Captain Fluellen had a leek in his cap. He carried a club.
‘You’re absolutely right,’ his friend, Gower, was saying. ‘But why are you wearing a leek today? Saint David’s day has passed.’
‘There is reasons and causes, whys and wherefores for everything,’ said Fluellen. ‘I will tell you as my friend, Captain Gower. That rascally, scurvy, beggarly, lousy, bragging knave, Pistol – which you yourself and all the world knows to be no better than a fellow, look you now, of no merit – he has come to me, and brings me bread and salt yesterday, look you, and told me to eat my leek. It was in a place where I could not get into a quarrel with him, but I’ll make a point of wearing it in my cap till I see him again, and then I will give him a little piece of my mind!’
‘Well here he comes, strutting like a turkey cock,’ said Gower.
‘His strutting and his turkey cocks are neither here nor there,’ said Fluellen. He smiled, as Pistol came near them. ‘God bless you, Ancient Pistol. You scurvy, lousy rogue. God bless you.’
‘What! Are you mad?’ said Pistol irritably. ‘Are you thirsting, you lowlife scum, to have me end your life? Get lost – I’m nauseated by the smell of leek.’
‘I heartily beg of you, you scurvy, lousy knave, at my desire, and my request, and my urging, to eat, look you, this leek. Because, look you, you don’t like it, and it doesn’t agree with your likings, your appetite and your digestion, I want you to eat it.’
Pistol spat on the ground. ‘Not even for Cadwallader and his whole flock of goats,’ he said.
Fluellen swung his club and hit Pistol with great force on the side of his head. ‘There’s one goat for you,’ he said. He held the leek out. ‘Will you be so good, scurvy rogue, as to eat it?’
‘Scum!’ yelled Pistol, holding his head. ‘You’re going to die!’
‘You’re telling the truth, scurvy rogue. When it’s God’s will. I want you to live in the meantime and eat your food. Come.’ Fluellen hit him again. ‘That’s the sauce for it. Yesterday you called me “Squire Nowhere” but today I’ll make you “Squire On-your-knees.” I pray you, climb in. If you can mock a leek you can eat a leek.’ He hit him again. And again. Pistol cowered then fell on to the ground and held his hands up.
‘That’s enough, Captain,’ said Gower. ‘You’ve almost knocked him out.’
‘I’m still saying I’ll make him eat some of my leek or I’ll beat his head for four days and four nights.’ Fluellen held the leek in front of Pistol’s face. ‘Bite, please! It’s good for your raw wound and your blood-soaked head.’
Pistol allowed him to push the leek between his teeth. ‘Do I have to bite?’
‘Yes of course, and beyond all doubt and beyond all question too, and all uncertainty.’
‘I swear by this leek I will most horribly revenge…’ Pistol began but when Fluellen raised his club again he took a bite out of the leek. ‘I’m eating, I’m eating, I swear!’
Fluellen lowered his club and pretended to be a magnanimous host. ‘Please eat,’ he said. ‘Would you like some more sauce for your leek?’ then he raised the club again. ‘You haven’t eaten enough leek to swear by.’
‘Leave the club,’ implored Pistol. ‘You can see I’m eating!’
‘It won’t do you any good, you scurvy rogue,’ said Fluellen. ‘No,’ he said, as Pistol began to gather up the remains of the leek. ‘Please don’t throw anything away. The skin is good for your cut head. Whenever you see leeks from now on, I beg you to mock them, that’s all.’
Pistol, eager to get away nodded. ‘Good.’
‘Yes, leeks are good,’ said Fluellen. ‘Hold on.’ He opened his purse strings. ‘Here’s a farthing to heal your head.’
‘Me? A farthing?’
‘Yes, indeed.’ Fluellen patted his pocket. ‘And you’re definitely going to take it or I have another leek in my pocket which you shall eat.’
‘I’ll take your farthing,’ Pistol said quickly. ‘In part payment for my revenge.’
‘If I owe you anything I will pay you in clouts. You’ll have to be a wood merchant and buy nothing from me but wooden clubs. God be with you, and keep you safe, and heal your head.’
Fluellen saluted him and walked away.
‘There’ll be hell to pay for this,’ said Pistol.
‘Off you go,’ said Gower. ‘You’re a phoney cowardly rascal. Will you mock an ancient tradition, started to honour the valiant dead, worn to commemorate them, and dare not back your words up with your actions? I have seen you mocking and scoffing at this gentleman twice or three times. You thought, because he couldn’t speak English as a native, he couldn’t handle an English club. You’ve found it otherwise. And for the future, let a Welsh hiding teach you how to behave like a good Englishman. Farewell.
Gower turned his back on him and marched off. Pistol sank to the ground and moaned. Fortune was playing whores’ tricks on him now. His mind went to the recent news he’d got – that his Doll had died of the pox in a poorhouse, so he had no home to go to either. He was getting old and every ounce of honour had been beaten out of his weary limbs. He sighed. He would become a pimp and try his hand at pickpocketing. He decided to steal back to England and make his living through crime. He would put plasters on the wounds he’d just got and claim he’d sustained them in the French wars.