Summary for Blue at the Mizzen

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Plot summary for Blue at the Mizzen is a short description of the plot of Blue at the Mizzen.

SPOILER WARNING:  Plot or ending details for "Blue at the Mizzen"  follow.

Jack Aubrey distributes the prize money from the taking of the Turkish galley [see The Hundred Days], not without forebodings of the collapse of discipline which will result as soon as the suddenly-enriched hands reach the shore. His fears are justified when Surprise, damaged in a collision, has to return to Gibraltar for emergency repairs; the sailors run wild and many of them desert. At a dinner given by Lord Barmouth, Jack hears a first-hand account of Waterloo from Colonel Roche. Jack resumes his dalliance with Lady Barmouth, with the result that her husband, unhelpful at first, changes his attitude and hastens the emergency repairs in order to get Jack out of the way. Surprise calls at Madeira in hope of an overhaul, but the Funchal yards are out of action and she is compelled to struggle home, patched up for the present, to be overhauled in Seppings's yard. Stephen Maturin has gone ahead in Ringle, summoned by an imperfectly-coded message from Amos Jacob, to confer with Sir Joseph Blaine.

Jacob’s message, finally deciphered by Blaine, refers to affairs in Chile where Jack is to carry out a covert operation; under the guise of surveying the coastline, his task is to help the revolutionary leaders there to develop their navy. Jacob reports that the anti-colonialists have fragmented, and one group has engaged an ex-Navy captain, Sir David Lindsay, to form a naval force. After an interval at Jack’s home the friends return to London, where Jack is persuaded by the Duke of Clarence to take on board his natural son, known as Horatio Hanson. During the return voyage to Madeira, Jack exercises the gun-crews and keeps a kindly eye on Hanson, who is developing well as a navigator. Jacob comes aboard at Funchal with more news of Lindsay, who is fitting out a sloop in Rio de Janeiro. Stephen reveals to Jack his reason for being so eager to visit Sierra Leone: he plans to propose marriage to Christine Wood. The news quickly spreads throughout the ship.

Arrived at Freetown, Stephen finds Christine living in a primeval wilderness. He makes his proposal during a night-time excursion in the swamp. Deeply moved, Christine at first begs him to forget the thought, but next morning she seems less obdurate, and Stephen departs with hope in his heart. Later, breakfasting with Jacob, he comments on Jack's growing unease as the time draws near when his prospects of an admiral’s flag must be settled for good or ill. Hanson covers himself with blood and glory in a boxing-match; soon afterwards he is appointed master’s mate. He shows his quality in another way by keeping silence when his father’s name is mentioned in some loose talk over dinner. The ship enters the doldrums – an interval of deadly calm and oppressive heat, broken only by an encounter with an American frigate. Jack explains to Stephen, over dinner, about the career of Lindsay, a brave and enterprising frigate-captain undone by arrogance and insubordination.

Surprise, with Ringle in convoy, touches at Rio de Janeiro before carrying on to the Magellan Straits. Stephen describes the voyage (marked by famine, foul weather and a general malaise stemming from Jack) in a serial letter to Christine. Surprise speaks a whaler and her captain gives news of a ship chartered by Austin Dobson, a wealthy entomologist, for a voyage of exploration. The whaler has given Jack directions for a bay used by the whaling-fleet as a refuge, but a recent landslide has changed the contours of the sea-bed and Ringle runs aground, suffering such damage that the ships are forced to run into the port of San Patricio for repairs. Here they find Dobson and his brother scientists, and also Lindsay, who is evidently destined to prove a difficult colleague; he sees himself as Commander-in-Chief of the Chilean navy and Jack as his subordinate. Stephen soothes their rising tempers. In time Jack and Sir David learn to work together and set about training a cadre of Chilean sea-officers.

Stephen, responding to another dispatch from Jacob, sets out over the mountains for Santiago. (On the way, the thin air and a dose of coca-leaves combine to amuse him with a vivid hallucination of Christine.) Here Jacob tells him that the royalist fleet – still a force to be reckoned with – is planning an attack on Valparaiso. At a meeting with Bernardo O'Higgins, the Chilean leader, a pre-emptive strike is planned; Surprise and Ringle will carry a body of local troops to Valdivia, the chief Spanish base, and put them ashore to take the town from behind while the ships create a diversion. The attack is a brilliant success. In time, however, O’Higgins loses ground to his rivals, his English friends meet with unfriendly treatment in Valparaiso, and Lindsay is shot dead in a duel. Jack falls out with the Valparaiso authorities over the disposal of Lindsay’s body. He forms a plan to cut out Esmeralda, the largest Spanish ship on that coast, from her moorings at Callao and turn her over to O'Higgins. Surprise duly sets out for Callao, lightly disguised as a merchantman. Hanson, now serving as master, brings her alongside Esmeralda in fine style; the royalists are overwhelmed by the sudden assault and both ships come safely away. Weak from wounds sustained in the battle, Jack struggles with the task of writing his official report, and Stephen has to remind him that he is, for the time being, in the service of the Chilean junta and not of the British Admiralty. Eventually Stephen drafts the paperwork himself.

With Jack as a querulous convalescent, the ships return to Valparaiso. This time they are received with joy, but there is no sign of pay or prize-money from their nominal employers, and it grows clear that O’Higgins, Jack’s only reliable friend in Chile, has been displaced. At a state dinner Jack issues an ultimatum to Carrera, the junta’s representative; if he and his men are not paid by the end of the month, he will leave. On the last day a message from the Admiralty comes by way of Jacob; Jack has been appointed Rear Admiral of the Blue and is to rendezvous at the River Plate with a squadron bound for South Africa. Brushing aside Carrera's last empty excuses, Jack bids farewell to his Chilean pupils and lays a course for Magellan’s Strait.

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