Presently he was stirred into semiconsciousness by somebody, who must have previously
sounded the sleep of the others, touching his shoulder, and then, as the foretopman raised his
head, breathing into his ear in a quick whisper, "Slip into the lee forechains, Billy; there is
something in the wind. Don't speak. Quick, I will meet you there," and disappeared.
Now Billy, like sundry other essentially good-natured ones, had some of the weaknesses
inseparable from essential good nature, and among these was a reluctance, almost an
incapacity, of plumply saying no to an abrupt proposition not obviously absurd on the face of
it, nor obviously unfriendly, nor iniquitous. And being of warm blood he had not the phlegm
tacitly to negative any proposition by unresponsive inaction. Like his sense of fear, his
apprehension as to aught outside of the honest and natural was seldom very quick. Besides,
upon the present occasion, the drowse from his sleep still hung upon him.
However it was, he mechanically rose, and, sleepily wondering what could be in the wind,
betook himself to the designated place, a narrow platform, one of six, outside of the high
bulwarks and screened by the great deadeyes and multiple columned lanyards of the shrouds
and backstays, and, in a great warship of that time, of dimensions commensurate to the hull's
magnitude, a tarry balcony in short overhanging the sea, and so secluded that one mariner of
, a nonconformist old tar of a serious turn, made it even in daytime his private
In this retired nook the stranger soon joined Billy Budd. There was no moon as yet; a haze
obscured the starlight. He could not distinctly see the stranger's face. Yet from something in
the outline and carriage, Billy took him to be, and correctly, one of the after-guard.
"Hist! Billy," said the man in the same quick cautionary whisper as before; "you were
impressed, weren't you? Well, so was I," and he paused, as to mark the effect. But Billy, not
knowing exactly what to make of this, said nothing. Then the other: "We are not the only
impressed ones, Billy. There's a gang of us.--Couldn't you--help--at a pinch?"
"What do you mean?" demanded Billy, here thoroughly shaking off his drowse.
"Hist, hist!" the hurried whisper now growing husky, "see here"--and the man held up two