Part 2 out of 6
them together, he trolled aloud in merry tones:
 Stand for selling.
"Now come, ye lasses, and eke ye dames,
And buy your meat from me;
For three pennyworths of meat I sell
For the charge of one penny.
"Lamb have I that hath fed upon nought
But the dainty dames pied,
And the violet sweet, and the daffodil
That grow fair streams beside.
"And beef have I from the heathery words,
And mutton from dales all green,
And veal as white as a maiden's brow,
With its mother's milk, I ween.
"Then come, ye lasses, and eke ye dames,
Come, buy your meat from me,
For three pennyworths of meat I sell
For the charge of one penny."
Thus he sang blithely, while all who stood near listened amazedly.
Then, when he had finished, he clattered the steel and cleaver still
more loudly, shouting lustily, "Now, who'll buy? Who'll buy?
Four fixed prices have I. Three pennyworths of meat I sell to a
fat friar or priest for sixpence, for I want not their custom;
stout aldermen I charge threepence, for it doth not matter to me
whether they buy or not; to buxom dames I sell three pennyworths
of meat for one penny for I like their custom well; but to the bonny
lass that hath a liking for a good tight butcher I charge nought
but one fair kiss, for I like her custom the best of all."
Then all began to stare and wonder and crowd around, laughing,
for never was such selling heard of in all Nottingham Town;
but when they came to buy they found it as he had said,
for he gave goodwife or dame as much meat for one penny as they
could buy elsewhere for three, and when a widow or a poor woman
came to him, he gave her flesh for nothing; but when a merry lass
came and gave him a kiss, he charged not one penny for his meat;
and many such came to his stall, for his eyes were as blue as the skies
of June, and he laughed merrily, giving to each full measure.
Thus he sold his meat so fast that no butcher that stood near
him could sell anything.
Then they began to talk among themselves, and some said, "This must
be some thief who has stolen cart, horse, and meat"; but others said,
"Nay, when did ye ever see a thief who parted with his goods so
freely and merrily? This must be some prodigal who hath sold his
father's land, and would fain live merrily while the money lasts."
And these latter being the greater number, the others came round,
one by one to their way of thinking.
Then some of the butchers came to him to make his acquaintance.
"Come, brother," quoth one who was the head of them all,
"we be all of one trade, so wilt thou go dine with us?
For this day the Sheriff hath asked all the Butcher Guild to feast
with him at the Guild Hall. There will be stout fare and much
to drink, and that thou likest, or I much mistake thee."
"Now, beshrew his heart," quoth jolly Robin, "that would deny a butcher.
And, moreover, I will go dine with you all, my sweet lads, and that as fast
as I can hie." Whereupon, having sold all his meat, he closed his stall
and went with them to the great Guild Hall.
There the Sheriff had already come in state, and with him many butchers.
When Robin and those that were with him came in, all laughing
at some merry jest he had been telling them, those that were near
the Sheriff whispered to him, "Yon is a right mad blade, for he hath
sold more meat for one penny this day than we could sell for three,
and to whatsoever merry lass gave him a kiss he gave meat for nought."
And others said, "He is some prodigal that hath sold his land for silver
and gold, and meaneth to spend all right merrily."
Then the Sheriff called Robin to him, not knowing him in his
butcher's dress, and made him sit close to him on his right hand;
for he loved a rich young prodigal--especially when he thought that he might
lighten that prodigal's pockets into his own most worshipful purse.
So he made much of Robin, and laughed and talked with him more than
with any of the others.
At last the dinner was ready to be served and the Sheriff bade
Robin say grace, so Robin stood up and said, "Now Heaven bless
us all and eke good meat and good sack within this house,
and may all butchers be and remain as honest men as I am."
At this all laughed, the Sheriff loudest of all, for he said to himself,
"Surely this is indeed some prodigal, and perchance I may empty his
purse of some of the money that the fool throweth about so freely."
Then he spake aloud to Robin, saying, "Thou art a jolly young blade,
and I love thee mightily"; and he smote Robin upon the shoulder.
Then Robin laughed loudly too. "Yea," quoth he, "I know thou dost
love a jolly blade, for didst thou not have jolly Robin Hood at thy
shooting match and didst thou not gladly give him a bright golden
arrow for his own?"
At this the Sheriff looked grave and all the guild of butchers too,
so that none laughed but Robin, only some winked slyly at each other.
"Come, fill us some sack!" cried Robin. "Let us e'er be merry
while we may, for man is but dust, and he hath but a span to live
here till the worm getteth him, as our good gossip Swanthold sayeth;
so let life be merry while it lasts, say I. Nay, never look down i'
the mouth, Sir Sheriff. Who knowest but that thou mayest catch
Robin Hood yet, if thou drinkest less good sack and Malmsey, and bringest
down the fat about thy paunch and the dust from out thy brain.
Be merry, man."
Then the Sheriff laughed again, but not as though he liked the jest,
while the butchers said, one to another, "Before Heaven, never have
we seen such a mad rollicking blade. Mayhap, though, he will make
the Sheriff mad."
"How now, brothers," cried Robin, "be merry! nay, never count
over your farthings, for by this and by that I will pay
this shot myself, e'en though it cost two hundred pounds.
So let no man draw up his lip, nor thrust his forefinger into
his purse, for I swear that neither butcher nor Sheriff shall
pay one penny for this feast."
"Now thou art a right merry soul," quoth the Sheriff, "and I wot thou
must have many a head of horned beasts and many an acre of land,
that thou dost spend thy money so freely."
"Ay, that have I," quoth Robin, laughing loudly again, "five hundred
and more horned beasts have I and my brothers, and none of them
have we been able to sell, else I might not have turned butcher.
As for my land, I have never asked my steward how many acres I have."
At this the Sheriff's eyes twinkled, and he chuckled to himself.
"Nay, good youth," quoth he, "if thou canst not sell thy cattle,
it may be I will find a man that will lift them from thy hands;
perhaps that man may be myself, for I love a merry youth and would
help such a one along the path of life. Now how much dost thou
want for thy horned cattle?"
"Well," quoth Robin, "they are worth at least five hundred pounds."
"Nay," answered the Sheriff slowly, and as if he were thinking within himself,
"well do I love thee, and fain would I help thee along, but five hundred
pounds in money is a good round sum; besides I have it not by me.
Yet I will give thee three hundred pounds for them all, and that in good
hard silver and gold."
"Now thou old miser!" quoth Robin, "well thou knowest that so many horned
cattle are worth seven hundred pounds and more, and even that is but small
for them, and yet thou, with thy gray hairs and one foot in the grave,
wouldst trade upon the folly of a wild youth."
At this the Sheriff looked grimly at Robin. "Nay," quoth Robin,
"look not on me as though thou hadst sour beer in thy mouth, man.
I will take thine offer, for I and my brothers do need the money.
We lead a merry life, and no one leads a merry life for a farthing,
so I will close the bargain with thee. But mind that thou bringest
a good three hundred pounds with thee, for I trust not one that driveth
so shrewd a bargain."
"I will bring the money," said the Sheriff. "But what is
thy name, good youth?"
"Men call me Robert o' Locksley," quoth bold Robin.
"Then, good Robert o' Locksley," quoth the Sheriff, "I will come this
day to see thy horned beasts. But first my clerk shall draw up a paper
in which thou shalt be bound to the sale, for thou gettest not my money
without I get thy beasts in return."
Then Robin Hood laughed again. "So be it," he said, smiting his palm
upon the Sheriff's hand. "Truly my brothers will be thankful to thee
for thy money."
Thus the bargain was closed, but many of the butchers talked among
themselves of the Sheriff, saying that it was but a scurvy trick
to beguile a poor spendthrift youth in this way.
The afternoon had come when the Sheriff mounted his horse and joined
Robin Hood, who stood outside the gateway of the paved court waiting
for him, for he had sold his horse and cart to a trader for two marks.
Then they set forth upon their way, the Sheriff riding upon his
horse and Robin running beside him. Thus they left Nottingham Town
and traveled forward along the dusty highway, laughing and jesting
together as though they had been old friends. But all the time
the Sheriff said within himself, "Thy jest to me of Robin Hood shall
cost thee dear, good fellow, even four hundred pounds, thou fool."
For he thought he would make at least that much by his bargain.
So they journeyed onward till they came within the verge of Sherwood Forest,
when presently the Sheriff looked up and down and to the right and
to the left of him, and then grew quiet and ceased his laughter.
"Now," quoth he, "may Heaven and its saints preserve us this day from
a rogue men call Robin Hood."
Then Robin laughed aloud. "Nay," said he, "thou mayst set thy mind at rest,
for well do I know Robin Hood and well do I know that thou art in no more
danger from him this day than thou art from me."
At this the Sheriff looked askance at Robin, saying to himself,
"I like not that thou seemest so well acquainted with this bold outlaw,
and I wish that I were well out of Sherwood Forest."
But still they traveled deeper into the forest shades, and the deeper
they went, the more quiet grew the Sheriff. At last they came
to where the road took a sudden bend, and before them a herd of dun
deer went tripping across the path. Then Robin Hood came close
to the Sheriff and pointing his finger, he said, "These are my
horned beasts, good Master Sheriff. How dost thou like them?
Are they not fat and fair to see?"
At this the Sheriff drew rein quickly. "Now fellow," quoth he,
"I would I were well out of this forest, for I like not thy company.
Go thou thine own path, good friend, and let me but go mine."
But Robin only laughed and caught the Sheriff's bridle rein.
"Nay," cried he, "stay awhile, for I would thou shouldst see
my brothers, who own these fair horned beasts with me."
So saying, he clapped his bugle to his mouth and winded three
merry notes, and presently up the path came leaping fivescore
good stout yeomen with Little John at their head.
"What wouldst thou have, good master?" quoth Little John.
"Why," answered Robin, "dost thou not see that I have brought
goodly company to feast with us today? Fye, for shame!
Do you not see our good and worshipful master, the Sheriff
of Nottingham? Take thou his bridle, Little John, for he has
honored us today by coming to feast with us."
Then all doffed their hats humbly, without smiling or seeming to be in jest,
while Little John took the bridle rein and led the palfrey still deeper into
the forest, all marching in order, with Robin Hood walking beside the Sheriff,
hat in hand.
All this time the Sheriff said never a word but only looked
about him like one suddenly awakened from sleep; but when he found
himself going within the very depths of Sherwood his heart sank
within him, for he thought, "Surely my three hundred pounds
will be taken from me, even if they take not my life itself,
for I have plotted against their lives more than once."
But all seemed humble and meek and not a word was said of danger,
either to life or money.
So at last they came to that part of Sherwood Forest where a noble oak
spread its branches wide, and beneath it was a seat all made of moss,
on which Robin sat down, placing the Sheriff at his right hand.
"Now busk ye, my merry men all," quoth he, "and bring forth the best
we have, both of meat and wine, for his worship the Sheriff hath
feasted me in Nottingham Guild Hall today, and I would not have him
go back empty."
