Chapters

Chapter 25 Chapter 25 The night so luminous on the spar-deck but otherwise on the cavernous ones below, levels so like the tiered galleries in a coal-mine—the luminous night passed away. But, like the prophet in the chariot disappearing in heaven and dropping his mantle to Elisha, the withdrawing night transferred its pale robe to the breaking day. A meek shy light appeared in the East where stretched a diaphonous fleece of white furrowed vapor. That light slowly waxed. Suddenly eight bells were struck aft, responded to by one louder metallic stroke from forward. It was four o'clock in the morning. Instantly the silver whistles were heard summoning all hands to witness punishment. Up through the great hatchways rimmed with racks of heavy shot, the watch below came pouring (no comma in MS) pouring,pouring,] MEL adds the comma to clarify reading by indicating that the following word "overspreading" recapitulates but extends the word "pouring." overspreading with the watch already on deck the space between the mainmast and foremast including that occupied by the capacious launch and the black booms tiered on either side of it, boat and booms making a summit of observation for the powder-boys and younger tars. A different group comprising one watch of topmen leaned over the rail of that sea-balcony, no small one in a seventy-four, looking down on the crowd below. Man or boy none spake but in whisper, and few spake at all. Captain Vere—as before, the central figure among the assembled commissioned officers—stood nigh the break of the poop-deck facing forward. Just Below belowHM added "Just" in the margin next to "Below" without lowercasing it. him on the quarter-deck the marines in full equipment were drawn up much as at the scene of the promulgated sentence. At sea in the old time, the execution by halter of a military sailor was generally from the fore-yard. In the present instance, for special reasonsspecial reasons] For this inserted phrase, HM originally wrote "for strategic reasons." the main-yard was assigned. Under an arm of that yardthat yard] A yard is the spar from which a sail hangs, and the main-yard crosses the main or central mast. The arm or yard-arm is the end of the spar. Depending upon the direction of the wind, a yard-arm can be designated as a weather yard (i.e. fronting the wind) or lee yard (away from the wind). In a deleted sentence preceding this one, HM had specified that Billy is brought under the "lee-yard," placing him out of the wind. But this specification is lost along with the deletion of the sentence. Billy now appears under "an arm of that yard," meaning one or the other of the two main-yard-arms. In pencil, and above "an arm," HM wrote "weather or lee," as a note to himself to choose one side of the ship over the other. Visually, the choice is not inconsequential. Later in the chapter, HM indicates that the weather itself is moderate but strong enough for the ship to roll away from the wind and into the lee, so that if Billy were hanged from the lee-yard-arm, his body would sway over the sea. In ch. 21, Vere makes a point of placing the three jurors on the lee-side of the cabin and himself on the weather-side, effectively placing himself as witness higher in the tilting ship than the jury. Another important choice in the present chapter is the hanging of Billy from the main-yard, closer to the officers' area, and not, as was customary, from the fore-yard, where the seamen assemble. In short, HM places Billy's execution at the "waist" of the ship, between officers and crew. Vere's decision to part from convention in this placement is based on "special reasons"—originally "strategic reasons"—which are not divulged and remain open to interpretation. the prisoner was presently brought up, the Chaplain attending him. It was noted at the time and remarked upon afterwards, that in this final scene the good man evinced little or nothing of the perfunctory. Brief speech indeed he had with the condemned one, but the genuine Gospel was less on his tongue than in his aspect and manner towards him. The final preperations preparations personal to the latter being speedily brought to an end by two boatswain's-mates, the consummation impended. Billy stood facing aft. At the penultimate moment, his words, his only ones, words wholly unobstructed in the utterance were these–"God bless Captain Vere!" Syllables So so unanticipated coming from one with the ignominious hemp about his neck— a a conventional a conventional Initially HM added "felon's" before "benediction," but he then erased "felon's" and penciled in "a conventional felon's" without deleting the redundant "a." felon's benediction directed aft towards the quarters of honor; syllables too delivered in the clear melody of a singing-bird on the point of launching from the twig, had a phenomenal effect, not unenhanced by the rare personal beauty of the young sailor spiritualized now thro' through late experiences so poignantly profound. Without volition as it were, as if indeed the ship's populace were but the vehicles of some vocal current electric, with one voice from alow and aloft came a resonant sympathetic echo–"God bless Captain Vere!" And yet at that instant Billy alone must have been in their hearts, even as he was in their eyeseven as he in their eyes] Originally, HM wrote "even as he was in their eyes" in ink. He revised, also in ink, by adding "alone" first after "was" to give "he was alone" then immediately transposed "alone" to before "was" to give "he alone was." Later, in pencil, HM deleted both "alone" and "was." Deleting "alone" eliminated the awkward repetition of that word in the previous clause, but deleting "was" creates confusion. NN emends this uncompleted revision by further deleting "he" to give "even as in their eyes." MEL emends by restoring "was" to give "even as he was in their eyes." . At the pronounced words and the spontaneous echo that voluminously rebounded them, Captain Vere, either thro through stoic self-control or a sort of momentary paralysis induced by emotional shock, stood erectly rigid as a musket in the ship-armorer's rack. The hull deliberatly deliberately recovering from the periodic roll to leeward was just regaining an even keel, when the last fatal death-signal (no comma in MS) signal, the last fatal death-signal] Originally in ink, HM inscribed "when the preconcerted fatal signal was given." In pencil he then revised by deleting "fatal sign" and adding "signal." Deleting "signal" he then inserted "death-signal a" earlier in the sentence, intending to place it after "when the" and before "preconcerted" (inadvertently placing his insertion caret between "when" and "the"). He then deleted "death-" and added "fatal" but quickly deleted "fatal," adding "last" to give "when the last signal a preconcerted." However, HM seems to have restored "fatal death-" so that the final reading is "the last fatal death-signal." HS and NN do not acknowledge the restoration and print the former reading. MEL acknowledges the restoration and prints the latter. All three supply a comma after "death-signal." a preconcerted dumb one (no comma in MS) one, was given. At the same moment it chanced that the vapory fleece hanging low in the East, (comma in MS) East East] MEL removes the comma after "East," a remnant of a two-line deletion. was shot thro through with a soft glory as of the fleece of the Lamb of God seen in mystical vision and Simultaniously simultaneously therewith, watched by the wedged mass of upturned faces, Billy ascended; and, ascending, took the full rose of the dawn. In the pinioned figure, arrived at the yard-end, to the wonder of all [no comma] all, no motion was apparent [no comma] apparent, none–save that created by the ship's motion. motion, ship's motion,] The pencil addition of "ship's motion"—replacing "slow roll of the hull,"—is followed by a period. HM also placed pencil brackets around his "in moderate weather ... ponderously-cannoned" phrase, as if to reposition it; however, he changed his mind. (See following note.) MEL changes the period after "ship's motion" to a comma and retains the bracketed phrase following it. in moderate weather so majestic in a great ship ponderously-cannoned.in moderate ... ponderously-cannoned] See the MS thumbnail for more details of the various (and uncompleted) revisions to this phrase and its leaf. HM bracketed this phrase and wrote a note to move it to the previous page. He then erased the note but did not delete the brackets. Presumably HM meant to restore the phrase in its original position. MEL retains the phrase, with the exception of the brackets.