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
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
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
unanticipated coming from one with the ignominious hemp about his
a 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
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
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.
recovering from the periodic roll to leeward was just regaining an
even keel, when the last fatal death-signal (no comma in MS)
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
a preconcerted dumb
one (no comma in MS)
was given. At the same moment it chanced that the vapory fleece
hanging low in the
East, (comma in MS)
East] MEL removes the comma after
"East," a remnant of a two-line deletion. was shot
with a soft glory as of the fleece of the Lamb of God seen in mystical
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]
no motion was
apparent [no comma]
none–save that created by the ship's
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.