A Storm At Hastings, And The Little Unknown.

A poem by Thomas Hood

'Twas August - Hastings every day was filling -
Hastings, that "greenest spot on memory's waste"!
With crowds of idlers willing and unwilling
To be bedipped - be noticed - or be braced,
And all things rose a penny in a shilling.
Meanwhile, from window, and from door, in haste
"Accommodation bills" kept coming down,
Gladding "the world of-letters" in that town.

Each day poured in new coachfuls of new cits,
Flying from London smoke and dust annoying,
Unmarried Misses hoping to make hits,
And new-wed couples fresh from Tunbridge toying,
Lacemen and placemen, ministers and wits,
And Quakers of both sexes, much enjoying
A morning's reading by the ocean's rim,
That sect delighting in the sea's broad brim.

And lo! amongst all these appeared a creature,
So small, he almost might a twin have been
With Miss Crachami - dwarfish quite in stature,
Yet well proportioned - neither fat nor lean,
His face of marvellously pleasant feature,
So short and sweet a man was never seen -
All thought him charming at the first beginning -
Alas, ere long they found him far too winning!

He seemed in love with chance - and chance repaid
His ardent passion with her fondest smile,
The sunshine of good luck, without a shade,
He staked and won - and won and staked - the bile
It stirred of many a man and many a maid,
To see at every venture how that vile
Small gambler snatched - and how he won them too -
A living Pam, omnipotent at loo!

Miss Wiggins set her heart upon a box,
'Twas handsome rosewood, and inlaid with brass,
And dreamt three times she garnished it with stocks
Of needles, silks, and cottons - but, alas!
She lost it wide awake. We thought Miss Cox
Was lucky - but she saw three caddies pass
To that small imp; - no living luck could loo him!
Sir Stamford would have lost his Raffles to him!

And so he climbed - and rode - and won - and walked,
The wondrous topic of the curious swarm
That haunted the Parade. Many were balked
Of notoriety by that small form
Pacing it up and down: some even talked
Of ducking him - when lo! a dismal storm
Stopped in - one Friday, at the close of day -
And every head was turned another way -

Watching the grander guest. It seemed to rise
Bulky and slow upon the southern brink
Of the horizon - fanned by sultry sighs -
So black and threatening, I cannot think
Of any simile, except the skies
Miss Wiggins sometimes shades in Indian ink -
Mis-shapen blotches of such heavy vapor,
They seem a deal more solid than her paper.

As for the sea, it did not fret, and rave,
And tear its waves to tatters, and so dash on
The stony-hearted beach; - some bards would have
It always rampant, in that idle fashion -
Whereas the waves rolled in, subdued and grave,
Like schoolboys, when the master's in a passion,
Who meekly settle in and take their places,
With a very quiet awe on all their faces.

Some love to draw the ocean with a head,
Like troubled table-beer - and make it bounce,
And froth, and roar, and fling - but this, I've said,
Surged in scarce rougher than a lady's flounce:
But then, a grander contrast thus it bred
With the wild welkin, seeming to pronounce
Something more awful in the serious ear,
As one would whisper that a lion's near -

Who just begins to roar: so the hoarse thunder
Growled long - but low - a prelude note of death,
As if the stifling clouds yet kept it under,
But still it muttered to the sea beneath
Such a continued peal, as made us wonder
It did not pause more oft to take its breath,
Whilst we were panting with the sultry weather,
And hardly cared to wed two words together,

But watched the surly advent of the storm,
Much as the brown-cheeked planters of Barbadoes
Must watch a rising of the Negro swarm:
Meantime it steered, like Odin's old Armadas,
Right on our coast; - a dismal, coal-black form;
Many proud gaits were quelled - and all bravadoes
Of folly ceased - and sundry idle jokers
Went home to cover up their tongs and pokers.

So fierce the lightning flashed. In all their days
The oldest smugglers had not seen such flashing,
And they are used to many a pretty blaze,
To keep their Hollands from an awkward clashing
With hostile cutters in our creeks and bays:
And truly one could think, without much lashing
The fancy, that those coasting clouds, so awful
And black, were fraught with spirits as unlawful.

The gay Parade grew thin - all the fair crowd
Vanished - as if they knew their own attractions, -
For now the lightning through a near-hand cloud
Began to make some very crooked fractions -
Only some few remained that were not cowed,
A few rough sailors, who had been in actions,
And sundry boatmen, that with quick yeo's,
Lest it should blow, - were pulling up the Rose:

(No flower, but a boat) - some more were hauling
The Regent by the head: - another crew
With that same cry peculiar to their calling -
Were heaving up the Hope: - and as they knew
The very gods themselves oft get a mauling
In their own realms, the seamen wisely drew
The Neptune rather higher on the beach,
That he might lie beyond his billows' reach.

And now the storm, with its despotic power,
Had all usurped the azure of the skies,
Making our daylight darker by an hour,
And some few drops - of an unusual size -
Few and distinct - scarce twenty to the shower,
Fell like huge teardrops from a giant's eyes -
But then this sprinkle thickened in a trice
And rained much harder - in good solid ice.

