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Title: Robin Hood
Author: Creswick, Paul, 1866-1947
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Robin Hood" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



ROBIN HOOD

ILLUSTRATED BY N. C. WYETH

[Illustration]

DAVID MCKAY, PUBLISHER

PHILADELPHIA MCMXVII



ILLUSTRATIONS


                                                             Facing Page

  ROBIN AND HIS MOTHER GO TO NOTTINGHAM FAIR                          18
    The road wound in and about the forest, and at noon they
    came to a part where the trees nigh shut out the sky

  ROBIN WRESTLES WILL STUTELEY AT GAMEWELL                            53
    "Catch him by the middle," he shouted. "Now you have
    him, lording, fairly. Throw him prettily!" And sure enough
    Stuteley came down

  ROBIN MEETS MAID MARIAN                                            116
    But Robin, venturing all, drew nigh. He came to the edge of
    her box, and began to speak

  ROBIN HOOD AND HIS COMPANIONS LEND AID TO WILL O' TH' GREEN
  FROM AMBUSH                                                        156
    Their arrows flew together, marvellous shots, each finding
    its prey

  LITTLE JOHN FIGHTS WITH THE COOK IN THE SHERIFF'S HOUSE            197
    At last he made a dart upon Roger and the chase grew furious.
    Dishes, plates, covers, pots and pans--all that came in
    the way of them went flying

  ROBIN HOOD DEFEATS NAT OF NOTTINGHAM AT QUARTER-STAFF              257
    The beggar dealt his foe a back-thrust so neatly, so heartily,
    and so swiftly that Nat was swept off the stage into the crowd
    as a fly off a table

  LITTLE JOHN SINGS A SONG AT THE BANQUET                            327
    That evening, whilst Monceux raged and stormed without,
    they all sat to a great feast

  THE PASSING OF ROBIN HOOD                                          361
    Leaning heavily against Little John's sobbing breast, Robin
    Hood flew his last arrow out through the window, far away
    into the deep green of trees



ROBIN HOOD AND HIS ADVENTURES



CHAPTER I


"Well, Robin, on what folly do you employ yourself? Do you cut sticks
for our fire o' mornings?" Thus spoke Master Hugh Fitzooth, King's
Ranger of the Forest at Locksley, as he entered his house.

Robin flushed a little. "These are arrows, sir," he announced, holding
one up for inspection.

Dame Fitzooth smiled upon the boy as she rose to meet her lord. "What
fortune do you bring us to-day, father?" asked she, cheerily.

Fitzooth's face was a mask of discontent. "I bring myself, dame,"
answered he, "neither more nor less."

"Surely that is enough for Robin and me!" laughed his wife. "Come, cast
off your shoes, and give me your bow and quiver. I have news for you,
Hugh, even if you have none for us. George of Gamewell has sent his
messenger to-day, and bids me bring Robin to him for the Fair." She
hesitated to give the whole truth.

"That cannot be," began the Ranger, hastily; then checked himself. "What
wind is it that blows our Squire's friendship toward me, I wonder?" he
went on. "Do we owe him toll?"

"You are not fair to George Montfichet, Hugh--he is an open, honest
man, and he is my brother." The dame spoke with spirit, being vexed that
her husband should thus slight her item of news. "That Montfichet is of
Norman blood is sufficient to turn your thoughts of him as sour as old
milk----"

"I am as good as all the Montfichets and De Veres hereabout, dame, for
all I am but plain Saxon," returned Fitzooth, crossly, "and the day may
come when they shall know it. Athelstane the Saxon might make full as
good a King, when Henry dies, as Richard of Acquitaine, with his
harebrained notions and runagate religion. There would be bobbing of
heads and curtseying to us then, if you like. Squire George of Gamewell
would be sending messengers for me cap in hand--doubt it not."

"For that matter, there is ready welcome for you now at my brother's
house," said Mistress Fitzooth, repenting of her sharpness at once.
"Montfichet bade us _all_ to Gamewell; but here is his scroll, and you
may read it for yourself." She took a scroll from her bosom as she spoke
and offered it to her husband.

He returned to the open door that he might read it. His brow puckered
itself as he strove to decipher the flourished Norman writing. "I have
no leisure now for this screed, mother; read it to me later, an you
will."

His tone was kinder again, for he saw how Robin had been busying himself
in these last few moments. "Let us sup, mother. I dare swear we all are
hungry after the heat of the day."

"I have made and tipped a full score of arrows, sir; will you see them?"
asked Robin.

"That will I, so soon as I have found the bottom of this pasty. Sit
yourselves, mother and Robin, and we'll chatter afterwards."

Robin helped his mother to kindle the flax whereby the dim and
flickering tapers might be lighted. His fingers were more deft at this
business, it would seem, than in the making of arrows. Fitzooth, in the
intervals of his eating, took up Robin's arrows one by one and had some
shrewd gibe ready for most of them. Of the score only five were allowed
to pass; the rest were tossed contemptuously into the black hearth on to
the little heap of smouldering fire.

"By my heart, Robin, but I shall never make a proper bowman of you! Were
ever such shafts fashioned to fit across cord and yew!"

"The arrows are pretty enough, Hugh," interposed the dame.

"There 'tis!" cried Fitzooth, triumphantly. "The true bowman's hand
showeth not in the _prettiness_ of an arrow, mother, but in the
straightness and hardness of the wand. Our Robin can fly a shaft right
well, I grant you, and I have no question for his skill, but he cannot
yet make me an arrow such as I love."

"Well, I do think them right handsomely done," said Mistress Fitzooth,
unconvinced. "It is not given to everyone to make such arrows as you
can, husband; but my Robin has other accomplishments. He can play upon
the harp sweetly, and sing you a good song----"

Fitzooth must still grumble, however. "I would rather your fingers
should bend the bow than pluck at harp-strings, Robin," growled he.
"Still, there is time for all things. Read me now our brother's
message."

Robin, eager to atone for the faults of his arrows, stretched out the
paper upon the table, and read aloud the following:--

     "From George à Court Montfichet, of the Hall at Gamewell, near
     Nottingham, Squire of the Hundreds of Sandwell and Sherwood, giving
     greetings and praying God's blessing on his sister Eleanor and on
     her husband, Master Hugh Fitzooth, Ranger of the King's Forest at
     Locksley. Happiness be with you all. I do make you this screed in
     the desire that you will both of you ride to me at Gamewell, in the
     light of to-morrow, the fifth day of June, bringing with you our
     young kinsman Robin. There is a Fair toward at Nottingham for three
     days of this week, and we are to expect great and astonishing
     marvels to be performed at it.

     "Wherefore, seeing that it will doubtless give him satisfaction and
     some knowledge (for who can witness wonders without being the wiser
     for them?), fail not to present yourselves as I honestly wish. I
     also ask that Robin shall stay with me for the space of one year at
     least, having no son _now_ and being a lonely man. Him will I treat
     as my own child in all ways, and return him to you in the June of
     next year.

     "This I send by the hand of Warrenton, my man-at-arms, who shall
     bear me your reply.

     "Given under our hand at Gamewell, the 4th day of June, in the year
     of grace one thousand one hundred and eighty-eight.

  "(Signed) MONTFICHET."



Robin's clear voice ceased, and silence fell upon them all. Fitzooth
guessed that both his son and wife waited anxiously for his decision;
yet he had so great a pride that he could not at once agree to the
courteous invitation.

For himself he had no doubt. Nothing would move Fitzooth to mix with the
fine folk of Nottingham whilst his claims to the acres of Broadweald, in
Lancashire, went unrecognized. It was an old story, and although, by
virtue of his office as Ranger at Locksley, Hugh Fitzooth might very
properly claim an honorable position in the county, he swore not to
avail himself of it unless he could have a better one. The bar sinister
stayed him from Broadweald, so the judges had said, and haughty Fitzooth
had perforce to bear with their finding. The king had been much
interested in the suit, the estate being a large one, situated in the
County Palatine of England, and the matter had caused some stir in the
Court. When Fitzooth had failed, Henry, anxious to find favor with his
Saxon subjects, had bestowed on him the keeping of a part of the forest
of Sherwood, in Nottingham.

So Fitzooth, plain "master" now for good and aye, had come to Locksley,
a little village at the further side of the forest, and had taken up the
easy duties allotted to him. Here he had nursed his pride in loneliness
for some years; then had met one day Eleanor Montfichet a-hunting in the
woods. He had unbent to her, and she gave him her simple, true heart.

Strange pair, thrown together by Fate, in sooth; yet no man could say
that this was an unhappy union. Within a year came black-eyed Robin to
them, and they worshipped their child. But as time passed, and Hugh's
claims were again put aside, his nature began to go sour once more. Now
they were lonely, unfriendly folk, with no society other than that of
the worthy Clerk of Copmanhurst--a hermit too. He had taught Robin his
Latin grace, and had given him a fair knowledge of Norman, Saxon, and
the middle tongues.

"Say that we all may go to-morrow, father," cried Robin, breaking the
silence. "I have never seen Nottingham Fair, sir, and you have promised
to take me often."

"I cannot leave this place; for there is my work, and robbers are to be
found even here. I have to post my foresters each day in their tasks,
and see that the deer be not killed and stolen."

He paused, and then, noting the disappointment in his son's face,
relented. "Yet, since there is the Fair, and I have promised it, Robin,
you shall go with your mother to Gamewell, if so be the Friar of
Copmanhurst can go also. So get ready your clothes, for I know that you
would wish to be at your best in our brother's hall. I will speed you
to-morrow so far as Copmanhurst, and will send two hinds to serve you to
Nottingham gates."

"Warrenton, my brother's man, spoke grievously of the outlaw bands near
Gamewell, and told how he had to journey warily," So spoke Mistress
Fitzooth, trying yet to bring her husband to say that he too would go.

"The Sheriff administers his portion of the forest very abominably
then," returned Fitzooth. "We have no fears and whinings here; but I do
not doubt that Warrenton chattered with a view to test our courage, or
perchance to make more certain of my refusal."

"But we _are_ to go, are we not, sir?" Robin was anxious again, for his
father's tone had already changed.

"I have said it; and there it ends," said Fitzooth, shortly. "If the
clerk will make the journey you shall make it too. Further, an the
Squire will have you, you shall stay at Gamewell and learn the tricks
and prettinesses of Court and town. But look to your bow for use in
life, and to your own hands and eyes for help. Kiss me, Robin, and get
to bed. Learn all you can; and if Warrenton can show you how to fashion
arrows within the year I'll ask no more of brother George of
Gamewell."

"You shall be proud of me, sir; I swear it. But I will not stay longer
than a month; for I am to watch over my mother's garden."

"Never will shafts such as yours find quarry, Robin. I think that they
would sooner kill the archer than the birds. There, mind not my jesting.
Men shall talk of you; and I may live to hear them. Be just always; and
be honest."

       *       *       *       *       *

The day broke clear and sweet. From Locksley to the borders of Sherwood
Forest was but a stone's cast.

Robin was in high glee, and had been awake long ere daylight. He had
dressed himself in his best doublet, green trunk hose, and pointed
shoes, and had strung and unstrung his bow full a score of times. A
sumpter mule had been saddled to carry the baggage, for the dame had, at
the last moment, discovered a wondrous assortment of fineries and
fripperies that most perforce be translated to Gamewell.

Robin was carolling like any bird.

"Are you glad to be leaving Locksley, my son?" asked Hugh Fitzooth.

"Ay, rarely!"

"'Tis a dull place, no doubt. And glad to be leaving home too?"

"No, sir; only happy at the thought of the Fair. Doubt it not that I
shall be returned to you long ere a month is gone."

"A year, Robin, a year! Twelve changing months ere you will see me
again. I have given my word now. Keep me a place in your heart, Robin."

"You have it all now, sir, be sure, and I am not really so glad within
as I seem without."

"Tut, I am not chiding you. Get you upon your jennet, dame; and, Robin,
do you show the way. Roderick and the other shall lead the baggage mule.
Have you pikes with you, men, and full sheaths?"

"I have brought me a dagger, father," cried Robin, joyfully.

So, bravely they set forth from their quiet house at Locksley, and came
within the hour to Copmanhurst. Here only were the ruins of the chapel
and the clerk's hermitage, a rude stone building of two small rooms.

Enclosed with high oaken stakes and well guarded by two gaunt hounds was
the humble abode of the anchorite.

The clerk came to the verge of his enclosure to greet them, and stood
peering above the palisade. "Give you good morrow, father," cried Robin;
"get your steed and tie up the dogs. We go to Nottingham this day and
you are to come with us!"

The monk shook his head. "I may not leave this spot, child, for matters
of vanity," he answered, in would-be solemn tones.

"Will you not ride with the dame and my son, father?" asked Fitzooth.
"George of Gamewell has sent in for Robin, and I wish that you should
journey with him, giving him such sage counsel as may fit him for a
year's service in the great and worshipful company that he now may
meet."

"Come with us to-day, father," urged Mistress Fitzooth also. "I have
brought a veal pasty and some bread, so that we may not be hungry on the
road. Also, there is a flask of wine."

"Nay, daughter, I have no thought for the carnal things of life. I will
go with you, since the Ranger of Locksley orders it. It is my place to
obey him whom the King has put in charge of our greenwood. Bide here
whilst I make brief preparation."

His eyes had twinkled, though, when the dame had spoken; and one could
see that 'twas not on roots and fresh water alone that the clerk had
thrived. Full and round were the lines of him under his monkly gown; and
his face was red as any harvest moon.

Hugh bade farewell briefly to them, while the clerk was tying up his
hounds and chattering with them.

When the clerk was ready Fitzooth kissed his dame and bade her be firm
with their son; then, embracing Robin, ordered him to protect his mother
from all mischance. Also he was to bear himself honorably and quietly;
and, whilst being courteous to all folk, he was not to give way unduly
to anyone who should attempt to browbeat or to cozen him.

"Remember always that your father is a proud man; and see, take those
arrows of my own making and learn from them how to trim the hazel. You
have a steady hand and bold eye; be a craftsman when you return to
Locksley, and I will give you control of some part of the forest, under
me. Now, farewell--take my greetings to our brother at Gamewell."

Then the King's Forester turned on his heel and strode back towards
Locksley. Once he paused and faced about to wave his cap to them: then
his figure vanished into the green of the trees.

A sadness fell upon Robin--unaccountable and perplexing. But the hermit
soberly journeyed toward Nottingham, the two men-at-arms, with the
sumpter mule, riding in front.

The road wound in and about the forest, and at noon they came to a part
where the trees nigh shut out the sky.

Robin spied out a fine old stag, and his fingers itched to fit one of
his new arrows to his bow. "These be all of them King's deer, father?"
he asked the friar, thoughtfully.

"Every beast within Sherwood, royal or mean, belongs to our King,
child."

"Do they not say that Henry is away in a foreign land, father?"

"Ay, but he will return. His deer are not yet to be slain by your
arrows, child. When you are Ranger at Locksley, in your father's stead,
who shall then say you nay?"

"My father does not shoot the King's deer, except those past their
time," answered Robin, quickly. "He tends them, and slays instead any
robbers who would maltreat or kill the does. Do you think I could hit
yon beast, father? He makes a pretty mark, and my arrow would but prick
him?"

[Illustration: ROBIN AND HIS MOTHER GO TO NOTTINGHAM FAIR

_The road wound in and about the forest, and at noon they came to a part
where the trees nigh shut out the sky._]

The clerk glanced toward Mistress Fitzooth. "Dame," said he, gravely,
"do you not think that here, in this cool shadow, we might well stay our
travelling? Surely it is near the hour of noon? And," here he sank his
voice to a sly whisper, "it would be well perhaps to let this temptation
pass away from before our Robin! Else, I doubt not, the King will be one
stag the less in Sherwood."

"I like not this dark road, father," began the dame. "We shall surely
come to a brighter place. Robin, do you ride near to me, and let your
bow be at rest. Warrenton, your uncle's man, told me but yesterday----"

Her voice was suddenly drowned in the noise of a horn, wound so shrilly
and distantly as to cause them all to start. Then, in a moment, half a
score of lusty rascals appeared, springing out of the earth almost. The
men-at-arms were seized, and the little cavalcade brought to a rude
halt.

"Toll, toll!" called out the leader. "Toll must you pay, everyone, ere
your journey be continued!"

"Forbear," cried Robin, waving his dagger so soon as the man made
attempt to take his mother's jennet by the bridle. "Tell me the toll,
and the reason for it; and be more mannerly."

The man just then spied that great stag which Robin had longed to shoot,
bounding away to the left of them. Swiftly he slipped an arrow across
his longbow and winged it after the flying beast.

"A miss, an easy miss!" called Robin, impatiently. Dropping his dagger,
he snatched an arrow from his quiver, fitted it to his bow and sent it
speeding towards the stag. "Had I but aimed sooner!" murmured Robin,
regretfully, when his arrow failed by a yard to reach its quarry; and
the clerk held up his hands in pious horror of his words.

"The shot was a long one, young master," spoke the robber, and he
stooped to pick up Robin's little weapon. "Here is your bodkin--'tis no
fault of yours that the arrow was not true."

They all laughed right merrily; but Robin was vexed.

"Stand away, fellows," said he, "and let us pass on. Else shall you all
be whipped."

Again the leader of the band spoke. "Toll first, lording; tender it
prettily to us, and you shall only tender it once."

"I'll tender it not at all," retorted young Fitzooth. "Fie upon you for
staying a woman upon the King's highroad! Pretty men, forsooth, to
attack in so cowardly a fashion!"

"All must buy freedom of the greenwood, master," answered the man, quite
civilly. "We, who exact the toll, take no heed of sex. Pay us now, and
when you return there shall be no questioning."

"A woman should be a safe convoy and free from all toll," argued Robin.
"Now here are my two men."

"Slaves, master; and they have only your mule and the two pikes. It is
not enough."

"You will leave us nothing then, it seems," said Dame Fitzooth, in
trembling but brave voice.

"There is one thing that we all do value, mistress, and I purpose
sparing you that. We will do no one of you any bodily harm."

"Take my purse, then," sighed Mistress Fitzooth. "There is little enough
in it, for we are poor folk."

"Ask toll of the Church," cried Robin, staying his mother. "The Church
is rich, and has to spare. And afterwards, she can grant absolution to
you all."

Again the robbers laughed, as the clerk began explaining very volubly to
them that they were welcome to all that Mother Church could on this
occasion offer.

"We know better than to stay a monk for toll," said the robber. "Beside,
would your excellence have us commit sacrilege?"

"I would have you leave hold of my bridle," answered Robin, very
wrathfully.

"Pay the toll cheerfully, youngling," cried one of the others, "and be
not so wordy in the business. We have other folk to visit; the day is
already half gone from Sherwood."

"I will shoot with you for the freedom of the forest," said Robin,
desperately. "An I lose, then shall you take all but my mother's jennet.
She shall be allowed to carry my mother into Gamewell, whilst I remain
here, as hostage, for her return."

"Let the dame bring back a hundred crowns in each of her hands, then,"
replied the chief of the robbers.

"It is agreed," answered Robin, after one appealing glance towards the
dame. "Now help me down from my horse, and let the clerk see fair play.
Set us a mark, good father, and pray Heaven to speed my arrows
cunningly."

The clerk, who had kept himself much in the background, now spoke. "This
wager seems to savor of unholiness, friends," said he, solemnly. "Yet,
in that it also smacks of manliness, I will even consent to be judge.
You, sir, since you are doubtless well acquainted with the part, can
speak for distance. Now, I do appoint the trunk of yon birch-tree as
first mark in this business."

"Speed your arrow, then, lording," laughed the robber, gaily. "'Tis but
forty ells away! I will follow you respectfully, never doubt it."

Robin bent his bow and trained his eyes upon the birch.

Then suddenly came back upon him his father's words: "Remember that I am
a proud man, Robin."

"I will," muttered Robin, betwixt set teeth, and he aimed with all his
heart and soul in it. There came the twang of the bowstring, and the
next moment the gooseshaft was flying towards its mark.

"A pretty shot, master," said the robber, glancing carelessly towards
the arrow, quivering still in the trunk of the birch-tree. "But you have
scarce taken the centre of our mark. Let me see if I may not mend your
aim."

His arrow sang through the summer air, and took root fairly in the
middle of the trunk, side by side with Robin's.

"You win first round, friend," said the clerk, with seeming reluctance.
"Now, listen, both, whilst I make you a better test." He was about to
continue, when an interruption occurred one that saved him necessity of
further speech.



CHAPTER II


Suddenly through the greenwood came full four score of the King's
Foresters, running towards the robbers, ready to seize them.

These were the foresters of Nottingham, roving far afield. The Sheriff
of Nottingham had become angered at the impudent robberies of late, and
now all of his foresters had spread themselves about Sherwood in the
hope of making such a capture of the outlaws as would please their
master and bring substantial reward to themselves. On the head of Will
o' th' Green, the chief of the band, was set the price of ten golden
crowns.

But alas! these crowns were still to seek; for Will o' th' Green, at
first hint of the danger, had put his horn to his lips and given a long,
low call upon it, and next instant not a robber was to be seen.

Each man had dropped to his hands and knees as soon as he had reached
the bushes; and the foresters might beat and belabor Mother Sherwood in
vain, for she would never betray her children.

Fitzooth's men-at-arms were glad to be released, and were eager now to
give all information against their assailants. One of the fellows swore
roundly that the learned clerk had given Will o' th' Green a very plain
hint; but this assertion was most properly put aside by all who heard
it.

Robin gave his story of the business, and then, having thanked the
captain of the foresters, would have continued the journey. The clerk
was no longer to be denied, however, from his food: and so it came about
that presently the four of them were at a meal together under the
trees--the captain of the foresters having agreed to join with Robin,
the hermit, and Mistress Fitzooth in an attack upon the good wine and
pasty which the latter had provided.

The foresters returned in twos and threes from their fruitless search,
and stood about in little knots discussing the chase. All agreed that
the outlaws had some stronghold underground, with many entrances and
ways into it; easily to be found by those in the secret, but impossible
of passage to persons in pursuit.

"Do you go to Gamewell, friends?" asked the captain, after the meal had
been finished. When he had been answered yes, he told Mistress Fitzooth
that she might have an escort for the rest of the way; since he and his
men must travel to Gamewell themselves, to report the encounter to
Squire George of Gamewell.

Gladly Mistress Fitzooth heard this, and very cheerfully they all
started afresh upon the journey.

Robin alone was sad; the fact that the robber chief's arrow had flown
more near a woodman's mark than his own rankled within his breast.

Ah, but a time would come when Master Will o' th' Green should see
better archery than he now dreamed of. And Robin should be the master
who would teach the lesson.

Building such day-dreams, he cantered quietly enough beside his mother's
jennet; whilst the clerk and the captain of the foresters chattered
amiably together. The dame listened to their gossip, and put in her own
word and question; she had an easy mind now and could give herself to
talk of Prince John and his impudent rebellion.

"So the barons would really make him King?" asked she, round-eyed: "King
of all these lands and forests?"

"Some of our barons have sworn so much," answered the forester, lightly;
"but men speak best with their swords, dame. Have you not heard of young
Montfichet's doings? He has undone himself indeed----"

"Waldemar Fitzurse is behind it all, and young De Brocy," the clerk
interrupted, loudly, giving him a warning glance.

The friar pointed to Robin. "'Tis the lad's cousin, and he does not know
of Geoffrey Montfichet's outlawry," he whispered.

"Some say that the King will establish an assize of arms on his return
from France, whereby every knight, freeholder, and burgess must arm
himself for England's defense," continued the clerk, easily. "'Tis a
pretty notion, and like our King."

"There are tales about our Henry, and ballads more than enough," replied
the forester, shrugging his shoulders. "Will o' th' Green knows a good
one, I am told."

At the mention of the outlaw's name Robin pricked up his ears. He asked
many questions concerning Master Will; and learned that he had been
outlawed by Henry himself for the accidental slaying of a younger
brother in a quarrel years since. Before that he had been a dutiful and
loyal subject, and there were some who vowed that Master Will was as
loyal now as many of Henry's barons. Will shot the King's deer, truly,
but only that he might live: the others conspired against their
monarch's honor, in order that their own might be increased.

The cavalcade came into sight of Gamewell Hall while still at this
gossip. The night was falling and lights burned behind the embrasured
windows of the castle, for such it was in truth, being embattled and
surrounded properly by a moat and heavy walls.

The captain wound his horn to such purpose that the bridge was soon
lowered, and the whole party began to trot over it into the wide
courtyard before the hall. That it was a very magnificent place was
apparent, despite the shadows.

Before the door of the hall Robin sprang lightly from his horse and ran
to help his mother from her saddle with tender care: then moved to give
assistance to the clerk. The latter had bundled himself to firm ground,
however, and now stood stolidly expectant.

Master Montfichet--George of Gamewell, as the country folk called him
mostly--had come down to greet his guests, and was waiting upon them ere
Robin could turn about. The Squire was an old man, with white hair
curling from under a little round cap. He wore long black robes, loose
and rather monkish in their fashion. He seemed as unlike his sister as
Robin could well imagine, besides being so much more advanced in years.
His face was hairless and rather pale; but his eyes shone brightly.
There was a very pleasant expression in the lines about his mouth, and
his manner was perfect. He embraced Robin with kindliness; and real
affection for his sister seemed to underlie his few words of welcome. To
the Friar of Copmanhurst he was so courteous and respectful that Robin
began to wonder whether he himself had ever properly regarded the clerk
in the past. If so great a man should bow to him, what ought Robin to
do? Robin remembered that he had often ventured to rally and tease this
good-natured master who had taught him his letters.

