WHAT laws are used among this hellish crew, what words and terms they give themselves and their copesmates, are at large set down in the former two books: let it suffice ye then in this, to read the simple true discourses of such as have by extraordinary cunning and treachery been deceived, and remembering their subtle means there, and sly practices here, be prepared against the reaches of any such companions.
Not long since, a crew of cony-catchers meeting together, and in conference laying down such courses as they severally should take, to shun suspect, and return a common benefit among them: the carders received their charge, the dicers theirs, the hangers about the court theirs, the followers of sermons theirs, and so the rest to their offices. But one of them especially, who at their wonted meetings, when report was made how every purchase was gotten, and by what policy each one prevailed: this fellow in a kind of priding scorn, would usually say, In faith masters, these things are prettily done, common sleights, expressing no deep reach of wit, and I wonder men are so simple to be so beguiled. I would fain see some rare artificial feat indeed, that some admiration and fame might ensue the doing thereof: I promise ye, I disdain these base and petty paltries, and may my fortune jump with my resolution, ye shall hear my boys within a day or two, that I will accomplish a rare stratagem indeed, of more value than forty of yours, and when it is done shall carry some credit with it. They wondering at his words desired to see the success of them, and so dispersing themselves as they were accustomed, left this frolic fellow pondering on his affairs. A citizen's house in London, which he had diligently eyed and aimed at for a fortnight's space, was the place wherein he must perform this exploit, and having learned one of the servant maid's name of the house, as also where she was born and her kindred: Upon a Sunday in the afternoon, when it was her turn to attend on her master and mistress to the garden in Finsbury fields, to regard the children while they sported about, this crafty mate having duly watched their coming forth, and seeing that they intended to go down S. Laurence lane, stepped before them, ever casting an eye back, least they should turn some contrary way. But their following still fitting his own desire, near unto the Conduit in Aldermanbury, he crossed the way and came unto the maid, and kissing her said: Cousin Margaret, I am very glad to see you well, my uncle your father, and all your friends in the country are in good health God be praised. The maid hearing herself named, and not knowing the man, modestly blushed, which he perceiving, held way on with her amongst her fellow apprentices, and thus began again. I see cousin you know me not, and I do not greatly blame you, it is so long since you came forth of the country: but I am such a one's son, naming her Uncle right, and his son's name, which she very well remembered, but had not seen him in eleven years. Then taking forth a bowed groat, and an old penny bowed, he gave it her as being sent from her uncle and aunt, whom he termed to be his father and mother: Withal (quoth he) I have a gammon of bacon and a cheese from my uncle your father, which are sent to your master and mistress, which I received of the carrier, because my uncle enjoined me to deliver them, when I must entreat your mistress, that at Whitsuntide next she will give you leave to come down into the country. The maid thinking simply all he said was true, and as they so far from their parents, are not only glad to hear of their welfare, but also rejoice to see any of their kindred: so this poor maid, well knowing her uncle had a son so named as he called himself, and thinking from a boy, (as he was at her leaving the country) he was now grown such a proper handsome young man, was not a little joyful to see him: beside, she seemed proud that her kinsman was so neat a youth, and so she held on questioning with him about her friends: he soothing each matter so cunningly, as the maid was confidently persuaded of him. In this time, one of the children stepped to her mother and said, Our Margaret (mother) hath a fine cousin come out of the country, and he hath a cheese for my father and you: whereon she looking back, said: maid, is that your kinsman? Yea forsooth mistress, quoth she, my uncle's son, whom I left a litle one when I came forth of the country.
The wily treacher, being master of his trade, would not let slip this opportunity, but courteously stepping to the mistress, (who loving her maid well, because indeed she had been a very good servant, and from her first coming to London had dwelt with her, told her husband thereof) coined such a smooth tale unto them both, fronting it with the gammon of bacon and the cheese sent from their maid's father, and hoping they would give her leave at Whitsuntide to visit the country, as they with very kind words entertained him, inviting him the next night to supper, when he promised to bring with him the gammon of bacon and the cheese. Then framing an excuse of certain business in the town, for that time he took his leave of the master and mistress, and his new cousin Margaret, who gave many a look after him (poor wench) as he went, joying in her thoughts to have such a kinsman.
