Ninguém conseguiu em número de linhas tão reduzido e com tão poucas personagens retratar um momento revolucionário como Herman Melville no cap. XX do Billy Budd. Claggart (o Mestre d’Armas) representa ali o poder desvirtuado e arbitrário. Billy, que vem de um navio com o nome do panfleto de Tom Paine (“As to Billy’s adieu to the ship Rights-of-Man” [Cap. XIX])- para ali no Indomitable se ver injustamente acusado, o povo. O capitão Vere, a outra face (justa, formada e informada) do poder – em tudo contrária à de Claggart. Veja-se o seu curto bosquejo no cap. VII:
“Aside from his qualities as a sea-officer, Captain Vere was an exceptional character. Unlike no few of England’s renowned sailors, long and arduous service with signal devotion to it, had not resulted in absorbing and salting the entire man. He had a marked leaning toward everything intellectual. He loved books, never going to sea without a newly replenished library, compact but of the best. The isolated leisure, in some cases so wearisome, falling at intervals to commanders even during a war-cruise, never was tedious to Captain Vere. With nothing of that literary taste which less heeds the thing conveyed than the vehicle, his bias was toward those books to which every serious mind of superior order occupying any active post of authority in the world naturally inclines; books treating of actual men and events no matter of what era — history, biography and unconventional writers, who, free from cant and convention, like Montaigne, honestly and in the spirit of common sense philosophize upon realities.”
Lembrei-me hoje desta passagem ao ler isto. Os realces deste trecho (ou momento revolucionário) do cap. XX são meus:
“Now when the Foretopman found himself closeted there, as it were, in the cabin with the Captain and Claggart, he was surprised enough. But it was a surprise unaccompanied by apprehension or distrust. To an immature nature essentially honest and humane, forewarning intimations of subtler danger from one’s kind come tardily if at all. The only thing that took shape in the young sailor’s mind was this: Yes, the Captain, I have always thought, looks kindly upon me. Wonder if he’s going to make me his coxswain. I should like that. And maybe now he is going to ask the Master-at-arms about me.
“Shut the door there, sentry,” said the Commander; “stand without, and let nobody come in. — Now, Master-at-arms, tell this man to his face what you told of him to me”; and stood prepared to scrutinize the mutually confronting visages.
With the measured step and calm collected air of an asylum-physician approaching in the public hall some patient beginning to show indications of a coming paroxysm, Claggart deliberately advanced within short range of Billy, and mesmerically looking him in the eye, briefly recapitulated the accusation.
Not at first did Billy take it in. When he did, the rose-tan of his cheek looked struck as by white leprosy. He stood like one impaled and gagged. Meanwhile the accuser’s eyes removing not as yet from the blue dilated ones, underwent a phenomenal change, their wonted rich violet color blurring into a muddy purple. Those lights of human intelligence losing human expression, gelidly protruding like the alien eyes of certain uncatalogued creatures of the deep. The first mesmeric glance was one of serpent fascination; the last was as the hungry lurch of the torpedo-fish.
“Speak, man!” said Captain Vere to the transfixed one, struck by his aspect even more than by Claggart’s, “Speak! defend yourself.” Which appeal caused but a strange dumb gesturing and gurgling in Billy; amazement at such an accusation so suddenly sprung on inexperienced nonage; this, and, it may be, horror of the accuser, serving to bring out his lurking defect and in this instance for the time intensifying it into a convulsed tongue-tie; while the intent head and entire form straining forward in an agony of ineffectual eagerness to obey the injunction to speak and defend himself, gave an expression to the face like that of a condemned Vestal priestess in the moment of being buried alive, and in the first struggle against suffocation.
Though at the time Captain Vere was quite ignorant of Billy’s liability to vocal impediment, he now immediately divined it, since vividly Billy’s aspect recalled to him that of a bright young schoolmate of his whom he had once seen struck by much the same startling impotence in the act of eagerly rising in the class to be foremost in response to a testing question put to it by the master. Going close up to the young sailor, and laying a soothing hand on his shoulder, he said, “There is no hurry, my boy. Take your time, take your time.” Contrary to the effect intended, these words so fatherly in tone, doubtless touching Billy’s heart to the quick, prompted yet more violent efforts at utterance — efforts soon ending for the time in confirming the paralysis, and bringing to his face an expression which was as a crucifixion to behold. The next instant, quick as the flame from a discharged cannon at night, his right arm shot out, and Claggart dropped to the deck. Whether intentionally or but owing to the young athlete’s superior height, the blow had taken effect fully upon the forehead, so shapely and intellectual-looking a feature in the Master-at-arms; so that the body fell over lengthwise, like a heavy plank tilted from erectness. A gasp or two, and he lay motionless.
“Fated boy,” breathed Captain Vere in tone so low as to be almost a whisper, “what have you done! But here, help me.”
The twain raised the felled one from the loins up into a sitting position. The spare form flexibly acquiesced, but inertly. It was like handling a dead snake.”