Cornish Saints and Sinners: Two Ancient Mariners

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The Tale of Two Cornish Mariners
by J. Henry Harris

T W O  A N C I E N T

Cornish Diamonds

Two ancient mariners, who hailed from Cornwall, once found themselves stranded in the port of London, with little but what they stood upright in. They were young men and merry-hearted, and stood by each other in fair whether or foul, as shipmates should. They hailed from the same fishing village, and wished to be home during the feast week, which was near at hand. Failing to find a coasting vessel bound west, they started to walk. As they walked, part of their plan was to take it in turns to call at gentlemen's houses and ask for assistance. They preferred not to go to the same house together, but to leave one on the lookout, in case of hostilities. They got on well enough for some days, sleeping where they could and telling the yarns of peril and disaster they thought most likely to melt the hearts of hearers.

They came to a great gentleman's house, and it was Tommy Hingston's turn to go in, and Bill Baron's to watch outside. Tommy went up, as bold as brass, and asked for the gentleman, who was at home, and received him very kindly; and when he found he had come from London, he asked him for the latest news. "There's fine news, sure enough," says Tom.
"Then let me have it, my man."
"Haven't 'ee heard it, your honour? Haven't 'ee heard that London was as black as night at noon-day?"
"Most remarkable," said the gentleman, "and can you tell me what caused the darkness?"
"Certain sure I can. A monstrous great bird flew over the town, and shut out the sun with its wings."
"That is astonishing. And did you hear anything else?"
"Yes, they've a-turned Smithfield Market into a kitchen, and all the people are to be fed white pudding."
"You really mean it?"
"I tasted it, your honour," replied Tom.
"And was there anything else worthy of notice?" Tom scratched his head. "There was something else," he added, in a sort of hardly-worth-talking about style. "The River Thames catched on fire."
"Ah," said the gentleman, rising and ringing the bell, "and I have catched a rank imposter and, being a magistrate, will commit you forthwith to prison as a rogue and a vagabond."

Billy Baron was keeping watch outside and, as his mate did not return, he grew uneasy. By-and-by he marched up and "faced the brass knocker", and was brought before the gentleman, who was now writing out a committal order, and Tom he saw standing, bolt upright, by the side of another who had charge of him.

Billy was a softhearted man, and burst into tears. Then the gentleman told Billy, in very straight terms, what he thought of his mate - a lying imposter, whom he was sending to prison.
"Never!" said Billy, firmly. "I'll lay my life on him."
"Very well, then. Tell me, did you see a great bird fly over London, so large as to hide the light of the sun with its wings?"
"No, sir," replied Billy. "I didn't see the bird, but I seed four horses dragging an egg, which people said a great bird had laid."
"You are a truthful man," said the gentleman.
"I hope so," said Billy, with one eye on his mate.
"I hope so, too. Then tell me did you eat some white pudding at Smithfield Market?"
"No, I didn't, your honour, but I seed a store of girt big horn spoons."
"He told me something else, and I'm sure you'll answer truthfully. He told me he saw the River Thames on fire."
"However could 'ee have said that, Tom?" blurted out Billy, reproachfully. "He never seed the river on fire, but what we did see was wagon and wagon-loads of fish carted away with burnt fins and tails."
"And they would have been taken from the burning river?"
"I do not doubt it; but, mind, I didn't see it," said Billy, with the air of a martyr to the truth.

The gentleman, no longer able to contain himself, sent Tom and Billy down to the kitchen, and gave them the best "blow out" they had on their journey. And, when they left, he told them, by way of a compliment, that they were "real Cornish diamonds, and the best pair of liars" he had ever known.

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Edited from "Cornish Saints & Sinners" (1906)  (T) 302.234.8904    (F) 302.234.9154    Copyright 2000, LLC