Oh for a very storm of words to show
How this fierce crash of hail came rushing o'er us!
Handel would make the gusty organs blow
Grandly, and a rich storm in music score us: -
But ev'n his music seemed composed and low,
When we were handled by this Hailstone Chorus;
Whilst thunder rumbled, with its awful sound,
And frozen comfits rolled along the ground -

As big as bullets: - Lord! how they did batter
Our crazy tiles: - and now the lightning flashed
Alternate with the dark, until the latter
Was rarest of the two! - the gust too dashed
So terribly, I thought the hail must shatter
Some panes, - and so it did - and first it smashed
The very square where I had chose my station
To watch the general illumination.

Another, and another, still came in,
And fell in jingling ruin at my feet,
Making transparent holes that let me win
Some samples of the storm: - Oh! it was sweet
To think I had a shelter for my skin,
Culling them through these "loopholes of retreat" -
Which in a little we began to glaze -
Chiefly with a jacktowel and some baize!

But which, the cloud had passed o'erhead, but played
Its crooked fires in constant flashes still,
Just in our rear, as though it had arrayed
Its heavy batteries at Fairlight Mill,
So that it lit the town, and grandly made
The rugged features of the Castle Hill
Leap, like a birth, from chaos into light,
And then relapse into the gloomy night -

As parcel of the cloud; - the clouds themselves,
Like monstrous crags and summits everlasting,
Piled each on each in most gigantic shelves,
That Milton's devils were engaged in blasting.
We could e'en fancy Satan and his elves
Busy upon those crags, and ever casting
Huge fragments loose, - and that we felt the sound
They made in falling to the startled ground.

And so the tempest scowled away, - and soon
Timidly shining through its skirts of jet,
We saw the rim of the pacific moon,
Like a bright fish entangled in a net,
Flashing its silver sides, - how sweet a boon
Seemed her sweet light, as though it would beget,
With that fair smile, a calm upon the seas -
Peace in the sky - and coolness in the breeze!

Meantime the hail had ceased: - and all the brood
Of glaziers stole abroad to count their gains;
At every window there were maids who stood
Lamenting o'er the glass's small remains, -
Or with coarse linens made the fractions good,
Stanching the wind in all the wounded panes, -
Or, holding candles to the panes, in doubt
The wind resolved - blowing the candles out.

No house was whole that had a southern front, -
No greenhouse but the same mishap befell;
Bow-windows and bell-glasses bore the brunt, -
No sex in glass was spared! - For those who dwell
On each hill-side, you might have swum a punt
In any of their parlors; - Mrs. Snell
Was slopped out of her seat, - and Mr. Hitchin
Had a flower-garden washed into a Kitchen.

But still the sea was mild, and quite disclaimed
The recent violence. - Each after each
The gentle waves a gentle murmur framed,
Tapping, like woodpeckers, the hollow beach.
Howbeit his weather eye the seaman aimed
Across the calm, and hinted by his speech
A gale next morning - and when morning broke,
There was a gale - "quite equal to bespoke."

Before high water - (it were better far
To christen it not water then, but waiter,
For then the tide is serving at the bar)
Rose such a swell - I never saw one greater!
Black, jagged billows rearing up in war
Like ragged roaring bears against the baiter,
With lots of froth upon the shingle shed,
Like stout poured out with a fine beachy head.

No open boat was open to a fare,
Or launched that morn on seven-shilling trips;
No bathing woman waded - none would dare
A dipping in the wave - but waived their dips;
No seagull ventured on the stormy air,
And all the dreary coast was clear of ships;
For two lea shores upon the River Lea
Are not so perilous as one at sea.

Awe-struck we sat, and gazed upon the scene
Before us in such horrid hurly-burly, -
A boiling ocean of mixed black and green,
A sky of copper color, grim and surly, -
When lo, in that vast hollow scooped between
Two rolling Alps of water, - white and curly!
We saw a pair of little arms a-skimming,
Much like a first or last attempt at swimming!

Sometimes a hand - sometimes a little shoe -
Sometime a skirt - sometimes a hank of hair
Just like a dabbled seaweed rose to view,
Sometimes a knee - sometimes a back was bare -
At last a frightful summerset he threw
Right on the shingles. Any one could swear
The lad was dead - without a chance of perjury,
And battered by the surge beyond all surgery!

However, we snatched up the corse thus thrown,
Intending, Christian-like, to sod and turf it,
And after venting Pity's sigh and groan,
Then curiosity began with her fit;
And lo! the features of the Small Unknown!
'Twas he that of the surf had had this surfeit!
And in his fob, the cause of late monopolies,
We found a contract signed with Mephistopheles!

A bond of blood, whereby the sinner gave
His forfeit soul to Satan in reversion,
Providing in this world he was to have
A lordship over luck, by whose exertion
He might control the course of cards and brave
All throws of dice, - but on a sea excursion
The juggling demon, in his usual vein,
Seized the last cast - and Nicked him in the main!

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