Part 5 out of 6
"How!" said the Beggar reproachfully, "thou wouldst surely not talk
of things appertaining to serious affairs upon such ale as this!"
"Nay," quoth Robin, laughing. "I would not check thy thirst,
sweet friend; drink while I talk to thee. Thus it is:
I would have thee know that I have taken a liking to thy craft
and would fain have a taste of a beggar's life mine own self."
Said the Beggar, "I marvel not that thou hast taken a liking
to my manner of life, good fellow, but `to like' and `to do'
are two matters of different sorts. I tell thee, friend, one must
serve a long apprenticeship ere one can learn to be even so much
as a clapper-dudgeon, much less a crank or an Abraham-man. I
tell thee, lad, thou art too old to enter upon that which it
may take thee years to catch the hang of."
 Classes of traveling mendicants that infested England
as late as the middle of the seventeenth century.
VIDE Dakkar's ENGLISH VILLAINIES, etc.
"Mayhap that may be so," quoth Robin, "for I bring to mind
that Gaffer Swanthold sayeth Jack Shoemaker maketh ill bread;
Tom Baker maketh ill shoon. Nevertheless, I have a mind to taste
a beggar's life, and need but the clothing to be as good as any."
"I tell thee, fellow," said the Beggar, "if thou wert clad as sweetly as good
Saint Wynten, the patron of our craft, thou wouldst never make a beggar.
Marry, the first jolly traveler that thou wouldst meet would beat thee to a
pudding for thrusting thy nose into a craft that belongeth not to thee."
"Nevertheless," quoth Robin, "I would have a try at it; and methinks I shall
change clothes with thee, for thy garb seemeth to be pretty, not to say gay.
So not only will I change clothes, but I will give thee two golden angels
to boot. I have brought my stout staff with me, thinking that I might
have to rap some one of the brethren of thy cloth over the head by way
of argument in this matter, but I love thee so much for the feast thou
hast given me that I would not lift even my little finger against thee,
so thou needst not have a crumb of fear."
To this the Beggar listened with his knuckles resting against his hips,
and when Robin had ended he cocked his head on one side and thrust
his tongue into his cheek.
"Marry, come up," quoth he at last. "Lift thy finger
against me, forsooth! Art thou out of thy wits, man?
My name is Riccon Hazel, and I come from Holywell, in Flintshire,
over by the River Dee. I tell thee, knave, I have cracked
the head of many a better man than thou art, and even now I would
scald thy crown for thee but for the ale thou hast given me.
Now thou shalt not have so much as one tag-rag of my coat,
even could it save thee from hanging."
"Now, fellow," said Robin, "it would ill suit me to spoil thy pretty head
for thee, but I tell thee plainly, that but for this feast I would do
that to thee would stop thy traveling the country for many a day to come.
Keep thy lips shut, lad, or thy luck will tumble out of thy mouth
with thy speech!"
"Now out, and alas for thee, man, for thou hast bred thyself ill
this day!" cried the Beggar, rising and taking up his staff.
"Take up thy club and defend thyself, fellow, for I will
not only beat thee but I will take from thee thy money
and leave thee not so much as a clipped groat to buy thyself
a lump of goose grease to rub thy cracked crown withal.
So defend thyself, I say."
Then up leaped merry Robin and snatched up his staff also.
"Take my money, if thou canst," quoth he. "I promise
freely to give thee every farthing if thou dost touch me."
And he twirled his staff in his fingers till it whistled again.
Then the Beggar swung his staff also, and struck a mighty blow
at Robin, which the yeoman turned. Three blows the Beggar struck,
yet never one touched so much as a hair of Robin's head.
Then stout Robin saw his chance, and, ere you could count three,
Riccon's staff was over the hedge, and Riccon himself lay
upon the green grass with no more motion than you could find
in an empty pudding bag.
"How now!" quoth merry Robin, laughing. "Wilt thou have my hide or my money,
sweet chuck?" But to this the other answered never a word. Then Robin,
seeing his plight, and that he was stunned with the blow, ran, still laughing,
and brought the skin of ale and poured some of it on the Beggar's head
and some down his throat, so that presently he opened his eyes and looked
around as though wondering why he lay upon his back.
Then Robin, seeing that he had somewhat gathered the wits that
had just been rapped out of his head, said, "Now, good fellow,
wilt thou change clothes with me, or shall I have to tap
thee again? Here are two golden angels if thou wilt give
me freely all thy rags and bags and thy cap and things.
If thou givest them not freely, I much fear me I shall have to--"
and he looked up and down his staff.
Then Riccon sat up and rubbed the bump on his crown. "Now, out upon it!"
quoth he. "I did think to drub thee sweetly, fellow. I know not how it is,
but I seem, as it were, to have bought more beer than I can drink.
If I must give up my clothes, I must, but first promise me, by thy word
as a true yeoman, that thou wilt take nought from me but my clothes."
"I promise on the word of a true yeoman," quoth Robin,
thinking that the fellow had a few pennies that he would save.
Thereupon the Beggar drew a little knife that hung at his side and,
ripping up the lining of his coat, drew thence ten bright golden pounds,
which he laid upon the ground beside him with a cunning wink
at Robin. "Now thou mayst have my clothes and welcome," said he,
"and thou mightest have had them in exchange for thine without
the cost of a single farthing, far less two golden angels."
"Marry," quoth Robin, laughing, "thou art a sly fellow, and I tell thee truly,
had I known thou hadst so much money by thee maybe thou mightst not have
carried it away, for I warrant thou didst not come honestly by it."
Then each stripped off his clothes and put on those of the other, and as
lusty a beggar was Robin Hood as e'er you could find of a summer's day.
But stout Riccon of Holywell skipped and leaped and danced for joy of the fair
suit of Lincoln green that he had so gotten. Quoth he, "I am a gay-feathered
bird now. Truly, my dear Moll Peascod would never know me in this dress.
Thou mayst keep the cold pieces of the feast, friend, for I mean to live
well and lustily while my money lasts and my clothes are gay."
So he turned and left Robin and, crossing the stile, was gone,
but Robin heard him singing from beyond the hedge as he strode away:
"_For Polly is smiling and Molly is glad
When the beggar comes in at the door,
And Jack and Dick call him a fine lusty lad,
And the hostess runs up a great score.
Then hey, Willy Waddykin,
Stay, Billy Waddykin,
And let the brown ale flow free, flow free,
The beggar's the man for me_."
Robin listened till the song ended in the distance,
then he also crossed the stile into the road,
but turned his toes away from where the Beggar had gone.
The road led up a gentle hill and up the hill Robin walked,
a half score or more of bags dangling about his legs.
Onward he strolled for a long time, but other adventure he found not.
The road was bare of all else but himself, as he went kicking
up little clouds of dust at each footstep; for it was noontide,
the most peaceful time of all the day, next to twilight.
All the earth was silent in the restfulness of eating time;
the plowhorses stood in the furrow munching, with great bags
over their noses holding sweet food, the plowman sat under
the hedge and the plowboy also, and they, too, were munching,
each one holding a great piece of bread in one fist and a great
piece of cheese in the other.
So Robin, with all the empty road to himself, strode along whistling merrily,
his bags and pouches bobbing and dangling at his thighs. At last he came
to where a little grass-grown path left the road and, passing through a stile
and down a hill, led into a little dell and on across a rill in the valley
and up the hill on the other side, till it reached a windmill that stood
on the cap of the rise where the wind bent the trees in swaying motion.
Robin looked at the spot and liked it, and, for no reason but that his fancy
led him, he took the little path and walked down the grassy sunny slope
of the open meadow, and so came to the little dingle and, ere he knew it,
upon four lusty fellows that sat with legs outstretched around a goodly
feast spread upon the ground.
Four merry beggars were they, and each had slung about
his neck a little board that rested upon his breast.
One board had written upon it, "I am blind," another, "I am deaf,"
another, "I am dumb," and the fourth, "Pity the lame one."
But although all these troubles written upon the boards seemed
so grievous, the four stout fellows sat around feasting
as merrily as though Cain's wife had never opened the pottle
that held misfortunes and let them forth like a cloud of flies
to pester us.
The deaf man was the first to hear Robin, for he said, "Hark, brothers, I hear
someone coming." And the blind man was the first to see him, for he said,
"He is an honest man, brothers, and one of like craft to ourselves."
Then the dumb man called to him in a great voice and said, "Welcome, brother;
come and sit while there is still some of the feast left and a little
Malmsey in the pottle." At this, the lame man, who had taken off his
wooden leg and unstrapped his own leg, and was sitting with it stretched
out upon the grass so as to rest it, made room for Robin among them.
"We are glad to see thee, brother," said he, holding out the flask of Malmsey.
"Marry," quoth Robin, laughing, and weighing the flask in his hands
ere he drank, "methinks it is no more than seemly of you all to be
glad to see me, seeing that I bring sight to the blind, speech to
the dumb, hearing to the deaf, and such a lusty leg to a lame man.
I drink to your happiness, brothers, as I may not drink to your health,
seeing ye are already hale, wind and limb."
At this all grinned, and the Blind beggar, who was the chief man among them,
and was the broadest shouldered and most lusty rascal of all, smote Robin
upon the shoulder, swearing he was a right merry wag.
"Whence comest thou, lad?" asked the Dumb man.
"Why," quoth Robin, "I came this morning from sleeping overnight in Sherwood."
"Is it even so?" said the Deaf man. "I would not for all the money we four
are carrying to Lincoln Town sleep one night in Sherwood. If Robin Hood
caught one of our trade in his woodlands he would, methinks, clip his ears."
"Methinks he would, too," quoth Robin, laughing. "But what money
is this that ye speak of?"
Then up spake the Lame man. "Our king, Peter of York," said he,
"hath sent us to Lincoln with those moneys that--"
"Stay, brother Hodge," quoth the Blind man, breaking into the talk,
"I would not doubt our brother here, but bear in mind we know him not.
What art thou, brother? Upright-man, Jurkman, Clapper-dudgeon, Dommerer,
At these words Robin looked from one man to the other with mouth agape.
"Truly," quoth he, "I trust I am an upright man, at least, I strive to be;
but I know not what thou meanest by such jargon, brother. It were much
more seemly, methinks, if yon Dumb man, who hath a sweet voice, would give
us a song."
At these words a silence fell on all, and after a while the Blind
man spoke again. Quoth he, "Thou dost surely jest when thou
sayest that thou dost not understand such words. Answer me this:
Hast thou ever fibbed a chouse quarrons in the Rome pad for the loure
in his bung?"
 I.E., in old beggar's cant, "beaten a man or gallant upon the highway
for the money in his purse." Dakkar's ENGLISH VILLAINIES.
"Now out upon it," quoth Robin Hood testily, "an ye make sport of me
by pattering such gibberish, it will be ill for you all, I tell you.
I have the best part of a mind to crack the heads of all four of you,
and would do so, too, but for the sweet Malmsey ye have given me.
Brother, pass the pottle lest it grow cold."
But all the four beggars leaped to their feet when Robin had
done speaking, and the Blind man snatched up a heavy knotted cudgel
that lay beside him on the grass, as did the others likewise.
Then Robin, seeing that things were like to go ill with him,
albeit he knew not what all the coil was about, leaped to his
feet also and, catching up his trusty staff, clapped his back
against the tree and stood upon his guard against them.
"How, now!" cried he, twirling his staff betwixt his fingers,
"would you four stout fellows set upon one man?
Stand back, ye rascals, or I will score your pates till they
have as many marks upon them as a pothouse door! Are ye mad?
I have done you no harm."
"Thou liest!" quoth the one who pretended to be blind and who,
being the lustiest villain, was the leader of the others,
"thou liest! For thou hast come among us as a vile spy.
