Part 4 out of 6
hast ne'er had in all thy life before."
"May Heaven forfend!" cried the Bishop earnestly; for he knew
right well what manner of feast it was that Robin Hood gave
his guests in Sherwood Forest.
But now Robin Hood gathered his men together, and, with Allan
and his young bride in their midst, they all turned
their footsteps toward the woodlands. On the way thither
Friar Tuck came close to Robin and plucked him by the sleeve.
"Thou dost lead a merry life, good master," quoth he,
"but dost thou not think that it would be for the welfare
of all your souls to have a good stout chaplain, such as I,
to oversee holy matters? Truly, I do love this life mightily."
At this merry Robin Hood laughed amain, and bade him stay
and become one of their band if he wished.
That night there was such a feast held in the greenwood as Nottinghamshire
never saw before. To that feast you and I were not bidden, and pity it is
that we were not; so, lest we should both feel the matter the more keenly,
I will say no more about it.
Robin Hood Aids a Sorrowful Knight
SO PASSED the gentle springtime away in budding beauty; its silver
showers and sunshine, its green meadows and its flowers. So, likewise,
passed the summer with its yellow sunlight, its quivering heat and deep,
bosky foliage, its long twilights and its mellow nights, through which
the frogs croaked and fairy folk were said to be out on the hillsides.
All this had passed and the time of fall had come, bringing with it its own
pleasures and joyousness; for now, when the harvest was gathered home,
merry bands of gleaners roamed the country about, singing along the roads in
the daytime, and sleeping beneath the hedgerows and the hay-ricks at night.
Now the hips burned red in the tangled thickets and the hews waxed
black in the hedgerows, the stubble lay all crisp and naked to the sky,
and the green leaves were fast turning russet and brown. Also, at this
merry season, good things of the year are gathered in in great store.
Brown ale lies ripening in the cellar, hams and bacon hang in the smoke-shed,
and crabs are stowed away in the straw for roasting in the wintertime,
when the north wind piles the snow in drifts around the gables and the fire
crackles warm upon the hearth.
So passed the seasons then, so they pass now, and so they will pass
in time to come, while we come and go like leaves of the tree that fall
and are soon forgotten.
Quoth Robin Hood, snuffing the air, "Here is a fair day,
Little John, and one that we can ill waste in idleness.
Choose such men as thou dost need, and go thou east while I
will wend to the west, and see that each of us bringeth back
some goodly guest to dine this day beneath the greenwood tree."
"Marry," cried Little John, clapping his palms together
for joy, "thy bidding fitteth my liking like heft to blade.
I'll bring thee back a guest this day, or come not back
mine own self."
Then they each chose such of the band as they wished, and so went
forth by different paths from the forest.
Now, you and I cannot go two ways at the same time while we join
in these merry doings; so we will e'en let Little John follow his
own path while we tuck up our skirts and trudge after Robin Hood.
And here is good company, too; Robin Hood, Will Scarlet, Allan
a Dale, Will Scathelock, Midge, the Miller's son, and others.
A score or more of stout fellows had abided in the forest,
with Friar Tuck, to make ready for the homecoming, but all the rest
were gone either with Robin Hood or Little John.
They traveled onward, Robin following his fancy and the others
following Robin. Now they wended their way through an open
dale with cottage and farm lying therein, and now again they
entered woodlands once more. Passing by fair Mansfield Town,
with its towers and battlements and spires all smiling in the sun,
they came at last out of the forest lands. Onward they journeyed,
through highway and byway, through villages where goodwives and merry
lasses peeped through the casements at the fine show of young men,
until at last they came over beyond Alverton in Derbyshire. By this
time high noontide had come, yet they had met no guest such as was
worth their while to take back to Sherwood; so, coming at last to
a certain spot where a shrine stood at the crossing of two roads,
Robin called upon them to stop, for here on either side was shelter
of high hedgerows, behind which was good hiding, whence they could
watch the roads at their ease, while they ate their midday meal.
Quoth merry Robin, "Here, methinks, is good lodging, where peaceful folk,
such as we be, can eat in quietness; therefore we will rest here,
and see what may, perchance, fall into our luck-pot." So they crossed
a stile and came behind a hedgerow where the mellow sunlight was bright
and warm, and where the grass was soft, and there sat them down.
Then each man drew from the pouch that hung beside him that
which he had brought to eat, for a merry walk such as this had
been sharpens the appetite till it is as keen as a March wind.
So no more words were spoken, but each man saved his teeth for better use--
munching at brown crust and cold meat right lustily.
In front of them, one of the highroads crawled up the steep hill
and then dipped suddenly over its crest, sharp-cut with hedgerow
and shaggy grass against the sky. Over the top of the windy hill
peeped the eaves of a few houses of the village that fell back
into the valley behind; there, also, showed the top of a windmill,
the sails slowly rising and dipping from behind the hill against
the clear blue sky, as the light wind moved them with creaking
and labored swing.
So the yeomen lay behind the hedge and finished their midday meal;
but still the time slipped along and no one came. At last,
a man came slowly riding over the hill and down the stony
road toward the spot where Robin and his band lay hidden.
He was a good stout knight, but sorrowful of face and downcast
of mien. His clothes were plain and rich, but no chain of gold,
such as folk of his stand in life wore at most times,
hung around his neck, and no jewel was about him; yet no one
could mistake him for aught but one of proud and noble blood.
His head was bowed upon his breast and his hands drooped limp
on either side; and so he came slowly riding, as though sunk
in sad thoughts, while even his good horse, the reins loose
upon his neck, walked with hanging head, as though he shared
his master's grief.
Quoth Robin Hood, "Yon is verily a sorry-looking gallant,
and doth seem to have donned ill-content with his jerkin
this morning; nevertheless, I will out and talk with him,
for there may be some pickings here for a hungry daw.
Methinks his dress is rich, though he himself is so downcast.
Bide ye here till I look into this matter." So saying,
he arose and left them, crossed the road to the shrine,
and there stood, waiting for the sorrowful knight to come near him.
So, presently, when the knight came riding slowly along,
jolly Robin stepped forward and laid his hand upon the bridle rein.
"Hold, Sir Knight," quoth he. "I prythee tarry for a short time,
for I have a few words to say to thee."
"What art thou, friend, who dost stop a traveler in this manner
upon his most gracious Majesty's highway?" said the Knight.
"Marry," quoth Robin, "that is a question hard to answer.
One man calleth me kind, another calleth me cruel; this one
calleth me good honest fellow, and that one, vile thief.
Truly, the world hath as many eyes to look upon a man withal
as there are spots on a toad; so, with what pair of eyes
thou regardest me lieth entirely with thine own self.
My name is Robin Hood."
"Truly, good Robin," said the Knight, a smile twitching
at the corners of his mouth, "thou hast a quaint conceit.
As for the pair of eyes with which I regard thee, I would say
that they are as favorable as may be, for I hear much good
of thee and little ill. What is thy will of me?"
"Now, I make my vow, Sir Knight," quoth Robin, "thou hast surely learned
thy wisdom of good Gaffer Swanthold, for he sayeth, `Fair words are
as easy spoke as foul, and bring good will in the stead of blows.'
Now I will show thee the truth of this saying; for, if thou wilt go
with me this day to Sherwood Forest, I will give thee as merry a feast
as ever thou hadst in all thy life."
"Thou art indeed kind," said the Knight, "but methinks
thou wilt find me but an ill-seeming and sorrowful guest.
Thou hadst best let me pass on my way in peace."
"Nay," quoth Robin, "thou mightst go thine own way but for one thing,
and that I will tell thee. We keep an inn, as it were,
in the very depths of Sherwood, but so far from highroads and beaten
paths that guests do not often come nigh us; so I and my friends
set off merrily and seek them when we grow dull of ourselves.
Thus the matter stands, Sir Knight; yet I will furthermore tell
thee that we count upon our guests paying a reckoning."
"I take thy meaning, friend," said the Knight gravely, "but I am not thy man,
for I have no money by me."
"Is it sooth?" said Robin, looking at the Knight keenly. "I can scarce
choose but believe thee; yet, Sir Knight, there be those of thy order whose
word is not to be trusted as much as they would have others believe.
Thou wilt think no ill if I look for myself in this matter."
Then, still holding the horse by the bridle rein, he put his fingers
to his lips and blew a shrill whistle, whereupon fourscore yeomen came
leaping over the stile and ran to where the Knight and Robin stood.
"These," said Robin, looking upon them proudly, "are some of my merry men.
They share and share alike with me all joys and troubles, gains and losses.
Sir Knight, I prythee tell me what money thou hast about thee."
For a time the Knight said not a word, but a slow red arose into his cheeks;
at last he looked Robin in the face and said, "I know not why I should
be ashamed, for it should be no shame to me; but, friend, I tell thee
the truth, when I say that in my purse are ten shillings, and that that is
every groat that Sir Richard of the Lea hath in all the wide world."
When Sir Richard ended a silence fell, until at last Robin said,
"And dost thou pledge me thy knightly word that this is all thou
hast with thee?"
"Yea," answered Sir Richard, "I do pledge thee my most solemn word,
as a true knight, that it is all the money I have in the world.
Nay, here is my purse, ye may find for yourselves the truth of what I say."
And he held his purse out to Robin.
"Put up thy purse, Sir Richard," quoth Robin. "Far be it from me
to doubt the word of so gentle a knight. The proud I strive to
bring low, but those that walk in sorrow I would aid if I could.
Come, Sir Richard, cheer up thy heart and go with us into the greenwood.
Even I may perchance aid thee, for thou surely knowest how the good
Athelstane was saved by the little blind mole that digged a trench
over which he that sought the king's life stumbled."
"Truly, friend," said Sir Richard, "methinks thou meanest kindness
in thine own way; nevertheless my troubles are such that it is
not likely that thou canst cure them. But I will go with thee
this day into Sherwood." Hereupon he turned his horse's head,
and they all wended their way to the woodlands, Robin walking
on one side of the Knight and Will Scarlet on the other,
while the rest of the band trudged behind.
After they had traveled thus for a time Robin Hood spake.
"Sir Knight," said he, "I would not trouble thee with idle questions;
but dost thou find it in thy heart to tell me thy sorrows?"
"Truly, Robin," quoth the Knight, "I see no reason why I should not do so.
Thus it is: My castle and my lands are in pawn for a debt that I owe.
Three days hence the money must be paid or else all mine estate is
lost forever, for then it falls into the hands of the Priory of Emmet,
and what they swallow they never give forth again."
Quoth Robin, "I understand not why those of thy kind live in such
a manner that all their wealth passeth from them like snow beneath
the springtide sun."
"Thou wrongest me, Robin," said the Knight, "for listen:
I have a son but twenty winters old, nevertheless he has
won his spurs as knight. Last year, on a certain evil day,
the jousts were held at Chester, and thither my son went,
as did I and my lady wife. I wot it was a proud time for us,
for he unhorsed each knight that he tilted against.