All this time nothing had been said of the Sheriff's money,
so presently he began to pluck up heart. "For," said he to himself,
"maybe Robin Hood hath forgotten all about it."
Then, while beyond in the forest bright fires crackled and savory
smells of sweetly roasting venison and fat capons filled the glade,
and brown pasties warmed beside the blaze, did Robin Hood
entertain the Sheriff right royally. First, several couples
stood forth at quarterstaff, and so shrewd were they at the game,
and so quickly did they give stroke and parry, that the Sheriff,
who loved to watch all lusty sports of the kind, clapped his hands,
forgetting where he was, and crying aloud, "Well struck!
Well struck, thou fellow with the black beard!" little knowing
that the man he called upon was the Tinker that tried to serve
his warrant upon Robin Hood.
Then several yeomen came forward and spread cloths upon
the green grass, and placed a royal feast; while others still
broached barrels of sack and Malmsey and good stout ale, and set
them in jars upon the cloth, with drinking horns about them.
Then all sat down and feasted and drank merrily together until
the sun was low and the half-moon glimmered with a pale light
betwixt the leaves of the trees overhead.
Then the Sheriff arose and said, "I thank you all, good yeomen,
for the merry entertainment ye have given me this day.
Right courteously have ye used me, showing therein that ye
have much respect for our glorious King and his deputy in
brave Nottinghamshire. But the shadows grow long, and I must away
before darkness comes, lest I lose myself within the forest."
Then Robin Hood and all his merry men arose also, and Robin said
to the Sheriff, "If thou must go, worshipful sir, go thou must;
but thou hast forgotten one thing."
"Nay, I forgot nought," said the Sheriff; yet all the same his heart
sank within him.
"But I say thou hast forgot something," quoth Robin. "We keep
a merry inn here in the greenwood, but whoever becometh our guest
must pay his reckoning."
Then the Sheriff laughed, but the laugh was hollow. "Well, jolly boys,"
quoth he, "we have had a merry time together today, and even if ye had
not asked me, I would have given you a score of pounds for the sweet
entertainment I have had."
"Nay," quoth Robin seriously, "it would ill beseem us to treat Your Worship
so meanly. By my faith, Sir Sheriff, I would be ashamed to show my
face if I did not reckon the King's deputy at three hundred pounds.
Is it not so, my merry men all?"
Then "Ay!" cried all, in a loud voice.
"Three hundred devils!" roared the Sheriff. "Think ye that your beggarly
feast was worth three pounds, let alone three hundred?"
"Nay," quoth Robin gravely. "Speak not so roundly, Your Worship. I do love
thee for the sweet feast thou hast given me this day in merry Nottingham Town;
but there be those here who love thee not so much. If thou wilt look down
the cloth thou wilt see Will Stutely, in whose eyes thou hast no great favor;
then two other stout fellows are there here that thou knowest not, that were
wounded in a brawl nigh Nottingham Town, some time ago--thou wottest when;
one of them was sore hurt in one arm, yet he hath got the use of it again.
Good Sheriff, be advised by me; pay thy score without more ado, or maybe it
may fare ill with thee."
As he spoke the Sheriff's ruddy cheeks grew pale, and he said
nothing more but looked upon the ground and gnawed his nether lip.
Then slowly he drew forth his fat purse and threw it upon the cloth
in front of him.
"Now take the purse, Little John," quoth Robin Hood, "and see
that the reckoning be right. We would not doubt our Sheriff,
but he might not like it if he should find he had not paid
his full score."
Then Little John counted the money and found that the bag held three
hundred pounds in silver and gold. But to the Sheriff it seemed as if
every clink of the bright money was a drop of blood from his veins.
And when he saw it all counted out in a heap of silver and gold,
filling a wooden platter, he turned away and silently mounted his horse.
"Never have we had so worshipful a guest before!" quoth Robin,
"and, as the day waxeth late, I will send one of my young men
to guide thee out of the forest depths."
"Nay, Heaven forbid!" cried the Sheriff hastily. "I can find mine own way,
good man, without aid."
"Then I will put thee on the right track mine own self,"
quoth Robin, and, taking the Sheriff's horse by the bridle rein,
he led him into the main forest path. Then, before he let
him go, he said, "Now, fare thee well, good Sheriff,
and when next thou thinkest to despoil some poor prodigal,
remember thy feast in Sherwood Forest. `Ne'er buy a horse,
good friend, without first looking into its mouth,' as our good
gaffer Swanthold says. And so, once more, fare thee well."
Then he clapped his hand to the horse's back, and off went nag
and Sheriff through the forest glades.
Then bitterly the Sheriff rued the day that first he meddled
with Robin Hood, for all men laughed at him and many ballads
were sung by folk throughout the country, of how the Sheriff
went to shear and came home shorn to the very quick.
For thus men sometimes overreach themselves through greed and guile.
Little John Goes to Nottingham Fair
SPRING HAD GONE since the Sheriff's feast in Sherwood,
and summer also, and the mellow month of October had come.
All the air was cool and fresh; the harvests were gathered home,
the young birds were full fledged, the hops were plucked,
and apples were ripe. But though time had so smoothed things over
that men no longer talked of the horned beasts that the Sheriff
wished to buy, he was still sore about the matter and could
not bear to hear Robin Hood's name spoken in his presence.
With October had come the time for holding the great Fair
which was celebrated every five years at Nottingham Town,
to which folk came from far and near throughout the country.
At such times archery was always the main sport of the day,
for the Nottinghamshire yeomen were the best hand at the longbow
in all merry England, but this year the Sheriff hesitated
a long time before he issued proclamation of the Fair,
fearing lest Robin Hood and his band might come to it.
At first he had a great part of a mind not to proclaim the Fair,
but second thought told him that men would laugh at him and say
among themselves that he was afraid of Robin Hood, so he put
that thought by. At last he fixed in his mind that he would
offer such a prize as they would not care to shoot for.
At such times it had been the custom to offer a half score
of marks or a tun of ale, so this year he proclaimed that a prize
of two fat steers should be given to the best bowman.
When Robin Hood heard what had been proclaimed he was vexed,
and said, "Now beshrew this Sheriff that he should offer such
a prize that none but shepherd hinds will care to shoot for it!
I would have loved nothing better than to have had another bout
at merry Nottingham Town, but if I should win this prize nought
would it pleasure or profit me."
Then up spoke Little John: "Nay, but hearken, good master,"
said he, "only today Will Stutely, young David of Doncaster,
and I were at the Sign of the Blue Boar, and there we heard
all the news of this merry Fair, and also that the Sheriff hath
offered this prize, that we of Sherwood might not care to come
to the Fair; so, good master, if thou wilt, I would fain go
and strive to win even this poor thing among the stout yeomen
who will shoot at Nottingham Town."
"Nay, Little John," quoth Robin, "thou art a sound stout fellow, yet thou
lackest the cunning that good Stutely hath, and I would not have harm
befall thee for all Nottinghamshire. Nevertheless, if thou wilt go,
take some disguise lest there be those there who may know thee."
"So be it, good master," quoth Little John, "yet all the disguise that I
wish is a good suit of scarlet instead of this of Lincoln green.
I will draw the cowl of my jacket about my head so that it will hide
my brown hair and beard, and then, I trust, no one will know me."
"It is much against my will," said Robin Hood, "ne'ertheless, if thou
dost wish it, get thee gone, but bear thyself seemingly, Little John,
for thou art mine own right-hand man and I could ill bear to have
harm befall thee."
So Little John clad himself all in scarlet and started off to the Fair
at Nottingham Town.
Right merry were these Fair days at Nottingham, when the green before
the great town gate was dotted with booths standing in rows, with tents
of many-colored canvas, hung about with streamers and garlands of flowers,
and the folk came from all the countryside, both gentle and common.
In some booths there was dancing to merry music, in others flowed ale
and beer, and in others yet again sweet cakes and barley sugar were sold;
and sport was going outside the booths also, where some minstrel
sang ballads of the olden time, playing a second upon the harp,
or where the wrestlers struggled with one another within the sawdust ring,
but the people gathered most of all around a raised platform where stout
fellows played at quarterstaff.
So Little John came to the Fair. All scarlet were his hose and jerkin,
and scarlet was his cowled cap, with a scarlet feather stuck in the side
of it. Over his shoulders was slung a stout bow of yew, and across his back
hung a quiver of good round arrows. Many turned to look after such a stout,
tall fellow, for his shoulders were broader by a palm's-breadth than any
that were there, and he stood a head taller than all the other men.
The lasses, also, looked at him askance, thinking they had never seen
a lustier youth.
First of all he went to the booth where stout ale was sold and,
standing aloft on a bench, he called to all that were near
to come and drink with him. "Hey, sweet lads!" cried he "who
will drink ale with a stout yeoman? Come, all! Come, all!
Let us be merry, for the day is sweet and the ale is tingling.
Come hither, good yeoman, and thou, and thou; for not a farthing
shall one of you pay. Nay, turn hither, thou lusty beggar,
and thou jolly tinker, for all shall be merry with me.
Thus he shouted, and all crowded around, laughing, while the brown ale flowed;
and they called Little John a brave fellow, each swearing that he loved him
as his own brother; for when one has entertainment with nothing to pay,
one loves the man that gives it to one.
Then he strolled to the platform where they were at cudgel play,
for he loved a bout at quarterstaff as he loved meat and drink;
and here befell an adventure that was sung in ballads throughout
the mid-country for many a day.
One fellow there was that cracked crowns of everyone who threw
cap into the ring. This was Eric o' Lincoln, of great renown,
whose name had been sung in ballads throughout the countryside.
When Little John reached the stand he found none fighting,
but only bold Eric walking up and down the platform,
swinging his staff and shouting lustily, "Now, who will
come and strike a stroke for the lass he loves the best,
with a good Lincolnshire yeoman? How now, lads? Step up!
Step up! Or else the lasses' eyes are not bright hereabouts,
or the blood of Nottingham youth is sluggish and cold.
Lincoln against Nottingham, say I! For no one hath put foot upon
the boards this day such as we of Lincoln call a cudgel player."
At this, one would nudge another with his elbow, saying, "Go thou, Ned!"
or "Go thou, Thomas!" but no lad cared to gain a cracked crown for nothing.
Presently Eric saw where Little John stood among the others,
a head and shoulders above them all, and he called to
him loudly, "Halloa, thou long-legged fellow in scarlet!
Broad are thy shoulders and thick thy head; is not thy lass
fair enough for thee to take cudgel in hand for her sake?
In truth, I believe that Nottingham men do turn to bone and sinew,
for neither heart nor courage have they! Now, thou great lout,
wilt thou not twirl staff for Nottingham?"
"Ay," quoth Little John, "had I but mine own good staff here, it would
pleasure me hugely to crack thy knave's pate, thou saucy braggart!
I wot it would be well for thee an thy cock's comb were cut!"
Thus he spoke, slowly at first, for he was slow to move; but his
wrath gathered headway like a great stone rolling down a hill,
so that at the end he was full of anger.
