Lieutenant John Pearce is in London seeking protection for his friends, the Pelicans, from a reluctant Admiralty, unaware that they have been turfed off the ship on which he left them in safety. Sitting in the tavern where he and the Pelicans were first press ganged, Pearce considers his future.
Lacking funds, an occupation if he leaves naval service, or the evidence of perjury he once had to bring to justice Captain Ralph Barclay, the brute who pressed he and his companions into the Navy, his prospects are not promising. Ralph Barclay is a man with problems of his own.
His young wife, Emily, is refusing to live under the same roof as him and she has the means to get her own way: the evidence Pearce believes lost at sea. Barclay's slippery clerk, Gherson, has as much to lose as his employer and decides that Pearce must be silenced and, if need be, Emily Barclay too.
After many trials, dodging press gangs and writs, Pearce's companions finally arrive in London just in time to join Pearce in his new enterprise. A smiling stranger has offered him an opportunity he can not refuse. It involves fetching a ship laden with contraband back from the French port of Gravelines, an illegal act but very profitable. But is it all as it seems? Are Pearce and his Pelicans sailing into prosperity - or danger?