At the palace, King Henry IV lies in his bedchamber, attended by his sons and chief counselors. “Let there be no noise made, my gentle friends—unless some favourable hand will whisper dulcet music to my weary spirit….”
Lord Warwick motions to an attendant. He says, his voice hushed, “Call for the music in the other room.”
Henry is very pale. “Set me the crown upon my pillow here.”
Thomas watches as it is lifted, then laid beside his father’s head. “His eye is hollow, and he changes much,” he whispers.
As the eldest son arrives with attendants, Warwick cautions them, “Less noise, less noise!”
Prince Harry glances around. “Who saw the Duke of Clarence?”
“I am here, brother, full of heaviness,” says Thomas.
“How now? Rain within doors, and none abroad,” says Harry cheerfully, going to the bed. “How doth the king?”
Humphrey is worried. “Exceeding ill.”
“Heard he the good news yet?” asks Harry. “Tell it him!”
Gloucester nods. “He altered much upon the hearing it.”
“If he be sick with joy, he’ll recover without physic.”
“Not so much noise, my lords!” warns Warwick. “Sweet prince, speak low; the king your father is disposed to sleep.”
“Let us withdraw into the other room,” says Thomas.
Warwick follows him. He turns to ask Harry, “Will’t please Your Grace to go along with us?”
“No; I will sit and watch here by the king.” Warwick frowns, but he bows and goes with the others.
Harry pulls a chair to the bed.
Why doth the crown lie there upon his pillow, being so troublesome a bedfellow? O polished perturbation—golden care!—that keep’st the ports of slumber open wide so many a watchful night!
Asleep with it now. Yet a sleep not so sound nor half so deeply sweet as his whose brow with homely nightcap is bound snores out the watch of night.
O majesty! When thou dost pinch thy bearer, thou dost sit like a rich armour worn in heat of day, that scalds with safety!
He moves closer, alarmed. Beside his gates of breath there lies a downy feather—which stirs not! If he did suspire, that light and weightless down perforce must move….
“My gracious lord! My father!”
He touches Henry’s forehead; it is cold.
This sleep is sound indeed; this is the sleep that from this golden round hath divorced so many English kings!
He kneels. Thy due from me is tears and heavy sorrows of the blood, which nature, love, and filial tenderness, shall, O dear Father, pay thee plenteously!
My due from thee is this imperial crown, which, as immediate to thy place and blood, derives itself to me. Lo, here it sits, which God shall guard!
And put the world’s whole strength into one giant arm, it shall not force this lineal honour from me!
He rises and takes up the crown, turning it slowly in his hands. This from thee will I to mine leave, as ’tis left to me.
The king awakens. “Warwick! Gloucester! Clarence!”
The lords return, Thomas first. “Doth the king call?”
“What would Your Majesty?” asks Warwick. “How fares Your Grace?”
“Why did you leave me here alone, my lords?”
Thomas replies: “We left the prince my brother here, my liege, who undertook to sit and watch by you.”
“The Prince of Wales! Where is he? Let me see him!” He peers around weakly. “He is not here.”
Warwick looks toward the back of the room. “This door is open; he is gone this way.”
Humphrey nods. “He came not through the chamber where we stayed.”
“Where is the crown? Who took it from my pillow?”
“When we withdrew, my liege, we left it here,” Warwick tells him.
“The prince hath ta’en it hence! Go, seek him out! Is he so hasty that he doth suppose my sleep my death?
“Find him, my lord of Warwick!—chide him hither!” Warwick, his expression stern, bows and goes.
“This parting of his conjoins with my disease,” moans Henry, “and helps to end me!
“See, sons, what things you are!—how quickly Nature falls into revolt when gold becomes her object! For this the foolish, over-careful fathers have broken their sleep with thoughts, their brains with care, their bones with industry!—for this they have engrossd and piled up the cankered heaps of strange-achievèd gold!—for this they have been thoughtful to invest their sons with arts and martial exercises!
“When, like the bee, culling from every flower the virtuous sweets, our thighs packed with wax, our mouths with honey, we bring it to the hive, then like the bees are murdered for our pains!—this bitter yield is engrossment to the ending father!”
He sees Warwick returning. “Now where is he that will not stay so long as till his friend, sickness, hath determined me?”
The nobleman speaks softly. “My lord, I found the prince in the next room—wetting with kindly tears his gentle cheeks, with such a deep demeanor of great sorrow that Tyranny, which never quaffed but blood, would, beholding him, have washed its knife with gentle eye-drops!
