The mysteriousness here became less mysterious through a matter of fact elicited when Billy, at the capstan, was being formally mustered into the service. Asked by the officer, a small brisk little gentleman, as it chanced among other questions, his place of birth, he replied, "Please, Sir, I don't know."
"Don't know where you were born?- Who was your father?"
"God knows, Sir."
Struck by the straightforward simplicity of these replies, the officer next asked, "Do you know anything about your beginning?"
"No, Sir. But I have heard that I was found in a pretty silklined basket hanging one morning from the knocker of a good man's door in Bristol."
"Found say you? Well," throwing back his head and looking up and down the new recruit, "well, it turns out to have been a pretty good find. Hope they'll find some more like you, my man; the fleet sadly needs them."
Yes, Billy Budd was a foundling, a presumable by-blow, and, evidently, no ignoble one. Noble descent was as evident in him as in a blood horse.
For the rest, with little or no sharpness of faculty or any trace of the wisdom of the serpent, nor yet quite a dove, he possessed that kind and degree of intelligence going along with the unconventional rectitude of a sound human creature, one to whom not yet has been proffered the questionable apple of knowledge . He was illiterate; he could not read, but he could sing, and like the illiterate nightingale was sometimes the composer of his own song.