The Squire bade them follow him, so soon as their horses and baggage had
been duly given over to the servants and he had heard the forester's
complaint against the outlaws. The Squire made little comment, but
frowned.

At the conclusion of the captain's report, they came into the hall,
lighted by a thousand fat tapers.

"Sister Nell--do you please dismiss us," said the Squire, in his courtly
way, after he had signed to some waiting-maids to take charge of
Mistress Fitzooth. "I will lead Robin to his chamber myself, and show
him the arrangement we have made for his stay at Gamewell. Supper will
be served us here in less than an hour. Father, your apartments shall be
near my own. Come with me, also."

In the room allotted to him Robin found new and gay clothes laid out
upon a fair, white bed, with a little rush mat beside it. A high
latticed window looked out upon the court, and there was a bench in the
nook, curiously carven and filled with stuffs and naperies the like of
which Robin had never seen before.

The walls were hung with tapestries, and very fierce and amazing were
the pictures embroidered upon them. The ceiling was low and raftered
with polished beams. Behind the door was a sword suspended by a leathern
belt.

"For you, kinsman," the Squire had said, smilingly.

Robin lost no time in doffing his green jerkin and hose, and then he
washed himself and eagerly essayed his new habiliments. When the sword
had been buckled on, our young hero of Locksley felt himself equal to
Will o' th' Green or any other gallant in Christendom.

He strode along the corridors and found his way back to the great hall.
There the Master of Gamewell and his mother awaited him. Mistress
Fitzooth's eyes shone approvingly, and Robin slipped his fingers into
hers.

"I'll build a castle as fine as this, mother mine, one of these days,"
Robin told her: and he began to ask Master Montfichet questions as to
the number of claims-at-law that he must have won in order to hold so
splendid a domain. The Squire smilingly told him that the King had given
Gamewell to him as a reward for valor in battle many years agone.

"Then will I fight for the King," cried Robin, with flashing eyes, "so
that I may win my father Broadweald and all the lands of it."

"And I will teach you, Robin: be sure of that," said old George
Montfichet. "But your sword must be swung for the right King, harkee.
Not for rebellious princes will we cry to arms; but for him whom God
hath placed over us--Henry the Angevin."

"Amen," murmured the clerk, fervently. "Let law and order be respected
always."

"It may mean much to you, friar," said Montfichet. "Young John has the
Priory of York under his hands."

"He has not fingers upon Sherwood, and we are free of it!" cried the
clerk. Then he hastily corrected himself. "We hermits can have no fear,
since we have no wealth. Happy then the man with naught to lose, and who
has a contented mind."

"I will be free of Sherwood Forest, father, if that boon shall wait upon
my archery. Master Will, the robber, swore that if I beat him, sir"--he
had turned his bright face to old Gamewell's--"I should go free of the
greenwood. And I will win the right."

"'Tis scarcely Will's to grant," frowned the Squire; "yet, in a way, he
has control of the forest. It is a matter which I will look to, since
the Sheriff seems so fearful of him," he added, significantly.



CHAPTER III


The next day they journeyed quietly into Nottingham, taking only a few
retainers with them. The clerk chose to stay at the hall, fearing, as he
said, that his eyes would be offended with the vanity of the town.

When they had come to the meadows wherein the Fair was held, Robin was
overcome with joy at the sight of the wonderments before him.

That which most pleased him was the tumbling and wrestling of a company
of itinerant players, merry fellows, all in a great flutter of tinsel
and noise. They were father and three sons, and while the old man blew
vigorously upon some instrument, the three sons amused themselves and
the crowd by cutting capers.

Again and again did Robin entice Master Montfichet to return to these
strollers. It was the wrestling that most moved him, for they put such
heart into it as to make the thing seem real. "Give them another penny,
sir," requested Robin, with heightened color. "Nay, give them a silver
one. Did you ever see the like? The little one has the trick of it, for
sure ... I do believe that he will throw the elder in the next bout."

"Will you try a turn with me, young master?" asked the little stroller,
overhearing these words, "If you can stand twice to me, I'll teach you
the trick and more besides."

"Nay, nay," said the Squire, hastily. "We have no leisure for such
play, Robin. Your mother is waiting for us at yonder booth. Let us go to
her."

Robin turned away reluctantly. "I do think I could stand twice to him.
The grass is dry within the ring, sir--do you think I should hurt my
clothes?"

Such pleading as this moved the capricious old Master of Gamewell.
Although it was scarce a proper thing for one of gentle blood to mix
with these commoners, yet the Squire could not forego his own appetite
for sport. He turned about to the strollers: "I will give a purse of
silver pennies to the one who wins the next bout," said he. "Let any and
all be welcome to the ring, and the bout shall be one of three falls.
Challenge anyone in Nottingham; I dare swear some lad will be found who
shall show you how to grip and throw."

The father of the players struck a most pompous attitude and blew three
piercing blasts. "Come one, come all!" cried he. "Here be the three
great wrestlers from Cumberland, where wrestling is practised by every
lad and man! Here are the wrestlers who have beaten all in their own
county, and who now seek to overcome other champions! Oyez, oyez! There
is a prize of twenty silver pennies to be handed to the winner of the
next bout (did you say twenty or thirty pennies, lording?). Come one,
come all--the lads from Cumberland challenge you!"

"Now let me wrestle for the pence, sir," pleaded Robin, catching hold of
the Squire's sleeve. "Why should not I try to win them? They might
become the foundation of that fortune which I would have for my father's
sake."

"Twenty pennies would buy him little of Broadweald, boy," laughed the
Squire. "Nor should a Montfichet struggle in the mob for vulgar gain.
You are a Montfichet--remember it--on your mother's side. We will see
how they fare, these men of Cumberland, against the lads of Nottingham
and Sherwood. Here comes one in answer to the challenge."

A thin, pale-faced fellow had claimed the purse whilst the Squire had
been speaking. "'Tis yours if you can take it," answered the old
stroller, as he and his lads cleared the ring. A great crowd of folk
gathered about, and Montfichet and Robin were in danger of being jostled
into the background.

"Stand here beside me, lording," commanded the stroller. "Do you keep
back there, impudent dogs! This is the noble who gives the purse. There
shall be no purse at all, an you harry us so sorely. Stand back, you and
you!" He pushed back the mob with vigorous thrusts. "Now let the best
man win."

The two lads had stripped to their waists, and were eyeing each other
warily. The Nottingham youth, despite his slimness, showed clean and
muscular against the swarthy thick-set boy from Cumberland. They
suddenly closed in and clutched each other, then swayed uncertainly from
side to side. The crowd cheered madly.

The competitors for Montfichet's purse were evenly matched in strength:
it remained for one of them to throw the other by means of some trick or
feint. The stroller tried a simple ruse, and nigh lost his feet in doing
it.

"You must show us a better attempt than that, Cumberland!" called out
someone. Robin, quick-eared to recognize a voice, turned his head
instantly, and in time to catch a glimpse of Will o' th' Green, the
robber of Sherwood!

Seeing Robin's gaze fixed upon him, Master Will deemed it prudent to
discreetly withdraw. He nodded boldly to the lad first, however; then
moved slowly away. "Hold fast to him, Nottingham, for your credit's
sake," he cried, ere disappearing.

Meanwhile the wrestlers tugged and strained every nerve. Great beads of
perspiration stood out upon their brows. Neither made any use of the
many common tricks of wrestling: each perceived in the other no usual
foe.

Suddenly the Nottingham lad slipped, or seemed to slip, and instantly
the other gripped him for a throw. Fatal mistake--'twas but a ruse--and
so clear a one as to end the first round. The Nottingham lad recovered
adroitly, and now that the other had his arm low about the enemy's body,
his equipoise was readily disturbed. The stroller felt himself swiftly
thrust downward, and as they both fell together it was he who went
undermost.

"A Nottingham! A Nottingham!" clamored the crowd, approvingly. Then all
prepared themselves for the second round.

This, to Robin's surprise, was ended as soon as begun. The Cumberland
lad knew of a clever grip, and practised it upon the other immediately,
and the Nottingham hero went down heavily.

The third bout was a stubborn match, but fortune decided it at length in
favor of the stroller. Montfichet handed the purse to the winner without
regret. "Spend the money worthily as you have won it, Cumberland,"
spoke the Squire. "Now, Robin, let us join your mother. She will be
weary waiting for us."

"And if your stomach sickens for a fight with me, master, here may I be
found until Saturday at noon." So said the little tumbler, roguishly.
"'Tis a pity that we could not tussle for the purse, eh? but I would
have given your ribs a basting."

"Now shall I twist his ears for him, Squire?" said Robin.

"Nay, boy, let his ears grow longer, as befitteth; then you will have
freer play with them. Come with me to see the miracle-play, and be not
so ready to answer these rascallions. I begin to think that we should
not have gone the round of the shows by ourselves, Master Spitfire.
Travelling unattended with you is too dangerous a business."

Montfichet smiled despite his chidings. He had already taken a fancy to
this high-spirited youth. He walked affectionately, with his hand upon
Robin's shoulder, towards the booth where, with her maids, Mistress
Fitzooth was waiting for them. "Are you sorry for Nottingham, Robin?" he
asked, as they passed by the pale-faced, rueful wrestler. "Then take him
this little purse quietly. Tell him it is for consolation, from a
friend."

Robin gladly performed the task; then, as he returned to the Squire's
side, thought to ask instruction on a point which had perplexed him not
a little. "Yesterday, sir," he began, "when we were in the greenwood,
all men seemed eager to catch the robber chief."

"Well, Robin?"

"To-day he walks about Nottingham Fair, and no one attempts to tarry
him. Why is this, sir? Is the ground sanctuary?"

"Have you spied out Will o' th 'Green indeed?" began Montfichet,
eagerly. "That were hard to believe, for all he is so audacious."

"Truly, sir, I saw him when we were at the wrestling. He peered at me
above the caps of the people."

"Point him out now to me, Robin, if you can." The Squire became
humorously doubtful, and his amusement grew upon him as Robin vainly
searched with his bright eyes about the throng. "No Will o' th' Green is
here, child; he would be a fish out of water, indeed, in Nottingham
town. Dearly would I love to catch him, though."

"Yet I did see him, sir, and he knew me. Now here is my mother, who
shall tell you how long we talked together yesterday. It is not likely
that I would forget his voice."

"Well, well, perhaps you are right," said the Squire. "At any rate,
we'll keep sharp eyes for the rogue. Have you seen the miracle-play,
Sister Nell?" he added now to Mistress Fitzooth.

"I have been waiting here for you," answered she, briefly, "Robin, what
do you think of it all?"

Robin's reply was drowned in the noise of the music made within the
tents. It was so dreadful a din that all were fain to move away.

"See, mother, here is a wizard; let us go in here!" Robin had spied a
dim, mysterious booth, outside of which were triangles and cones and
fiery serpents coming forth from a golden pot, with cabalistic signs
and figures about the sides of it. Standing there was a tall, aged man,
clad in a long red robe and leaning upon a star-capped wand.

"Will you have the stars read to you, lording?" he asked, gravely.

"Ay, surely!" clamored Robin. "Come, mother mine; come, sir, let us ask
him questions of Locksley, and hear what my father may be doing."

"Do you think that you will hear truth, child? Well, have your way. Will
you join us, Nell--the business is a pleasing one, for these knaves have
the tricks of their trade. But harkee, friends, give no real heed to the
mummery."

The wizard ushered them into his tent. Then he dropped the edge of the
canvas over the opening, shrouding them in complete darkness.

The Squire began an angry protest, thinking that now was a good chance
for any confederate to rob them or cut their pockets: but the wizard,
unheeding, struck suddenly upon a small gong. A little blue flame sprang
up from a brazier at the far end of the tent.

In the strange light one could now see the furniture and appurtenances
of this quaint place. They were curious enough, although few in number.
A globe, and a small table covered with a black cloth; a bench strewn
with papers and parchments; and a skeleton of an ape, terribly deformed,
were the chief items of the collection.

A curtain concealed part of the tent. Behind the brazier were hanging
shelves covered with little bottles and phials. The wizard stretched
his wand out towards the dancing blue flame, and it forthwith leaped up
into a golden glory.

"Approach, Robin, son of Fitzooth the Ranger," commanded the wizard.
"Place your hand upon the globe and look down upon this table." He
pushed away the black cloth, showing that the center of the table was
made of flat green glass. "Look steadily, and tell me what you see."

"I see through it the grass of the ground on which we stand," said
Robin. "There is naught else."

"Look again, Robin of Locksley."

Robin strained his eyes in the hope of discovering something of mystery.
But the flat glass was clear and disappointing.

"Let me take your place, Robin," said Mistress Fitzooth, impatiently.

But now the green of the glass began to fade; and it seemed to become
opaque and misty. Robin dimly saw in it a sudden miniature picture of a
glade in the forest of Sherwood, the trees moving under a south-west
wind, and the grasses and flowers bowing together and trembling.

It seemed to be summer; the bracken was high and green. A man, clad in
doublet and hose of Lincoln green, strode forward into the center of the
picture. He was a slim fellow, not over tall, with a likeable face,
bearded and bronzed; and a forester, too, if one might judge by the
longbow which he carried. He wore no badge nor mark of servitude,
however, and walked as a free man. His face, vaguely familiar, wore an
expectant look. He turned his glances right and left. A low call sounded
from the bushes on his left. Robin could hear it as a sound afar off.

The man cautiously moved towards the verge of the glade, and as he did
so there came a shower of light laughter from the undergrowth. Pushing
aside the bracken came forth two arms; a merry face appeared; then,
quick as a flash, upstood a page, gaily clad, with black curly hair and
strange eyes.

The man opened his arms to the lad, and then Robin saw that 'twas no boy
at all. It was a maid, joyous with life, playing such a prank as this
that she might bring herself to her true love's side.

Robin watched them delightedly. In some way he knew that in this
mirrored picture _he_ was concerned to a curious degree; and when a cold
cloud passing above the glade took the sun and the light from it Robin
felt an intense anxiety.

"Can you see aught now, Robin of the Woods?" murmured the soft voice of
the wizard, and Robin would have asked him who was the man, if his
tongue had been at command.

His eyes took all the strength of his brain. They waited furiously for
the cloud to pass.

When all had become clear again the man was alone. His face was
sorrowful, ill, and old. He was fitting an arrow to his bow, and his
hand trembled as his fingers drew the string. He drew it slowly, almost
wearily, yet with a practised gesture. Robin, watching him, saw the
arrow leap forth from the picture.

"He is dying and shoots his last arrow--is it not so?" he uttered
thickly, striving to understand.

While he spoke the vision faded and was gone.



CHAPTER IV


Robin started back angrily and faced the Squire. He began a confused
complaint against the wizard, who had vanished behind the curtain on the
left. Master Montfichet shrugged his shoulders indulgently.

"Give not so earnest a mind to these mummeries, child. 'Twas all a
trick! What did you see? A golden fortune and a happy life?"

"I did see a man, sir, dressed all in Lincoln green. He was like unto my
father, in a way, and yet was not my father. Also there was a stripling
page, who turned into a maid. Very beautiful she was, and I would know
her again in any guise."

"Ah, Master Robin, have you eyes for the maids already?"

"This was so sweet a lady, sir, and in some manner I do think she died.
And the man shot an arrow, meaning me to see where it fell, since there
would be her grave. That is what I think he meant. But then the picture
was gone as quickly as it came."

"Sister Nell, do you hear these marvels? Take your place and let us see
what the crystal can show to you. Most worthy conjurer of dreams, take
up your wand again: we all are waiting impatiently to know what is in
store for us!"

"These things are true that the glass mirror shows, lording," answered
the wizard, reappearing. "The crystal cannot lie."

He spoke unwittingly in a natural key. Robin turned round upon him very
shrewdly.

"Friend wizard," said the youth, half at random, "have you ever played
at archery in that greenwood which your glass showed us so prettily?"

"Like as not, young master, though I am an old man."

"Fie on you, friend!" cried Robin, exulting in a sudden discovery.
"Remember that the crystal cannot lie. It tells me now that you and I
will meet in rivalry, to shoot together for a strange prize--the freedom
of Sherwood!"

The wizard hastily drew near and pretended to peer into the glass. "What
would you do?" he whispered, fiercely.

"I can be generous, Will o' th' Green," spoke back Robin, quite sure
now. "Keep your secret, for I will not betray you."

At this moment there uprose without the booth a most deafening tumult.
Forthwith all ran to the opening of the tent to see what might be amiss;
but Master Will, who peeped out first, needed no more than one glance.
He gave way to the others very readily and retreated unperceived by the
Squire and Mistress Fitzooth to the rear of the tent.

Cries of: "A Nottingham! A Nottingham!" rent the air, and added to the
clangor of bells and trumpetings. As the Squire and Robin looked forth
they beheld a flying crowd of men and women, all running and shouting.

Before them fled the stroller and his three sons, capless and terrified.
The old man's triangle had been torn from him and was being jangled now
by Nottingham fingers.

"There is trouble before us. Come, Robin," said Montfichet, as he
stepped out, with the lad close at his heels.

"What is the tumult and rioting?" cried out the Squire, authoritatively,
and he blew twice on a silver whistle which hung at his belt.

The strollers rushed at once toward the old man, and faced their enemies
resolutely when they had gained his side. They were out of breath, and
their story was a confused one.

The little tumbler recovered first. After the Squire had left them, he
said, the Nottingham lad had returned with full a score of riotous
apprentices, all armed with cudgels. They had demanded a fresh trial of
skill for the Squire's purse of pennies.

"Which was denied us in most vile words, lording," cried out one from
the crowd, which had come to a halt and was now formed in an angry
sheepish ring about the front of the wizard's tent.

"Nay, we refused their request most politely, most noble," said the
little stroller. "And then they became vexed, and would have snatched
your purse from us. So my brother did stow the pennies quickly into his
wallet, and, giving me the purse----"

"You flung it full in my face!" roared the Nottingham wrestler, pushing
his way to the front, "you little viper, so I snatched at him to give
him the whipping he deserved, when----"

"I could not see my boy injured, excellence, for but doing his duty as
one of Cumberland's sons. So I did push this fellow."

"It is enough," said George Gamewell, sharply, and he turned upon the
crowd. "Shame on you, citizens," cried he; "I blush for my fellows of
Nottingham. Is this how you play an English game: to force your rivals
to lose to you any way? Cumberland has won my purse: the test was fairly
set, and fairly were we conquered. Surely we can submit with good
grace."

"'Tis fine for you to talk, old man," answered the lean, sullen
apprentice. "But _I_ wrestled with this fellow and do know that he
played unfairly in the second bout. Else had I not gone down at the
clutch, as all did see."

"Insolent!" spoke the Squire, losing all patience; "and it was to _you_
that I gave another purse in consolation! Go your ways ere I cause you
to be more soundly whipped than your deserts, which should bring heavy
enough punishment, for sure. Come to me, men, here, here!" He raised his
voice still louder. "A Montfichet! A Montfichet!" he called; and the
Gamewell men who had answered to his first whistling, now lustily threw
themselves upon the back of the mob.

Instantly all was uproar and confusion, worse than when they first had
been startled from the wizard's tent. The Nottingham apprentices struck
out savagely with their sticks, hitting friend and foe alike. The
burgesses and citizens were not slow to return these blows, and a fierce
battle was commenced.

The strollers took their part in it with hearty zest now that they had
some chance of beating off their foes. Robin and the little tumbler
between them tried to force the Squire to stand back, and very valiantly
did these two comport themselves.

The head and chief of the riot, the Nottingham apprentice, with clenched
fists, threatened Montfichet. Robin and the little stroller sprang upon
the wretch and bore him to the ground. The three rolled over and over
each other, punching and pummelling when and where they might. Robin at
last got fairly upon the back of their enemy and clung desperately to
him; whilst the stroller essayed to tie the man's hands with his own
garters.

The riot increased, for all were fighting now in two great parties;
townsfolk against apprentices. The din and shouting were appalling.
Robin and the little tumbler between them rolled their captive into the
wizard's tent.

The Squire helped to thrust them all in and entered swiftly himself.
Then he pulled down the flap of canvas, hoping that thus they might not
be espied. "Now, be silent, on your lives," he began; but the captured
apprentice set up an instant shout.

"Silence, you knave!" cried Montfichet. "Stifle him, Robin, if need be;
take his cloth." He felt for and found the wizard's black cloth.

The Squire was quite out of breath. "Where is our wizard friend?" he
went on, peering about in the semi-darkness. "Most gentle conjurer, we
wish your aid."

But Master Will had beaten a prudent retreat through the back of the
tent. The canvas was ripped open, letting in a streak of light. They
left their prisoner upon the ground, and cautiously drew near the rift.

The noise without showed no abatement. The fighting was nearer to the
tent, and the bodies of the combatants bumped ever and anon heavily
against the yielding canvas.

"They will pull down the place about our heads," muttered the Squire.
"Hurry, friends."

Just then Robin stumbled over the skeleton of the ape, and an idea
seized suddenly on his brain, and, picking himself up, he clutched the
horrid thing tightly, and turned back with it. Thrusting open the proper
entrance of the tent, Robin suddenly rushed forth with his burden, with
a great shout.

"A Montfichet! A Montfichet! Gamewell to the rescue!"

He held the ape aloft and thrust with it at the press. The battle melted
away like wax under a hot sun at the touch of those musty bones. Terror
and affright seized upon the mob, and everywhere they fell back.

Taking advantage of this, the Squire's few men redoubled their efforts,
and, encouraged by Robin's and the little stroller's cries, fought their
way to him. The tumbler had come bounding to Robin's side and made up in
defiant noise that which he lacked in strength of arm. The tide was
turned, the other strollers and the Gamewell men came victoriously
through the press and formed a ring about the entrance to the wizard's
tent.

Robin, still brandishing his hideous skeleton, wished to pursue the
beaten and flying rabble; but the Squire counselled prudence.

"You have done right well, Robin of Locksley, and dearly do I love you
for your courage and resource. George Montfichet will never forget this
day. Here let us wait until the Sheriff's men come to us. I hear them
now, come at last, when all the fighting's done."

"What is your name, lording?" asked the little stroller, presently.

"Robin Fitzooth."

"And mine is Will Stuteley. Shall we be comrades?"

"Right willingly, for between us we have won the battle," answered
Robin. He had taken a liking to this merry rogue; and gave him his name
without fear or doubt. "I like you, Will; you are the second Will that I
have met and liked within two days; is there a sign in that?"

"A sign that we will be proper friends," replied the stroller.

Montfichet called out for Robin to give him an arm. The Squire, now that
the danger was over, felt the reaction; and he had strange pains about
his breast.

"Friends," said Montfichet, faintly, to the wrestlers, "bear us escort
so far as the Sheriff's house. It will not be safe for you to stay here
now. I would speak with you later, since notice must be taken of this
affair. Pray follow us, with mine and my lord Sheriff's men."

He spoke with difficulty, and both Robin and Mistress Fitzooth were much
perplexed over him. The party moved slowly across the scattered Fair;
nor heeded the mutterings and sour looks of the few who, from a
distance, eyed them.

Nottingham Castle was reached, and admittance was demanded. When the
Sheriff heard who was without his gates he came down himself to greet
them. He was a small, pompous man, very magnificent in his robes of
office, which he was wearing this day in honor of the Fair. In the early
morning he had declared it open; and on the last day would bring his
daughter to deliver the prizes which would be won at the tourney.

Master Monceux, the Sheriff of Nottingham, was mightily put about when
told of the rioting. He protested that the rogues who had conspired to
bring about this scandal should all be thrust into the stocks for two
whole days, and should afterwards be scourged out of the city. He was
profuse in his offers of hospitality to his guests; knowing Montfichet
to have a powerful influence with the King. And Henry might return to
England at any moment.

The strollers and the Squire's retainers had been told to find
refreshment with the Sheriff's men-at-arms in the buttery. Robin
pleaded, however, with the Squire for little Will to be left with them.

"I like this impudent fellow," he said, "and he was very willing to help
us but a little while since. Let him stay with me and be my squire in
the coming tourney."

"Have your will, child, if the boy also wills it," Montfichet answered,
feeling too ill to oppose anything very strongly just then. He made an
effort to hide his condition from them all, and Robin felt his fingers
tighten upon his arm.

"What is it, dear patron?" Robin asked, anxiously.

"Beg me a room of the Sheriff, child, quickly. I do think that my heart
is touched with some distemper."

Robin ran to the Sheriff.

"Sir," said he, "my patron is overcome of the heat and commotion. He
prays that you will quietly grant him some private chamber wherein he
may rest."

"Surely, surely!" said the Sheriff. "Ay, and I will send him a leech--my
own man, and a right skilful fellow. Bid your master use this poor house
as he would his own." The Sheriff spoke with great affectation. "In the
meantime I will see that a proper banquet is served to us within an
hour. But who is this fellow plucking at your sleeve? He should be in
the kitchen with the rest."

"He is my esquire, excellency," returned Robin, with dignity.

Mistress Fitzooth had been carried off by the Sheriff's daughter and her
maids as soon as they had entered the house, so that Robin alone had the
care of Montfichet. With Will Stuteley's assistance they brought the old
man safely to the chamber allotted them by the fussy Sheriff. Robin was
glad when, at length, they were left to their own devices.

"'Tis a goblet of good wine that the lording requires to mend him," said
the little stroller. "I'll go and get it, Robin Fitzooth."

