— 2.2 —
On the road near Gads Hill, Prince Hal and Poins talked together. Peto and Bardolph were also present.
Poins said, “Let’s hide ourselves. I have taken Falstaff’s horse and hidden it from him, and now he is complaining. His nerves are fraying like cheap velvet.”
Prince Hal said to the others, “Hide yourselves!”
They hid themselves in shrubbery.
Falstaff arrived and said, “Poins! Poins, damn you!”
Prince Hal said, “Be quiet, you fat-kidneyed rascal! What a racket you are making!”
“Where’s Poins, Hal?” Falstaff asked.
“He walked up to the top of the hill. I’ll go and seek him.”
Prince Hal departed.
“I have been cursed — that must be why I rob in the company of Poins!” Falstaff said. “That scoundrel! He has taken my horse and hidden it somewhere — I don’t know where! If I walk even four more feet, I will completely lose my breath. Well, I plan to die a good death despite all this current misery — provided I escape hanging for killing Poins. For every hour of the past twenty-two years, I have sworn to myself that I will drop him as one of my friends, but yet I enjoy his company. I swear that he must have given me a friendship potion.”
Falstaff called, “Poins! Hal!”
No answer came back, and Falstaff said, “Damn you both!” He believed that Prince Hal must also be in on the practical joke.
Falstaff then called, “Bardolph! Peto!”
No answer came back, and Falstaff said, “I prefer to die rather than rob a foot further. Drink is a good thing, and I think that reforming myself and becoming an honest man — and leaving these rogues — would be as good as drink. If it isn’t, then I am the worst scoundrel who ever chewed with a tooth. Walking eight yards of uneven ground on foot for me is the equivalent of walking seventy miles on foot for a person of normal weight. These stonyhearted villains know it well enough. The world must be damned if there is no honor among thieves.”
Falstaff heard a whistle from the others.
He said, “Whew! A plague upon you all! Give me my horse, you rogues — give me my horse, and be hanged!”
Accompanied by Poins, Prince Hal walked up to Falstaff and said, “Be quiet, fat guts! Lie down; put your ear close to the ground and listen. You may be able to hear the tread of travelers.”
Fat Falstaff replied, “Do you have any levers to lift me up again, after I lie down? I think not. I swear that I will not carry my own flesh so far on foot ever again — not even for all the money in your father’s royal treasury! Why are you horsing around and playing a joke on me?”
“No horsing around can take place,” Prince Hal said. “You don’t have a horse.”
“Please, Hal,” Falstaff said. “Please, Prince, help me get my horse back.”
Prince Hal replied, “Why should I help you get on your horse’s back? I am not your groom.”
Falstaff said, “Go and hang yourself in your own heir-apparent garters! After all, you are a member of the Order of the Garters. I swear, if I am caught robbing I will turn informant and get all of you arrested. I swear that I will have filthy ballads written about all of you and have them sung everywhere. If I don’t, let a cup of sack be my poison — I will drink myself to death! This practical joke has gotten out of hand — and left me on foot! I hate it when the game is afoot and I happen to be the game.”
Gadshill, Bardolph, and Peto showed up.
Gadshill joked, “Stand still and put your hands up!”
Falstaff replied, “I am standing — very much against my will.”
Poins said, “I know who this is — I recognize his voice. This is Gadshill, who gets the information we need to rob people and who arranges the robbery.”
Bardolph asked, “Gadshill, do you have any news for us?”
Gadshill replied, “Cover your faces. Put your masks on. Money that belongs to the King is coming down the hill. It’s going to the King’s treasury.”
“That’s a lie,” Falstaff said. “It’s going to the King’s Tavern, one of my favorite drinking spots.”
Gadshill said, “There’s enough money to make us all.”
Falstaff added, “To be hanged.”
Prince Hal took charge. He and Poins stood close together. Prince Hal said to the others, “You four shall encounter them face to face in the narrow lane. Ned Poins and I will approach them from behind. If they flee from you, they will run into Poins and me.”
Peto asked, “How many of them are there?”
“Some eight or ten,” Gadshill replied.
“Damn!” Falstaff said. “Aren’t they more likely to rob us than we are to rob them?”
“Are you a coward, Sir John Paunch?” Prince Hal asked.
“Indeed, I am not John of Gaunt, your grandfather,” Falstaff replied, “but I am no coward, Hal.”
“We will quickly put that to the test,” Prince Hal said.
Poins said to Falstaff, “Your horse is behind that hedge. When you need your horse, that is where you will find him. Farewell. Be brave.”
Poins and Prince Hal left.
Falstaff said, “I am so happy to get my horse back that I won’t take revenge against Poins.”
Hidden from the others, Prince Hal said to Poins, “Ned, where are our disguises?”
“Very near. I will take you to them.”
As the others waited to rob the travelers, Falstaff said, “May happiness and success be our lot. Let each of us attend to our present business.”
The four travelers arrived.
One traveler said, “Come, neighbor. The boy shall lead our horses down the hill. We will walk for a while and stretch our legs.”
The thieves yelled, “Put your hands up!”
The travelers shouted, “Help!”
Falstaff yelled, “Kill them! Cut their throats! They’re nothing but miserable parasites! They are fat, bacon-fed knaves! They hate young people like us. Down with them! Rob them!”
Falstaff, an old man, hoped that the travelers would tell the law officials that young men had robbed them.
In the confusion, the travelers kept shouting, “Help!”
Falstaff shouted, “Go hang yourselves, you potbellied knaves! Are you losing all that you own! I wish that was so! I wish that everything you owned were here so we could take it! You fat misers! You pork bellies! Young men must live, too! Aren’t you the wealthy men who serve as grandjurors! We’ll jure you — we’ll injure you!”
The robbers tied up the four travelers and took their valuables and then departed.
Prince Hal and Poins had watched the robbery from a hidden place.
Prince Hal said to Poins, “The robbers have bound the honest men. If you and I can now rob the robbers and go merrily to London, we will have good conversation for a week, much laughter for a month, and the memory of a good jest forever.”
They followed the thieves to catch up to them.
Poins said, “I can hear them now.”
Falstaff said to Bardolph, Peto, and Gadshill, “Let’s divvy up the loot and ride back to London before daybreak. Both Prince Hal and Poins are complete and utter cowards — we have seen plenty of proof of that! Poins has no more courage than can be found in a wild duck.”
The thieves began to divide up the money.
Disguised and wearing masks, Prince Hal and Poins came forward, brandishing swords.
Disguising his voice, Prince Hal shouted, “Give us your money!”
Disguising his voice, Poins shouted, “Or die!”
The thieves ran away, including Falstaff, who screamed and lashed out with his sword once or twice before running away. The thieves left behind their booty.
“That was easy,” Prince Hal said. “Now we will get happily on our horses. The thieves are all scattered and separated from each other. They are so overcome with fear that they dare not meet each other. Each of them will think that the others are officers of the law. Let’s leave, good Ned. Falstaff sweats to death, and he waters the lean earth as he walks. If it weren’t so funny, I would pity him.”
Poins said, “How he roared with fright!”