“What the devil hast thou brought there? Apple-johns? Thou knowest Sir John cannot endure an apple-john!”
“By the Mass, thou sayest true!” says Francis, as the senior tapster lights tapers on the table in a side chamber of an Eastcheap tavern’s second story this evening. “The prince once set a dish of apple-johns before him, and told him there were five more Sir Johns!—and, putting on his hat, said, ‘I will now take my leave of these six dry, round, old, withered knights!’ It angered him to the heart! He hath not forgot that!”
“Well then, cover and set them down, and see if thou canst find out Sneak’s noise; Mistress Tearsheet would fain hear some music,” says the older man sourly. “Dispatch! The room where they supped is too hot; they’ll come in straight.
“Sirrah, here anon will be the prince and Master Poins; and they will put on two of our jerkins and aprons!—and Bardolph hath brought word Sir John must not know of it!”
The boy flashes a grin.
The graying tapster, too, expects amusement. “By the Mass, here will be old utis!”—a fine time. “It will be an excellent stratagem! I’ll see if I can find out Sneak,” he says, leaving to look for the musician. In the passage he goes past Mistress Quickly.
The hostess is steadying Doll Tearsheet, who is much younger, as they enter the private chamber; Doll is feeling weak after leaning out a corridor window to vomit down into the alley. “I’ faith, sweet heart, methinks now you are in an excellent good temperality!” says Mistress Quickly. “Your pulsidge beats as extraordinarily as heart would desire; and your colour, I warrant you, is as red as any rose, in good truth, la!
“But, i’ faith, you have drunk too much Canaries—and that’s a marvellous searching wine, and it perfumes the blood ere one can say, ‘What’s this?’
“How do you now?”
Doll coughs in a harsh spasm, and wipes her mouth. “Better than I was,” she mutters, and clears her throat. She spits on the floor.
Says Mistress Quickly cheeringly, “Why, that’s well done. A good heart’s worth gold!” She hears their customer following. “Lo, here comes Sir John.”
Falstaff is singing heartily, “‘When Arthur first in court—’” He enters grandly, followed by his page, but then, wrinkling his nose, he motions to Francis. “Empty the jordan”—the pot holding previous guests’ piss; the boy nods and takes it away. “—‘And was a worthy king….’
“How now, Mistress Doll?”
“Sick at the calm, yea, good faith!” says Mistress Quickly, patting her associate gently on the back; not uncommonly, seafarers retch just after a storm.
Falstaff regards the women. “So is all her sex: if they be once in the calm,”—in menses, “they are sick.”
“You muddy rascal, is that all the comfort you give me?” moans the bleary-eyed sufferer.
Falstaff has drunk much, too. “You make fat rascals, Mistress Doll,” he points out.
“I make them? Gluttony and diseases make them!—I make them not!”
“If the cook help to make the gluttony, you help to make the diseases, Doll! We catch from you, Doll, we catch from you!”—the venereal variety of illness. “Grant that, my poor Virtue, grant that!”
She comments on what he has most often caught—as in taken: “Yes, Joy—our gold chains and our jewels!”
“Your broaches,”—a play on both brooches and openings, counters Falstaff. “Pearls in pouches!” he adds crudely. “For to serve bravely is to come off halting, you know.” Says the semblable soldier, “Venturing upon the chargèd chamber bravely, coming off the breach with his pike bent bravely, and unto surgery”—treatment—“bravely!”
Doll, still queasy, is not charmed by the bawdy bravado. “Hang yourself, you muddy eel, hang yourself!”
Scolds Mistress Quickly, “By my troth, this is the old fashion!—you two never meet but you fall to some discord! You are both, i’ good truth, as rheumatic”—she means romantic—“as two dry toasts!—you cannot one bear with another’s confirmities!
“What i’ the good year? One must bear—and that must be you!” she tells Doll. “You are the weaker vessel, as they say, the emptier vessel.”
“Can a weak, empty vessel bear such a huge, full hogshead?”—barrel, demands Doll. “There’s a whole merchant’s venture of Bourdeaux stuff”—a shipload of French wine—“in him! You have not seen a hulk better stuffed in the hold!”
But she feels a bit better, now. “Come, I’ll be friends with thee, Jack,” she says, seeming to soothe. “Thou art going to the wars, and whether I shall ever see thee again or no—
“—there is nobody cares!”