The wine did certainly bring back the color to the Squire's cheeks.
Robin chafed his cold hands and warmed them betwixt his own. Slowly the
fit passed away, and George Montfichet felt the life returning to him.

"'Twas an ugly touch, young Robin. These escapades are not for old
Gamewell, lad; his day has come to twilight. Soon 'twill be night for
him and time for sleep."

The Squire's voice was sad. He held Robin's hand affectionately, as the
latter continued his efforts to bring back warmth to him.

"But I will do some proper service for you, child. You shall not find me
one to lightly forget. Will you forgive me now? I will return to
Gamewell soon as I may and there rest for a few days."

"I'll take you, sir. It will be no disappointment to me. I have seen all
that I wish of Nottingham Fair."

"You shall return for the tourney; and if your father will give you
leave, young Cumberland, you shall become my Robin's esquire. No thanks;
I am glad to give you such easy happiness. Arm me to the hall, Robin; I
am myself again, and surely there is a smell of roasted meats!"

"You are a worthy leech, Will," presently whispered Robin. "The wine has
worked a marvel. Come, follow us, and forget not that I still will
wrestle with you! Ay, and show you some pretty tricks."

"Unless I have already learned them!" retorted young Stuteley, laughing.
Then, becoming serious, the little stroller suddenly bent his knee.
"I'll follow you across the earth and sea, master," he murmured,
touching Robin's hand with his lips.

He lightly sprang to his feet again, seeing that Montfichet now
impatiently awaited them. Together they made their way to the banquet
spread in the Sheriff of Nottingham's wide hall.



CHAPTER V


Squire George of Gamewell rested at his ease in the comfort of his own
domain during the next day; and, though he would have Robin go into
Nottingham, with his new esquire and Warrenton--Montfichet's own
man--young Fitzooth was more than content to stay near to his patron's
side.

There had been no difficulty in the matter of Master Stuteley's
detachment from the other strollers. The old tumbler was shrewd enough
to see that his son would considerably better his fortunes by joining
them with those of Robin of Locksley. Will was delighted, and wished to
commence his duty in Robin's service by instructing his young master at
once in the arts of wrestling, single-stick, and quarter-staff.

The Squire laughed at their enthusiasm.

"Do you leave me, Robin, to the care of your mother: I warrant me I'll
come to no harm!" he said. "There are matters on which I would talk with
her, and we must be at peace."

Montfichet dismissed them. He was quite restored by this time, and
settled himself to a serious conversation with his sister.

There were subjects which he touched upon only to her--being a secret
man in some things, and very cautious.

"Having now no son, and being a lonely man," he had written in his
letter, and Dame Fitzooth had known from this that unhappy relations
still existed between George of Gamewell and Geoffrey Montfichet, his
only son.

The two men had been for a long time on unfriendly terms, though the
Squire latterly had sought honestly to undo that which had been years
a-doing. He could not own to himself that the fault was his altogether:
but Geoffrey, exiled to London, had been brought back to Gamewell at his
father's entreaty. For a time things had gone on in a better
direction--then had come Prince John's rebellion.

Geoffrey Montfichet was found to have been implicated in it, and had
been condemned to death. Only by the Squire's most strenuous endeavors
had this sentence been commuted by the King to life punishment. Geoffrey
fled to Scotland, whilst the Squire had been exercising himself on his
erring son's behalf. It was the last straw, and George Montfichet
disinherited his son. The hard-won Manor of Gamewell must pass from the
line.

Squire George had suddenly perceived a chance to prevent that
catastrophe. He had taken greatly to the lad Robin Fitzooth: and this
boy was of the true Montfichet blood--why should he not adopt the
Montfichet name and become the Montfichet heir?

This notion had been simmering in the Squire's mind. It had been born at
that moment when Robin had so cared for him and fought for him in
Nottingham Fair. "Here, at last," said the Squire, "have I found a son,
indeed."

Mistress Fitzooth had to listen to her brother's arguments submissively.
The dame saw stormy days for her ahead, for well she guessed that Hugh
Fitzooth would never agree to what the other in his impetuous way was
proposing. She listened and said "yea" and "nay" as the occasion
offered: once she mentioned Geoffrey's name, and saw Gamewell's face
cloud instantly with anger.

"He is no son of mine," said Montfichet, in a hard voice. "Do not speak
of him here, sister Nell--nor think me an unforgiving man," he hastened
to add, "for God knows that I did humble myself to the ground that I
might save his head from the axe of the King's executioner! And he
disgraced me by running away to Scotland on the very night that I had
gained Henry's pardon for him. Nay; I have no kin with cowards!"

"Geoffrey may have some reasonable excuse, brother mine," began the
dame, anxious to make peace.

Gamewell cut her short. "There can be no excuse for him," he said,
harshly.

His voice softened when he talked of Robin, for he was concerned to gain
his point.

"Fitzooth will be difficult in the matter, I do fear me," murmured the
dame, perplexed and ill at ease. "He is a Saxon, George, and thinks much
of his descent and name. He looks to Robin winning fame for it, as in
olden days. I do misdoubt me sorely."

"Well, let the lad be known as Robin Fitzooth Montfichet--'tis but
tacking on another name to him," said the Squire. "If he lives here, as
I shall devise in my will, right soon will he be known as Gamewell, and
that only! That fate has befallen me, and one might believe me now as
Saxon as your Hugh, Nell."

"You are none the worse for't, George," answered the dame, proudly.
"Either race is a kingly one."

"Saxon or Norman--shall Robin become Montfichet?" asked the Squire,
commencing his arguments again.

Fate had in store for young Robin, however, very different plans from
those tormenting Fitzooth the Ranger and old Squire George of Gamewell
Hall.

       *       *       *       *       *

The two lads strolled arm-in-arm about the wide court of Gamewell,
following Warrenton, in dutiful mood. The old henchman was very proud of
the place, and had all the legends of it at his fingers' ends. He told
young Robin of hidden treasure and secret passage-ways, and waxed
eloquent concerning the tapestries and carvings.

The hours went pleasantly enough, for, after the building had been duly
shown them, Warrenton took Robin about the gardens and orchards. There
was a pleasance, and a "Lady's Bower," wherein, Warrenton affirmed,
walked a beautiful lady once in every twelve months, at Hallow-e'en, on
the stroke of midnight. The old man then left them.

Very shocked was the old retainer to find these merry lads engaged
together, later, at wrestling and the quarter-staff, as if they had been
equals in birth. When Stuteley had thrown Robin thrice at "touch and
hold," within sight of the hall--it was indeed upon the soft grass of
the pleasance--Warrenton looked to see old Gamewell thundering forth.

When the Squire came not, and Robin nerved himself for yet another
tussle, the retainer shrugged his shoulders and even took an interest in
the matter.

[Illustration: ROBIN WRESTLES WILL STUTELEY AT GAMEWELL

_"Catch him by the middle," he shouted. "Now you have him, lording,
fairly. Throw him prettily!" And sure enough Stuteley came down._]

"Catch him by the middle," he shouted. "Now you have him, lording,
fairly. Throw him prettily!" And sure enough Stuteley came down.

"Does Master Gamewell play at archery here, Warrenton?" Robin asked,
presently, when he and Will were tired of wrestling. "Are they not
targets that I see yonder?"

The old man's eye lit up with pride. "Squire's as pretty a marksman as
any in Nottingham, lording, for all his years!" cried he. "And old
Warrenton it was who taught him. Yon target is a fair mark for any shaft
from where we stand. Yet I dare swear that Gamewell's lord would never
miss the bull in fifty shots at it!"

"Have you bow and quiver here?" inquired Robin, eagerly. "Mine I have
left in my room."

"Cross bow, longbow, or what you will, most noble. All that Gamewell has
I am to give you. Such were my master's commands. An your esquire will
run to the little hut near by, within the trees, he will find all that
we need."

"Go, Will. Haste you, and bring me a proper bow," cried Robin, with
sparkling eyes. "Now I'll bend the yew and see if I cannot do better
than in Sherwood."

Master Stuteley, having journeyed to the hut, peeped in and started back
with a cry of affright.

"The Yellow Woman, Robin!" called he, scampering back to them. "She is
in there, and did snatch at me! Let us run, quickly!"

"Beshrew me, master, but this is an adventure, for sure! The Yellow One,
was it? Then your days are numbered, and we had better be seeking a new
esquire," said Warrenton.

"Are you afraid, Warrenton?" said Robin, moving involuntarily nearer to
him. He glanced from one to the other, undecided whether to believe Will
or stand and laugh at his fears.

"I have had the distemper, master, and cannot again be hurt. But here
she comes, by the Lord! Keep near to me, lording, and shut your eyes
tight."

Robin was too dazed to heed the old man's advice. He glared in a
fascinated way at the figure emerging from the hut.

"It is a man," cried Robin, at last, "and listen--he is calling you,
Warrenton."

The retainer uttered a little sound of astonishment and ran forward.
"Sir--sir," he cried, as if in entreaty, to the man approaching: and he
made a gesture as though to warn him.

The "Yellow Lady" appeared to be in doubt both of Robin and young
Stuteley.

"Who are these, Warrenton?" called out a low, hushed voice.

Warrenton answered not, save with his half-warning, half-commanding
sign. But as the stranger drew near, apparently come to a decision, the
Squire's man spoke.

"It is your cousin, Master Geoffrey, and his esquire. They are here from
Locksley."

"So, 'tis my kinsman, Robin, who has tried to startle me?" said the
stranger, as Robin drew near to him. "Greetings, cousin; here's my hand
to you for all that you come to supplant me. Nay! I bear no ill-will.
Gamewell has no charms in my eyes compared with those of a life of
freedom."

"Is it Geoffrey, indeed?" asked young Fitzooth, gazing with both eyes
wide. He had looked to see his cousin young as himself, and here was a
man before him, bearded and bronzed, of nigh thirty summers. He was clad
in sombre clothes, and wore upon his shoulders a great scarlet cape, cut
extravagantly in the Norman fashion. Suddenly Robin laughed, heartily
and frankly.

"Yellow, Will, _yellow_, forsooth? Are you color-blind, friend? Cousin
Geoffrey, we had believed you none other than the yellow-clad damsel who
walks here at Hallow-e'en. Forgive us the discourtesy, I pray you. Here
is my hand and good fellowship in it. I am to relinquish all right to
Gamewell ground at the end of a year an I like--such were your father's
terms. I do doubt whether I may stay so long as that."

He spoke fearlessly. The two cousins embraced each other, and for an
instant Geoffrey gave play to his better self; then, next moment,
suspicion returned upon him.

"I am but come to see you, Warrenton, on a small matter. I must have a
horse and armor and a lance, that I may ride at Nottingham in the
joustings. I shall be disguised, and will wear my visor down: a hungry
wolf prowling unrecognized about his lord's domain."

His speech was bitter and his voice harsh. "Kinsman," added he, to
Robin, "do you keep still tongue in the business, and tell your squire
to be as discreet. I am outlawed in England and have no right in it----"

"That is not so, Geoffrey; surely your father will forgive----"

"It is in the King's hands, cousin. My father has no voice in it, nor
would desire to speak again for me, I trow. I have heard all that he
hath already done in my behoof, Warrenton--the item was brought to me
circuitously. Now I will keep you no longer: this hut has been and will
be my shelter until the horse and arms are brought here to me."

"I'll saddle him myself for you, coz: and choose you as stout a lance as
Gamewell can provide. Let me help you in this, and be to you always a
true friend."

"You speak soothly, young Robin, and it may be with sincerity. I'll
trust you then." Geoffrey drew him on one side. "See that the trappings
and armor be of good steel and furbished with red leather: let the note
of them be steel and scarlet. No device upon the shield, if you should
think to bring me one; and stay, I would like the sword-hilt and the
lance to be bound in red. Thus may you know me, if so be you are at the
jousts; but be secret, and trust no other man than Warrenton. I'll wait
you here at midnight--have no fear of the yellow ghost, kinsman!"

"You'll be as red as she is yellow, cousin," whispered back Robin, with
smiling face. "I'll do your behest, and attend you in this pleasance
to-night at twelve o' th' clock. My squire can be trusted, I well
believe."

"Believe in no man until you have tried him, coz," answered Geoffrey. He
paused. "Does Master Montfichet keep well in health, kinsman?" he asked.

"He is well, now, but has been indisposed.... Yesterday at
Nottingham----"

"Ay, I heard of the doings there--no matter how," muttered the other,
hastily. "Tell me that he is restored again; and that you will keep him
from harm always as valiantly as you did then. Does your father still
guard the forest at Locksley? 'Tis many years since I have seen Master
Fitzooth, but thy mother hath always been kindly disposed to me.
Farewell."

He nodded to Warrenton, and slipped back to the little hut, and they
heard him push the bolts after him. Robin turned to Stuteley.

"Will, speak not of this meeting with anyone save Warrenton. I have
promised for you."

"Right, master; the matter has already passed from my mind. Shall we try
our skill at archery? Warrenton can find me a bow, and I'll fetch yours
from the hall. Here comes a priest; surely he were good mark for us had
we our arrows here! And with him behold a forester of the
King--green-clad and carrying a royal longbow. Do you beg it of him,
master mine, whilst I seek yours. I go."

Young Stuteley hurried across the green, whilst Robin advanced to meet
the Clerk of Copmanhurst and the captain of the King's Foresters. They
were in earnest converse, and clearly had not spied the gay cloak of
Geoffrey Montfichet.

Warrenton, with significant gesture to Robin, began a lecture on the
making and choosing of arrows, as he walked beside his master's guest.

"Are you talking of arrow-making, friend?" asked the forester,
overhearing them. "Now I will tell you the true shape and make of such
shafts as our Will o' th' Green uses," he struck in. "One bare yard are
they in length, and are sealed with red silk, and winged with the
feathers of an eagle."

"Peacock," corrected the clerk, interposing. "You're wrong, Master Ford,
as I will prove. Here is the head of one of Will's bolts, dropped in the
greenwood on the day you rescued us from him. I have kept it in my
pouch, for 'tis a pretty thing." He laughed all over his jolly face.
"Here, Robin, keep it, and learn therefrom how _not_ to make arrows, for
vanity is a sin to be avoided and put on one side. The plainer the barb
the straighter does it fly, as all true bowmen must admit."

He took Robin's hand, soon as the lad had fastened the trophy in his
belt. "I have been bidden to you by the Master of Gamewell. He would
speak with you, Robin; and I do counsel you to give all heed and weight
to his words, and be both prudent and obedient in your answerings to
him."

They moved together towards the hall, whilst Warrenton and the forester
argued still on the matter of winging arrows.



CHAPTER VI


It was Warrenton who brought Master Geoffrey his red-armored steed and
lance, after all; for, although Robin had had a voice in the choosing of
the horse, and had helped the retainer to bind the shaft and interlace
the cuirass and gyres with riband such as the knight had ordered, events
stayed Robin from going out with these appurtenances of war to the
Lady's Bower.

Young Fitzooth had been commanded to his mother's chamber so soon as he
had come out from his converse with the Squire. There befell an anxious
interview, Mistress Fitzooth arguing for and against the Squire's
project in a breath. Robin was perplexed indeed: his ambition was fired
by the Squire's rosy pictures of what he, as a true Montfichet, must
adhere to without fail upon assuming the name and mantle of Gamewell.

Most of all Robin thought of his father. What would he counsel? "Remain
Fitzooth, and fight your own way in the world, boy." That is what he
_might_ say. In the end Robin decided to sleep upon the matter. In any
case he would not consent to rob Geoffrey of his inheritance; and he
told old Gamewell this to his face. "When I am gone you can do what you
will with the place, boy," the old man had answered. "I have no son;
but, of course, the fees and revenues will be yours. If, for a whim, you
beggar yourself, I cannot stay you. But take it whilst I live; and wear
Montfichet's shield in the days when my eyes can be rejoiced by so
brave a sight, for you will ne'er disgrace our 'scutcheon, I warrant me.
Perchance 'tis Geoffrey's sole chance that _you_ should wear the badge
of Gamewell. I might choose to bequeath it elsewhere."

The lad had checked him then. "Never that, sir," he had said. "Let
Gamewell land be ruled, for ever, by Gamewell's proper lord. I pray you
to let me take counsel with my mother ere I answer you."

"It is what I would suggest myself. Go to her."

Then had come the argument with his mother, which had unsettled him more
than before.

He went down to discuss with Warrenton and Stuteley the means by which
they best could bring the horse and arms to Geoffrey, and it soon became
evident that no one other than Warrenton dare attempt it, for fear of
betraying the son to his still angry father.

"Are you sure, Warrenton, that you will perform this business right
carefully?" Robin asked, over and over again, until the old servant
became vexed.

"I am part of the house of Montfichet, lording," snapped Warrenton, at
last, "and it is not reasonable to think that I will turn against
myself, as it were. Be sure that the horse and his trappings will be
safely carried to my second master, Geoffrey, at the hour given. Do you
keep the Squire employed in talk; and find excuse to lie in the little
room next to his own that you may hear him if he moves."

So Robin and Will went back to the hall, and presently the Squire's
voice was heard through the arras which covered the north entrance to
the apartment. He was in deep converse with the clerk, and entered the
hall holding him by the arm. For a moment Robin and Will were
unperceived; then the Squire's bright, keen eyes discovered them.

"Now to bed, boy!" cried he, dropping his detaining hold of the priest.
"'Tis late; and I go myself within a short space. Dismiss your squire,
Robin, and bid me good e'en. An early sleeper maketh a sound man."

"Did I see you with Warrenton, Robin Fitzooth?" put in the clerk,
curiously. "I would fain have some talk with him on the matter of
archery. I am told that this old man can draw as pretty a bow as any in
Nottingham."

"As any in England, I would say," said Gamewell, proudly. "That is, in
his day. Now that age is upon Warrenton and his master, cunning in such
matters is to seek. Yet he will teach you a few tricks when morning is
come. Now kiss me, boy, and keep clear head and ready hand for the
joustings and games to-morrow. Good night; God keep thee, Robin."

He seemed to take it for granted that Robin would, in the end, consent
to become of the house of Gamewell. Already Squire George looked upon
him as heir to the hall and its acres; even as slowly did Warrenton, the
shrewd and faithful man-at-arms. Truth to tell, the old servant did not
regard the prospect with too kind an eye.

Young Fitzooth embraced his uncle, and bade him good night with real
affection. There was no chance to alter his sleeping-room to one nearer
to Gamewell's chamber.

When he had reached his chamber, again came the suspicion of Warrenton.
Robin unfastened his tunic slowly and thoughtfully. Presently he
crossed the floor of his room with decided step.

"Will," cried he, softly; and Stuteley, who had chosen his couch across
the door of his young master's chamber, sprang up at once in answer.

"Do you hold yourself ready, Will, so soon as the house is asleep. We
will go out together to the bower; there is a way down to the court from
my window. Rest and be still until I warn you."

Stuteley replied in a word to him; and, blowing out his taper, Robin
returned to his bed and flung himself upon it in patient expectation.

The hours passed wearily by, and movement could yet be heard about the
hall. The open lattice gave entry to all sound from the court below; and
from his window Robin could tell when the tapers in the hall were
extinguished. Thrice he got up from his bed, and his stock of patience
was slipping from him.

At last all was quiet and black in the courtyard of Gamewell.

"Will," whispered Robin, opening his door as he spoke, "are you ready?"

Stuteley nodded as he entered on pointed toes.

"From the window," explained Robin, pushing him towards the lattice. A
faint starry radiance illumined the sky, and dim shadows held the angles
and nooks of the court below them.

A dense ivy clung to and covered the walls of the house. To one of light
and agile body it gave fair footing. Robin had hands and feet in it in
a moment; and cautiously, adroitly came to the ground, and signalled to
Will Stuteley.

The little ex-tumbler would have liked to have done tricks and shown his
cleverness in the business, had there been time for it: as it was, Will
dropped beside Robin lightly and easily, and instantly the two began to
cross the court.

It was necessary for them to climb over the stables at their left hand.
Some dogs, hearing these quiet, stealthy footfalls, began to bay
furiously: and both the youths stayed themselves until the beasts went
grumbling and suspicious back to the kennels.

They then renewed their journey, and, under the better light, made a
safe crossing of the stable-roofs.

They managed at length to win the gardens, and then raced across the
open ground to gain the shelter of the yew-trees bordering the bower.
The pleasance, in the soft moonlight, looked ghostly enough: the statues
and stone ornaments placed about the place seemed to be instinct with
life and to wave signals of horror to Will's starting eyes.

At last they approached the hut, and Robin saw in the bright moonlight
that the door gaped black at them. There was no sign to betray either
Warrenton or Geoffrey to him. Robin entered the hut, dragging the
unwilling esquire after him.

A draught of chill air puffed in their faces as they entered; and a
great owl blundered screamingly out into the night, the rush and noise
of it startling Will to a cold ecstasy of terror. He would have plunged
madly back to the hall had not Robin held firmly to him.

"Be not so foolish, friend," said Fitzooth, crossly. His voice took his
father's tone, as always happened when he was angered.

They moved thereafter cautiously about the hut, groping before and about
them to find something to show that Warrenton had fulfilled his mission.
Presently Will stumbled and fell, pulling down Robin atop of him.

Robin, putting out his hand to save himself, found that his fingers
grasped nothing but air. They were upon the verge of an open trap, in
the far corner of the hut; and Stuteley had tripped over the edge of the
reversed flap-mouth of this pit. Fitzooth's hand rested at last upon the
top rung of a ladder, and slowly the truth came to him. Quickly he drew
himself up and whispered the discovery to the other.

In an instant, then, their fears were dispelled. Will would have gone
down first into the pit had not Robin stayed him. Stuteley was anxious
that his young master should come to no harm; and where a danger
appeared an earthly one, he was quite willing to bear the brunt of it.
It was thought of the Yellow Woman which dried up all the courage in his
small, wiry body.

Robin carefully descended the ladder and found himself soon upon firm
rocky ground. Stuteley was by his side in a flash: and then they both
began feeling about them to ascertain the shape and character of this
vault. Hardly had they commenced when Robin's quick ears took warning.
Sound of a quiet approach was plain.

The darkness of the pit was suddenly illumined, and the lads found
themselves suddenly faced by the beams of a lanthorn suspended at about
a man's height in the air. From the blackness behind the light they
heard a voice--Warrenton's!

"Save me, masters, but you startled me rarely!" cried he, waving the
lanthorn before him to make sure that these were no ghosts in front of
him. "I have but this minute left Master Montfichet, having carried his
horse to him in safety. He rides into Nottingham to-morrow, unattended.
I would that I might be squire to him!"

"Did you indeed bring horse and arms down this ladder, Warrenton?"
enquired Robin, with his suspicions still upon him. "Truly such a horse
should be worth much in Nottingham Fair! I would dearly have loved to
see so brave a business----"

"Nay, nay, lording," answered Warrenton, with a half-laugh. "See"--and
again he waved his light, showing them where the underground passage,
for such it was, sloped upward to another and larger trap, now closed.
"This way is one of the many secret ones about Gamewell, master: but do
you keep the knowledge of it to yourselves, I beg, unless you would wish
hurt to our future lord of Gamewell."

Warrenton spoke thus with significance, to show Robin that he was not to
think Geoffrey's claims to the estate would be passed by. Robin Fitzooth
saw that his doubts of Warrenton had been unfair: and he became ashamed
of himself for harboring them.

"Give me your hand, Warrenton, and help me to climb these steps," said
he, openly. "'Tis dark, for all your lamp; and I fain would feel
friendly assistance, such as you can give."

His tones rang pleasantly on Warrenton's ears, and forthwith a
good-fellowship was heralded between them. This was to mean much to the
young hero of Locksley in the time to come; for Warrenton's help and
tuition were to make Robin Fitzooth something far better than the clever
bowman he was already. This night, in a way, saw the beginning of
Robin's fortunes and strange, adventurous after-life.

The old servant told him quietly as they crept back to Gamewell that
this passage-way led from the hut in the pleasance to Sherwood; and that
Geoffrey for the time was hiding with the outlaws in the forest. "Our
master is to be recognized by us as the Scarlet Knight at Nottingham
Fair should one ask of us, lording," Warrenton told him. "He implores us
to be discreet as the grave in this matter, for in sooth his life is in
the hollow of our hands."

The old servant spoke no more. In silence he led them back into Gamewell
by the private door through the stables by which he had himself emerged.

They regained their apartment, apparently without disturbing the
household of Gamewell. Only did one pair of eyes and ears look and
listen for them, and observe both their exit and return. It was the
Clerk of Copmanhurst's door that stood ajar; his busy mind that employed
itself in speculation as to the cause and meaning of this midnight
adventure.



CHAPTER VII


Geoffrey Montfichet's reason for wishing to be known as the Scarlet
Knight was no idle whimsey, as the others had guessed.

To John's rebellion against his father, Henry of England, the younger
Montfichet had given himself body and soul. The Prince had shown him
kindness, and now that the rebellion had failed, Geoffrey felt it
incumbent upon him to remain with the beaten side, and endeavor to
recover the advantage lost to them. To this end he now journeyed through
the Midlands in many disguises, trying to stir up the outlaws and
robbers of the forests to take up arms with John, under a promise that
the Prince (if successful) would grant them amnesty and a goodly share
of the spoils sure to fall to them.

A spy was to attend at Nottingham Fair to know how matters had
progressed with the outlaws of Sherwood; but, since it was too dangerous
to attempt an open meeting, Geoffrey had arranged a simple code of
signalling, by color.