“He is coming hither.”
“But wherefore did he take away the crown?
“Lo, where he comes. Come hither to me, Harry.” The king looks up at the others. “Depart the chamber; leave us here alone.”
The nobles bow and go.
Prince Harry comes to his father’s side, with the crown in his hand. “I never thought to hear you speak again,” he says gently.
“Thy wish, Harry, was father to that thought!” complains the king. “I stay too long by thee, I weary thee! Dost thou so hunger for mine empty chair that thou wilt needs invest thee with my honours before thine hour be ripe?
“O foolish youth! Thou seek’st the greatness that will o’erwhelm thee! Stay but a little; for my cloud of dignity is held from falling with so weak a wind that it will quickly drop. My day is dim.
“Thou hast stolen that which after some few hours were thine without offence!—and at my death thou hast sealed up my expectation. Thy life did manifest thou lovedst me not, and thou wilt have me die assured of it!
“Thou hidest a thousand daggers in thy thoughts, which thou hast whetted on thy stony heart, to stab at half an hour of my life! What?—canst thou not forbear me half an hour? Then get thee gone and dig my grave thyself, and bid the merry bells ring to thine ear that thou art crownèd, not that I am dead!
“Let all the tears that should bedew my hearse be drops of balm to sanctify thy head! Merely compound me with forgotten dust!—give that which gave thee life unto the worms! Pluck down my officers, break my decrees!—for now a time is come to mock at form!”
With effort, he sits up in bed. “Harry the Fifth is crownèd! Up, vanity! Down, royal state! All you sage counsellors, hence!—and to the English court assemble now, from every region, apes of idleness!
“Now, neighbour confines”—squalid parts of London—“purge you of your scum! Have you a ruffian that will swear, drink, dance, revel the night?—rob, murder, and commit the oldest sins the newest kind of ways? Be happy!—he will trouble you no more! England”—the new king—“shall double-gild his treble guilt; England shall give him office, honour, might!—for the fifth Harry from curbèd licence plucks the muzzle of restraint, and the wild dog shall flesh his tooth on every innocent!
“O my poor kingdom, sick with civil blows! If my care could not withhold thy riots, what wilt thou do when riot is thy care? Oh, thou wilt be a wilderness again, peopled with wolves, thine old inhabitants!”
He sinks back, exhausted.
Prince Harry moves forward. “O my liege, pardon me!—but for my tears, the moist impediments unto my speech, I had forestalled this dear and deep rebuke ere you from grief had spoken, and I had heard the course of it so far!
“There is your crown,” he says, placing it on the pillow, “and may He that wears the crown immortally long guard it yours!”
The prince kneels. “If I affect it more than as your honour and as your renown, let me no more from this obedience rise, while my most inward, true, and duteous spirit teacheth this prostrate and exterior bending!
“God witness with me, when I here came in and found no course of breath within Your Majesty, how cold it struck my heart! If I do feign, oh let me in my present wildness die, and never live to show the incredulous world the noble change that I have purposed!
“Coming to look on you, thinking you dead—and dead almost, my liege, to think you were!—I spake unto this crown as having sense, and thus upbraided it: ‘The care on thee depending hath fed upon the body of my father!—therefore thou, best of gold, art worst of gold! Other, less fine in carat, is more precious, preserving life in medicine potable; but thou, most fine, most honoured, most renowned, hast eaten up thy bearer!’
“Thus accusing it, my most royal liege, I put it on my head to contend with it as with an enemy that had, before my face, murdered my father!—the quarrel of a true inheritor!
“But if it did infect my blood with joy, or swell my thoughts to any strain of pride—if any rebel or vain spirit of mine did with the least affection of a welcome give entertainment to the might of it—let God forever keep it from my head, and make me as the poorest vassal is that doth with awe and terror kneel to it!”
The king has tears in his eyes. “O my son, God put it in thy mind to take it hence, that thou mightst win the more thy father’s love, pleading so wisely in excuse of it!
“Come hither, Harry; sit thou by my bed; and hear, I think, the very last counsel that ever I shall breathe.” Harry moves to the chair and sits beside him.
“God knows, my son, by what by-paths and indirect, crooked ways I met this crown; and I myself know well how troublesome it sat upon my head! To thee it shall descend with better quiet, better opinion, better confirmation; for all the soil of the achievement goes with me into the earth.
