It fortuned that a young gentleman not far off from Cockermouth was somewhat slipped behindhand and grown in debt so that he durst hardly show his head for fear of his creditors, and having wife and children to maintain, although he had a proper land, yet wanting money to stock his ground, he lived very bare: whereupon he determined with himself to go to an old penny-father that dwelt hard by him and to borrow some money of him, and so to lay his land in mortgage for the repayment of it.
He no sooner made the motion but it was accepted, for it was a goodly lordship worth in rent of assize seven score pound by the year, and did abut upon the usurer's ground which drew the old churl to be marvellous willing to disburse money, so that he was content to lend him two hundred marks for three year according to the statute, so that he might have the land for assurance of his money.
The gentleman agreed to that, and promised to acknowledge a statute staple to him, with letters of defeasance<64>. The usurer (although he liked this well, and saw the young man offered more than reason required) yet had a further fetch to have the land his whatsoever should chance, and therefore he began to verse upon the poor cony thus.
Sir (quoth he) if I did not pity your estate, I would not lend you my money at such a rate, for whereas you have it after ten pounds in the hundred, I can make it worth thirty. But seeing the distress you, your wife, and children are in, and considering all grows through your own liberal nature, I compassionate you the more, and would do for you as for mine own son; therefore if you shall think good to follow it, I will give you fatherly advice: I know you are greatly indebted, and have many unmerciful creditors, and they have you in suit and I doubt ere long will have some extent against your lands; so shall you be utterly undone, and I greatly encumbered. Therefore to avoid all this, in my judgement it were best for you to make a deed of gift of all your lands without condition or promise to some one faithful friend or other in whom you may repose credit, so shall your enemies have no advantage against you: and seeing they shall have nothing but your bare body liable to their executions, they will take the more easy and speedy composition. I think this the surest way, and if you durst repose yourself in me, God is my witness I would be to you as your father if he lived. How say you to this compendious tale, Master R.G., could the proudest setter or verser in the world have drawn on a cony more cunningly?
Well, again to our young gentleman, who simply (with tears in his eyes to hear the kindness of the usurer) thanked him heartily, and deferred not to put in practice his counsel, for he made an absolute deed of gift from wife and children to this usurer of all his lordship, and so had the two hundred marks upon the plain forfeit of a bond.
To be short, the money made him and his merry, and yet he did husband it so well, that he not only duly paid the interest but stocked his grounds and began to grow out of debt, so that his creditors were willing to bear with him. Against the three years were expired, he made shift by the help of his friends for the money, and carried it home to the usurer, thanking him greatly and craving a return of his deed of gift. Nay, soft, sir (saith the old churl), that bargain is yet to make; the land is mine, to me and mine heirs forever by a deed of gift from your own hand, and what can be more sure: take the money if you please, and there is your bond, but for the lordship, I will enter on it tomorrow: yet if you will be my tenant, you shall have it before another, and that is all the favour you shall have of me.
At this the gentleman was amazed, and began to plead conscience with him, but in vain, whereupon he went sorrowfully home and told his wife, who as a woman half lunatic ran with her little children to his house, and cried out, but bootless: for although they called him before the chief of the country, yet sith the law had granted him the fee simple thereof, he would not part withal: so that this distressed gentleman was fain to become tenant to this usurer, and for two hundred marks to lose a lordship worth six or seven thousand pounds. I pray you, was not this an old cony-catcher, Mr. R.G., that could lurch a poor cony of so many thousands at one time? whether is our crossing of cards more perilous to the commonwealth than this cozenage for land? you wink at it, but I will tell all; yet hear out the end of my tale, for as fortune fell out, the usurer was made a cony himself.