Before Falstaff can reply, the old tapster comes to him. “Sir, Ancient Pistol’s below, and would speak with you.”
Doll Tearsheet is angry with the fat old captain’s ensign too. “Hang him, the swaggering rascal! Let him not come hither! It is the foul-mouthèd’st rogue in England! ”
Mistress Quickly’s eyes widen. “If he swagger, let him not come here! No, by my faith; I must live among my neighbours! I’ll no swaggerers! I am in good name and infamy with the very best! Shut the door!—there comes no swaggerers here! I have not lived all this while to have swaggering now! Shut the door, I pray you!”
But Falstaff wants the veteran soldier’s company. “Dost thou hear, hostess—“
“Pray ye, pacify yourself, Sir John! There comes no swaggerers here!”
“Dost thou hear!—it is mine ancient!”
“Tilly-fally, Sir John, ne’er tell me! Your ancient swaggerer comes not in my doors!
“I was before Master Tisick, the debuty, t’other day; and, as he said to me—’twas no longer ago than Wednesday last—‘In good faith, neighbour Quickly,’ says he—Master Dumbee, our minister, was near by, then—‘Neighbour Quickly,’ says he, ‘receive those that are civil; for,’ said he, ‘you are in an ill name!’
“Now, he said so! I can tell whereupon: ‘For,’ says he, ‘you are an honest woman, and well thought on; therefore take heed what guests you receive! Receive,’ says he, ‘no swaggering companions!’”—prostitutes’ obstreperous customers.
“There comes none here!” She scowls at their laughter. “You would do best to hear what he said! No, I’ll no swaggerers!” she says firmly—still missing the deputy’s point.
“He’s no swaggerer, hostess—a tame cheater! I’ faith, you may stroke him as gently as a puppy greyhound!” says the knight. “He’d not swagger with a Barbary hen, if her feathers turn back in any show of resistance!
“Call him up, drawer.” The man nods and goes downstairs.
Mistress Quickly considers. “Cheater, call you him?” It sounds tame enough. “I will bar no honest man my house, nor no cheater. But I do not love swaggering, by my troth; I am the worse when one says swagger!” She makes an angry shiver. “Feel, masters, how I shake!—look you, I warrant you!”
Doll Tearsheet notes the ample figure’s wiggle. “So you do, hostess.”
“Do I? Yea, in very truth do I, as ’twere an aspen leaf!” she asserts. “I cannot abide swaggerers!”
The ensign has climbed the stairs, with Bardolph. “God save you, Sir John!”
“Welcome, Ancient Pistol!” He thrusts a full mug at the man. “Here, Pistol, I charge you with a cup of sack!”—as if loading a gun with powder. “Do you discharge upon mine hostess!”
“I will discharge upon her, Sir John, two bullets!” says Pistol, quaffing again, and emptying the vessel of its wine.
“She is Pistol-proof, sir; you shall hardly offend her!”
Mistress Quickly frowns. “Come, I’ll drink to no proofs nor no bullets! I’ll drink no more than will do me good; for no man’s pleasure, I!”
Pistol raises his empty cup to Doll. “Then to you, Mistress Dorothy!—I will charge you!”
“Charge me? I scorn you, scurvy companion! What? You poor, base, rascally, cheating, lack-linen mate! Away, you mouldy rogue, away! I am meat for your master.”
The ensign gives her an unctuous smile—and hands her a mug full of wine. “I know you, Mistress Dorothy….”
“Away, you cut-purse rascal! You filthy bung, away! By this wine, I’ll thrust my knife in your mouldy chaps, an you play the saucy cuttle with me! Away, you bottle-ale rascal!—you basket-built stale-juggler, you!” The slender man has patronized, but not always paid fully, other women of her trade.
She looks disdainfully at his military garb. “God’s light!—with two points on your shoulder!”—insignia of the lowest grade of officer. “Since when, I pray you, sir?” She laughs. “Much!”
Pistol, furious, starts toward her, reaching for her neck. “God let me not live but I will murder Your Ruff for this!”
Falstaff pulls him back, laughing. “No more, Pistol; I would not have you go off here! Discharge yourself from our company, Pistol!”
