A hollow stick – take heed, sirs, and beware! –
In end of which an ounce was, and no more,
Of silver filings put, all as before
Within the coal, and stopped with wax, a bit,
To keep the filings in the hole of it.
And while the priest was busy, as I say,
This canon, drawing close, got in his way,
And unobserved he threw the powder in
Just as before the devil from his skin
Strip him, I pray to God, for lies he wrought;
For he was ever false in deed and thought;
And with his stick, above the crucible,
Arranged for knavish trickery so well,
He stirred the coals until to melt began
The thin wax in the fire, as every man,
Except a fool, knows well it must, sans doubt,
And all that was within the stick slipped out,
And quickly in the crucible it fell.
The Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale: From The Canterbury Tales (by Geoffrey Chaucer, c. 1343 – 25 October 1400).
The alchemist’s man tells the story of their road to ruin. Con artists would conceal silver or gold in a wax tip of a wand, and use it to stir a crucible of material to be transmuted.