At last he ran a course with a certain great knight,
Sir Walter of Lancaster, yet, though my son was so youthful,
he kept his seat, albeit both spears were shivered to the heft;
but it happened that a splinter of my boy's lance ran through
the visor of Sir Walter's helmet and pierced through his eye
into his brain, so that he died ere his esquire could unlace
his helm. Now, Robin, Sir Walter had great friends at court,
therefore his kinsmen stirred up things against my son so that,
to save him from prison, I had to pay a ransom of six hundred
pounds in gold. All might have gone well even yet, only that,
by ins and outs and crookedness of laws, I was shorn like
a sheep that is clipped to the quick. So it came that I
had to pawn my lands to the Priory of Emmet for more money,
and a hard bargain they drove with me in my hour of need.
Yet I would have thee understand I grieve so for my lands
only because of my dear lady wife."
"But where is thy son now?" asked Robin, who had listened closely
to all the Knight had said.
"In Palestine," said Sir Richard, "battling like a brave
Christian soldier for the cross and the holy sepulcher.
Truly, England was an ill place for him because of Sir Walter's
death and the hate of the Lancastrian's kinsmen."
"Truly," said Robin, much moved, "thine is a hard lot.
But tell me, what is owing to Emmet for thine estates?"
"Only four hundred pounds," said Sir Richard.
At this, Robin smote his thigh in anger. "O the bloodsuckers!"
cried he. "A noble estate to be forfeit for four hundred pounds!
But what will befall thee if thou dost lose thy lands, Sir Richard?"
"It is not mine own lot that doth trouble me in that case,"
said the Knight, "but my dear lady's; for should I lose my land
she will have to betake herself to some kinsman and there abide
in charity, which, methinks, would break her proud heart.
As for me, I will over the salt sea, and so to Palestine to join
my son in fight for the holy sepulcher."
Then up spake Will Scarlet. "But hast thou no friend that will help thee
in thy dire need?"
"Never a man," said Sir Richard. "While I was rich enow at home,
and had friends, they blew great boasts of how they loved me.
But when the oak falls in the forest the swine run from beneath it
lest they should be smitten down also. So my friends have left me;
for not only am I poor but I have great enemies."
Then Robin said, "Thou sayst thou hast no friends, Sir Richard. I make
no boast, but many have found Robin Hood a friend in their troubles.
Cheer up, Sir Knight, I may help thee yet."
The Knight shook his head with a faint smile, but for all that,
Robin's words made him more blithe of heart, for in truth hope,
be it never so faint, bringeth a gleam into darkness, like a little
rushlight that costeth but a groat.
The day was well-nigh gone when they came near to the greenwood tree.
Even at a distance they saw by the number of men that Little John had come
back with some guest, but when they came near enough, whom should they find
but the Lord Bishop of Hereford! The good Bishop was in a fine stew, I wot.
Up and down he walked beneath the tree like a fox caught in a hencoop.
Behind him were three Black Friars standing close together
in a frightened group, like three black sheep in a tempest.
Hitched to the branches of the trees close at hand were six horses,
one of them a barb with gay trappings upon which the Bishop was wont
to ride, and the others laden with packs of divers shapes and kinds,
one of which made Robin's eyes glisten, for it was a box not overlarge,
but heavily bound with bands and ribs of iron.
When the Bishop saw Robin and those with him come into the open he made
as though he would have run toward the yeoman, but the fellow that guarded
the Bishop and the three friars thrust his quarterstaff in front,
so that his lordship was fain to stand back, though with frowning brow
and angry speech.
"Stay, my Lord Bishop," cried jolly Robin in a loud voice,
when he saw what had passed, "I will come to thee with all speed,
for I would rather see thee than any man in merry England." So saying,
he quickened his steps and soon came to where the Bishop stood fuming.
"How now," quoth the Bishop in a loud and angry voice, when Robin
had so come to him, "is this the way that thou and thy band
treat one so high in the church as I am? I and these brethren
were passing peacefully along the highroad with our pack horses,
and a half score of men to guard them, when up comes a great strapping
fellow full seven feet high, with fourscore or more men back of him,
and calls upon me to stop--me, the Lord Bishop of Hereford, mark thou!
Whereupon my armed guards--beshrew them for cowards!--straight ran away.
But look ye; not only did this fellow stop me, but he threatened me,
saying that Robin Hood would strip me as bare as a winter hedge.
Then, besides all this, he called me such vile names as `fat priest,'
`man-eating bishop,' `money-gorging usurer,' and what not, as though
I were no more than a strolling beggar or tinker."
At this, the Bishop glared like an angry cat, while even
Sir Richard laughed; only Robin kept a grave face. "Alas! my lord,"
said he, "that thou hast been so ill-treated by my band!
I tell thee truly that we greatly reverence thy cloth.
Little John, stand forth straightway."
At these words Little John came forward, twisting his face into a
whimsical look, as though he would say, "Ha' mercy upon me, good master."
Then Robin turned to the Bishop of Hereford and said, "Was this the man
who spake so boldly to Your Lordship?"
"Ay, truly it was the same," said the Bishop, "a naughty fellow, I wot.
"And didst thou, Little John," said Robin in a sad voice,
"call his lordship a fat priest?"
"Ay," said Little John sorrowfully.
"And a man-eating bishop?"
"Ay," said Little John, more sorrowfully than before.
"And a money-gorging usurer?"
"Ay," said Little John in so sorrowful a voice that it might have drawn
tears from the Dragon of Wentley.
"Alas, that these things should be!" said jolly Robin, turning to the Bishop,
"for I have ever found Little John a truthful man."
At this, a roar of laughter went up, whereat the blood rushed
into the Bishop's face till it was cherry red from crown to chin;
but he said nothing and only swallowed his words, though they
well-nigh choked him.
"Nay, my Lord Bishop," said Robin, "we are rough fellows,
but I trust not such ill men as thou thinkest, after all.
There is not a man here that would harm a hair of thy reverence's head.
I know thou art galled by our jesting, but we are all equal here in
the greenwood, for there are no bishops nor barons nor earls among us,
but only men, so thou must share our life with us while thou dost
abide here. Come, busk ye, my merry men, and get the feast ready.
Meantime, we will show our guests our woodland sports."
So, while some went to kindle the fires for roasting meats,
others ran leaping to get their cudgels and longbows.
Then Robin brought forward Sir Richard of the Lea. "My Lord Bishop,"
said he, "here is another guest that we have with us this day.
I wish that thou mightest know him better, for I and all my men
will strive to honor you both at this merrymaking."
"Sir Richard," said the Bishop in a reproachful tone, "methinks thou
and I are companions and fellow sufferers in this den of--"
He was about to say "thieves," but he stopped suddenly and looked
askance at Robin Hood.
"Speak out, Bishop," quoth Robin, laughing. "We of Sherwood
check not an easy flow of words. `Den of thieves' thou west
about to say."
Quoth the Bishop, "Mayhap that was what I meant to say, Sir Richard;
but this I will say, that I saw thee just now laugh at the scurrilous
jests of these fellows. It would have been more becoming of thee,
methinks, to have checked them with frowns instead of spurring them
on by laughter."
"I meant no harm to thee," said Sir Richard, "but a merry jest
is a merry jest, and I may truly say I would have laughed at it
had it been against mine own self."
But now Robin Hood called upon certain ones of his band who
spread soft moss upon the ground and laid deerskins thereon.
Then Robin bade his guests be seated, and so they all three sat down,
some of the chief men, such as Little John, Will Scarlet, Allan a Dale,
and others, stretching themselves upon the ground near by.
Then a garland was set up at the far end of the glade,
and thereat the bowmen shot, and such shooting was done
that day as it would have made one's heart leap to see.
And all the while Robin talked so quaintly to the Bishop and
the Knight that, the one forgetting his vexation and the other
his troubles, they both laughed aloud again and again.
Then Allan a Dale came forth and tuned his harp, and all was hushed around,
and he sang in his wondrous voice songs of love, of war, of glory,
and of sadness, and all listened without a movement or a sound.
So Allan sang till the great round silver moon gleamed with its clear
white light amid the upper tangle of the mazy branches of the trees.
At last two fellows came to say that the feast was ready spread,
so Robin, leading his guests with either hand, brought them
to where great smoking dishes that sent savory smells far and near
stood along the white linen cloth spread on the grass. All around
was a glare of torches that lit everything up with a red light.
Then, straightway sitting down, all fell to with noise and hubbub,
the rattling of platters blending with the sound of loud talking
and laughter. A long time the feast lasted, but at last all
was over, and the bright wine and humming ale passed briskly.
Then Robin Hood called aloud for silence, and all was hushed
till he spoke.
"I have a story to tell you all, so listen to what I have to say,"
quoth he; whereupon, without more ado, he told them all about Sir Richard,
and how his lands were in pawn. But, as he went on, the Bishop's face,
that had erst been smiling and ruddy with merriment, waxed serious,
and he put aside the horn of wine he held in his hand, for he knew the story
of Sir Richard, and his heart sank within him with grim forebodings.
Then, when Robin Hood had done, he turned to the Bishop of Hereford. "Now, my
Lord Bishop," said he, "dost thou not think this is ill done of anyone,
much more of a churchman, who should live in humbleness and charity?"
To this the Bishop answered not a word but looked upon the ground
with moody eyes.
Quoth Robin, "Now, thou art the richest bishop in all England;
canst thou not help this needy brother?" But still the Bishop
answered not a word.
Then Robin turned to Little John, and quoth he, "Go thou and
Will Stutely and bring forth those five pack horses yonder."
Whereupon the two yeomen did as they were bidden, those about
the cloth making room on the green, where the light was brightest,
for the five horses which Little John and Will Stutely
presently led forward.
"Who hath the score of the goods?" asked Robin Hood, looking at
the Black Friars.
Then up spake the smallest of all, in a trembling voice--
an old man he was, with a gentle, wrinkled face.
"That have I; but, I pray thee, harm me not."
"Nay," quoth Robin, "I have never harmed harmless man yet;
but give it to me, good father." So the old man did as
he was bidden, and handed Robin the tablet on which was marked
down the account of the various packages upon the horses.
This Robin handed to Will Scarlet, bidding him to read the same.
So Will Scarlet, lifting his voice that all might hear, began:
"Three bales of silk to Quentin, the mercer at Ancaster."
"That we touch not," quoth Robin, "for this Quentin
is an honest fellow, who hath risen by his own thrift."
So the bales of silk were laid aside unopened.
" One bale of silk velvet for the Abbey of Beaumont."
"What do these priests want of silk velvet?"
quoth Robin. "Nevertheless, though they need it not,
I will not take all from them. Measure it off into three lots,
one to be sold for charity, one for us, and one for the abbey."
So this, too, was done as Robin Hood bade.
"Twoscore of great wax candles for the Chapel of Saint Thomas."
"That belongeth fairly to the chapel," quoth Robin, "so lay it to one side.
Far be it from us to take from the blessed Saint Thomas that which
belongeth to him." So this, also, was done according to Robin's bidding,
and the candles were laid to one side, along with honest Quentin's
unopened bales of silk. So the list was gone through with,
and the goods adjudged according to what Robin thought most fit.
Some things were laid aside untouched, and many were opened and divided
into three equal parts, for charity, for themselves, and for the owners.