“No, good Captain Pistol; not here, sweet captain!” says Mistress Quickly—prudently promoting him.
“Captain!” laughs Doll Tearsheet. “Thou abominable, damnèd cheater, art thou not ashamed to be called captain? If captains were of my mind, they would truncheon you out for taking their names upon you before you have earned them! You, a captain!—you slave, for what? For tearing a poor whore’s ruff in a bawdy-house?
“He, a captain! Hang him, the rogue! He lives upon mouldy stewed prunes and dried cakes”—typical brothel fare. “A captain!—’God’s light, these villains will make the word as odious as the word occupy, which was an excellent good word before it was ill sorted! Therefore, captains had need look to ’t!”
Falstaff motions the ensign’s antagonist away. “Hark thee thither, Mistress Doll!”
Bardolph tries to edge the drunken Pistol toward the door. “Pray thee, go down, good ancient!”
“Not I!” growls Pistol. “I tell thee what, Corporal Bardolph, I could tear her!”—a play on Tearsheet. “I’ll be revenged on her!”
Even the little page is pushing him toward the stairs. “Pray thee, go down!”
“I’ll see her damned first!” shouts Pistol, “to Pluto’s damnèd lake, by this hand!—to the infernal deep within Erebus!—and, to torturers all so vile, ‘Hold!—hook and line,’ say I!” he advises the devils. “Down, down, dogs! Down, factors!”—agents, he cries to Bardolph and the boy. Struggling free, he backs away and draws his sword. “Have we not iron here?”
“Good Captain Peesel, be quiet!” urges Mistress Quickly. “’Tis very late, i’ faith! I beseek you, now, aggravate your choler!”
But Pistol straightens, drunkenly defiant. “These be good humours indeed!” he says with sour sarcasm. “Shall pack-horses and hollow, pampered jades of Asia, which cannot go but thirty mile a day, compare with Caesar’s, and with Cannibal’s”—he means Hannibal’s—“and Trojan Greeks’? Nay, rather damn them with King Cerberus,”—the three-headed dog guarding Hades, ”and let the welkin roar!”—the sky thunder. “Shall we fall foul for toys?”—persons who can be played with.
“By my troth, captain, these are very bitter words!” protests Mistress Quickly.
“Be gone, good ancient!” insists Bardolph. “This will grow to a brawl anon!”
Pistol laments the general disorder in England: “Men die like dogs!—give crowns like pins! Have we not iron here?”
“O’ my word, captain, there’s none such here,” Mistress Quickly tells him; Hiren is a beautiful and desireable lady in a popular London-stage drama. “What the good-year!—do you think I would deny having her? For God’s sake, be quiet!”
Pistol glares at her. “Then feed and be fat, my fair Calipolis!”—a woman in another play who, starving, is offered only lion-meat.
“Come, give ’s some sack!” demands the drunk. “Si fortune me tormente, sperato me contento!”—if fate torments me, hope contents me. “Fear we broadsides? No! Let the fiend give fire!” he roars. “Give me some sack!”
Now, rage spent, he quiets. “And, sweet heart, lie thou there,” he says, placing his sword on the table. He stumbles to a chair by the wall, sits, and looks at the others mournfully. “Come we full to points here?”—sword-points. “And are et-ceteras nothing?”
“Pistol, I would be quiet,” warns Falstaff.
“Sweet knight, I kiss thy neaf!”—fist, says Pistol, blearily affecting courtliness. He sees the knight’s rising anger. “What?” He stares at the floor. “We have seen the seven stars,” he murmurs, in maudlin reminiscence of shared late hours.
Doll Tearsheet is disgusted. “For God’s sake, thrust him down stairs! I cannot endure such a fustian rascal!”
“‘Thrust him downstairs,’” says Pistol, wagging his head. He sneers at her. “Know we not Galloway nags?”—ones easily ridden.
Orders Falstaff, “Quoit him down, Bardolph, like a shrove groat-shilling!”—toss him, like a penance coin substituted for one worth three times as much. “Nay, if he does nothing but speak nothing, he shall be nothing here!”
Bardolph starts toward Pistol. “Come, get you down stairs.”
“What!—shall we have incision?” demands the ensign, snatching up his sword. Brandishing it low before him he staggers away. “Shall we imbrue?