Then Eric o' Lincoln laughed aloud. "Well spoken for one who fears
to meet me fairly, man to man," said he. "Saucy art thou thine own self,
and if thou puttest foot upon these boards, I will make thy saucy tongue
rattle within thy teeth!"
"Now," quoth Little John, "is there never a man here that will
lend me a good stout staff till I try the mettle of yon fellow?"
At this, half a score reached him their staves, and he took the stoutest
and heaviest of them all. Then, looking up and down the cudgel,
he said, "Now, I have in my hand but a splint of wood--a barley straw,
as it were--yet I trow it will have to serve me, so here goeth."
Thereupon he cast the cudgel upon the stand and, leaping lightly after it,
snatched it up in his hand again.
Then each man stood in his place and measured the other with fell
looks until he that directed the sport cried, "Play!" At this they
stepped forth, each grasping his staff tightly in the middle.
Then those that stood around saw the stoutest game of quarterstaff
that e'er Nottingham Town beheld. At first Eric o' Lincoln thought
that he would gain an easy advantage, so he came forth as if he would say,
"Watch, good people, how that I carve you this cockerel right speedily";
but he presently found it to be no such speedy matter. Right deftly
he struck, and with great skill of fence, but he had found his match
in Little John. Once, twice, thrice, he struck, and three times
Little John turned the blows to the left hand and to the right.
Then quickly and with a dainty backhanded blow, he rapped Eric
beneath his guard so shrewdly that it made his head ring again.
Then Eric stepped back to gather his wits, while a great shout went
up and all were glad that Nottingham had cracked Lincoln's crown;
and thus ended the first bout of the game.
Then presently the director of the sport cried, "Play!" and they came
together again; but now Eric played warily, for he found his man was of right
good mettle, and also he had no sweet memory of the blow that he had got;
so this bout neither Little John nor the Lincoln man caught a stroke
within his guard. Then, after a while, they parted again, and this made
the second bout.
Then for the third time they came together, and at first Eric strove
to be wary, as he had been before; but, growing mad at finding
himself so foiled, he lost his wits and began to rain blows so
fiercely and so fast that they rattled like hail on penthouse roof;
but, in spite of all, he did not reach within Little John's guard.
Then at last Little John saw his chance and seized it right cleverly.
Once more, with a quick blow, he rapped Eric beside the head,
and ere he could regain himself, Little John slipped his right hand
down to his left and, with a swinging blow, smote the other so sorely
upon the crown that down he fell as though he would never move again.
Then the people shouted so loud that folk came running from all
about to see what was the ado; while Little John leaped down from
the stand and gave the staff back to him that had lent it to him.
And thus ended the famous bout between Little John and Eric o'
Lincoln of great renown.
But now the time had come when those who were to shoot with the
longbow were to take their places, so the people began flocking
to the butts where the shooting was to be. Near the target,
in a good place, sat the Sheriff upon a raised dais, with many
gentlefolk around him. When the archers had taken their places,
the herald came forward and proclaimed the rules of the game,
and how each should shoot three shots, and to him that should
shoot the best the prize of two fat steers was to belong.
A score of brave shots were gathered there, and among them some
of the keenest hands at the longbow in Lincoln and Nottinghamshire;
and among them Little John stood taller than all the rest.
"Who is yon stranger clad all in scarlet?" said some, and others
answered, "It is he that hath but now so soundly cracked the crown
of Eric o' Lincoln." Thus the people talked among themselves,
until at last it reached even the Sheriff's ears.
And now each man stepped forward and shot in turn; but though each shot well,
Little John was the best of all, for three times he struck the clout, and once
only the length of a barleycorn from the center. "Hey for the tall archer!"
shouted the crowd, and some among them shouted, "Hey for Reynold Greenleaf!"
for this was the name that Little John had called himself that day.
Then the Sheriff stepped down from the raised seat and came to where
the archers stood, while all doffed their caps that saw him coming.
He looked keenly at Little John but did not know him, though he said,
after a while, "How now, good fellow, methinks there is that about thy
face that I have seen erewhile."
"Mayhap it may be so," quoth Little John, "for often have I seen
Your Worship." And, as he spoke, he looked steadily into the Sheriff's
eyes so that the latter did not suspect who he was.
"A brave blade art thou, good friend," said the Sheriff, "and I hear
that thou hast well upheld the skill of Nottinghamshire against
that of Lincoln this day. What may be thy name, good fellow?"
"Men do call me Reynold Greenleaf, Your Worship," said Little John;
and the old ballad that tells of this, adds, "So, in truth, was he a
green leaf, but of what manner of tree the Sheriff wotted not."
"Now, Reynold Greenleaf," quoth the Sheriff, "thou art the fairest hand at
the longbow that mine eyes ever beheld, next to that false knave, Robin Hood,
from whose wiles Heaven forfend me! Wilt thou join my service, good fellow?
Thou shalt be paid right well, for three suits of clothes shalt thou have
a year, with good food and as much ale as thou canst drink; and, besides this,
I will pay thee forty marks each Michaelmastide."
"Then here stand I a free man, and right gladly will I enter thy household,"
said Little John, for he thought he might find some merry jest,
should he enter the Sheriff's service.
"Fairly hast thou won the fat steers," said the Sheriff,
"and "hereunto I will add a butt of good March beer, for joy
of having gotten such a man; for, I wot, thou shootest as fair
a shaft as Robin Hood himself."
"Then," said Little John, "for joy of having gotten myself into thy service,
I will give fat steers and brown ale to all these good folk, to make them
merry withal." At this arose a great shout, many casting their caps aloft,
for joy of the gift.
Then some built great fires and roasted the steers, and others
broached the butt of ale, with which all made themselves merry.
Then, when they had eaten and drunk as much as they could,
and when the day faded and the great moon arose, all red and round,
over the spires and towers of Nottingham Town, they joined hands
and danced around the fires, to the music of bagpipes and harps.
But long before this merrymaking had begun, the Sheriff and his
new servant Reynold Greenleaf were in the Castle of Nottingham.
How Little John Lived at the Sheriff's
THUS LITTLE JOHN entered into the Sheriff's service and
found the life he led there easy enough, for the Sheriff
made him his right-hand man and held him in great favor.
He sat nigh the Sheriff at meat, and he ran beside his horse when
he went a-hunting; so that, what with hunting and hawking a little,
and eating rich dishes and drinking good sack, and sleeping until
late hours in the morning, he grew as fat as a stall-fed ox.
Thus things floated easily along with the tide, until one day
when the Sheriff went a-hunting, there happened that which broke
the smooth surface of things.
This morning the Sheriff and many of his men set forth to meet
certain lords, to go a-hunting. He looked all about him for his good man,
Reynold Greenleaf, but, not finding him, was vexed, for he wished
to show Little John's skill to his noble friends. As for Little John,
he lay abed, snoring lustily, till the sun was high in the heavens.
At last he opened his eyes and looked about him but did not move to arise.
Brightly shone the sun in at the window, and all the air was sweet
with the scent of woodbine that hung in sprays about the wall without,
for the cold winter was past and spring was come again, and Little John
lay still, thinking how sweet was everything on this fair morn.
Just then he heard, faint and far away, a distant bugle note sounding
thin and clear. The sound was small, but, like a little pebble dropped
into a glassy fountain, it broke all the smooth surface of his thoughts,
until his whole soul was filled with disturbance. His spirit seemed
to awaken from its sluggishness, and his memory brought back to him
all the merry greenwood life--how the birds were singing blithely there
this bright morning, and how his loved companions and friends were
feasting and making merry, or perhaps talking of him with sober speech;
for when he first entered the Sheriff's service he did so in jest;
but the hearthstone was warm during the winter, and the fare was full,
and so he had abided, putting off from day to day his going back
to Sherwood, until six long months had passed. But now he thought
of his good master and of Will Stutely, whom he loved better than anyone
in all the world, and of young David of Doncaster, whom he had trained
so well in all manly sports, till there came over his heart a great
and bitter longing for them all, so that his eyes filled with tears.
Then he said aloud, "Here I grow fat like a stall-fed ox and all my
manliness departeth from me while I become a sluggard and dolt.
But I will arouse me and go back to mine own dear friends once more,
and never will I leave them again till life doth leave my lips."
So saying, he leaped from bed, for he hated his sluggishness now.
When he came downstairs he saw the Steward standing near the pantry door--
a great, fat man, with a huge bundle of keys hanging to his girdle.
Then Little John said, "Ho, Master Steward, a hungry man am I, for nought
have I had for all this blessed morn. Therefore, give me to eat."
Then the Steward looked grimly at him and rattled the keys
in his girdle, for he hated Little John because he had found
favor with the Sheriff. "So, Master Reynold Greenleaf,
thou art anhungered, art thou?" quoth he. "But, fair youth,
if thou livest long enough, thou wilt find that he who getteth
overmuch sleep for an idle head goeth with an empty stomach.
For what sayeth the old saw, Master Greenleaf? Is it not `The
late fowl findeth but ill faring'?"
"Now, thou great purse of fat!" cried Little John, "I ask
thee not for fool's wisdom, but for bread and meat.
Who art thou, that thou shouldst deny me to eat?
By Saint Dunstan, thou hadst best tell me where my breakfast is,
if thou wouldst save broken bones!"
"Thy breakfast, Master Fireblaze, is in the pantry," answered the Steward.
"Then fetch it hither!" cried Little John, who waxed angry by this time.
"Go thou and fetch it thine own self," quoth the Steward. "Am I thy slave,
to fetch and carry for thee?"
"I say, go thou, bring it me!"
"I say, go thou, fetch it for thyself!"
"Ay, marry, that will I, right quickly!" quoth Little John in a rage.
And, so saying, he strode to the pantry and tried to open the door
but found it locked, whereat the Steward laughed and rattled his keys.
Then the wrath of Little John boiled over, and, lifting his clenched fist,
he smote the pantry door, bursting out three panels and making so large
an opening that he could easily stoop and walk through it.
When the Steward saw what was done, he waxed mad with rage;
and, as Little John stooped to look within the pantry,
he seized him from behind by the nape of the neck, pinching him
sorely and smiting him over the head with his keys till
the yeoman's ears rang again. At this Little John turned upon
the Steward and smote him such a buffet that the fat man fell
to the floor and lay there as though he would never move again.
"There," quoth Little John, "think well of that stroke and never
keep a good breakfast from a hungry man again."
So saying, he crept into the pantry and looked about him
to see if he could find something to appease his hunger.
He saw a great venison pasty and two roasted capons, beside which
was a platter of plover's eggs; moreover, there was a flask
of sack and one of canary--a sweet sight to a hungry man.
These he took down from the shelves and placed upon a sideboard,
and prepared to make himself merry.
Now the Cook, in the kitchen across the courtyard, heard the loud
talking between Little John and the Steward, and also the blow
that Little John struck the other, so he came running across
the court and up the stairway to where the Steward's pantry was,
bearing in his hands the spit with the roast still upon it.
