Notes of a Journey From Cornhill to Grand Cairo, by William Makepeace Thackeray

Chapter 9

The White Squall

On deck, beneath the awning, I dozing lay and yawning; It was the grey of dawning, Ere yet the sun arose; And above the funnel’s roaring, And the fitful wind’s deploring, I heard the cabin snoring With universal nose. I could hear the passengers snorting, I envied their disporting: Vainly I was courting The pleasure of a doze.

So I lay, and wondered why light Came not, and watched the twilight And the glimmer of the skylight, That shot across the deck; And the binnacle pale and steady, And the dull glimpse of the dead-eye, And the sparks in fiery eddy, That whirled from the chimney neck: In our jovial floating prison There was sleep from fore to mizen, And never a star had risen The hazy sky to speck.

Strange company we harboured; We’d a hundred Jews to larboard, Unwashed, uncombed, uubarbered, Jews black, and brown, and grey; With terror it would seize ye, And make your souls uneasy, To see those Rabbis greasy, Who did nought but scratch and pray: Their dirty children pucking, Their dirty saucepans cooking, Their dirty fingers hooking Their swarming fleas away.

To starboard Turks and Greeks were, Whiskered, and brown their cheeks were, Enormous wide their breeks were, Their pipes did puff alway; Each on his mat allotted, In silence smoked and squatted, Whilst round their children trotted In pretty, pleasant play. He can’t but smile who traces The smiles on those brown faces, And the pretty prattling graces Of those small heathens gay.

And so the hours kept tolling, And through the ocean rolling, Went the brave “Iberia” bowling Before the break of day — When a SQUALL upon a sudden Came o’er the waters scudding; And the clouds began to gather, And the sea was lashed to lather, And the lowering thunder grumbled, And the lightning jumped and tumbled, And the ship, and all the ocean, Woke up in wild commotion.

Then the wind set up a howling, And the poodle-dog a yowling, And the cocks began a crowing, And the old cow raised a lowing, As she heard the tempest blowing; And fowls and geese did cackle, And the cordage and the tackle Began to shriek and crackle; And the spray dashed o’er the funnels, And down the deck in runnels; And the rushing water soaks all, From the seamen in the fo’ksal To the stokers, whose black faces Peer out of their bed-places; And the captain he was bawling, And the sailors pulling, hauling; And the quarter-deck tarpauling Was shivered in the squalling; And the passengers awaken, Most pitifully shaken; And the steward jumps up, and hastens For the necessary basins.

Then the Greeks they groaned and quivered, And they knelt, and moaned, and shivered, As the plunging waters met them, And splashed and overset them; And they call in their emergence Upon countless saints and virgins; And their marrowbones are bended, And they think the world is ended.

And the Turkish women for’ard Were frightened and behorror’d; And, shrieking and bewildering, The mothers clutched their children; The men sung, “Allah Illah! Mashallah Bismillah!”

As the warring waters doused them, And splashed them and soused them; And they called upon the Prophet, And thought but little of it.

Then all the fleas in Jewry Jumped up and bit like fury; And the progeny of Jacob Did on the main-deck wake up (I wot those greasy Rabbins Would never pay for cabins); And each man moaned and jabbered in His filthy Jewish gaberdine, In woe and lamentation, And howling consternation. And the splashing water drenches Their dirty brats and wenches; And they crawl from bales and benches, In a hundred thousand stenches.

This was the White Squall famous Which latterly o’ercame us, And which all will well remember On the 28th September: When a Prussian Captain of Lancers (Those tight-laced, whiskered prancers) Came on the deck astonished, By that wild squall admonished, And wondering cried, “Potztausend! Wie ist der Sturm jetzt brausend!” And looked at Captain Lewis, Who calmly stood and blew his Cigar in all the bustle, And scorned the tempest’s tussle. And oft we’ve thought thereafter How he beat the storm to laughter; For well he knew his vessel With that vain wind could wrestle; And when a wreck we thought her And doomed ourselves to slaughter, How gaily he fought her, And through the hubbub brought her, And, as the tempest caught her, Cried, “GEORGE! SOME BRANDY-AND-WATER!”

And when, its force expended, The harmless storm was ended, And, as the sunrise splendid Came blushing o’er the sea; I thought, as day was breaking, My little girls were waking, And smiling, and making A prayer at home for me.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 19:07