Did he appear as a knight unknown and disinherited, bound on his arms
and steed with red trappings, the spy, eyeing him from beside the
Sheriff of Nottingham, would know that Will o' th' Green was to be
trusted, and would promptly bear the joyful news to his Royal Master.
Had sad black been the note, John's man would have guessed that friends
were still to seek about Nottingham.

Thus we know that Master Will had more reasons than one for appearing
as a wizard at Nottingham Fair. He had gone here chiefly to bear a
scroll to the Prince's emissary, and to declare fealty to John; but the
affair of the tumblers and Robin's discovery of him had warned Master
Will not to stay over long in the town, so Geoffrey had to depend upon
his plan of appearing as the Scarlet Knight.

The morning broke dull and threateningly over Gamewell. Robin and his
esquire slept late; but no one offered to disturb their slumbers. The
monk knew full well that there was good cause for his pupil's fatigue;
and had set himself to discover the true meaning of it. "Boy," said he
to Robin, "I pray that you do not think upon Nottingham to-day. There
will be a storm and much rain. The mud in the meadows of Nottingham will
surely spoil the bravery of the Fair, and show us too plainly how
trumpery and vain a matter it is."

"For that cause alone will we go, dear friend," retorted Robin. "It will
be a lesson to us. With you beside us to point the moral, much benefit
shall accrue, for sure. Father," Robin added, "come with us now to the
pleasance. There Warrenton is to show me how to notch arrows and pick a
courtly bow."

"I have no great wisdom in the game, boy; yet readily will I go with
you."

The three of them went in search of Warrenton; and found him with the
captain of the foresters.

Dame Fitzooth and the Squire followed later to the pleasance, and there
one and all tried conclusions. Robin soon found that Warrenton could
teach him much; and he was too anxious to excel in the conduct of the
bow to neglect this chance of learning the many secrets of it. "Men
shall talk of you"--Fitzooth's own words to him--always rang in his
heart whenever he drew the cord and fitted ash across yew.

Warrenton took great pleasure in showing Robin some of the tricks in
which he was so perfect; and explained them so well that ere an hour had
gone the lad had learned and mastered them.

"Lording," said the old servant, watching him as he essayed successfully
an exercise shown him but a few minutes before. "Lording, I do not doubt
that you will carry away with you to-day the Sheriff's prize from the
older bowmen of Nottingham! You have a keen eye for it, and your fingers
seem comfortable upon the yew--which is the sign and mark of a good
archer. Now, bear in mind this golden rule: that the feet are to be
placed at true angles, with the line of the mark running, as it were,
fairly through the heels: thus," and he took the position, fitted an
arrow to his bow, and, scarce looking towards the target, flew his shaft
so straightly as to pierce the very center of the bull. "Try now to
notch the arrow," said Warrenton, with pardonable pride.

Robin shook his head and laughed.

"Ay, but you shall make far _better_ than that, lording, an I have the
handling of you!" cried Warrenton. "Now take this bow and these arrows
which I have chosen; and we will set forth for Nottingham. We have an
hour's journey."

On the way to Nottingham, Robin's mind was so full of all that had
lately happened that he lagged behind the others and at last found
himself quite alone.

This was where the road curved through the last of the forest about
Nottingham. Warrenton and Master Ford of the foresters were at a renewed
discussion on longbow against crossbow; and Will Stuteley had become so
interested in the matter as to have poked his little horse between the
others. Robin trotted his steed to come up with them; then, suddenly
spying a brooklet among the trees upon his left hand, found himself
mightily athirst. He slipped from off the back of his grey jennet and
tethered the beast by the roadside.

The brook was fouled near the highroad from the passing of heavy carts
and wagons, so Robin pushed down it into the thicker wood.

Finding that now the stream ran pure and limpid, Robin flung himself
flat among the bracken and rushes, and dipped his face in the cool
water. He drank heartily, and lay there for a while in lazy content, hid
by the undergrowth and bracken.

A whinnying from his jennet warned him at length that he must push on
with speed if he intended to rejoin the others ere Nottingham gate was
reached. Robin turned himself about, preparatory to rising, then hastily
shrank back into the shelter afforded by the ferns.

Two men approached noiselessly through the forest. They carried bows and
were clad in russet brown. Robin, in that brief glimpse, recognized two
of Master Will's free-booting band.

The outlaws walked side by side in earnest conversation. Their
mutterings were at first unintelligible to Robin; but, by hazard, they
paused close to where he lay hid. Young Fitzooth knew that he would have
small chance with these fellows should they espy him.

Said one, an evil-looking man, with a dirty grizzled beard: "Our Will
seems to me, friend Roger, to be of open heart towards this youngling.
He has given him the key of the forest at first word, as if the place
were free to all. Had _you_ the knowledge of it so soon, Roger? Tell me,
lad."

He spoke sneeringly and with meaning. Robin strained his ears to
distinguish the other's reply. "Friend," said Number Two, at last, and
speaking in a smooth, milky sort of way, "friend, I would rather counsel
you to adopt a persuasive argument with the Scarlet Knight, should we
chance on him. I would have no violence done, an it may be avoided,
being a man opposed to lawlessness in heart, as you know. It is my
eternal misfortune which has brought me to this life."

"Tush! 'tis for murder of an old man at York! I know your story, Roger;
seek not to impose upon me."

"He was a Jew, dear friend, and did grievously provoke me. But we have a
matter in hand. This man has doubtless been sent in to spy upon us. I
have no belief in the faith of these Norman nobles. Further, he has upon
his head a goodly sum of money, as I well know. Wherefore, if chance
should yield him to our hands, it would seem right and proper that we
should bind him."

"Ay, hard and fast, Roger. You have it."

"Bind him with a vow, Micah, but not with ropes and wickedness. Yet
should your dagger inadvertently prick him----"

"Be sure that it will, Roger. Some inward voice warns me that it will."

The other made a sign to the last speaker to speak more quietly. Robin
cocked his ears in vain, but he had heard enough to show him that the
shadow of a great evil was stalking behind his cousin, and without
further thought decided that he must save him.

The two villains stood together a plaguey time perfecting their plans,
and Robin dared scarcely breathe. Once, when he attempted to wriggle his
way through the bracken, at the first sound of movement both men had
become utterly silent, showing that they had heard and waited to hear
again.

"A squirrel, friend," said the one called Roger at last, and Robin took
heart again.

However, knowing that presently they must espy his jennet tethered by
the road, Robin became desperate. He writhed his body snake-like through
the ferns until he came to the edge of the brook; then, covered by the
noise of the falling water, essayed to creep up the course of the
stream.

The distance from the road could scarcely have been two hundred ells,
but it seemed to Robin more like to a league. He got his feet and legs
wet and bemired; and cut his hands over the rocks about the brook. Yet
he came nearer and nearer still to the roadway without having given
alarm.

Robin saw at length the close turf which bordered the road, and spied
his little grey horse. Forthwith he rose to his feet and made a bold
dash for it.

The jennet was untethered and Robin upon its back in a flash; then the
lad heard the whizz of an arrow past him. He bent his head down close to
the neck of his jennet and whispered a word into its ear. The little
mare, shaking herself suddenly to a gallop, understood; and now began a
race between bow and beast.

These outlaws were no common archers, for sure. Twice did their shafts
skim narrowly by Robin and his flying steed; the third time a sudden
pricking told the youth that he was struck in the back.

He had no time for thought of pain. Everything depended on the beast
under him. He pressed his legs softly but firmly against her streaming
sides.

She was more swift in the end than the cruel arrows. Robin saw the
countryside flashing by him through a cloud of dust; saw that Nottingham
gate was reached; that a party with surprised faces watched his furious
approach. The little mare swayed and rolled as she went, and Robin came
to the ground, with the outlaw's arrow still in him. He was conscious
that someone ran to him and lifted him tenderly: he perceived dimly,
through circling blackness, the anxious face of Stuteley.

"Are you hurt, dear master?" he seemed to see, rather than hear, him
say.

Then Stuteley, Nottingham, and reason fled swiftly together, and the day
became as night.



CHAPTER VIII


When he recovered himself Robin found them binding his shoulder. He
smiled up at Warrenton to show that the hurt was little. "Are we too
late for the joustings, Will?" he murmured, spying out Stuteley's face
of concern.

"We are to bring back the golden arrow with us which the Sheriff has
offered as prize to the best marksman," answered Warrenton, before the
other could speak. "Now, you are to remember all that I have shown you,
and shoot in confidence. Now come: the gates of Nottingham are opened,
and your wound is neatly bandaged. Here is the arrow plucked from it:
keep it for a trophy."

"Is it a pretty shaft, Warrenton?" asked Robin, carelessly, as the old
servant thrust it into his quiver.

"It is one of Will's own, and that suffices."

After Master Ford had briefly bidden them farewell, they left their
beasts in charge of a fellow inside the gate, bidding him give the
little grey jennet all care and attention.

Here, also, Robin got himself washed and made tidy for the Fair, and had
some meat and drink to restore him. He found that it was to the long
Norman cape he wore that he owed his life. The outlaw's arrow had been
diverted by the flapping garment, and had only pricked him in the fleshy
part of his shoulder. The cape was so ripped, however, as to become
ridiculous in its rags, so Robin asked for the loan of a pair of
shears, and with them trimmed the cape so ruthlessly in his haste as to
make it become more like an old woman's hood.

"You have turned Saxon out of Norman very suddenly, master," laughed
young Stuteley.

It was a full three hours past noon ere they came to the Fair. A great
ring had been made in the centre of it, and huge wooden stands had been
built about this circle. They were covered finely with cloth of red and
gold; and many flags and banners were flying above the tops and about
the stands.

The blare and discord of trumpets rang out over the noise of the people.
A great clamor of voices betokened the arrival of some great man at the
front of the chief stand.

"The Sheriff has arrived," cried Stuteley, who knew the ways at these
affairs. "Hear how the people do cheer him! For sure he must be a man
well liked----"

"These fellows will applaud anyone who has power and office," said
Warrenton, scornfully. "Master Monceux is _not_ beloved of them, for all
that. But hasten, or we shall be shut out. Already they are closing the
gates."

The clouds were heavy and grey, and a few large drops of rain began to
patter down.

"Look to our bows, Warrenton," cried Robin, in alarm.

"Be easy, lording--your bow shall not be at fault if the prize does not
fall to your hand. Follow me."

They were now at the wicket, and Warrenton produced his authority.
Gamewell's name was enough. They were ushered into a small box near by
the Sheriff's own, and there awaited events.

First came bouts of single-stick and quarter-staff, and Master Will was
keen to take part in these contests. Warrenton counselled him to remain
in the background, however.

"The folk are sure to recognize you, malapert," said he, giving Stuteley
his favorite name for him, "and there will be an outcry. Let be, then,
and attend to your master."

"It would be better, Will, I do think," said Robin. "I have to find out
cousin Geoffrey, and warn him against two villains waiting for him
without the town." And Robin gave them briefly the history of his
adventure.

Ere he had ended the story, the Sheriff held up his baton as a sign that
the jousting would begin. Two knights rode into the ring through the
hastily opened gates, heralded by their esquires--amid the noise of a
shrill blast of defiance. They were clad in chain-mail, bound on and
about with white riband, and their armor was burnished in a manner most
beautiful to behold. Their esquires threw down their gauntlets before
the box of Master Monceux, and challenged the world to a trial of
strength in these the lists-magnificent of Nottingham town.

Two black knights had ridden into the lists in answer to the challenge;
and now all clamor was hushed. The Sheriff's daughter, a pale,
hard-faced girl, with straw-colored hair and mincing ways, announced in
inaudible voice the terms of the contest. The heralds repeated them
afterwards in stentorian tones; and the rivals wheeled about, the white
knights couching their lances from under the Sheriff's box. The others
prepared themselves at the wicket-gate and waited for the signal.

This was given, and the four rushed together with a shock like a
thunder-clap. These four knights gave good account of themselves.

The black knights had been unhorsed, and now they lay helpless in their
heavy armor. Once on their feet, they were eager to renew the fray, and
were soon again in readiness. At the second tilt they rudely unhorsed
the white knights by sheer strength of arm; and all the people shouted
themselves hoarse.

So the jousting went on; and, after the white knights had eventually won
the first round, yellow and red took their places. Robin eagerly scanned
the latter, trying to discover which of the two might be Geoffrey. A
small, thin-faced man behind the Sheriff was no less eager to discover
Montfichet in this favorable apparel; and evidently had sharper eyes
than had Robin in piercing disguise. This wizened-faced fellow leaned
back with satisfied smile, after one searching glance; then, drawing out
his tablets, he wrote on them, and despatched his man in haste to London
town.

Geoffrey was unhorsed in the second tilting; and lay so long upon the
ground that Robin's heart stood still. It was then discovered that this
knight was unknown and had no esquire. Thus Robin knew him for his
cousin.

"Attend him, Will, as you would myself," cried Robin, anxiously, "and
see now to his hurt----"

"He is but dazed, master, with his fall. It seems that these knights are
armored so heavily that once down they cannot of themselves rise up
again! Protect me from such war-gear! I'd sooner have my own skin and be
able to be spry in it. What say you, old Warrenton?"

"Go to, malapert. Get down to him, and be as active with your hands as
you are with your tongue."

"I go, I go--see how I go!" and Will turned a somersault over him into
the ring out of the front of their box. Robin called angrily on him to
behave, and the little tumbler ran then to his duties as servant to the
unknown Scarlet Knight.

Robin's eager eyes roved hither and thither about the gay scene.
Opposite him was a small box near to the ground, wherein sat two people
only. One was a grave-faced man of courtly mien and handsome apparel:
the other seemed to be his child.

Towards one of these two persons Robin's glances for ever wandered. The
laughing blue eyes of the girl, the queer little toss of her head which
she gave in her unheard answers to her sober father, heartily pleased
young Fitzooth, and in some way vaguely disturbed his memory. She was of
about fifteen summers; and her hair was black as a winter's night--and
curled all waywardly around her merry face. Blue were her eyes when the
quick fever induced by the tilting rushed in her blood--blue as meadow
violets. Then, when the excitement was passed, they fell to a grey
wonderment. Twice she encountered Robin's glances; and the second time
her eyes shone blue, as if ashamed, and the tint of her warm cheeks
deepened. Demurely she turned away her face from him.

Young Fitzooth turned to Warrenton: "Can you tell me who these may be
who sit alone in yon little box?" he asked, and cautiously pointed them
out to the old retainer.

Warrenton was stupid, however, and would not see exactly where Robin
would have him look. At last, as one making a discovery: "Oh, 'tis
Master Fitzwalter you mean, lording? Ay, a right worthy, honest
gentleman; and warden of the city gates. Next of importance in
Nottingham town is he after Monceux, the Sheriff; and a prettier man in
all ways. Now, were he Sheriff, Squire George of Gamewell would oftener
be in Nottingham Castle than now, for we like not the Sheriff. The maid
with Master Fitzwalter is his only child. She has no mother; and he is
both parents to her. Ay, a proper man----"

"She is very beautiful, I think," said Robin, speaking his thoughts
almost without knowing it.

"Yes, yes, a passable wench. But I have no faith in them, lording. They
are all as the Yellow One of Gamewell. They smile upon you that they may
work their will; and evil comes of their favor, if not death. Now
see----"

"You are crabbed, indeed, Warrenton; and I'll hear no more. Do you know
her name?"

"Fitzwalter, lording. Did I not say this was his child?"

"Has she no other name?" persisted Robin, patiently.

"Oh, ay ... let me see. 'Tis Judith, or Joan, or some such name. Mayhap,
'tis Catherine. I do misremember it, lording: but 'tis surely of no
account. The archery is now to begin; and here I would have you give
heed----"

He recommenced his cautions, warnings, and hints--being anxious that
Robin should shine to-day for Gamewell's sake.

Robin saw that the jousting was done, and that, after all, the red
knights were conquerors. It fell to Geoffrey to ride forward and accept
the coveted laurel wreath. Dipping his lance, Geoffrey caused his
charger to bend its knees before the regal-looking box: and Master
Monceux, after an inflated speech, placed the circlet of bays upon the
end of Geoffrey's lance. Then the unknown knight for a brief instant
raised his vizor. The lean-faced man near to the Sheriff's right hand
exchanged a quick glance of understanding with the knight.

The Sheriff nodded to give the knight to understand that he was
satisfied. With closed visor the scarlet one then paced his steed slowly
and in quiet dignity around the lists, followed dutifully by Stuteley,
until they had returned to the Monceux box. Again saluting gracefully,
he extended his lance, with the wreath still depending from it, towards
the Sheriff, as it seemed.

"Does he return the wreath, and wherefore?" asked Robin, in puzzled
voice.

"To her to whom the wreath is yielded our Sheriff will award the title
of Beauty's Queen," explained Warrenton. "'Tis a foolish custom. Master
Geoffrey, in this matter of etiquette, knows that the trifle should go
to young Mistress Monceux. Otherwise, the Sheriff would have him beaten,
no doubt; or injured in some shameful way upon his departure from the
lists."

"So that is the rule of it, eh, Warrenton?" said Robin. "I would like to
choose my own Queen----"

"It matters not one jot or tittle to young Master Montfichet. See--the
wreath has been duly bestowed and the Sheriff will announce his girl
Queen, until the night, of Beauty in all Royal Nottingham. There will be
some further mummery when the golden arrow is won. Doubtless, the winner
will have to yield it up to Monceux's girl again, on a pretence that
all is hers, now she is Queen. So shall my lord the Sheriff keep his
prize after all; and be able to offer it again next year----"

Robin checked the garrulous old man with a gesture.

"Now give me my bow, Warrenton," commanded young Fitzooth, somewhat
roughly; "and do you tell me how I am to enter myself in the lists."

"Your esquire should announce you," returned the other, respectfully.
"See, here he comes----"

"The Red Knight would thank you, master, for your courtesies," said
Stuteley, approaching Robin. "He will wait for us at Nottingham gate;
and prays that you will accept the chargers of the unhorsed knights from
him. They are his by right of conquest, as you know."

"I will accept them, and thank him for the gift," returned Robin,
briefly, guessing that this was the reply that Geoffrey would desire him
to make. "Now tell the heralds that Robin of Locksley will enter for the
Sheriff's prize. Give no more of my name than that, Will," he added
warningly, in a lower voice.

Stuteley vanished, and Robin turned again to the lists. The Sheriff's
daughter had already been crowned, and sat now in supercilious state in
the Sheriff's own seat. Geoffrey had gone, and Fitzwalter's box was
empty.

"I'll not shoot at all," said Robin, suddenly. "Go, Warrenton, bring
back Stuteley to me. I have changed my mind in the matter."

"Does your wound fret you, lording?" asked Warrenton, solicitously.
"Forgive me that I should have forgot----"

"Nay--'tis not that at all. I have no wish to shoot. Fetch Will to me."

It was too late. Stuteley had already given in Robin's name to the
heralds, and signified that he would shoot first of all. He came into
the box even as Warrenton went out for him.

Half-angrily, Robin took the bow from the retainer's hands and slung his
quiver about him. He strode moodily across the lists to the spot where
the other archers had already gathered. When they saw this youngling
with his odd little cape preparing himself, they smiled and whispered
together. Robin strung his bow and slipped an arrow across it.

The crowd became suddenly silent, and this nerved the lad to be himself
once more. He forgot his momentary vexation and aimed carefully. His
arrow flew surely to the target and struck it full in the middle. "A
bull! A bull!" roared Warrenton and Stuteley, together. Robin stepped
back.

"None so bad a shot, master," said the next archer to him, in a quiet
tone. "You have provided yourself now with a truer shaft, I ween?"

It was Will o' th' Green, with stained face and horse-hair beard. His
eyes challenged Robin's in ironical defiance, as he moved to take his
turn. His aim seemed to be made without skill or desire to better
Robin's shot; yet his arrow found resting-place side by side with the
other.

The mob cheered and applauded themselves hoarse; while the markers
scored the points evenly to these first two archers.

These two stood apart, silent amidst the din. Once Will seemed to be
about to speak: then changed his mind. He glanced sidelong at young
Stuteley and Warrenton; then hummed a ballad-tune under his breath.

The contest went on and the first round came to an end. Out of twenty
and three rivals nineteen had scored bulls at this range. The markers
gave the signal to the heralds, and these announced the results with
loud flourishings.

The target was taken down and the range increased. The range of the mark
from the archers for the second round was fixed at forty ells--the same
distance as had chanced before between Robin and Master Will when in the
greenwood together. The outlaw offered to shoot first; but the heralds
requested them to keep in the same order as in the preceding round.

Robin fitted his arrow quietly and with some confidence to his bow, then
sped it unerringly towards the target. "A bull! Another bull to
Locksley!" cried out Warrenton, in stentorian tones, and the fickle mob
took up the cry: "Locksley! A Locksley!" with gusto.

Will aimed with even more unconcern than before. His arrow took the
center fairly and squarely, however; and was in reality a better shot
than Robin's. The shafts were withdrawn; then the other contestants
followed. This round brought down the number of competitors to five. The
markers carried back the target to a distance of five-and-fifty ells;
and truly the painted circles upon it seemed to be now very small.

Robin again took his stand, but with some misgiving. The light was
uncertain, and a little fitful wind frolicked across the range in a way
very disturbing to a bowman's nerves. His eyes half-anxiously addressed
themselves to that box wherein he had spied Mistress Fitzwalter.

His heart leaped--she had returned, and her strange gaze was fixed upon
him! Robin drew his bow and flew his shaft. Unconsciously he used the
arrow plucked from his own shoulder by Warrenton.

Again did he gain the center, amid the cries and jubilations of Stuteley
and the old retainer.

"Now Master Roughbeard, better that!" shouted Warrenton.

The outlaw smiled scornfully and made ready. He drew his bow with ease
and a pretty grace, and made a little gesture of confidence as his agile
fingers released the arrow. It leaped forth rushingly towards the
target, and all eyes followed it in its flight.

A loud uproar broke forth when the markers gave their score--an inner
circle, and not a bull. Master Will made an angry signal of disbelief;
and strode forward down the lists to see for himself. It was true: the
wind had influenced a pretty shot just to its undoing, and Will had to
be content with the hope that the same mischance might come to Robin or
any of the other bowmen before the round was ended.

The outlaw wished especially to win--that he might have the satisfaction
of vexing the Sheriff of Nottingham. Will had intended to send back this
prize--a golden arrow--from his stronghold of Sherwood, snapped into
twenty pieces, with a letter of truculent defiance wrapped about the
scraps. He wished to make it plain to Master Monceux that the free
archers of Sherwood were better men than any _he_ might bring against
them, and that they despised him very heartily. Now that he saw a
likelihood of his being beaten his heart grew hot within him.

"Be not too sure of it, stripling," said he, as he returned to Robin's
side. "Fortune may mar your next shot, as she has mine----"

"'Tis like enough, friend," answered Robin, smiling; "and yet I do hope
that the arrow may be won by my hand. This is our second test, Master
Will," he added, in a low voice. "Forget it not--the freedom of the
greenwood is the reward that I do seek even more than my lord the
Sheriff's golden arrow."

The outlaw's anger went suddenly from him.

"Then I do wish you God-speed, youngling," he said, brightly. "You have
in truth beaten me right honestly--for mine was an ill-judged shot."

With Will out of it, the contest came to an easy conclusion; and
presently the Sheriff's arrow was duly awarded to Robin of Locksley by
the markers.

The lad came forward shyly to receive the prize.

"Master Monceux thinks that you should shoot once more with the second
archer," said someone to him, leaning from the Sheriff's box. Looking
up, Robin espied the lean-faced man smiling disagreeably down at him.

"Let my lord state the terms of this new contest, then," answered Robin,
"and the reason for't."

"'Tis said that you were over-favored by the wind and by the light."

An angry answer was upon the lad's lips: but he checked himself, and
with slow dignity turned and went back to where the archers stood
grouped together. Soon as he made known to him the difficulty which the
Sheriff had raised, Will o' th' Green became furious.

"Locksley, have none of this trumpery prize," cried he, in loud anger.
"I do deny my right to any share in it, or to a fresh contest. Nor will
I shoot again. Let Monceux vex his brain as he may with rules and
conditions--they are not for Roughbeard, or for you. We have our own
notions of right and justice; and since the Sheriff is loth to part with
the prize that he has offered--why, yield it back to him, friend--and
take the reward from me that you coupled with it."

Other indignant protests were now heard from amongst the onlookers: and
the Sheriff saw that he had raised a storm indeed. "Locksley! Robin
Locksley!" was shouted noisily round and about; and Warrenton and
Stuteley busily fostered the tumult. Master Monceux at last bade the
heralds announce that Robin of Locksley had won the golden arrow--since
the archer who had made nearest points to him did not desire nor seek a
further trial.

"Were it necessary, lording," muttered old Warrenton, "I would show you
how to notch the arrow of the best archer here about--a merry trick, and
one that I learned in Lancashire, where they have little left to learn
of archery, for sure."

"Nay," put in Roughbeard, loudly, "the arrow is his without need of
further parleyings. I do admit myself beaten this day--though on another
occasion we will, perchance, reverse our present positions. Take or
leave the arrow as you will, Locksley. For my part I would love to
prick Monceux with it heartily."

"You talk wisely, friend," said Warrenton, approvingly, "and, as for
making a match with you, why, that will we to-day. Do you ride with us
to Gamewell and there you shall have archery and to spare."

"Ay, and a welcome, too!" commenced Robin; then paused suddenly,
remembering who Roughbeard really was. Montfichet of Gamewell
entertaining Will o' th' Green!

The outlaw merely laughed good-humoredly at the lad's confusion.