Meanwhile the Steward had gathered his wits about him and risen
to his feet, so that when the Cook came to the Steward's pantry
he saw him glowering through the broken door at Little John,
who was making ready for a good repast, as one dog glowers
at another that has a bone. When the Steward saw the Cook,
he came to him, and, putting one arm over his shoulder,
"Alas, sweet friend!" quoth he--for the Cook was a tall,
stout man--"seest thou what that vile knave Reynold Greenleaf
hath done? He hath broken in upon our master's goods, and hath
smitten me a buffet upon the ear, so that I thought I was dead.
Good Cook, I love thee well, and thou shalt have a good pottle
of our master's best wine every day, for thou art an old
and faithful servant. Also, good Cook, I have ten shillings
that I mean to give as a gift to thee. But hatest thou not
to see a vile upstart like this Reynold Greenleaf taking it
upon him so bravely?"
"Ay, marry, that do I," quoth the Cook boldly, for he liked the Steward
because of his talk of the wine and of the ten shillings. "Get thee gone
straightway to thy room, and I will bring out this knave by his ears."
So saying, he laid aside his spit and drew the sword that hung by his side;
whereupon the Steward left as quickly as he could, for he hated the sight
of naked steel.
Then the Cook walked straightway to the broken pantry door,
through which he saw Little John tucking a napkin beneath his
chin and preparing to make himself merry.
"Why, how now, Reynold Greenleaf?" said the Cook, "thou art no better
than a thief, I wot. Come thou straight forth, man, or I will carve
thee as I would carve a sucking pig."
"Nay, good Cook, bear thou thyself more seemingly, or else I will
come forth to thy dole. At most times I am as a yearling lamb,
but when one cometh between me and my meat, I am a raging lion,
as it were."
"Lion or no lion," quoth the valorous Cook, "come thou straight forth,
else thou art a coward heart as well as a knavish thief."
"Ha!" cried Little John, "coward's name have I never had;
so, look to thyself, good Cook, for I come forth straight,
the roaring lion I did speak of but now."
Then he, too, drew his sword and came out of the pantry;
then, putting themselves into position, they came slowly together,
with grim and angry looks; but suddenly Little John lowered his point.
"Hold, good Cook!" said he. "Now, I bethink me it were ill of us
to fight with good victuals standing so nigh, and such a feast
as would befit two stout fellows such as we are. Marry, good friend,
I think we should enjoy this fair feast ere we fight.
What sayest thou, jolly Cook?"
At this speech the Cook looked up and down, scratching his head
in doubt, for he loved good feasting. At last he drew a long
breath and said to Little John, "Well, good friend, I like thy plan
right well; so, pretty boy, say I, let us feast, with all my heart,
for one of us may sup in Paradise before nightfall."
So each thrust his sword back into the scabbard and entered the pantry.
Then, after they had seated themselves, Little John drew his
dagger and thrust it into the pie. "A hungry man must be fed,"
quoth he, "so, sweet chuck, I help myself without leave."
But the Cook did not lag far behind, for straightway his hands
also were deeply thrust within the goodly pasty. After this,
neither of them spoke further, but used their teeth to better purpose.
But though neither spoke, they looked at one another, each thinking
within himself that he had never seen a more lusty fellow than
the one across the board.
At last, after a long time had passed, the Cook drew
a full, deep breath, as though of much regret, and wiped
his hands upon the napkin, for he could eat no more.
Little John, also, had enough, for he pushed the pasty aside,
as though he would say, "I want thee by me no more, good friend."
Then he took the pottle of sack, and said he, "Now, good fellow,
I swear by all that is bright, that thou art the stoutest
companion at eating that ever I had. Lo! I drink thy health."
So saying, he clapped the flask to his lips and cast
his eyes aloft, while the good wine flooded his throat.
Then he passed the pottle to the Cook, who also said, "Lo, I
drink thy health, sweet fellow!" Nor was he behind Little John
in drinking any more than in eating.
"Now," quoth Little John, "thy voice is right round and sweet, jolly lad.
I doubt not thou canst sing a ballad most blithely; canst thou not?"
"Truly, I have trolled one now and then," quoth the Cook,
"yet I would not sing alone."
"Nay, truly," said Little John, "that were but ill courtesy.
Strike up thy ditty, and I will afterward sing one to match it,
if I can.
"So be it, pretty boy," quoth the Cook. "And hast thou e'er heard the song
of the Deserted Shepherdess?"
"Truly, I know not," answered Little John, "but sing thou and let me hear."
Then the Cook took another draught from the pottle, and, clearing his throat,
sang right sweetly:
THE SONG OF THE DESERTED SHEPHERDESS
"_In Lententime, when leaves wax green,
And pretty birds begin to mate,
When lark cloth sing, and thrush, I ween,
And stockdove cooeth soon and late,
Fair Phillis sat beside a stone,
And thus I heard her make her moan:
'O willow, willow, willow, willow!
I'll take me of thy branches fair
And twine a wreath to deck my hair.
" `The thrush hath taken him a she,
The robin, too, and eke the dove;
My Robin hath deserted me,
And left me for another love.
So here, by brookside, all alone,
I sit me down and make my moan.
O willow, willow, willow, willow!
I'll take me of thy branches fair
And twine a wreath to deck my hair.'
"But ne'er came herring from the sea,
But good as he were in the tide;
Young Corydon came o'er the lea,
And sat him Phillis down beside.
So, presently, she changed her tone,
And 'gan to cease her from her moan,
'O willow, willow, willow, willow!
Thou mayst e'en keep thy garlands fair,
I want them not to deck my hair_.' "
"Now, by my faith," cried Little John, "that same is a right good song,
and hath truth in it, also."
"Glad am I thou likest it, sweet lad," said the Cook. "Now sing
thou one also, for ne'er should a man be merry alone, or sing
and list not."
"Then I will sing thee a song of a right good knight of Arthur's court,
and how he cured his heart's wound without running upon the dart again, as did
thy Phillis; for I wot she did but cure one smart by giving herself another.
So, list thou while I sing:
THE GOOD KNIGHT AND HIS LOVE
"_When Arthur, King, did rule this land,
A goodly king was he,
And had he of stout knights a band
Of merry company.
"Among them all, both great and small,
A good stout knight was there,
A lusty childe, and eke a tall,
That loved a lady fair.
"But nought would she to do with he,
But turned her face away;
So gat he gone to far countrye,
And left that lady gay.
"There all alone he made his moan,
And eke did sob and sigh,
And weep till it would move a stone,
And he was like to die.
"But still his heart did feel the smart,
And eke the dire distress,
And rather grew his pain more sharp
As grew his body less.
"Then gat he back where was good sack
And merry com panye,
And soon did cease to cry `Alack!'
When blithe and gay was he.
"From which I hold, and feel full bold
To say, and eke believe,
That gin the belly go not cold
The heart will cease to grieve_."
"Now, by my faith," cried the Cook, as he rattled the pottle against
the sideboard, "I like that same song hugely, and eke the motive of it,
which lieth like a sweet kernel in a hazelnut"
"Now thou art a man of shrewd opinions," quoth Little John,
"and I love thee truly as thou wert my brother."
"And I love thee, too. But the day draweth on, and I have my cooking
to do ere our master cometh home; so let us e'en go and settle this
brave fight we have in hand."
"Ay, marry," quoth Little John, "and that right speedily.
Never have I been more laggard in fighting than in eating and drinking.
So come thou straight forth into the passageway, where there
is good room to swing a sword, and I will try to serve thee."
Then they both stepped forth into the broad passage that led
to the Steward's pantry, where each man drew his sword again
and without more ado fell upon the other as though he would hew
his fellow limb from limb. Then their swords clashed upon one
another with great din, and sparks flew from each blow in showers.
So they fought up and down the hall for an hour and more, neither
striking the other a blow, though they strove their best to do so;
for both were skillful at the fence; so nothing came of all their labor.
Ever and anon they rested, panting; then, after getting
their wind, at it they would go again more fiercely than ever.
At last Little John cried aloud, "Hold, good Cook!" whereupon each
rested upon his sword, panting.
"Now will I make my vow," quoth Little John, "thou art the very best
swordsman that ever mine eyes beheld. Truly, I had thought to carve
thee ere now."
"And I had thought to do the same by thee," quoth the Cook,
"but I have missed the mark somehow."
"Now I have been thinking within myself," quoth Little John,
"what we are fighting for; but albeit I do not rightly know."
"Why, no more do I," said the Cook. "I bear no love for that pursy Steward,
but I thought that we had engaged to fight with one another and that it
must be done."
"Now," quoth Little John, "it doth seem to me that instead
of striving to cut one another's throats, it were better for us
to be boon companions. What sayst thou, jolly Cook, wilt thou
go with me to Sherwood Forest and join with Robin Hood's band?
Thou shalt live a merry life within the woodlands, and sevenscore
good companions shalt thou have, one of whom is mine own self.
Thou shalt have three suits of Lincoln green each year,
and forty marks in pay."
"Now, thou art a man after mine own heart!" cried the Cook right heartily,
"and, as thou speakest of it, that is the very service for me.
I will go with thee, and that right gladly. Give me thy palm,
sweet fellow, and I will be thine own companion from henceforth.
What may be thy name, lad?"
"Men do call me Little John, good fellow."
"How? And art thou indeed Little John, and Robin Hood's own right-hand man?
Many a time and oft I heard of thee, but never did I hope to set eyes
upon thee. And thou art indeed the famous Little John!" And the Cook
seemed lost in amazement, and looked upon his companion with open eyes.
"I am Little John, indeed, and I will bring to Robin Hood
this day a right stout fellow to join his merry band.
But ere we go, good friend, it seemeth to me to be a vast
pity that, as we have had so much of the Sheriff's food,
we should not also carry off some of his silver plate to Robin Hood,
as a present from his worship."
"Ay, marry is it," said the Cook. And so they began hunting about,
and took as much silver as they could lay hands upon, clapping it into a bag,
and when they had filled the sack they set forth to Sherwood Forest.
Plunging into the woods, they came at last to the greenwood tree,
where they found Robin Hood and threescore of his merry men lying upon
the fresh green grass. When Robin and his men saw who it was that came,
they leaped to their feet. "Now welcome!" cried Robin Hood. "Now welcome,
Little John! For long hath it been since we have heard from thee,
though we all knew that thou hadst joined the Sheriff's service.
And how hast thou fared all these long days?"
"Right merrily have I lived at the Lord Sheriff's," answered Little John,
"and I have come straight thence. See, good master!
I have brought thee his cook, and even his silver plate."
Thereupon he told Robin Hood and his merry men that were there,
all that had befallen him since he had left them to go to the Fair
at Nottingham Town. Then all shouted with laughter, except Robin Hood;
but he looked grave.
"Nay, Little John," said he, "thou art a brave blade and a trusty fellow.
I am glad thou hast brought thyself back to us, and with such a good
companion as the Cook, whom we all welcome to Sherwood. But I like not
so well that thou hast stolen the Sheriff's plate like some paltry thief.
