Everything is for a term remarkable 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 blue-jackets. Their
knowledge followed it from ship to dock-yard and again from
dock-yard to ship, still pursuing it even when at last reduced to a
mere dock-yard boom. To them a chip of it was as a piece of the Cross.
Ignorant tho' 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 wilfull 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. Their impression of him was doubtless deepened by the fact
that he was gone, and in a measure mysteriously gone. At the time,
on the gun decks of the Indomitable, the general estimate of his
nature and its unconscious simplicity eventually found rude
utterance from another foretopman, one of his own watch, gifted, as
some sailors are, with an artless poetic temperament; the tarry
hands made some lines which after circulating among the shipboard crew
for a while, finally got rudely printed at Portsmouth as a ballad. The
title given to it was the sailor's.