"Go, take the Sheriff's prize; and vex him in some way, if you can, in
the accepting of it!"

Again Robin walked forward towards the Monceux box; this time with
flashing eyes and a resolve in his heart.

"Robin of Locksley," said the Sheriff, scarce looking at him, "here is
my golden arrow which I have offered as reward to the best bowman in
this Fair. You have been accorded the prize; and I do yield it to you
with sincere pleasure. Take the bauble now from our daughter's hand, and
use the arrow worthily."

The heralds blew a brazen blast, and the demoiselle Monceux, with a thin
smile, held out to Robin upon a silk cushion the little shining arrow
which now was his. Bowing, and on one knee, Robin took up the glittering
trophy.

"Surely 'tis a plaything more suited to a lady's hair than to an
archer," murmured the lean-faced man, who stood close by. Catching
Robin's eye, he made a significant sign, as who would say: "Here is the
Queen who would adorn it."

Robin had that other notion in his mind, however, and saw that now the
moment had arrived in which it should be put into execution. Somehow, he
contrived to bring himself before the small low box wherein,
half-startled, sat the maid Fitzwalter.

"Lady," stammered the young archer, bowing to her, "do you please accept
this little arrow which I have won. It is a pretty thing; but of small
use to me. Maybe you could make some ornament with it----"

Then he could go no farther; but dumbly held it out to her.

The girl, having seen that her father was not unwilling, stretched out
and took the Sheriff's arrow from Robin's shaking hands.

"Thanks to you, Robin o' th' Hood," she said, with that roguish little
toss of her dark curls; "I'll take the dart, and wear it in memory of
Locksley and this day!" Her eyes looked frankly into his for a brief
instant; then were hid by her silky lashes.

Robin, with bounding heart, walked proudly back to where old Warrenton
stood, glowing; and the people thunderingly applauded the archer's
choice.

"Right well was it done, Locksley!" roared the outlaw, near forgetting
himself. "I love you for it." For he saw only that the Sheriff had been
slighted, and cries of: "A Locksley!" were renewed again and again.

Master Monceux looked furiously at this archer who had taken the prize
with only the briefest word of thanks to him: and would have spoken, had
not his daughter, with chilling gesture, forbidden it. She gave no
outward symptom of the anger stirring within her: she wore her
worthless but royal crown of bay, whilst the other toyed thoughtfully
with the golden arrow, and wondered who the gallant giver of it might
be.

Robin, Warrenton, Stuteley, and Roughbeard rode towards the gate of
Nottingham on the horses of the defeated knights. They had decided to
stay no longer at the Fair: the noisy play and mock-joustings that were
to follow the archery had no attraction for them.



CHAPTER IX


This escort saved Geoffrey from the attack planned upon him by the two
treacherous robbers. They spied him out, and followed the small
cavalcade throughout the journey, but at a respectful distance, uttering
deep threats against the lad who had warned the knight of their evil
intent. So, whilst making friends, Robin also made enemies: but none so
bad as that cold-faced woman of Nottingham Castle. She had recognized in
Robin of Locksley the youth who had come with old Montfichet on the
first day of the Fair.

Near by Gamewell, Roughbeard called a halt. He had been strangely
silent, being over doubtful.

"Farewell, friends," said he, doffing his cap to them. "Here our roads
do part, for I must go further through the forest."

"I, too, have that direction before me, if so be that you are travelling
westward," said Geoffrey to him, with well-assumed diffidence, and
speaking through his casque. He had known the outlaw at once; but had
forborne to show it, scarce dreaming that Robin also had pierced Will's
disguise.

Robin became busy in his thoughts when he saw his cousin and Roughbeard
riding off together like this. That secret way from the hut which led
into Sherwood; the two villains who had plotted against Geoffrey--why,
all was clear! Geoffrey now was with them of the forest; had been
seeking to influence Master Will; no doubt the red trappings upon which
he had laid such stress were as a signal to someone. To whom? And to
what end?

Geoffrey had been cool towards Robin when warned of those scheming
against him. "I can protect myself against such rabble, cousin," was all
he would say. "But I would thank you for bidding your lad to me in the
joustings; it was a matter I had overlooked that one must have an
esquire. I'll not forget the courtesy."

That was all. He had shrunk back into himself again; and with closed
visor had ridden silently beside them. Yet he was not ungrateful; and
had begun to like Robin very honestly, only Geoffrey Montfichet must be
very sure of his man ere he would unbend to him.

It was already nigh on dusk as Robin rode into the court at Gamewell in
dreaming abstraction. His thoughts had sprung back again from Geoffrey
to the blue-eyed maid: and in cloudlands he saw himself her knight.
Wondrous and mighty would be the deeds that he should perform for her
dear sake--did she bid him to them.

Then he remembered Broadweald, and how he had sworn within himself to
set his life to win that, for his father's happiness.

Ay: but surely in the winning of Broadweald there might chance smaller
prizes, which properly he might yield for a smile from this fair maid?
Or again, might not he battle for the two together?

"Robin, Robin!" He heard old Montfichet's voice, calling from the shadow
of the porch. "Where are you, child? I did not espy you at the bridge.
Come here, boy, and let me tell to you something of sorrow. There has
befallen a sad mischance to your father at Locksley----"

"Sir, sir," cried poor Robin, waking suddenly, "tell me not that he is
dead!" He sprang hastily from his grey steed and ran towards the Squire.

"No, not that."

"Ah, but my heart forewarns me. He has been hurt by some beast? It is
the season when the deer are wild."

"Master Fitzooth has been attacked by a great stag near by your home.
That is all we know of it, child; and I give it you plainly at once,
that you may hear the worst. Your mother has already gone to him, with
the clerk and a full two score of men. For the captain of the foresters
has kindly joined forces with mine own fellows; so that no further harm
may befall."

"I'll follow her, sir. Give me leave to go."

"'Twere wiser to wait till morning, boy. What could you do now? Mayhap
we fret ourselves too much, as 'tis. But you shall go, with Warrenton
and your esquire, when morning is here. Ay, and I will come too; and we
will bring with us the most skilful leech in Nottingham. I have already
sent a messenger to him, an hour since, so soon as the dame had gone."

"I like not my mother having been sent for, sir. That shows me that the
hurt is deadly. To think that I was playing so foolishly at the moment
when I might have been of use to him!"

So rudely ended Robin's dreaming.

In the morning they set out for Locksley; the Squire with the leech, and
six mules bearing such delicacies as old Gamewell's generous mind could
think upon. Warrenton headed a full score of men, for fear of the
outlaws; and they took a litter with them to bring Master Fitzooth to
Gamewell.

The dame met them at the latch-gate which Robin knew so well. Her face
was deathly pale and her mouth quivered as she tried to frame a welcome
to them.

"Mother!" cried Robin, in anguished voice, running to her; and there was
no need for further speech. In that one cry and in the expression of her
mute, answering face, the truth was told and understood. No use to fight
for Broadweald now; were it his a hundred times over, Robin could never
do that with it which he in all his boyhood had planned. Hugh Fitzooth,
Ranger of the Forest of Locksley, was dead.

       *       *       *       *       *

The good Clerk of Copmanhurst, who had appeared from within the cottage,
told the story of Fitzooth's death. Fitzooth had been alone when the
huge wild stag had attacked him; was near his death when discovered by
two of his men. He had regained consciousness only at the sound of his
wife's voice; had kissed her with fainting breath; and, having labored
to send Robin a message of love and pride in him, had gradually faded in
spirit until the dawn.

It was an unhappy ending to a life soured by disappointment; yet somehow
this man had managed to win a way into the hearts of many people. The
few villagers of Locksley all had their tender word or humble tribute of
affection to offer the dame and her sorrowing son; and thus much of the
edge of their grief was blunted. Until the interment the priest stayed
with them, and so did old Gamewell, who paid all the fees and expenses
inevitable in consequence of Fitzooth's decease.

Afterward, the Squire would have them go back to Gamewell with him; but
Robin had determined to ask for his father's post. This bitter time made
the lad into a man suddenly. It was the evening of the day when they had
laid Fitzooth to rest in the little churchyard of Locksley that
Montfichet returned again to talk of his plan of making Robin his heir.

The old man argued reasonably and well; and Robin listened in silence
until he was done. Then, "Very generously and indulgently have you
talked with us, sir," said Robin, "and sure thing it is that we owe you
such debt as I can never hope to pay. Yet I cannot feel that 'twould be
a man's part to live an idle life. Surely I should do something, sir, to
win the right to wear your name? Moreover, I must not forget that there
is another--nay, hear me, sir--thine own son, whose birthright I should
be stealing away from him."

"Boy," interrupted old Gamewell, on a sudden resolution, "will you share
Gamewell with me as Geoffrey's brother, then? If so be this way out of
it will meet your objections, I'll sink my prejudice. Geoffrey shall go
halves with you."

"That were the course nearer to my heart, sir; and yet not all that I
would desire. I have no right to talk to you so openly; but the matter
is, in a manner, forced upon me."

"It is agreed then, Robin?" cried the Squire, eagerly. "And so you will
take your mother's olden name and become Montfichet of Gamewell?"

"I would rather serve the King _here_ for one year, at least," said
Robin, arguing still. "You might think better on't, sir. Let me try my
strength or weakness; and find out myself for myself. My father would
have wished me to fight my own way in the world."

"The lad speaks soothly, Squire," said the clerk, interposing, "and I
would counsel you to agree to his notions. Moreover, he has not yet
finished his studyings with myself in the Latin tongue."

"Leave me young Stuteley and Warrenton, sir, and your blessing, and let
me win bread for my mother and myself for twelve months from to-day.
Then, if I may, and you wish, I'll come humbly to you." Robin went over
to him. "And believe me always as being very grateful, sir. I would that
I might not seem obstinate in this."

"Have it so, then, Robin. I'll bear your letter to Monceux myself, and
rally him about the arrow which you won!"

"Will the Sheriff appoint me, then?" asked Robin, a trifle disconcerted.

"He will advise the King in the matter. 'Tis but a form. The post of
Ranger of Locksley is yours, merely for the asking. Who could gainsay
your right to it? Give me the letter; and I will be your messenger. I go
to-morrow to Gamewell, and will journey to Nottingham the next day. Now,
since I understand that this holy man would wish to see you alone, and I
would like to talk with your mother, I'll leave you, boy. Count me
always as friend, Robin Fitzooth Montfichet."

He added the last word half-enquiringly, half-lovingly; and twinkled to
the clerk to see how Robin might take it. But the lad made no reply
beyond kissing the old man's fingers very respectfully and tenderly; and
with a sigh, old George of Gamewell offered his arm to the dame, who had
silently listened throughout the discussion.

Left alone, the clerk approached Robin. "Now, boy, what I have to say is
soon told. Know then that I have learned of your adventures with the
Scarlet Knight; and that he is in league with Will o' th' Green.
Further, I have had it whispered to me that he is none other than
Geoffrey of Montfichet. It matters not how this knowledge came to me; I
do but seek to warn you to tread gently and warily in the days now
before you. So far, life has been kind to you, and surely there is no
reason why you should not prosper very exceedingly. There is for you a
good friend in Gamewell's Squire."

"And one also at Copmanhurst, father."

"Assuredly, boy. But I am a poor anchorite and one unable to help you,
save by friendly counsel. Take heed not to touch Montfichet too nearly
in the matter of his son," added he, warningly; "he is a strange man,
and will brook no meddling."

"I would not see Geoffrey wronged, father, not even by Robin of
Locksley," said Robin, vehemently.

The clerk smiled at him. "You may coax the Squire, an you will, boy,"
said he, twinkling; "for I do think that one may achieve more that way
than by any other. But be careful not to let him see that you would lead
him; and, above all, provoke him not. Montfichet is an obstinate man.
His heart prompts him to forgive Geoffrey; and doubtless he could get
the ban removed from off the young man's head. But the Squire will not
readily forego his oath. So now, rest content that he will share
Gamewell with Geoffrey and yourself, and do not let him know that once
you did deceive him."

"Deceive him, father?"

"Did you not go out secretly to meet the Scarlet Knight, boy? And do you
not now hide from Gamewell that his son is in hiding with Will o' th'
Green? Be prudent and tread no more in this path. Peace be with you,
Robin Fitzooth; and discretion also."

He bade Robin good night, and set out towards his lonely cell near St.
Dunstan's shrine; leaving the other perplexed and distressed at his
words.

The first clouds on Robin's horizon were appearing.



CHAPTER X


Squire George left them next morning. He bade Warrenton stay at
Locksley, and charged young Stuteley to let him know if the dame or his
master should want for aught. Then, having pressed some money upon his
sister to meet their necessities, he bade them affectionate farewell.

He took Robin's letter to Monceux, and added his own request to it,
never doubting that so ordinary a matter as this would be long a-doing.
The Rangership of Locksley Woods was Robin's by every right: for the
house and garden had been given to Hugh Fitzooth in perpetuity by the
King. So at least they all had understood.

Master Monceux, lord Sheriff of Nottingham, took the letters and read
them with a thin smile; then bore them to his daughter's chamber, and
laid them before her. "Truly the enemies of our King are not lacking in
audacity," sneered Master Monceux, when Mistress Monceux had mastered
the scrolls.

"What will you do?" asked she, curiously.

"This is the young archer who won my arrow," remarked the Sheriff.
"Robin Fitzooth of Locksley. Observe that his father has been killed by
one of the King's deer; like as not whilst he was attempting to snare
it. His son asks now for the post: this son who shoots with a peacocked
arrow to win my prize."

"Say you so? Then this boy is of the outlaws of Sherwood?" Her thin lips
parted over her white teeth in an evil doubt, as she asked her father:
"How do you know that the arrow was winged with a peacock's feather? Did
you see it yourself?"

"John Ford brought it to me."

"Ford is a very untrustworthy knave. I would that some other of the
foresters had told you."

The Sheriff was vexed at this. "I have no hesitation in the matter,
child. But give heed, for now I must either agree to this recommendation
of my lord Montfichet, or refuse it because I have already appointed
some other to the place. Can you not suggest a man to me?"

"Let it be one distasteful both to Montfichet and to this boastful
youth," said the demoiselle Monceux, eagerly. "Send Ford, or one of the
scullions from our kitchen, that they may know our contempt for them.
And bid the young archer to us here; he should be whipped and put in the
stocks," she added, vindictively.

"Will you reply to those scrolls then, child?" said the Sheriff, glad to
be relieved of a task which he did not relish. "Let it be Ford; he is
captain of the foresters hereabouts, and has been staying at Gamewell. I
hear that young Locksley is not over-fond of him. But be discreet in
your scrivening, and say only that which is necessary, child."

"I will bring the letters when they are penned, and will read them to
you," said his daughter.

In due course, then, came the Sheriff's reply to Robin's request. It was
couched in arrogant terms, and bade the youth report himself within ten
days at Nottingham Castle in order that the question of his appointment
to a post in the King's Foresters might be weighed and considered. As
for the Rangership of Locksley, that had already been given to one
Master John Ford, who would take up the duties so soon as Robin and
Mistress Fitzooth could arrange to render him the house at Locksley and
all it contained. To this end the Sheriff's messenger was empowered to
take stock and inventory of all furniture and belongings and to make
note of all things broken or in disrepair, since those would have to be
counted against them when they left the place.

Robin, not knowing the worse indignities that were to befall did he come
to Nottingham, for reply flung the letter into the messenger's face.

"Go, take back this answer to your master," flamed the lad. "Locksley is
my mother's and my own and not the Sheriff of Nottingham's. Further,
tell him that I will administer Locksley Woods, and the men shall obey
me even as they did my father: and this is all that I say in answer to
your insolent lord."

"Take this also, fellow," cried Stuteley, heroically: "that my master's
squire will very instantly do battle on his behalf with all enemies at
quarter-staff, single-stick, or at wrestling with the hands."

"Be sure that you will need practice in all your tricks, friend,"
snarled the messenger, wrathfully; "Master Monceux will send you enough
of pupils and to spare! And I will be glad to have a bout with you."

"Now, if you sicken for't," said Will, valiantly; but Robin bade him be
still.

The messenger went back to Nottingham; and Robin continued to go about
the duties of a ranger.

On the fifth day after the man's visit, however, one of the Locksley
foresters refused to obey young Fitzooth, saying that he had no right to
command him.

"I have this right, that you shall obey me!" cried Robin, and he bade
Warrenton and Stuteley to seize the man and deprive him of his longbow
and quiver. Nor would he suffer the forester to become repossessed of
them until he had humbly asked pardon. Thereafter, seeing that this
youth had a man's determination, the men remained loyal to him.

Within ten days came Master Ford himself, at the head of ten fellows,
armed with such powers of forcible entry as the Sheriff could grant.
Robin received the forester civilly, but told him plainly that Locksley
was his and that he would keep it to his death.

Master Ford smiled very superior to these brave words. "Death, Master
Robin, is a thing a long way off from us both, I do conceive," said he.
"Therefore is there small valiance in your prating so lightly of it.
This matter is one not between ourselves, howbeit, for the Rangership
has come to me through no seeking of mine own. The quarrel, if there be
one, is between yourself and Master Monceux; and, in reason, you should
let me into possession here, and take your anger to Nottingham."

"I speak to the Sheriff in that I speak to you, John Ford," retorted the
lad: "and you have had your answer. Take back your men and yourself; be
content with the captaincy of the foresters of Sherwood. This part of
the forest will be administered, under the King's pleasure, by me."

"What if I could show you the King's dismissal of your father?" snarled
the other.

"If you could show it to me, you would," answered Robin, calmly.

"Nevertheless, I will show it to you, insolent," cried Master Ford,
losing his temper. "In Nottingham we can play at other games than those
you saw at the Fair, Robin o' th' Hood," he went on, furiously, and
giving Robin this name out of desire to prick him.

To young Robin the epithet recalled a sudden vision of the maid
Fitzwalter and her queer little toss of her curls as she had christened
him. Ford must have been near to have overheard it. So was there double
insult in his words.

Robin looked him full in the face, and then turned contemptuously from
him. "Play all the games you know, friend," said he: and walked into the
house.

The forester bit his lip in vexation. He scarce knew how to act. The
Sheriff had told him to take forcible possession of the house, but this
might only be done now after a sanguinary encounter. For Warrenton, the
Squire of Gamewell's man, was there, and had eyed him malevolently, and
talk with the Locksley foresters had shown them to be now ranged on
Robin's side.

After waiting for three hours, Master Ford set about a return into
Nottingham, meaning to ask for permission to bring back the Sherwood
foresters with him to Locksley. In his return he was met by Will o' th'
Green and his men near Copmanhurst, was beaten and robbed of all he had,
and sent back in ignominious fashion into Nottingham town--he and all
the ten men that the Sheriff had sent with him!

Master Ford made a fine story of this for the greedy ears of Mistress
Monceux. She had always disliked the maid Fitzwalter; and had now seen a
chance to injure her through Robin. Since he had given this girl the
arrow which he had denied to her, the Sheriff's daughter, there could be
no doubt that strong friendship, at the least, existed between them, so
that any blow at Robin must recoil upon Mistress Fitzwalter.

Demoiselle Monceux therefore credited largely Master Ford's story.

"Go to the hall, and there await my father, Master Ford," said Mistress
Monceux, at last. "I will speak again with him when he has returned from
Gamewell. He is there now on your behalf, in a way," she added,
meaningly.

Monceux, knowing that Montfichet would require an explanation of the
refusal to instal Robin in his father's place, had set himself out to be
beforehand with the Squire. At once he had endeavored to satisfy old
Gamewell by telling him the story of the peacocked arrow. "Readily can I
unfold that mystery to you," said Montfichet. "Our Robin was pursued by
two of the outlaws when on the way to your tourney. 'Tis like enough
that he picked up one of their arrows."

"When they were in chase of him?" asked the Sheriff, with ready reply.

"Well, that is true; and yet, stay--I do mind me that the Clerk of
Copmanhurst did speak of some shooting match in which Robin was forced
to employ himself with Will o' th' Green, on the day that they journeyed
here from Locksley. Then it was that Robin must have become owner of the
peacocked arrow. The thing is quite plain to me."

"The clerk himself has been suspected of colleaguing with these robbers
of the forest, friend Gamewell," whispered the Sheriff, leaning forward
towards the Squire. "And they do say that Will was at our tourney--was
none other, indeed, than the very Roughbeard from whom young Robin so
cleverly did snatch my arrow of gold. Nay, nay, I think the evidence
points very strongly against Fitzooth; yet since he is your nephew I
have forborne to press my charge against him."

"I'll believe no harm of Robin," said the Squire, decisively.

"Still you will see there is reason in my refusal of his request,"
smiled Monceux. And old Gamewell had to agree, although unwillingly.

So were the clouds upon Robin's horizon gathering apace.

He gravely continued in his duties at Locksley, filling up his leisure
with long and frequent practice in archery with Warrenton. A month went
by and he had heard no more of Master Ford nor of the Sheriff, and so
engrossed did Robin become in his present life and the necessity of
making a living for them all that Master Monceux, his summons, and his
"appointment" of Ford were forgotten.

He killed such of the deer as his father had, under the King's charter,
for their own sustenance, and gathered the fruits from the garden at
Locksley. There were cows to be milked and sheep to be sheared.

The men worked for him without question. There had been no further
rebellion since Warrenton and Stuteley had so promptly checked the first
sign of it.

The Squire had sent twice to them such presents as he knew they would
accept, and he made no mention of Master Monceux.

Only one matter troubled Robin. Soon would come round the time when the
emoluments of the Rangership would be due; and _then_ Robin would have
to face the Sheriff and make him pay the moneys.

Having stifled any objections Montfichet might have had to his refusal
to recognize Robin as Ranger, the Sheriff was quite content to bide his
time, knowing that once in Nottingham, Robin would be entirely in his
power. Unforeseen events, however, upset these schemes and hastened
matters, even while Robin was perfecting himself in the use of the
longbow under Warrenton and in the art of wrestling with little lithe
Stuteley. The lean-faced man whom he saw at the tourney returned
suddenly to Nottingham from London, bearing news to the Sheriff that he
was to prepare the town at once for a visit from the young Prince John.

Master Simeon Carfax, to give the lean-faced one his full style, bade
them arrange for a great tourney to be held in Sherwood itself.

"Certes, Prince John may well be King over us in the end," murmured the
Sheriff to himself; and he dismissed all thought of Robin and his
defiance.

The Sheriff had some suspicion that Master Carfax had had more to do
with this sudden visit of the erstwhile rebellious Prince than that
pinch-nosed gentleman would allow. Further, he saw with some misgiving
that between Carfax and his own daughter there was an understanding, and
he decided to speak firmly with her; but, as she was still vexed with
him for not having dealt with young Fitzooth as promptly as she had
designed, the Sheriff thought it wise to wait his opportunity.

Meanwhile Robin passed his days equably: and now he could notch
Warrenton's shaft at one hundred paces, a feat difficult in the extreme.

The old retainer took huge delight in training the lad. "I do hear of a
brave business in archery to be done in Sherwood Forest," he said, "and
I would have you enter there in the lists, and bear away the Prince's
bag of gold, even as you did the Sheriff's arrow."

"Tell me of this, Warrenton," cried Robin, interested at once. "Where
did you learn this item?"

"'Twas told to me a week agone by the Friar of Copmanhurst, a right
worthy, pious gentleman," gabbled Warrenton. "It seems that the young
Prince is already tired of London ways and the Court of his father the
King, and has agreed to come here to us at Nottingham so that he may be
more free. He brings with him many of the fine ladies of the Court; and
full a hundred score of followers. And they do tell me that some of the
barons are with him, Master Fitzurse to wit. Howbeit, 'tis no matter of
ours. We have but to remember that he has offered a purse of a hundred
pieces to the best bowman in Nottingham town. That purse should be
yours, lording."

Robin smiled at the old man's emphatic speech. "When is this prize to be
offered, Warrenton, and what other marvels are there to be?"

The man-at-arms commenced afresh. "There is to be a tourney, held in
Sherwood Forest."

"Ay; but the archery?"

"I have told you that the Prince offers a fine prize. Know also that he
brings with him Hubert, the most renowned of all archers: so that he
deems the prize already won. The Prince puts a hundred gold pieces into
the purse, and Hubert pockets it in advance."

"Is he a fair bowman, this Hubert?"

"I know but one archer better than he, lording--yourself; and I have
seen the finest archery in the world."

"You talk heedlessly, Warrenton," said Robin, rebuking him. Yet secretly
he was flattered by this sincere belief in him.

"I'll go with you to Nottingham--and Stuteley shall stay here, on
guard," said Robin.

But Stuteley begged most earnestly that he should be allowed to go also,
so that Robin came nigh to giving up the plan all together. For he would
not consent to leave the dame unprotected.

In the end Warrenton himself, with fine self-sacrifice, offered to
remain at Locksley.

"It will be wisest that you should go unattended, after all, lording,"
concluded Warrenton. "Enter the lists unknown, unannounced, as though
you were some forester. Master Monceux means no good to you, and surely
he will be there. So be circumspect; and forget not the things that I
have taught you. Beat Hubert if you can, but be not overcome if you
should fail. He is a very pretty bowman, and experienced."



CHAPTER XI


Profiting by a lesson learned from Will o' th' Green, Robin stained his
face and bade Stuteley do the same ere starting to the Royal tourney.

The morning was overcast and doubtful when the two lads set forth. They
had put on foresters' clothes of green cloth, with long tunics and green
trunk hose. Their hands and faces were brown as walnut juice could make
them; and whilst Robin carried only his best longbow and a good quiver
of arrows, young Will had loaded himself with quarter-staff, axe, and
pike, all very difficult to carry.

