Jiffynotes index page

\\ home \ Billy Budd:
Chapter 18

An event happens that gives Claggart the opportunity to take action against Billy. The Bellipotent was a quicker ship that most in the British navy, and therefore it was used sometimes as a scouting ship. Another reason was that the admiral of the navy trusted Captain Vere with making important decisions on the fly. This particular scouting mission took them far away from the rest of the fleet, and they happened to run across a small frigate of the enemy. The enemy ship saw that they were outgunned and quickly turned to run away. The Bellipotent tried to catch up with it, but the smaller ship was just too quick. In the disappointment following the failed pursuit, Claggart saw his chance to blame Billy, as if he were somehow responsible for slowing the Bellipotent down enough to allow the enemy frigate to escape.
Claggart stood with cap in hand by the mainmast, a spot designated for lesser officers to request an interview with the captain. Captain Vere was walking around, somewhat annoyed at the frigate's escape, when he saw Claggart. He didn't know much about Claggart, but there was something about him that Vere did not like. Vere asked Claggart what his business was about, and Claggart then began a lengthy explanation that there was a dangerous man aboard. Vere saw right through Claggart's pretentious speech and told him to speak more directly. Claggart then said that he suspected there was a mutiny being planned by this dangerous man, and the escape of the enemy frigate confirmed this to him. Now that Claggart had Vere's full attention, he said "God forbid, your honor, that the Bellipotent's should be the experience of the _____." Claggart was about to name the ship of the Nore mutiny, on which its captain almost lost his life. Vere abruptly stopped Claggart from finishing his sentence, and he was terribly irritated that Claggart, a lower officer, would even dare to bring up the mutiny in such an insulting manner.
Then Vere calmed down a bit and came to the conclusion that things were probably not as bad as the hypersensitive Claggart would have him believe. But Vere knew that he couldn't let the matter go uninvestigated, and so he asked Claggart who the dangerous man was. When Claggart said that it was Billy Budd, Vere was shocked. Then Claggart said that it was clear from the beginning that Billy would be trouble because he stood up and waved at his former crew when he was impressed. Even as that act was a breach of naval conduct, Vere actually admired Billy for being so cheerful about his sudden and involuntary enlistment. And Vere congratulated Lieutenant Ratcliffe for finding such a handsome young man who ended up being so popular with the other sailors. Vere even thought that he would promote Billy for a post that was more suited for his youthful athleticism. Given his high opinion of Billy, Vere was upset that Claggart came to him with such a flimsy argument and told him to support his claim with facts, under penalty of death for lying. Claggart then brought up the things that Squeak reported to him that Billy had said (which Claggart didn't know were lies).
Vere still didn't believe Claggart, and he wanted to settle the matter without involving the rest of the crew. Vere thought the best way to handle the situation was for the three of them to meet in his cabin and discuss the matter in private. Besides, the longer they talked on deck, the more attention they would draw to this situation, which Vere thought he could resolve in a few moments. It wasn't Billy's watch on the foretop at this time of the day. Vere therefore summoned Albert, his personal assistant, to find and bring Billy quietly to his cabin.

Browse all book notes

Historical Context
Main Characters
Points to Ponder
Did You Know
Plot Summary
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3 and 4
Chapter 5 and 6
Chapter 7 and 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10 and 11
Chapter 12 and 13
Chapter 14 and 15
Chapter 16 and 17
Chapter 18
Chapter 19 and 20
Chapter 21
Chapter 22 and 23
Chapter 24 and 25
Chapter 26 and 27
Chapter 28, 29, and 30


Copyright © 1999 - Jiffynotes.com. All Rights Reserved.
To cite information from this page, please cite the date when you
looked at our site and the author as Jiffynotes.com.
Privacy Statement