The Sheriff hath been punished by us, and hath lost three hundred pounds,
even as he sought to despoil another; but he hath done nought that we
should steal his household plate from him.
Though Little John was vexed with this, he strove to pass
it off with a jest. "Nay, good master," quoth he, "if thou
thinkest the Sheriff gave us not the plate, I will fetch him,
that he may tell us with his own lips he giveth it all to us."
So saying he leaped to his feet, and was gone before Robin
could call him back.
Little John ran for full five miles till he came to where the Sheriff
of Nottingham and a gay company were hunting near the forest.
When Little John came to the Sheriff he doffed his cap and bent his knee.
"God save thee, good master," quoth he.
"Why, Reynold Greenleaf!" cried the Sheriff, "whence comest thou
and where hast thou been?"
"I have been in the forest," answered Little John, speaking amazedly,
"and there I saw a sight such as ne'er before man's eyes beheld!
Yonder I saw a young hart all in green from top to toe, and about him was a
herd of threescore deer, and they, too, were all of green from head to foot.
Yet I dared not shoot, good master, for fear lest they should slay me."
"Why, how now, Reynold Greenleaf," cried the Sheriff, "art thou dreaming
or art thou mad, that thou dost bring me such, a tale?"
"Nay, I am not dreaming nor am I mad," said Little John,
"and if thou wilt come with me, I will show thee this fair sight,
for I have seen it with mine own eyes. But thou must come alone,
good master, lest the others frighten them and they get away."
So the party all rode forward, and Little John led them downward
into the forest.
"Now, good master," quoth he at last, "we are nigh where I saw this herd."
Then the Sheriff descended from his horse and bade them wait for him until
he should return; and Little John led him forward through a close copse until
suddenly they came to a great open glade, at the end of which Robin Hood sat
beneath the shade of the great oak tree, with his merry men all about him.
"See, good Master Sheriff," quoth Little John, "yonder is the hart of which I
spake to thee."
At this the Sheriff turned to Little John and said bitterly,
"Long ago I thought I remembered thy face, but now I know thee.
Woe betide thee, Little John, for thou hast betrayed me this day."
In the meantime Robin Hood had come to them. "Now welcome, Master Sheriff,"
said he. "Hast thou come today to take another feast with me?"
"Nay, Heaven forbid!" said the Sheriff in tones of deep earnest.
"I care for no feast and have no hunger today."
"Nevertheless," quoth Robin, "if thou hast no hunger, maybe thou
hast thirst, and well I know thou wilt take a cup of sack with me.
But I am grieved that thou wilt not feast with me, for thou couldst
have victuals to thy liking, for there stands thy Cook."
Then he led the Sheriff, willy-nilly, to the seat he knew so well beneath
the greenwood tree.
"Ho, lads!" cried Robin, "fill our good friend the Sheriff a right brimming
cup of sack and fetch it hither, for he is faint and weary."
Then one of the band brought the Sheriff a cup of sack, bowing low
as he handed it to him; but the Sheriff could not touch the wine,
for he saw it served in one of his own silver flagons, on one of his
own silver plates.
"How now," quoth Robin, "dost thou not like our new silver service?
We have gotten a bag of it this day." So saying, he held up the sack
of silver that Little John and the Cook had brought with them.
Then the Sheriff's heart was bitter within him; but, not
daring to say anything, he only gazed upon the ground.
Robin looked keenly at him for a time before he spoke again.
Then said he, "Now, Master Sheriff, the last time thou camest to
Sherwood Forest thou didst come seeking to despoil a poor spendthrift,
and thou wert despoiled thine own self; but now thou comest seeking
to do no harm, nor do I know that thou hast despoiled any man.
I take my tithes from fat priests and lordly squires, to help
those that they despoil and to raise up those that they bow down;
but I know not that thou hast tenants of thine own whom thou
hast wronged in any way. Therefore, take thou thine own again,
nor will I dispossess thee today of so much as one farthing.
Come with me, and I will lead thee from the forest back to thine
own party again."
Then, slinging the bag upon his shoulder, he turned away,
the Sheriff following him, all too perplexed in mind to speak.
So they went forward until they came to within a furlong of
the spot where the Sheriff's companions were waiting for him.
Then Robin Hood gave the sack of silver back to the Sheriff.
"Take thou thine own again," he said, "and hearken to me,
good Sheriff, take thou a piece of advice with it.
Try thy servants well ere thou dost engage them again so readily."
Then, turning, he left the other standing bewildered,
with the sack in his hands.
The company that waited for the Sheriff were all amazed to see him
come out of the forest bearing a heavy sack upon his shoulders;
but though they questioned him, he answered never a word,
acting like one who walks in a dream. Without a word, he placed
the bag across his nag's back and then, mounting, rode away,
all following him; but all the time there was a great turmoil
of thoughts within his head, tumbling one over the other.
And thus ends the merry tale of Little John and how he entered
the Sheriff's service.
Little John and the Tanner of Blyth
ONE FINE DAY, not long after Little John had left abiding with the Sheriff
and had come back, with his worship's cook, to the merry greenwood,
as has just been told, Robin Hood and a few chosen fellows of his band
lay upon the soft sward beneath the greenwood tree where they dwelled.
The day was warm and sultry, so that while most of the band were
scattered through the forest upon this mission and upon that,
these few stout fellows lay lazily beneath the shade of the tree,
in the soft afternoon, passing jests among themselves and telling
merry stories, with laughter and mirth.
All the air was laden with the bitter fragrance of the May,
and all the bosky shades of the woodlands beyond rang with the sweet
song of birds--the throstle cock, the cuckoo, and the wood pigeon--
and with the song of birds mingled the cool sound of the gurgling brook
that leaped out of the forest shades, and ran fretting amid its rough,
gray stones across the sunlit open glade before the trysting tree.
And a fair sight was that halfscore of tall, stout yeomen, all clad
in Lincoln green, lying beneath the broad-spreading branches of
the great oak tree, amid the quivering leaves of which the sunlight
shivered and fell in dancing patches upon the grass.
Suddenly Robin Hood smote his knee.
"By Saint Dunstan," quoth he, "I had nigh forgot that quarter-day
cometh on apace, and yet no cloth of Lincoln green in all our store.
It must be looked to, and that in quick season. Come, busk thee,
Little John! Stir those lazy bones of thine, for thou must get
thee straightway to our good gossip, the draper Hugh Longshanks
of Ancaster. Bid him send us straightway twentyscore yards of fair
cloth of Lincoln green; and mayhap the journey may take some of
the fat from off thy bones, that thou hast gotten from lazy living
at our dear Sheriff's."
"Nay," muttered Little John (for he had heard so much upon this
score that he was sore upon the point), "nay, truly, mayhap I have
more flesh upon my joints than I once had, yet, flesh or no flesh,
I doubt not that I could still hold my place and footing upon a narrow
bridge against e'er a yeoman in Sherwood, or Nottinghamshire,
for the matter of that, even though he had no more fat about his
bones than thou hast, good master."
At this reply a great shout of laughter went up, and all looked at Robin Hood,
for each man knew that Little John spake of a certain fight that happened
between their master and himself, through which they first became acquainted.
"Nay," quoth Robin Hood, laughing louder than all. "Heaven forbid
that I should doubt thee, for I care for no taste of thy staff myself,
Little John. I must needs own that there are those of my band
can handle a seven-foot staff more deftly than I; yet no man
in all Nottinghamshire can draw gray goose shaft with my fingers.
Nevertheless, a journey to Ancaster may not be ill for thee;
so go thou, as I bid, and thou hadst best go this very evening,
for since thou hast abided at the Sheriff's many know thy face,
and if thou goest in broad daylight, thou mayst get thyself
into a coil with some of his worship's men-at-arms. Bide thou
here till I bring thee money to pay our good Hugh. I warrant
he hath no better customers in all Nottinghamshire than we."
So saying, Robin left them and entered the forest.
Not far from the trysting tree was a great rock in which a chamber had been
hewn, the entrance being barred by a massive oaken door two palms'-breadth
in thickness, studded about with spikes, and fastened with a great padlock.
This was the treasure house of the band, and thither Robin Hood went and,
unlocking the door, entered the chamber, from which he brought forth a bag
of gold which he gave to Little John, to pay Hugh Longshanks withal,
for the cloth of Lincoln green.
Then up got Little John, and, taking the bag of gold, which he
thrust into his bosom, he strapped a girdle about his loins,
took a stout pikestaff full seven feet long in his hand,
and set forth upon his journey.
So he strode whistling along the leafy forest path that led
to Fosse Way, turning neither to the right hand nor the left,
until at last he came to where the path branched, leading on
the one hand onward to Fosse Way, and on the other, as well
Little John knew, to the merry Blue Boar Inn. Here Little John
suddenly ceased whistling and stopped in the middle of the path.
First he looked up and then he looked down, and then, tilting his
cap over one eye, he slowly scratched the back part of his head.
For thus it was: at the sight of these two roads, two voices
began to alarum within him, the one crying, "There lies the road
to the Blue Boar Inn, a can of brown October, and a merry night
with sweet companions such as thou mayst find there"; the other,
"There lies the way to Ancaster and the duty thou art sent upon."
Now the first of these two voices was far the louder,
for Little John had grown passing fond of good living through
abiding at the Sheriff's house; so, presently, looking up
into the blue sky, across which bright clouds were sailing
like silver boats, and swallows skimming in circling flight,
quoth he, "I fear me it will rain this evening, so I'll e'en stop
at the Blue Boar till it passes by, for I know my good master
would not have me wet to the skin." So, without more ado,
off he strode down the path that lay the way of his likings.
Now there was no sign of any foul weather, but when one wishes
to do a thing, as Little John did, one finds no lack of reasons
for the doing.
Four merry wags were at the Blue Boar Inn; a butcher, a beggar,
and two barefoot friars. Little John heard them singing from afar,
as he walked through the hush of the mellow twilight that was now falling
over hill and dale. Right glad were they to welcome such a merry
blade as Little John. Fresh cans of ale were brought, and with jest
and song and merry tales the hours slipped away on fleeting wings.
None thought of time or tide till the night was so far gone that Little John
put by the thought of setting forth upon his journey again that night,
and so bided at the Blue Boar Inn until the morrow.
Now it was an ill piece of luck for Little John that he left
his duty for his pleasure, and he paid a great score for it,
as we are all apt to do in the same case, as you shall see.
Up he rose at the dawn of the next day, and, taking his stout
pikestaff in his hand, he set forth upon his journey once more,
as though he would make up for lost time.
In the good town of Blyth there lived a stout tanner, celebrated far and near
for feats of strength and many tough bouts at wrestling and the quarterstaff.
For five years he had held the mid-country champion belt for wrestling,
till the great Adam o' Lincoln cast him in the ring and broke one of his ribs;
but at quarterstaff he had never yet met his match in all the country about.