And now all the ground in the torchlight was covered over with
silks and velvets and cloths of gold and cases of rich wines,
and so they came to the last line upon the tablet--" A box belonging
to the Lord Bishop of Hereford."
At these words the Bishop shook as with a chill, and the box
was set upon the ground.
"My Lord Bishop, hast thou the key of this box?" asked Robin.
The Bishop shook his head.
"Go, Will Scarlet," said Robin, "thou art the strongest man here--
bring a sword straightway, and cut this box open, if thou canst."
Then up rose Will Scarlet and left them, coming back in a short time,
bearing a great two-handed sword. Thrice he smote that strong,
ironbound box, and at the third blow it burst open and a great heap
of gold came rolling forth, gleaming red in the light of the torches.
At this sight a murmur went all around among the band, like the
sound of the wind in distant trees; but no man came forward nor
touched the money.
Quoth Robin, "Thou, Will Scarlet, thou, Allan a Dale, and thou,
Little John, count it over."
A long time it took to count all the money, and when it had been duly
scored up, Will Scarlet called out that there were fifteen hundred
golden pounds in all. But in among the gold they found a paper,
and this Will Scarlet read in a loud voice, and all heard that this
money was the rental and fines and forfeits from certain estates
belonging to the Bishopric of Hereford.
"My Lord Bishop," said Robin Hood, "I will not strip thee,
as Little John said, like a winter hedge, for thou shalt take
back one third of thy money. One third of it thou canst
well spare to us for thy entertainment and that of thy train,
for thou art very rich; one third of it thou canst better spare
for charity, for, Bishop, I hear that thou art a hard master
to those beneath thee and a close hoarder of gains that thou
couldst better and with more credit to thyself give to charity
than spend upon thy own likings."
At this the Bishop looked up, but he could say never a word;
yet he was thankful to keep some of his wealth.
Then Robin turned to Sir Richard of the Lea, and quoth he,
"Now, Sir Richard, the church seemed like to despoil thee,
therefore some of the overplus of church gains may well be used
in aiding thee. Thou shalt take that five hundred pounds laid
aside for people more in need than the Bishop is, and shalt
pay thy debts to Emmet therewith."
Sir Richard looked at Robin until something arose in his
eyes that made all the lights and the faces blur together.
At last he said, "I thank thee, friend, from my heart, for what thou
doest for me; yet, think not ill if I cannot take thy gift freely.
But this I will do: I will take the money and pay my debts,
and in a year and a day hence will return it safe either to thee
or to the Lord Bishop of Hereford. For this I pledge my most
solemn knightly word. I feel free to borrow, for I know no man
that should be more bound to aid me than one so high in that church
that hath driven such a hard bargain." "Truly, Sir Knight,"
quoth Robin, "I do not understand those fine scruples that weigh
with those of thy kind; but, nevertheless, it shall all be
as thou dost wish. But thou hadst best bring the money to me
at the end of the year, for mayhap I may make better use of it
than the Bishop." Thereupon, turning to those near him, he gave
his orders, and five hundred pounds were counted out and tied
up in a leathern bag for Sir Richard. The rest of the treasure
was divided, and part taken to the treasurehouse of the band,
and part put by with the other things for the Bishop.
Then Sir Richard arose. "I cannot stay later, good friends,"
said he, "for my lady will wax anxious if I come not home;
so I crave leave to depart."
Then Robin Hood and all his merry men arose, and Robin said,
"We cannot let thee go hence unattended, Sir Richard."
Then up spake Little John, "Good master, let me choose a score
of stout fellows from the band, and let us arm ourselves in a seemly
manner and so serve as retainers to Sir Richard till he can get
others in our stead."
"Thou hast spoken well, Little John, and it shall be done," said Robin.
Then up spake Will Scarlet, "Let us give him a golden chain
to hang about his neck, such as befits one of his blood,
and also golden spurs to wear at his heels."
Then Robin Hood said, "Thou hast spoken well, Will Scarlet,
and it shall be done."
Then up spake Will Stutely, "Let us give him yon bale of rich
velvet and yon roll of cloth of gold to take home to his noble
lady wife as a present from Robin Hood and his merry men all."
At this all clapped their hands for joy, and Robin said:
"Thou hast well spoken, Will Stutely, and it shall be done."
Then Sir Richard of the Lea looked all around and strove to speak,
but could scarcely do so for the feelings that choked him; at last
he said in a husky, trembling voice, "Ye shall all see, good friends,
that Sir Richard o' the Lea will ever remember your kindness this day.
And if ye be at any time in dire need or trouble, come to me and my lady,
and the walls of Castle Lea shall be battered down ere harm shall
befall you. I--" He could say nothing further, but turned hastily away.
But now Little John and nineteen stout fellows whom he had
chosen for his band, came forth all ready for the journey.
Each man wore upon his breast a coat of linked mail, and on
his head a cap of steel, and at his side a good stout sword.
A gallant show they made as they stood all in a row.
Then Robin came and threw a chain of gold about Sir Richard's neck,
and Will Scarlet knelt and buckled the golden spurs upon
his heel; and now Little John led forward Sir Richard's horse,
and the Knight mounted. He looked down at Robin for a
little time, then of a sudden stooped and kissed his cheek.
All the forest glades rang with the shout that went up
as the Knight and the yeomen marched off through the woodland
with glare of torches and gleam of steel, and so were gone.
Then up spake the Bishop of Hereford in a mournful voice, "I, too,
must be jogging, good fellow, for the night waxes late."
But Robin laid his hand upon the Bishop's arm and stayed him.
"Be not so hasty, Lord Bishop," said he. "Three days hence Sir Richard
must pay his debts to Emmet; until that time thou must be content
to abide with me lest thou breed trouble for the Knight. I promise
thee that thou shalt have great sport, for I know that thou art
fond of hunting the dun deer. Lay by thy mantle of melancholy,
and strive to lead a joyous yeoman life for three stout days.
I promise thee thou shalt be sorry to go when the time has come."
So the Bishop and his train abided with Robin for three days, and much
sport his lordship had in that time, so that, as Robin had said,
when the time had come for him to go he was sorry to leave the greenwood.
At the end of three days Robin set him free, and sent him forth from
the forest with a guard of yeomen to keep freebooters from taking
what was left of the packs and bundles.
But, as the Bishop rode away, he vowed within himself that he would
sometime make Robin rue the day that he stopped him in Sherwood.
But now we shall follow Sir Richard; so listen, and you shall
hear what befell him, and how he paid his debts at Emmet Priory,
and likewise in due season to Robin Hood.
How Sir Richard of the Lea Paid His Debts
THE LONG HIGHWAY stretched straight on, gray and dusty in the sun.
On either side were dikes full of water bordered by osiers,
and far away in the distance stood the towers of Emmet Priory
with tall poplar trees around.
Along the causeway rode a knight with a score of stout
men-at-arms behind him. The Knight was clad in a plain,
long robe of gray serge, gathered in at the waist with a broad
leathern belt, from which hung a long dagger and a stout sword.
But though he was so plainly dressed himself, the horse he rode
was a noble barb, and its trappings were rich with silk
and silver bells.
So thus the band journeyed along the causeway between the dikes, till at
last they reached the great gate of Emmet Priory. There the Knight called
to one of his men and bade him knock at the porter's lodge with the heft
of his sword.
The porter was drowsing on his bench within the lodge,
but at the knock he roused himself and, opening the wicket,
came hobbling forth and greeted the Knight, while a tame starling
that hung in a wicker cage within piped out, "_In coelo quies!
In coelo quies!_" such being the words that the poor old lame
porter had taught him to speak.
"Where is thy prior?" asked the Knight of the old porter.
"He is at meat, good knight, and he looketh for thy coming,"
quoth the porter, "for, if I mistake not, thou art Sir Richard
of the Lea."
"I am Sir Richard of the Lea; then I will go seek him forthwith,"
said the Knight.
"But shall I not send thy horse to stable?" said the porter.
"By Our Lady, it is the noblest nag, and the best harnessed,
that e'er I saw in all my life before." And he stroked the horse's
flank with his palm.
"Nay," quoth Sir Richard, "the stables of this place are not for me,
so make way, I prythee." So saying, he pushed forward, and, the gates being
opened, he entered the stony courtyard of the Priory, his men behind him.
In they came with rattle of steel and clashing of swords, and ring of horses'
feet on cobblestones, whereat a flock of pigeons that strutted in the sun
flew with flapping wings to the high eaves of the round towers.
While the Knight was riding along the causeway to Emmet,
a merry feast was toward in the refectory there. The afternoon
sun streamed in through the great arched windows and lay in broad
squares of light upon the stone floor and across the board covered
with a snowy linen cloth, whereon was spread a princely feast.
At the head of the table sat Prior Vincent of Emmet all clad
in soft robes of fine cloth and silk; on his head was a black
velvet cap picked out with gold, and around his neck hung
a heavy chain of gold, with a great locket pendant therefrom.
Beside him, on the arm of his great chair, roosted his favorite falcon,
for the Prior was fond of the gentle craft of hawking.
On his right hand sat the Sheriff of Nottingham in rich robes
of purple all trimmed about with fur, and on his left a famous
doctor of law in dark and sober garb. Below these sat the high
cellarer of Emmet, and others chief among the brethren.
Jest and laughter passed around, and all was as merry as merry could be.
The wizened face of the man of law was twisted into a wrinkled smile,
for in his pouch were fourscore golden angels that the Prior had paid him
in fee for the case betwixt him and Sir Richard of the Lea. The learned
doctor had been paid beforehand, for he had not overmuch trust in the holy
Vincent of Emmet.
Quoth the Sheriff of Nottingham, "But art thou sure, Sir Prior,
that thou hast the lands so safe?"
"Ay, marry," said Prior Vincent, smacking his lips after a deep
draught of wine, "I have kept a close watch upon him, albeit he was
unawares of the same, and I know right well that he hath no money
to pay me withal."
"Ay, true," said the man of law in a dry, husky voice, "his land
is surely forfeit if he cometh not to pay; but, Sir Prior,
thou must get a release beneath his sign manual, or else thou
canst not hope to hold the land without trouble from him."
"Yea," said the Prior, "so thou hast told me ere now, but I know that this
knight is so poor that he will gladly sign away his lands for two hundred
pounds of hard money.
Then up spake the high cellarer, "Methinks it is a shame to so drive
a misfortunate knight to the ditch. I think it sorrow that the noblest
estate in Derbyshire should so pass away from him for a paltry five
hundred pounds. Truly, I--"
"How now," broke in the Prior in a quivering voice, his eyes glistening
and his cheeks red with anger, "dost thou prate to my very beard, sirrah?
By Saint Hubert, thou hadst best save thy breath to cool thy pottage,
else it may scald thy mouth."
"Nay," said the man of law smoothly, "I dare swear this same knight
will never come to settlement this day, but will prove recreant.
Nevertheless, we will seek some means to gain his lands from him,
so never fear."
But even as the doctor spoke, there came a sudden clatter of horses'
hoofs and a jingle of iron mail in the courtyard below.