“Then Death rock me asleep, abridge my doleful days! Why then let grievous, ghastly, gaping wounds untwine the Sisters Three!”—the Fates, who spin out mortals’ destiny. “Come, Atropos, I say!” he cries, summoning the one who cuts the thread of life.
Mistress Quickly scoffs at the sodden soldier. “Here’s goodly stuff toward!”
But Falstaff, his face now red, is affronted by the blade. “Give me my rapier, boy!” he tells the page.
“I pray thee, Jack, I pray thee, do not draw!” cries Doll Tearsheet.
Falstaff unsheathes his blade—and batters poor Pistol with the flat of it, driving him back to the door. “Get you down stairs!”
“Here’s a goodly tumult!” moans Mistress Quickly. “I’ll forswear keeping house afore I’ll be in these tirrits and frights! So!—murder, I warrant now! Alas, alas! Put up your naked weapons, put up your naked weapons!”
Pistol blinks, trying to clear his vision, as Bardolph guides him away, then down the stairs.
“I pray thee, Jack, be quiet! The rascal’s gone,” says Doll Tearsheet. “Ah, you whoreson, valiant little villain, you!” she purrs.
“Methought ’a made a shrewd thrust at your belly! Are you not hurt i’ the groin?” asks Mistress Quickly, quite concerned.
“Have you turned him out o’ doors?” asks Falstaff, as Bardolph returns.
“Yea, sir.” He looks upset. “The rascal’s drunk. You have hurt him, sir, i’ the shoulder.”
“The rascal! To brave me!”
Doll Tearsheet goes to comfort her patron as he thrusts the blade into its case. “Ah, you sweet little rogue, you! Alas, poor ape; how, thou sweatest? Come, let me wipe thy face; come on, you whoreson chops! Ah, rogue, i’ faith, I love thee: thou art as valorous as Hector of Troy, worth five of Agamemnon, and ten times better than the Nine Worthies! Ah, villain….” she says soothingly.
Falstaff still fumes. “A rascally slave! I will toss the rogue on a blanket!”
“Do, an thou darest for thy heart!” laughs Doll; Falstaff lifts nothing heavier than a flagon of wine. “An thou dost, I’ll canvass thee between a pair of sheets!” she promises.
From the door, the page announces, “The music is come, sir.”
“Let them play!” cries Falstaff jovially, taking a seat as two men arrive with lute and hautboy. “Play, sirs! Sit on my knee, Doll!” He mutters, “A rascally bragging slave… the rogue fled from me like quicksilver!”—mercury.
Doll concurs. “I’ faith!—and thou followedst him like church!”—returned the proper response. She sits on his knee, and strokes his fat cheek. “Thou whoreson, tidy little Bartholomew Fair boar-pig,” she says solicitously, “when wilt thou leave fighting o’ days and foining o’ nights, and begin to patch up thine old body for heaven?”
Mistress Quickly and Bardolph join them, all sitting at the heavy, scarred-pine table.
“Peace, good Doll,” says Falstaff. “Do not speak like a Death’s-head—do not bid me remember mine end.”
Two men in leather aprons come quietly into the dim chamber and stand at the sideboard. Well aware of the new listeners, Doll now looks thoughtful. “Sirrah, what humour’s the prince of?”
“A good, shallow young fellow,” Falstaff allows. “He would have made a good pantler”—pantry servant. “He would ha’ chipped bread well.”
Doll laughs. “They say Poins has a good wit….”
“He, a good wit? Hang him—baboon! His wit’s as thick as Tewksbury mustard; there’s no more imagination in him than is in a mallet!”
“Why does the prince love him so, then?”
The knight makes a face. “Because their legs are both of a bigness,”—only normal size, he says, with contempt. “And he plays at quoits well; and eats conger and fennel,”—ordinary food, “and drinks at candles’ ends for flap-dragons;”—enjoys raisins heated in spoons full of flaming spirits, “and rides the mild mare; and jumps over joined-stools with the boys; and swears with a good grace; and wears his boots very smooth, like unto the size of the leg; and breeds no debate with telling of indiscreet stories—and such other frolic faculties ’a has that show a weak mind in an able body!
