Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version
Chapters 15 -18
One warm night, Billy is awakened by someone who asks him to quietly slip into the forechains for a little talk. Billy is suspicious, but he sleepily follows, for he cannot say no to anyone. Concealed in the forechains overhanging the sea, the stranger, possibly an afterguard who Billy hardly knows, proposes to Billy that since he has been pressed into service he may want to help in a mutiny; he tempts Billy by holding up two pieces of money. Billy, stuttering wildly, springs to his feet and tells the man to get back where he belongs, or he will toss him over the rail for his tyranny. The stranger escapes. Billy then quiets the others by saying the afterguardsman was out of his territory.
Having never been approached in such a manner, Billy is completely puzzled by the incident and cannot get it off his mind. He watches his "suspect" in the light of day, but is never certain if he has chosen the correct man. Then the fellow he suspects acknowledges him on deck one day, which really confuses Billy. One night Billy tells Dansker about the incident. Dansker immediately realizes that the master-at-arms has been a part of the temptation and says that Claggart must be really down on Billy. He will then say no more. For Billy, Dansker is as obscure as a Delphic oracle.
Billy is more perplexed than ever; he cannot believe that Claggart has anything to do with the afterguard, for he has no experience with the twisted workings of evil. Billy has always been straightforward himself and has been treated that way by other sailors and naval officers; but Claggart is not a typical sailor. He has not been a seaman for long, and his criminal past probably influences him more that anything does aboard ship.
The small incidents against Billy stop, and Claggart is nicer than ever. When Claggart watches Billy from a distance, he is almost tearful; but then his face turns into anger. Billy notices Claggart's expressions, but innocence blinds him to their meanings; he just thinks Claggart is "rather queer at times."
One day The Indomitable sails far from the British fleet in order to do a bit of scouting. They encounter a French frigate, but lose the chase. As Captain Vere walks the deck after the incident, he notices Claggart, who stands in an attitude of expectancy, as if he wanted to speak. Vere finds Claggart's eagerness unusual, because the master-at-arms is usually negative and aloof. In fact, Vere finds most things about Claggart distasteful and has not tried to get to know him. He does, however, grant Claggart permission to speak.
Claggart intelligently explains that a certain sailor is covertly stirring up trouble. Vere does not totally trust Claggart and is annoyed when he does not use the word "impressed" to describe the men who are susceptible to mutiny; but Claggart's suggestion of mutiny cannot be ignored. In truth, the discussion greatly disturbs Vere, who well knows the results of the Nore Mutiny's rage on the commander of that ship. Vere, however, refuses to show the depth of his concern to the untrustworthy Claggart, but he does ask the name of the suspected sailor. Claggart names Billy.