Then up spake the Prior and called upon one of the brethren
that sat below the salt, and bade him look out of the window
and see who was below, albeit he knew right well it could
be none but Sir Richard.
So the brother arose and went and looked, and he said, "I see below a score
of stout men-at-arms and a knight just dismounting from his horse.
He is dressed in long robes of gray which, methinks, are of poor seeming;
but the horse he rideth upon hath the richest coursing that ever I saw.
The Knight dismounts and they come this way, and are even now below
in the great hall."
"Lo, see ye there now," quoth Prior Vincent. "Here ye have
a knight with so lean a purse as scarce to buy him a crust
of bread to munch, yet he keeps a band of retainers and puts rich
trappings upon his horse's hide, while his own back goeth bare.
Is it not well that such men should be brought low?"
"But art thou sure," said the little doctor tremulously,
"that this knight will do us no harm? Such as he are fierce
when crossed, and he hath a band of naughty men at his heels.
Mayhap thou hadst better give an extension of his debt."
Thus he spake, for he was afraid Sir Richard might do him a harm.
"Thou needst not fear," said the Prior, looking down at the little man
beside him. "This knight is gentle and would as soon think of harming
an old woman as thee."
As the Prior finished, a door at the lower end of the refectory swung open,
and in came Sir Richard, with folded hands and head bowed upon his breast.
Thus humbly he walked slowly up the hall, while his men-at-arms stood about
the door. When he had come to where the Prior sat, he knelt upon one knee.
"Save and keep thee, Sir Prior," said he, "I am come to keep my day."
Then the first word that the Prior said to him was "Hast thou
brought my money?"
"Alas! I have not so much as one penny upon my body," said the Knight;
whereat the Prior's eyes sparkled.
"Now, thou art a shrewd debtor, I wot," said he.
Then, "Sir Sheriff, I drink to thee."
But still the Knight kneeled upon the hard stones, so the Prior turned
to him again. "What wouldst thou have?" quoth he sharply.
At these words, a slow red mounted into the Knight's cheeks;
but still he knelt. "I would crave thy mercy," said he.
"As thou hopest for Heaven's mercy, show mercy to me.
Strip me not of my lands and so reduce a true knight to poverty."
"Thy day is broken and thy lands forfeit," said the man of law,
plucking up his spirits at the Knight's humble speech.
Quoth Sir Richard, "Thou man of law, wilt thou not befriend me
in mine hour of need?"
"Nay," said the other, "I hold with this holy Prior, who hath
paid me my fees in hard gold, so that I am bounder to him."
"Wilt thou not be my friend, Sir Sheriff?" said Sir Richard.
"Nay, 'fore Heaven," quoth the Sheriff of Nottingham,
"this is no business of mine, yet I will do what I may,"
and he nudged the Prior beneath the cloth with his knee.
"Wilt thou not ease him of some of his debts, Sir Prior?"
At this the Prior smiled grimly. "Pay me three hundred pounds, Sir Richard,"
said he, "and I will give thee quittance of thy debt."
"Thou knowest, Sir Prior, that it is as easy for me to pay four hundred
pounds as three hundred," said Sir Richard. "But wilt thou not give me
another twelvemonth to pay my debt?"
"Not another day," said the Prior sternly.
"And is this all thou wilt do for me?" asked the Knight.
"Now, out upon thee, false knight!" cried the Prior, bursting forth in anger.
"Either pay thy debt as I have said, or release thy land and get thee gone
from out my hall."
Then Sir Richard arose to his feet. "Thou false, lying priest!"
said he in so stern a voice that the man of law shrunk affrighted,
"I am no false knight, as thou knowest full well, but have even
held my place in the press and the tourney. Hast thou so little
courtesy that thou wouldst see a true knight kneel for all this time,
or see him come into thy hall and never offer him meat or drink?"
Then quoth the man of law in a trembling voice, "This is surely an ill way
to talk of matters appertaining to business; let us be mild in speech.
What wilt thou pay this knight, Sir Prior, to give thee release of his land?"
"I would have given him two hundred pounds," quoth the Prior,
"but since he hath spoken so vilely to my teeth, not one groat
over one hundred pounds will he get."
"Hadst thou offered me a thousand pounds, false prior,"
said the Knight, "thou wouldst not have got an inch of my land."
Then turning to where his men-at-arms stood near the door, he called,
"Come hither," and beckoned with his finger; whereupon the tallest
of them all came forward and handed him a long leathern bag.
Sir Richard took the bag and shot from it upon the table a glittering
stream of golden money. "Bear in mind, Sir Prior," said he,
"that thou hast promised me quittance for three hundred pounds.
Not one farthing above that shalt thou get." So saying, he counted
out three hundred pounds and pushed it toward the Prior.
But now the Prior's hands dropped at his sides and the Prior's
head hung upon his shoulder, for not only had he lost all hopes
of the land, but he had forgiven the Knight one hundred pounds
of his debt and had needlessly paid the man of law fourscore angels.
To him he turned, and quoth he, "Give me back my money that thou hast."
"Nay," cried the other shrilly, "it is but my fee that thou
didst pay me, and thou gettest it not back again."
And he hugged his gown about him.
"Now, Sir Prior," quoth Sir Richard, "I have held my day
and paid all the dues demanded of me; so, as there is no
more betwixt us, I leave this vile place straightway."
So saying, he turned upon his heel and strode away.
All this time the Sheriff had been staring with wide-open eyes and mouth
agape at the tall man-at-arms, who stood as though carved out of stone.
At last he gasped out, "Reynold Greenleaf!"
At this, the tall man-at-arms, who was no other than Little John, turned,
grinning, to the Sheriff. "I give thee good den, fair gossip," quoth he.
"I would say, sweet Sheriff, that I have heard all thy pretty talk this day,
and it shall be duly told unto Robin Hood. So, farewell for the nonce,
till we meet again in Sherwood Forest." Then he, also, turned and followed
Sir Richard down the hall, leaving the Sheriff, all pale and amazed,
shrunk together upon his chair.
A merry feast it was to which Sir Richard came, but a sorry lot he left behind
him, and little hunger had they for the princely food spread before them.
Only the learned doctor was happy, for he had his fee.
Now a twelvemonth and a day passed since Prior Vincent of Emmet sat
at feast, and once more the mellow fall of another year had come.
But the year had brought great change, I wot, to the lands
of Sir Richard of the Lea; for, where before shaggy wild grasses
grew upon the meadow lands, now all stretch away in golden stubble,
betokening that a rich and plentiful crop had been gathered therefrom.
A year had made a great change in the castle, also, for, where were
empty moats and the crumbling of neglect, all was now orderly
and well kept.
Bright shone the sun on battlement and tower, and in the blue air
overhead a Hock of clattering jackdaws flew around the gilded
weather vane and spire. Then, in the brightness of the morning,
the drawbridge fell across the moat with a rattle and clank
of chains, the gate of the castle swung slowly open,
and a goodly array of steel-clad men-at-arms, with a knight
all clothed in chain mail, as white as frost on brier and thorn
of a winter morning, came flashing out from the castle courtyard.
In his hand the Knight held a great spear, from the point of which
fluttered a blood-red pennant as broad as the palm of one's hand.
So this troop came forth from the castle, and in the midst
of them walked three pack horses laden with parcels of divers
shapes and kinds.
Thus rode forth good Sir Richard of the Lea to pay
his debt to Robin Hood this bright and merry morn.
Along the highway they wended their way, with measured
tramp of feet and rattle and jingle of sword and harness.
Onward they marched till they came nigh to Denby, where,
from the top of a hill, they saw, over beyond the town,
many gay flags and streamers floating in the bright air.
Then Sir Richard turned to the man-at-arms nearest to him.
"What is toward yonder at Denby today?" quoth he.
"Please Your Worship," answered the man-at-arms, "a merry fair is held
there today, and a great wrestling match, to which many folk have come,
for a prize hath been offered of a pipe of red wine, a fair golden ring,
and a pair of gloves, all of which go to the best wrestler."
"Now, by my faith," quoth Sir Richard, who loved good manly sports
right well, "this will be a goodly thing to see. Methinks we have
to stay a little while on our journey, and see this merry sport."
So he turned his horse's head aside toward Denby and the fair,
and thither he and his men made their way.
There they found a great hubbub of merriment. Flags and streamers
were floating, tumblers were tumbling on the green, bagpipes were playing,
and lads and lasses were dancing to the music. But the crowd were
gathered most of all around a ring where the wrestling was going forward,
and thither Sir Richard and his men turned their steps.
Now when the judges of the wrestling saw Sir Richard coming and knew
who he was, the chief of them came down from the bench where he and
the others sat, and went to the Knight and took him by the hand,
beseeching him to come and sit with them and judge the sport.
So Sir Richard got down from his horse and went with the others
to the bench raised beside the ring.
Now there had been great doings that morning, for a certain yeoman
named Egbert, who came from Stoke over in Staffordshire, had thrown
with ease all those that came against him; but a man of Denby,
well known through all the countryside as William of the Scar,
had been biding his time with the Stoke man; so, when Egbert
had thrown everyone else, stout William leaped into the ring.
Then a tough bout followed, and at last he threw Egbert heavily,
whereat there was a great shouting and shaking of hands,
for all the Denby men were proud of their wrestler.
When Sir Richard came, he found stout William, puffed up
by the shouts of his friends, walking up and down the ring,
daring anyone to come and try a throw with him. "Come one, come all!"
quoth he. "Here stand I, William of the Scar, against any man.
If there is none in Derbyshire to come against me, come all who will,
from Nottingham, Stafford, or York, and if I do not make them one
and all root the ground with their noses like swine in the forests,
call me no more brave William the wrestler."
At this all laughed; but above all the laughter a loud
voice was heard to cry out, "Sin' thou talkest so big,
here cometh one from Nottinghamshire to try a fall
with thee, fellow"; and straightway a tall youth with a tough
quarterstaff in his hand came pushing his way through the crowd
and at last leaped lightly over the rope into the ring.
He was not as heavy as stout William, but he was taller and
broader in the shoulders, and all his joints were well knit.
Sir Richard looked upon him keenly, then, turning to one
of the judges, he said, "Knowest thou who this youth is?
Methinks I have seen him before."
"Nay," said the judge, "he is a stranger to me."
Meantime, without a word, the young man, laying aside his quarterstaff,
began to take off his jerkin and body clothing until he presently stood
with naked arms and body; and a comely sight he was when so bared to the view,
for his muscles were cut round and smooth and sharp like swift-running water.
And now each man spat upon his hands and, clapping them
upon his knees, squatted down, watching the other keenly,
so as to take the vantage of him in the grip.
Then like a flash they leaped together, and a great shout
went up, for William had gotten the better hold of the two.
For a short time they strained and struggled and writhed,
and then stout William gave his most cunning trip and throw,
but the stranger met it with greater skill than his,
and so the trip came to nought. Then, of a sudden,
with a twist and a wrench, the stranger loosed himself,
and he of the scar found himself locked in a pair of arms
that fairly made his ribs crack. So, with heavy, hot breathing,
they stood for a while straining, their bodies all glistening
with sweat, and great drops of sweat trickling down their faces.