Besides all this, he dearly loved the longbow, and a sly jaunt in the forest
when the moon was full and the dun deer in season; so that the King's rangers
kept a shrewd eye upon him and his doings, for Arthur a Bland's house was apt
to have aplenty of meat in it that was more like venison than the law allowed.
Now Arthur had been to Nottingham Town the day before Little John set
forth on his errand, there to sell a halfscore of tanned cowhides.
At the dawn of the same day that Little John left the inn,
he started from Nottingham, homeward for Blyth. His way led,
all in the dewy morn, past the verge of Sherwood Forest, where the birds
were welcoming the lovely day with a great and merry jubilee.
Across the Tanner's shoulders was slung his stout quarterstaff,
ever near enough to him to be gripped quickly, and on his head was
a cap of doubled cowhide, so tough that it could hardly be cloven
even by a broadsword.
"Now," quoth Arthur a Bland to himself, when he had come to
that part of the road that cut through a corner of the forest,
"no doubt at this time of year the dun deer are coming
from the forest depths nigher to the open meadow lands.
Mayhap I may chance to catch a sight of the dainty brown
darlings thus early in the morn." For there was nothing
he loved better than to look upon a tripping herd of deer,
even when he could not tickle their ribs with a clothyard shaft.
Accordingly, quitting the path, he went peeping this way
and that through the underbrush, spying now here and now there,
with all the wiles of a master of woodcraft, and of one who had
more than once donned a doublet of Lincoln green.
Now as Little John stepped blithely along, thinking of nothing but of such
things as the sweetness of the hawthorn buds that bedecked the hedgerows,
or gazing upward at the lark, that, springing from the dewy grass,
hung aloft on quivering wings in the yellow sunlight, pouring forth
its song that fell like a falling star from the sky, his luck led him
away from the highway, not far from the spot where Arthur a Bland
was peeping this way and that through the leaves of the thickets.
Hearing a rustling of the branches, Little John stopped and presently
caught sight of the brown cowhide cap of the Tanner moving among the bushes
"I do much wonder," quoth Little John to himself, "what yon knave
is after, that he should go thus peeping and peering about I
verily believe that yon scurvy varlet is no better than a thief,
and cometh here after our own and the good King's dun deer."
For by much roving in the forest, Little John had come to look upon
all the deer in Sherwood as belonging to Robin Hood and his band
as much as to good King Harry. "Nay," quoth he again, after a time,
"this matter must e'en be looked into." So, quitting the highroad,
he also entered the thickets, and began spying around after stout
Arthur a Bland.
So for a long time they both of them went hunting about,
Little John after the Tanner, and the Tanner after the deer.
At last Little John trod upon a stick, which snapped under
his foot, whereupon, hearing the noise, the Tanner turned
quickly and caught sight of the yeoman. Seeing that the Tanner
had spied him out, Little John put a bold face upon the matter.
"Hilloa," quoth he, "what art thou doing here, thou naughty fellow?
Who art thou that comest ranging Sherwood's paths?
In very sooth thou hast an evil cast of countenance,
and I do think, truly, that thou art no better than a thief,
and comest after our good King's deer."
"Nay," quoth the Tanner boldly--for, though taken by surprise, he was
not a man to be frightened by big words--"thou liest in thy teeth.
I am no thief, but an honest craftsman. As for my countenance, it is
what it is; and, for the matter of that, thine own is none too pretty,
thou saucy fellow."
"Ha!" quoth Little John in a great loud voice, "wouldst thou give
me backtalk? Now I have a great part of a mind to crack thy pate
for thee. I would have thee know, fellow, that I am, as it were,
one of the King's foresters. Leastwise," muttered he to himself,
"I and my friends do take good care of our good sovereign's deer."
"I care not who thou art," answered the bold Tanner, "and unless
thou hast many more of thy kind by thee, thou canst never make
Arthur a Bland cry `A mercy.' "
"Is it so?" cried Little John in a rage. "Now, by my faith,
thou saucy rogue, thy tongue hath led thee into a pit thou
wilt have a sorry time getting out of; for I will give thee
such a drubbing as ne'er hast thou had in all thy life before.
Take thy staff in thy hand, fellow, for I will not smite
an unarmed man.
"Marry come up with a murrain!" cried the Tanner, for he, too, had talked
himself into a fume. "Big words ne'er killed so much as a mouse.
Who art thou that talkest so freely of cracking the head
of Arthur a Bland? If I do not tan thy hide this day as ne'er
I tanned a calf's hide in all my life before, split my staff
into skewers for lamb's flesh and call me no more brave man!
Now look to thyself, fellow!"
"Stay!" said Little John. "Let us first measure our cudgels.
I do reckon my staff longer than thine, and I would not take
vantage of thee by even so much as an inch."
"Nay, I pass not for length," answered the Tanner. "My staff is long enough
to knock down a calf; so look to thyself, fellow, I say again."
So, without more ado, each gripped his staff in the middle, and, with fell
and angry looks, they came slowly together.
Now news had been brought to Robin Hood how that Little John, instead of
doing his bidding, had passed by duty for pleasure, and so had stopped
overnight with merry company at the Blue Boar Inn, instead of going
straight to Ancaster. So, being vexed to his heart by this, he set forth
at dawn of day to seek Little John at the Blue Boar, or at least to meet
the yeoman on the way, and ease his heart of what he thought of the matter.
As thus he strode along in anger, putting together the words he would
use to chide Little John, he heard, of a sudden, loud and angry voices,
as of men in a rage, passing fell words back and forth from one to the other.
At this, Robin Hood stopped and listened. "Surely," quoth he to himself,
"that is Little John's voice, and he is talking in anger also.
Methinks the other is strange to my ears. Now Heaven forfend that my good
trusty Little John should have fallen into the hands of the King's rangers.
I must see to this matter, and that quickly."
Thus spoke Robin Hood to himself, all his anger passing away
like a breath from the windowpane, at the thought that perhaps
his trusty right-hand man was in some danger of his life.
So cautiously he made his way through the thickets whence
the voices came, and, pushing aside the leaves, peeped into
the little open space where the two men, staff in hand,
were coming slowly together.
"Ha!" quoth Robin to himself, "here is merry sport afoot.
Now I would give three golden angels from my own pocket if yon
stout fellow would give Little John a right sound drubbing!
It would please me to see him well thumped for having failed
in my bidding. I fear me, though, there is but poor chance
of my seeing such a pleasant sight." So saying, he stretched
himself at length upon the ground, that he might not only see
the sport the better, but that he might enjoy the merry sight
at his ease.
As you may have seen two dogs that think to fight, walking slowly
round and round each other, neither cur wishing to begin the combat,
so those two stout yeomen moved slowly around, each watching for a
chance to take the other unaware, and so get in the first blow.
At last Little John struck like a flash, and--"rap!"--the Tanner met
the blow and turned it aside, and then smote back at Little John,
who also turned the blow; and so this mighty battle began.
Then up and down and back and forth they trod, the blows falling
so thick and fast that, at a distance, one would have thought that half
a score of men were fighting. Thus they fought for nigh a half an hour,
until the ground was all plowed up with the digging of their heels,
and their breathing grew labored like the ox in the furrow.
But Little John suffered the most, for he had become unused to such
stiff labor, and his joints were not as supple as they had been
before he went to dwell with the Sheriff.
All this time Robin Hood lay beneath the bush, rejoicing at such
a comely bout of quarterstaff. "By my faith!" quoth he to himself,
"never had I thought to see Little John so evenly matched in all my life.
Belike, though, he would have overcome yon fellow before this had he been
in his former trim."
At last Little John saw his chance, and, throwing all the
strength he felt going from him into one blow that might have
felled an ox, he struck at the Tanner with might and main.
And now did the Tanner's cowhide cap stand him in good stead,
and but for it he might never have held staff in hand again.
As it was, the blow he caught beside the head was so shrewd
that it sent him staggering across the little glade, so that,
if Little John had had the strength to follow up his vantage,
it would have been ill for stout Arthur. But he regained himself
quickly and, at arm's length, struck back a blow at Little John,
and this time the stroke reached its mark, and down went Little John
at full length, his cudgel flying from his hand as he fell.
Then, raising his staff, stout Arthur dealt him another blow
upon the ribs.
"Hold!" roared Little John. "Wouldst thou strike a man when he is down?"
"Ay, marry would I," quoth the Tanner, giving him another thwack
with his staff.
"Stop!" roared Little John. "Help! Hold, I say! I yield me!
I yield me, I say, good fellow!"
"Hast thou had enough?" asked the Tanner grimly, holding his staff aloft.
"Ay, marry, and more than enough."
"And thou dost own that I am the better man of the two?"
"Yea, truly, and a murrain seize thee!" said Little John,
the first aloud and the last to his beard.
"Then thou mayst go thy ways; and thank thy patron saint that I
am a merciful man," said the Tanner.
"A plague o' such mercy as thine!" said Little John, sitting up and
feeling his ribs where the Tanner had cudgeled him. "I make my vow,
my ribs feel as though every one of them were broken in twain.
I tell thee, good fellow, I did think there was never a man in all
Nottinghamshire could do to me what thou hast done this day."
"And so thought I, also," cried Robin Hood, bursting out of the thicket
and shouting with laughter till the tears ran down his cheeks.
"O man, man!" said he, as well as he could for his mirth, " 'a didst
go over like a bottle knocked from a wall. I did see the whole
merry bout, and never did I think to see thee yield thyself so,
hand and foot, to any man in all merry England. I was seeking thee,
to chide thee for leaving my bidding undone; but thou hast been
paid all I owed thee, full measure, pressed down and overflowing,
by this good fellow. Marry, 'a did reach out his arm full
length while thou stood gaping at him, and, with a pretty rap,
tumbled thee over as never have I seen one tumbled before."
So spoke bold Robin, and all the time Little John sat upon
the ground, looking as though he had sour curds in his mouth.
"What may be thy name, good fellow?" said Robin, next, turning
to the Tanner.
"Men do call me Arthur a Bland," spoke up the Tanner boldly,
"and now what may be thy name?"
"Ha, Arthur a Bland!" quoth Robin, "I have heard thy name before,
good fellow. Thou didst break the crown of a friend of mine
at the fair at Ely last October. The folk there call him
Jock o' Nottingham; we call him Will Scathelock. This poor
fellow whom thou hast so belabored is counted the best hand at
the quarterstaff in all merry England. His name is Little John,
and mine Robin Hood."
"How!" cried the Tanner, "art thou indeed the great Robin Hood,
and is this the famous Little John? Marry, had I known who thou art,
I would never have been so bold as to lift my hand against thee.
Let me help thee to thy feet, good Master Little John, and let me
brush the dust from off thy coat."
"Nay," quoth Little John testily, at the same time rising carefully,
as though his bones had been made of glass, "I can help myself,
good fellow, without thy aid; and let me tell thee, had it not
been for that vile cowskin cap of thine, it would have been ill
for thee this day."