Robin bade him leave one or the other of these weapons, and reluctantly
the pike was returned to Warrenton. Then merrily they started away
through the forest, and came at noon to that glade where Robin had first
met Will o' th' Green. Even while Robin wondered whether Will or his men
might again demand toll of him, Master Will himself suddenly appeared,
and without a word placed his bow across their path.

"Greetings to you, Will," said Robin, blithely. "Is it toll of us that
you desire?"

"Are you dumb, friend?" added Stuteley, impudently, as the outlaw made
no immediate reply.

Will smiled then. "So old Warrenton has persuaded you to seek the
Prince's gold, youngling?" said he, at last. Without waiting an answer,
he stepped back and withdrew his bow. "Pass, then, Locksley, and good
fortune attend you," he went on. "We may meet again ere the day be
done; but it is not sure----"

"You will not try for the purse, Will?" cried Robin, as if surprised.

"I have no use for it," answered Will, with some egotism, "Nay, fear
not, our third trial is yet to come. I did but stay you to speak of your
cousin--" He paused, and glanced towards Stuteley.

"I am deaf and dumb as you were, friend, a minute agone," spoke the
little esquire.

"Your cousin, Geoffrey of Montfichet, has gone to France," continued
Will, speaking freely so soon as Robin had nodded in confirmation of
Stuteley's discretion. "Like as not, Master Geoffrey has not talked with
you as to his business with us in this greenwood?"

"I know nothing beyond that we did bind my cousin's armor about with red
ribbon," replied Robin, uneasily. He remembered the clerk's warning, and
a presentiment of coming evil pricked him. "But I am right glad that
Geoffrey has encountered no danger, and has given up his schemes with
you."

"I did not say that he had done that, Locksley," spoke Will, in his
gruff way. "Nor do I see why you should fear danger for him when he is
in my company."

"I meant not that, Will, believe me," said Robin, hastily. "But there
are two amongst your band who have little love for my cousin, and are
jealous also of you----" And he told him of his adventure in the early
part of the day when they last had met.

Will listened with a frown. "So they winged you, youngling, and yet for
all that you won the Sheriff's arrow? Give me now some token whereby I
may know which of my men are traitors."

"I should only know their voices, Will," said Robin, regretfully.

The outlaw shrugged. "It matters not, after all," he remarked, turning
to leave them. "Go your ways, Locksley, and win the purse."

"Is there no toll?" enquired Robin, smiling again, "Am I truly free of
Sherwood, Will?"

"'Twould seem so, Locksley," said the outlaw, briefly. Then, without
further ado, he strode away from him.

They watched his lithe form disappear.

"'Tis sure that our disguise is none too good," sighed Robin, pondering
upon the ready way in which the outlaw had recognized him.

Soon afterward rain fell and a heavy storm raged amongst the trees. The
two youths crept into the hollow of one of the larger oaks to shelter
themselves. Whilst waiting there they heard the noise of an approaching
cavalcade. It was a body of archers coming from Lincoln to compete for
the purse of gold.

They cantered past the tree wherein Robin and Stuteley lay hidden, and
took no heed of the drenching rain. All were merry with wine and very
confident that one amongst them would surely win the prize. The only
question was, Which one?

"These Nottingham clods!" cried one, scornfully; "I'll dare swear that
many of them have already promised the prize to their maids! Nottingham
'gainst Lincoln--'tis possible that they may stand to us for a round.
But after that!"

"We will spend the money in Nottingham town," shouted another of the
trotting bowmen. "For sure the Prince himself could do no handsomer
thing. A piece I'll toss to the heralds, and another to you, Staveley,
for you are a covetous worm----"

The rest of his speech was lost through the one addressed turning
violently upon him and thrusting at him with his pike, thus tumbling him
into the mire. Stuteley laughed outright at this, and for a moment
startled the rest of this worshipful company.

Robin, rather vexed at his esquire's want of caution, came with him from
out of the hollow of the tree. The Lincolnshire men halted, and Robin
asked for a lift to the field where already the tourney was being
commenced.

"Are you going to the Sherwood tourney, and with a bow?" asked one of
the archers, loftily. "What will you shoot there, gipsy boy? There are
no targets such as your shafts might reach. But 'tis true that you may
learn something of the game, if you should go."

"I'll lay a crown wager with you, friends," said Stuteley, vexed to hear
Robin called "gipsy," "that my master's shaft will fly more near the
center of the mark than will any one of yours. So now."

"A crown piece, gipsy! Why, that means twenty crowns for you to find,"
laughed another of the men, loudly.

"Twenty crowns; why, he has not twenty pence," said another.

"My man has laid the wager and I will stand to it," said Robin, quietly,
"though I do not like such boasting, I promise you. Twenty crowns to
twenty crowns--who will hold the stakes? Here is my purse in warrant of
my words."

"Why, master, I am surely the very man to hold your purse!" called out
the lately fallen champion, readily. "Ask any of them here and (if they
have love of truth in them) they will say that Much the Miller is a man
of men for honesty, sobriety, and the like! 'Tis known throughout
Lincoln that never have I given short measure in all my life. Hand me
the purse and be easy."

"Show me your crown, friend," said Robin, eyeing him.

"Now, stirrup me but I have given my last piece to a poor beggar whom we
did meet in the wood."

"Then I will hold my purse myself, Master Much," cried Robin, putting it
quickly back into his bosom. "But have no fear; if you can beat me, I'll
add my crown to the Prince's money-bag. We will meet you here, friends,"
he continued, "beside this very tree, at noon to-morrow, if I should
win. If not, I'll yield this purse to the miller ere I leave the
tourney, and he shall share it round. Is it agreed?"

"I do think that you should pay for your travelling, gipsy, since you
are so rich," grunted the first archer. "Here's half my saddle: I'll
only ask a silver penny for a seat on it."

"I'll take you for nought, gipsy," shouted Much, who really was very
tipsy. "You've spoken fair; and I like you! Come, jump up behind me, and
hold tight. This horse is one of most wayward character."

"Hurry, then," said the leader. "Whilst we chatter here the tourney
will be done; and we shall happen on it just as Hubert takes the prize.
Forward, friends; quick march!"

They rattled off at a smart pace. Robin mounted behind the good-natured
Much, and Stuteley upon the captain's horse. The miller told Robin
confidentially a full score of times that he, Much, was bound to win the
archery contest, being admittedly the first bowman in the world.

"Harkee, gipsy," called he at length, over the point of his shoulder to
patient Robin behind him, "I'll not take your crown, I swear it! I like
you, and I would not rob your sweetheart of a penny piece. Buy ribbons
for her, then, with the crown I give you."

Robin expressed his thanks very cordially. This fellow seemed an
honest-hearted rogue; and 'twas mainly to his furious urging of his
steed that they arrived in time for the great event.

As it was, all the jousting was done, and most of the nobles had already
gone away. The Sheriff was fussily preparing himself to escort the
Prince to the castle when the horns blew announcing the arrival of the
Lincolnshire bowmen.

They had pushed their way clumsily through the array of tents, and now
blundered into the lists through the gate. Robin was glad indeed of his
stained face and semi-disguise, not being over proud of his companions.
He gave Will Stuteley a signal to detach himself from them, and come to
his side. The two youths then hastened to the archers' stand.

There had been three deaths already as a result of the joustings; and
six others were seriously injured; yet the Prince looked far from being
satisfied, and his glance strayed for ever to the gate.

When the Lincoln men had come noisily trooping in, his face had lit up
and his hand had made a half-movement to find the jewelled hilt of his
sword. Master Carfax, too, had started to his feet in evident concern.

When the heralds announced these new-comers, visible disappointment
showed on the faces of the Prince and his followers. Clearly they were
eagerly expecting the appearance of other folk; but, quickly recovering
himself, John re-found all the old elegance of his manners. He
courteously acknowledged the rough greeting of the archers, and sat back
smilingly in his box.

Master Monceux gave the signal for the archery contest to be begun; and
Robin soon saw that the archers against him were men very different from
those who had been at Nottingham Fair.

When it came to the turn of the Prince's own bowman, Hubert of
Normandy--a man slim, conceited, and over-dressed, but nevertheless a
very splendid archer--the first shaft flew so cleanly and so swift that
it pierced the very middle of the target and stuck out on the other side
full half its length.

Robin had to shoot immediately after him, and waited a few moments
whilst the markers were tugging at the Norman's arrow. A sudden
inspiration flashed across the lad's mind; and, advancing a step, he
bade them desist. They wonderingly fell back, leaving Hubert's arrow
fixed spitefully in the target.

One of the heralds cried out that this archer had not yet given in his
name, but even as he spoke, Robin's arrow flew hissing from his bow. A
silence fell upon the onlookers, and even the smiling Prince leaned
forward in his box. Then a great shout went up of amazement and
incredulity. The markers and heralds thronged about the target and hid
it from the general view until they were impatiently pulled away by some
of the Prince's bodyguard.

A marvel was seen then by all eyes--Robin's arrow standing stiffly out
from the center of the target, with Hubert's wand split down on either
side of it flush to the very face of the mark!

Robin himself could scarcely credit his own success. He had done the
thing before, with Warrenton, once out of a dozen times: and he had
essayed it now more out of bravado than aught else.

"'Twas a feat worthy of Hubert himself," said the Sheriff,
bombastically, to the Prince. He had not recognized Robin.

"I have seen Hubert perform just such a trick on many occasions, sir,"
said Carfax. "This fellow has done no uncommon thing, believe me," he
went on. "And after all, he has not bettered Hubert's shot."

"That is true," said the Prince, as if thoughtfully. His face showed
smiling again. "Let the contest go on: and Hubert shall shoot again with
this young trickster."

"The heralds say that he has not given in his name, sire," said one of
the courtiers.

"If that is so, his shooting is of no avail, be it never so good," cried
Carfax, triumphantly. "Tell them that the archer is disqualified, my
lord," he continued, addressing the Sheriff; "and bid them discover who
he may be."

Carfax turned again to the Prince, and began a whispered conversation
with him. The Prince listened, nodding his head in approval.

"Well, Monceux, what do they say?" he asked the Sheriff, languidly, as
the other returned.

"It seems, sire, that the archer is one who came in with a company of
Lincoln bowmen. No one knows him hereabout. I have said that he is
disqualified, and now the others will shoot again. But Hubert has now
the purse, for sure."

"In sooth I do think so," answered the Prince, laughing rather
conceitedly. "But Monceux, bid this lad to me forthwith. I would speak
with him."

The Sheriff went about the task; but Robin had disappeared; for
suddenly, amidst the throng, his eyes had encountered those strange
grey-blue ones of Mistress Fitzwalter.

She was sitting alone in a little box near by the targets. Robin had
walked down the lists to see for himself that his shaft had split the
Norman's fairly, and in turning away to find Stuteley he had become
aware of her shrewd, piercing gaze. She allowed her eyes to rest fully
on young Fitzooth's ardent glance for the briefest moment. Then she
looked away unconcernedly.

But Robin, venturing all, drew nigh. He came to the edge of her box, and
began to speak. He had gone so far as "Give you good morrow, lady," when
his eyes perceived the Sheriff's little golden arrow fastening her
cloak. His mouth became dry at that and his words went back in his
throat.

The girl, aware of his confusion, brought her gaze back upon him. She
smiled.

[Illustration: ROBIN MEETS MAID MARIAN

_But Robin, venturing all, drew nigh. He came to the edge of her box,
and began to speak._]

"Is it indeed my young champion?" asked she, rather doubtfully at first,
in her low, soft tones. "Is it you who have beaten the Prince's best
archer, Robin o' th' Hood?"

Her eyes were wells of innocent fun. The way in which she lingered over
the last syllables brought Robin still deeper into the deep waters.

"It is your servant, madame," was all that he could find to say.

"You see then that I wear your gift, Robin," she said, trying to make
him at ease. "I have not forgotten----"

"Nor I--I shall _never_ forget," cried he, impulsively. "Your eyes are
always in my memory: they are beautiful as stars," said he, fervently.

"Oh, a gallant Locksley! But there, take my colors, since you will be my
knight." She untied a ribbon from her hair, and gave it into his
outstretched palm. "And now, farewell; take the Prince's prize, and
spend the pennies worthily. Buy your sweetheart some ribbons, but keep
that which I have given you."

She tossed her curls again, as she added the last word. Robin was
beginning a vehement protestation that he had no sweetheart, when
Stuteley's voice broke in upon him.

"Master, they have disqualified you, and given the prize to Hubert. 'Tis
a vile injustice, and I have raised my voice furiously. So, alas! has
Master Much the Miller; he is a very worthy gentleman."

"What do you say?" asked Mistress Fitzwalter, in amazement.

"It is even so, lady, that my lord the Sheriff has ruled my master out
of the court, for the reason that he did not give in his name before
drawing his bow!" cried Stuteley. "A wicked conspiracy it is, and
monstrous unjust! 'Tis thus that these prizes are given; the game's
arranged beforehand. Ah, but I know how these Nottingham folk do plot:
thrice now have I found them false and treacherous."

When Stuteley had begun there were many who were ready to side with him,
but his unlucky conclusion turned these possible friends into enemies.
Even Mistress Fitzwalter drew back for an instant.

"Be silent, Will," said Robin, vexed at once. "It is enough to be
juggled out of this prize without your making it worse. I'll go claim it
from Monceux and he shall argue it with me."

"The Prince is asking for you, friend," said Carfax, suddenly appearing.
He touched Robin on the shoulder.

As he turned to depart, his gimlet eyes saw how the girl shrank away
from them into her box. He looked swiftly at her; then at Robin again.
"His Highness graciously condescended to enquire your name and rank,"
said he, pausing.

"Will he give the purse to me, then?" asked Robin, surprised.

"Nay, that has already been won by Master Hubert," answered Carfax, as
if amused at the question. "You cannot win a prize every day.
Master--Locksley."

He spoke at a shrewd guess, and saw that his shaft had hit the mark.
Mistress Fitzwalter's interest in Robin had given him the clue.

"I'll not go to the Prince," said Robin, wrathfully. "Tell him, Master
Fetch-and-Take, that I have won this prize in all fairness; and I will
shoot with Hubert again, if he needs another beating."

"You'll cool your heels in the stocks, Locksley," said Carfax,
viciously: "so much is evident. The Sheriff has a quarrel with you
already, and 'tis well that you are here to answer Master Ford's
complaint. The Prince will send for you in style, since you will not go
kindly to him. Bide but a few minutes. I'll not keep you waiting!"

He strode off, in heat, followed by Stuteley's scornful gibings.

Robin became aware that the people were eyeing them both with none too
friendly glances. He felt that he and Will Stuteley were in a difficult
position. Escape seemed to be out of the question.

"Jump over the ledge of my box, Robin," whispered a sudden small voice,
"and so make your way through the door at the back of it. Hasten!"

Gratefully Robin did as she bade him; and Stuteley, without waiting for
invitation, followed. Mistress Fitzwalter instantly opened the door for
them. "Hurry, I pray you," cried she; "I see them coming for you both.
The Prince has sent his pikemen----"

Robin pushed Will out before him; and, turning, caught her little hand
in his.

"Thanks, thanks," he muttered, hurriedly, and strove to kiss her
fingers.

Laughing and blushing, she snatched them away.

"Go," she cried, in agitated voice, "and stay not until you reach
Locksley. We may meet again--to talk of thanks," she added, seeing that
he still hesitated.

"Give me at least your name," panted poor Robin, at the door; "not that
I shall ever forget you."

"I am called Marian," answered she, closing the door ruthlessly upon
him--"Marian Fitzwalter.... Go now, I implore you, and may good fortune
be with you always."



CHAPTER XII


So, ingloriously, they returned through the night to Locksley. None
offered to stay them in the forest of Sherwood; indeed, Robin might well
have disbelieved in the existence of Will o' th' Green and his outlaw
band, had he not had such good reason to know otherwise. It was as if
Will had silently yielded him that freedom of the forest which he
boasted was his to give. Tired and footsore, yet filled with a strange
elation, Robin came back to Locksley before dawn, with faithful Stuteley
forlornly following him.

There were questions to be asked and answered when they arrived; and
Warrenton was very indignant when he heard of the Prince's gross
favoritism of his archer Hubert.

Robin seemed to show too little vexation in the matter, Warrenton
thought. The man-at-arms was both perplexed and amazed by the
semi-indifference displayed by the youth: here had he, by marvellous
skill, won a fine prize, and had seen the same snatched most unfairly
from him, and yet was not furiously enraged; but rather amused, as it
were.

"Surely, surely, you will go back with me to-morrow and demand the purse
from the Sheriff?" said Warrenton, in argumentative attitude. "Squire
George o' th' Hall shall give us the best of Gamewell to enforce respect
to you."

"Nay, it matters not so much as that, Warrenton. The money I would like
to have had, I'll not deny it; for it would have made me more
independent of Master Monceux. But it has not fallen to me, and there it
ends."

"Well, 'tis well that you are so easy, lording," said Warrenton,
scratching his head. "Now tell us whom you saw; and how you contrived to
split the Norman's arrow."

He had already heard the story: but was very fain to listen to it again.
"It is a trick that I taught him, dame," he added, off-handedly, to
Mistress Fitzooth. "One that did surprise the Norman too, I'll warrant
me. You see, they are so concerned with their crossbows and other
fal-lals in France that when good English yew----"

"I saw Master Will," said Robin, to check him. Once Warrenton was
started on a dissertation on the virtues of the English longbow there
was usually no staying him. "He told me that the Scarlet Knight had gone
to France."

Warrenton looked wise. "That is not worthy of belief, excellence," said
he, cunningly. "Prince John is near; and one cannot imagine that
Geoffrey of Montfichet----"

"Geoffrey of Montfichet?" asked the dame, wonderingly: and then
Warrenton saw how he had blundered. "Why, I did not know that you had
met your cousin, Robin. When was it, and why do you call him the Scarlet
Knight?"

"Geoffrey is outlawed, mother mine, and may not appear in Sherwood,"
answered Robin, temporizing with her. "And the story of our meeting is
too long a one for the moment. We are rarely fatigued, and I would
gladly get me to bed. Come, Will, rouse yourself. Mother, see that we do
not sleep too long. I must go to Gamewell by the day after to-morrow at
least; and there is much work between my going and now."

He had determined to ask the Squire to move again in the matter of the
Rangership for him whilst John was here. Even if the Prince had unduly
favored Hubert in the archery contest, it did not necessarily follow
that he would be unjust in such a plain business as this. Robin kissed
the dame, struggled with a yawn, and got him to rest. He slept uneasily,
his dreams being strangely compounded of happiness and grief.

       *       *       *       *       *

Within three days Robin started away for Gamewell, taking only Stuteley,
as before. He intended to make his return to Locksley ere dusk of the
next night.

When they were far advanced on their journey they heard sounds of a
large company upon the road; and prudently Robin bade Stuteley hide with
him in the undergrowth until they should see who these might be.

"Maybe 'tis the Sheriff, with Master Ford, coming to seize our home. By
watching them unseen we may find a way to bring their schemes to naught.
Keep near to me, Will; and scarcely breathe."

It was indeed a body of men from Nottingham; and, although the Sheriff
was not with them, Master Carfax and a few of the Lincoln bowmen were
amongst the company. So also was Ford, the forester.

In all, there were about two score of men, and most of them were
Sherwood foresters. Robin espied Much the Miller in the tail of the
procession, looking very dejected and ill, and decided to risk exposing
himself. Standing up in the bracken, he called out boldly: "Hold there,
Master Much. Here am I, ready to take your money."

"What sprite are you?" answered Much, reining in his steed sharply.
"Why! 'tis the gipsy lad, as I live; with his face nicely washed...!"
He had recognized Robin by his clothes. "Money, forsooth! Do you know
that I have not so much as a groat in my pouch?"

"Then must one of the others lend it to you," replied Robin. "Pay me,
friends, forthwith. A short reckoning is an easy reckoning. My arrow
flew nearer the target than did any of yours."

"How do you know that?" said Much. "After you had gone we all did aim
again, and very marvellous was my shooting. For sure, I should have had
the prize, even as I told you, had not Hubert already made off with it."

"Is this so?" asked Robin, doubtfully, looking from one to the other of
the Lincoln men. Those in front had now stopped also; and Master Carfax
came ambling back to see what had occasioned the delay. So soon as he
espied Robin his face took a joyful look. "Here, Master Ford," he
called, clapping his hands. "Hither--come hither! Here is your quarry
found for you. Now you can fight it out, fair and square, whilst we
watch to see fair play!"

Ford turned about and glanced at Robin; but he did not like the notion
of such a battle. So he affected not to recognize him. "Nay, this is but
some vagrant fellow," said he, hesitatingly. "Let us push on, Master
Simeon; 'tis near the hour when we are to meet with him whom you know."
He added these words in a low voice, and made a gesture indicating the
Copmanhurst road.

Carfax's face took a diabolical expression. He had begun to answer Ford,
when the whole party were suddenly disturbed by the rush of a great herd
of Royal deer.

These beasts, driven by someone from out of their pastures, came
scattering blindly adown the track; and men and horses moved quickly to
one side to avoid a devastating collision.

After they had passed, Carfax began again. "Form a ring, friends," cried
he, coaxingly. "Let neither of these fellows escape. They shall yield us
some sport, in any event, whether Ford be right or I."

A solitary stag at this instant appeared before them. He stood, as if
carved from stone, in the center of the road, at three hundred paces'
distance. He was clearly uncertain whether to dash through these his
usual enemies, in an attempt to rejoin the herd, or fly backward to that
unknown danger which had first startled them all.

"'Tis a fine beast," hiccoughed Much. "Now had I a steady hand!"

Simeon Carfax interrupted him. "By the Lord Harry, here is the very
thing," he said, in whispered excitement. "Now, fellow, you shall prove
me right and this forester wrong. I say you are Robin of Locksley, who
did split the Norman's arrow at the tourney. Fly a shaft now at yon
mark; surely none but such a bowman as yourself might dare hope to reach
it."

Robin fell into the very palpable trap set for him. Without answering
Carfax, he fitted an arrow to his bow, and sent speeding death to the
trembling stag. It fell, pierced cleanly to the heart. Robin eyed Ford
triumphantly.

But Master Carfax now held up his hands in horror. "See what you have
done, wicked youth," ejaculated he, as if quite overcome with dismay. "I
bade you shoot at yon birch-tree shimmering there to the left of the
deer. Did I not say: 'Fly at yon mark'? And now you have killed one of
the King's deer."

"I do hear that this fellow has slain others about Locksley," said Ford,
meanly. "You are right, Master Simeon; he is, in sooth, Robin of
Locksley; your eyes are wiser than mine. Seize him, my men."

At once the foresters sprang upon Robin and Stuteley, and a fierce
battle was commenced. Despite a valiant resistance, Robin and Will
Stuteley were soon overcome and bound hard and fast.

"You villains," panted Stuteley. "And you, most treacherous," he called
to Carfax, "I wish you joy of so contemptible a trick."

"All's fair in war, friend," answered Carfax. "Now, Master Ford, fulfil
your duty. You know the law; that if one be found killing the King's
deer in the Royal Forest of Sherwood, he or she may be summarily hanged
when caught upon the nearest tree."

"It must be _in flagrante delicto_, Master Simeon," said Ford, uneasy
again.

"Could there be a plainer case?" cried Carfax, rubbing his hands. "We
all did see this fellow shoot the deer. Tis the clearest case; and I do
counsel you to deal lawfully in it, Master Ford. Remember that he also
is suspected of being an outlaw, in that you saw him once use a
peacocked arrow. Although I am but a layman, as it were, friend," he
added, meaningly, "yet I do know the law, and shall be forced to quit my
conscience with the Prince when I return to Nottingham. Wherefore,
seeing that your appointment to Locksley still lacks his
confirmation----"

"I would rather bring the rogue to Master Monceux, as he did command
me," argued Ford, who could not quite brace himself to this. "Besides,
we have no leisure at this moment to carry out the law," he went on.
"You know that your master the Prince did start us on this journey with
two errands upon our shoulders."

"One was to deal with Robin of Locksley," said Carfax, snarlingly, and
without yielding his point.

"To take him to Nottingham, master, I say," put in Much. "I do not think
that the Prince meant you to harm him."

"Be silent, knave!" snapped the lean-faced man, sharply. "Who gave you
the right to question me? Shut your mouth, or I will have you accounted
as accomplice with these fellows, and put a noose about your bull-neck
also!"

"Why, harkee, master," said Much, very wrathful. "This is a game where
two can play or more. I do forthwith range myself with the gipsy; and
you, Midge," he added, turning to one of his company, "surely you will
follow?"

"Right instantly," answered the one called Midge, a little ferret of a
man.

"And I also." "And I, Master Much"--so spoke the remaining Lincoln men.

"So are we six, then," said Much. He tumbled off his horse, and the
other three of them did the like; and then strode over to where Robin
stood. "Release him," said the miller, determinedly; and he promptly
knocked two of the foresters sprawling.

This was the signal for a general encounter, and all threw themselves
very heartily into the mêlée.

The miller and his men struggled to release Robin and Stuteley so that
these might help in the fray; but the foresters were too many for them.
Twice did Much get his hands upon Robin's bonds, only to be plucked
violently backward. The men tumbled one upon the other in the fight,
pummelling, clutching, and tearing at each other in a wild confusion.
They made little noise, all being too desperately in earnest. Ford
encouraged his foresters by word and gesture; and Carfax kept himself as
far out of it as possible. Presently three of the foresters overpowered
the good-natured, still half-tipsy miller, and held him down.