But the stranger's hug was so close that at last stout
William's muscles softened under his grip, and he gave a sob.
Then the youth put forth all his strength and gave a sudden trip
with his heel and a cast over his right hip, and down stout
William went, with a sickening thud, and lay as though he would
never move hand nor foot again.
But now no shout went up for the stranger, but an angry murmur
was heard among the crowd, so easily had he won the match.
Then one of the judges, a kinsman to William of the Scar,
rose with trembling lip and baleful look. Quoth he,
"If thou hath slain that man it will go ill with thee,
let me tell thee, fellow." But the stranger answered boldly,
"He took his chance with me as I took mine with him.
No law can touch me to harm me, even if I slew him, so that it
was fairly done in the wrestling ring."
"That we shall see," said the judge, scowling upon the youth,
while once more an angry murmur ran around the crowd; for, as I
have said, the men of Denby were proud of stout William of the Scar.
Then up spoke Sir Richard gently. "Nay," said he, "the youth is right;
if the other dieth, he dieth in the wrestling ring, where he took his chance,
and was cast fairly enow."
But in the meantime three men had come forward and lifted
stout William from the ground and found that he was not dead,
though badly shaken by his heavy fall. Then the chief
judge rose and said, "Young man, the prize is duly thine.
Here is the red-gold ring, and here the gloves, and yonder
stands the pipe of wine to do with whatsoever thou dost list."
At this, the youth, who had donned his clothes and taken up his staff again,
bowed without a word, then, taking the gloves and the ring, and thrusting
the one into his girdle and slipping the other upon his thumb, he turned and,
leaping lightly over the ropes again, made his way through the crowd,
and was gone.
"Now, I wonder who yon youth may be," said the judge, turning to Sir Richard,
"he seemeth like a stout Saxon from his red cheeks and fair hair.
This William of ours is a stout man, too, and never have I seen
him cast in the ring before, albeit he hath not yet striven
with such great wrestlers as Thomas of Cornwall, Diccon of York,
and young David of Doncaster. Hath he not a firm foot in the ring,
thinkest thou, Sir Richard?"
"Ay, truly, and yet this youth threw him fairly, and with wondrous ease.
I much wonder who he can be." Thus said Sir Richard in a thoughtful voice.
For a time the Knight stood talking to those about him,
but at last he arose and made ready to depart, so he called
his men about him and, tightening the girths of his saddle,
he mounted his horse once more.
Meanwhile the young stranger had made his way through the crowd,
but, as he passed, he heard all around him such words muttered
as "Look at the cockerel!" "Behold how he plumeth himself!"
"I dare swear he cast good William unfairly!" "Yea, truly,
saw ye not birdlime upon his hands?" "It would be well to cut
his cock's comb!" To all this the stranger paid no heed,
but strode proudly about as though he heard it not.
So he walked slowly across the green to where the booth stood wherein
was dancing, and standing at the door he looked in on the sport.
As he stood thus, a stone struck his arm of a sudden with a sharp
jar, and, turning, he saw that an angry crowd of men had followed
him from the wrestling ring. Then, when they saw him turn so,
a great hooting and yelling arose from all, so that the folk
came running out from the dancing booth to see what was to do.
At last a tall, broad-shouldered, burly blacksmith strode forward
from the crowd swinging a mighty blackthorn club in his hand.
"Wouldst thou come here to our fair town of Denby, thou Jack in
the Box, to overcome a good honest lad with vile, juggling tricks?"
growled he in a deep voice like the bellow of an angry bull.
"Take that, then!" And of a sudden he struck a blow at the youth
that might have felled an ox. But the other turned the blow
deftly aside, and gave back another so terrible that the Denby man
went down with a groan, as though he had been smitten by lightning.
When they saw their leader fall, the crowd gave another angry shout;
but the stranger placed his back against the tent near which he stood,
swinging his terrible staff, and so fell had been the blow that he struck
the stout smith that none dared to come within the measure of his cudgel,
so the press crowded back, like a pack of dogs from a bear at bay.
But now some coward hand from behind threw a sharp jagged stone that
smote the stranger on the crown, so that he staggered back, and the red
blood gushed from the cut and ran down his face and over his jerkin.
Then, seeing him dazed with this vile blow, the crowd rushed upon him,
so that they overbore him and he fell beneath their feet.
Now it might have gone ill with the youth, even to the losing
of his young life, had not Sir Richard come to this fair;
for of a sudden, shouts were heard, and steel flashed in the air,
and blows were given with the flat of swords, while through the midst
of the crowd Sir Richard of the Lea came spurring on his white horse.
Then the crowd, seeing the steel-clad knight and the armed men,
melted away like snow on the warm hearth, leaving the young man
all bloody and dusty upon the ground.
Finding himself free, the youth arose and, wiping the blood
from his face, looked up. Quoth he, "Sir Richard of the Lea,
mayhap thou hast saved my life this day."
"Who art thou that knowest Sir Richard of the Lea so well?"
quoth the Knight. "Methinks I have seen thy face before, young man."
"Yea, thou hast," said the youth, "for men call me David of Doncaster."
"Ha!" said Sir Richard, "I wonder that I knew thee not, David;
but thy beard hath grown longer, and thou thyself art more
set in manhood since this day twelvemonth. Come hither
into the tent, David, and wash the blood from thy face.
And thou, Ralph, bring him straightway a clean jerkin.
Now I am
sorry for thee, yet I am right glad that I have had a chance to pay
a part of my debt of kindness to thy good master Robin Hood,
for it might have gone ill with thee had I not come, young man."
So saying, the Knight led David into the tent, and there the youth washed
the blood from his face and put on the clean jerkin.
In the meantime a whisper had gone around from those that stood
nearest that this was none other than the great David of Doncaster,
the best wrestler in all the mid-country, who only last spring
had cast stout Adam o' Lincoln in the ring at Selby, in Yorkshire,
and now held the mid-country champion belt, Thus it happened that
when young David came forth from the tent along with Sir Richard,
the blood all washed from his face, and his soiled jerkin changed
for a clean one, no sounds of anger were heard, but all pressed
forward to see the young man, feeling proud that one of the great
wrestlers of England should have entered the ring at Denby fair.
For thus fickle is a mass of men.
Then Sir Richard called aloud, "Friends, this is David of Doncaster;
so think it no shame that your Denby man was cast by such a wrestler.
He beareth you no ill will for what hath passed, but let it be a warning
to you how ye treat strangers henceforth. Had ye slain him it would
have been an ill day for you, for Robin Hood would have harried your
town as the kestrel harries the dovecote. I have bought the pipe
of wine from him, and now I give it freely to you to drink as ye list.
But never hereafterward fall upon a man for being a stout yeoman."
At this all shouted amain; but in truth they thought more of the wine
than of the Knight's words. Then Sir Richard, with David beside him
and his men-at-arms around, turned about and left the fair.
But in after days, when the men that saw that wrestling bout were bent
with age, they would shake their heads when they heard of any stalwart game,
and say, "Ay, ay; but thou shouldst have seen the great David of Doncaster
cast stout William of the Scar at Denby fair."
Robin Hood stood in the merry greenwood with Little John and most
of his stout yeomen around him, awaiting Sir Richard's coming.
At last a glint of steel was seen through the brown forest leaves, and forth
from the covert into the open rode Sir Richard at the head of his men.
He came straight forward to Robin Hood and leaping from off his horse,
clasped the yeoman in his arms.
"Why, how now," said Robin, after a time, holding Sir Richard off
and looking at him from top to toe, "methinks thou art a gayer bird
than when I saw thee last."
"Yes, thanks to thee, Robin," said the Knight, laying his hand upon
the yeoman's shoulder. "But for thee I would have been wandering in
misery in a far country by this time. But I have kept my word, Robin,
and have brought back the money that thou didst lend me, and which I
have doubled four times over again, and so become rich once more.
Along with this money I have brought a little gift to thee and thy
brave men from my dear lady and myself." Then, turning to his men,
he called aloud, "Bring forth the pack horses."
But Robin stopped him. "Nay, Sir Richard," said he, "think it not bold
of me to cross thy bidding, but we of Sherwood do no business till after
we have eaten and drunk." Whereupon, taking Sir Richard by the hand,
he led him to the seat beneath the greenwood tree, while others
of the chief men of the band came and seated themselves around.
Then quoth Robin, "How cometh it that I saw young David of Doncaster
with thee and thy men, Sir Knight?"
Then straightway the Knight told all about his stay at Denby
and of the happening at the fair, and how it was like to go
hard with young David; so he told his tale, and quoth he,
"It was this, good Robin, that kept me so late on the way,
otherwise I would have been here an hour agone."
Then, when he had done speaking, Robin stretched out his hand
and grasped the Knight's palm. Quoth he in a trembling voice,
"I owe thee a debt I can never hope to repay, Sir Richard,
for let me tell thee, I would rather lose my right hand than have
such ill befall young David of Doncaster as seemed like to come
upon him at Denby."
So they talked until after a while one came forward to say
that the feast was spread; whereupon all arose and went thereto.
When at last it was done, the Knight called upon his men to bring
the pack horses forward, which they did according to his bidding.
Then one of the men brought the Knight a strongbox, which he opened
and took from it a bag and counted out five hundred pounds,
the sum he had gotten from Robin.
"Sir Richard," quoth Robin, "thou wilt pleasure us all if thou wilt keep
that money as a gift from us of Sherwood. Is it not so, my lads?"
Then all shouted "Ay" with a mighty voice.
"I thank you all deeply," said the Knight earnestly, "but think it
not ill of me if I cannot take it. Gladly have I borrowed it from you,
but it may not be that I can take it as a gift."
Then Robin Hood said no more but gave the money to Little John to put away
in the treasury, for he had shrewdness enough to know that nought breeds
ill will and heart bitterness like gifts forced upon one that cannot choose
but take them.
Then Sir Richard had the packs laid upon the ground and opened,
whereupon a great shout went up that made the forest ring again, for lo,
there were tenscore bows of finest Spanish yew, all burnished till
they shone again, and each bow inlaid with fanciful figures in silver,
yet not inlaid so as to mar their strength. Beside these were tenscore
quivers of leather embroidered with golden thread, and in each quiver
were a score of shafts with burnished heads that shone like silver;
each shaft was feathered with peacock's plumes, innocked with silver.
Sir Richard gave to each yeoman a bow and a quiver of arrows, but to Robin
he gave a stout bow inlaid with the cunningest workmanship in gold,
while each arrow in his quiver was innocked with gold.
Then all shouted again for joy of the fair gift, and all swore
among themselves that they would die if need be for Sir Richard
and his lady.
At last the time came when Sir Richard must go, whereupon Robin Hood
called his band around him, and each man of the yeomen took
a torch in his hand to light the way through the woodlands.
So they came to the edge of Sherwood, and there the Knight kissed
Robin upon the cheeks and left him and was gone.
Thus Robin Hood helped a noble knight out of his dire misfortunes,
that else would have smothered the happiness from his life.
