“And now, Dansker, do tell me what you think of it.”The old man, shoving up the front of his tarpaulin and deliberately rubbing the long slant scar at the point where it entered the thin hair, laconically said, “Baby Budd, Jemmy Legs is down on you.””Jemmy Legs!” ejaculated Billy, his welkin eyes expanding. “What for? Why, he calls me ‘the sweet and pleasant young fellow,’ they tell me.””Does he so?” grinned the grizzled one; then said, “Ay, Baby lad, a sweet voice has Jemmy Legs.””No, not always. But to me he has. I seldom pass him but there comes a pleasant word.””And that’s because he’s down upon you, Baby Budd.”

This passage occurs in Chapter 9, when Billy, baffled about why he seems to be having so many problems on the ship, asks the Dansker for advice, and receives the old sailor’s warning that Claggart (called “Jemmy Legs” by the men) is his enemy. The quote is important because it represents Billy’s first hint that there could be a discrepancy between someone’s actions and intentions—in other words, that Claggart could treat him with “a sweet voice” and still hate him. Billy’s baffled reaction to the Dansker’s world-weary advice shows the depth of his innocence: whereas most people mistrust each other simply out of habit, it seems almost impossible for Billy not to trust Claggart. Billy also shows that even though he has the ability to perceive evil, he cannot conceive of the possibility that someone could treat him kindly and wish him harm at the same time. In fact, the narrator goes on to note that Billy becomes almost as troubled by the Dansker’s replies as he is by the unexplained mystery of his trouble on the ship, indicating further that Billy cannot delve beneath the surface to interpret meaning.