Then Master Carfax sprang from his horse and rushed in upon the
prostrate miller. Seizing one of the foresters' pikes the lean-faced man
foully swung it down upon Much's pate with a sounding thwack. The miller
gave a groan and became limp in the hands of his assailants.

"Now, surely, that is the meanest of all the mean deeds which you have
done!" cried Robin. He tore at his bonds fiercely and vainly--biting at
the cord about his wrists with his teeth. Carfax ran to his horse. In an
instant he had returned with a cord taken from under his saddle. "I had
a notion that this might be useful to me when I set out this morn," he
said. "Put it about his neck soon as a noose is fashioned. Now fling the
end of it over this branch. Now draw it tight. Steadily, I pray you; be
not over-quick. The prisoner has the right to speak a prayer ere he be
hanged. Say it then, Robin of Locksley."

Robin caught sight at this instant of poor Stuteley's face. He had been
knocked down in the fight, and, being bound, had lain where he had
fallen. His eyes met Robin's in an anguished glance, and his lips
trembled in attempt at speech.

Robin strove to smile at him; but his own soul was sick within his body.
He felt the cord tighten again about his throat, but even as the world
reeled black, Robin heard dully the sound of a horn. In familiar tones
it came in upon his fainting brain. Next instant came a jerk at the
rope, futile, if infuriated; then, suddenly, contact with a body falling
heavily against his own.

As he fell he knew that something warm and horrid trickled upon his
hands. Then followed a vast confusion of noise: and, in the midst of it,
sweet peace.



CHAPTER XIII


When Robin came to his senses he found himself surrounded by the outlaw
band. On this occasion they appeared as friends, however--and welcome
ones to boot; for it had been a near matter that Robin's history had
been ended by Master Carfax on this day.

Now were the tables turned, and very completely. The foresters had been
overcome by Will and his outlaws, thanks to the diversion brought about
by the Lincoln men. Much was sitting up with a more rueful countenance
than he had when Robin had first spied him on this morning; and little
sharp-nosed Midge was busy bathing and binding his cracked poll.

Some half-score of the foresters, with Master Ford, had escaped along
the road towards Locksley: the rest were bound, and their horses
confiscated by the outlaws.

Master Simeon, with rage and terror depicted plainly upon his
countenance, lay writhing at Robin's feet, bound with the very cord with
which he had sought to end young Fitzooth's life. His enemies had
trussed him across a quarter-staff, and had tied the knots large and
tight about him.

"Well, Locksley, how now?" asked Will o' th' Green, with gruff
kindliness. "Are the vapors passed? Can you twiddle your bow again?"

"Not skilfully enough now to take place against you, Will," smiled
Robin, recovering himself more and more. "I am atrembling yet. I had
thought to see the blue sky no more----"

"Ay, my man's arrow was not too soon, Locksley," said Will, gravely.
"This fellow's hand was upon the rope, and another moment might have
seen you gallows-fruit upon this tree." He paused to bend over a
forester lying prone near them, with his face buried in the grass. Robin
saw that the man's body was transfixed by an arrow.

"He is no more," Will told them, looking up presently; "your aim was a
shrewd one, Hal," he went on, addressing himself to one of his band.

"Is he indeed _dead_?" asked Robin, in an awestruck voice.

"'Twas his life or yours," answered Will o' th' Green, grimly. He turned
to his men. "Now, comrades," cried he, "have you searched our prisoners
and prepared them? 'Tis well. Are they bound together, then, by the
arms, twos and threes, as is appointed in our rules; and is the right
leg and left leg of each villain shackled together?... Stand them up,
then, with their faces toward Nottingham, and bid them march."

"There is yet this one, captain," said one of the men, indicating
Carfax. "What shall we do with him?"

"Has he been searched closely?" enquired Will. Without waiting a reply,
he roughly ran his fingers through Master Carfax's pockets, and
unfastened his tunic at the bosom. A parchment dropped out and Will
snapped it up.

"I come from the Prince," whined Carfax, speaking at last; "and if so be
you are Master Will Cloudesley, or Will o' th' Green--as these folks do
call you--why, I have a very gracious message for you."

The outlaw gave a signal to his men. "Set him upon his feet," he
ordered, "and loosen these cords. Now, excellence, speak at your ease."

"Believe him not, Master Will," interposed Stuteley, afraid that Carfax
was going to turn the tables on them in some treacherous way. "He is a
very proper rogue."

"Be easy, friend," said Will o' th' Green. "Every one is judged here in
fairness. These men," pointing to the shamefaced, miserable foresters,
"were caught in the doing of an evil deed, and so were dealt with
summarily. But this one did not seem to have a hand in it."

"It was he who commanded them, sir," suddenly shrilled the little
Lincoln named Midge. "He is, in sooth, a diabolical villain, and did
very foully strike our companion here whilst men were holding him."

"All testify against you, excellence," said the outlaw, speaking again
to Carfax. "What is your story of it? Speak without fear."

"This rascal did imprudently waylay us on the road with a demand for
money," began Carfax, "and I, riding back at his noise, did recognize
him for one Robin Locksley, a notorious fellow who has defied my lord
the Sheriff's authority; and has also been suspect of being of your
company--which is a thing, saving your presence, Master Cloudesley, that
has been poor recommendation in the past. Further, with our own eyes
have we seen him shoot and kill one of his Majesty's stags, a most
valued beast with sixteen pointed antlers, as you can see. We were but
exercising the law upon him, as is appointed.... That is to say, _Master
Ford_ was directing his men to carry out the law," said Carfax, with his
thin cheeks pale with fear. "I did but counsel prudence, and plead for
the youth."

"Enough," cried Will, with contempt in his tones. "Now tell me the
message which the Prince has sent by so worthy a messenger."

"That is for your private ear," said Simeon, cunningly.

"You may speak plainly before my comrades," said Will. "Doubtless they
are as interested in the Royal words as I myself."

"I was to bid you come at once to the City gate, so many of you as
would," Carfax said, "there to receive the King's pardon from the hands
of our beloved Prince. Indeed, his gracious Highness did well expect to
see you before him three days agone, at the tourney."

"Dressed about with red ribbons, I trow?" enquired the outlaw, as if
helping him.

"Indeed yes, Master Cloudesley. You have said it, indeed. Knowledge of
your loyalty to us was brought to the Prince by me. By me, good friend,"
he repeated, insinuatingly. "And now give back to me my parchment--which,
being writ in the Latin tongue, is truly no more than a cartel to
my lord the Abbot of York--and let us set forth joyfully. For
henceforth ye will be as free men, and what is past will be forgotten."

"I can read you the scroll, Will," said Robin, quietly. "I have some
knowledge of the priestly tongue."

The outlaw handed him the scroll, and all waited in silence whilst
Robin deciphered it. Carfax snapped his teeth together in vexation at
this unexpected turn. "_He_ cannot read the parchment. Is it likely?" he
cried. "He will but pretend to read it, and make lies with which to
confound me. 'Tis writ in most scholarly Latin, that only few may
learn."

"There is treachery here for you, Will," spoke Robin, without heeding
these outcries. "This is a notification from the Prince to the Abbot of
York saying that his emissaries have sounded you and that you are ready
with your men to strike for him."

"I have said so much," commented Will, "naming three conditions."

"They are written herein: first, that a general amnesty is to be
granted; second, that the ban of excommunication is to be removed from
off you by the Holy Church; and third, that the Prince shall find your
men, afterward, honorable employment."

"That is so, Locksley. The letter is exact."

"So the Prince writes to the Abbot, asking him to promise the second of
your conditions, saying that it need be only a promise, for he has not
the least intention of holding to a bargain with one so evil as
yourself, and that after he has won the throne from Henry his father,
matters such as these will be disposed of by his soldiery, if need be."

"It is not true," screamed Carfax. "He lies to you, Master Cloudesley,
seeking to be revenged on me."

"Any clerk can read these lines to you, Will," answered Robin. "The
Prince continues praying for the welfare of them all at York, and saying
that he has already promised in the Abbot's name that the loan shall be
taken off; that the Abbot is to receive and watch narrowly one Geoffrey
of Montfichet, who has been exiled for treason, but who now imprudently
has returned to work on their behalf in England."

"Now do I know that you are reading truly," cried Will, and his brow
grew black. "For how could you know that your cousin was concerned in
this? You false-hearted knave," he added, turning to Carfax, "false as
your false master--your doom is sealed. Tie him up by his heels, and let
him hang head downward from this tree whereon he would have hung gallant
Locksley. Be speedy, men."

At this Simeon Carfax became as one quite demented, and Robin
interposed.

"Let us not punish the man for his master's fault, Will," cried he.
"Deal with him only on the score of my quarrel with him, when I shall
say--let him go. For I should always feel shame were we to be as harsh
with an enemy as he would be with us. It would show us no better then
he."

"Take him then, since Locksley will have it so, and tie his legs under
the belly of his horse--first setting him face to tail upon it," said
Will. "And you, Hal, go and cut me the antlers from off yon poor beast."

When this was done he caused his men to attach the horns by means of a
cord to Master Carfax's head; then, with his own hand, Will gave the
horse a lead towards Nottingham.

Then, with a "view halloo," the steed bearing the unfortunate man was
started in real earnest; and the foresters sent staggering by after it
along the road to Nottingham.

When they were out of sight, Robin thanked the outlaw again for all
that he had done for them. Will merely shrugged his shoulders, as one
who would say: "'Tis a matter not worth breath"; and, giving his men a
signal, prepared to return to his own fastnesses. Robin begged them to
take the body of the deer, and, with small reluctance, the outlaws
accepted the offer.

The Lincoln men bade Robin farewell also, saying that they would now go
on towards their own homes with a light heart: for, having met the
outlaws and found them most agreeable company, they had no more fear of
Sherwood.

So Robin and little Stuteley, waving farewell to all these strange
friends, moved on towards Gamewell, although Robin really had little
hope now of coming by the Prince's grace into what seemed to be but his
rights. The Sheriff and Simeon Carfax would attend to that, no doubt.

A curious dejection settled upon Robin. He had nothing but gloomy
thoughts upon him as he trudged towards the Squire's domain. Nor did his
spirits rise at his reception by old Gamewell. The Squire appeared
almost uneasy with him; and was short in his speech, although once or
twice a kindlier light flashed in his bright eyes.

"Already he regrets that he should have pressed me to take up the
Montfichet name," thought Robin to himself, imagining that herein was
the cause of the Squire's distemper.

He began to tell Montfichet of their doings and adventures: but had no
sooner come to that part of the narrative referring to the Prince's
purse than the Squire broke out: "Talk not to me of that man," cried he,
vehemently. "He is an unworthy son of a much-tried father. Forsooth,
this has become an age of disobedience and unfilial behavior; one has
but to look round to find most sons alike. The Fifth Commandment is now
without meaning to the younger generation."

"I have no father, sir," said poor Robin, half in defense; for Gamewell
looked so fiercely at him. "Nor do I seek to keep you to your offer,"
added he, in his thoughts.

"I was not thinking so much of you, boy," replied the Squire; and again
a better expression shone briefly in his face. "Give you good night,
Robin Locksley--you know your chamber. Sleep well and we will talk
together in the morning."

       *       *       *       *       *

The morning saw no easement of the Squire's attitude towards Robin; and
as soon as breakfast was ended he determined to go without wasting
breath upon the errand which had brought him.

"For sure, he is repenting of his offer," reasoned Robin. "Perchance
already his heart is moved again towards Geoffrey, and who shall be more
glad than I to find this so? I'll let the Squire think it comes from
me--as in truth it does--this whimsey to prefer the name of Fitzooth to
Montfichet!"

So bravely, as he was about to leave him, Robin spoke to the old man.

"Sir," he said, "I have it in me to speak plain words with you, and I
may."

"Have no fear, boy. I am one who loves an open mind." Montfichet spoke
with meaning.

"Well, sir, I would say with reference to that which you once did press
upon my mother and myself--that I should take your name and
half-fortune with my cousin Geoffrey--that I have thought well upon your
kind offer."

"There was to be a year go by, Master Fitzooth, ere you should give
answer."

"In a year or now, sir," said Robin, firmly, "I cannot see that I should
accept. I have no quarrel with my cousin, and I will not come between
him and your heart--which pleads against yourself on his behalf."

Montfichet broke forth then, and Robin learned suddenly what had come
between him and this strange, capricious man.

"No quarrel with Geoffrey, say you?" he shouted, bringing his fist down
with violence upon the oak table. "No, I trow you have not, Robin
Fitzooth! But I have a quarrel both with him and you. Know that I have
heard the story of your escapade with that mean son of mine, who must
come prowling like a thief in the night about the walls of Gamewell. I
know the Scarlet Knight's secret, and yours--who did think it brave to
deceive and outwit an old man."

"Sir, sir!" began Robin, aghast at this storm.

"Nay, I will hear no more of it. Treachery and deceit--always they hang
about my house. You deceived me, Robin Fitzooth, and cozened my servant
Warrenton. So I cast you out of my heart for ever. For the rest of my
days I will be sufficient unto myself: after I am gone, the dogs may
quarrel above my grave for the bones of Gamewell."

He almost pushed Robin from him, and turned brusquely away. Dazed and
confounded, Robin faltered rather than walked to reach Stuteley, who
stood awaiting him in the courtyard. Without a word, Robin took his
hand. "Come, Will; let us go," he muttered, thickly: and with wrathful
heart Robin Fitzooth shook the dust of Gamewell from off his feet.

Faintly through his mind came memory of the clerk's warning: but it was
all of it so unjust! He had never intended to deceive the Squire: all
that he had done had been done without thought. After all, what fault
had he committed against Montfichet?

"'Fore Heaven," said Robin, furiously, "I never will speak with that man
again--nor cross the threshold of his house!"

So the clouds gathered more and more thickly over the head of Robin
Fitzooth.



CHAPTER XIV


The Demoiselle Marie was behind all this. She had known Geoffrey's plans
from her lover, Master Carfax; for Master Carfax had had interviews with
those two of Will's band, Roger and Micah, the traitors sworn against
Geoffrey.

'Twas all wheel within wheel and plot within plot. Carfax had by nature
a face made to show differently on either side of it. Thus he was in
service with the Prince; and, whilst knowing the younger Montfichet to
be his master's ally, affected outwardly to recognize him as one against
whom the hands of all righteous men should be raised.

Master Simeon had gone forth with the Prince's message to Will o' th'
Green, and with John Ford, in order that he might install that latter
worthy at Locksley. Afterward Simeon was to journey to the Priory of
York, as we know. Marie Monceux, to complete Robin's undoing, bade her
father go to Gamewell and there tell Montfichet how Robin had helped
Geoffrey to his scarlet-ribboned horse, giving the Squire the story as
it had come through the two false outlaws. Certain proof she sent in a
strip of the red cloth which Montfichet well knew to belong only to his
house at Gamewell.

So suddenly Montfichet's mind was poisoned against Robin; with the
result that we have seen. The Squire began now to believe Ford's tale
that young Fitzooth was of the outlaw band, and at once withdrew all
support of Robin so far as the Rangership of Locksley was concerned.
"No doubt," thought the Squire, bitterly, "he is son of his father in
discontent and false pride. Fitzooth never was frank with me, and has
trained his son to distrust and deceive all men."

Truly the Sheriff's daughter was exacting full penalty for Robin's
disregard of her at the Nottingham Fair.

She had employed her hand also against the maid Fitzwalter, as we shall
find later.

Robin, in forbidding silence, strode along the road until they neared
the shrine of St. Dunstan, when he looked eagerly toward the stout
little hut of the clerk, hoping to find his old friend standing at the
door of it, with his barking dogs.

All was silent, however, and deserted. To Robin's surprise, the gate of
the palisade stood wide open; and the door of the hut also. He glanced
at Will.

"Surely the priest is abroad imprudently, master?" said young Stuteley.
"See how he has left his little house--open to the world! He must be of
a very trusting nature for sure."

"I remember now that the gate was unlatched yesterday," spoke Robin,
slowly. "I noticed it then and meant to talk with you on the point,
Will. I hope that no evil has befallen the clerk."

"'Tis three weeks or more since we have had tidings of him," said
Stuteley. "Shall we go in and make search?"

They entered the rude dwelling and soon exhausted every hole and corner
of it in a vain hunt for some token of the clerk. The kennels at the
back were empty and forlorn; and some bread which they found in the
hermit's tiny larder was mouldy and very stale.

"Let us push on to Locksley, Will; mayhap we shall have better cheer
waiting us there!"

They trudged on quietly. His master's depression had reached and
overcome merry Stuteley. They began unconsciously to walk quickly and
more quickly still as they approached Locksley. The day was overcast and
very still.

Presently Robin, throwing back his head, sniffed the air.

"Surely there is a strange smell in these woods, Will? Does it not seem
to you that there is a taste of burning grasses in the breeze?"

"Master," answered Stuteley, his face suddenly paling at some inner
fear, "I do smell fire such as a blazing house would give forth. Well do
I know the scent of it; having seen our own home burned last year."

"Hurry, hurry, Will; my heart misgives me. Some further disaster is upon
us. This is my evil day, I know. Hurry, for the love of me!"

They set off at a frenzied scamper through the woods, taking the short
footpath which would lead them to the back of the house of Locksley.
Robin broke through the trees and undergrowth and hastily scaled the
fence that railed off their garden from the wild woods.

A dread sight met his starting eyes. Dull brown smoke curled from under
the eaves of his home in dense clouds; the windows were gaping rounds
from which ever and anon red flames gushed forth; a torrid heat was
added to the sickening odor of the doomed homestead.

Somebody grasped him by the hand.

"Thanks be that you are returned, excellence," spoke a rough voice, with
emotion. "This is a sorry welcome."

"My mother?" gasped Robin, blankly, and his heart stood still for
Warrenton's answer.

"Not a hair of her head has been touched. Old Warrenton would not stand
here to tell you the sorry tale were it otherwise. But the house must
go; 'tis too old and dry a place for mortal hand to save."

Stuteley had joined them by this, and the three gazed for a minute in
stupefied silence on the flaming destruction of that home so dear to
Robin Fitzooth. Warrenton, grimed and righteously angry, began his tale.

Yesterday, at dusk, the sound of a winding horn had brought them all
anxiously to the garden. "We thought that you had returned with young
Stuteley," said the old man-at-arms; "but we found ourselves facing none
other than Master Ford the forester, with about six or more of the most
insolent of his men. Peremptorily be bade us deliver up this house to
him, pulling out a warrant from his bosom and waving it before your
mother's face."

"Ford, was it?" questioned Robin. Then light broke in upon him.
Yesterday, after the battle between Will's band and that of Master
Carfax, some of the defeated foresters had fled to the north of
Sherwood.

"You must bear up, young master," said Warrenton; "the Squire will
doubtless build you a new home."

"Alas, Warrenton! Master Montfichet has turned against me now," said
Robin then, "and against you also. Continue your story, and you shall
hear ours when you have done."

So Warrenton continued, telling them how John Ford had made an attempt
to seize the place: how Warrenton and the few servants had striven to
beat him back: and how, after valiant fighting, they had succeeded in
keeping them from taking the house at least. The garden they could not
retain; but Warrenton, having established himself at one of the upper
windows, had so shrewdly flown his arrows, that Ford himself had been
wounded and one of his men killed outright.

Night had fallen upon them in this way, and the dame thought that it
would be a good scheme for one of her maids to now endeavor to slip out
and arouse the village to their help. One of the women therefore essayed
the journey; but was so clumsy as to attract the enemy's attention. She
was seized and made to confess how the house was protected and where it
was most likely to fall before a sharp assault. Being a witless wench,
she told them truly, and Master Ford then bade her help them collect
sticks and leaves in order that they might be able to fire the place as
a last resource.

Those within had thought that the girl had managed to evade danger, and
cheerfully waited for help from the village.

A determined attack was commenced at daybreak; and Ford and his men
succeeded in gaining possession of the kitchens without loss. Another of
the servants was captured, also a second maid-servant was injured by an
arrow, so seriously as to die within twenty minutes.

Warrenton kept the stairs and barricaded the inner door from the
kitchens by putting tables and chairs against it. At length a parley was
called, and Ford shouted his conditions through the keyhole. The
besieged then learned that the distant village was still unaware of
their peril. Ford offered to let them all go forth free, if now they
would yield up the house to him.

Mistress Fitzooth had a mind to accept, but Warrenton counselled no.
After a long argument Ford swore that he would burn the house over their
heads if they did not surrender it within an hour; and, going back to
the garden, he began to bring in the loose dry pieces of wood and sticks
he and his men had collected in the night.

At three hours after noon, Ford, having given one more warning to them,
had bidden his fellows do the worst. In a few moments the smell of
burning filled the house; and Mistress Fitzooth became as one
distraught.

"We had two women left to us," Warrenton continued, "and a lad, who was
worth as much as a man to me. I bade them open the door softly, and rush
forth whilst the wretches were employed at their fiendish work in the
rear. This we did, and so gained, unperceived, the little shed near by
the gate. From a crack in the boards, I could command bowshot of the
whole front; and I had given the lad a bow of yours. The two maids,
taking your mother's hands, pulled her along under the hedge until they
gained the road. Then all three ran furiously toward the village.

"We who were left behind had not long to wait. Presently, one came round
to the front with a piece of flaming wood and boldly thrust it through
the nearest lattice. Him I killed at once with an arrow through the
back. They were now but five against us. Presently two others came
stealthily from the back: but, seeing their companion dead, ran back
hastily.

"Master Ford appeared next, and began to look suspiciously about him.
His fellow had rolled over in his death-struggles, and so might have
been slain from my window in the house-front. Curls of smoke were coming
up from under the thatch by now; and Ford, making up his mind, ran out
with the others, and flung himself upon the door.

"We had left it latched; and so it gave enough of resistance in his
blind attack to justify him in believing it was still held from within.
It fell inwards, at last, with a crash; and Ford sprang triumphantly
across the threshold. His fellows rushed after him, trying now to beat
out the fire."

Warrenton paused, and all fell again to watching the leaping flames.

"Meanwhile I guessed that your mother was safe, and had already alarmed
the villagers," continued the old retainer. "So, with a shout, I rushed
out upon the villains, with the lad, and pulled the broken door back to
its place, shutting them in, that they might enjoy their own fell work
in all security. Two of them did attempt escape just since by leaping
from out of the window. But my bow was ready strung for them."

"Have you killed four men, then, Warrenton?" said Robin, his blood
running cold. Then suddenly the full meaning of it flashed upon him.
"And Ford?" he cried, with a gesture of horror, "and the two others?"

"Nay," said Warrenton, grimly. "I had come round here to see whether
they had preference for fire or for my arrows, having left the boy to
guard the front. Then I saw you and young Stuteley, and in my chattering
I had nigh come to forget them. But there is Master Ford beckoning to
us from your own room."

A frenzied, dreadful figure had indeed appeared for a brief instant
amongst the thick curling smoke. It waved two hopeless hands out towards
the falling dusk, and then incontinently vanished.

A thin scream sounded in Robin's ears, as a rush of flame mercifully
swallowed up this apparition: like as not, 'twas the sound of the fire
itself. The end had come, both to the unhappy foresters and Robin's
home. With a huge torrent of noise the roof of it crushed in, half
stifling the fire.

Then the flames seized full mastery; and amid a shower of sparks, the
red tongues licked and devoured the last of their prey.

       *       *       *       *       *

Robin hastened to find his mother, that he might be relieved of his
anxiety and be rid for the moment of the sight of the awful catastrophe
of the fire. Warrenton and Stuteley rushed in together, at his command,
to try to save the two remaining foresters; but it was a very forlorn
hope. Warrenton in his just revenge had pushed things to their extreme
limits: Master Ford and all his band had paid the utmost penalty of
their failure to overcome this relentless old man.

Mistress Fitzooth had secured refuge and was now much calmer. She
embraced her son and wept over him in joy at this reunion. Robin could
see, however, that she was indeed much overwrought by these troubles.
She had not yet recovered from the loss of her husband.

They stayed with these poor people, who found room for them somehow,
out of sheer charity, for neither Robin nor the dame had any money. It
was a bitter business, in sooth: and next day Robin, finding his mother
far from well, humbled himself to beg assistance from the Squire. He
despatched the letter by Warrenton, and then patiently set himself to
wait a reply.

Also, he determined to seek an audience with the Prince. His home had
been burned, his small patrimony gone: he had now no means of keeping
himself and the dame from starvation save by living on another man's
bread.

The clerk, his one tried friend, was gone--no one knew where.

The Prince would surely yield him the right to be Ranger at Locksley in
his father's place! The house had been given to dead Hugh Fitzooth by
Henry, the King.

An uneasy feeling took possession of Robin, for Warrenton had defied and
overcome the Sheriff's man when he had been properly empowered to expel
mother and son from Locksley, and there were seven dead men, nay eight,
to be accounted for--and they were all of them King's Foresters.

       *       *       *       *       *

Montfichet answered him by sending a purse of money and a curt letter
saying that Mistress Fitzooth was to come to Gamewell, where for the
rest of her days she would always find a home. For Robin he could do
nothing: already the Sheriff had drawn up a proclamation of outlawry
against him, setting the price of a hundred crowns upon him, living or
dead.



CHAPTER XV


Mistress Fitzooth never saw Gamewell or her brother again. Her disorder
took a sudden and fatal turn; and within a week Robin found himself
doubly an orphan--without home, money, or hope. Only two good friends
had he--little Stuteley and staunch Warrenton.