Little John Turns Barefoot Friar
COLD WINTER had passed and spring had come. No leafy thickness
had yet clad the woodlands, but the budding leaves hung like a
tender mist about the trees. In the open country the meadow
lands lay a sheeny green, the cornfields a dark velvety color,
for they were thick and soft with the growing blades.
The plowboy shouted in the sun, and in the purple new-turned
furrows flocks of birds hunted for fat worms. All the broad
moist earth smiled in the warm light, and each little green
hill clapped its hand for joy.
On a deer's hide, stretched on the ground in the open in front of the
greenwood tree, sat Robin Hood basking in the sun like an old dog fox.
Leaning back with his hands clasped about his knees, he lazily watched
Little John rolling a stout bowstring from long strands of hempen thread,
wetting the palms of his hands ever and anon, and rolling the cord upon
his thigh. Near by sat Allan a Dale fitting a new string to his harp.
Quoth Robin at last, "Methinks I would rather roam this forest in
the gentle springtime than be King of all merry England. What palace
in the broad world is as fair as this sweet woodland just now,
and what king in all the world hath such appetite for plover's
eggs and lampreys as I for juicy venison and sparkling ale?
Gaffer Swanthold speaks truly when he saith, `Better a crust
with content than honey with a sour heart.' "
"Yea," quoth Little John, as he rubbed his new-made bowstring
with yellow beeswax, "the life we lead is the life for me.
Thou speakest of the springtime, but methinks even the winter
hath its own joys. Thou and I, good master, have had more than
one merry day, this winter past, at the Blue Boar. Dost thou
not remember that night thou and Will Stutely and Friar Tuck
and I passed at that same hostelry with the two beggars and
the strolling friar?"
"Yea," quoth merry Robin, laughing, "that was the night that
Will Stutely must needs snatch a kiss from the stout hostess,
and got a canakin of ale emptied over his head for his pains."
"Truly, it was the same," said Little John, laughing also.
"Methinks that was a goodly song that the strolling friar sang.
Friar Tuck, thou hast a quick ear for a tune, dost thou
not remember it?"
"I did have the catch of it one time," said Tuck. "Let me see,"
and he touched his forefinger to his forehead in thought,
humming to himself, and stopping ever and anon to fit
what he had got to what he searched for in his mind.
At last he found it all and clearing his throat, sang merrily:
"_In the blossoming hedge the robin cock sings,
For the sun it is merry and bright,
And he joyfully hops and he flutters his wings,
For his heart is all full of delight.
For the May bloometh fair,
And there's little of care,
And plenty to eat in the Maytime rare.
When the flowers all die,
Then off he will fly,
To keep himself warm
In some jolly old barn
Where the snow and the wind neither chill him nor harm.
"And such is the life of the strolling friar,
With aplenty to eat and to drink;
For the goodwife will keep him a seat by the fire,
And the pretty girls smile at his wink.
Then he lustily trolls
As he onward strolls,
A rollicking song for the saving of souls.
When the wind doth blow,
With the coming of snow,
There's a place by the fire
For the fatherly friar,
And a crab in the bowl for his heart's desire_."
Thus Friar Tuck sang in a rich and mellow voice, rolling his head
from side to side in time with the music, and when he had done,
all clapped their hands and shouted with laughter, for the song
fitted him well.
"In very sooth," quoth Little John, "it is a goodly song, and, were I
not a yeoman of Sherwood Forest, I had rather be a strolling friar
than aught else in the world."
"Yea, it is a goodly song," said Robin Hood, "but methought those
two burly beggars told the merrier tales and led the merrier life.
Dost thou not remember what that great black-bearded fellow told
of his begging at the fair in York?"
"Yea," said Little John, "but what told the friar of the harvest home
in Kentshire? I hold that he led a merrier life than the other two."
"Truly, for the honor of the cloth," quoth Friar Tuck, "I hold
with my good gossip, Little John."
"Now," quoth Robin, "I hold to mine own mind. But what sayst thou,
Little John, to a merry adventure this fair day? Take thou
a friar's gown from our chest of strange garments, and don the same,
and I will stop the first beggar I meet and change clothes with him.
Then let us wander the country about, this sweet day, and see
what befalls each of us."
"That fitteth my mind," quoth Little John, "so let us forth, say I."
Thereupon Little John and Friar Tuck went to the storehouse of the band,
and there chose for the yeoman the robe of a Gray Friar. Then they came
forth again, and a mighty roar of laughter went up, for not only had the band
never seen Little John in such guise before, but the robe was too short
for him by a good palm's-breadth. But Little John's hands were folded
in his loose sleeves, and Little John's eyes were cast upon the ground,
and at his girdle hung a great, long string of beads.
And now Little John took up his stout staff, at the end of which hung a chubby
little leathern pottle, such as palmers carry at the tips of their staves;
but in it was something, I wot, more like good Malmsey than cold spring water,
such as godly pilgrims carry. Then up rose Robin and took his stout staff
in his hand, likewise, and slipped ten golden angels into his pouch;
for no beggar's garb was among the stores of the band, so he was fain to run
his chance of meeting a beggar and buying his clothes of him.
So, all being made ready, the two yeomen set forth on their way,
striding lustily along all in the misty morning. Thus they walked
down the forest path until they came to the highway, and then along
the highway till it split in twain, leading on one hand to Blyth
and on the other to Gainsborough. Here the yeomen stopped.
Quoth jolly Robin, "Take thou the road to Gainsborough, and I will take
that to Blyth. So, fare thee well, holy father, and mayst thou not ha'
cause to count thy beads in earnest ere we meet again."
"Good den, good beggar that is to be," quoth Little John, "and mayst thou
have no cause to beg for mercy ere I see thee next."
So each stepped sturdily upon his way until a green hill rose between them,
and the one was hid from the sight of the other.
Little John walked along, whistling, for no one was nigh upon all the road.
In the budding hedges the little birds twittered merrily, and on either
hand the green hills swept up to the sky, the great white clouds
of springtime sailing slowly over their crowns in lazy flight.
Up hill and down dale walked Little John, the fresh wind blowing in his face
and his robes fluttering behind him, and so at last he came to a crossroad
that led to Tuxford. Here he met three pretty lasses, each bearing
a basket of eggs to market. Quoth he, "Whither away, fair maids?"
And he stood in their path, holding his staff in front of them,
to stop them.
Then they huddled together and nudged one another, and one presently
spake up and said, "We are going to the Tuxford market, holy friar,
to sell our eggs."
"Now out upon it!" quoth Little John, looking upon them
with his head on one side. "Surely, it is a pity that such
fair lasses should be forced to carry eggs to market.
Let me tell you, an I had the shaping of things in this world,
ye should all three have been clothed in the finest silks,
and ride upon milk-white horses, with pages at your side,
and feed upon nothing but whipped cream and strawberries;
for such a life would surely befit your looks."
At this speech all three of the pretty maids looked down,
blushing and simpering. One said, "La!" another, "Marry, a'
maketh sport of us!" and the third, "Listen, now, to the holy man!"
But at the same time they looked at Little John from out the corners
of their eyes.
"Now, look you," said Little John, "I cannot see such dainty
damsels as ye are carrying baskets along a highroad.
Let me take them mine own self, and one of you, if ye will,
may carry my staff for me."
"Nay," said one of the lasses, "but thou canst not carry three baskets
all at one time."
"Yea, but I can," said Little John, "and that I will show you presently.
I thank the good Saint Wilfred that he hath given me a pretty wit.
Look ye, now. Here I take this great basket, so; here I tie
my rosary around the handle, thus; and here I slip the rosary
over my head and sling the basket upon my back, in this wise."
And Little John did according to his words, the basket hanging
down behind him like a peddler's pack; then, giving his staff
to one of the maids, and taking a basket upon either arm, he turned
his face toward Tuxford Town and stepped forth merrily, a laughing
maid on either side, and one walking ahead, carrying the staff.
In this wise they journeyed along, and everyone they met stopped and looked
after them, laughing, for never had anybody seen such a merry sight
as this tall, strapping Gray Friar, with robes all too short for him,
laden with eggs, and tramping the road with three pretty lasses.
For this Little John cared not a whit, but when such folks gave
jesting words to him he answered back as merrily, speech for speech.
So they stepped along toward Tuxford, chatting and laughing,
until they came nigh to the town. Here Little John stopped
and set down the baskets, for he did not care to go into the town
lest he should, perchance, meet some of the Sheriff's men.
"Alas! sweet chucks," quoth he, "here I must leave you.
I had not thought to come this way, but I am glad that I did so.
Now, ere we part, we must drink sweet friendship." So saying,
he unslung the leathern pottle from the end of his staff, and,
drawing the stopper therefrom, he handed it to the lass who had carried
his staff, first wiping the mouth of the pottle upon his sleeve.
Then each lass took a fair drink of what was within, and when it
had passed all around, Little John finished what was left, so that
not another drop could be squeezed from it. Then, kissing each
lass sweetly, he wished them all good den, and left them.
But the maids stood looking after him as he walked away whistling.
"What a pity," quoth one, "that such a stout, lusty lad should
be in holy orders."
"Marry," quoth Little John to himself, as he strode along,
"yon was no such ill happening; Saint Dunstan send me more
of the like."
After he had trudged along for a time he began to wax thirsty
again in the warmth of the day. He shook his leathern pottle
beside his ear, but not a sound came therefrom. Then he placed it
to his lips and tilted it high aloft, but not a drop was there.
"Little John! Little John!" said he sadly to himself,
shaking his head the while, "woman will be thy ruin yet,
if thou dost not take better care of thyself."
But at last he reached the crest of a certain hill, and saw below
a sweet little thatched inn lying snugly in the dale beneath him,
toward which the road dipped sharply. At the sight of this, a voice
within him cried aloud, "I give thee joy, good friend, for yonder is
thy heart's delight, to wit, a sweet rest and a cup of brown beer."
So he quickened his pace down the hill and so came to the little inn,
from which hung a sign with a stag's head painted upon it.
In front of the door a clucking hen was scratching in the dust
with a brood of chickens about her heels, the sparrows were
chattering of household affairs under the eaves, and all was so
sweet and peaceful that Little John's heart laughed within him.
Beside the door stood two stout cobs with broad soft-padded saddles,
well fitted for easy traveling, and speaking of rich guests in the parlor.
In front of the door three merry fellows, a tinker, a peddler,
and a beggar, were seated on a bench in the sun quaffing stout ale.
"I give you good den, sweet friends," quoth Little John,
striding up to where they sat.
"Give thee good den, holy father," quoth the merry Beggar with a grin.
"But look thee, thy gown is too short. Thou hadst best cut a piece
off the top and tack it to the bottom, so that it may be long enough.
But come, sit beside us here and take a taste of ale, if thy vows
forbid thee not."
"Nay," quoth Little John, also grinning, "the blessed Saint Dunstan
hath given me a free dispensation for all indulgence in that line."
And he thrust his hand into his pouch for money to pay his score.
"Truly," quoth the Tinker, "without thy looks belie thee, holy friar,
the good Saint Dunstan was wise, for without such dispensation
his votary is like to ha' many a penance to make. Nay, take thy
hand from out thy pouch, brother, for thou shalt not pay this shot.