“For the which the prince admits him—for the prince himself is such another! The weight of a hair will turn the scales between their avoirdupois!”
At the back, the servants whisper.
- “Should not this nave of a wheel”—hub, a play on knave—“have its ears cut off?” asks Prince Harry, irked by Falstaff’s slanders.
- “Let’s beat him before his whore!” urges Poins.
- “Look whether the withered elder hath not his poll clawed like a parrot’s!” says the prince, as Doll’s fingers struggle through the knight’s tangled gray hair.
- “Is it not strange that desire should so many years outlive performance?” asks Poins dryly.
Falstaff pulls her closer. “Kiss me, Doll!”
- “Saturn and Venus”—an unnatural match: age and love—“this year in conjunction!” whispers the prince. “What says the almanac to that?”
- Poins sees other courtship: “And look whether the fiery trigon’s man”—an astrological allusion to red-haired Bardolph—“be not lisping to his master’s old tables!—his note-book, his counsel-keeper!” The man is flirting with Mistress Quickly.
“Thou dost give me flattering busses,”—kisses on the cheek, Falstaff complains to Doll.
“By my troth, I kiss thee with a most constant heart,” she replies artfully.
“I am old,” sighs Falstaff. “I am old.”
“I love thee better than I loved e’er a scurvy young boy of them all!”
Falstaff smiles at that dubious compliment. “What stuff wilt have a kirtle made of? I shall receive money o’ Thursday!” He sees her skeptical look; he has offered gowns before—but delivered none after. “Shalt have a cap tomorrow!” he promises. He turns to the musicians. “A merry song, come!”
But the men play a soft, wistful ballad.
“It grows late,” says Falstaff. “We’ll to bed.” He regards Doll sadly. “Thou’lt forget me when I am gone.”
She shakes her head. “By my troth, thou’lt set me a-weeping an thou sayest so!” she protests. “To prove that, I’ll never dress myself handsome till thy return!” She sighs, listening to the bittersweet song. “We’ll harken at the end….”
Falstaff motions to the men at the back. “Some sack, Francis.”
“Anon, anon, sir!” says the prince, as he and Poins come forward into the light.
Falstaff blinks, staring up at the two. “Huh! A bastard son of the king’s! And art not thou Poins’s brother?”
“Why, thou globe of sinful continents!” cries the prince. “What a life dost thou lead!”
“A better than thou!” sniffs Falstaff, finishing his mug of wine. “I am a gentleman; thou art a drawer.”
“Very true, sir!—and I come to draw you out by the ears!”
Mistress Quickly recognizes Harry. “Oh, the Lord preserve thy good grace! By my troth, welcome to London! Now, the Lord bless that sweet face of thine! Oh, Jesu!—are you come from Wales?”
Falstaff rises and beams at the prince. “Thou whoreson, mad compound of majesty!” he says warmly. He nods to Doll Tearsheet. “By this light flesh and corrupt blood, thou art welcome!”
“What? You fat fool, I scorn you!” she cries, rising and stepping away from the knight, anticipating his rebuke by the prince.
But Poins knows the wily Falstaff’s slippery ways. “My lord, he will drive you out of your revenge and turn all to a merriment, if you take not the lead!” he warns.
Harry confronts the knight: “You whoreson candle-mine, you!—how vilely did you speak of me even now before this honest, virtuous, civil gentlewoman!”
“God’s blessing on your good heart!” says Mistress Quickly. “And so she is, by my troth!”
Falstaff regards him calmly. “Didst thou hear me?”
Says the prince, dryly, “Yea, and you knew me—just as you did when you ran away at Gad’s-hill! You knew I was at your back, and spoke it on purpose to try my patience!”
“No, no, no; not so!” insists Falstaff. He mutters, “I did not think thou wast within hearing.”
“I shall drive you to confess the wilful abuse!—and then I’ll know how to handle you!”
“No abuse, Hal, o’ mine honour, no abuse!”
Prince Harry scowls. “No?—to dispraise me, and call me pantler, and bread-chipper, and I know not what?”
“No abuse, Hal!”
Poins stares. “No abuse?”
“No abuse, Ned, i’ the world; honest Ned, none!
