Cony-Catching - How a gentleman was craftily deceived of a chain of Gold and his purse in Paul's Church in London.

How a gentleman was craftily deceived of a chain of Gold and his purse in Paul's Church in London.

            A gentleman of the country, who (as I have heard since the time of his mishap, whereof I am now to speak) had about half a year before buried his wife & belike thinking well of some other gentlewoman, whom he meant to make account of as his second choice: upon good hope or otherwise persuaded, he came up to London to provide himself of such necessaries as the country is not usually stored withal. Besides, silks, velvets, cambrics and such like, he bought a chain of gold that cost him lvii. pounds and odd money, whereof because he would have the maidenhead or first wearing himself, he presently put it on in the goldsmith's shop, and so walked therewith about London as his occasions served. But let not the gentleman be offended, who if this book come to his hands, can best avouch the truth of this discourse, if here by the way I blame his rash pride, or simple credulity: for between the one and other, the chain he paid so dear for about ten of the clock in the morning, the cony-catchers the same day ere night shared amongst them, a matter whereat he may well grieve, and I be sorry, in respect he is my very good friend: but to the purpose. This gentleman walking in Paul's, with his chain fair glittering about his neck, talking with his man about some busines: was well viewed and regarded by a crew of cony-catchers, whose teeth watered at his goodly chain, yet knew not how to come by it hanging as it did, and therefore entered into secret conspiration among themselves, if they could not come by all the chain, yet how they might make it lighter by half a score pounds at the least. Still had they their eyes on the honest gentleman, who little doubted any such treason intended against his so late bought bargain: and they having laid their plot, each one to be assistant in this enterprise, saw when the gentleman dismissed his servant, to go about such affairs as he had appointed him, himself still walking there up and down the middle aisle. One of these mates, that stood most on his cunning in these exploits, followed the serving-man forth of the church calling him by divers names, as John, Thomas, William, &c. as though he had known his right name, but could not hit on it: which whether he did or no I know not, but well I wot the serving-man turned back again, and seeing him that called him seemed a gentleman, booted and cloaked after the newest fashion, came with his hat in his hand to him, saying: Sir, do ye call me? Mary do I my friend quoth the other, dost not thou serve such a gentleman? and named one as himself pleased. No truly sir, answered the serving-man, I know not any such gentleman as you speak of. By my troth replied the cony-catcher, I am assured I knew thee and thy master, though now I cannot suddenly remember myself. The serving-man fearing no harm, yet fitting the humour of this treacherous companion, told right his master's name whom he served, and that his master was even then walking in Paul's. O God's will (quoth the cony-catcher, repeating his master's name) a very honest gentleman, of such a place is he not? naming a shire of the country: for he must know both name, country and sometimes what gentlemen dwell near the party that is to be over-reached, ere he can proceed. No indeed sir (answered the serving-man, with such reverence as it had been to an honest gentleman indeed) my master is of such a place, a mile from such a Town, and hard by such a knight's house: by which report the deceiver was half instructed, because though he was ignorant of the fellow's master, yet well he knew the country, and the knight named. So craving pardon that he had mistaken him, he returns again into the Church, and the serving-man trudgeth about his assigned business. Being come to the rest of the crew, he appoints one of them (whom he knew to be expert indeed) to take this matter in hand, for himself might not do it, lest the serving-man should return and know him, he schooled the rest likewise what every man should do when the pinch came, and changing his cloak with one of his fellows, walked by himself attending the feat: and every one being as ready, the appointed fellow makes his sally forth, and coming to the gentleman, calling him by his name, gives him the courtesy and embrace, likewise thanking him for good cheer he had at his house, which he did with such seemly behaviour and protestation, as the gentleman (thinking the other to be no less) used like action of kindness to him. Now as country gentlemen have many visitors both with near dwelling neighbours, and friends that journey from far, whom they can hardly remember, but some principal one that serves as countenance to the other: so he not discrediting the cunning mate's words, who still at every point alleged his kindred to the knight neighbour to the gentleman, which the poor serving-man had (doubting no ill) revealed before, and that both there and at his own house in hawking time with that knight and other gentlemen of the country he had liberally tasted his kindness: desiring pardon that he had forgotten him, and offered him the courtesy of the city. The cony-catcher excused himself for that time, saying, at their next meeting he would bestow it on him. Then seeming to have espied his chain, and commending the fairness and workmanship thereof: says, I pray the sir take a litle counsel of a friend, it may be you will return thanks for it. I wonder quoth he, you dare wear such a costly jewel so open in sight, which is even but a bait to entice bad men to adventure time and place for it, and nowhere sooner then in this city, where (I may say to you) are such a number of cony-catchers, cozeners and such like, that a man can scarcely keep anything from them, they have so many reaches and sleights to beguile withal: which a very especial friend of mine found too true not many days since. Hereupon he told a very solemn tale, of villainies and knaveries in his own profession, whereby he reported his friend had lost a watch of gold: showing how closely his friend wore it in his bosom, and how strangely it was gotten from him, that the gentleman by that discourse waxed half afraid of his chain. And giving him many thanks for this good warning, presently takes the chain from about his neck, and tying it up fast in a handkerchief, put it up into his sleeve, saying, If the cony-catcher get it here, let him not spare it. Not a little did the treacher smile in his sleeve, hearing the rash security, but indeed simplicity of the gentleman, and no sooner saw he it put up, but presently he counted it sure his own, by the assistance of his complices, that lay in an ambuscado for the purpose. With embraces and courtesies on either side, the cony-catcher departs, leaving the gentleman walking there still: whereat the crew were not a little offended, that he still kept in the church, and would not go abroad. Well, at length (belike remembering some business) the gentleman taking leave of another that talked with him, hasted to go forth at the furthest west door of Paul's, which he that had talked with him, and gave him such counsel perceiving, hied out of the other door, and got to the entrance ere he came forth, the rest following the gentleman at an inch. As he was stepping out, the other stepped in, and let fall a key, having his hat so low over his eyes, that he could not well discern his face, and stooping to take up the key, kept the gentleman from going backward or forward, by reason his leg was over the threshold. The foremost cony-catcher behind, pretending a quarrel unto him that stooped, rapping out an oath, and drawing his dagger, said: Do I meet the villain? Nay, he shall not 'scape me now, and so made offer to strike him.

            The gentleman at his standing up, seeing it was he that gave him so good counsel,and pretended himself his very friend, but never imagining this train was made for him: stepped in his defence, when the other following tripped up his heels: so that he and his counsellor were down together, and two more upon them, striking with their daggers very eagerly, marry indeed the gentleman had most of the blows, and both his hand-kerchief with the chain, and also his purse with three and fifty shillings in it, were taken out of his pocket in this struggling, even by the man that himself defended.

            It was marvellous to behold, how not regarding the villain's words uttered before in the church, nor thinking upon the charge about him (which after he had thus treacherously lost unwittingly:) he stands pacifying them that were not discontented but only to beguile him. But they vowing that they would presently go for their weapons, & so to the field, told the gentleman he laboured but in vain, for fight they must and would, and so going down by Paul's Chain, left the gentleman made a cony going up toward Fleet street, sorry for his new counsellor and friend, and wishing him good luck in the fight: which indeed was with nothing but wine pots, for joy of their late gotten booty. Near to Saint Dunstan's Church the gentleman remembered himself, and feeling his pocket so light had suddenly more grief at his heart, than ever happen to him or any man again. Back he comes to see if he could espy any of them, but they were far enough from him: God send him better hap when he goes next a-wooing, and that this his loss may be a warning to others.

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