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Billy Budd, Foretopman
by [?]

‘Well,’ said the lieutenant, who had listened with amused interest to all this, and now waxing merry with his tipple, ‘well, blessed are the peacemakers, especially the fighting peacemakers! And such are the seventy-four beauties, some of which you see poking their noses out of the port-holes of yonder warship lying-to for me,’ pointing through the cabin windows at the Indomitable. ‘But courage! don’t look so downhearted, man. Why, I pledge you in advance the royal approbation. Rest assured that His Majesty will be delighted to know that in time when his hardtack is not sought for by sailors with such avidity as should be; a time also when some shipmasters privily resent the borrowing from them of a tar or two for the service; His Majesty, I say, will be delighted to learn that oneshipmaster at least cheerfully surrenders to the king the flower of his flock, a sailor who with equal loyalty makes no dissent. But where’s my beauty? Ah,’ looking through the cabin’s open door, ‘here he comes; and, by Jove! lugging along his chest—Apollo with his portmanteau! My man,’ stepping out to him, ‘you can’t take that big box aboard a warship. The boxes there are mostly shot-boxes. Put your duds in a bag, lad. Boot and saddle for the cavalryman, bag and hammock for the man-of-war’s man. ’

The transfer from chest to bag was made. And, after seeing his man into the cutter, and then following him down, the lieutenant pushed off from the Rights-of-Man. That was the merchant ship’s name; though by her master and crew abbreviated in sailor fashion into the Rights. The hard-headed Dundee owner was a staunch admirer of Thomas Paine, whose book in rejoinder to Burke’s arraignment of the French Revolution had then been published for some time, and had gone everywhere. In christening his vessel after the title of Paine’s volume, the man of Dundee was something like his contemporary shipowner, Stephen Girard of Philadelphia, whose sympathies alike with his native land and its liberal philosophies he evinced by naming his ships after Voltaire, Diderot, and so forth.

But now when the boat swept under the merchantman’s stern, and officer and oarsmen were noting, some bitterly and others with a grin, the name emblazoned there; just then it was that the new recruit jumped up from the bow where the coxswain had directed him to sit, and, waving his hat to his silent shipmates sorrowfully looking over at him from the taffrail, bade the lads a genial goodbye. Then making a salutation as to the ship herself, ‘And goodbye to you too, old Rights-of-Man!’

‘Down, sir,’ roared the lieutenant, instantly assuming all the rigour of his rank, though with difficulty repressing a smile.

To be sure, Billy’s action was a terrible breach of naval decorum. But in that decorum he had never been instructed; in consideration of which the lieutenant would hardly have been so energetic in reproof but for the concluding farewell to the ship. This he rather took as meant to convey a covert sally on the new recruit’s part, a sly slur at impressment in general, and that of himself in especial. And yet, more likely, if satire it was in effect, it was hardly so by intention, for Billy, though happily endowed with the gaiety of high health, youth and a free heart, was yet by no means of a satirical turn. The will to it and the sinister dexterity were alike wanting. To deal in double meaning and insinuations of any sort was quite foreign to his nature.

As to his enforced enlistment, that he seemed to take pretty much as he was wont to take any vicissitudes of weather. Like the animals, though no philosopher he was, without knowing it, practically a fatalist. And it may be that he rather liked this adventurous turn in his affairs which promised an opening into novel scenes and martial excitements.