But thine ears have heard too much for thy body's good, and thou
goest not forth from this place unless thou goest feet foremost,
for this day thou shalt die! Come, brothers, all together!
Down with him!" Then, whirling up his cudgel, he rushed
upon Robin as an angry bull rushes upon a red rag.
But Robin was ready for any happening. "Crick! Crack!" he struck
two blows as quick as a wink, and down went the Blind man,
rolling over and over upon the grass.
At this the others bore back and stood at a little distance
scowling upon Robin. "Come on, ye scum!" cried he merrily.
"Here be cakes and ale for all. Now, who will be next served?"
To this speech the beggars answered never a word, but they looked at
Robin as great Blunderbore looked upon stout Jack the slayer of giants,
as though they would fain eat him, body and bones; nevertheless, they did
not care to come nigher to him and his terrible staff. Then, seeing them
so hesitate, Robin of a sudden leaped upon them, striking even as he leaped.
Down went the Dumb man, and away flew his cudgel from his hand as he fell.
At this the others ducked to avoid another blow, then, taking to
their heels, scampered, the one one way and the other the other,
as though they had the west wind's boots upon their feet. Robin looked
after them, laughing, and thought that never had he seen so fleet a runner
as the Lame man; but neither of the beggars stopped nor turned around,
for each felt in his mind the wind of Robin's cudgel about his ears.
Then Robin turned to the two stout knaves lying upon the ground.
Quoth he, "These fellows spake somewhat about certain moneys
they were taking to Lincoln; methinks I may find it upon this
stout blind fellow, who hath as keen sight as e'er a trained
woodsman in Nottingham or Yorkshire. It were a pity to let
sound money stay in the pockets of such thieving knaves."
So saying, he stooped over the burly rascal and searched
among his rags and tatters, till presently his fingers felt
a leathern pouch slung around his body beneath his patched
and tattered coat. This he stripped away and, weighing it
in his hands, bethought himself that it was mighty heavy.
"It were a sweet thing," said he to himself, "if this were
filled with gold instead of copper pence." Then, sitting down
upon the grass, he opened the pocket and looked into it.
There he found four round rolls wrapped up in dressed sheepskin;
one of these rolls he opened; then his mouth gaped and his
eyes stared, I wot, as though they would never close again,
for what did he see but fifty pounds of bright golden money?
He opened the other pockets and found in each one the same,
fifty bright new-stamped golden pounds. Quoth Robin, "I have oft
heard that the Beggars' Guild was over-rich, but never did I think
that they sent such sums as this to their treasury. I shall take
it with me, for it will be better used for charity and the good
of my merry band than in the enriching of such knaves as these."
So saying, he rolled up the money in the sheepskin again, and putting
it back in the purse, he thrust the pouch into his own bosom.
Then taking up the flask of Malmsey, he held it toward the two
fellows lying on the grass, and quoth he, "Sweet friends,
I drink your health and thank you dearly for what ye have
so kindly given me this day, and so I wish you good den."
Then, taking up his staff, he left the spot and went merrily
on his way.
But when the two stout beggars that had been rapped upon the head roused
themselves and sat up, and when the others had gotten over their fright
and come back, they were as sad and woebegone as four frogs in dry weather,
for two of them had cracked crowns, their Malmsey was all gone, and they
had not so much as a farthing to cross their palms withal.
But after Robin left the little dell he strode along merrily, singing as
he went; and so blithe was he and such a stout beggar, and, withal, so fresh
and clean, that every merry lass he met had a sweet word for him and felt
no fear, while the very dogs, that most times hate the sight of a beggar,
snuffed at his legs in friendly wise and wagged their tails pleasantly;
for dogs know an honest man by his smell, and an honest man Robin was--
in his own way.
Thus he went along till at last he had come to the wayside cross
nigh Ollerton, and, being somewhat tired, he sat him down to rest
upon the grassy bank in front of it. "It groweth nigh time,"
quoth he to himself, "that I were getting back again to Sherwood;
yet it would please me well to have one more merry adventure ere
I go back again to my jolly band."
So he looked up the road and down the road to see who might come,
until at last he saw someone drawing near, riding upon a horse.
When the traveler came nigh enough for him to see him well,
Robin laughed, for a strange enough figure he cut. He was a thin,
wizened man, and, to look upon him, you could not tell whether he was
thirty years old or sixty, so dried up was he even to skin and bone.
As for the nag, it was as thin as the rider, and both looked
as though they had been baked in Mother Huddle's Oven, where folk
are dried up so that they live forever.
But although Robin laughed at the droll sight, he knew the wayfarer to be
a certain rich corn engrosser of Worksop, who more than once had bought all
the grain in the countryside and held it till it reached even famine prices,
thus making much money from the needs of poor people, and for this he was
hated far and near by everyone that knew aught of him.
So, after a while, the Corn Engrosser came riding up to where Robin sat;
whereupon merry Robin stepped straightway forth, in all his rags and tatters,
his bags and pouches dangling about him, and laid his hand upon the horse's
bridle rein, calling upon the other to stop.
"Who art thou, fellow, that doth dare to stop me thus upon
the King's highway?" said the lean man, in a dry, sour voice.
"Pity a poor beggar," quoth Robin. "Give me but a farthing to buy me
a piece of bread."
"Now, out upon thee!" snarled the other. "Such sturdy rogues as thou art
are better safe in the prisons or dancing upon nothing, with a hempen collar
about the neck, than strolling the highways so freely."
"Tut," quoth Robin, "how thou talkest! Thou and I are brothers, man.
Do we not both take from the poor people that which they can ill spare?
Do we not make our livings by doing nought of any good?
Do we not both live without touching palm to honest work?
Have we either of us ever rubbed thumbs over honestly gained farthings?
Go to! We are brothers, I say; only thou art rich and I am poor;
wherefore, I prythee once more, give me a penny."
"Doss thou prate so to me, sirrah?" cried the Corn Engrosser in a rage.
"Now I will have thee soundly whipped if ever I catch thee in any town
where the law can lay hold of thee! As for giving thee a penny,
I swear to thee that I have not so much as a single groat in my purse.
Were Robin Hood himself to take me, he might search me from crown
to heel without finding the smallest piece of money upon me.
I trust I am too sly to travel so nigh to Sherwood with money in my pouch,
and that thief at large in the woods."
Then merry Robin looked up and down, as if to see that there was no
one nigh, and then, coming close to the Corn Engrosser, he stood on
tiptoe and spake in his ear, "Thinkest thou in sooth that I am a beggar,
as I seem to be? Look upon me. There is not a grain of dirt upon
my hands or my face or my body. Didst thou ever see a beggar so?
I tell thee I am as honest a man as thou art. Look, friend."
Here he took the purse of money from his breast and showed to
the dazzled eyes of the Corn Engrosser the bright golden pieces.
"Friend, these rags serve but to hide an honest rich man from the eyes
of Robin Hood."
"Put up thy money, lad," cried the other quickly. "Art thou a fool,
to trust to beggar's rags to shield thee from Robin Hood? If he caught thee,
he would strip thee to the skin, for he hates a lusty beggar as he doth
a fat priest or those of my kind."
"Is it indeed so?" quoth Robin. "Had I known this,
mayhap I had not come hereabouts in this garb.
But I must go forward now, as much depends upon my journeying.
Where goest thou, friend?"
"I go to Grantham," said the Corn Engrosser, "but I shall lodge
tonight at Newark, if I can get so far upon my way."
"Why, I myself am on the way to Newark," quoth merry Robin,
"so that, as two honest men are better than one in roads beset
by such a fellow as this Robin Hood, I will jog along with thee,
if thou hast no dislike to my company."
"Why, as thou art an honest fellow and a rich fellow,"
said the Corn Engrosser, "I mind not thy company; but, in sooth,
I have no great fondness for beggars."
"Then forward," quoth Robin, "for the day wanes and it will be dark
ere we reach Newark." So off they went, the lean horse hobbling
along as before, and Robin running beside, albeit he was so quaking
with laughter within him that he could hardly stand; yet he dared
not laugh aloud, lest the Corn Engrosser should suspect something.
So they traveled along till they reached a hill just on the outskirts
of Sherwood. Here the lean man checked his lean horse into a walk,
for the road was steep, and he wished to save his nag's strength,
having far to go ere he reached Newark. Then he turned in his saddle
and spake to Robin again, for the first time since they had left the cross.
"Here is thy greatest danger, friend," said he, "for here we are
nighest to that vile thief Robin Hood, and the place where he dwells.
Beyond this we come again to the open honest country, and so are more
safe in our journeying."
"Alas!" quoth Robin, "I would that I had as little money by me as thou hast,
for this day I fear that Robin Hood will get every groat of my wealth."
Then the other looked at Robin and winked cunningly. Quoth he,
"I tell thee, friend, that I have nigh as much by me as thou hast,
but it is hidden so that never a knave in Sherwood could find it."
"Thou dost surely jest," quoth Robin. "How could one hide so much
as two hundred pounds upon his person?"
"Now, as thou art so honest a fellow, and, withal, so much younger than I am,
I will tell thee that which I have told to no man in all the world before,
and thus thou mayst learn never again to do such a foolish thing as to trust
to beggar's garb to guard thee against Robin Hood. Seest thou these clogs
upon my feet?"
"Yea," quoth Robin, laughing, "truly, they are large enough for any
man to see, even were his sight as foggy as that of Peter Patter,
who never could see when it was time to go to work."
"Peace, friend," said the Corn Engrosser, "for this is no matter for jesting.
The soles of these clogs are not what they seem to be, for each one is
a sweet little box; and by twisting the second nail from the toe, the upper
of the shoe and part of the sole lifts up like a lid, and in the spaces within
are fourscore and ten bright golden pounds in each shoe, all wrapped in hair,
to keep them from clinking and so telling tales of themselves."
When the Corn Engrosser had told this, Robin broke into a roar
of laughter and, laying his hands upon the bridle rein,
stopped the sad-looking nag. "Stay, good friend," quoth he,
between bursts of merriment, "thou art the slyest old fox that e'er
I saw in all my life!--In the soles of his shoon, quotha!--If ever
I trust a poor-seeming man again, shave my head and paint it blue!
A corn factor, a horse jockey, an estate agent, and a jackdaw
for cunningness, say I!" And he laughed again till he shook
in his shoes with mirth.
All this time the Corn Engrosser had been staring at Robin,
his mouth agape with wonder. "Art thou mad," quoth he, "to talk
in this way, so loud and in such a place? Let us forward,
and save thy mirth till we are safe and sound at Newark."
"Nay," quoth Robin, the tears of merriment wet on his cheeks, "on second
thoughts I go no farther than here, for I have good friends hereabouts.
Thou mayst go forward if thou dost list, thou sweet pretty fellow, but thou
must go forward barefoot, for I am afraid that thy shoon must be left behind.
Off with them, friend, for I tell thee I have taken a great fancy to them."
At these words the corn factor grew pale as a linen napkin.
"Who art thou that talkest so?" said he.
Then merry Robin laughed again, and quoth he, "Men hereabouts
call me Robin Hood; so, sweet friend, thou hadst best do my
bidding and give me thy shoes, wherefore hasten, I prythee,
or else thou wilt not get to fair Newark Town till after dark."
At the sound of the name of Robin Hood, the corn factor quaked with fear,
so that he had to seize his horse by the mane to save himself from
falling off its back. Then straightway, and without more words,
he stripped off his clogs and let them fall upon the road.
Robin, still holding the bridle rein, stooped and picked them up.
Then he said, "Sweet friend, I am used to ask those that I
have dealings with to come and feast at Sherwood with me.
I will not ask thee, because of our pleasant journey together;
for I tell thee there be those in Sherwood that would not be
so gentle with thee as I have been. The name of Corn Engrosser
leaves a nasty taste upon the tongue of all honest men.