Ho, landlord, a pot of ale!"
So the ale was brought and given to Little John. Then, blowing the
froth a little way to make room for his lips, he tilted the bottom
of the pot higher and higher, till it pointed to the sky, and he had
to shut his eyes to keep the dazzle of the sunshine out of them.
Then he took the pot away, for there was nothing in it, and heaved
a full deep sigh, looking at the others with moist eyes and shaking
his head solemnly.
"Ho, landlord!" cried the Peddler, "bring this good fellow another pot of ale,
for truly it is a credit to us all to have one among us who can empty
a canakin so lustily."
So they talked among themselves merrily, until after a while quoth
Little John, "Who rideth those two nags yonder?"
"Two holy men like thee, brother," quoth the Beggar. "They are now having
a goodly feast within, for I smelled the steam of a boiled pullet just now.
The landlady sayeth they come from Fountain Abbey, in Yorkshire, and go
to Lincoln on matters of business."
"They are a merry couple," said the Tinker, "for one is as lean as an old
wife's spindle, and the other as fat as a suet pudding."
"Talking of fatness," said the Peddler, "thou thyself lookest
none too ill-fed, holy friar."
"Nay, truly," said Little John, "thou seest in me what the holy Saint Dunstan
can do for them that serve him upon a handful of parched peas and a trickle
of cold water."
At this a great shout of laughter went up. "Truly, it is a
wondrous thing," quoth the Beggar, "I would have made my vow, to see
the masterly manner in which thou didst tuck away yon pot of ale,
that thou hadst not tasted clear water for a brace of months.
Has not this same holy Saint Dunstan taught thee a goodly
song or two?"
"Why, as for that," quoth Little John, grinning, "mayhap he hath lent
me aid to learn a ditty or so."
"Then, prythee, let us hear how he hath taught thee,"
quoth the Tinker.
At this Little John cleared his throat and, after a word or two
about a certain hoarseness that troubled him, sang thus:
"_Ah, pretty, pretty maid, whither dost thou go?
I prythee, prythee, wait for thy lover also,
And we'll gather the rose
As it sweetly blows,
For the merry, merry winds are blo-o-o-wing_."
Now it seemed as though Little John's songs were never to get sung,
for he had got no farther than this when the door of the inn opened
and out came the two brothers of Fountain Abbey, the landlord
following them, and, as the saying is, washing his hands with humble soap.
But when the brothers of Fountain Abbey saw who it was that sang,
and how he was clad in the robes of a Gray Friar, they stopped suddenly,
the fat little Brother drawing his heavy eyebrows together in a mighty frown,
and the thin Brother twisting up his face as though he had sour beer
in his mouth. Then, as Little John gathered his breath for a new verse,
"How, now," roared forth the fat Brother, his voice coming from him
like loud thunder from a little cloud, "thou naughty fellow, is this
a fit place for one in thy garb to tipple and sing profane songs?"
"Nay," quoth Little John, "sin' I cannot tipple and sing,
like Your Worship's reverence, in such a goodly place as
Fountain Abbey, I must e'en tipple and sing where I can."
"Now, out upon thee," cried the tall lean Brother in a harsh voice,
"now, out upon thee, that thou shouldst so disgrace thy cloth by this
talk and bearing."
"Marry, come up!" quoth Little John. "Disgrace, sayest thou?
Methinks it is more disgrace for one of our garb to wring
hard-earned farthings out of the gripe of poor lean peasants.
It is not so, brother?"
At this the Tinker and the Peddler and the Beggar nudged one another,
and all grinned, and the friars scowled blackly at Little John; but they
could think of nothing further to say, so they turned to their horses.
Then Little John arose of a sudden from the bench where he sat,
and ran to where the brothers of Fountain Abbey were mounting.
Quoth he, "Let me hold your horses' bridles for you. Truly, your words
have smitten my sinful heart, so that I will abide no longer in this
den of evil, but will go forward with you. No vile temptation, I wot,
will fall upon me in such holy company."
"Nay, fellow," said the lean Brother harshly, for he saw that
Little John made sport of them, "we want none of thy company,
so get thee gone."
"Alas," quoth Little John, "I am truly sorry that ye like me
not nor my company, but as for leaving you, it may not be,
for my heart is so moved, that, willy-nilly, I must go with you
for the sake of your holy company."
Now, at this talk all the good fellows on the bench grinned till their
teeth glistened, and even the landlord could not forbear to smile.
As for the friars, they looked at one another with a puzzled look,
and knew not what to do in the matter. They were so proud that it made
them feel sick with shame to think of riding along the highroad with a
strolling friar, in robes all too short for him, running beside them,
but yet they could not make Little John stay against his will, for they knew
he could crack the bones of both of them in a twinkling were he so minded.
Then up spake the fat Brother more mildly than he had done before.
"Nay, good brother," said he, "we will ride fast, and thou wilt tire
to death at the pace."
"Truly, I am grateful to thee for the thought of me," quoth Little John,
"but have no fear, brother; my limbs are stout, and I could run like a hare
from here to Gainsborough."
At these words a sound of laughing came from the bench, whereat the lean
Brother's wrath boiled over, like water into the fire, with great fuss
and noise. "Now, out upon thee, thou naughty fellow!" he cried.
"Art thou not ashamed to bring disgrace so upon our cloth?
Bide thee here, thou sot, with these porkers. Thou art no fit
company for us."
"La, ye there now!" quoth Little John. "Thou hearest, landlord;
thou art not fit company for these holy men; go back to thine alehouse.
Nay, if these most holy brothers of mine do but give me the word,
I'll beat thy head with this stout staff till it is as soft
as whipped eggs."
At these words a great shout of laughter went up from those on the bench,
and the landlord's face grew red as a cherry from smothering his laugh
in his stomach; but he kept his merriment down, for he wished not to bring
the ill-will of the brothers of Fountain Abbey upon him by unseemly mirth.
So the two brethren, as they could do nought else, having mounted their nags,
turned their noses toward Lincoln and rode away.
"I cannot stay longer, sweet friends," quoth Little John, as he pushed in
betwixt the two cobs, "therefore I wish you good den. Off we go, we three."
So saying, he swung his stout staff over his shoulder and trudged off,
measuring his pace with that of the two nags.
The two brothers glowered at Little John when he so pushed
himself betwixt them, then they drew as far away from him as
they could, so that the yeoman walked in the middle of the road,
while they rode on the footpath on either side of the way.
As they so went away, the Tinker, the Peddler, and the Beggar
ran skipping out into the middle of the highway, each with a pot
in his hand, and looked after them laughing.
While they were in sight of those at the inn, the brothers walked their
horses soberly, not caring to make ill matters worse by seeming to run away
from Little John, for they could not but think how it would sound in folks'
ears when they heard how the brethren of Fountain Abbey scampered away
from a strolling friar, like the Ugly One, when the blessed Saint Dunstan
loosed his nose from the red-hot tongs where he had held it fast;
but when they had crossed the crest of the hill and the inn was lost
to sight, quoth the fat Brother to the thin Brother, "Brother Ambrose,
had we not better mend our pace?"
"Why truly, gossip," spoke up Little John, "methinks it would be
well to boil our pot a little faster, for the day is passing on.
So it will not jolt thy fat too much, onward, say I."
At this the two friars said nothing, but they glared again
on Little John with baleful looks; then, without another word,
they clucked to their horses, and both broke into a canter.
So they galloped for a mile and more, and Little John ran
betwixt them as lightly as a stag and never turned a hair
with the running. At last the fat Brother drew his horse's
rein with a groan, for he could stand the shaking no longer.
"Alas," said Little John, with not so much as a catch in his breath,
"I did sadly fear that the roughness of this pace would shake
thy poor old fat paunch."
To this the fat Friar said never a word, but he stared straight before him,
and he gnawed his nether lip. And now they traveled forward more quietly,
Little John in the middle of the road whistling merrily to himself,
and the two friars in the footpath on either side saying never a word.
Then presently they met three merry minstrels, all clad in red,
who stared amain to see a Gray Friar with such short robes
walking in the middle of the road, and two brothers.
with heads bowed with shame, riding upon richly caparisoned cobs
on the footpaths. When they had come near to the minstrels,
Little John waved his staff like an usher clearing the way.
"Make way!" he cried in a loud voice. "Make way! make way!
For here we go, we three!" Then how the minstrels stared,
and how they laughed! But the fat Friar shook as with an ague,
and the lean Friar bowed his head over his horse's neck.
Then next they met two noble knights in rich array, with hawk on wrist,
and likewise two fair ladies clad in silks and velvets, all a-riding
on noble steeds. These all made room, staring, as Little John
and the two friars came along the road. To them Little John
bowed humbly. "Give you greetings, lords and ladies," said he.
"But here we go, we three."
Then all laughed, and one of the fair ladies cried out,
"What three meanest thou, merry friend?"
Little John looked over his shoulder, for they had now passed each other,
and he called back, "Big Jack, lean Jack and fat Jack-pudding."
At this the fat Friar gave a groan and seemed as if he were like
to fall from his saddle for shame; the other brother said nothing,
but he looked before him with a grim and stony look.
Just ahead of them the road took a sudden turn around a high hedge,
and some twoscore paces beyond the bend another road crossed the one
they were riding upon. When they had come to the crossroad and were
well away from those they had left, the lean Friar drew rein suddenly.
"Look ye, fellow," quoth he in a voice quivering with rage, "we have had
enough of thy vile company, and care no longer to be made sport of.
Go thy way, and let us go ours in peace."
"La there, now!" quoth Little John. "Methought we were such a
merry company, and here thou dost blaze up like fat in the pan.
But truly, I ha' had enow of you today, though I can ill spare
your company. I know ye will miss me, but gin ye want me again,
whisper to Goodman Wind, and he will bring news thereof to me.
But ye see I am a poor man and ye are rich. I pray you give me
a penny or two to buy me bread and cheese at the next inn."
"We have no money, fellow," said the lean Friar harshly.
"Come, Brother Thomas, let us forward."
But Little John caught the horses by the bridle reins, one in either hand.
"Ha' ye in truth no money about you whatsoever?" said he.
"Now, I pray you, brothers, for charity's sake, give me somewhat
to buy a crust of bread, e'en though it be only a penny."
"I tell thee, fellow, we have no money," thundered the fat little
Friar with the great voice.
"Ha' ye, in holy truth, no money?" asked Little John.
"Not a farthing," said the lean Friar sourly.
"Not a groat," said the fat Friar loudly.
"Nay," quoth Little John, "this must not be. Far be it from me
to see such holy men as ye are depart from me with no money.
Get both of you down straightway from off your horses,
and we will kneel here in the middle of the crossroads and pray
the blessed Saint Dunstan to send us some money to carry us
on our journey."
"What sayest thou, thou limb of evil!" cried the lean Friar,
fairly gnashing his teeth with rage. "Doss thou bid me, the high
cellarer of Fountain Abbey, to get down from my horse and kneel
in the dirty road to pray to some beggarly Saxon saint?"