On the morrow he prepared a good gammon of bacon, which he closed up in a soiled linen cloth, and sewed an old card upon it, whereon he wrote a superscription unto the master of the maid, and at what sign it was to be delivered, and afterward scraped some of the letters half out, that it might seeme they had been rubbed out in the carriage. A good cheese he prepared likewise, with inscription accordingly on it, that it could not be discerned, but that some unskilful writer in the country had done it, both by the gross proportion of the letters, as also the bad orthography which amongst plain husbandmen is very common, in that they have no better instruction. So hiring a porter to carry them between five and six in the evening he comes to the citizen's house, and entering the shop, receives them of the porter, whom the honest meaning citizen would have payed for his pains, but this his maid's new-found cousin said he was satisfied already, and so straining courtesy would not permit him: well, up are carried the bacon and the cheese, where God knows, Margaret was not a little busy, to have all things fine and neat against her cousin's coming up, her mistress likewise, (as one well affecting her servant) had provided very good cheer, set all her plate on the cupboard for show, and beautified the house with cushions, carpets, stools and other devices of needlework, as at such times divers will do, to have the better report made of their credit amongst their servants' friends in the country, albeit at this time (God wot) it turned to their own after-sorrowing. The master of the house, to delay the time while supper was ready, he likewise shows this dissembler his shop, who seeing things fadge so pat to his purpose, could question of this sort, and that well enough I warrant you, to discern the best from the worst and their appointed places, purposing a further reach than the honest citizen dreamed of: and to be plain with ye, such was this occupier's trade, as though I may not name it, yet thus much I dare utter, that the worst thing he could carry away, was worth about 20 nobles, because he dealt altogeather in whole and great sale, which made this companion forge this kindred and acquaintance, for an hundred pound or twaine was the very least he aimed at. At length the mistress sends word supper is on the table, where upon up he conducts his guest, and after divers welcomes, as also thanks for the cheese and bacon: To the table they sit, where let it suffice, he wanted no ordinary good fare, wine and other knacks, beside much talk of the country, how much his friends were beholding for his cousin Margaret, to whom by her mistress leave he drank twice or thrice, and she poor soul doing the like again to him with remembrance of her father and other kindred, which he still smoothed very cunningly. Countenance of talk made them careless of the time, which slipped from them faster then they were aware of, nor did the deceiver hasten his departing, because he expected what indeed followed, which was, that being past ten of the clock, and he feigning his lodging to be at Saint Giles in the Field, was entreated both by the good man and his wife, to take a bed there for that night, for fashion sake (though very glad of this offer) he said he would not trouble them, but giving the many thanks, would to his lodging though it were further. But wonderful it was to see how earnest the honest citizen and his wife laboured to persuade him, that was more willing to stay then they could be to bid him, and what dissembled willingness of departure he used on the other side, to cover the secret villainy intended.
Well, at the length, with much ado, he is contented to stay, when Margaret and her mistress presently stirred to make ready his bed, which the more to the honest man's hard hap, but all the better for this artificial cony-catcher, was in the same room where they supped, being commonly called their hall, and there indeed stood a very fair bed, as in such sightly rooms it may easily be thought, citizens use not to have anything mean or simple. The mistress, lest her guest should imagine she distrusted him, suffered all the plate to stand still on the cupboard: and when she perceived his bed was warmed, and every thing else according to her mind, she and her husband bidding him good night: took themselves to their chamber, which was on the same floor, but inward, having another chamber between them and the hall, where the maids and children had their lodging. So desiring him to call for anything he wanted, and charging Margaret to look it should be so, to bed are they gone: when the apprentices having brought up the keys of the street door, and left them in their master's chamber as they were wont to do, after they had said prayers, their evening exercise, to bed go they likewise, which was in a Garret backward over their masters chamber. None are now up but poor Margaret and her counterfeit cozen, whom she loath to offend with long talk, because it waxed late: after some few more speeches, about their parents and friends in the country, she seeing him laid in bed, and all such things by him as she deemed needful, with a low courtesy I warrant ye, commits him to his quiet, and so went to bed to her fellows the maidservants. Well did this hypocrite perceive the keys of the doors carried into the good man's chamber, whereof he being not a little glad, thought now they would imagine all things sure, and therefore doubtless sleep the sounder: as for the keys, he needed no help of them, because such as he go never unprovided of instruments fitting their trade, and so at this time was this notable treacher. In the dead time of the night, when sound sleep makes the ear unapt to hear the very least noise, he forsaketh his bed, & having gotten all the plate bound up together in his cloak, goeth down into the shop, where well remembering both the place and percels, maketh up his pack with some twenty poundsworth of goods more. Then setling to his engine, he getteth the door off the hinges, and being forth, lifteth close to again, and so departs, meeting within a dozen paces, three or four of his companions that lurked therabouts for the purpose. Their word for knowing each other, as is said, was quest, and this villain's comfortable news to them, was twag, signifying he had sped: each takes a fleece for easier carriage, and so away to Bellbrow, which, as I have heard is as they interpret it, the house of a thief receiver, without which they can do nothing, and this house with an apt porter to it, stands ready for them all hours of the night: too many such are there in London, the masters whereof bear countenance of honest substantial men, but all their living is gotten in this order, the end of such (though they scape awhile) will be sailing westward in a cart to Tyburn. Imagine these villains there in their jollity, the one reporting point by point his cunning deceit, and the other (fitting his humour) extolling the deed with no mean commendations.
But returning to the honest citizen, who finding in the morning how dearly he paid for a gammon of bacon, and a cheese, and how his kind courtesy was thus treacherously requited: blames the poor maid, as innocent herein as himself, and imprisoning her, thinking so to regain his own: grief with ill-cherishing there shortens her life: And thus ensueth one hard hap upon another, to the great grief both of master and mistress, when the truth was known, that they so wronged their honest servant: how it may forewarn others, I leave to your own opinions, that see what extraordinary devices are nowadays, to beguile the simple and honest liberal-minded.