“It seemed in me but as an honour snatchèd with boisterous hand; and I had many living upbraiding my gain of it by their assistances—which daily grew, to quarrel, then to bloodshed, wounding supposèd peace! All these bold peers, thou see’st, with peril I have answerèd!—for all my reign hath been but as a scene acting that argument!
“And now my death changes the mode, for what in me was purchased falls upon thee in a more fairer sort, as thou the garland wear’st successively.
“Yet, though thou stand’st more sure than I could do, thou art not firm enough, since griefs are green, and all my friends—by whose fell working I was first advancèd, and whom thou must make thy friends—have but had their stings and teeth newly ta’en out, by whose power I might well again have lodged in fear of being displaced!
“Which to avoid, I cut some off, and had the purpose now to lead many out to the Holy Land, lest rest and lying still might make them look too near unto my state!
“Therefore, my Harry, be it thy course to busy giddy minds with foreign quarrels, so that action hence borne out may waste the memory of the former days.”
He coughs—painfully, flushing with the strain. “More would I, but my lungs are so wasted that strength of speech is utterly denied me.
“How I came by the crown, oh, may God forgive!—and grant it may with thee in true peace live!”
“My gracious liege, you won it, wore it, kept it!—gave it me! Then plain and right must my possession be! Which I with more than the common claim ’gainst all the world will right fully maintain!”
King Henry IV smiles. He sees the door open. “Look, look, here comes my John of Lancaster.”
“Health, peace, and happiness to my royal father!” says John, coming to him.
“Thou bring’st me happiness and peace, son John; but health, alack, with youthful wings is flown from this bare-withered trunk. Upon thy sight, my worldly business makes a period.
“Where is my lord of Warwick?”
Prince Harry calls: “My lord of Warwick!”
The counselor returns.
“Doth any particular lodging name belong unto the room where I first did swoon?” the king asks his closest advisor.
“’Tis called ‘Jerusalem,’ my noble lord.”
King Henry nods and smiles. “Laud be to God!
“Even there my life must end. It hath been prophesied to me many years ago: I should not die but in Jerusalem—which vainly I supposed the Holy Land!
“But bear me to that chamber; there I’ll lie.
“In that Jerusalem shall Harry die.”
Judgment by Justice
Shallow insists that the guests in his house stay longer. “By cock-’n-pie, sir, you shall not away tonight!” He calls: “What!—Davy, I say!”
Falstaff seems to resist the offer of supper, even as fine a one as has been proposed. “You must excuse me, Master Robert Shallow….”
“I will not excuse you; you shall not be excused; excuses shall not be admitted; there is no excuse shall serve!—you shall not be excusèd!
The sprightly steward pops into the parlor. “Here, sir!”
“Davy, Davy, Davy, Davy, let me see, Davy….” Shallow is thinking, “Let me see, Davy; let me see… Yea, marry, William—cook!—bid him come hither!” The man goes out. “Sir John, you shall not be excused!”
Davy returns with word from William. “Marry, sir, thus: those recipes cannot be served. And, again, sir: shall we sow the headland with wheat?”
Shallow frowns. “With red wheat, Davy. But as for William the cook: are there no young pigeons?”
“Yes, sir,” says the steward, handing Shallow a bill. “Here now is the smith’s note for shoeing and plough-irons.”
“Let it be cast and paid. Sir John, you shall not be excused!”
The rustic household’s major domo continues. “Now, sir, a new link to the bucket must need be had. And, sir, do you mean to stop any of William’s wages, over the sack he lost the other day at Hinckley Fair?”
“He shall answer it,” says Shallow firmly, walking Davy to the door. “Some pigeons, Davy, a couple of short-leggèd hens, a joint of mutton, and any pretty little tine-kickshaws,”—quelque chose, prong somethings, “tell William cook!”
At the door, Davy asks, privately “Doth the man of war stay all night, sir?”
“Yea, Davy; I will use him well! A friend i’ the court is better than a penny in purse!” Falstaff’s troops are camped outside. “Use his men well, Davy—for they are arrant knaves, and will backbite!”
The steward grins. “No worse than they are backbitten, sir, for they have marvellous-foul linen!”—clothing infested with lice.
Shallow laughs. “Well conceited, Davy! About thy business, Davy.”
But the Gloucestershire man has a boon to request from the justice of the peace. “I beseech you, sir, to countenance William Visor of Woncot against Clement Perkes of the hill.”