Take a fool's advice of me and come no more so nigh to Sherwood,
or mayhap some day thou mayst of a sudden find a clothyard shaft
betwixt thy ribs. So, with this, I give thee good den." Hereupon he
clapped his hand to the horse's flank and off went nag and rider.
But the man's face was all bedewed with the sweat of fright,
and never again, I wot, was he found so close to Sherwood Forest
as he had been this day.
Robin stood and looked after him, and, when he was fairly gone,
turned, laughing, and entered the forest carrying the shoes
in his hand.
That night in sweet Sherwood the red fires glowed brightly in wavering
light on tree and bush, and all around sat or lay the stout fellows
of the band to hear Robin Hood and Little John tell their adventures.
All listened closely, and again and again the woods rang with
shouts of laughter.
When all was told, Friar Tuck spoke up. "Good master," said he,
"thou hast had a pretty time, but still I hold to my saying,
that the life of the barefoot friar is the merrier of the two."
"Nay," quoth Will Stutely, "I hold with our master, that he hath
had the pleasanter doings of the two, for he hath had two stout
bouts at quarterstaff this day."
So some of the band held with Robin Hood and some with
Little John. As for me, I think--But I leave it with you to say
for yourselves which you hold with.
Robin Hood Shoots Before Queen Eleanor
THE HIGHROAD stretched white and dusty in the hot summer
afternoon sun, and the trees stood motionless along the roadside.
All across the meadow lands the hot air danced and quivered,
and in the limpid waters of the lowland brook, spanned by a little
stone bridge, the fish hung motionless above the yellow gravel,
and the dragonfly sat quite still, perched upon the sharp tip
of a spike of the rushes, with its wings glistening in the sun.
Along the road a youth came riding upon a fair milk-white barb,
and the folk that he passed stopped and turned and looked after him,
for never had so lovely a lad or one so gaily clad been seen in
Nottingham before. He could not have been more than sixteen years
of age, and was as fair as any maiden. His long yellow hair flowed
behind him as he rode along, all clad in silk and velvet, with jewels
flashing and dagger jingling against the pommel of the saddle.
Thus came the Queen's Page, young Richard Partington, from famous
London Town down into Nottinghamshire, upon Her Majesty's bidding,
to seek Robin Hood in Sherwood Forest.
The road was hot and dusty and his journey had been long,
for that day he had come all the way from Leicester Town, a good
twenty miles and more; wherefore young Partington was right glad
when he saw before him a sweet little inn, all shady and cool beneath
the trees, in front of the door of which a sign hung pendant,
bearing the picture of a blue boar. Here he drew rein and called
loudly for a pottle of Rhenish wine to be brought him, for stout
country ale was too coarse a drink for this young gentleman.
Five lusty fellows sat upon the bench beneath the pleasant shade
of the wide-spreading oak in front of the inn door, drinking ale
and beer, and all stared amain at this fair and gallant lad.
Two of the stoutest of them were clothed in Lincoln green,
and a great heavy oaken staff leaned against the gnarled oak tree
trunk beside each fellow.
The landlord came and brought a pottle of wine and a long narrow glass
upon a salver, which he held up to the Page as he sat upon his horse.
Young Partington poured forth the bright yellow wine and holding
the glass aloft, cried, "Here is to the health and long happiness
of my royal mistress, the noble Queen Eleanor; and may my journey
and her desirings soon have end, and I find a certain stout yeoman
men call Robin Hood."
At these words all stared, but presently the two stout yeomen
in Lincoln green began whispering together. Then one of the two,
whom Partington thought to be the tallest and stoutest fellow
he had ever beheld, spoke up and said, "What seekest thou of
Robin Hood, Sir Page? And what does our good Queen Eleanor wish of him?
I ask this of thee, not foolishly, but with reason, for I know
somewhat of this stout yeoman."
"An thou knowest aught of him, good fellow," said young Partington,
"thou wilt do great service to him and great pleasure to our royal
Queen by aiding me to find him."
Then up spake the other yeoman, who was a handsome fellow with
sunburned face and nut-brown, curling hair, "Thou hast an honest look,
Sir Page, and our Queen is kind and true to all stout yeomen.
Methinks I and my friend here might safely guide thee to Robin Hood,
for we know where he may be found. Yet I tell thee plainly,
we would not for all merry England have aught of harm befall him."
"Set thy mind at ease; I bring nought of ill with me,"
quoth Richard Partington. "I bring a kind message to him
from our Queen, therefore an ye know where he is to be found,
I pray you to guide me thither."
Then the two yeomen looked at one another again, and the tall man said,
"Surely it were safe to do this thing, Will"; whereat the other nodded.
Thereupon both arose, and the tall yeoman said, "We think thou art true,
Sir Page, and meanest no harm, therefore we will guide thee to Robin Hood
as thou dost wish."
Then Partington paid his score, and the yeomen coming forward,
they all straightway departed upon their way.
Under the greenwood tree, in the cool shade that spread all
around upon the sward, with flickering lights here and there,
Robin Hood and many of his band lay upon the soft green grass,
while Allan a Dale sang and played upon his sweetly sounding harp.
All listened in silence, for young Allan's singing was one of the greatest
joys in all the world to them; but as they so listened there came
of a sudden the sound of a horse's feet, and presently Little John
and Will Stutely came forth from the forest path into the open glade,
young Richard Partington riding between them upon his milk-white horse.
The three came toward where Robin Hood sat, all the band staring with might
and main, for never had they seen so gay a sight as this young Page,
nor one so richly clad in silks and velvets and gold and jewels.
Then Robin arose and stepped forth to meet him, and Partington leaped from
his horse and doffing his cap of crimson velvet, met Robin as he came.
"Now, welcome!" cried Robin. "Now, welcome, fair youth, and tell me,
I prythee, what bringeth one of so fair a presence and clad in such
noble garb to our poor forest of Sherwood?"
Then young Partington said, "If I err not, thou art the famous
Robin Hood, and these thy stout band of outlawed yeomen.
To thee I bring greetings from our noble Queen Eleanor. Oft hath
she heard thee spoken of and thy merry doings hereabouts,
and fain would she behold thy face; therefore she bids me
tell thee that if thou wilt presently come to London Town,
she will do all in her power to guard thee against harm,
and will send thee back safe to Sherwood Forest again.
Four days hence, in Finsbury Fields, our good King Henry,
of great renown, holdeth a grand shooting match, and all
the most famous archers of merry England will be thereat.
Our Queen would fain see thee strive with these, knowing that if thou
wilt come thou wilt, with little doubt, carry off the prize.
Therefore she hath sent me with this greeting, and furthermore
sends thee, as a sign of great good will, this golden ring from
off her own fair thumb, which I give herewith into thy hands."
Then Robin Hood bowed his head and taking the ring, kissed it
right loyally, and then slipped it upon his little finger.
Quoth he, "Sooner would I lose my life than this ring; and ere
it departs from me, my hand shall be cold in death or stricken
off at the wrist. Fair Sir Page, I will do our Queen's bidding,
and will presently hie with thee to London; but, ere we go,
I will feast thee here in the woodlands with the very best we have."
"It may not be," said the Page; "we have no time to tarry,
therefore get thyself ready straightway; and if there be any
of thy band that thou wouldst take with thee, our Queen bids
me say that she will make them right welcome likewise."
"Truly, thou art right," quoth Robin, "and we have but short
time to stay; therefore I will get me ready presently.
I will choose three of my men, only, to go with me, and these
three shall be Little John, mine own true right-hand man,
Will Scarlet, my cousin, and Allan a Dale, my minstrel.
Go, lads, and get ye ready straightway, and we will presently
off with all speed that we may. Thou, Will Stutely, shall be
the chief of the band while I am gone."
Then Little John and Will Scarlet and Allan a Dale ran leaping, full of joy,
to make themselves ready, while Robin also prepared himself for the journey.
After a while they all four came forth, and a right fair sight they made,
for Robin was clad in blue from head to foot, and Little John and
Will Scarlet in good Lincoln green, and as for Allan a Dale, he was dressed
in scarlet from the crown of his head to the toes of his pointed shoes.
Each man wore beneath his cap a little head covering of burnished steel
set with rivets of gold, and underneath his jerkin a coat of linked mail,
as fine as carded wool, yet so tough that no arrow could pierce it.
Then, seeing all were ready, young Partington mounted his horse again,
and the yeomen having shaken hands all around, the five departed
upon their way.
That night they took up their inn in Melton Mowbray, in Leicestershire,
and the next night they lodged at Kettering, in Northamptonshire;
and the next at Bedford Town; and the next at St. Albans,
in Hertfordshire. This place they left not long after the middle
of the night, and traveling fast through the tender dawning of
the summer day, when the dews lay shining on the meadows and faint
mists hung in the dales, when the birds sang their sweetest and
the cobwebs beneath the hedges glimmered like fairy cloth of silver,
they came at last to the towers and walls of famous London Town,
while the morn was still young and all golden toward the east.
Queen Eleanor sat in her royal bower, through the open casements of
which poured the sweet yellow sunshine in great floods of golden light.
All about her stood her ladies-in-waiting chatting in low voices,
while she herself sat dreamily where the mild air came softly
drifting into the room laden with the fresh perfumes of the sweet
red roses that bloomed in the great garden beneath the wall.
To her came one who said that her page, Richard Partington,
and four stout yeomen waited her pleasure in the court below.
Then Queen Eleanor arose joyously and bade them be straightway
shown into her presence.
Thus Robin Hood and Little John and Will Scarlet and Allan a Dale came
before the Queen into her own royal bower. Then Robin kneeled before
the Queen with his hands folded upon his breast, saying in simple phrase,
"Here am I, Robin Hood. Thou didst bid me come, and lo, I do thy bidding.
I give myself to thee as thy true servant, and will do thy commanding,
even if it be to the shedding of the last drop of my life's blood."
But good Queen Eleanor smiled pleasantly upon him, bidding him to arise.
Then she made them all be seated to rest themselves after their long journey.
Rich food was brought them and noble wines, and she had her own pages
to wait upon the wants of the yeomen. At last, after they had eaten
all they could, she began questioning them of their merry adventures.
Then they told her all of the lusty doings herein spoken of, and among
others that concerning the Bishop of Hereford and Sir Richard of the Lea,
and how the Bishop had abided three days in Sherwood Forest. At this,
the Queen and the ladies about her laughed again and again, for they
pictured to themselves the stout Bishop abiding in the forest and ranging
the woods in lusty sport with Robin and his band. Then, when they had
told all that they could bring to mind, the Queen asked Allan to sing
to her, for his fame as a minstrel had reached even to the court at
London Town. So straightway Allan took up his harp in his hand, and,
without more asking, touched the strings lightly till they all rang sweetly,
then he sang thus:
"_Gentle river, gentle river,
Bright thy crystal waters flow,
Sliding where the aspens shiver,
Gliding where the lilies blow,
"Singing over pebbled shallows,
Kissing blossoms bending low,
Breaking 'neath the dipping swallows,
Purpling where the breezes blow.
"Floating on thy breast forever
Down thy current I could glide;
Grief and pain should reach me never
On thy bright and gentle tide.
"So my aching heart seeks thine, love,
There to find its rest and peace,
For, through loving, bliss is mine, love,
And my many troubles cease_."
Thus Allan sang, and as he sang all eyes dwelled upon him and not
a sound broke the stillness, and even after he had done the silence
hung for a short space. So the time passed till the hour drew nigh
for the holding of the great archery match in Finsbury Fields.
A gay sight were famous Finsbury Fields on that bright and sunny
morning of lusty summertime. Along the end of the meadow stood
the booths for the different bands of archers, for the King's yeomen
were divided into companies of fourscore men, and each company
had a captain over it; so on the bright greensward stood ten booths
of striped canvas, a booth for each band of the royal archers,
and at the peak of each fluttered a flag in the mellow air,
and the flag was the color that belonged to the captain of each band.
