Cony-Catching - Cony-catching Millers, and a Pleasant Tale of a Miller and an Ale-wife's Boy of Edmonton.

Cony-catching Millers, and a Pleasant Tale of a Miller and an Ale-wife's Boy of Edmonton.

            I pray you, what say you to Monsieur the Miller with the golden thumb, whether think you him a cony-catcher or no? that robs every poor man of his meal and corn, and takes toll at his own pleasure, how many conies doth he take up in a year? for when he brings their wheat to the mill he sells them meal of their own corn in the market. I omit Miles the miller's cozenage for wenching affairs, as no doubt in these causes they be mighty cony-catchers, and mean to speak of their policy in filching and stealing of meal. For you must note, that our jolly miller doth not only verse upon the poor and rich for their toll, but hath false hoppers conveyed under the fall of his mill, where all the best of the meal runs by, this is, if the party be by that bringeth the corn, but because many men have many eyes, the miller will drive them off for their grist for a day or two, and then he plays his pranks at his own pleasure. I need not tell that stale jest of the gentleman's miller that kept court and leet once every week, and used to set in every sack a candle, and so summon the owners to appear by their names: if they came not, as they were far enough from that place, then he amerced them, and so took triple toll of every sack. One night amongst the rest, the gentleman his master was under the mill and heard all his knavery, how everyone was called and paid his amerciament: at last he heard his own name called, and then stepping up the ladder he bade stay, for he was there to make his appearance. I do imagine that the miller was blank, and perhaps his master called him knave, but the fox, the more he is cursed the better he fares, and the oftener the miller is called thief, the richer he waxeth: and therefore do men rightly by a by word bid the miller put out, and if he asketh what, they say a thief's head and a thief's pair of ears, for such grand cony-catchers are these millers, that he that cannot verse upon a poor man's sack is said to be born with a golden thumb. But that you may see more plainly their knavery, I'll tell you a pleasant tale performed not many years since by a miller in Enfield mill, ten miles from London, and an ale-wife's boy of Edmonton, but because they are all at this present alive I will conceal their names, but thus it fell out.

            An ale-wife of Edmonton who had a great vent for spiced cakes, sent her son often to Enfield mill for to have her wheat ground, so that the boy, who was of a quick spirit & ripe wit, grew very familiar both with the miller and his man, and could get his corn sooner put in the mill than any boy in the country beside. It fortuned on a time that this goodwife wanting meal, bade her boy hie to the mill, and be at home that night without fail, for she had not a pint of flour in the house. Jack her son, for so we will call his name, lays his sack on his mare's back, and away he rides singing towards Enfield: as he rode he met at The Washes<65> with the miller, and gave him the time of the day, Godfather, quoth he, whither ride you? To London, Jack, quoth the miller. Oh good godfather, quoth the boy, tell me what store of grist is at the mill? marry great store quoth the miller: but Jack if thou wilt do me an errand to my man, I'll send thee by a token that thou shalt have thy corn cast on & ground as soon as thou comest. I'll say and do what you will to be dispatched, for my mother hath neither cakes nor flour at home: Then, Jack, saith the miller, bid my man grind thy corn next, by that token he look to my bitch and feed her well. I will godfather, saith the boy, and rides his way, and marvelled with himself what bitch it was that he bade his man feed, considering for two or three years he had used to the mill, and never saw a dog nor bitch but a little prick-eared sholt that kept the mill door. Riding thus musing with himself, at last he came to Enfield, and there he had his corn wound up: as soon as he came up the stairs, the miller's man, being somewhat sleepy, began to ask Jack drowsily what news. Marry, quoth the boy, the news is this, that I must have my corn laid on next: Soft, Jack, quoth the miller's man, your turn will not come afore midnight, but ye are always in haste, soft fire makes sweet malt, your betters shall be served afore you this time. Not so quoth the boy, for I met my godfather at the Washes riding to London, and told him what haste I had, and so he bids my grist shall be laid on next, by that token you must look to his bitch, and feed her well. At that the miller's man smiled, and said he should be the next, and so rose up and turned a pin behind the hopper. Jack marked all this, and being a wily and a witty boy, mused where this bitch should be, and seeing none began to suspect some knavery, and therefore being very familiar was bold to look about in every corner while the man was busy about the hopper; at last Jack turning up a cloth that hung before the trough spied under the hopper below, where a great poke was tied with a cord almost full of fine flour, that ran at a false hole underneath, and could not be spied by any means. Jack, seeing this, began to suspect this was the miller's bitch that he commanded his man to feed, and so smiled and let it alone: at last when the corn was ground off that was in the hopper, Jack laid on his, and was very busy about it himself, so that the miller's man set him down and took a nap, knowing the boy could look to the mill almost as well as himself: Jack all this while had an eye to the bitch, and determined at last to slip her halter, which he warily performed, for when his corn was ground and he had put up his meal, he whipped asunder the cord with his knife that held the poke, and thrust it into the mouth of his sack: now there was in the poke a bushel and more of passing fine flour, that the miller's bitch had eaten that day; as soon as Jack had tied up his sack, there was striving who should lay on corn next, so that the miller's man waked, and Jack desiring one to help him up with his corn, took his leave and went his way, riding merrily homeward, smiling to think how he had cozened the miller: as he rode, at that same place where he met the miller outward, he met him homeward. How now Jack quoth the miller, hast ground? Aye, I thank you, godfather, quoth the boy. But didst remember my errand to my man, says he; didst bid him look to my bitch well? Oh godfather quoth the boy, take no care for your bitch; she is well, for I have her here in my sack, whelps and all: Away rides Jack at this, laughing, and the miller grinning, but when he found it true, I leave you to guess how he and his man dealt together, but how the ale-wife sported at the knavery of her son when he told her all the jest, that imagine, but howsoever, for all that Jack was ever welcome to the mill, and ground before any, and whosesoever sack fed the bitch, Jack scaped ever toll-free, that he might conceal the miller's subtlety.