Shallow frowns. “There is many complaints, Davy, against that Visor! That Visor is an arrant knave, on my knowledge!”
“I grant Your Worship that he is a knave, sir; yet God forbid, sir, but that a knave should have some countenance at his friend’s request,” Davy argues. “An honest man, sir, is able to speak for himself, when a knave is not.
“I have served Your Worship truly, sir, this eight years, and if I cannot once or twice in a quarter bear out a knave against an honest man, I have but a very little credit with Your Worship! The knave is mine honest friend, sir; therefore, I beseech Your Worship, let him be countenanced.”
The old justice accedes—sort of. “Go to; I say he shall have no wrong. Look about, Davy.”
The steward, satisfied, goes to the cook, and Shallow turns back to his guests. “Where are you, Sir John? Come, come, come, off with your boots!” He goes to the corporal. “Give me your hand, Master Bardolph!”
“I am glad to see Your Worship!” says the red-faced man, as they shake hands.
“I thank thee with all my heart, kind Master Bardolph!
“And welcome, my tall fellow,” Shallow tells the diminutive page. “Come, Sir John,” he says, heading toward the kitchen.
“I’ll follow you, good Master Robert Shallow,” says Falstaff. “Bardolph, look to our horses.” With the boy, the corporal goes out to the camp; the troops, too, will eat meager dry rations.
Falstaff considers the prosperous proprietor of this sprawling country manse. If I were sawed into quantities, I should make four dozen such staves as Master Shallow: bearded hermits!
It is a wonderful thing to see the semblable coherence of his men’s spirits and his! They, by observing of him, do bear themselves like foolish justices; he, by conversing with them, is turned into a justice-like serving-man! Their spirits are so married in conjunction with participation in this society that they flock together by consent like so many wild geese!
If I had a request for Master Shallow, I would humour his men with the imputation of being near to their master; if for his men, I would so curry with Master Shallow that no man could better command his servants!
It is certain that either wise bearing or ignorant carriage is caught as men take diseases one from another! Therefore let men take heed of their company!
The prince, he assumes, is heedless of the company he keeps. I will devise matter enough out of this Shallow to keep Harry in continual laughter for the wearing out of six fashions, which is four terms, or two actions—a year of judicial sessions, or two suits at law—and ’a shall laugh without intervallums!—recesses.
Oh, it is much that a lie with a slight oath, and a jest with a sad brow, will do with a fellow that never had the ache in his shoulders! he thinks, of the prince. Ah, we shall see him laugh till his face be like a wet cloak ill laid up!
“Sir John!” calls Shallow.
“I come, Master Shallow, I come, Master Shallow!”
In a corridor of the palace at Westminster, Lord Warwick encounters an arriving visitor. “How now, my lord chief justice! Whither away?”
“How doth the king?”
Says Warwick gravely, “Exceeding well. His cares are now all ended.”
“I hope not dead!”
“He’s walked the way of Nature,” the earl reports, “and to our purposes he lives no more.”
“I would his majesty had called me with him!” groans Sir William. “The service that I did truly in his life hath left me all open to injuries!”
Warwick nods. “Indeed, I think the young king loves you not.”
“I know he doth not, and do arm myself to welcome the condition of the time, which cannot look more hideously upon me than I have drawn it in my fantasy!”
“Here come the sorrowing issue of dead Harry,” says Warwick, as three of the late king’s sons approach, with Lord Westmoreland and others. “Oh, that the living Harry, the worst of those gentlemen, had the temper of him! How many nobles then should hold their places, who must strike sail to sprits of vile sort!”—yield place to common criminals.
“Oh, God, I fear all will be overturned!” says the chief justice, anticipating the new king’s likely elevation of low men to noble station, and their appointment to high positions in government.
“Good morrow, cousin Warwick, good morrow,” says John sadly.
“Good morrow, cousin,” replies Watrwick quietly.
John sighs. “We meet like men that had forgot how to speak.”
“We do remember,” says Warwick, “but our argument is all too heavy to admit much talk.”
“Well, peace be with him that hath made us heavy,” says John, of his father.
“Peace be with us, lest we be heavier!”—burdened with new griefs, says the chief justice.
Humphrey understands his concern. “Oh, good my lord, you have lost a friend indeed! And I dare swear you borrow not that face of seeming sorrow—it is surely your own.”