At this Robin laughed again, and, turning to the Tanner, he said,
"Wilt thou join my band, good Arthur? For I make my vow thou art
one of the stoutest men that ever mine eyes beheld."
"Will I join thy band?" cried the Tanner joyfully.
"Ay, marry, will I! Hey for a merry life!" cried he, leaping aloft
and snapping his fingers, "and hey for the life I love!
Away with tanbark and filthy vats and foul cowhides!
I will follow thee to the ends of the earth, good master,
and not a herd of dun deer in all the forest but shall know
the sound of the twang of my bowstring."
"As for thee, Little John," said Robin, turning to him and laughing,
"thou wilt start once more for Ancaster, and we will go part way with thee,
for I will not have thee turn again to either the right hand or the left
till thou hast fairly gotten away from Sherwood. There are other inns
that thou knowest yet, hereabouts." Thereupon, leaving the thickets,
they took once more to the highway and departed upon their business.
Robin Hood and Will Scarlet
THUS THEY traveled along the sunny road, three stout fellows such as you
could hardly match anywhere else in all merry England. Many stopped
to gaze after them as they strode along, so broad were their shoulders
and so sturdy their gait.
Quoth Robin Hood to Little John, "Why didst thou not go straight
to Ancaster, yesterday, as I told thee? Thou hadst not gotten
thyself into such a coil hadst thou done as I ordered."
"I feared the rain that threatened," said Little John in a sullen tone,
for he was vexed at being so chaffed by Robin with what had happened to him.
"The rain!" cried Robin, stopping of a sudden in the middle of the road,
and looking at Little John in wonder. "Why, thou great oaf! not a drop
of rain has fallen these three days, neither has any threatened,
nor hath there been a sign of foul weather in earth or sky or water."
"Nevertheless," growled Little John, "the holy Saint Swithin
holdeth the waters of the heavens in his pewter pot, and he could
have poured them out, had he chosen, even from a clear sky;
and wouldst thou have had me wet to the skin?"
At this Robin Hood burst into a roar of laughter. "O Little John!"
said he, "what butter wits hast thou in that head of thine!
Who could hold anger against such a one as thou art?"
So saying, they all stepped out once more, with the right foot foremost,
as the saying is.
After they had traveled some distance, the day being warm and the road dusty,
Robin Hood waxed thirsty; so, there being a fountain of water as cold as ice,
just behind the hedgerow, they crossed the stile and came to where the water
bubbled up from beneath a mossy stone. Here, kneeling and making cups
of the palms of their hands, they drank their fill, and then, the spot being
cool and shady, they stretched their limbs and rested them for a space.
In front of them, over beyond the hedge, the dusty road stretched
away across the plain; behind them the meadow lands and bright green
fields of tender young corn lay broadly in the sun, and overhead
spread the shade of the cool, rustling leaves of the beechen tree.
Pleasantly to their nostrils came the tender fragrance of the purple
violets and wild thyme that grew within the dewy moisture of the edge
of the little fountain, and pleasantly came the soft gurgle of the water.
All was so pleasant and so full of the gentle joy of the bright Maytime,
that for a long time no one of the three cared to speak, but each lay
on his back, gazing up through the trembling leaves of the trees to
the bright sky overhead. At last, Robin, whose thoughts were not quite
so busy wool-gathering as those of the others, and who had been gazing
around him now and then, broke the silence.
"Heyday!" quoth he, "yon is a gaily feathered bird, I take my vow."
The others looked and saw a young man walking slowly down the highway.
Gay was he, indeed, as Robin had said, and a fine figure he cut,
for his doublet was of scarlet silk and his stockings also;
a handsome sword hung by his side, the embossed leathern scabbard being
picked out with fine threads of gold; his cap was of scarlet velvet,
and a broad feather hung down behind and back of one ear.
His hair was long and yellow and curled upon his shoulders,
and in his hand he bore an early rose, which he smelled at daintily
now and then.
"By my life!" quoth Robin Hood, laughing, "saw ye e'er such
a pretty, mincing fellow?"
"Truly, his clothes have overmuch prettiness for my taste," quoth Arthur
a Bland, "but, ne'ertheless, his shoulders are broad and his loins are narrow,
and seest thou, good master, how that his arms hang from his body?
They dangle not down like spindles, but hang stiff and bend at the elbow.
I take my vow, there be no bread and milk limbs in those fine clothes,
but stiff joints and tough thews."
"Methinks thou art right, friend Arthur," said Little John. "I do verily
think that yon is no such roseleaf and whipped-cream gallant as he would
have one take him to be."
"Pah!" quoth Robin Hood, "the sight of such a fellow doth put
a nasty taste into my mouth! Look how he doth hold that fair
flower betwixt his thumb and finger, as he would say, `Good rose,
I like thee not so ill but I can bear thy odor for a little while.'
I take it ye are both wrong, and verily believe that were
a furious mouse to run across his path, he would cry,
`La!' or `Alack-a-day!' and fall straightway into a swoon.
I wonder who he may be."
"Some great baron's son, I doubt not," answered Little John,
"with good and true men's money lining his purse."
"Ay, marry, that is true, I make no doubt," quoth Robin. "What a pity
that such men as he, that have no thought but to go abroad in gay clothes,
should have good fellows, whose shoes they are not fit to tie,
dancing at their bidding. By Saint Dunstan, Saint Alfred, Saint Withold,
and all the good men in the Saxon calendar, it doth make me mad to see
such gay lordlings from over the sea go stepping on the necks of good Saxons
who owned this land before ever their great-grandsires chewed rind of brawn!
By the bright bow of Heaven, I will have their ill-gotten gains from them,
even though I hang for it as high as e'er a forest tree in Sherwood!"
"Why, how now, master," quoth Little John, "what heat is this?
Thou dost set thy pot a-boiling, and mayhap no bacon to cook!
Methinks yon fellow's hair is overlight for Norman locks.
He may be a good man and true for aught thou knowest."
"Nay," said Robin, "my head against a leaden farthing, he is what I say.
So, lie ye both here, I say, till I show you how I drub this fellow."
So saying, Robin Hood stepped forth from the shade of the beech tree,
crossed the stile, and stood in the middle of the road, with his hands
on his hips, in the stranger's path.
Meantime the stranger, who had been walking so slowly that all this talk
was held before he came opposite the place where they were, neither quickened
his pace nor seemed to see that such a man as Robin Hood was in the world.
So Robin stood in the middle of the road, waiting while the other walked
slowly forward, smelling his rose, and looking this way and that,
and everywhere except at Robin.
"Hold!" cried Robin, when at last the other had come close
to him. "Hold! Stand where thou art!"
"Wherefore should I hold, good fellow?" said the stranger in soft
and gentle voice. "And wherefore should I stand where I am?
Ne'ertheless, as thou dost desire that I should stay,
I will abide for a short time, that I may hear what thou mayst
have to say to me."
"Then," quoth Robin, "as thou dost so fairly do as I tell thee, and dost
give me such soft speech, I will also treat thee with all due courtesy.
I would have thee know, fair friend, that I am, as it were, a votary at
the shrine of Saint Wilfred who, thou mayst know, took, willy-nilly, all
their gold from the heathen, and melted it up into candlesticks.
Wherefore, upon such as come hereabouts, I levy a certain toll, which I
use for a better purpose, I hope, than to make candlesticks withal.
Therefore, sweet chuck, I would have thee deliver to me thy purse,
that I may look into it, and judge, to the best of my poor powers,
whether thou hast more wealth about thee than our law allows.
For, as our good Gaffer Swanthold sayeth, `He who is fat from overliving
must needs lose blood.' "
All this time the youth had been sniffing at the rose that he held
betwixt his thumb and finger. "Nay," said he with a gentle smile,
when Robin Hood had done, "I do love to hear thee talk, thou pretty fellow,
and if, haply, thou art not yet done, finish, I beseech thee.
I have yet some little time to stay."
"I have said all," quoth Robin, "and now, if thou wilt give me thy purse,
I will let thee go thy way without let or hindrance so soon as I shall see
what it may hold. I will take none from thee if thou hast but little."
"Alas! It doth grieve me much," said the other, "that I cannot do as thou
dost wish. I have nothing to give thee. Let me go my way, I prythee.
I have done thee no harm."
"Nay, thou goest not," quoth Robin, "till thou hast shown me thy purse."
"Good friend," said the other gently, "I have business elsewhere.
I have given thee much time and have heard thee patiently.
Prythee, let me depart in peace."
"I have spoken to thee, friend," said Robin sternly, "and I now tell
thee again, that thou goest not one step forward till thou hast done
as I bid thee." So saying, he raised his quarterstaff above his head
in a threatening way.
"Alas!" said the stranger sadly, "it doth grieve me that this thing
must be. I fear much that I must slay thee, thou poor fellow!"
So saying, he drew his sword.
"Put by thy weapon," quoth Robin. "I would take no vantage of thee.
Thy sword cannot stand against an oaken staff such as mine.
I could snap it like a barley straw. Yonder is a good oaken thicket
by the roadside; take thee a cudgel thence and defend thyself fairly,
if thou hast a taste for a sound drubbing."
First the stranger measured Robin with his eye, and then
he measured the oaken staff. "Thou art right, good fellow,"
said he presently, "truly, my sword is no match for that
cudgel of thine. Bide thee awhile till I get me a staff."
So saying, he threw aside the rose that he had been holding all
this time, thrust his sword back into the scabbard, and, with a
more hasty step than he had yet used, stepped to the roadside
where grew the little clump of ground oaks Robin had spoken of.
Choosing among them, he presently found a sapling to his liking.
He did not cut it, but, rolling up his sleeves a little way, he laid hold
of it, placed his heel against the ground, and, with one mighty pull,
plucked the young tree up by the roots from out the very earth.
Then he came back, trimming away the roots and tender stems
with his sword as quietly as if he had done nought to speak of.
Little John and the Tanner had been watching all that passed,
but when they saw the stranger drag the sapling up from the earth,
and heard the rending and snapping of its roots, the Tanner
pursed his lips together, drawing his breath between them
in a long inward whistle.
"By the breath of my body!" said Little John, as soon as he
could gather his wits from their wonder, "sawest thou that, Arthur? Marry, I
think our poor master will stand but an ill chance with yon fellow.
By Our Lady, he plucked up yon green tree as it were a barley straw."
Whatever Robin Hood thought, he stood his ground, and now he and the stranger
in scarlet stood face to face.
Well did Robin Hood hold his own that day as a mid-country yeoman.
This way and that they fought, and back and forth,
Robin's skill against the stranger's strength.
The dust of the highway rose up around them like a cloud,
so that at times Little John and the Tanner could see nothing,
but only hear the rattle of the staves against one another.
Thrice Robin Hood struck the stranger; once upon the arm and twice
upon the ribs, and yet had he warded all the other's blows,
only one of which, had it met its mark, would have laid
stout Robin lower in the dust than he had ever gone before.
