Cony-Catching - The Discovery of the Black Art.

The Discovery of the Black Art.

            The Black Art is picking of locks, and to this busy trade two persons are required, the Charm and the Stand, the charm is he that doth the feat, and the stand is he that watcheth: There be more that belong to the burglary for conveying away the goods, but only two are employed about the lock: the charm hath many keys and wrests, which they call picklocks, and for every sundry fashion they have a sundry term, but I am ignorant of their words of art, and therefore I omit them, only this, they have such cunning in opening a lock, that they will undo the hardest lock though never so well warded, even while a man may turn his back, some have their instruments from Italy made of steel, some are made here by smiths, that are partakers in their villainous occupations: but howsoever, well may it be called the black Art, for the Devil cannot do better then they in their faculty. I once saw the experience of it myself, for being in the Compter upon a commandment, there came in a famous fellow in the black art, as strong in that quality as Samson: The party now is dead, and by fortune died in his bed, I hearing that he was a charm, began to enter familiarity with him, and to have an insight into his art, after some acquaintance he told me much, and one day being in my chamber I showed him my desk, and asked him if he could pick that little lock that was so well warded, and too little as I thought for any of his gins. Why sir, says he, I am so experienced in the black art, that if I do but blow upon a lock it shall fly open, and therefore let me come to your desk, and do but turn five times about, and you shall see my cunning, with that I did as he bade me, and ere I had turned five times, his hand was rifling in my desk very orderly, I wondered at it, and thought verily that the Devil and his dam was in his fingers. Much discommodity grows by this black art in shops and noblemen's houses for their plate: therefore are they most severely to be looked in to by the honourable and worshipful of England, and to end this discourse as pleasantly as the rest, I will rehearse you a true tale done by a most worshipful knight in Lancashire, against a tinker that professed the black art.

A true and merry Tale of a Knight, and a Tinker that was a pick-lock.

            Not far off from Bolton in the Moors, there dwelled an ancient knight, who for courtesy and hospitality was famous in those parts: divers of his tenants making repair to his house, offered divers complaints to him how their locks were picked in the night and divers of them utterly undone by that means, and who it should be they could not tell, only they suspected a tinker that went about the country and in all places did spend very lavishly: the knight willing, heard what they exhibited, and promised both redress and revenge if he or they could learn out the man. It chanced not long after their complaints, but this jolly tinker (so expert in the black art) came by the house of this knight, as the old gentleman was walking afore the gate, and cried for work, the knight straight conjecturing this should be that famous rogue that did so much hurt to his tenants, called in and asked if they had any work for the tinker, the cook answered there was three or four old kettles to mend, come in tinker, so this fellow came in, laid down his budget and fell to his work, a blackjack of beer for this tinker says the knight, I know tinkers have dry souls: the tinker he was pleasant and thanked him humbly, the knight sat down by him and fell a ransacking his budget, and asked wherefore this tool served and wherefore that, the tinker told him all, at last as he tumbled amongst his old brass the Knight spied three or four bunches of pick-locks, he turned them over quickly as though he had not seen them and said, well tinker I warrant thou art a passing cunning fellow & well skilled in thine occupation by the store of tools thou hast in thy budget: In faith if it please your worship, quoth he, I am thanks be to God my craft's master: Aye, so much I perceive that thou art a passing cunning fellow quoth the knight, therefore let us have a fresh jack of beer and that of the best and strongest for the tinker: thus he passed away the time pleasantly, and when he had done his work he asked what he would have for his pains? but two shillings of your worship, quoth the tinker. Two shillings, says the Knight, alas tinker it is too little, for & see by thy tools thou art a passing cunning workman, hold there is two shillings: come in, thou shalt drink a cup of wine before thou goest; but I pray thee to tell me which way travellest thou? faith sir, quoth the tinker all is one to me; I am not much out of my way wheresoever I go, but now I am going to Lancaster: I pray thee tinker then, quoth the knight carry me a letter to the gaoler, for I sent in a felon thither the other day and I would send word to the gaoler he should take no bail for him; marry that I will in most dutiful manner, quoth he, and much more for your worship then that: give him a cup of wine quoth the knight and sirrah (speaking to his clerk) make a letter to the gaoler, but then he whispered to him and bade him make a mittimus<41> to send the tinker to prison, the clerk answered he knew not his name. I'll make him tell it thee himself, says the Knight and therefore fall you to your pen: the clerk began to write his mittimus, and the Knight began to ask what countryman he was where he dwelt & what was his name, the tinker told him all, and the clerk set it in with this proviso to the gaoler that he should keep him fast bolted or else he would break away. As soon as the mittimus was made, sealed and subscribed in form of a letter, the Knight took it and delivered it to the tinker and said, give this to the chief Gaoler of Lancaster & here's two shillings more for thy labour, so the tinker took the letter and the money and with many a cap & knee thanked the old knight and departed: and made haste till he came at Lancaster, and stayed not in the town so much as to taste one cup of nappy ale, before he came at the Gaoler, and to him very briskly he delivered his letter, the Gaoler took it and read it and smiled a good, and said tinker thou art welcome for such a knight's sake, he bids me give thee the best entertainment I may. Aye sir, quoth the tinker, the knight loves me well, but I pray you hath the courteous gentleman remembered such a poor man as I? Aye marry doth he, tinker, and therefore sirrah, quoth he to one of his men, take the tinker in the lowest ward, clap a strong pair of bolts on his heels, and a basil of 28 pound weight, and then sirrah see if your picklocks will serve the turn to bail you hence? at this the tinker was blank, but yet he thought the Gaoler had but jested, but when he heard the mittimus, his heart was cold, and had not a word to say his conscience accused, and there he lay while the next sessions, and was hanged at Lancaster, and all his skill in the black art could not serve him.


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