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MonkeyNotes-Billy Budd by Herman Melville
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Chapters 26-29

During Billy's execution, the ship is very quiet. Then a murmur arises among the men and grows louder. Captain Vere, fearing that the sailors are revoking Billy's blessing upon him, orders the boatswain to pipe everyone down and put them quickly to work.

Billy is sewn into his coffin-hammock, with shot for ballast. Then a second all-hands on deck is called for the men to witness the burial. As Billy's body is slid into the sea, a second murmur from the men is heard. There is also screeching from large seafowl, who have flocked to the site; they fly very near the deck and then circle the place in the water where Billy goes down. This is Billy's requiem.

The men think that the appearance of the birds is a significant event and begin to stir about it. As a result, they are quickly drum- beat to their positions. Used to obeying orders, they move to their stations and make their reports, an hour earlier than usual. The men note that it is odd for Captain Vere to change a schedule or routine. By the time the band plays its usual morning tune and the chaplain says his morning prayer, it is full daylight, clean and fresh as uncut, polished marble.

Some days after the hanging, the purser asks the surgeon about the lack of movement in Billy's dying body, almost as if Billy's will power were in control of his physical being; there should have been muscular spasms. The surgeon admits that lack of movement is phenomenal, and he has never seen such stillness. The surgeon doesn't understand it; but he doesn't want to talk to the purser about it either. The purser suggests that Billy's death was actually a type of euthanasia. The surgeon finds this ridiculous and says that "euthanasia" and "will power" are not scientific terms. He then quickly takes his leave.


Not long after Billy's death, the Indomitable meets with a French ship, aptly named the Athee (Atheist). An engagement ensues, and when Captain Vere puts his ship alongside the French one, he is "hit with a musketball from a porthole of the enemy's main cabin." The senior lieutenant takes command, and the French ship is captured. Captain Vere and the other wounded are taken ashore at Gibraltar, where Vere dies after a few days. As the attendant watches Vere's last hours, he notes the captain murmuring, "Billy Budd, Billy Budd," but not quite in remorse. Perplexed, the attendant tells this to the senior officer of the marines, who understands the allusion all too well.

A few weeks later, a naval chronicle prints an account of the events aboard the Indomitable. Although written in good faith, it is the result of some horribly twisted rumor. The story places Claggart as the tragic victim of a mutinous ringleader, one William Budd. It further suggests that Budd was no Englishman, but an impostor. The article goes on to say that Claggart was a respectable and patriotic servant of the crown, stabbed to death right in front of the captain while trying to arraign the mutinous criminal Budd. Budd was justly hung, and all is now well aboard the ship.

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MonkeyNotes-Billy Budd by Herman Melville
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