Cony-Catching - A Pleasant Tale how Ned Browne cross-bit a Maltman.

A Pleasant Tale how Ned Browne cross-bit a Maltman.

            This Senex Fornicator<45>, this old lecher, using continually into Whitechapel, had a haunt into Petticoat Lane to a trugging house there, and fell into great familiarity with a good wench that was a friend of mine, who one day revealed unto me how she was well thought on by a maltman, a wealthy old churl, and that ordinarily twice a week he did visit her, and therefore bade me plot some means to fetch him over for some crowns. I was not to seek for a quick invention, and resolved at his coming to cross-bite him, which was (as luck served) the next day. Monsieur the maltman coming according to his custom, was no sooner secretly shut in the chamber with the wench, but I came stepping in with a terrible look, swearing as if I meant to have challenged the earth to have opened and swallowed me quick, and presently fell upon her and beat her: then I turned to the maltman, and lent him a blow or two, for he would take no more: he was a stout stiff old tough churl, and then I railed upon them both, and objected to him how long he had kept my wife, how my neighbours could tell me of it, how the Lane thought ill of me for suffering it, and now that I had myself taken them together, I would make both him and her smart for it before we parted.

            The old fox that knew the ox by the horn, was subtle enough to spy a pad in the straw, and to see that we went about to cross-bite him: wherefore he stood stiff, and denied all, and although the whore cunningly on her knees weeping did confess it, yet the maltman faced her down, and said she was an honest woman for all him, and that this was but a cozenage compacted between her and me to verse and cross-bite him for some piece of money for amends, but sith he knew himself clear, he would never grant to pay one penny. I was straight in mine oaths and braved him with sending for the constable, but in vain: all our policies could not draw one cross from this crafty old carl, till I gathering my wits together, came over his fallows thus. I kept him still in the chamber, & sent (as though I had sent for the constable) for a friend of mine, an ancient cozener, and one that had a long time been a Knight of the Post<32>: marry he had a fair cloak and a damask coat, that served him to hale men withal. To this perjured companion I sent to come as a constable, to make the maltman stoop, who (ready to execute any villainy that I should plot) came speedily like an ancient wealthy citizen, and taking the office of a Constable in hand, began very sternly to examine the matter, and to deal indifferently, rather favouring the maltman than me: but I complained how long he had kept my wife: he answered I lied, & that it was a cozenage to cross-bite him of his money. Master Constable cunningly made this reply to us both: My friends, this matter is bad, and truly I cannot in conscience but look into it. For you Browne, you complain how he hath abused your wife a long time, & she partly confesseth as much: he (who seems to be an honest man, and of some countenance amongst his neighbours) forswears it, and saith, it is but a device to strip him of his money: I know not whom to believe, and therefore this is my best course: because the one of you shall not laugh the other to scorn. I'll send you all three to the Compter, so to answer it before some justice that may take examination of the matter. The maltman loath to go to prison, and yet unwilling to part from any pence, said he was willing to answer the matter before any man of worship, but he desired the constable to favour him that he might not go to ward, and he would send for a brewer a friend of his to be his bail.

            In faith says this cunning old cozener, you offer like an honest man, but I cannot stay so long till he be sent for, but if you mean as you protest to answer the matter, then leave some pawn and I will let you go whither you will while tomorrow, and then come to my house here hard by at a grocer's shop, and you and I will go before a justice, and then clear yourself as you may. The maltman taking this crafty knave to be some substantial citizen, thanked him for his friendship and gave him a seal ring that he wore on his fore-finger, promising the next morning to meet him at his house. As soon as my friend had the ring, away walks he, and while we stood brabbling together he went to the brewer's house, with whom this maltman traded, and delivered the brewer the ring as a token from the maltman, saying he was in trouble, and that he desired him by that token to send him ten pound. The brewer seeing an ancient citizen bringing the message and knowing the maltman's ring, stood upon no terms, sith he knew his chapman would and was able to answer it again if it were a brace of hundred pounds, delivered him the money without any more ado: which ten pound at night we shared betwixt us, and left the maltman to talk with the brewer about the repayment. Tush, this was one of my ordinary shifts, for I was holden in my time the most famous cross-biter in all London.

            Well at length, as wedding and hanging comes by destiny, I would to avoid the speech of the world be married forsooth and keep a house, but (gentlemen) I hope you that hear me talk of marriage, do presently imagine that sure she was some virtuous matron that I chose out. Shall I say my conscience, she was a little snoutfair, but the commonest harlot and hackster that ever made fray under the shadow of Colman hedge<46>: wedded to this trull, what villainy could I devise but she would put in practise, and yet though she could foist a pocket well, and get me some pence, and lift now and then for a need, and with the lightness of her heels bring me in some crowns: yet I waxed weary, and stuck to the old proverb, that change of pasture makes fat calves: I thought that in living with me two years she lived a year too long, and therefore casting mine eye on a pretty wench, a man's wife well known about London, I fell in love with her, and that so deeply that I broke the matter to her husband, that I loved his wife, and must needs have her, and confirmed it with many oaths, that if he did not consent to it, I would be his death: whereupon her husband, a kind knave, and one every way as base a companion as myself, agreed to me, and we beat a bargain, that I should have his wife, and he should have mine, conditionally, that I should give him five pounds to boot, which I promised, though he never had it: so we like two good horse-copers, made a chop and change, and swapped up a roguish bargain, and so he married my wife and I his. Thus gentlemen did I neither fear God nor his laws, nor regarded honesty, manhood, or conscience: but these be trifles and venial sins.

            Now sir, let me boast of myself a little, in that I came to the credit of a high lawyer, and with my sword freebooted abroad in the country like a cavalier on horseback, wherein I did excel for subtlety: For I had first for myself an artificial hair, and a beard so naturally made, that I could talk, dine, and sup in it, and yet it should never be spied. I will tell you there rests no greater villainy than in this practise, for I have robbed a man in the morning, and come to the same inn and baited, yea and dined with him the same day: and for my horse that he might not be known I could ride him one part of the day like a goodly gelding with a large tail hanging to his fetlock, and the other part of the day I could make him a cut, for I had an artificial tail so cunningly counterfeited, that the ostler when he dressed him could not perceive it. By these policies I little cared for hues and cries, but straight with disguising myself, would outslip them all, and as for my cloak it was Tarmosind (as they do term it) made with two outsides that I could turn it how I list, for howsoever I wore it the right side still seemed to be outward.

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