John concurs. “Though no man be assured what grace to find, you stand in coldest expectation! I am the sorrier—I would ’twere otherwise.”
“Well, you must now speak Sir John Falstaff fair, which swims against your stream of quality,” says Humphrey.
But the chief justice shakes his head. “Sweet princes, what I did, I did in honour, led by the impartial conduct of my soul! And never shall you see that I will beg a ragged—and forestallèd—remission!
“If truth and upright innocence fail me, I’ll go to the king my master that is dead, and tell him who hath sent me after him!”
“Here comes the prince,” says Warwick, as King Henry V arrives with his attendants.
The lord chief justice bows. “Good morrow; and God save Your Majesty.”
The monarch tells the judge, “This new and gorgeous garment majesty sits not so easy on me as you think.” He regards the princes and smiles. “Brothers, you mix your sadness with some fear; but this is the English, not the Turkish court; not Amurath an Amurath succeeds,”—a new tyrant taking the place of an old, “but Harry, Harry!
“Yet be sad, good brothers, for, by my faith, it very well becomes you. Sorrow so royally in you appears that I will deeply put thy fashion on, and wear it in my heart. We’ll then be sad, good brothers; but entertain no more of it than a joint burden laid upon us all.
“As for me, by heaven I bid you be assured I’ll be your father and your brother too! Let me but bear your love, and I’ll bear your cares! Yet weep that Harry’s dead, and so will I; but Harry lives that shall convert those tears, by number, into hours of happiness.”
The princes return his smile—weakly. “We hope no other from Your Majesty,” says Thomas.
“You all look strangely on me,” says the king, “and you most!” he tells the chief justice. “You are, I think, assured I love you not….”
“I am assured, if I be measured rightly, that Your Majesty hath no just cause to hate me.”
“No? How might a prince of my great hopes forget so great indignities as you laid upon me? What?—berate, rebuke, and roughly send to prison the immediate heir of England! Was this easy? May this be washed in Lethe and forgotten?”
The judge speaks firmly. “I then did use the person of your father: the image of his power lay then in me. And, in the administration of his law, whiles I was busy for the commonwealth, Your Highness pleasèd to forget my place—the majesty and power of law and justice, the image of the king whom I represented—and struck me in my very hall of judgment. Whereupon I gave bold way to my authority and did commit you—as an offender to your father.
“If a deed were ill, would you be contented, wearing now the garland, to have a son set your decrees at nought, pluck down justice from your awesome bench, trip the course of law, and blunt the sword that guards the peace and safety of your person?—nay, more: spurn at your most royal image, and mock your workings in a second’s body!
“Question your royal thoughts; make the case yours—be now a father and propose a son—hear your own dignity so much profaned, see your most majestic laws so loosely slighted, behold yourself so by a son disdainèd! And then imagine me taking your part, and in your power softly silencing your son.
“After that cold considerance, sentence me; and, as you are a king, speak in your state”—pronounce officially—“what I have done that misbecame my place, my person, or my liege’s sovereignty.”
Says the new king without hesitation, “You are right, justice, and you weigh this well. Therefore still bear the balance and the sword”—the emblems of justice.
Henry V smiles. “And I do wish your honours may increase, till you do live to see a son of mine offend you—then obey you, as I did! So shall I live to speak my father’s words: ‘Happy am I that have a man so bold, who dares do justice on my proper son!’
“And I, having such a son, no less happily would so deliver up his greatness into the hands of justice. You did commit me—for which I do commit into your hand the unstainèd sword that you have used to bear—with this remembrance: that you use the same with the like bold, just and impartial spirit as you have done ’gainst me.
“There is my hand,” he says, gently taking that of the astonished judge. “You shall be as a father to my youth. My voice shall sound as you do prompt mine ear, and I will stoop, and humble my intents to your well-practised, wise direction.
“And, princes all, believe me, I beseech you, my father is gone mildly into his grave: for in his tomb lie my affections with his spirit; and solemnly I survive to mock the expectation of the world, to frustrate prophecies, and to raze out rotten opinion, which hath writ me down after my seeming.
“The tide of blood in me hath proudly flowed in vain pursuits till now; now doth it turn and ebb back to the sea, where it shall mingle with the source of floods, and flow henceforth in formal majesty!
“Now call we our high court of Parliament! And let us choose such limbs of noble counsel that the great body of our state may go in equal rank with the best-governed Nation!” He looks upward. “So that war or peace, or both at once, may be as things acquainted and familiar to us, in which you, Father, shall have foremost hand!”