            Was not this miller a cony-catcher, Master R.G.? What should I talk of the baser sort of men whose occupation cannot be upholden without craft, there is no mystery nor science almost wherein a man might thrive without it be linked to this famous art of cony-catching. The ale-wife unless she nick her pots and cony-catch her guests with stone pots and petty cans, can hardly pay her brewer, nay, and yet that will not serve, the chalk must walk to set up now & then a shilling or two too much, or else the rent will not be answered at the quarter-day, besides hostry, faggots, and fair chambering,<66> and pretty wenches that have no wages but what they get by making of beds. I know some tap-houses about the suburbs where they buy a shoulder of mutton for two groats, and sell it to their guest for two shillings, and yet have no female friends to sup withal: let such take heed lest my father's white horse lose saddle & bridle & they go on foot to the devil on pilgrimage. Tush Master R.G. God is my witness I have seen chandlers about London have two pair of weights, and when the searchers come, they show them those that are sealed, but when their poor neighbours buy wax, they use them that lack weight. I condemn not all, but let such amend as are touched at the quick. And is not this flat cony-catching; yes, if it please your mastership, & worser. Why, the base sort of ostlers have their shifts, & the crew of St. Patrick's costermongers can sell a simple man a crab for a pippin. And but that I have loved wine well, I would touch both the vintner and his bush, for they have such brewing and tunning, such chopping and changing, such mingling & mixing, what of wine with water in the quart-pot, and tempering one wine with another in the vessel, that it is hard to get a neat cup of wine and simple of itself, in most of our ordinary taverns, & do not they make poor men conies, that for their current money give them counterfeit wine.

            What say you to the butcher with his pricks, that hath policies to puff up his meat to please the eye? is not all his craft used to draw the poor cony to rid him of his ware? Hath not the draper his dark shop to shadow the dye and wool of his cloth, and all to make the country gentleman or farmer a cony? What trade can maintain his traffic? what science uphold itself? what man live, unless he grow into the nature of a cony-catcher? Do not the lawyers make long pleas, stand upon their demurs, and have their quirks and quiddities to make his poor client a cony: I speak not generally, for so they be the ministers of justice and the patrons of the poor men's right, but particularly of such as hold gains their God, and esteem more of coin than of conscience.

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