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MonkeyNotes-Billy Budd by Herman Melville
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Chapters 22-25

Captain Vere goes to inform Billy of the verdict. No one will ever 2know what happens in that private interview; however, according to the character of the two men involved, Vere would probably be straightforward and honest about his own role in the decision, and Billy would be accepting. Billy would appreciate Vere's estimation of him and his fatherly compassion; Billy also would not be afraid to die. When Vere leaves the compartment, his face reflects agony and startles the senior lieutenant. Vere may have suffered more than Billy.

It has only been an hour and a half since Claggart and Billy entered the cabin, and a rumor has already been spread. Still, the crew is taken off guard when they are all summoned to the deck. Captain Vere appears formally among his officers and gives the crew the barest details of what has passed, careful to avoid using the word "mutiny" and not preaching about discipline. The men are at first mute with surprise; after awhile, a curious murmur goes up amongst the sailors. Later, Claggart is buried at sea, with the usual funeral honors. Billy is taken to the upper gun deck without seeing Captain Vere again. In fact, the chaplain is the only man allowed to see Billy.

Billy is put in irons in a small bay between two huge black cannons. He appears to be numb as he stretches out in his soiled sailor whites, his "shroud". At night, the arrangement of the upper gun deck is something like a cathedral. The lamps light the Handsome Sailor's form, as he lies resting after his agony in the captain's quarters. With a dazed look on his face, he appears something like a dreaming child. When the chaplain comes to call on him, he is glad to see that Billy is in his own type of peace and does not disturb him. Later the chaplain comes back and tries to talk to Billy about his fate, but the chaplain realizes that he is speaking to a being who refers quite openly to his own death at the level of a barbarian or a child. He understands nothing of sin or salvation. For Billy, the chaplain's stories are merely little interesting gems. The chaplain, having a good heart and realizing Billy's profound innocence, leaves him alone in peace. Before departing, he gives Billy a kiss on the cheek.


At four in the morning, the ship's whistles summon the men to witness Billy's punishment. The sailors pour onto the deck and look silently down from the rigging. Captain Vere becomes the central figure of the drama. Billy is brought up with the chaplain and is placed below the mainyard, facing aft; the rope is placed around his neck. The beautiful Billy Budd's last words, his only words, are "God bless Captain Vere!" He says this clearly and sincerely, and within a moment, all the sailors, as if in electric current, chant out, "God bless Captain Vere!"

Captain Vere, stoic or paralyzed by shock, makes no move to acknowledge the words. As the ship rolls on the ocean and a burst of sunlight comes through the clouds ("the vapory fleece hanging low in the East was shot through with a soft glory as of the fleece of the Lamb of God"), Billy is strung up and ascends into the rosy light. Oddly, no motion is detected in his dying body. There is only the rolling of the massive ship.

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MonkeyNotes-Billy Budd by Herman Melville
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