Chapter 30

Everything is for a term venerated in navies. Any tangible object associated with some striking incident of the service, is converted into a monument. The spar from which the Foretopman was suspended, was for some few years kept trace of by the bluejackets. Their knowledges followed it from ship to dock-yard and again from dock-yard to ship, still pursuing it even when at last reduced to a
meer dock-yard boom. To them a chip of it was as a piece of the Cross. Ignorant though they were of the secret facts of the tragedy, and not thinking but that the penalty was somehow unavoidably inflicted from the naval point of view, for all that, they instinctively felt that Billy was a sort of man as incapable of mutiny as of wilful murder. They recalled the fresh young image of the Handsome Sailor, that face never deformed by a sneer or subtler vile freak of the heart within. This impression of him was doutless deepened by the fact that he was gone, and in a measure mysteriously gone. On the gun decks of the Indomitable the general estimate of his nature and its unconscious simplicity eventually found rude utterance from one of his own watch, another foretopman gifted, as some sailors are, with an artless poetic temperament. His tarry hand made some lines which after circulating among the shipboard crews for a while, finally got rudely printed at Portsmouth as a ballad. The title given to it was the sailor's.