Chapters 23-24 Summary
Last Updated on February 21, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 431
Captain Vere personally communicates to Billy the decision of the court. Although the conversation is confidential, based on the personalities of both individuals, we can speculate about what might have occurred.
It is probable that Vere would be completely honest and might even acknowledge his own involvement in the verdict. Billy would be pleased to hear this and would interpret it as a sign that Vere trusts and values him. After their conversation, it's possible that Captain Vere, who usually keeps his emotions in check, would allow himself to feel a paternal fondness for Billy.
When Vere leaves the cabin where Billy is being held after the interview, the senior lieutenant notices that Vere seems to be experiencing more pain than the man who has been sentenced to death.
It's been less than an hour since Claggart accused Billy, but in that brief period, Captain Vere has already held a trial, found Billy guilty, and informed him of his punishment. This rapid sequence of events has caused the crew to become suspicious, as rumors spread quickly on a ship like a warship, which is akin to a small community. Therefore, when the crew is summoned to the deck for an announcement, they are not surprised.
The deck is illuminated by a full moon, except for the areas shaded by objects and people, and the sea is calm. The marine guard, armed and in formation, is positioned on both sides of the quarter deck. Vere, the captain, stands in the middle with his wardroom officers, displaying his dominant position. He informs everyone that the master-at-arms is dead, that Billy Budd was accused, tried, and sentenced to death, and that the execution would occur during the early morning watch. Interestingly, Captain Vere never uses the word "mutiny."
At the conclusion of Vere's speech, there is a sound of uncertain voices that is rapidly silenced by high-pitched whistles from the boatswain and his assistants. Subsequently, the body of the master-at-arms is ceremoniously buried at sea with appropriate military customs. They make sure to strictly adhere to protocol, as any deviation could lead to unwanted assumptions and speculation.
Because of this, any form of communication between Vere and Billy Budd has ceased, and Billy, who has been sentenced to death, is now going through the usual preparations before his execution. The crew is being given the impression that nothing out of the ordinary is happening, so there are no additional measures being taken. The sentry assigned to guard Billy has been instructed to only allow the chaplain to speak with him and no one else.