From the center booth hung the yellow flag of Tepus, the famous
bow bearer of the King; next to it, on one hand, was the blue
flag of Gilbert of the White Hand, and on the other the blood-red
pennant of stout young Clifton of Buckinghamshire. The seven
other archer captains were also men of great renown; among them
were Egbert of Kent and William of Southampton; but those first
named were most famous of all. The noise of many voices in talk
and laughter came from within the booths, and in and out ran
the attendants like ants about an ant-hill. Some bore ale
and beer, and some bundles of bowstrings or sheaves of arrows.
On each side of the archery range were rows upon rows of seats
reaching high aloft, and in the center of the north side was a raised
dais for the King and Queen, shaded by canvas of gay colors,
and hung about with streaming silken pennants of red and blue
and green and white. As yet the King and Queen had not come,
but all the other benches were full of people, rising head above
head high aloft till it made the eye dizzy to look upon them.
Eightscore yards distant from the mark from which the archers
were to shoot stood ten fair targets, each target marked by a flag
of the color belonging to the band that was to shoot thereat.
So all was ready for the coming of the King and Queen.
At last a great blast of bugles sounded, and into the meadow came
riding six trumpeters with silver trumpets, from which hung velvet
banners heavy with rich workings of silver and gold thread.
Behind these came stout King Henry upon a dapple-gray stallion,
with his Queen beside him upon a milk-white palfrey.
On either side of them walked the yeomen of the guard, the bright
sunlight flashing from the polished blades of the steel halberds
they carried. Behind these came the Court in a great crowd,
so that presently all the lawn was alive with bright colors,
with silk and velvet, with waving plumes and gleaming gold,
with flashing jewels and sword hilts; a gallant sight on that
bright summer day.
Then all the people arose and shouted, so that their voices
sounded like the storm upon the Cornish coast, when the dark
waves run upon the shore and leap and break, surging amid
the rocks; so, amid the roaring and the surging of the people,
and the waving of scarfs and kerchiefs, the King and Queen
came to their place, and, getting down from their horses,
mounted the broad stairs that led to the raised platform,
and there took their seats on two thrones bedecked with purple
silks and cloths of silver and of gold.
When all was quiet a bugle sounded, and straightway the archers came
marching in order from their tents. Fortyscore they were in all,
as stalwart a band of yeomen as could be found in all the wide world.
So they came in orderly fashion and stood in front of the dais where
King Henry and his Queen sat. King Henry looked up and down their
ranks right proudly, for his heart warmed within him at the sight
of such a gallant band of yeomen. Then he bade his herald Sir Hugh
de Mowbray stand forth and proclaim the rules governing the game.
So Sir Hugh stepped to the edge of the platform and spoke in a loud
clear voice, and thus he said:
That each man should shoot seven arrows at the target that belonged
to his band, and, of the fourscore yeomen of each band, the three
that shot the best should be chosen. These three should shoot three
arrows apiece, and the one that shot the best should again be chosen.
Then each of these should again shoot three arrows apiece,
and the one that shot the best should have the first prize,
the one that shot the next best should have the second,
and the one that shot the next best should have the third prize.
Each of the others should have fourscore silver pennies for his shooting.
The first prize was to be twoscore and ten golden pounds, a silver
bugle horn inlaid with gold, and a quiver with ten white arrows
tipped with gold and feathered with the white swan's-wing therein.
The second prize was to be fivescore of the fattest bucks that run
on Dallen Lea, to be shot when the yeoman that won them chose.
The third prize was to be two tuns of good Rhenish wine.
So Sir Hugh spoke, and when he had done all the archers waved
their bows aloft and shouted. Then each band turned and marched
in order back to its place.
And now the shooting began, the captains first taking stand and speeding
their shafts and then making room for the men who shot, each in turn,
after them. Two hundred and eighty score shafts were shot in all,
and so deftly were they sped that when the shooting was done each target
looked like the back of a hedgehog when the farm dog snuffs at it.
A long time was taken in this shooting, and when it was over the judges
came forward, looked carefully at the targets, and proclaimed in a
loud voice which three had shot the best from the separate bands.
Then a great hubbub of voices arose, each man among the crowd that
looked on calling for his favorite archer. Then ten fresh targets
were brought forward, and every sound was hushed as the archers took
their places once more.
This time the shooting was more speedily done, for only nine
shafts were shot by each band. Not an arrow missed the targets,
but in that of Gilbert of the White Hand five arrows were in the small
white spot that marked the center; of these five three were sped
by Gilbert. Then the judges came forward again, and looking at
the targets, called aloud the names of the archer chosen as the best
bowman of each band. Of these Gilbert of the White Hand led,
for six of the ten arrows he had shot had lodged in the center;
but stout Tepus and young Clifton trod close upon his heels;
yet the others stood a fair chance for the second or third place.
And now, amid the roaring of the crowd, those ten stout fellows that were left
went back to their tents to rest for a while and change their bowstrings,
for nought must fail at this next round, and no hand must tremble or eye grow
dim because of weariness.
Then while the deep buzz and hum of talking sounded all around
like the noise of the wind in the leafy forest, Queen Eleanor
turned to the King, and quoth she, "Thinkest thou that these yeomen
so chosen are the very best archers in all merry England?"
"Yea, truly," said the King, smiling, for he was well
pleased with the sport that he had seen; "and I tell thee,
that not only are they the best archers in all merry England,
but in all the wide world beside."
"But what wouldst thou say," quoth Queen Eleanor, "if I were to find
three archers to match the best three yeomen of all thy guard?"
"I would say thou hast done what I could not do," said the King, laughing,
"for I tell thee there lives not in all the world three archers to match
Tepus and Gilbert and Clifton of Buckinghamshire."
"Now," said the Queen, "I know of three yeomen, and in truth I
have seen them not long since, that I would not fear to match
against any three that thou canst choose from among all thy
fortyscore archers; and, moreover, I will match them here this very day.
But I will only match them with thy archers providing that thou
wilt grant a free pardon to all that may come in my behalf."
At this, the King laughed loud and long. "Truly," said he,
"thou art taking up with strange matters for a queen.
If thou wilt bring those three fellows that thou speakest of,
I will promise faithfully to give them free pardon for forty days,
to come or to go wheresoever they please, nor will I harm a hair
of their heads in all that time. Moreover, if these that thou
bringest shoot better than my yeomen, man for man, they shall
have the prizes for themselves according to their shooting.
But as thou hast so taken up of a sudden with sports of this kind,
hast thou a mind for a wager?"
"Why, in sooth," said Queen Eleanor, laughing, "I know nought
of such matters, but if thou hast a mind to do somewhat in that way,
I will strive to pleasure thee. What wilt thou wager upon thy men?"
Then the merry King laughed again, for he dearly loved goodly jest;
so he said, amidst his laughter, "I will wager thee ten tuns of Rhenish wine,
ten tuns of the stoutest ale, and tenscore bows of tempered Spanish yew,
with quivers and arrows to match."
All that stood around smiled at this, for it seemed a merry wager for
a king to give to a queen; but Queen Eleanor bowed her head quietly.
"I will take thy wager," said she, "for I know right well where to place
those things that thou hast spoken of. Now, who will be on my side
in this matter?" And she looked around upon them that stood about;
but no one spake or cared to wager upon the Queen's side against
such archers as Tepus and Gilbert and Clifton. Then the Queen
spoke again, "Now, who will back me in this wager? Wilt thou,
my Lord Bishop of Hereford?"
"Nay," quoth the Bishop hastily, "it ill befits one of my cloth to deal
in such matters. Moreover, there are no such archers as His Majesty's
in all the world; therefore I would but lose my money.
"Methinks the thought of thy gold weigheth more heavily
with thee than the wrong to thy cloth," said the Queen,
smiling, and at this a ripple of laughter went around,
for everyone knew how fond the Bishop was of his money.
Then the Queen turned to a knight who stood near, whose name was
Sir Robert Lee. "Wilt thou back me in this manner?" said she.
"Thou art surely rich enough to risk so much for the sake
of a lady."
"To pleasure my Queen I will do it," said Sir Robert Lee,
"but for the sake of no other in all the world would I wager a groat,
for no man can stand against Tepus and Gilbert and Clifton."
Then turning to the King, Queen Eleanor said, "I want no such aid
as Sir Robert giveth me; but against thy wine and beer and stout bows
of yew I wager this girdle all set with jewels from around my waist;
and surely that is worth more than thine."
"Now, I take thy wager," quoth the King. "Send for thy archers straightway.
But here come forth the others; let them shoot, and then I will match
those that win against all the world."
"So be it," said the Queen. Thereupon, beckoning to young
Richard Partington, she whispered something in his ear, and straightway
the Page bowed and left the place, crossing the meadow to the other
side of the range, where he was presently lost in the crowd.
At this, all that stood around whispered to one another,
wondering what it all meant, and what three men the Queen was
about to set against those famous archers of the King's guard.
And now the ten archers of the King's guard took their stand again,
and all the great crowd was hushed to the stillness of death.
Slowly and carefully each man shot his shafts, and so deep was
the silence that you could hear every arrow rap against the target
as it struck it. Then, when the last shaft had sped, a great roar
went up; and the shooting, I wot, was well worthy of the sound.
Once again Gilbert had lodged three arrows in the white; Tepus came
second with two in the white and one in the black ring next to it;
but stout Clifton had gone down and Hubert of Suffolk had taken
the third place, for, while both those two good yeomen had lodged
two in the white, Clifton had lost one shot upon the fourth ring,
and Hubert came in with one in the third.
All the archers around Gilbert's booth shouted for joy till their throats
were hoarse, tossing their caps aloft, and shaking hands with one another.
In the midst of all the noise and hubbub five men came walking across
the lawn toward the King's pavilion. The first was Richard Partington,
and was known to most folk there, but the others were strange to everybody.
Beside young Partington walked a yeoman clad in blue, and behind
came three others, two in Lincoln green and one in scarlet.
This last yeoman carried three stout bows of yew tree, two fancifully
inlaid with silver and one with gold. While these five men came
walking across the meadow, a messenger came running from the King's
booth and summoned Gilbert and Tepus and Hubert to go with him.
And now the shouting quickly ceased, for all saw that something
unwonted was toward, so the folk stood up in their places and leaned
forward to see what was the ado.
When Partington and the others came before the spot where the King and
Queen sat, the four yeomen bent their knees and doffed their caps unto her.
King Henry leaned far forward and stared at them closely, but the Bishop
of Hereford, when he saw their faces, started as though stung by a wasp.
He opened his mouth as though about to speak, but, looking up, he saw
the Queen gazing at him with a smile upon her lips, so he said nothing,
but bit his nether lip, while his face was as red as a cherry.
Then the Queen leaned forward and spake in a clear voice.
"Locksley," said she, "I have made a wager with the King that thou
and two of thy men can outshoot any three that he can send against you.
Wilt thou do thy best for my sake?"
"Yea," quoth Robin Hood, to whom she spake, "I will do my best for thy sake,
and, if I fail, I make my vow never to finger bowstring more."
Now, although Little John had been somewhat abashed in the Queen's bower,
he felt himself the sturdy fellow he was when the soles of his feet pressed
green grass again; so he said boldly, "Now, blessings on thy sweet face,
say I. An there lived a man that would not do his best for thee--I will
say nought, only I would like to have the cracking of his knave's pate!
"Peace, Little John!" said Robin Hood hastily, in a low voice;
but good Queen Eleanor laughed aloud, and a ripple of merriment
sounded all over the booth.
