Takers. He is captured and given a sentence of life at hard labor in the penal colony on Van Diemen’s Land, an island off the south coast of Australia.
Patrick is often flogged with the cat-o-nine-tails for fighting. He organizes a group of convicts into a “Sydney Trip”. Sydney offers a slim opportunity for escape. The cost to the convicts to get to Sydney is for one of them to die and one to hang for the murder.
In Sydney, Patrick escapes from his guards and steals a small sailing boat and takes to the open sea. For weeks he endures frigid Antarctic storms and starvation. Then more dead than alive he comes upon the ghost ship, The Huntress, and climbs aboard.
This gripping novel explodes with passion and adventure. Based on the reality of the slavery of orphans in England and the savagery of the prison on Van Diemens Land, the story is an epic of endurance and a shattering journey into the soul of a man.
Patrick lay on the deck of the schooner with his head spinning and muscles trembling from his struggle to climb aboard. He was too weak to rise. But he was alive! He had beaten the sea and his chances for survival had increased immensely. He felt no desire to move and so rested basking and reveling upon the hard wooden deck as if it was made of down.
After a handful of minutes, his strength returned enough to allow him to rise to his knees and look about the ship. It was deserted forward. He turned to the stern and again saw no one. He could see past the two deckhouses and the aft mast to the helm wheel that was lashed in place with lengths of line. Everything was shipshape; the deck clean from being worked with holystone and all cordage flaked out in neat coils on the deck. The lowered mainsail was neatly furled and tied to its boom. The rents and tears in the foresails and jib had been patched with workmanlike skill.
The schooner was a ghost ship steering itself across the sea. What had happened to her crew? He looked for the ship’s boats and saw there were five resting in davits, three on the starboard side and two on the port. A davit on the port side hung empty. Had the ship’s crew taken to the sea in the missing boat? No, that couldn’t have been because there wouldn’t have been space in one boat for the crew that must have been aboard.
He climbed to his feet and stood swaying with weakness. Crew or no crew, there should be food and water aboard. With thirst and hunger gnawing at him, he moved toward the aft deckhouse the one most likely to hold the galley.
His eyes caught movement. A man wrapped in a robe of sealskins was rising to a sitting position on top of the hatch of the mid-ship cargo hold. The man cast a searching look aft, then quickly forward.
The man’s eyes fell upon Patrick and a startled expression washed over his face. He flung aside the sealskin robe to expose a large caliber, three-barrel duck-foot pistol in his right hand. Two Navy Colts revolver were stuck under his belt. He jerked it free with his left hand.
He sprang to his feet, cocking both guns as he moved. He raised the weapons and pointed both at Patrick. ”Who the hell are you,” exclaimed the man. “Where did you come from?”