He regards the noblemen. “Our coronation done, we will accite as before-membered all our state”—agencies of governance.
“And, God cosigning to my good intents, no prince nor peer shall have just cause to say, ‘God shorten Harry’s happy life’—by even one day!”
Walking toward fragrant apple trees this golden summer evening, Justice Shallow proudly leads his well fed supper guests. “Nay, you shall see my orchard—where in an arbour we will eat a last-year’s pippin of my own grafting, with a platter of seedy cakes! And so, forth!—come, cousin Silence! And then to bed.”
“’Fore God, you have here a goodly dwelling, and a rich!” puffs Falstaff, packed nearly full.
“Barren, barren, barren; beggars all, beggars all, Sir John,” claims Shallow humbly. He takes a deep breath. “Marry, good air!” He hails the steward and motions toward the rough table already laid with waiting wooden trenchers. “Spread, Davy; spread, Davy!” He watches, pleased, as the man pulls napkin-wrapped biscuits and a crock from a big wicker basket, and uncovers the dish of sliced apples. “Well said, Davy!” he beams, as the sugared fruit is spooned out.
“This Davy serves you for good uses,” observes Falstaff. “He is your husbandman and your serving-man.”
Shallow nods. “A good varlet, a good varlet, a very good varlet, Sir John!” He belches. “By the mass, I have drunk too much sack at supper! A good varlet… Now sit down, now sit down! Come, cousin….”
Justice Silence has drunk a full share as well. He sings: “‘Ah, sirrah!’ quoth-’a, ‘we’ll nothing but eat and make good cheer, And praise God for the merry year, When meat is cheap and females dear, And lusty lads roam there and here, So merrily, and ever anon so merrily!’”
“There’s a merry heart!” laughs Falstaff. “Good Master Silence, I’ll give you a health for that ‘anon’!”
“Give Master Bardolph some wine, Davy!” says the host.
“Sweet sir, sit,” Davy replies, still serving up apples. “Sit most sweet sir! I’ll be with you anon!”
“Master Page, good Master Page, you prophecy,” chuckles Falstaff, taking a seat, “what you lack in meat, we’ll have in drink! You must but bear it! The heart is all!” he cries. The boy makes a face, but he pours more wine from a flagon.
“Be merry, Master Bardolph!” urges Shallow. “And, my little soldier there, be merry!” he tells Falstaff’s boy.
Silence sings: “‘Be merry, be merry, my wife has ale! Though women are shrews, both short and tall, ’Tis merry in hall when beards wag, all, And welcome Shrove-tide tale! Be merry, be merry!’”
Falstaff laughs, surprised. “I did not think Master Silence had been a man of this mettle!”
“Who, I?” says Silence. “I have been merry twice and once ere now!”
Davy returns to set a heavy tray on the long table. “There’s a dish of leather-coats for you!” he tells Bardolph; the baked apples are succulent inside.
“Davy!” cries Shallow.
“I’ll be with you straight, Your Worship!” Davy asks Bardolph, “A cup of wine, sir?”
“‘A cup of wine!—that’s brisk and fine!’” sings Silence, “‘And drink unto the leman mine!’”—his sweetheart. He blinks. “‘And a merry heart lives long-a!’”
Falstaff quaffs deeply. “Well said, Master Silence!”
Silence sighs, enjoying the radiant sunset. “And so we shall be merry, now comes in the sweet o’ the night!”
Falstaff raises his mug. “Health and long life to you, Master Silence!”
Silence tells Davy, singing. “‘Fill the cup— and let it come, I’ll pledge you, a mile to the bottom!’”
“Honest Bardolph, well come!” laughs Shallow, as the man sits down. “If thou wantest anything and wilt not call, beshrew thy heart! Welcome, my little, tiny thief,” he tells the page, “and well come in deed, too! I’ll drink to Master Bardolph, and to all the cavaleros about London!”
Davy is wistful. “I hope to see London once, ere I die.”
“And I that I might see you there, Davy!” says Bardolph.
“By the Mass, you’ll crack a quart together, eh?” laughs Shallow. “Will you not, Master Bardolph?”
“Yea, sir—and a pottle-pot!”—which holds two quarts.
“By God’s liggens, I thank thee!” cries Shallow. “The knave will stick by thee, I can assure thee that!” he tells the corporal. “’A will not out; he is true bred!”