The Bishop of Hereford did not laugh, neither did the King,
but he turned to the Queen, and quoth he, "Who are these men
that thou hast brought before us?"
Then up spoke the Bishop hastily, for he could hold his peace no longer:
"Your Majesty," quoth he, "yon fellow in blue is a certain outlawed
thief of the mid-country, named Robin Hood; yon tall, strapping villain
goeth by the name of Little John; the other fellow in green is a certain
backsliding gentleman, known as Will Scarlet; the man in red is a rogue
of a northern minstrel, named Allan a Dale."
At this speech the King's brows drew together blackly, and he turned
to the Queen. "Is this true?" said he sternly.
"Yea," said the Queen, smiling, "the Bishop hath told the truth;
and truly he should know them well, for he and two of his friars spent
three days in merry sport with Robin Hood in Sherwood Forest. I did
little think that the good Bishop would so betray his friends.
But bear in mind that thou hast pledged thy promise for the safety
of these good yeomen for forty days."
"I will keep my promise," said the King, in a deep voice
that showed the anger in his heart, "but when these forty
days are gone let this outlaw look to himself, for mayhap
things will not go so smoothly with him as he would like."
Then he turned to his archers, who stood near the Sherwood yeomen,
listening and wondering at all that passed. Quoth he,
"Gilbert, and thou, Tepus, and thou, Hubert, I have pledged
myself that ye shall shoot against these three fellows.
If ye outshoot the knaves I will fill your caps with silver pennies;
if ye fail ye shall lose your prizes that ye have won so fairly,
and they go to them that shoot against you, man to man.
Do your best, lads, and if ye win this bout ye shall be glad
of it to the last days of your life. Go, now, and get you gone
to the butts."
Then the three archers of the King turned and went back to their booths,
and Robin and his men went to their places at the mark from which they
were to shoot. Then they strung their bows and made themselves ready,
looking over their quivers of arrows, and picking out the roundest
and the best feathered.
But when the King's archers went to their tents, they told
their friends all that had passed, and how that these four
men were the famous Robin Hood and three of his band, to wit,
Little John, Will Scarlet, and Allan a Dale. The news of this
buzzed around among the archers in the booths, for there was not
a man there that had not heard of these great mid-country yeomen.
From the archers the news was taken up by the crowd that looked
on at the shooting, so that at last everybody stood up,
craning their necks to catch sight of the famous outlaws.
Six fresh targets were now set up, one for each man that was to shoot;
whereupon Gilbert and Tepus and Hubert came straightway forth
from the booths. Then Robin Hood and Gilbert of the White Hand
tossed a farthing aloft to see who should lead in the shooting,
and the lot fell to Gilbert's side; thereupon he called upon Hubert
of Suffolk to lead.
Hubert took his place, planted his foot firmly, and fitted a fair,
smooth arrow; then, breathing upon his fingertips, he drew the string
slowly and carefully. The arrow sped true, and lodged in the white;
again he shot, and again he hit the clout; a third shaft he sped,
but this time failed of the center, and but struck the black,
yet not more than a finger's-breadth from the white.
At this a shout went up, for it was the best shooting that Hubert
had yet done that day.
Merry Robin laughed, and quoth he, "Thou wilt have an ill
time bettering that round, Will, for it is thy turn next.
Brace thy thews, lad, and bring not shame upon Sherwood."
Then Will Scarlet took his place; but, because of overcaution,
he spoiled his target with the very first arrow that he sped,
for he hit the next ring to the black, the second from the center.
At this Robin bit his lips. "Lad, lad," quoth he, "hold not the string
so long! Have I not often told thee what Gaffer Swanthold sayeth,
that `overcaution spilleth the milk'?" To this Will Scarlet took heed,
so the next arrow he shot lodged fairly in the center ring;
again he shot, and again he smote the center; but, for all that,
stout Hubert had outshot him, and showed the better target.
Then all those that looked on clapped their hands for joy because
that Hubert had overcome the stranger.
Quoth the King grimly, to the Queen, "If thy archers shoot
no better than that, thou art like to lose thy wager, lady."
But Queen Eleanor smiled, for she looked for better things
from Robin Hood and Little John.
And now Tepus took his place to shoot. He, also, took overheed
to what he was about, and so he fell into Will Scarlet's error.
The first arrow he struck into the center ring, but the second missed
its mark, and smote the black; the last arrow was tipped with luck, for it
smote the very center of the clout, upon the black spot that marked it.
Quoth Robin Hood, "That is the sweetest shot that hath been sped
this day; but, nevertheless, friend Tepus, thy cake is burned, methinks.
Little John, it is thy turn next."
So Little John took his place as bidden, and shot his three arrows quickly.
He never lowered his bow arm in all the shooting, but fitted each shaft
with his longbow raised; yet all three of his arrows smote the center
within easy distance of the black. At this no sound of shouting was heard,
for, although it was the best shooting that had been done that day,
the folk of London Town did not like to see the stout Tepus overcome
by a fellow from the countryside, even were he as famous as Little John.
And now stout Gilbert of the White Hand took his place and shot
with the greatest care; and again, for the third time in one day,
he struck all three shafts into the clout.
"Well done, Gilbert!" quoth Robin Hood, smiting him upon the shoulder.
"I make my vow, thou art one of the best archers that ever mine eyes beheld.
Thou shouldst be a free and merry ranger like us, lad, for thou art
better fitted for the greenwood than for the cobblestones and gray
walls of London Town." So saying, he took his place, and drew a fair,
round arrow from his quiver, which he turned over and over ere he fitted
it to his bowstring.
Then the King muttered in his beard, "Now, blessed Saint Hubert, if thou wilt
but jog that rogue's elbow so as to make him smite even the second ring,
I will give eightscore waxen candles three fingers'-breadth in thickness
to thy chapel nigh Matching." But it may be Saint Hubert's ears were stuffed
with tow, for he seemed not to hear the King's prayer this day.
Having gotten three shafts to his liking, merry Robin looked
carefully to his bowstring ere he shot. "Yea," quoth he to Gilbert,
who stood nigh him to watch his shooting, "thou shouldst pay us
a visit at merry Sherwood." Here he drew the bowstring to his ear.
"In London"--here he loosed his shaft--"thou canst find nought
to shoot at but rooks and daws; there one can tickle the ribs
of the noblest stags in England." So he shot even while he talked,
yet the shaft lodged not more than half an inch from the very center.
"By my soul!" cried Gilbert. "Art thou the devil in blue,
to shoot in that wise?"
"Nay," quoth Robin, laughing, "not quite so ill as that, I trust."
And he took up another shaft and fitted it to the string.
Again he shot, and again he smote his arrow close beside
the center; a third time he loosed his bowstring and dropped
his arrow just betwixt the other two and into the very center,
so that the feathers of all three were ruffled together,
seeming from a distance to be one thick shaft.
And now a low murmur ran all among that great crowd,
for never before had London seen such shooting as this;
and never again would it see it after Robin Hood's day had gone.
All saw that the King's archers were fairly beaten, and stout Gilbert
clapped his palm to Robin's, owning that he could never hope to draw
such a bowstring as Robin Hood or Little John. But the King,
full of wrath, would not have it so, though he knew in his
mind that his men could not stand against those fellows.
"Nay!" cried he, clenching his hands upon the arms of his seat,
"Gilbert is not yet beaten! Did he not strike the clout thrice?
Although I have lost my wager, he hath not yet lost the first prize.
They shall shoot again, and still again, till either he or that knave
Robin Hood cometh off the best. Go thou, Sir Hugh, and bid them shoot
another round, and another, until one or the other is overcome."
Then Sir Hugh, seeing how wroth the King was, said never a word,
but went straightway to do his bidding; so he came to where Robin Hood
and the other stood, and told them what the King had said.
"With all my heart," quoth merry Robin, "I will shoot from this
time till tomorrow day if it can pleasure my most gracious lord
and King. Take thy place, Gilbert lad, and shoot."
So Gilbert took his place once more, but this time he failed, for,
a sudden little wind arising, his shaft missed the center ring,
but by not more than the breadth of a barley straw.
"Thy eggs are cracked, Gilbert," quoth Robin, laughing; and straightway
he loosed a shaft, and once more smote the white circle of the center.
Then the King arose from his place, and not a word said he,
but he looked around with a baleful look, and it would have been an ill
day for anyone that he saw with a joyous or a merry look upon his face.
Then he and his Queen and all the court left the place, but the King's
heart was brimming full of wrath.
After the King had gone, all the yeomen of the archer guard came
crowding around Robin, and Little John, and Will, and Allan,
to snatch a look at these famous fellows from the mid-country;
and with them came many that had been onlookers at the sport,
for the same purpose. Thus it happened presently that the yeomen,
to whom Gilbert stood talking, were all surrounded by a crowd
of people that formed a ring about them.
After a while the three judges that had the giving away of the prizes
came forward, and the chief of them all spake to Robin and said,
"According to agreement, the first prize belongeth rightly to thee;
so here I give thee the silver bugle, here the quiver of ten golden arrows,
and here a purse of twoscore and ten golden pounds." And as he spake
he handed those things to Robin, and then turned to Little John. "To thee,"
he said, "belongeth the second prize, to wit, fivescore of the finest harts
that run on Dallen Lea. Thou mayest shoot them whensoever thou dost list."
Last of all he turned to stout Hubert. "Thou," said he, "hast held
thine own against the yeomen with whom thou didst shoot, and so thou
hast kept the prize duly thine, to wit, two tuns of good Rhenish wine.
These shall be delivered to thee whensoever thou dost list."
Then he called upon the other seven of the King's archers who had last shot,
and gave each fourscore silver pennies.
Then up spake Robin, and quoth he, "This silver bugle I keep in honor
of this shooting match; but thou, Gilbert, art the best archer of all
the King's guard, and to thee I freely give this purse of gold.
Take it, man, and would it were ten times as much, for thou art
a right yeoman, good and true. Furthermore, to each of the ten
that last shot I give one of these golden shafts apiece.
Keep them always by you, so that ye may tell your grandchildren,
an ye are ever blessed with them, that ye are the very stoutest
yeomen in all the wide world."
At this all shouted aloud, for it pleased them to hear Robin
speak so of them.
Then up spake Little John. "Good friend Tepus," said he, "I want
not those harts of Dallen Lea that yon stout judge spoke of but now,
for in truth we have enow and more than enow in our own country.
Twoscore and ten I give to thee for thine own shooting, and five
I give to each band for their pleasure.
At this another great shout went up, and many tossed their caps aloft,
and swore among themselves that no better fellows ever walked the sod
than Robin Hood and his stout yeomen.
While they so shouted with loud voices, a tall burly yeoman
of the King's guard came forward and plucked Robin by the sleeve.
"Good master," quoth he, "I have somewhat to tell thee in thine ear;
a silly thing, God wot, for one stout yeoman to tell another;
but a young peacock of a page, one Richard Partington, was seeking thee
without avail in the crowd, and, not being able to find thee, told me
that he bore a message to thee from a certain lady that thou wottest of.
This message he bade me tell thee privily, word for word, and thus it was.
Let me see--I trust I have forgot it not--yea, thus it was:
`The lion growls. Beware thy head.' "
"Is it so?" quoth Robin, starting; for he knew right well that it was
the Queen sent the message, and that she spake of the King's wrath.
"Now, I thank thee, good fellow, for thou hast done me greater service
than thou knowest of this day." Then he called his three yeomen together
and told them privately that they had best be jogging, as it was like to
be ill for them so nigh merry London Town. So, without tarrying longer,
they made their way through the crowd until they had come out from the press.
Then, without stopping, they left London Town and started away northward.
The Chase of Robin Hood
SO ROBIN HOOD and the others left the archery range at Finsbury Fields,
and, tarrying not, set forth straightway upon their homeward journey.
