Ben Pulaski was dead. His return to Havre de Grace from long imprisonment in China destroys the sense of survival that has sustained Sonja as a widow and mourning mother to a lost infant daughter Ben never knew.
“Well by God, Welcome Home,” she screamed, and slapped his face.
Former shipmates join Ben to help his fledgling business on the Susquehanna and Tidewater Canal, bringing with them the volatile contradiction of that “peculiar institution”. Tricked into smuggling escaping slaves into Pennsylvania, Ben nearly dies for it. He misses crucial deadlines to the bank and once more jeopardizes his family’s security by facing foreclosure of their home, releasing a surprising explosion of rage in the little town at the head of the Chesapeake Bay.