Summary for 21: The Final Unfinished Voyage of Jack Aubrey

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SPOILER WARNING:  Plot or ending details for "21"  follow.


The Surprise is making her way eastward through the Magellan Strait; Jack Aubrey has received his orders to join Admiral Lord Leyton’s squadron at the River Plate and to hoist his flag as Rear-Admiral of the Blue. Stephen Maturin, in the act of writing to Christine, reflects on recent events. Despite their efforts on behalf of Chilean independence, the sailors find an increasingly unfriendly reception when calling for supplies along the coast of Tierra del Fuego, and the problem intensifies when they arrive (ahead of Leyton) at the mouth of the Plate. Stephen discovers that this hostility is being fomented by clerical extremists who are planning a coup. Fortunately an emissary from the Vatican, who has come to Buenos Aires for the ceremony of blessing the fishing-fleet, proves to be a very old friend – none other than Sam Panda, Jack’s natural son by an African woman, now a prelate of high rank – and his influence defuses the situation.


After a ceremonial feast, Leyton’s squadron is sighted, and before long Jack goes aboard his flagship, the Suffolk, and for the first time hoists his flag. His first meeting with his superior is uneasy; Leyton makes some high-handed proposals regarding Surprise, and Jack has to remind him that the ex-frigate is private property and no longer subject to orders. Leyton blusters, but fortunately he remembers that Stephen is in high favour with the Duke of Clarence and so climbs down. Returning to the ship, Jack and Stephen read a batch of letters from home and realise that there is ill-feeling between Stephen’s daughter Brigid, who now lives at Woolcombe with Sophie, and Jack’s twin daughters; Christine Wood, who has also been staying at Woolcombe, is caught in the crossfire. In addition, there is word of a neighbouring landowner, a Captain Miller, who is paying court to Christine.


Jack and Stephen arrange that Sophie and her girls, Christine, Edward (Christine's brother) and Brigid are to be brought out to join the squadron. Stephen reassures Jack about Brigid's ability to stand up to the ill-nature of the Aubrey girls, and he is proved right when Ringle arrives with the party. Soon afterwards a Portuguese ship brings a much less welcome guest, Captain Miller, who proves to be a favoured nephew of Admiral Leyton.

Jack goes with Stephen to dine with Leyton and is introduced to Miller, who greets him with coarse familiarity. Leyton explains his plan to sail to the Cape by way of St. Helena, where he intends to interview Napoleon. (The typed portion ends here.) The voyage across the Atlantic is smooth (with no further reference to St. Helena) apart from a severe storm off Loanda, on the west African coast, where the squadron makes an extended stay. Stephen, who has heard that Miller takes an enthusiastic interest in surgery, invites him to witness an operation, but Miller declines – thus showing the first sign of a timid streak which is soon demonstrated much more clearly. Christine complains to Stephen that Miller has been making a nuisance of himself and begs him to warn the man off; Stephen accepts the commission and Miller reacts with insults and a blow, so that a duel is the only possible result. When Stephen (who as the insulted party has the choice of weapons) opts for the sword, Miller’s bluster suddenly collapses; he is a pistol specialist, and it is only with extreme difficulty that his seconds and his uncle bring him up to the mark. In the event he is disarmed in a matter of moments and forced to apologise. The fragment ends as the squadron sets out on the last leg of its journey, with the disgraced Miller skulking in his cabin.

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