It was well for them that they did so, for they had not gone more
than three or four miles upon their way when six of the yeomen of
the King's guard came bustling among the crowd that still lingered,
seeking for Robin and his men, to seize upon them and make them prisoners.
Truly, it was an ill-done thing in the King to break his promise,
but it all came about through the Bishop of Hereford's doing,
for thus it happened:
After the King left the archery ground, he went straightway to his cabinet,
and with him went the Bishop of Hereford and Sir Robert Lee;
but the King said never a word to these two, but sat gnawing his
nether lip, for his heart was galled within him by what had happened.
At last the Bishop of Hereford spoke, in a low, sorrowful voice:
"It is a sad thing, Your Majesty, that this knavish outlaw should be let
to escape in this wise; for, let him but get back to Sherwood Forest
safe and sound, and he may snap his fingers at king and king's men."
At these words the King raised his eyes and looked grimly upon
the Bishop. "Sayst thou so?" quoth he. "Now, I will show thee,
in good time, how much thou dost err, for, when the forty days
are past and gone, I will seize upon this thieving outlaw,
if I have to tear down all of Sherwood to find him.
Thinkest thou that the laws of the King of England are to be
so evaded by one poor knave without friends or money?"
Then the Bishop spoke again, in his soft, smooth voice:
"Forgive my boldness, Your Majesty, and believe that I have nought
but the good of England and Your Majesty's desirings at heart;
but what would it boot though my gracious lord did root up every tree
of Sherwood? Are there not other places for Robin Hood's hiding?
Cannock Chase is not far from Sherwood, and the great Forest of Arden
is not far from Cannock Chase. Beside these are many other woodlands
in Nottingham and Derby, Lincoln and York, amid any of which
Your Majesty might as well think to seize upon Robin Hood as to lay
finger upon a rat among the dust and broken things of a garret.
Nay, my gracious lord, if he doth once plant foot in the woodland,
he is lost to the law forever."
At these words the King tapped his fingertips upon the table beside
him with vexation. "What wouldst thou have me do, Bishop?" quoth he.
"Didst thou not hear me pledge my word to the Queen? Thy talk is
as barren as the wind from the bellows upon dead coals."
"Far be it from me," said the cunning Bishop, "to point the way
to one so clear-sighted as Your Majesty; but, were I the King
of England, I should look upon the matter in this wise:
I have promised my Queen, let us say, that for forty days
the cunningest rogue in all England shall have freedom
to come and go; but, lo! I find this outlaw in my grasp;
shall I, then, foolishly cling to a promise so hastily given?
Suppose that I had promised to do Her Majesty's bidding,
whereupon she bade me to slay myself; should I, then, shut mine
eyes and run blindly upon my sword? Thus would I argue
within myself. Moreover, I would say unto myself, a woman knoweth
nought of the great things appertaining to state government;
and, likewise, I know a woman is ever prone to take up a fancy,
even as she would pluck a daisy from the roadside, and then throw
it away when the savor is gone; therefore, though she hath taken
a fancy to this outlaw, it will soon wane away and be forgotten.
As for me, I have the greatest villain in all England in my grasp;
shall I, then, open my hand and let him slip betwixt my fingers?
Thus, Your Majesty, would I say to myself, were I the King
of England." So the Bishop talked, and the King lent his
ear to his evil counsel, until, after a while, he turned to
Sir Robert Lee and bade him send six of the yeomen of the guard
to take Robin Hood and his three men prisoners.
Now Sir Robert Lee was a gentle and noble knight, and he felt grieved to
the heart to see the King so break his promise; nevertheless, he said nothing,
for he saw how bitterly the King was set against Robin Hood; but he did not
send the yeomen of the guard at once, but went first to the Queen, and told
her all that had passed, and bade her send word to Robin of his danger.
This he did not for the well-being of Robin Hood, but because he would save
his lord's honor if he could. Thus it came about that when, after a while,
the yeomen of the guard went to the archery field, they found not Robin
and the others, and so got no cakes at that fair.
The afternoon was already well-nigh gone when Robin Hood, Little John, Will,
and Allan set forth upon their homeward way, trudging along merrily
through the yellow slanting light, which speedily changed to rosy
red as the sun sank low in the heavens. The shadows grew long,
and finally merged into the grayness of the mellow twilight.
The dusty highway lay all white betwixt the dark hedgerows, and along it
walked four fellows like four shadows, the pat of their feet sounding loud,
and their voices, as they talked, ringing clear upon the silence of the air.
The great round moon was floating breathlessly up in the eastern sky
when they saw before them the twinkling lights of Barnet Town, some ten
or twelve miles from London. Down they walked through the stony streets
and past the cosy houses with overhanging gables, before the doors
of which sat the burghers and craftsmen in the mellow moonlight,
with their families about them, and so came at last, on the other side
of the hamlet, to a little inn, all shaded with roses and woodbines.
Before this inn Robin Hood stopped, for the spot pleased him well.
Quoth he, "Here will we take up our inn and rest for the night,
for we are well away from London Town and our King's wrath.
Moreover, if I mistake not, we will find sweet faring within.
What say ye, lads?"
"In sooth, good master," quoth Little John, "thy bidding
and my doing ever fit together like cakes and ale.
Let us in, I say also."
Then up spake Will Scarlet: "I am ever ready to do what thou sayest, uncle,
yet I could wish that we were farther upon our way ere we rest for the night.
Nevertheless, if thou thinkest best, let us in for the night, say I also."
So in they went and called for the best that the place afforded.
Then a right good feast was set before them, with two stout bottles
of old sack to wash it down withal. These things were served
by as plump and buxom a lass as you could find in all the land,
so that Little John, who always had an eye for a fair lass, even when
meat and drink were by, stuck his arms akimbo and fixed his eyes
upon her, winking sweetly whenever he saw her looking toward him.
Then you should have seen how the lass twittered with laughter,
and how she looked at Little John out of the corners of her eyes,
a dimple coming in either cheek; for the fellow had always a taking
way with the womenfolk.
So the feast passed merrily, and never had that inn seen
such lusty feeders as these four stout fellows; but at last
they were done their eating, though it seemed as though they
never would have ended, and sat loitering over the sack.
As they so sat, the landlord came in of a sudden, and said
that there was one at the door, a certain young esquire,
Richard Partington, of the Queen's household, who wished to see
the lad in blue, and speak with him, without loss of time.
So Robin arose quickly, and, bidding the landlord not to follow him,
left the others gazing at one another, and wondering what was
about to happen.
When Robin came out of the inn, he found young Richard Partington sitting
upon his horse in the white moonlight, awaiting his coming.
"What news bearest thou, Sir Page?" said Robin. "I trust that it
is not of an ill nature."
"Why," said young Partington, "for the matter of that, it is ill enow.
The King hath been bitterly stirred up against thee by that vile
Bishop of Hereford. He sent to arrest thee at the archery butts
at Finsbury Fields, but not finding thee there, he hath gathered
together his armed men, fiftyscore and more, and is sending them
in haste along this very road to Sherwood, either to take thee
on the way or to prevent thy getting back to the woodlands again.
He hath given the Bishop of Hereford command over all these men,
and thou knowest what thou hast to expect of the Bishop of Hereford--
short shrift and a long rope. Two bands of horsemen are already
upon the road, not far behind me, so thou hadst best get thee
gone from this place straightway, for, if thou tarriest longer,
thou art like to sleep this night in a cold dungeon.
This word the Queen hath bidden me bring to thee."
"Now, Richard Partington," quoth Robin, "this is the second time
that thou hast saved my life, and if the proper time ever cometh
I will show thee that Robin Hood never forgets these things.
As for that Bishop of Hereford, if I ever catch him nigh
to Sherwood again, things will be like to go ill with him.
Thou mayst tell the good Queen that I will leave this place without delay,
and will let the landlord think that we are going to Saint Albans;
but when we are upon the highroad again, I will go one way through
the country and will send my men the other, so that if one falleth
into the King's hands the others may haply escape. We will go
by devious ways, and so, I hope, will reach Sherwood in safety.
And now, Sir Page, I wish thee farewell."
"Farewell, thou bold yeoman," said young Partington, "and mayst
thou reach thy hiding in safety." So each shook the other's hand,
and the lad, turning his horse's head, rode back toward London,
while Robin entered the inn once more.
There he found his yeomen sitting in silence, waiting his coming;
likewise the landlord was there, for he was curious to know what
Master Partington had to do with the fellow in blue. "Up, my merry men!"
quoth Robin, "this is no place for us, for those are after us with
whom we will stand but an ill chance an we fall into their hands.
So we will go forward once more, nor will we stop this night
till we reach Saint Albans." Hereupon, taking out his purse,
he paid the landlord his score, and so they left the inn.
When they had come to the highroad without the town, Robin stopped
and told them all that had passed between young Partington and himself,
and how that the King's men were after them with hot heels.
Then he told them that here they should part company; they three going
to the eastward and he to the westward, and so, skirting the main highroads,
would come by devious paths to Sherwood. "So, be ye wily,"
said Robin Hood, "and keep well away from the northward roads till
ye have gotten well to the eastward. And thou, Will Scarlet,
take the lead of the others, for thou hast a cunning turn to thy wits."
Then Robin kissed the three upon the cheeks, and they kissed him,
and so they parted company.
Not long after this, a score or more of the King's men came clattering
up to the door of the inn at Barnet Town. Here they leaped from
their horses and quickly surrounded the place, the leader of the band
and four others entering the room where the yeomen had been.
But they found that their birds had flown again, and that the King
had been balked a second time.
"Methought that they were naughty fellows," said the host, when he heard
whom the men-at-arms sought. "But I heard that blue-clad knave say that
they would go straight forward to Saint Albans; so, an ye hurry forward,
ye may, perchance, catch them on the highroad betwixt here and there."
For this news the leader of the band thanked mine host right heartily, and,
calling his men together, mounted and set forth again, galloping forward
to Saint Albans upon a wild goose chase.
After Little John and Will Scarlet and Allan a Dale had left
the highway near garnet, they traveled toward the eastward,
without stopping, as long as their legs could carry them, until they
came to Chelmsford, in Essex. Thence they turned northward,
and came through Cambridge and Lincolnshire, to the good town
of Gainsborough. Then, striking to the westward and the south,
they came at last to the northern borders of Sherwood Forest,
without in all that time having met so much as a single band
of the King's men. Eight days they journeyed thus ere they reached
the woodlands in safety, but when they got to the greenwood glade,
they found that Robin had not yet returned.
For Robin was not as lucky in getting back as his men had been,
as you shall presently hear.
After having left the great northern road, he turned his face
to the westward, and so came past Aylesbury, to fair Woodstock,
in Oxfordshire. Thence he turned his footsteps northward,
traveling for a great distance by way of Warwick Town,
till he came to Dudley, in Staffordshire. Seven days it took
him to journey thus far, and then he thought he had gotten
far enough to the north, so, turning toward the eastward,
shunning the main roads, and choosing byways and grassy lanes,
he went, by way of Litchfield and Ashby de la Zouch, toward Sherwood,
until he came to a place called Stanton. And now Robin's
heart began to laugh aloud, for he thought that his danger
had gone by, and that his nostrils would soon snuff the spicy
air of the woodlands once again. But there is many a slip
betwixt the cup and the lip, and this Robin was to find.
For thus it was:
When the King's men found themselves foiled at Saint Albans,
and that Robin and his men were not to be found high nor low,
they knew not what to do. Presently another band of horsemen came,
and another, until all the moonlit streets were full of armed men.
Betwixt midnight and dawn another band came to the town,
and with them came the Bishop of Hereford. When he heard
that Robin Hood had once more slipped out of the trap, he stayed
not a minute, but, gathering his bands together, he pushed forward
to the northward with speed, leaving orders for all the troops
that came to Saint Albans to follow after him without tarrying.