"Now," quoth Little John, "I ha' a great part of a mind to crack thy
head for thee for speaking thus of the good Saint Dunstan! But get
down straightway, for my patience will not last much longer,
and I may forget that ye are both in holy orders." So saying,
he twirled his stout staff till it whistled again.
At this speech both friars grew as pale as dough.
Down slipped the fat Brother from off his horse on one side,
and down slipped the lean Brother on the other.
"Now, brothers, down on your knees and pray," said Little John;
thereupon, putting his heavy hands upon the shoulder of each,
he forced them to their knees, he kneeling also. Then Little John began
to beseech Saint Dunstan for money, which he did in a great loud voice.
After he had so besought the Saint for a time, he bade the friars
feel in their pouches and see if the Saint had sent them anything;
so each put his hand slowly in the pouch that hung beside him,
but brought nothing thence.
"Ha!" quoth Little John, "have your prayers so little virtue?
Then let us at it again." Then straightway he began calling
on Saint Dunstan again, somewhat in this wise: "O gracious
Saint Dunstan! Send some money straightway to these poor folk,
lest the fat one waste away and grow as lean as the lean one,
and the lean one waste away to nothing at all, ere they get to
Lincoln Town; but send them only ten shillings apiece, lest they
grow puffed up with pride, Any more than that that thou sendest,
send to me.
"Now," quoth he, rising, "let us see what each man hath."
Then he thrust his hand into his pouch and drew thence four golden angels.
"What have ye, brothers?" said he.
Then once again each friar slowly thrust his hand into his pouch,
and once again brought it out with nothing in it.
"Have ye nothing?" quoth Little John. "Nay, I warrant there is somewhat
that hath crept into the seams of your pouches, and so ye ha' missed it.
Let me look."
So he went first to the lean Friar, and, thrusting his hand into the pouch,
he drew forth a leathern bag and counted therefrom one hundred and ten pounds
of golden money. "I thought," quoth Little John, "that thou hadst missed,
in some odd corner of thy pouch, the money that the blessed Saint had
sent thee. And now let me see whether thou hast not some, also, brother."
Thereupon he thrust his hand into the pouch of the fat Friar and drew thence
a bag like the other and counted out from it threescore and ten pounds.
"Look ye now," quoth he, "I knew the good Saint had sent thee some pittance
that thou, also, hadst missed."
Then, giving them one pound between them, he slipped the rest
of the money into his own pouch, saying, "Ye pledged me
your holy word that ye had no money. Being holy men, I trust
that ye would not belie your word so pledged, therefore I know
the good Saint Dunstan hath sent this in answer to my prayers.
But as I only prayed for ten shillings to be sent to each of you,
all over and above that belongeth by rights to me, and so I take it.
I give you good den, brothers, and may ye have a pleasant
journey henceforth." So saying, he turned and left them,
striding away. The friars looked at one another with a woeful look,
and slowly and sadly they mounted their horses again and rode
away with never a word.
But Little John turned his footsteps back again to Sherwood Forest,
and merrily he whistled as he strode along.
And now we will see what befell Robin Hood in his venture as beggar.
Robin Hood Turns Beggar
AFTER JOLLY ROBIN had left Little John at the forking of the roads,
he walked merrily onward in the mellow sunshine that shone about him.
Ever and anon he would skip and leap or sing a snatch of song,
for pure joyousness of the day; for, because of the sweetness
of the springtide, his heart was as lusty within him as that
of a colt newly turned out to grass. Sometimes he would walk
a long distance, gazing aloft at the great white swelling clouds
that moved slowly across the deep blue sky; anon he would stop
and drink in the fullness of life of all things, for the hedgerows
were budding tenderly and the grass of the meadows was waxing long
and green; again he would stand still and listen to the pretty
song of the little birds in the thickets or hearken to the clear
crow of the cock daring the sky to rain, whereat he would laugh,
for it took but little to tickle Robin's heart into merriment.
So he trudged manfully along, ever willing to stop for this
reason or for that, and ever ready to chat with such merry
lasses as he met now and then. So the morning slipped along,
but yet he met no beggar with whom he could change clothes.
Quoth he, "If I do not change my luck in haste, I am like to
have an empty day of it, for it is well nigh half gone already,
and, although I have had a merry walk through the countryside,
I know nought of a beggar's life."
Then, after a while, he began to grow hungry, whereupon his mind turned
from thoughts of springtime and flowers and birds and dwelled upon
boiled capons, Malmsey, white bread, and the like, with great tenderness.
Quoth he to himself, "I would I had Willie Wynkin's wishing coat;
I know right well what I should wish for, and this it should be."
Here he marked upon the fingers of his left hand with the
forefinger of his right hand those things which he wished for.
"Firstly, I would have a sweet brown pie of tender larks; mark ye,
not dry cooked, but with a good sop of gravy to moisten it withal.
Next, I would have a pretty pullet, fairly boiled, with tender pigeons'
eggs, cunningly sliced, garnishing the platter around.
With these I would have a long, slim loaf of wheaten bread that hath
been baked upon the hearth; it should be warm from the fire,
with glossy brown crust, the color of the hair of mine own Maid Marian,
and this same crust should be as crisp and brittle as the thin white
ice that lies across the furrows in the early winter's morning.
These will do for the more solid things; but with these I
must have three potties, fat and round, one full of Malmsey,
one of Canary, and one brimming full of mine own dear lusty sack."
Thus spoke Robin to himself, his mouth growing moist at the corners
with the thoughts of the good things he had raised in his own mind.
So, talking to himself, he came to where the dusty road turned sharply
around the hedge, all tender with the green of the coming leaf,
and there he saw before him a stout fellow sitting upon a stile,
swinging his legs in idleness. All about this lusty rogue dangled
divers pouches and bags of different sizes and kinds, a dozen or more,
with great, wide, gaping mouths, like a brood of hungry daws.
His coat was gathered in at his waist, and was patched with as many
colors as there are stripes upon a Maypole in the springtide.
On his head he wore a great tall leathern cap, and across his knees
rested a stout quarterstaff of blackthorn, full as long and heavy
as Robin's. As jolly a beggar was he as ever trod the lanes
and byways of Nottinghamshire, for his eyes were as gray as slate,
and snapped and twinkled and danced with merriment, and his black
hair curled close all over his head in little rings of kinkiness.
"Halloa, good fellow," quoth Robin, when he had come nigh to the other,
"what art thou doing here this merry day, when the flowers are peeping
and the buds are swelling?"
Then the other winked one eye and straightway trolled forth
in a merry voice:
"_I sit upon the stile,
And I sing a little while
As I wait for my own true dear, O,
For the sun is shining bright,
And the leaves are dancing light,
And the little fowl sings she is near, O_.
"And so it is with me, bully boy, saving that my doxy cometh not."
"Now that is a right sweet song," quoth Robin, "and, were I in
the right mind to listen to thee, I could bear well to hear more;
but I have two things of seriousness to ask of thee;
so listen, I prythee."
At this the jolly Beggar cocked his head on one side, like a rogue
of a magpie. Quoth he, "I am an ill jug to pour heavy things into,
good friend, and, if I mistake not, thou hast few serious words
to spare at any time."
"Nay," quoth jolly Robin, "what I would say first is the most serious
of all thoughts to me, to wit, `Where shall I get somewhat to eat
and drink?' "
"Sayst thou so?" quoth the Beggar. "Marry, I make no such serious
thoughts upon the matter. I eat when I can get it, and munch
my crust when I can get no crumb; likewise, when there is no ale
to be had I wash the dust from out my throat with a trickle
of cold water. I was sitting here, as thou camest upon me,
bethinking myself whether I should break my fast or no.
I do love to let my hunger grow mightily keen ere I eat,
for then a dry crust is as good to me as a venison pasty
with suet and raisins is to stout King Harry. I have a sharp
hunger upon me now, but methinks in a short while it will ripen
to a right mellow appetite."
"Now, in good sooth," quoth merry Robin, laughing, "thou hast a quaint tongue
betwixt thy teeth. But hast thou truly nought but a dry crust about thee?
Methinks thy bags and pouches are fat and lusty for such thin fare."
"Why, mayhap there is some other cold fare therein," said the Beggar slyly.
"And hast thou nought to drink but cold water?" said Robin.
"Never so much as a drop," quoth the Beggar. "Over beyond yon clump
of trees is as sweet a little inn as ever thou hast lifted eyelid upon;
but I go not thither, for they have a nasty way with me.
Once, when the good Prior of Emmet was dining there, the landlady set
a dear little tart of stewed crabs and barley sugar upon the window
sill to cool, and, seeing it there, and fearing it might be lost,
I took it with me till that I could find the owner thereof.
Ever since then they have acted very ill toward me; yet truth
bids me say that they have the best ale there that ever rolled
over my tongue."
At this Robin laughed aloud. "Marry," quoth he, "they did ill toward thee
for thy kindness. But tell me truly, what hast thou in thy pouches?"
"Why," quoth the Beggar, peeping into the mouths of his bags, "I find here
a goodly piece of pigeon pie, wrapped in a cabbage leaf to hold the gravy.
Here I behold a dainty streaked piece of brawn, and here a fair lump
of white bread. Here I find four oaten cakes and a cold knuckle
of ham. Ha! In sooth, 'tis strange; but here I behold six eggs
that must have come by accident from some poultry yard hereabouts.
They are raw, but roasted upon the coals and spread with a piece
of butter that I see--"
"Peace, good friend!" cried Robin, holding up his hand. "Thou makest
my poor stomach quake with joy for what thou tellest me so sweetly.
If thou wilt give me to eat, I will straightway hie me to that little
inn thou didst tell of but now, and will bring a skin of ale for thy
drinking and mine."
"Friend, thou hast said enough," said the Beggar, getting down from
the stile. "I will feast thee with the best that I have and bless
Saint Cedric for thy company. But, sweet chuck, I prythee bring
three quarts of ale at least, one for thy drinking and two for mine,
for my thirst is such that methinks I can drink ale as the sands
of the River Dee drink salt water."
So Robin straightway left the Beggar, who, upon his part,
went to a budding lime bush back of the hedge, and there spread
his feast upon the grass and roasted his eggs upon a little
fagot fire, with a deftness gained by long labor in that line.
After a while back came Robin bearing a goodly skin of ale upon
his shoulder, which he laid upon the grass. Then, looking upon
the feast spread upon the ground--and a fair sight it was to look upon--
he slowly rubbed his hand over his stomach, for to his hungry eyes
it seemed the fairest sight that he had beheld in all his life.
"Friend," said the Beggar, "let me feel the weight of that skin.
"Yea, truly," quoth Robin, "help thyself, sweet chuck, and meantime
let me see whether thy pigeon pie is fresh or no."
So the one seized upon the ale and the other upon the pigeon pie,
and nothing was heard for a while but the munching of food
and the gurgle of ale as it left the skin.
At last, after a long time had passed thus, Robin pushed
the food from him and heaved a great sigh of deep content,
for he felt as though he had been made all over anew.
"And now, good friend," quoth he, leaning upon one elbow,
"I would have at thee about that other matter of seriousness
of which I spoke not long since."