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HMS Teaser, a clipper-gunboat, is patrolling the China Seas on the lookout for pirates. She has proceeded up the Nyho river, and is at anchor off the city of Nyho. The teller of the story is one of three young midshipmen, Nathaniel Herrick. A most important character is Ching, the Chinese interpreter, who would love to be much more important than he is. The boys and Ching find themselves in various situations.