On the evening of the fourth day he reached Nottingham Town,
and there straightway divided his men into bands of six or seven,
and sent them all through the countryside, blocking every highway
and byway to the eastward and the southward and the westward
of Sherwood. The Sheriff of Nottingham called forth all his
men likewise, and joined with the Bishop, for he saw that this
was the best chance that had ever befallen of paying back
his score in full to Robin Hood. Will Scarlet and Little John
and Allan a Dale had just missed the King's men to the eastward,
for the very next day after they had passed the line and entered
Sherwood the roads through which they had traveled were blocked,
so that, had they tarried in their journeying, they would surely
have fallen into the Bishop's hands.
But of all this Robin knew not a whit; so he whistled merrily
as he trudged along the road beyond Stanton, with his heart as free
from care as the yolk of an egg is from cobwebs. At last he came
to where a little stream spread across the road in a shallow sheet,
tinkling and sparkling as it fretted over its bed of golden gravel.
Here Robin stopped, being athirst, and, kneeling down,
he made a cup of the palms of his hands, and began to drink.
On either side of the road, for a long distance, stood tangled
thickets of bushes and young trees, and it pleased Robin's heart
to hear the little birds singing therein, for it made him think
of Sherwood, and it seemed as though it had been a lifetime
since he had breathed the air of the woodlands. But of a sudden,
as he thus stooped, drinking, something hissed past his ear,
and struck with a splash into the gravel and water beside him.
Quick as a wink Robin sprang to his feet, and, at one bound,
crossed the stream and the roadside, and plunged headlong into
the thicket, without looking around, for he knew right well that
that which had hissed so venomously beside his ear was a gray
goose shaft, and that to tarry so much as a moment meant death.
Even as he leaped into the thicket six more arrows rattled
among the branches after him, one of which pierced his doublet,
and would have struck deeply into his side but for the tough
coat of steel that he wore. Then up the road came riding some
of the King's men at headlong speed. They leaped from their horses
and plunged straightway into the thicket after Robin. But Robin
knew the ground better than they did, so crawling here,
stooping there, and, anon, running across some little open,
he soon left them far behind, coming out, at last, upon another
road about eight hundred paces distant from the one he had left.
Here he stood for a moment, listening to the distant shouts of
the seven men as they beat up and down in the thickets like hounds
that had lost the scent of the quarry. Then, buckling his belt
more tightly around his waist, he ran fleetly down the road toward
the eastward and Sherwood.
But Robin had not gone more than three furlongs in that direction
when he came suddenly to the brow of a hill, and saw beneath
him another band of the King's men seated in the shade along
the roadside in the valley beneath. Then he paused not
a moment, but, seeing that they had not caught sight of him,
he turned and ran back whence he had come, knowing that it was
better to run the chance of escaping those fellows that were yet
in the thickets than to rush into the arms of those in the valley.
So back he ran with all speed, and had gotten safely past
the thickets, when the seven men came forth into the open road.
They raised a great shout when they saw him, such as the hunter gives
when the deer breaks cover, but Robin was then a quarter of a mile
and more away from them, coursing over the ground like a greyhound.
He never slackened his pace, but ran along, mile after mile,
till he had come
nigh to Mackworth, over beyond the Derwent River, nigh to
Derby Town. Here, seeing that he was out of present danger,
he slackened in his running, and at last sat him down beneath a hedge
where the grass was the longest and the shade the coolest, there to
rest and catch his wind. "By my soul, Robin," quoth he to himself,
"that was the narrowest miss that e'er thou hadst in all thy life.
I do say most solemnly that the feather of that wicked shaft
tickled mine ear as it whizzed past. This same running hath
given me a most craving appetite for victuals and drink.
Now I pray Saint Dunstan that he send me speedily some meat and beer."
It seemed as though Saint Dunstan was like to answer his prayer,
for along the road came plodding a certain cobbler, one Quince,
of Derby, who had been to take a pair of shoes to a farmer nigh
Kirk Langly, and was now coming back home again, with a fair boiled
capon in his pouch and a stout pottle of beer by his side, which same
the farmer had given him for joy of such a stout pair of shoon.
Good Quince was an honest fellow, but his wits were somewhat of
the heavy sort, like unbaked dough, so that the only thing that was
in his mind was, "Three shillings sixpence ha'penny for thy shoon,
good Quince--three shillings sixpence ha'penny for thy shoon,"
and this traveled round and round inside of his head, without another
thought getting into his noddle, as a pea rolls round and round
inside an empty quart pot.
"Halloa, good friend," quoth Robin, from beneath the hedge,
when the other had gotten nigh enough, "whither away so merrily
this bright day?"
Hearing himself so called upon, the Cobbler stopped, and, seeing a
well-clad stranger in blue, he spoke to him in seemly wise.
"Give ye good den, fair sir, and I would say that I come
from Kirk Langly, where I ha' sold my shoon and got three
shillings sixpence ha'penny for them in as sweet money as ever
thou sawest, and honestly earned too, I would ha' thee know.
But an I may be so bold, thou pretty fellow, what dost thou
there beneath the hedge?"
"Marry," quoth merry Robin, "I sit beneath the hedge here to drop salt
on the tails of golden birds; but in sooth thou art the first chick
of any worth I ha' seen this blessed day."
At these words the Cobbler's eyes opened big and wide, and his
mouth grew round with wonder, like a knothole in a board fence.
"slack-a-day," quoth he, "look ye, now! I ha' never seen those same
golden birds. And dost thou in sooth find them in these hedges,
good fellow? Prythee, tell me, are there many of them?
I would fain find them mine own self."
"Ay, truly," quoth Robin, "they are as thick here as fresh herring
in Cannock Chase."
"Look ye, now!" said the Cobbler, all drowned in wonder.
"And dost thou in sooth catch them by dropping salt on
their pretty tails?"
"Yea," quoth Robin, "but this salt is of an odd kind, let me
tell thee, for it can only be gotten by boiling down a quart
of moonbeams in a wooden platter, and then one hath but a pinch.
But tell me, now, thou witty man, what hast thou gotten there
in that pouch by thy side and in that pottle?"
At these words the Cobbler looked down at those things of which merry
Robin spoke, for the thoughts of the golden bird had driven them
from his mind, and it took him some time to scrape the memory of them
back again. "Why," said he at last, "in the one is good March beer,
and in the other is a fat capon. Truly, Quince the Cobbler will ha'
a fine feast this day an I mistake not."
"But tell me, good Quince," said Robin, "hast thou a mind to sell those things
to me? For the hearing of them sounds sweet in mine ears. I will give
thee these gay clothes of blue that I have upon my body and ten shillings
to boot for thy clothes and thy leather apron and thy beer and thy capon.
What sayst thou, bully boy?"
"Nay, thou dost jest with me," said the Cobbler, "for my clothes are coarse
and patched, and thine are of fine stuff and very pretty."
"Never a jest do I speak," quoth Robin. "Come, strip thy jacket
off and I will show thee, for I tell thee I like thy clothes well.
Moreover, I will be kind to thee, for I will feast straightway
upon the good things thou hast with thee, and thou shalt be bidden
to the eating." At these words he began slipping off his doublet,
and the Cobbler, seeing him so in earnest, began pulling off
his clothes also, for Robin Hood's garb tickled his eye.
So each put on the other fellow's clothes, and Robin gave the honest
Cobbler ten bright new shillings. Quoth merry Robin, "I ha'
been a many things in my life before, but never have I been
an honest cobbler. Come, friend, let us fall to and eat,
for something within me cackles aloud for that good fat capon."
So both sat down and began to feast right lustily, so that when they
were done the bones of the capon were picked as bare as charity.
Then Robin stretched his legs out with a sweet feeling of comfort within him.
Quoth he, "By the turn of thy voice, good Quince, I know that thou hast
a fair song or two running loose in thy head like colts in a meadow.
I prythee, turn one of them out for me."
"A song or two I ha'," quoth the Cobbler, "poor things, poor things,
but such as they are thou art welcome to one of them."
So, moistening his throat with a swallow of beer, he sang:
"_Of all the joys, the best I love,
Sing hey my frisking Nan, O,
And that which most my soul doth move,
It is the clinking can, O.
"All other bliss I'd throw away,
Sing hey my frisking Nan, O,
The stout Cobbler got no further in his song, for of a sudden
six horsemen burst upon them where they sat, and seized
roughly upon the honest craftsman, hauling him to his feet,
and nearly plucking the clothes from him as they did so.
"Ha!" roared the leader of the band in a great big voice of joy,
"have we then caught thee at last, thou blue-clad knave?
Now, blessed be the name of Saint Hubert, for we are fourscore
pounds richer this minute than we were before, for the good Bishop
of Hereford hath promised that much to the band that shall
bring thee to him. Oho! thou cunning rascal! thou wouldst
look so innocent, forsooth! We know thee, thou old fox.
But off thou goest with us to have thy brush clipped forthwith."
At these words the poor Cobbler gazed all around him
with his great blue eyes as round as those of a dead fish,
while his mouth gaped as though he had swallowed all his words
and so lost his speech.
Robin also gaped and stared in a wondering way, just as the Cobbler
would have done in his place. "Alack-a-daisy, me," quoth he.
"I know not whether I be sitting here or in No-man's-land! What
meaneth all this stir i' th' pot, dear good gentlemen?
Surely this is a sweet, honest fellow."
" `Honest fellow,' sayst thou, clown?" quoth one of the men "Why, I
tell thee that this is that same rogue that men call Robin Hood."
At this speech the Cobbler stared and gaped more than ever,
for there was such a threshing of thoughts going on
within his poor head that his wits were all befogged with the dust
and chaff thereof. Moreover, as he looked at Robin Hood, and saw
the yeoman look so like what he knew himself to be, he began to doubt
and to think that mayhap he was the great outlaw in real sooth.
Said he in a slow, wondering voice, "Am I in very truth that fellow?--
Now I had thought--but nay, Quince, thou art mistook--yet--am I?--Nay, I must
indeed be Robin Hood! Yet, truly, I had never thought to pass from
an honest craftsman to such a great yeoman."
"Alas!" quoth Robin Hood, "look ye there, now! See how your ill-treatment
hath curdled the wits of this poor lad and turned them all sour!
I, myself, am Quince, the Cobbler of Derby Town."
"Is it so?" said Quince. "Then, indeed, I am somebody else, and can be none
other than Robin Hood. Take me, fellows; but let me tell you that ye ha'
laid hand upon the stoutest yeoman that ever trod the woodlands."
"Thou wilt play madman, wilt thou?" said the leader of the band.
"Here, Giles, fetch a cord and bind this knave's hands behind him.
I warrant we will bring his wits back to him again when we get
him safe before our good Bishop at Tutbury Town." Thereupon they
tied the Cobbler's hands behind him, and led him off with a rope,
as the farmer leads off the calf he hath brought from the fair.
Robin stood looking after them, and when they were gone he laughed
till the tears rolled down his cheeks; for he knew that no harm
would befall the honest fellow, and he pictured to himself
the Bishop's face when good Quince was brought before him as
Robin Hood. Then, turning his steps once more to the eastward,
he stepped out right foot foremost toward Nottinghamshire
and Sherwood Forest.
But Robin Hood had gone through more than he wotted of.
His journey from London had been hard and long, and in a se'ennight
he had traveled sevenscore and more of miles. He thought now to
travel on without stopping until he had come to Sherwood, but ere
he had gone a half a score of miles he felt his strength giving way
beneath him like a river bank which the waters have undermined.
He sat him down and rested, but he knew within himself that
he could go no farther that day, for his feet felt like lumps
of lead, so heavy were they with weariness. Once more he arose
and went forward, but after traveling a couple of miles he was
fain to give the matter up, so, coming to an inn just then,
he entered and calling the landlord, bade him show him to a room,
although the sun was only then just sinking in the western sky.
There were but three bedrooms in the place, and to the meanest
of these the landlord showed Robin Hood, but little Robin cared
for the looks of the place, for he could have slept that night
upon a bed of broken stones. So, stripping off his clothes
without more ado, he rolled into the bed and was asleep almost
ere his head touched the pillow.
Not long after Robin had so gone to his rest a great cloud peeped
blackly over the hills to the westward. Higher and higher it arose
until it piled up into the night like a mountain of darkness.
All around beneath it came ever and anon a dull red flash,
and presently a short grim mutter of the coming thunder was heard.
Then up rode four stout burghers of Nottingham Town, for this was
the only inn within five miles' distance, and they did not care to be
caught in such a thunderstorm as this that was coming upon them.
Leaving their nags to the stableman, they entered the best room
of the inn, where fresh green rushes lay all spread upon the floor,
and there called for the goodliest fare that the place afforded.
After having eaten heartily they bade the landlord show them to their rooms,
for they were aweary, having ridden all the way from Dronfield that day.
So off they went, grumbling at having to sleep two in a bed,
but their troubles on this score, as well as all others, were soon
lost in the quietness of sleep.
And now came the first gust of wind, rushing past the place,
clapping and banging the doors and shutters, smelling of the
coming rain, and all wrapped in a cloud of dust and leaves.
As though the wind had brought a guest along with it, the door
opened of a sudden and in came a friar of Emmet Priory, and one
in high degree, as was shown by the softness and sleekness of his
robes and the richness of his rosary. He called to the landlord,
and bade him first have his mule well fed and bedded in the stable,
and then to bring him the very best there was in the house.
So presently a savory stew of tripe and onions, with sweet little
fat dumplings, was set before him, likewise a good stout pottle
of Malmsey, and straightway the holy friar fell to with great
courage and heartiness, so that in a short time nought was
left but a little pool of gravy in the center of the platter,
not large enow to keep the life in a starving mouse.
In the meantime the storm broke. Another gust of wind went rushing by,
and with it fell a few heavy drops of rain, which presently came rattling
down in showers, beating against the casements like a hundred little hands.
Bright flashes of lightning lit up every raindrop, and with them came cracks
of thunder that went away rumbling and bumping as though Saint Swithin
were busy rolling great casks of water across rough ground overhead.
The womenfolks screamed, and the merry wags in the taproom put their arms
around their waists to soothe them into quietness.
At last the holy friar bade the landlord show him to his room;
but when he heard that he was to bed with a cobbler, he was as ill
contented a fellow as you could find in all England, nevertheless there
was nothing for it, and he must sleep there or nowhere; so, taking up
his candle, he went off, grumbling like the now distant thunder.
When he came to the room where he was to sleep he held the light
over Robin and looked at him from top to toe; then he felt
better pleased, for, instead, of a rough, dirty-bearded fellow,
he beheld as fresh and clean a lad as one could find in a week
of Sundays; so, slipping off his clothes, he also huddled into the bed,
where Robin, grunting and grumbling in his sleep, made room for him.
Robin was more sound asleep, I wot, than he had been for many a day,
else he would never have rested so quietly with one of the friar's sort
so close beside him. As for the friar, had he known who Robin Hood was,
you may well believe he would almost as soon have slept with an adder
as with the man he had for a bedfellow.
So the night passed comfortably enough, but at the first dawn
of day Robin opened his eyes and turned his head upon the pillow.
Then how he gaped and how he stared, for there beside him lay one all shaven
and shorn, so that he knew that it must be a fellow in holy orders.
He pinched himself sharply, but, finding he was awake, sat up in bed,
while the other slumbered as peacefully as though he were safe
and sound at home in Emmet Priory. "Now," quoth Robin to himself,
"I wonder how this thing hath dropped into my bed during the night."
So saying, he arose softly, so as not to waken the other, and looking
about the room he espied the friar's clothes lying upon a bench near
the wall. First he looked at the clothes, with his head on one side,
and then he looked at the friar and slowly winked one eye.
Quoth he, "Good Brother What-e'er-thy-name-may-be, as thou hast
borrowed my bed so freely I'll e'en borrow thy clothes in return."
So saying, he straightway donned the holy man's garb, but kindly left
the cobbler's clothes in the place of it. Then he went forth into
the freshness of the morning, and the stableman that was up and about
the stables opened his eyes as though he saw a green mouse before him,
for such men as the friars of Emmet were not wont to be early risers;
but the man bottled his thoughts, and only asked Robin whether
he wanted his mule brought from the stable.
"Yea, my son," quoth Robin--albeit he knew nought of the mule--"and
bring it forth quickly, I prythee, for I am late and must be jogging."
So presently the stableman brought forth the mule, and Robin mounted
it and went on his way rejoicing.
As for the holy friar, when he arose he was in as pretty a stew
as any man in all the world, for his rich, soft robes were gone,
likewise his purse with ten golden pounds in it, and nought was left
but patched clothes and a leathern apron. He raged and swore like
any layman, but as his swearing mended nothing and the landlord could
not aid him, and as, moreover, he was forced to be at Emmet Priory
that very morning upon matters of business, he was fain either
to don the cobbler's clothes or travel the road in nakedness.
So he put on the clothes, and, still raging and swearing vengeance
against all the cobblers in Derbyshire, he set forth upon his way afoot;
but his ills had not yet done with him, for he had not gone far
ere he fell into the hands of the King's men, who marched him off,
willy-nilly, to Tutbury Town and the Bishop of Hereford. In vain
he swore he was a holy man, and showed his shaven crown; off he must go,
for nothing would do but that he was Robin Hood.
Meanwhile merry Robin rode along contentedly, passing safely by two
bands of the King's men, until his heart began to dance within him
because of the nearness of Sherwood; so he traveled ever on to
the eastward, till, of a sudden, he met a noble knight in a shady lane.
Then Robin checked his mule quickly and leaped from off its back.
"Now, well met, Sir Richard of the Lea," cried he, "for rather
than any other man in England would I see thy good face this day!"
Then he told Sir Richard all the happenings that had befallen him, and that
now at last he felt himself safe, being so nigh to Sherwood again.
But when Robin had done, Sir Richard shook his head sadly.
"Thou art in greater danger now, Robin, than thou hast yet been,"
said he, "for before thee lie bands of the Sheriff's men blocking
every road and letting none pass through the lines without examining
them closely. I myself know this, having passed them but now.
Before thee lie the Sheriffs men and behind thee the King's men,
and thou canst not hope to pass either way, for by this time they
will know of thy disguise and will be in waiting to seize upon thee.
My castle and everything within it are thine, but nought could be
gained there, for I could not hope to hold it against such a force
as is now in Nottingham of the King's and the Sheriffs men."
Having so spoken, Sir Richard bent his head in thought, and Robin
felt his heart sink within him like that of the fox that hears
the hounds at his heels and finds his den blocked with earth
so that there is no hiding for him. But presently Sir Richard
spoke again, saying, "One thing thou canst do, Robin, and one only.
Go back to London and throw thyself upon the mercy of our
good Queen Eleanor. Come with me straightway to my castle.
Doff these clothes and put on such as my retainers wear.
Then I will hie me to London Town with a troop of men behind me,
and thou shalt mingle with them, and thus will I bring thee
to where thou mayst see and speak with the Queen. Thy only hope
is to get to Sherwood, for there none can reach thee, and thou wilt
never get to Sherwood but in this way."
So Robin went with Sir Richard of the Lea, and did as he said,
for he saw the wisdom of that which the knight advised,
and that this was his only chance of safety.
Queen Eleanor walked in her royal garden, amid the roses that
bloomed sweetly, and with her walked six of her ladies-in-waiting,
chattering blithely together. Of a sudden a man leaped
up to the top of the wall from the other side, and then,
hanging for a moment, dropped lightly upon the grass within.
All the ladies-in-waiting shrieked at the suddenness of his coming,
but the man ran to the Queen and kneeled at her feet, and she
saw that it was Robin Hood.
"Why, how now, Robin!" cried she, "dost thou dare to come
into the very jaws of the raging lion? Alas, poor fellow!
Thou art lost indeed if the King finds thee here.
Dost thou not know that he is seeking thee through all the land?"
"Yea," quoth Robin, "I do know right well that the King seeks me,
and therefore I have come; for, surely, no ill can befall me
when he hath pledged his royal word to Your Majesty for my safety.
Moreover, I know Your Majesty's kindness and gentleness of heart,
and so I lay my life freely in your gracious hands."
"I take thy meaning, Robin Hood," said the Queen, "and that
thou dost convey reproach to me, as well thou mayst, for I
know that I have not done by thee as I ought to have done.
I know right well that thou must have been hard pressed
by peril to leap so boldly into one danger to escape another.
Once more I promise thee mine aid, and will do all I can to send thee
back in safety to Sherwood Forest. Bide thou here till I return."
So saying, she left Robin in the garden of roses, and was gone
a long time.
When she came back Sir Robert Lee was with her, and the Queen's cheeks
were hot and the Queen's eyes were bright, as though she had been
talking with high words. Then Sir Robert came straight forward to where
Robin Hood stood, and he spoke to the yeoman in a cold, stern voice.
Quoth he, "Our gracious Sovereign the King hath mitigated his wrath
toward thee, fellow, and hath once more promised that thou shalt depart
in peace and safety. Not only hath he promised this, but in three days
he will send one of his pages to go with thee and see that none
arrest thy journey back again. Thou mayst thank thy patron saint
that thou hast such a good friend in our noble Queen, for, but for her
persuasion and arguments, thou hadst been a dead man, I can tell thee.
Let this peril that thou hast passed through teach thee two lessons.
First, be more honest. Second, be not so bold in thy comings and goings.
A man that walketh in the darkness as thou dost may escape for a time,
but in the end he will surely fall into the pit. Thou hast put thy head
in the angry lion's mouth, and yet thou hast escaped by a miracle.
Try it not again." So saying, he turned and left Robin and was gone.
For three days Robin abided in London in the Queen's household,
and at the end of that time the King's head Page, Edward Cunningham,
came, and taking Robin with him, departed northward upon his way
to Sherwood. Now and then they passed bands of the King's men
coming back again to London, but none of those bands stopped them,
and so, at last, they reached the sweet, leafy woodlands.
Robin Hood and Guy of Gisbourne
A LONG TIME passed after the great shooting match, and during
that time Robin followed one part of the advice of Sir Robert Lee,
to wit, that of being less bold in his comings and his goings;
for though mayhap he may not have been more honest (as most folks
regard honesty), he took good care not to travel so far from
Sherwood that he could not reach it both easily and quickly.
Great changes had fallen in this time; for King Henry had died
and King Richard had come to the crown that fitted him so well
through many hard trials, and through adventures as stirring
as any that ever befell Robin Hood. But though great changes came,
they did not reach to Sherwood's shades, for there Robin Hood
and his men dwelled as merrily as they had ever done,
with hunting and feasting and singing and blithe woodland sports;
for it was little the outside striving of the world troubled them.
The dawning of a summer's day was fresh and bright,
and the birds sang sweetly in a great tumult of sound.
So loud was their singing that it awakened Robin Hood where
he lay sleeping, so that he stirred, and turned, and arose.
Up rose Little John also, and all the merry men; then, after they
had broken their fast, they set forth hither and thither upon
the doings of the day.
Robin Hood and Little John walked down a forest path where
all around the leaves danced and twinkled as the breeze
trembled through them and the sunlight came flickering down.
Quoth Robin Hood, "I make my vow, Little John, my blood
tickles my veins as it flows through them this gay morn.
What sayst thou to our seeking adventures, each one upon