Everything is for a term remarkable in navies. Any
tangible object associated with some striking incident of the service is
converted into a monument. The spar from which
was suspended, was for some few years kept trace of by the sailors. Their knowledge followed it from ship
to dock-yard and again from dock-yard to ship,
still pursuing it even when at last reduced to a mere dock-yard boom
. To them a chip of it was as
a piece of the Cross . Ignorant tho' they were of the
secret facts of the tragedy, and not thinking but that the penalty was
somehow unavoidably inflicted from the naval point of view, for all that
they instinctively felt that Billy was a sort of man as incapable of
mutiny as of wilfull murder. They recalled the fresh young image of the
Handsome Sailor, that face never deformed by a sneer or subtler vile freak
of the heart within. Their impression of him was doubtless deepened by the
fact that he was gone, and in a measure mysteriously gone. At the time, on
the gun decks of the Indomitable, the general
estimate of his nature and its unconscious simplicity eventually found
rude utterance from another foretopman
, one of his own watch, gifted, as some sailors are, with an artless poetic temperament;
the tarry hands made some lines which after circulating among the shipboard crew for a while,
finally got rudely printed at Portsmouth as a ballad. The title given to it was the sailor's.
BILLY IN THE DARBIES
Good of the Chaplain to enter Lone Bay
And down on his marrow-bones here and pray
For the likes just o' me, Billy Budd.--But look:
Through the port comes the moon-shine astray!
It tips the guard's cutlas and silvers this nook;
But 'twill die in the dawning of Billy's last day.
A jewel-block they'll make of me to-morrow,
Like the ear-drop I gave to Bristol Molly--
O, 'tis me, not the sentence they'll suspend.
Ay, Ay, Ay, all is up; and I must up to
Early in the morning, aloft from alow.
On an empty stomach, now, never it would do.
They'll give me a nibble--bit o' biscuit ere I go.
Sure, a messmate
will reach me the last parting cup;
But, turning heads away from the hoist and the belay,
Heaven knows who will have the running of me up!
No pipe to those halyards
.--But aren't it all sham?
A blur's in my eyes; it is dreaming that I am.
A hatchet to my hawser? all adrift to go?
The drum roll to grog, and Billy never know?
But Donald he has promised to stand by the plank;
So I'll shake a friendly hand ere I sink.
But--no! It is dead then I'll be, come to think.
I remember Taff the Welshman when he sank.
And his cheek it was like the budding pink.
But me they'll lash me in hammock, drop me deep.
Fathoms down, fathoms down, how I'll dream fast asleep.
I feel it stealing now. Sentry, are you there?
Just ease this darbies at the wrist, and roll me over fair,
I am sleepy, and the oozy weeds about me twist.