“I dispraised him before the wicked, so that the wicked might not fall in love with him!—in which doing, I have done the part of a careful friend and a true subject!—and thy father is to give me thanks for it!” he tells the prince. “No abuse, Hal! None, Ned, none! No, ’faith, boys, none.”
Harry shakes his head. “Say now whether pure fear and entire cowardice do not make thee wrong this virtuous gentlewoman, to close with us!
“Is she of the wicked?” he demands. “Is thine hostess here of the wicked? Or is thy boy of the wicked? Or honest Bardolph, whose zeal burns in his nose, of the wicked?”
“Answer, thou dead elm, answer!” insists Poins.
Falstaff shrugs. “The Fiend hath markèd down Bardolph as irrecoverable, and his face is Lucifer’s privy-kitchen, where he doth nothing but roast malt-worms!”—torment drunkards.
“As for the boy, there is a good angel about him,”—he means himself, “but the Devil outbids for him, too!”
“And the women?” asks the prince.
Falstaff regards Doll. “As for one of them, she is in hell already, and burns poor souls!” He alludes to the painful sensation felt by those contracting infections from her. “For the other: I owe her money, and whether she be damned for that, I know not.”
“No, I warrant you!” cries Mistress Quickly.
“No, I think thou art not; I think thou art acquitted for that,” Falstaff finds. “Marry, but there is another indictment upon thee,” he says, “for suffering flesh to be eaten in thy house, contrary to the law—for the which I think thou wilt howl.”
Mistress Quickly frowns, thinking he means food. “All victuallers do so; what’s a joint of mutton or two in a whole Lent?”
Prince Harry turns to Doll Tearsheet. “You, gentlewoman….”
“What says Your Grace?”
Falstaff intervenes: “His grace sees that which his flesh rebels against!” he argues, affecting righteousness.
Suddenly there is a loud rapping below. “Who knocks so loud at door?” asks Mistress Quickly. “Look to the door there, Francis.” She blushes, remembering that the drawer is actually the heir to England’s throne.
But Prince Harry does go to the entrance. “Peto, how now! What news?”
The soldier bows, holding the brim of his wide hat in his hands. “The king your father is at Westminster! And there are twenty weak and wearied posts”—horseback messengers—“come from the north!
“And, as I came along, I met and overtook a dozen captains—sweating, knocking at the taverns, and asking at every one for Sir John Falstaff!”
Harry is perturbed. “By heaven, Poins, I feel me much to blame, so idly to profane the precious time, when a tempest of commotion, like the south-wind bearing black vapour, doth begin to melt and drop upon our bare, unarmèd heads!
“Give me my sword and cloak!” he tells Poins. He sheds the apron and jerkin, and soon resumes his noble appearance. “Falstaff, good night.” The prince hurries away, followed by Poins, Peto and Bardolph.
Falstaff looks at Doll. “Now comes in the sweetest morsel of the night—but we must hence and leave it unpicked!” He heads toward the chamber entrance. “More knocking at the door! How now?” he demands, as Bardolph returns. “What’s the matter?”
“You must away to court, sir, immediately!” says the soldier. “A dozen captains stay at door for you!”
“Pay the musicians, sirrah,” Falstaff tells his page; the lad gives them coins, and they depart happily. “Farewell, hostess; farewell, Doll. You see, my good wenches, how men of merit are sought after!” He sighs. “The undeserver may sleep when the man of action is called on!”
Falstaff dons his purple-plumed hat. “Farewell good wenches! If I be not sent away post-haste, I will see you again ere I go.”
“I cannot speak,” says Doll Tearsheet. “If my heart be not ready to burst…. Well, sweet Jack, have a care of thyself.”
“Farewell, farewell!” he says gallantly.
And so the soldiers and a boy head off to war.
“Well, fare thee well!” calls Mistress Quickly. “I have known thee these twenty-nine years, come peascod-time; but an honester and truer-hearted man—”
He is gone. Well, fare thee well, she thinks.
Then Bardolph calls from below: “Mistress Tearsheet!”
“What’s the matter?” asks Mistress Quickly.
“Good Mistress Tearsheet, come to my master!”
“Oh, run, Doll, run; run, good Doll!” urges Mistress Quickly. “Come!”
Loosening the strings of her bodice, the younger woman hurries down the stairs.
Alone, Mistress Quickly takes a seat. And she quietly begins to cry.