Cony-Catching - A Pleasant Tale How A Holy Brother Cony-catched For A Wife.

A Pleasant Tale How A Holy Brother Cony-catched For A Wife.

            Wer't not a merry jest to have a bout again Master R.G. with your poetical brethren: amongst the which, one learned hypocrite, that could brook no abuses in the commonwealth, was so zealous that he began to put an English she-saint in the Legend<75> for the holiness of her life: and forgot not so much as her dog, as Toby's was remembered, that wagged his tail at the sight of his old mistress. This pure Martinist<76> (if he were not worse) had a combat between the flesh and the spirit that he must needs have a wife, which he cunningly cony-catched in this manner.

            First you must understand, that he was a kind of scholastical companion, nursed up only at grammar school, lest going to the university, through his nimble wit, too much learning should make him mad. So he had passed As in praesenti and was gone a proficient as far as Carmen Heroicum<77>, for he pronounced his words like a braggart, and held up his head like a malt-horse, and could talk against bishops, and wish very mannerly the discipline of the primitive church were restored. Now sir, this gentleman had espied (I dare not say about Fleet street) a proper maid who had given her by the decease of her father four hundred pound in money, besides certain fair houses in the city; to this girl goeth this proper Greek a-wooing, naming himself to be a gentleman of Cheshire, and only son and heir to his father, who was a man of great revenues: and to make the matter more plausible, he had attired his own brother very orderly in a blue coat and made him his serving-man, who though he were eldest, yet to advance his younger brother to so good a marriage was content to lie, cog, and flatter, and to take any servile pains, to soothe up the matter, insomuch that when her father-in-law (for her mother was married again, to an honest, virtuous, and substantial man in Fleet Street or thereabouts) heard how this young gentleman was a suitor to his daughter-in-law, careful she should do well, called the serving-man aside, which by his outward behaviour seemed to be an honest and discreet man, and began to question with him what his master was, of what parentage, of what possibility of living after his father's decease, and how many children he had beside him.

            This fellow, well instructed by his holy brother, without distrust to the man, simply as he thought, said that he was the son and heir of one Master &c, dwelling in Cheshire at the manor of &c., and that he had a younger brother, but this was heir to all, and rehearsed a proper living of some five hundred marks a year. The honest man, knowing divers Cheshire gentlemen of that name, gave credit to the fellow and made no further inquiry, but gave countenance to my young master, who by his flattering speeches had won, not only the maid's favour unto the full, but also the goodwill of her mother, so that the match shortly was made up, and married they should be forsooth, and then should she, her father, and her mother ride home to his father in Cheshire to have sufficient dowry appointed.

            To be brief, wedded they were, and bedded they had been three or four nights, and yet for all this fair show the father was a little jealous, and smoked him, but durst say nothing. But at last, after the marriage had been past over three or four days, it chanced that her father and this serving-man went abroad and passed though St. Paul's Churchyard amongst the stationers, a prentice amongst the rest, that was a Cheshire man and knew this counterfeit serving-man and his brother, as being born in the same parish where his father dwelt, called to him, and said: What, I., how doth your brother, P.? how doth your father? lives he still? The fellow answered him all were well, and loath his brother's wife's father should hear anything, made no stay but departed.

            This acquaintance naming the fellow by his name and asking for his brother drove the honest citizen into a great maze, and doubted he, his wife, and his daughter were made conies. Well, he smoothed all up as if he had heard nothing, and let it pass till he had sent the man about necessary business, and then secretly returned again unto the stationer's shop, and began to question with the boy if he knew the serving-man well that he called to him of late. Aye, marry, do I, sir, quoth he; I know both him and his brother P. I can tell you they have an honest poor man to their father, and though now in his old age he be scarce able to live without the help of the parish, yet he is well beloved of all his neighbours. The man hearing this, although it grieved him that he was thus cozened by a palliard, yet seeing no means to amend it he thought to gird his son pleasantly, & therefore had divers of his friends and honest wealthy neighbours to a supper: well, they being at the time appointed come, come all welcome, who must sit at the board's end but my young master? and he very coyly bade them all welcome to his father's house: they all gave him reverent thanks, esteeming him to be a man of worship and worth. As soon as all were set, and the meat served in, and the gentleman's serving-man stood mannerly waiting on his brother's trencher, at last the goodman of the house smiling said: Son P., I pray you, let your man sit down and eat such part with us as God hath sent us. Marry quoth Master P. that were well, to make my man my companion, he is well enough, let him sup with his fellows. Why sir saith he, in faith be plain, call him brother, and bid him sit down. Come, cousin I. quoth he, make not strange; I am sure your brother P. will give you leave. At this Master P. blushed, and asked his father-in-law what he meant by those words, and whether he thought his man his brother or no? Aye, by my faith do I son, quoth he, and account thee no honest man that wilt deny thine own brother and thy father: for, sir, know I have learned your pedigree. Alas daughter quoth he, you are well married, for his father lives of the alms of the parish, and this poor fellow which he hath made his slave, is his eldest brother. At this his wife began to weep, all was dashed, and what she thought, God knows. Her mother cried out, but all was bootless; Master P. confessed the truth, and his brother sat down at supper, and for all that he had the wench. I pray you, was not this a cony-catcher, Master R.G.?

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