At last the stranger struck Robin's cudgel so fairly in the middle
that he could hardly hold his staff in his hand; again he struck,
and Robin bent beneath the blow; a third time he struck,
and now not only fairly beat down Robin's guard, but gave him
such a rap, also, that down he tumbled into the dusty road.
"Hold!" cried Robin Hood, when he saw the stranger raising his staff
once more. "I yield me!"
"Hold!" cried Little John, bursting from his cover, with the Tanner
at his heels. "Hold! give over, I say!"
"Nay," answered the stranger quietly, "if there be two more of you,
and each as stout as this good fellow, I am like to have my hands full.
Nevertheless, come on, and I will strive my best to serve you all."
"Stop!" cried Robin Hood, "we will fight no more. I take my vow,
this is an ill day for thee and me, Little John. I do verily
believe that my wrist, and eke my arm, are palsied by the jar
of the blow that this stranger struck me."
Then Little John turned to Robin Hood. "Why, how now,
good master," said he. "Alas! Thou art in an ill plight.
Marry, thy jerkin is all befouled with the dust of the road.
Let me help thee to arise."
"A plague on thy aid!" cried Robin angrily. "I can get to my feet
without thy help, good fellow."
"Nay, but let me at least dust thy coat for thee. I fear thy
poor bones are mightily sore," quoth Little John soberly,
but with a sly twinkle in his eyes.
"Give over, I say!" quoth Robin in a fume. "My coat hath been dusted
enough already, without aid of thine." Then, turning to the stranger,
he said, "What may be thy name, good fellow?"
"My name is Gamwell," answered the other.
"Ha!" cried Robin, "is it even so? I have near kin of that name.
Whence camest thou, fair friend?"
"From Maxfield Town I come," answered the stranger.
"There was I born and bred, and thence I come to seek my mother's
young brother, whom men call Robin Hood. So, if perchance thou
mayst direct me--"
"Ha! Will Gamwell!" cried Robin, placing both hands upon
the other's shoulders and holding him off at arm's length.
"Surely, it can be none other! I might have known thee by that
pretty maiden air of thine--that dainty, finicking manner of gait.
Dost thou not know me, lad? Look upon me well."
"Now, by the breath of my body!" cried the other, "I do believe from
my heart that thou art mine own Uncle Robin. Nay, certain it is so!"
And each flung his arms around the other, kissing him upon the cheek.
Then once more Robin held his kinsman off at arm's length and
scanned him keenly from top to toe. "Why, how now," quoth he,
"what change is here? Verily, some eight or ten years ago I left
thee a stripling lad, with great joints and ill-hung limbs, and lo!
here thou art, as tight a fellow as e'er I set mine eyes upon.
Dost thou not remember, lad, how I showed thee the proper way
to nip the goose feather betwixt thy fingers and throw out thy bow
arm steadily? Thou gayest great promise of being a keen archer.
And dost thou not mind how I taught thee to fend and parry
with the cudgel?"
"Yea," said young Gamwell, "and I did so look up to thee, and thought thee
so above all other men that, I make my vow, had I known who thou wert,
I would never have dared to lift hand against thee this day.
I trust I did thee no great harm."
"No, no," quoth Robin hastily, and looking sideways at Little John,
"thou didst not harm me. But say no more of that, I prythee.
Yet I will say, lad, that I hope I may never feel again such a blow
as thou didst give me. By'r Lady, my arm doth tingle yet from
fingernail to elbow. Truly, I thought that I was palsied for life.
I tell thee, coz, that thou art the strongest man that ever I
laid mine eyes upon. I take my vow, I felt my stomach quake
when I beheld thee pluck up yon green tree as thou didst.
But tell me, how camest thou to leave Sir Edward and thy mother?"
"Alas!" answered young Gamwell, "it is an ill story, uncle, that I
have to tell thee. My father's steward, who came to us after old
Giles Crookleg died, was ever a saucy varlet, and I know not why
my father kept him, saving that he did oversee with great judgment.
It used to gall me to hear him speak up so boldly to my father, who,
thou knowest, was ever a patient man to those about him, and slow
to anger and harsh words. Well, one day--and an ill day it was for
that saucy fellow--he sought to berate my father, I standing by.
I could stand it no longer, good uncle, so, stepping forth, I gave
him a box o' the ear, and--wouldst thou believe it?--the fellow
straightway died o't. I think they said I broke his neck, or something o'
the like. So off they packed me to seek thee and escape the law.
I was on my way when thou sawest me, and here I am."
"Well, by the faith of my heart," quoth Robin Hood, "for anyone
escaping the law, thou wast taking it the most easily that ever
I beheld in all my life. Whenever did anyone in all the world
see one who had slain a man, and was escaping because of it,
tripping along the highway like a dainty court damsel,
sniffing at a rose the while?"
"Nay, uncle," answered Will Gamwell, "overhaste never churned good butter,
as the old saying hath it. Moreover, I do verily believe that this
overstrength of my body hath taken the nimbleness out of my heels.
Why, thou didst but just now rap me thrice, and I thee never a once,
save by overbearing thee by my strength."
"Nay," quoth Robin, "let us say no more on that score.
I am right glad to see thee, Will, and thou wilt add great honor
and credit to my band of merry fellows. But thou must change
thy name, for warrants will be out presently against thee;
so, because of thy gay clothes, thou shalt henceforth and for aye
be called Will Scarlet."
"Will Scarlet," quoth Little John, stepping forward and reaching out his
great palm, which the other took, "Will Scarlet, the name fitteth thee well.
Right glad am I to welcome thee among us. I am called Little John;
and this is a new member who has just joined us, a stout tanner named
Arthur a Bland. Thou art like to achieve fame, Will, let me tell thee,
for there will be many a merry ballad sung about the country, and many a merry
story told in Sherwood of how Robin Hood taught Little John and Arthur
a Bland the proper way to use the quarterstaff; likewise, as it were,
how our good master bit off so large a piece of cake that he choked on it."
"Nay, good Little John," quoth Robin gently, for he liked ill to have
such a jest told of him. "Why should we speak of this little matter?
Prythee, let us keep this day's doings among ourselves."
"With all my heart," quoth Little John. "But, good master,
I thought that thou didst love a merry story, because thou hast
so often made a jest about a certain increase of fatness on my joints,
of flesh gathered by my abiding with the Sheriff of--"
"Nay, good Little John," said Robin hastily, "I do bethink me
I have said full enough on that score."
"It is well," quoth Little John, "for in truth I myself have tired
of it somewhat. But now I bethink me, thou didst also seem minded
to make a jest of the rain that threatened last night; so--"
"Nay, then," said Robin Hood testily, "I was mistaken.
I remember me now it did seem to threaten rain."
"Truly, I did think so myself," quoth Little John, "therefore, no doubt,
thou dost think it was wise of me to abide all night at the Blue Boar Inn,
instead of venturing forth in such stormy weather; dost thou not?"
"A plague of thee and thy doings!" cried Robin Hood. "If thou wilt
have it so, thou wert right to abide wherever thou didst choose."
"Once more, it is well," quoth Little John. "As for myself,
I have been blind this day. I did not see thee drubbed;
I did not see thee tumbled heels over head in the dust;
and if any man says that thou wert, I can with a clear conscience
rattle his lying tongue betwixt his teeth."
"Come," cried Robin, biting his nether lip, while the others
could not forbear laughing. "We will go no farther today,
but will return to Sherwood, and thou shalt go to Ancaster
another time, Little John."
So said Robin, for now that his bones were sore, he felt as though
a long journey would be an ill thing for him. So, turning their backs,
they retraced their steps whence they came.
The Adventure with Midge the Miller's Son
WHEN THE four yeomen had traveled for a long time toward
Sherwood again, high noontide being past, they began to wax hungry.
Quoth Robin Hood, "I would that I had somewhat to eat.
Methinks a good loaf of white bread, with a piece of
snow-white cheese, washed down with a draught of humming ale,
were a feast for a king."
"Since thou speakest of it," said Will Scarlet, "methinks it
would not be amiss myself. There is that within me crieth out,
`Victuals, good friend, victuals!' "
"I know a house near by," said Arthur a Bland, "and, had I but the money,
I would bring ye that ye speak of; to wit, a sweet loaf of bread,
a fair cheese, and a skin of brown ale."
"For the matter of that, thou knowest I have money by me, good master,"
quoth Little John.
"Why, so thou hast, Little John," said Robin. "How much money will it take,
good Arthur, to buy us meat and drink?"
"I think that six broad pennies will buy food enow for a dozen men,"
said the Tanner.
"Then give him six pennies, Little John," quoth Robin,
"for methinks food for three men will about fit my need.
Now get thee gone, Arthur, with the money, and bring the food here,
for there is a sweet shade in that thicket yonder, beside the road,
and there will we eat our meal."
So Little John gave Arthur the money, and the others stepped to the thicket,
there to await the return of the Tanner.
After a time he came back, bearing with him a great brown loaf of bread,
and a fair, round cheese, and a goatskin full of stout March beer,
slung over his shoulders. Then Will Scarlet took his sword and
divided the loaf and the cheese into four fair portions, and each
man helped himself. Then Robin Hood took a deep pull at the beer.
"Aha!" said he, drawing in his breath, "never have I tasted sweeter
drink than this."
After this no man spake more, but each munched away at his bread
and cheese lustily, with ever and anon a pull at the beer.
At last Will Scarlet looked at a small piece of bread he still held
in his hand, and quoth he, "Methinks I will give this to the sparrows."
So, throwing it from him, he brushed the crumbs from his jerkin.
"I, too," quoth Robin, "have had enough, I think."
As for Little John and the Tanner, they had by this time eaten
every crumb of their bread and cheese.
"Now," quoth Robin, "I do feel myself another man, and would fain
enjoy something pleasant before going farther upon our journey.
I do bethink me, Will, that thou didst use to have a pretty voice,
and one that tuned sweetly upon a song. Prythee, give us one ere
we journey farther."
"Truly, I do not mind turning a tune," answered Will Scarlet,
"but I would not sing alone."
"Nay, others will follow. Strike up, lad," quoth Robin.
"In that case, 'tis well," said Will Scarlet. "I do call to mind a song
that a certain minstrel used to sing in my father's hall, upon occasion.
I know no name for it and so can give you none; but thus it is."
Then, clearing his throat, he sang:
"_In the merry blossom time,
When love longings food the breast,
When the flower is on the lime,
When the small fowl builds her nest,
Sweetly sings the nightingale
And the throstle cock so bold;
Cuckoo in the dewy dale
And the turtle in the word.
But the robin I love dear,
For he singeth through the year.
So I'd have my true love be:
Not to fly
At the nigh
Sign of cold adversity_.
"_When the spring brings sweet delights,
When aloft the lark doth rise,
Lovers woo o' mellow nights,
And youths peep in maidens' eyes,
That time blooms the eglantine,
Daisies pied upon the hill,
Cowslips fair and columbine,
Dusky violets by the rill.
But the ivy green cloth grow
When the north wind bringeth snow.
Stanch and true!
Thus I'd have her love to be: