Part 6 out of 6
his own account?"
"With all my heart," said Little John. "We have had
more than one pleasant doing in that way, good master.
Here are two paths; take thou the one to the right hand,
and I will take the one to the left, and then let us each walk
straight ahead till he tumble into some merry doing or other."
"I like thy plan," quoth Robin, "therefore we will part here.
But look thee, Little John, keep thyself out of mischief,
for I would not have ill befall thee for all the world."
"Marry, come up," quoth Little John, "how thou talkest!
Methinks thou art wont to get thyself into tighter coils than I
am like to do."
At this Robin Hood laughed. "Why, in sooth, Little John,"
said he, "thou hast a blundering hard-headed way that seemeth
to bring thee right side uppermost in all thy troubles;
but let us see who cometh out best this day." So saying,
he clapped his palm to Little John's and each departed upon his way,
the trees quickly shutting the one from the other's sight.
Robin Hood strolled onward till he came to where a broad woodland road
stretched before him. Overhead the branches of the trees laced together
in flickering foliage, all golden where it grew thin to the sunlight;
beneath his feet the ground was soft and moist from the sheltering shade.
Here in this pleasant spot the sharpest adventure that ever befell Robin Hood
came upon him; for, as he walked down the woodland path thinking of nought
but the songs of the birds, he came of a sudden to where a man was seated
upon the mossy roots beneath the shade of a broad-spreading oak tree.
Robin Hood saw that the stranger had not caught sight of him,
so he stopped and stood quite still, looking at the other a long time
before he came forward. And the stranger, I wot, was well worth looking at,
for never had Robin seen a figure like that sitting beneath the tree.
From his head to his feet he was clad in a horse's hide, dressed with
the hair upon it. Upon his head was a cowl that hid his face
from sight, and which was made of the horse's skin, the ears whereof
stuck up like those of a rabbit. His body was clad in a jacket made
of the hide, and his legs were covered with the hairy skin likewise.
By his side was a heavy broadsword and a sharp, double-edged dagger.
A quiver of smooth round arrows hung across his shoulders, and his stout
bow of yew leaned against the tree beside him.
"Halloa, friend," cried Robin, coming forward at last, "who art thou
that sittest there? And what is that that thou hast upon thy body?
I make my vow I ha' never seen such a sight in all my life before.
Had I done an evil thing, or did my conscience trouble me, I would
be afraid of thee, thinking that thou wast someone from down below
bringing a message bidding me come straightway to King Nicholas."
To this speech the other answered not a word, but he pushed
the cowl back from his head and showed a knit brow, a hooked nose,
and a pair of fierce, restless black eyes, which altogether made
Robin think of a hawk as he looked on his face. But beside this
there was something about the lines on the stranger's face,
and his thin cruel mouth, and the hard glare of his eyes,
that made one's flesh creep to look upon.
"Who art thou, rascal?" said he at last, in a loud, harsh voice.
"Tut, tut," quoth merry Robin, "speak not so sourly, brother.
Hast thou fed upon vinegar and nettles this morning that thy
speech is so stinging?"
"An thou likest not my words," said the other fiercely, "thou hadst
best be jogging, for I tell thee plainly, my deeds match them."
"Nay, but I do like thy words, thou sweet, pretty thing,"
quoth Robin, squatting down upon the grass in front of the other.
"Moreover, I tell thee thy speech is witty and gamesome as any I
ever heard in all my life."
The other said not a word, but he glared upon Robin with a wicked and baleful
look, such as a fierce dog bestows upon a man ere it springs at his throat.
Robin returned the gaze with one of wide-eyed innocence, not a shadow
of a smile twinkling in his eyes or twitching at the corners of his mouth.
So they sat staring at one another for a long time, until the stranger broke
the silence suddenly. "What is thy name, fellow?" said he.
"Now," quoth Robin, "I am right glad to hear thee speak,
for I began to fear the sight of me had stricken thee dumb.
As for my name, it may be this or it may be that; but methinks
it is more meet for thee to tell me thine, seeing that thou art
the greater stranger in these parts. Prythee, tell me, sweet chuck,
why wearest thou that dainty garb upon thy pretty body?"
At these words the other broke into a short, harsh roar of laughter.
"By the bones of the Daemon Odin," said he, "thou art
the boldest-spoken man that ever I have seen in all my life.
I know not why I do not smite thee down where thou sittest,
for only two days ago I skewered a man over back of Nottingham Town
for saying not half so much to me as thou hast done.
I wear this garb, thou fool, to keep my body warm;
likewise it is near as good as a coat of steel against a common
sword-thrust. As for my name, I care not who knoweth it.
It is Guy of Gisbourne, and thou mayst have heard it before.
I come from the woodlands over in Herefordshire, upon the lands
of the Bishop of that ilk. I am an outlaw, and get my living
by hook and by crook in a manner it boots not now to tell of.
Not long since the Bishop sent for me, and said that if I would
do a certain thing that the Sheriff of Nottingham would ask of me,
he would get me a free pardon, and give me tenscore pounds to boot.
So straightway I came to Nottingham Town and found my
sweet Sheriff; and what thinkest thou he wanted of me?
Why, forsooth, to come here to Sherwood to hunt up one
Robin Hood, also an outlaw, and to take him alive or dead.
It seemeth that they have no one here to face that bold fellow,
and so sent all the way to Herefordshire, and to me, for thou
knowest the old saying, `Set a thief to catch a thief.'
As for the slaying of this fellow, it galleth me not a whit,
for I would shed the blood of my own brother for the half
of two hundred pounds."
To all this Robin listened, and as he listened his gorge rose.
Well he knew of this Guy of Gisbourne, and of all the bloody and
murderous deeds that he had done in Herefordshire, for his doings
were famous throughout all the land. Yet, although he loathed
the very presence of the man, he held his peace, for he had an end
to serve. "Truly," quoth he, "I have heard of thy gentle doings.
Methinks there is no one in all the world that Robin Hood would
rather meet than thee."
At this Guy of Gisbourne gave another harsh laugh. "Why," quoth he,
"it is a merry thing to think of one stout outlaw like Robin Hood
meeting another stout outlaw like Guy of Gisbourne. Only in this
case it will be an ill happening for Robin Hood, for the day he meets
Guy of Gisbourne he shall die."
"But thou gentle, merry spirit," quoth Robin, "dost thou not think
that mayhap this same Robin Hood may be the better man of the two?
I know him right well, and many think that he is one of the
stoutest men hereabouts."
"He may be the stoutest of men hereabouts," quoth Guy of Gisbourne,
"yet, I tell thee, fellow, this sty of yours is not the wide world.
I lay my life upon it I am the better man of the two.
He an outlaw, forsooth! Why, I hear that he hath never let
blood in all his life, saving when he first came to the forest.
Some call him a great archer; marry, I would not be afraid to stand
against him all the days of the year with a bow in my hand."
"Why, truly, some folk do call him a great archer," said Robin Hood,
"but we of Nottinghamshire are famous hands with the longbow.
Even I, though but a simple hand at the craft, would not fear to try
a bout with thee."
At these words Guy of Gisbourne looked upon Robin with wondering eyes,
and then gave another roar of laughter till the woods rang.
"Now," quoth he, "thou art a bold fellow to talk to me in this way.
I like thy spirit in so speaking up to me, for few men have dared to do so.
Put up a garland, lad, and I will try a bout with thee."
"Tut, tut," quoth Robin, "only babes shoot at garlands hereabouts.
I will put up a good Nottingham mark for thee."
So saying, he arose, and going to a hazel thicket not far off,
he cut a wand about twice the thickness of a man's thumb.
From this he peeled the bark, and, sharpening the point,
stuck it up in the ground in front of a great oak tree.
Thence he measured off fourscore paces, which brought him
beside the tree where the other sat. "There," quoth he,
"is the kind of mark that Nottingham yeomen shoot at.
Now let me see thee split that wand if thou art an archer."
Then Guy of Gisbourne arose. "Now out upon it!" cried he.
"The Devil himself could not hit such a mark as that."
"Mayhap he could and mayhap he could not," quoth merry Robin,
"but that we shall never know till thou hast shot thereat."
At these words Guy of Gisbourne looked upon Robin with knit brows,
but, as the yeoman still looked innocent of any ill meaning,
he bottled his words and strung his bow in silence. Twice he shot,
but neither time did he hit the wand, missing it the first time by a span
and the second time by a good palm's-breadth. Robin laughed and laughed.
"I see now," quoth he, "that the Devil himself could not hit that mark.
Good fellow, if thou art no better with the broadsword than thou art
with the bow and arrow, thou wilt never overcome Robin Hood."
At these words Guy of Gisbourne glared savagely upon Robin. Quoth he,
"Thou hast a merry tongue, thou villain; but take care that thou makest
not too free with it, or I may cut it out from thy throat for thee."
Robin Hood strung his bow and took his place with never a word,
albeit his heartstrings quivered with anger and loathing.
Twice he shot, the first time hitting within an inch of
the wand, the second time splitting it fairly in the middle.
Then, without giving the other a chance for speech, he flung his bow
upon the ground. "There, thou bloody villain!" cried he fiercely,
"let that show thee how little thou knowest of manly sports.
And now look thy last upon the daylight, for the good earth
hath been befouled long enough by thee, thou vile beast!
This day, Our Lady willing, thou diest--I am Robin Hood." So saying,
he flashed forth his bright sword in the sunlight.
For a time Guy of Gisbourne stared upon Robin as though bereft of wits;
but his wonder quickly passed to a wild rage. "Art thou indeed Robin Hood?"
cried he. "Now I am glad to meet thee, thou poor wretch! Shrive thyself,
for thou wilt have no time for shriving when I am done with thee."
So saying, he also drew his sword.
And now came the fiercest fight that ever Sherwood saw;
for each man knew that either he or the other must die,
and that no mercy was to be had in this battle.
Up and down they fought, till all the sweet green grass was
crushed and ground beneath the trampling of their heels.
More than once the point of Robin Hood's sword felt the softness
of flesh, and presently the ground began to be sprinkled with bright
red drops, albeit not one of them came from Robin's veins.
At last Guy of Gisbourne made a fierce and deadly thrust at
Robin Hood, from which he leaped back lightly, but in so leaping
he caught his heel in a root and fell heavily upon his back.
"Now, Holy Mary aid me!" muttered he, as the other leaped at him,
with a grin of rage upon his face. Fiercely Guy of Gisbourne
stabbed at the other with his great sword, but Robin caught
the blade in his naked hand, and, though it cut his palm,
he turned the point away so that it plunged deep into the ground
close beside him; then, ere a blow could be struck again,
he leaped to his feet, with his good sword in his hand.
And now despair fell upon Guy of Gisbourne's heart in a black cloud,
and he looked around him wildly, like a wounded hawk.
Seeing that his strength was going from him, Robin leaped forward, and,
quick as a flash, struck a back-handed blow beneath the sword arm.
Down fell the sword from Guy of Gisbourne's grasp, and back
he staggered at the stroke, and, ere he could regain himself,
Robin's sword passed through and through his body. Round he spun
upon his heel, and, flinging his hands aloft with a shrill,
wild cry, fell prone upon his face upon the green sod.
Then Robin Hood wiped his sword and thrust it back into
the scabbard, and, coming to where Guy of Gisbourne lay,
he stood over him with folded arms, talking to himself the while.
"This is the first man I have slain since I shot the Kings
forester in the hot days of my youth. I ofttimes think bitterly,
even yet, of that first life I took, but of this I am as glad
as though I had slain a wild boar that laid waste a fair country.
Since the Sheriff of Nottingham hath sent such a one as this
against me, I will put on the fellow's garb and go forth to see
whether I may not find his worship, and perchance pay him back
some of the debt I owe him upon this score."
So saying, Robin Hood stripped the hairy garments from off
the dead man, and put them on himself, all bloody as they were.
Then, strapping the other's sword and dagger around his
body and carrying his own in his hand, together with the two bows
of yew, he drew the cowl of horse's hide over his face, so that none
could tell who he was, and set forth from the forest, turning his
steps toward the eastward and Nottingham Town. As he strode along
the country roads, men, women, and children hid away from him,
for the terror of Guy of Gisbourne's name and of his doings had
spread far and near.
And now let us see what befell Little John while these things were happening.
Little John walked on his way through the forest paths until he had
come to the outskirts of the woodlands, where, here and there,
fields of barley, corn, or green meadow lands lay smiling in the sun.
So he came to the highroad and to where a little thatched
cottage stood back of a cluster of twisted crab trees,
with flowers in front of it. Here he stopped of a sudden,
for he thought that he heard the sound of someone in sorrow.
He listened, and found that it came from the cottage; so, turning his
footsteps thither, he pushed open the wicket and entered the place.
There he saw a gray-haired dame sitting beside a cold hearthstone,
rocking herself to and fro and weeping bitterly.
Now Little John had a tender heart for the sorrows of other folk, so,
coming to the old woman and patting her kindly upon the shoulder,
he spoke comforting words to her, bidding her cheer up and tell him
her troubles, for that mayhap he might do something to ease them.
At all this the good dame shook her head; but all the same his kind
words did soothe her somewhat, so after a while she told him all
that bore upon her mind. That that morning she had three as fair,
tall sons beside her as one could find in all Nottinghamshire, but that
they were now taken from her, and were like to be hanged straightway;
that, want having come upon them, her eldest boy had gone out,
the night before, into the forest, and had slain a hind in the moonlight;
that the King's rangers had followed the blood upon the grass
until they had come to her cottage, and had there found the deer's
meat in the cupboard; that, as neither of the younger sons would
betray their brother, the foresters had taken all three away,
in spite of the oldest saying that he alone had slain the deer;
that, as they went, she had heard the rangers talking among themselves,
saying that the Sheriff had sworn that he would put a check upon
the great slaughter of deer that had been going on of late by
hanging the very first rogue caught thereat upon the nearest tree,
and that they would take the three youths to the King's Head Inn,
near Nottingham Town, where the Sheriff was abiding that day,
there to await the return of a certain fellow he had sent into
Sherwood to seek for Robin Hood.
To all this Little John listened, shaking his head sadly now and then.
"Alas," quoth he, when the good dame had finished her speech,
"this is indeed an ill case. But who is this that goeth into
Sherwood after Robin Hood, and why doth he go to seek him?
But no matter for that now; only that I would that Robin Hood were
here to advise us. Nevertheless, no time may be lost in sending
for him at this hour, if we would save the lives of thy three sons.
Tell me, hast thou any clothes hereabouts that I may put on in place
of these of Lincoln green? Marry, if our stout Sheriff catcheth me
without disguise, I am like to be run up more quickly than thy sons,
let me tell thee, dame."
Then the old woman told him that she had in the house some of the
clothes of her good husband, who had died only two years before.
These she brought to Little John, who, doffing his garb of Lincoln green,
put them on in its stead. Then, making a wig and false beard
of uncarded wool, he covered his own brown hair and beard, and,
putting on a great, tall hat that had belonged to the old peasant,
he took his staff in one hand and his bow in the other, and set
forth with all speed to where the Sheriff had taken up his inn.
A mile or more from Nottingham Town, and not far from the southern
borders of Sherwood Forest, stood the cosy inn bearing the sign
of the King's Head. Here was a great bustle and stir on this
bright morning, for the Sheriff and a score of his men had come
to stop there and await Guy of Gisbourne's return from the forest.
Great hiss and fuss of cooking was going on in the kitchen,
and great rapping and tapping of wine kegs and beer barrels was
going on in the cellar. The Sheriff sat within, feasting merrily
of the best the place afforded, and the Sheriff's men sat upon
the bench before the door, quaffing ale, or lay beneath the shade
of the broad-spreading oak trees, talking and jesting and laughing.
All around stood the horses of the band, with a great noise
of stamping feet and a great switching of tails. To this inn came
the King's rangers, driving the widow's three sons before them.
The hands of the three youths were tied tightly behind their backs,
and a cord from neck to neck fastened them all together.
So they were marched to the room where the Sheriff sat at meat,
and stood trembling before him as he scowled sternly upon them.
"So," quoth he, in a great, loud, angry voice, "ye have been poaching upon
the King's deer, have you? Now I will make short work of you this day,
for I will hang up all three of you as a farmer would hang up three crows
to scare others of the kind from the field. Our fair county of Nottingham
hath been too long a breeding place for such naughty knaves as ye are.
I have put up with these things for many years, but now I will stamp them
out once for all, and with you I will begin."
Then one of the poor fellows opened his mouth to speak,
but the Sheriff roared at him in a loud voice to be silent,
and bade the rangers to take them away till he had done
his eating and could attend to the matters concerning them.
So the three poor youths were marched outside, where they stood
with bowed heads and despairing hearts, till after a while
the Sheriff came forth. Then he called his men about him,
and quoth he, "These three villains shall be hanged straightway,
but not here, lest they breed ill luck to this goodly inn.
We will take them over yonder to that belt of woodlands, for I
would fain hang them upon the very trees of Sherwood itself,
to show those vile outlaws therein what they may expect of me
if I ever have the good luck to lay hands upon them." So saying,
he mounted his horse, as did his men-at-arms likewise, and all
together they set forth for the belt of woodlands he had spoken of,
the poor youths walking in their midst guarded by the rangers.
So they came at last to the spot, and here nooses were fastened
around the necks of the three, and the ends of the cords
flung over the branch of a great oak tree that stood there.
Then the three youths fell upon their knees and loudly besought mercy
of the Sheriff; but the Sheriff of Nottingham laughed scornfully.
"Now," quoth he, "I would that I had a priest here to shrive you;
but, as none is nigh, you must e'en travel your road with all
your sins packed upon your backs, and trust to Saint Peter
to let you in through the gates of Paradise like three peddlers
into the town."
In the meantime, while all this had been going forward, an old
man had drawn near and stood leaning on his staff, looking on.
His hair and beard were all curly and white, and across his back
was a bow of yew that looked much too strong for him to draw.
As the Sheriff looked around ere he ordered his men to string
the three youths up to the oak tree, his eyes fell upon this
strange old man. Then his worship beckoned to him, saying,
"Come hither, father, I have a few words to say to thee."
So Little John, for it was none other than he, came forward,
and the Sheriff looked upon him, thinking that there
was something strangely familiar in the face before him.
"How, now," said he, "methinks I have seen thee before.
What may thy name be, father?"
"Please Your Worship," said Little John, in a cracked voice like that
of an old man, "my name is Giles Hobble, at Your Worship's service."
"Giles Hobble, Giles Hobble," muttered the Sheriff to himself, turning over
the names that he had in his mind to try to find one to fit to this.
"I remember not thy name," said he at last, "but it matters not.
Hast thou a mind to earn sixpence this bright morn?"
"Ay, marry," quoth Little John, "for money is not so plenty with me
that I should cast sixpence away an I could earn it by an honest turn.
What is it Your Worship would have me do?"
"Why, this," said the Sheriff. "Here are three men that need hanging as badly
as any e'er I saw. If thou wilt string them up I will pay thee twopence
apiece for them. I like not that my men-at-arms should turn hangmen.
Wilt thou try thy hand?"
"In sooth," said Little John, still in the old man's voice, "I ha'
never done such a thing before; but an a sixpence is to be earned
so easily I might as well ha' it as anybody. But, Your Worship,
are these naughty fellows shrived?"
"Nay," said the Sheriff, laughing, "never a whit; but thou
mayst turn thy hand to that also if thou art so minded.
But hasten, I prythee, for I would get back to mine inn betimes."
So Little John came to where the three youths stood trembling,
and, putting his face to the first fellow's cheek as though
he were listening to him, he whispered softly into his ear,
"Stand still, brother, when thou feelest thy bonds cut, but when thou
seest me throw my woolen wig and beard from my head and face,
cast the noose from thy neck and run for the woodlands."
Then he slyly cut the cord that bound the youth's hands;
who, upon his part, stood still as though he were yet bound.
Then he went to the second fellow, and spoke to him in the same way,
and also cut his bonds. This he did to the third likewise,
but all so slyly that the Sheriff, who sat upon his horse laughing,
wotted not what was being done, nor his men either.
Then Little John turned to the Sheriff. "Please Your Worship,"
said he, "will you give me leave to string my bow?
For I would fain help these fellows along the way, when they
are swinging, with an arrow beneath the ribs."
"With all my heart," said the Sheriff, "only, as I said before,
make thou haste in thy doings."
Little John put the tip of his bow to his instep, and strung
the weapon so deftly that all wondered to see an old man so strong.
Next he drew a good smooth arrow from his quiver and fitted it
to the string; then, looking all around to see that the way was clear
behind him, he suddenly cast away the wool from his head and face,
shouting in a mighty voice, "Run!" Quick as a flash the three
youths flung the nooses from their necks and sped across the open
to the woodlands as the arrow speeds from the bow. Little John also
flew toward the covert like a greyhound, while the Sheriff
and his men gazed after him all bewildered with the sudden doing.
But ere the yeoman had gone far the Sheriff roused himself.
"After him!" he roared in a mighty voice; for he knew now who it
was with whom he had been talking, and wondered that he had
not known him before.
Little John heard the Sheriff's words, and seeing that he could
not hope to reach the woodlands before they would be upon him,
he stopped and turned suddenly, holding his bow as though
he were about to shoot. "Stand back!" cried he fiercely.
"The first man that cometh a foot forward, or toucheth finger
to bowstring, dieth!"
At these words the Sheriff's men stood as still as stocks, for they
knew right well that Little John would be as good as his word,
and that to disobey him meant death. In vain the Sheriff roared at them,
calling them cowards, and urging them forward in a body; they would
not budge an inch, but stood and watched Little John as he moved
slowly away toward the forest, keeping his gaze fixed upon them.
But when the Sheriff saw his enemy thus slipping betwixt his fingers he grew
mad with his rage, so that his head swam and he knew not what he did.
Then of a sudden he turned his horse's head, and plunging his spurs
into its sides he gave a great shout, and, rising in his stirrups,
came down upon Little John like the wind. Then Little John raised
his deadly bow and drew the gray goose feather to his cheek.
But alas for him! For, ere he could loose the shaft, the good bow
that had served him so long, split in his hands, and the arrow fell
harmless at his feet. Seeing what had happened, the Sheriff's
men raised a shout, and, following their master, came rushing
down upon Little John. But the Sheriff was ahead of the others,
and so caught up with the yeoman before he reached the shelter
of the woodlands, then leaning forward he struck a mighty blow.
Little John ducked and the Sheriff's sword turned in his hand,
but the flat of the blade struck the other upon the head and smote
him down, stunned and senseless.
"Now, I am right glad," said the Sheriff, when the men came up and found
that Little John was not dead, "that I have not slain this man in my haste!
I would rather lose five hundred pounds than have him die thus instead
of hanging, as such a vile thief should do. Go, get some water from
yonder fountain, William, and pour it over his head."
The man did as he was bidden, and presently Little John opened his eyes
and looked around him, all dazed and bewildered with the stun of the blow.
Then they tied his hands behind him, and lifting him up set him
upon the back of one of the horses, with his face to its tail
and his feet strapped beneath its belly. So they took him back
to the King's Head Inn, laughing and rejoicing as they went along.
But in the meantime the widow's three sons had gotten safely away,
and were hidden in the woodlands.
Once more the Sheriff of Nottingham sat within the King's Head Inn.
His heart rejoiced within him, for he had at last done that which
he had sought to do for years, taken Little John prisoner.
Quoth he to himself, "This time tomorrow the rogue shall hang upon
the gallows tree in front of the great gate of Nottingham Town,
and thus shall I make my long score with him even." So saying,
he took a deep draught of Canary. But it seemed as if the Sheriff
had swallowed a thought with his wine, for he shook his head
and put the cup down hastily. "Now," he muttered to himself,
"I would not for a thousand pounds have this fellow slip through
my fingers; yet, should his master escape that foul Guy of Gisbourne,
there is no knowing what he may do, for he is the cunningest knave
in all the world--this same Robin Hood. Belike I had better not wait
until tomorrow to hang the fellow." So saying, he pushed his chair
back hastily, and going forth from the inn called his men together.
Quoth he, "I will wait no longer for the hanging of this rogue, but it
shall be done forthwith, and that from the very tree whence he saved
those three young villains by stepping betwixt them and the law.
So get ye ready straightway."
Then once more they sat Little John upon the horse, with his
face to the tail, and so, one leading the horse whereon he sat
and the others riding around him, they went forward to that tree
from the branches of which they had thought to hang the poachers.
On they went, rattling and jingling along the road till they came
to the tree. Here one of the men spake to the Sheriff of a sudden.
"Your Worship," cried he, "is not yon fellow coming along toward
us that same Guy of Gisbourne whom thou didst send into the forest
to seek Robin Hood?" At these words the Sheriff shaded his eyes
and looked eagerly. "Why, certes," quoth he, "yon fellow is
the same. Now, Heaven send that he hath slain the master thief,
as we will presently slay the man!"
When Little John heard this speech he looked up, and straightway
his heart crumbled away within him, for not only were the man's
garments all covered with blood, but he wore Robin Hood's bugle
horn and carried his bow and broadsword.
"How now!" cried the Sheriff, when Robin Hood, in Guy of Gisbourne's clothes,
had come nigh to them. "What luck hath befallen thee in the forest?
Why, man, thy clothes are all over blood!"
"An thou likest not my clothes," said Robin in a harsh voice
like that of Guy of Gisbourne, "thou mayst shut thine eyes.
Marry, the blood upon me is that of the vilest outlaw that ever
trod the woodlands, and one whom I have slain this day,
albeit not without wound to myself."
Then out spake Little John, for the first time since he had
fallen into the Sheriff's hands. "O thou vile, bloody wretch!
I know thee, Guy of Gisbourne, for who is there that hath not heard
of thee and cursed thee for thy vile deeds of blood and rapine?
Is it by such a hand as thine that the gentlest heart that ever
beat is stilled in death? Truly, thou art a fit tool for this
coward Sheriff of Nottingham. Now I die joyfully, nor do I care
how I die, for life is nought to me!" So spake Little John,
the salt tears rolling down his brown cheeks.
But the Sheriff of Nottingham clapped his hands for joy.
"Now, Guy of Gisbourne," cried he, "if what thou tellest me is true,
it will be the best day's doings for thee that ever thou hast
done in all thy life."
"What I have told thee is sooth, and I lie not," said Robin, still in
Guy of Gisbourne's voice. "Look, is not this Robin Hood's sword,
and is not this his good bow of yew, and is not this his bugle horn?
Thinkest thou he would have given them to Guy of Gisbourne of his
own free will?"
Then the Sheriff laughed aloud for joy. "This is a good day!" cried he.
"The great outlaw dead and his right-hand man in my hands!
Ask what thou wilt of me, Guy of Gisbourne, and it is thine!"
"Then this I ask of thee," said Robin. "As I have slain the master I would
now kill the man. Give this fellow's life into my hands, Sir Sheriff."
"Now thou art a fool!" cried the Sheriff. "Thou mightst have had
money enough for a knight's ransom if thou hadst asked for it.
I like ill to let this fellow pass from my hands, but as I have promised,
thou shalt have him."
"I thank thee right heartily for thy gift," cried Robin. "Take the rogue
down from the horse, men, and lean him against yonder tree, while I show
you how we stick a porker whence I come!"
At these words some of the Sheriff's men shook their heads;
for, though they cared not a whit whether Little John were
hanged or not, they hated to see him butchered in cold blood.
But the Sheriff called to them in a loud voice, ordering them
to take the yeoman down from the horse and lean him against
the tree, as the other bade.
While they were doing this Robin Hood strung both his bow
and that of Guy of Gisbourne, albeit none of them took notice
of his doing so. Then, when Little John stood against the tree,
he drew Guy of Gisbourne's sharp, double-edged dagger.
"Fall back! fall back!" cried he. "Would ye crowd so on
my pleasure, ye unmannerly knaves? Back, I say! Farther yet!"
So they crowded back, as he ordered, many of them turning their
faces away, that they might not see what was about to happen.
"Come!" cried Little John. "Here is my breast. It is meet that
the same hand that slew my dear master should butcher me also!
I know thee, Guy of Gisbourne!"
"Peace, Little John!" said Robin in a low voice. "Twice thou
hast said thou knowest me, and yet thou knowest me not at all.
Couldst thou not tell me beneath this wild beast's hide? Yonder, just in
front of thee, lie my bow and arrows, likewise my broadsword.
Take them when I cut thy bonds. Now! Get them quickly!"
So saying, he cut the bonds, and Little John, quick as a wink,
leaped forward and caught up the bow and arrows and the broadsword.
At the same time Robin Hood threw back the cowl of horse's hide
from his face and bent Guy of Gisbourne's bow, with a keen,
barbed arrow fitted to the string. "Stand back!" cried he sternly.
"The first man that toucheth finger to bowstring dieth!
I have slain thy man, Sheriff; take heed that it is not thy
turn next." Then, seeing that Little John had armed himself,
he clapped his bugle horn to his lips and blew three blasts
both loud and shrill.
Now when the Sheriff of Nottingham saw whose face it was
beneath Guy of Gisbourne's hood, and when he heard those bugle
notes ring in his ear, he felt as if his hour had come.
"Robin Hood!" roared he, and without another word he wheeled
his horse in the road and went off in a cloud of dust.
The Sheriff's men, seeing their master thus fleeing for his life,
thought that it was not their business to tarry longer, so,
clapping spurs to their horses, they also dashed away after him.
But though the Sheriff of Nottingham went fast, he could not
outstrip a clothyard arrow. Little John twanged his bowstring
with a shout, and when the Sheriff dashed in through the gates
of Nottingham Town at full speed, a gray goose shaft stuck out
behind him like a moulting sparrow with one feather in its tail.
For a month afterward the poor Sheriff could sit upon nought
but the softest cushions that could be gotten for him.
Thus the Sheriff and a score of men ran away from Robin Hood and Little John;
so that when Will Stutely and a dozen or more of stout yeomen burst
from out the covert, they saw nought of their master's enemies,
for the Sheriff and his men were scurrying away in the distance,
hidden within a cloud of dust like a little thunderstorm.
Then they all went back into the forest once more, where they found
the widow's three sons, who ran to Little John and kissed his hands.
But it would not do for them to roam the forest at large any more;
so they promised that, after they had gone and told their mother
of their escape, they would come that night to the greenwood tree,
and thenceforth become men of the band.
King Richard Comes to Sherwood Forest
NOT MORE than two months had passed and gone since these stirring
adventures befell Robin Hood and Little John, when all Nottinghamshire
was a mighty stir and tumult, for King Richard of the Lion's Heart
was making a royal progress through merry England, and everyone
expected him to come to Nottingham Town in his journeying.
Messengers went riding back and forth between the Sheriff and the King,
until at last the time was fixed upon when His Majesty was to stop
in Nottingham, as the guest of his worship.
And now came more bustle than ever; a great running hither and thither,
a rapping of hammers and a babble of voices sounded everywhere
through the place, for the folk were building great arches across
the streets, beneath which the King was to pass, and were draping
these arches with silken banners and streamers of many colors.
Great hubbub was going on in the Guild Hall of the town, also, for here
a grand banquet was to be given to the King and the nobles of his train,
and the best master carpenters were busy building a throne where
the King and the Sheriff were to sit at the head of the table,
side by side.
It seemed to many of the good folk of the place as if the day
that should bring the King into the town would never come;
but all the same it did come in its own season, and bright
shone the sun down into the stony streets, which were all alive
with a restless sea of people. On either side of the way
great crowds of town and country folk stood packed as close
together as dried herring in a box, so that the Sheriffs men,
halberds in hands, could hardly press them back to leave space
for the King's riding.
"Take care whom thou pushest against!" cried a great, burly friar
to one of these men. "Wouldst thou dig thine elbows into me, sirrah?
By'r Lady of the Fountain, an thou dost not treat me with more
deference I will crack thy knave's pate for thee, even though thou
be one of the mighty Sheriff's men."
At this a great shout of laughter arose from a number of tall yeomen in
Lincoln green that were scattered through the crowd thereabouts; but one that
seemed of more authority than the others nudged the holy man with his elbow.
"Peace, Tuck," said he, "didst thou not promise me, ere thou camest here,
that thou wouldst put a check upon thy tongue?"
"Ay, marry," grumbled the other, "but 'a did not think to have
a hard-footed knave trample all over my poor toes as though they
were no more than so many acorns in the forest."
But of a sudden all this bickering ceased, for a clear sound of many
bugle horns came winding down the street. Then all the people
craned their necks and gazed in the direction whence the sound came,
and the crowding and the pushing and the swaying grew greater than ever.
And now a gallant array of men came gleaming into sight, and the cheering
of the people ran down the crowd as the fire runs in dry grass.
Eight and twenty heralds in velvet and cloth of gold came riding forward.
Over their heads fluttered a cloud of snow-white feathers, and each
herald bore in his hand a long silver trumpet, which he blew musically.
From each trumpet hung a heavy banner of velvet and cloth of gold,
with the royal arms of England emblazoned thereon. After these came
riding fivescore noble knights, two by two, all fully armed, saving that
their heads were uncovered. In their hands they bore tall lances,
from the tops of which fluttered pennons of many colors and devices.
By the side of each knight walked a page clad in rich clothes of silk
and velvet, and each page bore in his hands his master's helmet,
from which waved long, floating plumes of feathers. Never had Nottingham seen
a fairer sight than those fivescore noble knights, from whose armor the sun
blazed in dazzling light as they came riding on their great war horses,
with clashing of arms and jingling of chains. Behind the knights came
the barons and the nobles of the mid-country, in robes of silk and cloth
of gold, with golden chains about their necks and jewels at their girdles.
Behind these again came a great array of men-at-arms, with spears and halberds
in their hands, and, in the midst of these, two riders side by side.
One of the horsemen was the Sheriff of Nottingham in his robes of office.
The other, who was a head taller than the Sheriff, was clad in a rich but
simple garb, with a broad, heavy chain about his neck. His hair and beard
were like threads of gold, and his eyes were as blue as the summer sky.
As he rode along he bowed to the right hand and the left, and a mighty
roar of voices followed him as he passed; for this was King Richard.
Then, above all the tumult and the shouting a great voice was
heard roaring, "Heaven, its saints bless thee, our gracious
King Richard! and likewise Our Lady of the Fountain, bless thee!"
Then King Richard, looking toward the spot whence the sound came,
saw a tall, burly, strapping priest standing in front of all the crowd
with his legs wide apart as he backed against those behind.
"By my soul, Sheriff," said the King, laughing, "ye have the tallest
priests in Nottinghamshire that e'er I saw in all my life.
If Heaven never answered prayers because of deafness, methinks I would
nevertheless have blessings bestowed upon me, for that man yonder would make
the great stone image of Saint Peter rub its ears and hearken unto him.
I would that I had an army of such as he."
To this the Sheriff answered never a word, but all the blood left
his cheeks, and he caught at the pommel of his saddle to keep
himself from falling; for he also saw the fellow that so shouted,
and knew him to be Friar Tuck; and, moreover, behind Friar Tuck
he saw the faces of Robin Hood and Little John and Will Scarlet
and Will Stutely and Allan a Dale and others of the band.
"How now," said the King hastily, "art thou ill, Sheriff, that thou
growest so white?"
"Nay, Your Majesty," said the Sheriff, "it was nought but a sudden pain
that will soon pass by." Thus he spake, for he was ashamed that the King
should know that Robin Hood feared him so little that he thus dared to come
within the very gates of Nottingham Town.
Thus rode the King into Nottingham Town on that bright afternoon
in the early fall season; and none rejoiced more than Robin Hood
and his merry men to see him come so royally unto his own.
Eventide had come; the great feast in the Guild Hall
at Nottingham Town was done, and the wine passed freely.
A thousand waxen lights gleamed along the board, at which sat
lord and noble and knight and squire in goodly array.
At the head of the table, upon a throne all hung with cloth of gold,
sat King Richard with the Sheriff of Nottingham beside him.
Quoth the King to the Sheriff, laughing as he spoke, "I have heard
much spoken concerning the doings of certain fellows hereabouts,
one Robin Hood and his band, who are outlaws and abide
in Sherwood Forest. Canst thou not tell me somewhat of them,
Sir Sheriff? For I hear that thou hast had dealings with them
more than once."
At these words the Sheriff of Nottingham looked down gloomily,
and the Bishop of Hereford, who was present, gnawed his nether lip.
Quoth the Sheriff, "I can tell Your Majesty but little concerning
the doings of those naughty fellows, saving that they are the boldest
lawbreakers in all the land."
Then up spake young Sir Henry of the Lea, a great favorite with the King,
under whom he had fought in Palestine. "May it please Your Majesty,"
said he, "when I was away in Palestine I heard ofttimes from my father,
and in most cases I heard of this very fellow, Robin Hood. If Your Majesty
would like I will tell you a certain adventure of this outlaw."
Then the King laughingly bade him tell his tale, whereupon he told
how Robin Hood had aided Sir Richard of the Lea with money that he had
borrowed from the Bishop of Hereford. Again and again the King and those
present roared with laughter, while the poor Bishop waxed cherry red
in the face with vexation, for the matter was a sore thing with him.
When Sir Henry of the Lea was done, others of those present, seeing how
the King enjoyed this merry tale, told other tales concerning Robin
and his merry men.
"By the hilt of my sword," said stout King Richard, "this is as bold
and merry a knave as ever I heard tell of. Marry, I must take this
matter in hand and do what thou couldst not do, Sheriff, to wit,
clear the forest of him and his band."
That night the King sat in the place that was set apart for his
lodging while in Nottingham Town. With him were young Sir Henry
of the Lea and two other knights and three barons of Nottinghamshire;
but the King's mind still dwelled upon Robin Hood. "Now," quoth he,
"I would freely give a hundred pounds to meet this roguish fellow,
Robin Hood, and to see somewhat of his doings in Sherwood Forest."
Then up spake Sir Hubert of gingham, laughing: "If Your Majesty
hath such a desire upon you it is not so hard to satisfy.
If Your Majesty is willing to lose one hundred pounds,
I will engage to cause you not only to meet this fellow,
but to feast with him in Sherwood."
"Marry, Sir Hubert," quoth the King, "this pleaseth me well.
But how wilt thou cause me to meet Robin Hood?"
"Why, thus," said Sir Hubert, "let Your Majesty and us here present
put on the robes of seven of the Order of Black Friars, and let
Your Majesty hang a purse of one hundred pounds beneath your gown;
then let us undertake to ride from here to Mansfield Town tomorrow,
and, without I am much mistaken, we will both meet with Robin Hood
and dine with him before the day be passed."
"I like thy plan, Sir Hubert," quoth the King merrily, "and tomorrow we
will try it and see whether there be virtue in it."
So it happened that when early the next morning the Sheriff came
to where his liege lord was abiding, to pay his duty to him,
the King told him what they had talked of the night before,
and what merry adventure they were set upon undertaking that morning.
But when the Sheriff heard this he smote his forehead with his fist.
"Alas!" said he, "what evil counsel is this that hath been given thee!
O my gracious lord and King, you know not what you do!
This villain that you thus go to seek hath no reverence either
for king or king's laws."
"But did I not hear aright when I was told that this Robin Hood hath shed no
blood since he was outlawed, saving only that of that vile Guy of Gisbourne,
for whose death all honest men should thank him?"
"Yea, Your Majesty," said the Sheriff, "you have heard aright. Nevertheless--"
"Then," quoth the King, breaking in on the Sheriffs speech,
"what have I to fear in meeting him, having done him no harm?
Truly, there is no danger in this. But mayhap thou wilt go
with us, Sir Sheriff."
"Nay," quoth the Sheriff hastily, "Heaven forbid!"
But now seven habits such as Black Friars wear were brought,
and the King and those about him having clad themselves therein,
and His Majesty having hung a purse with a hundred golden
pounds in it beneath his robes, they all went forth and mounted
the mules that had been brought to the door for them.
Then the King bade the Sheriff be silent as to their doings,
and so they set forth upon their way. Onward they traveled,
laughing and jesting, until they passed through the open country;
between bare harvest fields whence the harvest had been gathered home;
through scattered glades that began to thicken as they went farther
along, till they came within the heavy shade of the forest itself.
They traveled in the forest for several miles without meeting
anyone such as they sought, until they had come to that part
of the road that lay nearest to Newstead Abbey.
"By the holy Saint Martin," quoth the King, "I would that I
had a better head for remembering things of great need.
Here have we come away and brought never so much as a drop
of anything to drink with us. Now I would give half a hundred
pounds for somewhat to quench my thirst withal."
No sooner had the King so spoken, than out from the covert
at the roadside stepped a tall fellow with yellow beard and
hair and a pair of merry blue eyes. "Truly, holy brother,"
said he, laying his hand upon the King's bridle rein, "it were an
unchristian thing to not give fitting answer to so fair a bargain.
We keep an inn hereabouts, and for fifty pounds we will not
only give thee a good draught of wine, but will give thee
as noble a feast as ever thou didst tickle thy gullet withal."
So saying, he put his fingers to his lips and blew a shrill whistle.
Then straightway the bushes and branches on either side of
the road swayed and crackled, and threescore broad-shouldered
yeomen in Lincoln green burst out of the covert.
"How now, fellow," quoth the King, "who art thou, thou naughty rogue?
Hast thou no regard for such holy men as we are?"
"Not a whit," quoth merry Robin Hood, for the fellow was he, "for in sooth
all the holiness belonging to rich friars, such as ye are, one could drop into
a thimble and the goodwife would never feel it with the tip of her finger.
As for my name, it is Robin Hood, and thou mayst have heard it before."
"Now out upon thee!" quoth King Richard. "Thou art a bold and naughty fellow
and a lawless one withal, as I have often heard tell. Now, prythee, let me,
and these brethren of mine, travel forward in peace and quietness."
"It may not be," said Robin, "for it would look but ill of us
to let such holy men travel onward with empty stomachs.
But I doubt not that thou hast a fat purse to pay thy score at our
inn since thou offerest freely so much for a poor draught of wine.
Show me thy purse, reverend brother, or I may perchance have
to strip thy robes from thee to search for it myself."
"Nay, use no force," said the King sternly. "Here is my purse,
but lay not thy lawless hands upon our person."
"Hut, tut," quoth merry Robin, "what proud words are these?
Art thou the King of England, to talk so to me? Here, Will,
take this purse and see what there is within."
Will Scarlet took the purse and counted out the money. Then Robin bade
him keep fifty pounds for themselves, and put fifty back into the purse.
This he handed to the King. "Here, brother," quoth he, "take this half
of thy money, and thank Saint Martin, on whom thou didst call before,
that thou hast fallen into the hands of such gentle rogues that they will not
strip thee bare, as they might do. But wilt thou not put back thy cowl?
For I would fain see thy face."
"Nay," said the King, drawing back, "I may not put back my cowl,
for we seven have vowed that we will not show our faces for four
and twenty hours." ,
"Then keep them covered in peace," said Robin, "and far be it
from me to make you break your vows."
So he called seven of his yeomen and bade them each one take
a mule by the bridle; then, turning their faces toward the depths
of the woodlands, they journeyed onward until they came to the open
glade and the greenwood tree.
Little John, with threescore yeomen at his heels, had also gone forth that
morning to wait along the roads and bring a rich guest to Sherwood glade,
if such might be his luck, for many with fat purses must travel the roads
at this time, when such great doings were going on in Nottinghamshire,
but though Little John and so many others were gone, Friar Tuck and twoscore
or more stout yeomen were seated or lying around beneath the great tree,
and when Robin and the others came they leaped to their feet to meet him.
"By my soul," quoth merry King Richard, when he had gotten down from
his mule and stood looking about him, "thou hast in very truth a fine
lot of young men about thee, Robin. Methinks King Richard himself
would be glad of such a bodyguard."
"These are not all of my fellows," said Robin proudly, "for threescore
more of them are away on business with my good right-hand man,
Little John. But, as for King Richard, I tell thee, brother, there is
not a man of us all but would pour out our blood like water for him.
Ye churchmen cannot rightly understand our King; but we yeomen
love him right loyally for the sake of his brave doings which are
so like our own."
But now Friar Tuck came bustling up. "Gi' ye good den, brothers," said he.
"I am right glad to welcome some of my cloth in this naughty place.
Truly, methinks these rogues of outlaws would stand but an ill chance were it
not for the prayers of Holy Tuck, who laboreth so hard for their well-being."
Here he winked one eye slyly and stuck his tongue into his cheek.
"Who art thou, mad priest?" said the King in a serious voice,
albeit he smiled beneath his cowl.
At this Friar Tuck looked all around with a slow gaze. "Look you now,"
quoth he, "never let me hear you say again that I am no patient man.
Here is a knave of a friar calleth me a mad priest, and yet I smite him not.
My name is Friar Tuck, fellow--the holy Friar Tuck."
"There, Tuck," said Robin, "thou hast said enow. Prythee, cease thy
talk and bring some wine. These reverend men are athirst, and sin'
they have paid so richly for their score they must e'en have the best."
Friar Tuck bridled at being so checked in his speech,
nevertheless he went straightway to do Robin's bidding;
so presently a great crock was brought, and wine was poured out for
all the guests and for Robin Hood. Then Robin held his cup aloft.
"Stay!" cried he. "Tarry in your drinking till I give you a pledge.
Here is to good King Richard of great renown, and may all enemies
to him be confounded."
Then all drank the King's health, even the King himself.
"Methinks, good fellow," said he, "thou hast drunk to
thine own confusion."
"Never a whit," quoth merry Robin, "for I tell thee that we of Sherwood
are more loyal to our lord the King than those of thine order.
We would give up our lives for his benefiting, while ye are content
to lie snug in your abbeys and priories let reign who will."
At this the King laughed. Quoth he, "Perhaps King Richard's welfare is
more to me than thou wottest of, fellow. But enough of that matter.
We have paid well for our fare, so canst thou not show us some
merry entertainment? I have oft heard that ye are wondrous archers;
wilt thou not show us somewhat of your skill?"
"With all my heart," said Robin, "we are always pleased to show our
guests all the sport that is to be seen. As Gaffer Swanthold sayeth,
` 'Tis a hard heart that will not give a caged starling of the best';
and caged starlings ye are with us. Ho, lads! Set up a garland
at the end of the glade."
Then, as the yeomen ran to do their master's bidding, Tuck turned to one
of the mock friars. "Hearest thou our master?" quoth he, with a sly wink.
"Whenever he cometh across some poor piece of wit he straightway layeth
it on the shoulders of this Gaffer Swanthold--whoever he may be--
so that the poor goodman goeth traveling about with all the odds
and ends and tags and rags of our master's brain packed on his back."
Thus spake Friar Tuck, but in a low voice so that Robin could not hear him,
for he felt somewhat nettled at Robin's cutting his talk so short.
In the meantime the mark at which they were to shoot was set up at sixscore
paces distance. It was a garland of leaves and flowers two spans in width,
which same was hung upon a stake in front of a broad tree trunk.
"There," quoth Robin, "yon is a fair mark, lads. Each of you shoot
three arrows thereat; and if any fellow misseth by so much as one arrow,
he shall have a buffet of Will Scarlet's fist."
"Hearken to him!" quoth Friar Tuck. "Why, master, thou dost bestow
buffets from thy strapping nephew as though they were love taps from
some bouncing lass. I warrant thou art safe to hit the garland thyself,
or thou wouldst not be so free of his cuffing."
First David of Doncaster shot, and lodged all three of his
arrows within the garland. "Well done, David!" cried Robin,
"thou hast saved thine ears from a warming this day."
Next Midge, the Miller, shot, and he, also, lodged his arrows
in the garland. Then followed Wat, the Tinker, but alas for him!
For one of his shafts missed the mark by the breadth of two fingers.
"Come hither, fellow," said Will Scarlet, in his soft,
gentle voice, "I owe thee somewhat that I would pay forthwith."
Then Wat, the Tinker, came forward and stood in front of
Will Scarlet, screwing up his face and shutting his eyes tightly,
as though he already felt his ears ringing with the buffet.
Will Scarlet rolled up his sleeve, and, standing on tiptoe to give
the greater swing to his arm, he struck with might and main.
"WHOOF!" came his palm against the Tinker's head, and down went
stout Wat to the grass, heels over head, as the wooden image at
the fair goes down when the skillful player throws a cudgel at it.
Then, as the Tinker sat up upon the grass, rubbing his ear
and winking and blinking at the bright stars that danced before
his eyes, the yeomen roared with mirth till the forest rang.
As for King Richard, he laughed till the tears ran down his cheeks.
Thus the band shot, each in turn, some getting off scot free,
and some winning a buffet that always sent them to the grass. And now,
last of all, Robin took his place, and all was hushed as he shot.
The first shaft he shot split a piece from the stake on which the
garland was hung; the second lodged within an inch of the other.
"By my halidom," said King Richard to himself, "I would give
a thousand pounds for this fellow to be one of my guard!"
And now, for the third time Robin shot; but, alas for him!
The arrow was ill-feathered, and, wavering to one side, it smote
an inch outside the garland.
At this a great roar went up, those of the yeomen who sat upon
the grass rolling over and over and shouting with laughter,
for never before had they seen their master so miss his mark;
but Robin flung his bow upon the ground with vexation.
"Now, out upon it!" cried he. "That shaft had an ill feather to it,
for I felt it as it left my fingers. Give me a clean arrow,
and I will engage to split the wand with it."
At these words the yeomen laughed louder than ever.
"Nay, good uncle," said Will Scarlet in his soft, sweet voice,
"thou hast had thy fair chance and hast missed thine aim out and out.
I swear the arrow was as good as any that hath been loosed this day.
Come hither; I owe thee somewhat, and would fain pay it."
"Go, good master," roared Friar Tuck, "and may my blessing go with thee.
Thou hast bestowed these love taps of Will Scarlet's with great freedom.
It were pity an thou gottest not thine own share."
"It may not be," said merry Robin. "I am king here, and no subject
may raise hand against the king. But even our great King Richard
may yield to the holy Pope without shame, and even take a tap from him
by way of penance; therefore I will yield myself to this holy friar,
who seemeth to be one in authority, and will take my punishment from him."
Thus saying, he turned to the King, "I prythee, brother, wilt thou take
my punishing into thy holy hands?"
"With all my heart," quoth merry King Richard, rising from
where he was sitting. "I owe thee somewhat for having
lifted a heavy weight of fifty pounds from my purse.
So make room for him on the green, lads."
"An thou makest me tumble," quoth Robin, "I will freely give
thee back thy fifty pounds; but I tell thee, brother, if thou
makest me not feel grass all along my back, I will take every
farthing thou hast for thy boastful speech."
"So be it," said the King, "I am willing to venture it." Thereupon he rolled
up his sleeve and showed an arm that made the yeomen stare. But Robin,
with his feet wide apart, stood firmly planted, waiting the other, smiling.
Then the King swung back his arm, and, balancing himself a moment,
he delivered a buffet at Robin that fell like a thunderbolt. Down went Robin
headlong upon the grass, for the stroke would have felled a stone wall.
Then how the yeomen shouted with laughter till their sides ached,
for never had they seen such a buffet given in all their lives.
As for Robin, he presently sat up and looked all around him, as though
he had dropped from a cloud and had lit in a place he had never seen before.
After a while, still gazing about him at his laughing yeomen, he put
his fingertips softly to his ear and felt all around it tenderly.
"Will Scarlet," said he, "count this fellow out his fifty pounds;
I want nothing more either of his money or of him. A murrain seize
him and his buffeting! I would that I had taken my dues from thee,
for I verily believe he hath deafened mine ear from ever hearing again."
Then, while gusts of laughter still broke from the band, Will Scarlet counted
out the fifty pounds, and the King dropped it back into his purse again.
"I give thee thanks, fellow," said he, "and if ever thou shouldst wish
for another box of the ear to match the one thou hast, come to me and I
will fit thee with it for nought."
So spake the merry King; but, even as he ended, there came suddenly
the sound of many voices, and out from the covert burst Little John
and threescore men, with Sir Richard of the Lea in the midst.
Across the glade they came running, and, as they came, Sir Richard
shouted to Robin: "Make haste, dear friend, gather thy band
together and come with me! King Richard left Nottingham Town
this very morning, and cometh to seek thee in the woodlands.
I know not how he cometh, for it was but a rumor of this
that reached me; nevertheless, I know that it is the truth.
Therefore hasten with all thy men, and come to Castle Lea,
for there thou mayst lie hidden till thy present danger passeth.
Who are these strangers that thou hast with thee?"
"Why," quoth merry Robin, rising from the grass, "these are
certain gentle guests that came with us from the highroad over
by Newstead Abbey. I know not their names, but I have become
right well acquaint with this lusty rogue's palm this morning.
Marry, the pleasure of this acquaintance hath dost me a deaf
ear and fifty pounds to boot!"
Sir Richard looked keenly at the tall friar, who, drawing himself
up to his full height, looked fixedly back at the knight.
Then of a sudden Sir Richard's cheeks grew pale, for he knew
who it was that he looked upon. Quickly he leaped from off his
horse's back and flung himself upon his knees before the other.
At this, the King, seeing that Sir Richard knew him, threw back
his cowl, and all the yeomen saw his face and knew him also,
for there was not one of them but had been in the crowd
in the good town of Nottingham, and had seen him riding side
by side with the Sheriff. Down they fell upon their knees,
nor could they say a word. Then the King looked all around
right grimly, and, last of all, his glance came back and rested
again upon Sir Richard of the Lea.
"How is this, Sir Richard?" said he sternly. "How darest
thou step between me and these fellows? And how darest thou
offer thy knightly Castle of the Lea for a refuge to them?
Wilt thou make it a hiding place for the most renowned
outlaws in England?"
Then Sir Richard of the Lea raised his eyes to the King's face.
"Far be it from me," said he, "to do aught that could bring Your Majesty's
anger upon me. Yet, sooner would I face Your Majesty's wrath than suffer
aught of harm that I could stay to fall upon Robin Hood and his band;
for to them I owe life, honor, everything. Should I, then, desert him
in his hour of need?"
Ere the knight had done speaking, one of the mock friars that
stood near the King came forward and knelt beside Sir Richard,
and throwing back his cowl showed the face of young Sir Henry
of the Lea. Then Sir Henry grasped his father's hand and said,
"Here kneels one who hath served thee well, King Richard, and,
as thou knowest, hath stepped between thee and death in Palestine;
yet do I abide by my dear father, and here I say also, that I
would freely give shelter to this noble outlaw, Robin Hood,
even though it brought thy wrath upon me, for my father's honor
and my father's welfare are as dear to me as mine own."
King Richard looked from one to the other of the kneeling knights,
and at last the frown faded from his brow and a smile
twitched at the corners of his lips. "Marry, Sir Richard,"
quoth the King, "thou art a bold-spoken knight, and thy
freedom of speech weigheth not heavily against thee with me.
This young son of thine taketh after his sire both in boldness
of speech and of deed, for, as he sayeth, he stepped one
time betwixt me and death; wherefore I would pardon thee
for his sake even if thou hadst done more than thou hast.
Rise all of you, for ye shall suffer no harm through me this day,
for it were pity that a merry time should end in a manner
as to mar its joyousness."
Then all arose and the King beckoned Robin Hood to come to him.
"How now," quoth he, "is thine ear still too deaf to hear me speak?"
"Mine ears would be deafened in death ere they would cease to hear
Your Majesty's voice," said Robin. "As for the blow that Your Majesty
struck me, I would say that though my sins are haply many, methinks they
have been paid up in full thereby."
"Thinkest thou so?" said the King with somewhat of sternness
in his voice. "Now I tell thee that but for three things, to wit,
my mercifulness, my love for a stout woodsman, and the loyalty
thou hast avowed for me, thine ears, mayhap, might have been more
tightly closed than ever a buffet from me could have shut them.
Talk not lightly of thy sins, good Robin. But come, look up.
Thy danger is past, for hereby I give thee and all thy band
free pardon. But, in sooth, I cannot let you roam the forest as ye
have done in the past; therefore I will take thee at thy word,
when thou didst say thou wouldst give thy service to me,
and thou shalt go back to London with me. We will take that bold
knave Little John also, and likewise thy cousin, Will Scarlet,
and thy minstrel, Allan a Dale. As for the rest of thy band,
we will take their names and have them duly recorded as royal rangers;
for methinks it were wiser to have them changed to law-abiding
caretakers of our deer in Sherwood than to leave them to run
at large as outlawed slayers thereof. But now get a feast ready;
I would see how ye live in the woodlands."
So Robin bade his men make ready a grand feast. Straightway great fires
were kindled and burned brightly, at which savory things roasted sweetly.
While this was going forward, the King bade Robin call Allan a Dale,
for he would hear him sing. So word was passed for Allan, and presently
he came, bringing his harp.
"Marry," said King Richard, "if thy singing match thy looks it
is fair enough. Prythee, strike up a ditty and let us have a taste
of thy skill."
Then Allan touched his harp lightly, and all words were hushed
while he sang thus:
" `_Oh, where has thou been, my daughter?
Oh, where hast thou been this day
Daughter, my daughter?'
`Oh, I have been to the river's side,
Where the waters lie all gray and wide,
And the gray sky broods o'er the leaden tide,
And the shrill wind sighs a straining.'
" `What sawest thou there, my daughter?
What sawest thou there this day,
Daughter, my daughter?'
`Oh, I saw a boat come drifting nigh,
Where the quivering rushes hiss and sigh,
And the water soughs as it gurgles by,
And the shrill wind sighs a straining.'
" `What sailed in the boat, my daughter?
What sailed in the boat this day,
Daughter, my daughter?'
`Oh, there was one all clad in white,
And about his face hung a pallid light,
And his eyes gleamed sharp like the stars at night,
And the shrill wind sighed a straining.'
" `And what said he, my daughter?
What said he to thee this day,
Daughter, my daughter?'
`Oh, said he nought, but did he this:
Thrice on my lips did he press a kiss,
And my heartstrings shrunk with an awful bliss,
And the shrill wind sighed a straining,.'
" `Why growest thou so cold, my daughter?
Why growest thou so cold and white,
Daughter, my daughter?'
Oh, never a word the daughter said,
But she sat all straight with a drooping head,
For her heart was stilled and her face was dead:
And the shrill wind sighed a straining_."
All listened in silence; and when Allan a Dale had done King Richard
heaved a sigh. "By the breath of my body, Allan," quoth he,
"thou hast such a wondrous sweet voice that it strangely moves my heart.
But what doleful ditty is this for the lips of a stout yeoman?
I would rather hear thee sing a song of love and battle than a sad
thing like that. Moreover, I understand it not; what meanest thou
by the words?"
"I know not, Your Majesty," said Allan, shaking his head,
"for ofttimes I sing that which I do not clearly understand
mine own self."
"Well, well," quoth the King, "let it pass; only I tell thee this, Allan,
thou shouldst turn thy songs to such matters as I spoke of, to wit,
love or war; for in sooth thou hast a sweeter voice than Blondell,
and methought he was the best minstrel that ever I heard."
But now one came forward and said that the feast was ready; so Robin Hood
brought King Richard and those with him to where it lay all spread
out on fair white linen cloths which lay upon the soft green grass.
Then King Richard sat him down and feasted and drank, and when he was
done he swore roundly that he had never sat at such a lusty repast
in all his life before.
That night he lay in Sherwood Forest upon a bed of sweet green leaves,
and early the next morning he set forth from the woodlands for
Nottingham Town, Robin Hood and all of his band going with him.
You may guess what a stir there was in the good town when
all these famous outlaws came marching into the streets.
As for the Sheriff, he knew not what to say nor where to look
when he saw Robin Hood in such high favor with the King,
while all his heart was filled with gall because of the vexation
that lay upon him.
The next day the King took leave of Nottingham Town; so Robin Hood
and Little John and Will Scarlet and Allan a Dale shook hands
with all the rest of the band, kissing the cheeks of each man,
and swearing that they would often come to Sherwood and see them.
Then each mounted his horse and rode away in the train of the King.
THUS END the Merry Adventures of Robin Hood; for, in spite of his promise,
it was many a year ere he saw Sherwood again.
After a year or two at court Little John came back to Nottinghamshire,
where he lived in an orderly way, though within sight of Sherwood,
and where he achieved great fame as the champion of all England with
the quarterstaff. Will Scarlet after a time came back to his own home,
whence he had been driven by his unlucky killing of his father's steward.
The rest of the band did their duty as royal rangers right well.
But Robin Hood and Allan a Dale did not come again to Sherwood so quickly,
for thus it was:
Robin, through his great fame as an archer, became a favorite with the King,
so that he speedily rose in rank to be the chief of all the yeomen.
At last the King, seeing how faithful and how loyal he was, created him
Earl of Huntingdon; so Robin followed the King to the wars, and found
his time so full that he had no chance to come back to Sherwood for even
so much as a day. As for Allan a Dale and his wife, the fair Ellen,
they followed Robin Hood and shared in all his ups and downs of life.
And now, dear friend, you who have journeyed with me in all
these merry doings, I will not bid you follow me further,
but will drop your hand here with a "good den," if you wish it;
for that which cometh hereafter speaks of the breaking up
of things, and shows how joys and pleasures that are dead
and gone can never be set upon their feet to walk again.
I will not dwell upon the matter overlong, but will tell
as speedily as may be of how that stout fellow, Robin Hood,
died as he had lived, not at court as Earl of Huntingdon,
but with bow in hand, his heart in the greenwood, and he himself
a right yeoman.
King Richard died upon the battlefield, in such a way as properly became
a lion-hearted king, as you yourself, no doubt, know; so, after a time,
the Earl of Huntingdon--or Robin Hood, as we still call him as of old--
finding nothing for his doing abroad, came back to merry England again.
With him came Allan a Dale and his wife, the fair Ellen, for these two had
been chief of Robin's household ever since he had left Sherwood Forest.
It was in the springtime when they landed once more on the shores
of England. The leaves were green and the small birds sang blithely,
just as they used to do in fair Sherwood when Robin Hood roamed
the woodland shades with a free heart and a light heel.
All the sweetness of the time and the joyousness of everything
brought back to Robin's mind his forest life, so that a great
longing came upon him to behold the woodlands once more.
So he went straightway to King John and besought leave of him
to visit Nottingham for a short season. The King gave him leave
to come and to go, but bade him not stay longer than three days
at Sherwood. So Robin Hood and Allan a Dale set forth without
delay to Nottinghamshire and Sherwood Forest.
The first night they took up their inn at Nottingham Town,
yet they did not go to pay their duty to the Sheriff,
for his worship bore many a bitter grudge against Robin Hood,
which grudges had not been lessened by Robin's rise in the world.
The next day at an early hour they mounted their horses and set forth
for the woodlands. As they passed along the road it seemed to Robin
that he knew every stick and stone that his eyes looked upon.
Yonder was a path that he had ofttimes trod of a mellow evening,
with Little John beside him; here was one, now nigh choked
with brambles, along which he and a little band had walked
when they went forth to seek a certain curtal friar.
Thus they rode slowly onward, talking about these old, familiar things;
old and yet new, for they found more in them than they had ever thought
of before. Thus at last they came to the open glade, and the broad,
wide-spreading greenwood tree which was their home for so many years.
Neither of the two spoke when they stood beneath that tree.
Robin looked all about him at the well-known things, so like what they
used to be and yet so different; for, where once was the bustle of many
busy fellows was now the quietness of solitude; and, as he looked,
the woodlands, the greensward, and the sky all blurred together in his sight
through salt tears, for such a great yearning came upon him as he looked
on these things (as well known to him as the fingers of his right hand)
that he could not keep back the water from his eyes.
That morning he had slung his good old bugle horn over his shoulder, and now,
with the yearning, came a great longing to sound his bugle once more.
He raised it to his lips; he blew a blast. "Tirila, lirila,"
the sweet, clear notes went winding down the forest paths, coming back
again from the more distant bosky shades in faint echoes of sound,
"Tirila, lirila, tirila, lirila," until it faded away and was lost.
Now it chanced that on that very morn Little John was walking
through a spur of the forest upon certain matters of business,
and as he paced along, sunk in meditation, the faint,
clear notes of a distant bugle horn came to his ear.
As leaps the stag when it feels the arrow at its heart,
so leaped Little John when that distant sound met his ear.
All the blood in his body seemed to rush like a flame into
his cheeks as he bent his head and listened. Again came
the bugle note, thin and clear, and yet again it sounded.
Then Little John gave a great, wild cry of yearning, of joy, and yet
of grief, and, putting down his head, he dashed into the thicket.
Onward he plunged, crackling and rending, as the wild boar
rushes through the underbrush. Little recked he of thorns
and briers that scratched his flesh and tore his clothing,
for all he thought of was to get, by the shortest way,
to the greenwood glade whence he knew the sound of the bugle
horn came. Out he burst from the covert, at last, a shower
of little broken twigs falling about him, and, without pausing
a moment, rushed forward and flung himself at Robin's feet.
Then he clasped his arms around the master's knees, and all
his body was shaken with great sobs; neither could Robin nor
Allan a Dale speak, but stood looking down at Little John,
the tears rolling down their cheeks.
While they thus stood, seven royal rangers rushed into the open
glade and raised a great shout of joy at the sight of Robin;
and at their head was Will Stutely. Then, after a while,
came four more, panting with their running, and two of
these four were Will Scathelock and Midge, the Miller;
for all of these had heard the sound of Robin Hood's horn.
All these ran to Robin and kissed his hands and his clothing,
with great sound of weeping.
After a while Robin looked around him with tear-dimmed eyes and said,
in a husky voice, "Now, I swear that never again will I leave these
dear woodlands. I have been away from them and from you too long.
Now do I lay by the name of Robert, Earl of Huntingdon, and take upon me
once again that nobler title, Robin Hood, the Yeoman." At this a great
shout went up, and all the yeomen shook one another's hands for joy.
The news that Robin Hood had come back again to dwell in Sherwood as of old
spread like wildfire all over the countryside, so that ere a se'ennight
had passed nearly all of his old yeomen had gathered about him again.
But when the news of all this reached the ears of King John,
he swore both loud and deep, and took a solemn vow that he would
not rest until he had Robin Hood in his power, dead or alive.
Now there was present at court a certain knight, Sir William Dale,
as gallant a soldier as ever donned harness. Sir William Dale
was well acquainted with Sherwood Forest, for he was head keeper
over that part of it that lay nigh to good Mansfield Town; so to him
the King turned, and bade him take an army of men and go straightway
to seek Robin Hood. Likewise the King gave Sir William his signet ring
to show to the Sheriff, that he might raise all his armed men to aid
the others in their chase of Robin. So Sir William and the Sheriff
set forth to do the King's bidding and to search for Robin Hood;
and for seven days they hunted up and down, yet found him not.
Now, had Robin Hood been as peaceful as of old, everything might have ended
in smoke, as other such ventures had always done before; but he had fought
for years under King Richard, and was changed from what he used to be.
It galled his pride to thus flee away before those sent against him,
as a chased fox flees from the hounds; so thus it came about, at last,
that Robin Hood and his yeomen met Sir William and the Sheriff and their
men in the forest, and a bloody fight followed. The first man slain
in that fight was the Sheriff of Nottingham, for he fell from his horse
with an arrow in his brain ere half a score of shafts had been sped.
Many a better man than the Sheriff kissed the sod that day, but at last,
Sir William Dale being wounded and most of his men slain, he withdrew, beaten,
and left the forest. But scores of good fellows were left behind him,
stretched out all stiff beneath the sweet green boughs.
But though Robin Hood had beaten off his enemies in fair fight,
all this lay heavily upon his mind, so that he brooded over it
until a fever seized upon him. For three days it held him,
and though he strove to fight it off, he was forced to yield at last.
Thus it came that, on the morning of the fourth day, he called Little John
to him, and told him that he could not shake the fever from him,
and that he would go to his cousin, the prioress of the nunnery
near Kirklees, in Yorkshire, who was a skillful leech, and he would
have her open a vein in his arm and take a little blood from him,
for the bettering of his health. Then he bade Little John make ready
to go also, for he might perchance need aid in his journeying.
So Little John and he took their leave of the others, and Robin Hood bade
Will Stutely be the captain of the band until they should come back.
Thus they came by easy stages and slow journeying until they reached
the Nunnery of Kirklees.
Now Robin had done much to aid this cousin of his; for it was through
King Richard's love of him that she had been made prioress of the place.
But there is nought in the world so easily forgot as gratitude;
so, when the Prioress of Kirklees had heard how her cousin,
the Earl of Huntingdon, had thrown away his earldom and gone back
again to Sherwood, she was vexed to the soul, and feared lest her
cousinship with him should bring the King's wrath upon her also.
Thus it happened that when Robin came to her and told her how he wished
her services as leech, she began plotting ill against him in her mind,
thinking that by doing evil to him she might find favor with his enemies.
Nevertheless, she kept this well to herself and received Robin
with seeming kindness. She led him up the winding stone stair
to a room which was just beneath the eaves of a high, round tower;
but she would not let Little John come with him.
So the poor yeoman turned his feet away from the door of
the nunnery, and left his master in the hands of the women.
But, though he did not come in, neither did he go far away;
for he laid him down in a little glade near by, where he could
watch the place that Robin abided, like some great, faithful dog
turned away from the door where his master has entered.
After the women had gotten Robin Hood to the room beneath the eaves,
the Prioress sent all of the others away; then, taking a little cord,
she tied it tightly about Robin's arm, as though she were about
to bleed him. And so she did bleed him, but the vein she opened
was not one of those that lie close and blue beneath the skin;
deeper she cut than that, for she opened one of those veins
through which the bright red blood runs leaping from the heart.
Of this Robin knew not; for, though he saw the blood flow,
it did not come fast enough to make him think that there was
anything ill in it.
Having done this vile deed, the Prioress turned and left her cousin,
locking the door behind her. All that livelong day the blood ran from
Robin Hood's arm, nor could he check it, though he strove in every way
to do so. Again and again he called for help, but no help came, for his
cousin had betrayed him, and Little John was too far away to hear his voice.
So he bled and bled until he felt his strength slipping away from him.
Then he arose, tottering, and bearing himself up by the palms
of his hands against the wall, he reached his bugle horn at last.
Thrice he sounded it, but weakly and faintly, for his breath was fluttering
through sickness and loss of strength; nevertheless, Little John heard
it where he lay in the glade, and, with a heart all sick with dread,
he came running and leaping toward the nunnery. Loudly he knocked
at the door, and in a loud voice shouted for them to let him in,
but the door was of massive oak, strongly barred, and studded with spikes,
so they felt safe, and bade Little John begone.
Then Little John's heart was mad with grief and fear for his master's life.
Wildly he looked about him, and his sight fell upon a heavy stone mortar,
such as three men could not lift nowadays. Little John took three
steps forward, and, bending his back, heaved the stone mortar up
from where it stood deeply rooted. Staggering under its weight,
he came forward and hurled it crashing against the door. In burst
the door, and away fled the frightened nuns, shrieking, at his coming.
Then Little John strode in, and never a word said he, but up the winding
stone steps he ran till he reached the room wherein his master was.
Here he found the door locked also, but, putting his shoulder against it,
he burst the locks as though they were made of brittle ice.
There he saw his own dear master leaning against the gray stone wall,
his face all white and drawn, and his head swaying to and fro
with weakness. Then, with a great, wild cry of love and grief and pity,
Little John leaped forward and caught Robin Hood in his arms.
Up he lifted him as a mother lifts her child, and carrying him to the bed,
laid him tenderly thereon.
And now the Prioress came in hastily, for she was frightened at what she
had done, and dreaded the vengeance of Little John and the others of the band;
then she stanched the blood by cunning bandages, so that it flowed no more.
All the while Little John stood grimly by, and after she had done
he sternly bade her to begone, and she obeyed, pale and trembling.
Then, after she had departed, Little John spake cheering words,
laughing loudly, and saying that all this was a child's fright,
and that no stout yeoman would die at the loss of a few drops of blood.
"Why," quoth he, "give thee a se'ennight and thou wilt be roaming
the woodlands as boldly as ever."
But Robin shook his head and smiled faintly where he lay.
"Mine own dear Little John," whispered he, "Heaven bless
thy kind, rough heart. But, dear friend, we will never roam
the woodlands together again."
"Ay, but we will!" quoth Little John loudly. "I say again, ay--out upon it--
who dares say that any more harm shall come upon thee? Am I not by? Let me
see who dares touch"--Here he stopped of a sudden, for his words choked him.
At last he said, in a deep, husky voice, "Now, if aught of harm befalls thee
because of this day's doings, I swear by Saint George that the red cock shall
crow over the rooftree of this house, for the hot flames shall lick every
crack and cranny thereof. As for these women"--here he ground his teeth--
"it will be an ill day for them!"
But Robin Hood took Little John's rough, brown fist in his white hands,
and chid him softly in his low, weak voice, asking him since what time
Little John had thought of doing harm to women, even in vengeance.
Thus he talked till, at last, the other promised, in a choking voice,
that no ill should fall upon the place, no matter what happened.
Then a silence fell, and Little John sat with Robin Hood's hand
in his, gazing out of the open window, ever and anon swallowing
a great lump that came in his throat. Meantime the sun dropped
slowly to the west, till all the sky was ablaze with a red glory.
Then Robin Hood, in a weak, faltering voice, bade Little John
raise him that he might look out once more upon the woodlands;
so the yeoman lifted him in his arms, as he bade, and Robin Hood's
head lay on his friend's shoulder. Long he gazed, with a wide,
lingering look, while the other sat with bowed head, the hot
tears rolling one after another from his eyes, and dripping upon
his bosom, for he felt that the time of parting was near at hand.
Then, presently, Robin Hood bade him string his stout bow for him,
and choose a smooth fair arrow from his quiver. This Little John did,
though without disturbing his master or rising from where he sat.
Robin Hood's fingers wrapped lovingly around his good bow, and he smiled
faintly when he felt it in his grasp, then he nocked the arrow on
that part of the string that the tips of his fingers knew so well.
"Little John," said he, "Little John, mine own dear friend,
and him I love better than all others in the world, mark, I prythee,
where this arrow lodges, and there let my grave be digged.
Lay me with my face toward the East, Little John, and see that my
resting place be kept green, and that my weary bones be not disturbed."
As he finished speaking, he raised himself of a sudden and sat upright.
His old strength seemed to come back to him, and, drawing the bowstring
to his ear, he sped the arrow out of the open casement. As the shaft flew,
his hand sank slowly with the bow till it lay across his knees,
and his body likewise sank back again into Little John's loving arms;
but something had sped from that body, even as the winged arrow sped
from the bow.
For some minutes Little John sat motionless, but presently he laid
that which he held gently down, then, folding the hands upon the breast
and covering up the face, he turned upon his heel and left the room
without a word or a sound.
Upon the steep stairway he met the Prioress and some of the chief
among the sisters. To them he spoke in a deep, quivering voice,
and said he, "An ye go within a score of feet of yonder room, I will
tear down your rookery over your heads so that not one stone shall
be left upon another. Bear my words well in mind, for I mean them."
So saying, he turned and left them, and they presently saw him
running rapidly across the open, through the falling of the dusk,
until he was swallowed up by the forest.
The early gray of the coming morn was just beginning to lighten
the black sky toward the eastward when Little John and six more
of the band came rapidly across the open toward the nunnery.
They saw no one, for the sisters were all hidden away
from sight, having been frightened by Little John's words.
Up the stone stair they ran, and a great sound of weeping
was presently heard. After a while this ceased, and then
came the scuffling and shuffling of men's feet as they
carried a heavy weight down the steep and winding stairs.
So they went forth from the nunnery, and, as they passed through
the doors thereof, a great, loud sound of wailing arose from
the glade that lay all dark in the dawning, as though many men,
hidden in the shadows, had lifted up their voices in sorrow.
Thus died Robin Hood, at Kirklees Nunnery, in fair Yorkshire,
with mercy in his heart toward those that had been his undoing;
for thus he showed mercy for the erring and pity for the weak
through all the time of his living
His yeomen were scattered henceforth, but no great ill befell them thereafter,
for a more merciful sheriff and one who knew them not so well succeeding
the one that had gone, and they being separated here and there throughout
the countryside, they abided in peace and quietness, so that many lived
to hand down these tales to their children and their children's children.
A certain one sayeth that upon a stone at Kirklees is an old inscription.
This I give in the ancient English in which it was written, and thus it runs:
HEAR UNDERNEAD DIS LAITL STEAN LAIS ROBERT EARL OF HUNTINGTUN NEA ARCIR
VER AS HIE SAE GEUD AN PIPL KAULD IM ROBIN HEUD SICK UTLAWS AS HI AN IS
MEN VIL ENGLAND NIDIR SI AGEN OBIIT 24 KAL. DEKEMBRIS 1247.
And now, dear friend, we also must part, for our merry journeyings have ended,
and here, at the grave of Robin Hood, we turn, each going his own way.