The astringent boy in our story.
I’ve struggled over how to present this bawdy story on deception. The original is more colorful, but suffers because some of the archaic language is hard to understand. So I’ve rewritten it, hopefully keeping most of the original flavor and language, and making it more comprehensible. It’s from an old pamphlet in a genre called rogue literature. The author warns of the dangers of the "cheaters’ crafty faculty," but the anecdotes are not just about cheaters and how to avoid being cheated. They are also amusing stories.
An excerpt from A Manifest Detection of Diceplay
by Gilbert Walker, 1552
If the con-men find that their victim takes pleasure in the company of women, they’ll fleece him by using his love of prostitutes. This is a maxim that’s always true – cheaters are familiar with every whore in the country.
Therefore it’s not hard, at all times, to provide their amorous fellow with a lewd and lecherous lady to keep him in loving company.
Their victim and his "lady" go to restaurants, attend concerts and go to costume balls. And even though the victim must pay for everything, he never gets to plant even the smallest kiss on his dainty lady’s lips. She tells him, for her sake, to wager 20 pieces of gold here, and 25 there, because, she says:
"You never know what kind of luck a lady may bring."
And if he refuses, she takes it very unkindly, and can’t be reconciled without him having to buy her a piece of expensive silk clothing, which, by prior arrangement with the cheats, she’ll be able to keep later.
Okay, but what if he doesn’t want bruised goods, but is more enamored of virginity? The cheats have a fine cast of characters who they can call up with an hour’s warning, including whores who can act just like virginal girls who’ve never opened their "quivers" to anyone.
I’ll explain this mystery with a tale I saw myself…
One night, a young, boisterous nobleman wanted a virgin, but resorted to a common prostitute. He said he’d pay her well if she could find him a virgin for the next day. He said he took more pleasure in virginity than beauty, but if they both came together he’d be very thankful, and she’d get a bigger reward.
This woman, who was the madam of the whores, had in her stable a decent-looking and presentable whore who was as much a virgin as a filly who’d given birth to three foals.
To help with this trickery, the madam went to the pharmacist and obtained a half-pint of sweet-water, known by many other names as well (such as Surfuling water, or Clinker-device), which is an astringent which causes an extreme contraction of the bodily tissues.
On her way home, the madam went to a nobleman’s house to visit his cook, an old acquaintance of hers. She set down her glass of astringent chemicals and warmed herself before the fire, but soon the cook took her in his arms and, since they were in the light and not behind closed doors, they minded their manners, but they wrestled a bit, and the glass was broken and the water was spilled.
"Out! Damn!" she said.
"Shhh," said the cook. "We’ll go into the other room for breakfast, and I’ll buy you a new glass, and pay to fill it up."
So they left the kitchen, and the kitchen boy, whose job was to sit by the fire and turn the meat on spits, liked the feel of the water as it dripped off the table next to him, so he washed his face with one hand and turned the spit with the other, and then switched hands, and washed his eyes, his mouth, and all of his face.
Soon after this, the water, with the heat of the fire, dried, and soaked into the boy’s face.
When the cook came into the kitchen again, he found the breast of one of the birds on the spit was burnt because it wasn’t being turned. He grabbed a large utensil used for basting the meat and was about to beat the boy with it when he luckily gave him a sour look. That’s when he saw the boy’s mouth and eyes drawn so together, and closed, that the boy had no eyes to see with, and you could hardly turn your little finger in his mouth.
The cook, confounded with the sudden change, ran about the house half out of his wits, yelling:
"The kitchen boy is taken, he can neither see nor speak!"
So the poor boy, with his starched face, who can neither see nor speak, continued to be, for half an hour, a "wondering stock" to all the household, until a man of experience bathed his face in hot fat veal broth, which immediately restored him to as wide of mouth and as open of eyes as he was before.