I could see from the old fellow’s self-satisfied air and the way in which he looked round for the approval of his cronies that he was “showing off,” so I put in a word to keep him going.
“Oh, Mr. Swales, you can’t be serious. Surely these tombstones are not all wrong?”
“Yabblins! There may be a poorish few not wrong, savin’ where they make out the people too good, for there be folk that do think a balm-bowl be like the sea, if only it be their own. The whole thing be only lies. Now look you here. You come here a stranger, an’ you see this kirkgarth.”
I nodded, for I thought it better to assent, though I did not quite understand his dialect. I knew it had something to do with the church.
He went on, “And you consate that all these steans be aboon folk that be haped here, snod an’ snog?” I assented again. “Then that be just where the lie comes in. Why, there be scores of these laybeds that be toom as old Dun’s ’baccabox on Friday night.”
He nudged one of his companions, and they all laughed. “And, my gog! How could they be otherwise? Look at that one, the aftest abaft the bier-bank, read it!”
I went over and read, “Edward Spencelagh, master mariner, murdered by pirates off the coast of Andres, April, 1854, age 30.” When I came back Mr. Swales went on,
“Who brought him home, I wonder, to hap him here? Murdered off the coast of Andres! An’ you consated his body lay under! Why, I could name ye a dozen whose bones lie in the Greenland seas above,” he pointed northwards, “or where the currants may have drifted them. There be the steans around ye. Ye can, with your young eyes, read the small print of the lies from here. This Braithwaite Lowery, I knew his father, lost in the Lively off Greenland in ’20, or Andrew Woodhouse, drowned in the same seas in 1777, or John Paxton, drowned off Cape Farewell a year later, or old John Rawlings, whose grandfather sailed with me, drowned in the Gulf of Finland in ’50. Do ye think that all these men will have to make a rush to Whitby when the trumpet sounds? I have me antherums aboot it! I tell ye that when they got here they’d be jommlin’ and jostlin’ one another that way that it ’ud be like a fight up on the ice in the old days, when we’d be at one another from daylight to dark, an’ tryin’ to tie up our cuts by the aurora borealis.” This was evidently local pleasantry, for the old man cackled over it, and his cronies joined in with gusto.