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he put on his gay humour more to disguise his sorrow than to indulge his fancy.
As they spoke together thus in London streets, Bardolph and Sir John's page came up, and they learned from them of the old knight's doings. He supped, said they, at the accustomed place in Eastcheap and in the old vagabond company. “Sup any women with him ?”' asked Prince Hal; and the page answered, “None but old Mistress Quickly and Mistress Doll Tear-sheet." Then, in his love for such free sport, the prince proposed that Poins and he should steal upon them at supper. They vowed Bardolph to secrecy and the prince gave the knavish boy a crown for his silence; and, parting from them, they considered how they might see Falstaff bestow himself that night in his true colours, and not themselves be seen.
“ Put on two leather jerkins and aprons and wait upon him at his table as drawers,'' suggested Poins. This pleased Prince Hal's mad humour, and he said, though he descended from a prince to a peasant, the transformation should be made, for in everything the purpose must weigh with the folly.
In the Boar's Head Tavern in Eastcheap that same night Sir John took his ease with the hostess and Mistress Doll Tear-sheet, and as they came in from the room where they had supped, the drawer told the knight that Pistol was below and would speak with him. Mistress Tear-sheet bid them let him not come thither, for he was the foul-mouth'dst rogue in England and a swaggering rascal; upon
which Mistress Quickly also objected, for she said she could have no swaggerers there, and she ordered the drawers to shut the door. Falstaff said, “Dost thou hear, hostess ? it is mine ancient;" but she would not listen to him, and continued to rail against all swaggerers.
He's no swaggerer, hostess; a tame cheater, he; you may stroke him as gently as a puppy greyhound: he will not swagger with a Barbary hen, if her feathers turn back in any show of resistance," quoth the knight; whereupon Mistress Quickly was instantly mollified, for she said she would bar no honest man nor cheater from her house; but she could not abide a swaggerer.
Pistol was now allowed to come up, and, “Save you, Sir John," said he as he entered; but instantly he fell into hard words with Mistress Doll which anon became so high that Bardolph and the old knight himself were powerless to keep peace between them. “Thrust him down-stairs; I cannot endure such a fustian rascal," cried Doll, and all together tried to put him out of the room; but he drew his sword upon Bardolph, and would have wounded him had not Sir John drawn and crossed blades with him and driven him away. The knight came puffing back like a great hero and was caressed by both the women for his bravery. “A rascal! to brave me," he said, looking fiercely around him; while Mistress Doll called him endearingly her sweet little rogue, and wiped his sweating face. “Thou art as valorous as Hector of Troy, worth
five of Agamemnon, and ten times better than the nine worthies," said she; but Sir John could only mutter, “A rascally slave! I will toss the rogue in a blanket!"
At this moment the music came in and Falstaff bid them play, while Doll sat on his knee and he still cursed Pistol for a bragging slave. "The rogue fled from me like quicksilver," quoth he; and Doll said Sir John followed him like a church. “When wilt thou leave off fighting and dramdrinking and begin to patch up thine old body for heaven?" she asked. He bid her keep peace and not speak like a death's head; and at this same time Prince Hal and Poins, disguised like drawers, came in to spy upon their doings. “Sirrah,' asked Doll, "what humour is the prince of?" Falstaff protested he was a good, shallow young fellow who would have made a good pantler, or would have chipped bread well. “They say Poins hath a good wit,” quoth she; but Falstaff was in no humour to allow as much. “He a good wit? hang him, baboon!” he muttered, “his wit is as thick as Tewksbury mustard; there is no more conceit in him than in a mallet.” Doll asked why, then, the prince loved him so; and the jealous old knight said it was because their legs were both of bigness, and he played at quoits well, and ate conger and fennel, and jumped upon joint-stools, and did all the rest of the mad antics of his kind, for the prince himself was just such another.” This was more than Prince Hal and Poins could bear.
They whispered together menacingly. “Would not this knave have his ears cut off?'' muttered the prince; and Poins offered to beat him. But just then Falstaff, in a melting mood, said, “Kiss me, Doll,” and the eavesdroppers stayed their hands to watch the sport. “Thou wilt forget me when I am gone,” said the knight. “By my troth,” she answered, “thou'lt set me weeping if thou sayest so.” Then Sir John called for some sack and Prince Henry and Poins bustled forward crying, “Anon, anon, sir.” Falstaff discovered them on the instant. “Ha! a bastard son of the king's," he cried. “And art not thou Poins his brother ?” he asked of Poins. “Why, thou globe of sinful continents, what a life dost thou lead ?”' said the prince. Sir John told him a better than he, for he was a gentleman and the prince but a drawer. Then the old knight, who really loved Prince Hal, bid him a hearty welcome back to London; but Mistress Doll, on whom he leaned his fat hand as he spoke, cast it off, saying that she scorned him; for the truth was she had set her cap for his betters, and was vexed thus to be caught by them in the old knight's company. The prince accused him of speaking vilely of him; but Sir John, with his accustomed impudence, explained that he had dispraised him and Poins before the wicked that the wicked might not fall in love with them. “In which doing," he said, “I have done the part of a careful friend and a true subject, and thy father is to give me thanks for it.”
But, now there was a loud knock at the door, and when it was opened Peto entered breathless. with news. He told the prince that the king had arrived at Westminster and that twenty weak and wearied posts had ridden from the north. As he came along he said he had met a dozen captains, bareheaded, sweating, knocking at the taverns and asking every one for Sir John Falstaff.
The prince was abashed to hear such tidings: they brought him back to the realities of kingship. “By heavens, Poins," said he, “I feel me much to blame, so idly to profane the precious time." Then he called for his sword and cloak, and crying, “Falstaff, good-night,” hurried away, followed by Poins, Peto, and Bardolph. Presently Bardolph came back with a command for Sir John to repair to court directly. “A dozen captains stay at door for you," he told the knight, and Falstaff, bidding his page pay the musicians, turned to bid farewell to Mistress Tear-sheet and the hostess. “You see, my good wenches, how men of merit are sought after," said he; then, retiring down stairs, called, “Farewell, farewell," and, with Bardolph at his heels, was gone.
The king was bowed down with the load of his triple wars, and found no rest through the weary nights. He wandered till dawn about his palace invoking the gentle goddess of sleep, but she refused him her balm of forgetfulness. Nature's soft nurse, he called her, and many another fair name, and asked how he had frighted her that