Ancient Pistol, Corporal Nym and Lieutenant Bardolph were assembled in the tap room of the Boar’s Head Tavern, ready to set off for France. Nell Quickly clung to her husband.
‘Please, honey sweet husband,’ she pleaded, ‘let me go with you as far as Staines.’
Pistol kissed her. ‘No,’ he said. He placed his hand dramatically on his chest. ‘My manly heart is overcome with grief. Bardolph, cheer up! Nym, put colour in your cheeks! Boy, be brave! Falstaff is dead, therefore we must get on with it.’
There was a tear in Bardolph’s eye. ‘I wish I were with him, wherever he is, either in heaven or hell,’ he said.
Nell handed him a handkerchief. ‘No, he’s not in hell,’ she said. ‘He’s in Abraham’s bosom, if ever a man went to Abraham’s bosom. He made a fine end and passed away as though he had been an innocent child. He departed exactly between twelve and one, just as the tide was turning. Because after I saw him fumble with the sheets – playing with the embroidered flowers there – and smile at his own finger tips, I knew it was over. Because his nose was as sharp as a pen and he babbled about green fields. “Hello, Sir John,” said I. “Come on man, cheer up!” then he cried out, “God, God, God!” three or four times. Now I, to comfort him, told him not to think about God: I hoped there was no need to trouble himself about any such thoughts yet. So he asked me to put more blankets over his feet. I put my hand into the bed and felt them and they were as cold as any stone. Then I felt up to his knees, and so upward and upward, and everything was stone cold.’
‘They say he blamed wine for his death,’ said Nym.
‘Yes, he did,’ said Nell.
‘And women,’ said Bardolph.
‘No, he didn’t,’ said Nell.
‘Yes he did!’ the boy exclaimed. ‘And said they were the devil incarnate!’
Nell boxed his ears. ‘He could never abide carnation: it was a colour he hated,’ she said.
The boy rubbed his ear and stuck his jaw out defiantly. ‘He once said that the devil was going to get him for women.’
‘He did, indeed, in a sort of way, refer to women,’ said Nell. ‘But he was delirious then and mentioned the Whore of Babylon.’
‘Do you remember when he saw a fly stuck on Bardolph’s nose and said it was a black soul burning in hell?’ The boy made sure that he was beyond the reach of Bardolph’s big hand.
‘Well the fuel has gone that has kept that fire going,’ said Bardolph, stroking his nose. ‘That’s all the riches I got working for him.’
‘Shall we move then?’ said Nym. ‘The King will have left Southampton by now.’
‘Come, let’s go,’ said Pistol. ‘My love, give me a kiss. Look after my goods and chattels. Let good sense prevail. The rule is cash and no credit. Don’t trust anyone because promises are meaningless: men’s vows are as thin as wafers. “Hold fast” is the only dog in the race, my duck. So let caution be your guide. Go, dry your eyes. Comrades in arms! Off we go to France like horse-leeches, my boys! To suck, to suck, to suck their very blood!’
‘And they say that’s not good for you,’ said the boy.
‘Touch her soft lips and let’s go,’ said Pistol.
Bardolph kissed Nell. ‘Farewell Hostess,’ he said.
She pursed her lips for Nym but he shook his head. ‘I can’t kiss, that’s the sum of it,’ he said. ‘But goodbye.’
Pistol turned at the door. ‘Be prudent,’ he advised his wife. ‘My instructions are, be frugal.’ He waved and went out.
‘Farewell, Adieu!’ she called and waved her handkerchief.