The gentleman and his wife smothering this with patience, she that had a reaching wit & hair brain revenge in her head, counselled her husband to make a voyage from home & to stay a week or two, and (quoth she) before you come again you shall see me venture fair for the land. The gentleman, willing to let his wife practise her wits, went his way, and left all to his wife's discretion. She after her husband was four or five days from home, was visited by the usurer, who used her very kindly, and sent victuals to her house, promising to sup with her that night, and that she should not want anything in her husband's absence. The gentlewoman with gracious acceptance thanked him, and bade divers of her neighbours to bear him company, having a further reach in her head than he suspected. For the old churl coming an hour before supper-time, even as she herself would wish, for an amorous wehee or two, as old jades whinny when they cannot wag the tail, began to be very pleasant with his tenant, and desired her to show him all the rooms in her house, and happily (saith he) if I die without issue, I may give it to your children, for my conscience bids me be favourable to you.
The gentlewoman led him through every part, and at last brought him into a back room much like a back-house, where she said thus unto him.
Sir, this room is the most unhandsomest in all the house, but if there were a dormer built to it, and these shut windows made bay windows and glazed, it would make the properest parlour in all the house: for (saith she) put your head out at this window, and look what a sweet prospect belongs unto it.
The usurer mistrusting nothing, thrust out his crafty sconce, and the gentlewoman shut to the window, and called her maids to help, where they bound and pinioned the caterpillar's arms fast, and then stood he with his head into a back-yard, as if he had been on a pillory, and struggle he durst not for stifling himself. When she had him thus at the vantage, she got a couple of sixpenny nails and a hammer, and went into the yard, having her children attending upon her, every one with a sharp knife in their hands, and then coming to him with a stern countenance, she looked as Medea did when she attempted revenge against Jason. The usurer, seeing this tragedy, was afraid of his life and cried out, but in vain, for her maids made such a noise that his shriking could not be heard whilst she nailed one ear fast to the window and the other to the stanchel. Then began she to use these words unto him.
Ah, vile and injurious caterpillar, God hath sent thee to seek thine own revenge, and now I and my children will perform it. For sith thy wealth doth so countenance thee that we cannot have thee punished for thy cozenage, I myself will be justice, judge, and executioner, for as the pillory belongs to such a villain, so have I nailed thy ears, and they shall be cut off to the perpetual example of such purloining reprobates, and the executors shall be these little infants whose right without conscience or mercy thou so wrongfully detainest. Look on this old churl little babes, this is he that with his cozenage will drive you to beg and want in your age, and at this instant brings your father to all this present misery, have no pity upon him, but you two cut off his ears, and thou (quoth she to the eldest) cut off his nose, and so be revenged on the villain whatsoever fortune me for my labour. At this the usurer cried out, and bade her stay her children, and he would restore the house & land again to her husband. I cannot believe thee, base churl, quoth she, for thou that wouldst perjure thyself against so honest a gentleman as my husband will not stick to forswear thyself were thou at liberty, and therefore I will mangle thee to the uttermost. As thus she was ready to have her children fall upon him, one of her maids came running in and told her her neighbours were come to supper: Bid them come in, quoth she, and behold this spectacle. Although the usurer was passing loath to have his neighbours see him thus tyrannously used, yet in they came, and when they saw him thus mannerly in a new-made pillory, and his ears fast nailed, some wondered, some laughed, and all stood amazed till the gentlewoman discoursed to them all the cozenage, and how she meant to be revenged: some of them persuaded her to let him go; others were silent, and some bade him confess: he hearing them debate the matter, and not to offer to help him, cried out: Why, and stand you staring on me, neighbours, and will not you save my life? No, quoth the gentlewoman, he or she that stirs to help thee shall pay dearly for it, and therefore, my boys, off with his ears: then he cried out, but stay, and he would confess all, when from point to point he rehearsed how he had cozened her husband by a deed of gift only made to him in trust, and there was content to give him the two hundred marks freely for amends, and to yield up before any man of worship the land again into his possession, and upon that he bade them all bear witness. Then the gentlewoman let loose his ears, and let slip his head, and away went he home with his bloody lugs, and tarried not to take part of the meat he had sent, but the gentlewoman & her neighbours made merry therewith, and laughed heartily at the usage of the usurer. The next day it was bruited abroad, and came to the ears of the worshipful of the country, who sat in commission upon it, and found out the cozenage of the usurer, so they praised the wit of the gentlewoman, restored her husband to the land, and the old churl remained in discredit, and was a laughing-stock to all the country all his life after.