“And I’ll stick by him, sir!” says Davy wryly.
“Why, there spoke a king! Lack nothing! Be merry!” Shallow hears a distant rapping. “Look who’s at door there, ho! Who knocks?”
Davy goes to see.
“Why, now you have done me right!” cries Falstaff, as Silence finishes off a bumper to meet the knight’s challenge.
Silence sings, “‘Do me right, And dub me knight, am-eeego!’ Is’t not so?”
“’Tis so!” cries Falstaff.
“Is’t so?” laughs Silence. “Well, then, say an old man can do something!”
Davy returns to Shallow from the house. “An’t please Your Worship, there’s one Pistol come from the court with news….”
“From the court!” cries Falstaff. “Let him come in!”
Davy goes back, and soon Pistol, dusty after his ride, joins the drinkers.
“How now, Pistol?” demands the knight.
“Sir John, God save you!”
“What wind blew you hither, Pistol?” asks Falstaff.
Pistol grins. “Not the ill wind which blows no man to good!”—flatulence. “Sweet knight, thou art now one of the greatest men in this realm!” He helps himself to a mug of wine, and drinks deeply before explaining.
Says Silence, waiting to hear, “By’r lady, I think ’a be but Goodman Puff of Barson!”
“Puff?” cries the rider, wiping his mouth with the back of a hand. “Puff in thy teeth, most recreant coward, base!
“Sir John, I am thy Pistol and thy friend, and helter-skelter have I rode to thee!—and tidings do I bring!—of lucky joys and golden times, and happy news of price!”
Falstaff stares at the dubious herald-angel. “I pray thee now, deliver them like a man of this world!”
Pistol scoffs: “A foutre for the world and worldlings base!—I speak of Africa, and golden toys!”
Falstaff is impatient: “O base Assyrian knight, what is thy news? Let King Cophetua”—he of the ballad—“know the truth thereof!”
“‘And Robin Hood, Scarlet, and John!’” sings Silence.
Pistol is annoyed. “Shall dunghill curs confront the Helicons? And shall good news be baffled?”—turned upside down. “Then, Pistol, lay thy head in the Fury’s lap!”—Atropos, the one who cuts the thread of life.
Silence stares at him, blinking. “Honest gentleman, I know not your meaning….”
“Why then, lament therefore!” cries Pistol, and he drinks again.
“Give me pardon, sir!” says Justice Shallow, tipsily stepping forward with exaggerated dignity. “If, sir, you come with news from the court, I take it there’s but two ways: either to utter them, or to conceal them. I am, sir, under the king, in some authority….”
“Under which king, Besonian?” demands fiery Pistol. “Speak or die!”
“Under King Harry.”
Pistol peers. “Harry the Fourth? Or Fifth? ”
“Harry the Fourth.”
“A foutre for thine office!” roars Pistol. “Sir John, thy tender lambkin now is king!—Harry the Fifth’s the man! I speak the truth! When Pistol lies, do this”—he makes a rude gesture, thumb between two fingers—“and fig me like a bragging Spaniard!”
“What, is the old king dead?” demands Falstaff.
“As nail in door! The things I speak are just!”
Falstaff rises quickly. “Away, Bardolph! Saddle my horse!
“Master Robert Shallow, choose what office thou wilt in the land, ’tis thine!
“Pistol, I will double-charge thee”—as with gunpowder—“with dignities!”
“Oh, joyful day!“ cries Bardolph. “I would not take a knighthood for my fortune!”
“What? I do bring good news!” replies Pistol, dismissing such modest ambition.
Falstaff sees that a companion is asleep. “Carry Master Silence to bed,” he advises Davy.
“Master Shallow—my Lord Shallow—be what thou wilt!—I am Fortune’s steward! Get on thy boots! We’ll ride all night!
“On, sweet Pistol! Away, Bardolph!” The corporal goes toward the horses. “Come, Pistol, utter more to me—and withal devise something to do thyself good!
“Boot, boot, Master Shallow! I know the young king is sick for me!
“Let us take any man’s horses!—the laws of England are at my commandment! Blessèd are they that have been my friends!—and woe to my lord chief justice!”
Pistol, who has vowed vengeance on many a sheriff’s man, nods. “Let vultures vile seize on his lungs also!” He sings: “‘Where is the life that late I led?’ say they. Why, here it is!
“Welcome these pleasant days!”