The Squire had refused to see the latter and had sent him the reply to
Robin's note by one of the servants. Montfichet was angered with
Warrenton because he had been deceived by him.

Robin laid his mother to rest beside his father. That was as long as he
might dare stay in Locksley. Every day he feared to be seized by Master
Monceux's myrmidons. Stuteley kept watch on the road through Sherwood by
day and Warrenton by night.

The morning of the interment brought news of danger. One of the few
faithful foresters of Locksley was at his post--the rest, having no
master, had disported themselves upon their own various errands--and he
heard from a shepherd that a body of soldiers were journeying to
Locksley. Full two score and ten of them there were; one, the leader,
carrying a warrant for Robin's arrest. The forester hastened to save his
young master.

The time was short. Robin had scarcely pause to perform the last sad
offices above his mother's grave ere he must be flying for his life.
His only chance was to take to the woods and hide in them.

Warrenton urged him to seek shelter in the thicker forest about
Barnesdale, at the north-western end of Sherwood. Whispers gave a story
that the higher parts were honeycombed with strange caves; and all the
countryside knew that away in Barnesdale were the headquarters and camps
of Will o' th' Green. It was the place of all others for shelter; and
Stuteley became joyful in the thought of the adventures that must chance
to them therein.

Warrenton was sober, however, over it. He had a presentiment that the
days would be hard and the food scanty and plain. Still 'twas a man's
life, after all.

They nearly plunged themselves into the hands of the enemy by mistaking
their road.

So it chanced that Robin spied his old enemy Simeon Carfax and narrowly
missed being seen also by him. The three fugitives hid themselves high
up in the branches of a tree; and watched with beating hearts their
enemies hurrying onward to Locksley. With the band of soldiers, pikemen,
and foresters were two whom Robin observed narrowly. Sounds of their
talk reached his ears; and, since these two fellows rode somewhat apart
from the rest, Robin was able to distinguish their chattering.

He had unfailing ear for a voice. These were those traitors in Will's
band, the two outlaws whom he had encountered on the day of the
joustings at Nottingham Fair. "Roger and Micah," murmured Robin to
himself, after listening a while. "Yes, those were the names they used
_then_. So, friends, I am forearmed against you, for I will step with
heavy foot in your concerns by-and-by--when I do find Master Will o' th'
Green! Roger--and Micah--I'll not forget."

Soon as they had passed, the three slid quietly to the ground and
thereafter betook themselves very cautiously through the wood. Robin
determined to find Will soon as he might and lay his case before him.
The outlaw would give him refuge, no doubt.

The noise of the soldiers passed away in a murmuring discordance, and
the three fugitives walked now more boldly towards Barnesdale. Ere
sundown they were very heartily tired. They lay themselves down in the
long grasses and while two slumbered the third watched.

Such foods as dry bread and berries were all that they could command;
but there was water in plenty. The evening came, and after it night--and
so to break of the next day.

Robin would have recommenced the flight soon as they had bathed
themselves in a little shallow stream. Ere an hour of daylight was
theirs, sounds of hurried approach warned them to be alert. Someone was
crashing recklessly through the wood, following their trail clearly.
Robin bade Warrenton and little Stuteley hide on either hand whilst he
put himself directly in the path of this pursuer.

It proved to be none other than that one faithful forester of Locksley
who had warned him of the soldiery. Robin welcomed him all the more
gladly when he heard that this good fellow meant to throw in his own
fortunes with those of his unjustly treated young master.

He had news for them, too. It transpired that Master Carfax had several
duties in hand--as was his wont. First, he had to seize Robin and bring
him, alive or dead, to the Sheriff. Next he was to declare all the
Fitzooth property to be confiscated; and, having put seal upon any of it
that might be left from the fire, he had to instal as temporary Ranger
one of the Sherwood men whom he might think fit and trustworthy. Then a
messenger was to be despatched with another parchment to the Abbot of
York: writ this time in true Norman tongue.

After these things were executed Master Simeon was to turn his men
about, and march them determinedly upon the outlaws' stronghold, which
was now known to be at Barnesdale, and exterminate the band.

A task none so easy, after all!

For the satisfactory doing of these small commissions Carfax was to
receive one hundred and fifty pieces of gold; and also would be accepted
by the Sheriff as a fitting husband for the pale, hard-eyed demoiselle,
Marie of Monceux. 'Twas this reward that made Master Simeon desperate
and dangerous.

The forester, John Berry by name, told Robin further that Carfax had
clothed his body in chain-mail, and was carrying a dreadful axe in his
belt--with which to avenge the insult put upon him in the matter of the
stag's horns.

"Let us seek Barnesdale forthwith," said Robin. "I am all agog to warn
Will o' th' Green--for he has been a stout friend to me."

"Hurry then, master," cried Berry, the forester. "You are not far from
the Barnesdale road. In sooth, as I followed your tracks, I wondered
how you had come so far within a very short space. You are now within
touch of Gamewell."

It was true. In the mazy forest they had nearly described a circle, and
were now perilously nigh to Gamewell and the squire.

An idea came to Robin. He turned to Warrenton.

"Could we but find that underground path whereby cousin Geoffrey came
and went from the pleasance, old friend," said he, "why--we might play
the Yellow Lady to purpose!"

"Excellence," replied Warrenton, "I will undertake to bring you to the
forest entrance of Master Will's castle within a score of minutes."

"Lead us, Warrenton--and I prithee be better guide than you have been so
far in this adventure."

After taking many by-paths, and through a big tunnel-shaped cave, the
path became dry again, and lighter: and soon they saw that the end was
near. They emerged presently, tired and dirtied; and found themselves
under the bank of a little jumping woodland river--far down in a gorge
of rock and brake, studded and overhung with thick trees.

It was a wild spot: and only the notes of the birds and the rush of the
falling water disturbed it. But ere they had proceeded a quarter of a
mile up the bank of the stream a sudden bend in it brought them the
harsh noise of desperate and near fighting.

Loud shouts and battle-cries sounded on their left; and, running
speedily in this direction, our four adventurers chanced upon a strange
sight.

It was strange by the manner of their view of it; for, having clambered
up the bank to the top of the gorge, they saw themselves on the highest
edge of a spur of ground--with the low down rocky valley of the river
behind, and before them a little narrow plain--as equally below them as
was the water they had left. On this plain were a number of men engaged
in deadly battle. Round and about were the thick dark woods of
Barnesdale.

A moment's glance showed Robin that they had arrived too late to help
Will o' th' Green by way of warning. The outlaw's foes were upon him,
and seemingly had the robber and his band at a disadvantage.

The ground descended below the four onlookers so abruptly as to cut them
off from the plain. They were near to the battle; and yet altogether
remote from it.

"Our arrows must do duty for us, then," muttered Robin, grimly, soon as
he understood this. "Fit shafts across your bows, friends, and aim with
all your hearts in it. Let not those of either side see us. 'Tis thus
that our services shall be of most value to Master Will."

They dropped to their knees and aimed their arrows carefully. They had
full quivers with them, and Warrenton and Robin felt themselves in a
manner to be pitted one against the other. The battle raged so furiously
below, however, that for a minute these allies were compelled to remain
idle--not daring to loose their shafts for fear of slaying friends as
well as foes.

Sounds of a horn, shrill and impatient, suddenly called the soldiers
back to their ranks beside Master Carfax. Robin spied this worthy now;
and saw that he bestrode a black horse clumsily--as if armored indeed.
Simeon evidently had withdrawn his men from a mêlée for fear that in it
he might not be properly protected. He was seen to be issuing orders
very peremptorily to the men.

Meanwhile the outlaws rallied themselves to their leader's side. They,
were sadly decreased in numbers; and, whilst the living thus formed
about in battle array, there were many poor fellows of both sides left
upon the field who stirred not even to the imperative commands of their
commanders.

Now was Robin's chance.

"Choose your man, each one of you," said he, in a suppressed eagerness;
"and soon as the soldiers issue at the charge shoot down upon your
mark."

Carfax gave an order almost as he spoke. Instantly Robin loosed his bow,
and singing death flew from it. He overturned the soldier nearest to
Master Simeon, even as Warrenton's shaft struck another dead at once.

The forester Berry and little Stuteley added to the confusion--both
wounding the same soldier simultaneously. Then Carfax, believing that
these arrows came from Will's band, sounded a charge and spurred his
horse forward amongst his pikemen.

They rushed forward with swinging axe and clanking sword upon the
outlaws, who now delivered a sudden stream of shafts. These Robin's band
supplemented by shrewder arrows. Seven of the soldiers rolled over as
they ran, killed forthwith; and Robin, having pricked Simeon's horse,
shot him again in the ear whilst meaning to find his master.

The beast plunged wildly into the soldiers, trampling and scattering
them. But many managed yet to meet the robbers, and the desperate
hand-to-hand fighting was recommenced.

Robin bade the others cease. The four of them peered from out of their
cover over the crest, and watched breathlessly. Carfax had fallen from
his horse and lay floundering on the close grass. Stuteley sped a
gooseshaft into his forearm ere Robin could check him.

Warrenton drew his master's attention and anger away from his esquire by
a quick whisper.

"See, lording--quick! Look how some of the enemy do creep about Master
Will; they will strike him and his fellows from the rear!"

"The two who lead them are not uniformed--like as not they are those
treacherous ones whom I have such cause to remember."

So muttered Robin, with parted lips, and gasping his words disjointedly.
"Smite them, Warrenton," cried he, suddenly and excitedly. "Speedily,
instantly--or they will end this fight against us. _Now!_"

Their arrows flew together, marvellous shots, each finding its prey. The
two wretches threw up their arms as they ran; and, uttering dismal
cries, fell upon the earth, and in their death-struggles tore up vain
handfuls of the soil.

"Follow, follow," called Robin, to his three faithful ones. "Locksley! A
Locksley! To the rescue!"

[Illustration: ROBIN HOOD AND HIS COMPANIONS LEND AID TO WILL O' TH'
GREEN FROM AMBUSH

_Their arrows flew together, marvellous shots, each finding its prey._]

They tumbled headlong down the slope, shouting vociferously as they
came. The soldiers, alarmed and already disheartened, imagined that
these eager enemies were but forerunners of a large reinforcement.
Hastily they disengaged themselves from the outlaws, and, gathering up
Master Carfax, rushed pell-mell with him backward to the woods on the
right.

Will o' th' Green's few men hurried them with their arrows; and soon as
Robin had come down to level ground he fell to streaming his shafts into
the rout. He was bruised, begrimed, and cut about his face by the thorns
and rocks; yet was so furious against Master Simeon and his myrmidons
that these things were not even felt by him. Shouting "Locksley!
Locksley!" more and more triumphantly, he ran alone in fierce pursuit.

The soldiers disappeared under the trees, and ran even then. Warrenton
and the outlaws came on in support of young Robin; and the defeat of
Carfax and his men was completed. They were chased through the woods of
Barnesdale, which these wild outlaws knew so well. Some were shot with
arrows mercifully; others fell under the cruel blows of the outlaws'
short axes. A few escaped with Master Carfax back to the Sheriff of
Nottingham--not one-third of those who had set out at his command. It
was the most desperate of affairs yet betwixt the greenwood men and
those representing law and order as conceived by the Sheriff. On either
side many were killed--the outlaw band was reduced in numbers, and its
leader, Will o' th' Green, was amongst those who were to plot and fight
no more in Sherwood.

When Robin and the rest of them returned from their long chase, tired
with an immense fatigue, they found sad work still before them. Robin
tended Will himself, and bound up his many wounds: and sought to
beguile him to live--if but to spite Monceux and his wretches. But Will
o' th' Green had been pierced too dreadfully by his enemies' darts: he
had only strength to drink a little water and say his last words to his
men.

In the dusk of this day he lay in Robin's arms, wizard no more; and
asked that someone should give the call he knew so well--the strange,
short signal upon the horn which ever had rallied these men. Then as
they, with dejected faces, drew nigh to him, he spoke to them
all--bidding them hate the laws and defy them so long as they were
unjust and harsh. He counselled them to choose amongst themselves a new
leader--one who would be impartial and honest; and the one who could
bend the best bow.

"Be not robbers to any who are poor and who are good fellows--having
only their poverty against them. Be kind to those who help you, but
exact toll as heretofore of all who come through the greenwood. The rich
to pay in money, and blood--if it be necessary."

He added these words with an effort; and his mind wandered in the
shadowy fields of death. Robin saw how his fingers twitched, as if they
plucked still the cord of his good yew bow. He smoothed back Will's dark
hair from off his brow, and put water to the outlaw's lips. Will o' th'
Green glanced up at him, and something of his old expression--half-grim,
half-smiling--showed that he struggled still to hold hands with life.

"For you, Locksley," he muttered, puckering his brows, "there are two
roads open. One, to yield thyself to Monceux and the rack--for not even
your uncle at Gamewell should save you, even did he so wish; the
other--to join with these honest fellows and live a free life. What else
is left to you? If you would be as dutiful to the laws as the earth to
summer sun, it should not avail you. Your lord the Sheriff is in the
hands of his girl--and she listens with willing ear to Master Carfax.
Ask not how I know these things. Your cousin is outlawed----"

"I shall live in the greenwood, Will," answered Robin, quietly, "with
your brave men and you--if so be I may. Have I won now the freedom of
the forest?" He showed him the broken peacocked arrow which the Clerk of
Copmanhurst had given him.

The outlaw held up his right hand and laid it on Robin's bowed head:
"Upon you, Robin of Locksley, do I bestow, with this my last breath,
full freedom of the forests of England," he said, very loudly. Then he
relaxed from his frown to a rare smile. "Learn this sign----" he said,
and showed Robin, with feeble fingers, how the greenwood men knew each
other in any disguise. It was a simple signal, very easy to know, yet
very sure. No one might suppose it given by accident--yet of design it
appeared quite innocent. The smile was fading from Will's face as Robin
repeated it carefully after him; and even as he spoke again he died.

"Farewell--friends all--take this brother into your good company, and
make him and those with him right welcome. I pray you to remember and
abide by those kindly rules which have always--always----"

His speech fell away into meaningless words, and the light left his
face. He moved in Robin's arms and sighed. Then, as his body rolled
slowly over, and he lay with his back turned to them, they saw that his
worst wound was in it--a dastard's blow. So ended the life of Will o'
th' Green--or Will of Cloudesley: he of whom many stories have been told
in other books.

They took him up reverently and buried him in a secret place--so that
none to this day can say where he lies. And the outlaws swore an oath of
vengeance against him who had so foully slain their chief.

Robin guessed wisely that the mortal blow had been given by one of those
two traitors in Will's own camp. Had they not been riding with Carfax in
the early morn--not as prisoners-of-war--but as informers and spies?

       *       *       *       *       *

The next day was passed in burying the dead of both sides. The outlaws
accepted Robin without question as one full welcome amongst them; and
Warrenton, Stuteley, and John Berry were also given the freedom of the
woods and taught the signs and freemasonry of them.

The bodies of the soldiers and mercenaries were stripped and heaped
together into a pit, and roughly covered with earth and leaves. Then the
outlaws betook themselves to their caves to settle who should be chief
of the band in Will's place.

Whilst they were employed in this difficult business, the Sheriff sent
out another and larger body of armed men--obeying the insolent command
of his Prince. Fear sat upon the soul of Monceux then: for he did not
doubt that another such disaster as that which had chanced to his other
men would mean disgrace and the end of his lord-shrievalty.

This second company who were captained by Hubert the Archer, with
bandaged Carfax second in command, had an easy conquest, however, of
Sherwood and Barnesdale--for none challenged them, nor questioned their
proceedings in any respect. Nor was there sign left in the woods of
Robin or the outlaws--they were vanished so utterly that Carfax
conceived them all to have either died of their wounds or fled
disconsolate from the neighborhood.

In either event this was most excellent news; and, having patrolled the
forest and searched it indifferently well, the men-at-arms of Nottingham
agreed that peace-loving folk had no more to fear from the wild spirits
of Sherwood. They were gone, banished--and the King's forest was now
safe of passage to all.

Carfax, poking here and there, found the fresh grave of his own fellows,
and disturbed it mightily. He bade Hubert disinter them all; and
pretended to recognize each one. Here was the arch-rebel Will of
Cloudesley--this one was the second man of his band. Here was young
Robin Fitzooth, as dead as mutton--and here was his fellow Stuteley. So
Master Simeon went on, to his own satisfaction and to Hubert's, who
foresaw large rewards to be paid for these poor dishonored bodies.

They brought three of them back, with every circumstance of importance.
They were shown to the Prince as being the last remains of Will
Cloudesley, Robin Fitzooth, and Hall the Outlaw--a well-known marauder
in Will's company.

Prince John forthwith praised the pikemen and archers, and bade Monceux
give them great rewards--a thing which vexed the mean Sheriff much. Then
they all rode about and through the forest in a great hunt of the Royal
deer, graciously attended by the Prince himself.

Monceux was forgiven; and Simeon, having quite recovered all his old
self-esteem, was duly betrothed to the demoiselle Marie. A new Ranger
was appointed at Locksley; and another house was found for him. No one
said him nay.

A proclamation against all outlaws and freebooters having been issued
and signed with many flourishes by John, he betook his Royal person to
York, carrying lean-faced, smiling Carfax with him. Mistress Monceux hid
her sorrow and devoted her energies forthwith towards the undoing of the
maid Fitzwalter, against whom she yet nursed much spite.

The Prince stayed at Gamewell on his way, and patronized indulgently old
George Montfichet, although the latter's dislike of his Royal guest was
only too thinly veiled. Then John took farewell of Nottingham and
Sherwood, making an easy business of it. Monceux had ridden out on this
morning to make dutiful obeisance and escort the Prince through Locksley
to the borders.

Outside the gates of Gamewell John delivered himself to the men-at-arms,
retainers, burgesses, and citizens of Nottingham, who had inquisitively
followed the Sheriff.

"We will not forget your hospitality, friends all," said he, in his
slightly swaggering and yet withal effeminate way; "and see, in some
measure of return for it, we leave you our Sherwood free from pestilent
robbers and evil defiers of the law. When we came to Nottingham there
were these and others; but now they are all driven out of our Royal
forest--many slain with the arrows of my Hubert, or beaten with the
staves of your own fellows. This surely is some sort of gift--see to it
that you keep well that which we have secured for you."

Then he rode forth amid the cheerings of the crowd, Hubert and his
followers scattering largesses as they rode.



CHAPTER XVI


All through that long winter Robin had lain hidden in the Barnesdale
caves with the remains of the band of outlaws which had begun with Will
of Cloudesley's advent and nigh ended with his death. At first there had
been some quarrelling and jealousy amongst them as to who should be the
new captain.

There were, with Robin and his three recruits, twenty and two men all
told. These had decided upon many tests between themselves in order to
settle who should lead; and when there were tests of archery Robin had
beaten them all.

Yet he had no wish to set himself at their head, having sped his arrows
so well more for the reason that a good bowman cannot but aim well when
his fingers are upon his weapon. So he had said modestly that they must
reckon without him, and that he would gladly obey the man the others
should choose.

Then there had been fresh bickerings, and they were once nearly
discovered by the Sheriff's foresters, who by some means stumbled upon
one of their underground passages.

The winter brought with it many privations; and they decided at length
to leave Barnesdale and go into the county of Lincoln. They made their
ragged clothes as much like those of the King's Foresters as they could
and then set out.

One thing had been agreed on: that they must have some new clothes and
induce other bold spirits to join with them: else Sherwood would be lost
to them for ever.

Robin had quite decided to cast in his lot with these men. He felt that
they would be loyal to each other, and he knew that the only traitors
which this band had known were now no more. A bitter hatred of the
Sheriff; of lying Carfax and of Royalty, as personified by the unjust,
indolent Prince, had moulded Robin's character into steel, as it were.

Robin had counselled this journey to Lincoln. In the secret caves about
Barnesdale, Will of Cloudesley had amassed and stored away much wealth.
It was useless to them here in Nottingham; but in Lincoln one of them
might go in to the market and buy sufficient Lincoln cloth and needles
and thread to fit them all out.

Swords might also be obtained; and some shirts of chain-mail, new bows
and new arrows.

The band started away under cover of a crisp February night, and had
come into sight of Lincoln within three days. They had just finished
their morning meal of the third day when they were overtaken by a
stoutish man whose clothing was of the most remarkable description. He
wore a cloak which was so clouted and patched that the first part of it
hung about him in a dozen folds. He had on his head three hats, one
rammed tightly over the other, so that he cared neither for wind nor
rain. On his back was a bag held by a thong of strong leather about his
neck. In his right hand was a long crooked stick.

The outlaws had naturally hidden themselves at first sound of his
footsteps. They watched him go by, and passed jests between themselves
concerning him. Stuteley begged that he might be allowed to play a joke
upon the fellow.

"Go after him by all means, if you will," said Robin; "but be polite,
for I have it in my mind that this is a man known to me. I would that I
could hear him speak."

"Follow me, master, warily, and you shall hear him speak to a purpose!"
cried little Stuteley.

When the stranger found that someone walked behind him, he quickened his
pace. Stuteley called out to him, but he made no reply.

"Stand, as I bid you, fellow," cried little Stuteley again, "for you
shall tarry and speak to me."

"By my troth," said the other, answering him at last, "I have no leisure
for talk with you, friend. 'Tis very far to my lodging and the morning
grows. Therefore, I will lose my dinner if I do not hasten."

"I have had no meat nor bread betwixt my lips this day," retorted Will
Stuteley, coming up with him. "And I do not know where I may get any,
for if I go to a tavern they will ask me for money, of which I have not
one groat, unless you will lend me some until we do meet again?"

The clouted man replied very peevishly: "I have no money to lend you,
friend; for I have lost the little I had in a foolish wager made at
Nottingham. But you are a younger man than I, though you seem to be more
lazy; so I can promise you a long fast if you wait until you have money
from me."

Now, something in the man's tones roused memories in little Stuteley,
yet he could not resolve them into shape. The fellow's face was so
obscured by the three hats that one could scarcely get a peep at it.

"Since we have met this day," said Stuteley, wrathfully, "I will have
money of you, even though it be but one penny. Therefore, lay aside your
cloak and the bag about your neck; or I will tear it open. And should
you offer to make any noise my arrows shall pierce your fat body like
unto a cullender."

The man laughed discordantly; and again Stuteley thought he recognized
him.

"Do you think, friend, that I have any fear of your arrows? Stand away
or I will beat you into grist."

Stuteley bent his bow and set an arrow upon the cord, but not so quickly
as to save himself from a mighty thwack from the man's cudgel. The
little esquire sprang back, and in doing so dropped both bow and arrow.
Nothing dismayed, he drew his sword, and engaged at once with the
stranger.

Their blows fell about each other's bodies like hail, and Stuteley found
that not all his Cumberland tricks could help him with so furious an
opponent. His enemy had little skill, but plenty of strength and
agility; his stick whirled and twirled, beating down Stuteley's guard
time after time. He was, besides, a bigger man and much older.

Robin's esquire began to see that he had met a sturdy opponent, and even
as this tardy knowledge came into his mind, the stranger gave him a
crushing body blow, and he tumbled fairly to the ground. There Stuteley
lay, with closed eyes and white face.

"'Tis a pity to rest so soon, friend," remarked the stranger, with
irony. "Would it not be better to snatch my money from me, and take your
ease afterwards in that tavern which you wot of?"

Stuteley answered nothing, but lay deadly still. Robin and the rest were
too far behind to perceive what had happened. The strange-looking man
turned away without bestowing another glance on his little enemy, and
soon his quaint figure disappeared over the brow of the next hill.

Within a dozen minutes the outlaws came up and discovered poor Will
Stuteley lying on the ground, faintly moaning. They bathed his head, but
could find no wounds. Robin was much upset, and began to eagerly
question his esquire so soon as he showed signs of returning to his
wits.

"Tell me, little Will, what evil mischance has fallen to you?" asked
Robin, with emotion.

Stuteley raised his head and looked about him in a dazed manner.

"I have been all through the county of Cumberland, master," said he, at
last, in a weak voice, "and I have wrestled and fenced with many; yet
never since I was a child and under my father's hand have I been so put
to it." He shut his eyes again; then opened them viciously. "I
encountered with our fellow-traveller and saw no reason to fear such a
clown. Yet he has scratched my back so heartily that I do fear it never
will be straight again."

"Nay, nay, Will. I'll nurse you well, be sure on't," murmured Robin,
full of pity and despair.

"Dear master, I speak but as I feel," continued Stuteley, half shutting
his eyes. "But the rascal has not gone far from us; and were some of you
to hasten, doubtless he would be brought to book, and I might see him
punished ere I die. Go you, old Warrenton, you are a stubborn fighter;
and take John Berry and two of the rest."

"I'll e'en fetch him to you myself, malapert," said Warrenton.

"He is more deadly than your Lady in Yellow, I promise you," said
Stuteley. "Be wary, and let at least six of you surround him."

"That would be wasting the time of five of us," answered old Warrenton,
in an off-hand way; "I will go alone."

"Let someone then prepare bandages for our Warrenton, and take my shirt
for them. He will need such service."

Warrenton and Berry, with another, ran off at this. Robin saw that
Stuteley was not so near his end as he affected to imagine; and made him
more comfortable beneath a tree, covered him with a cloak, gave him some
drink, and ministered to him considerately.

The old man-at-arms fully intended to capture their quarry alone;
feeling to be on his mettle, as it were. So he ran as fast as he could
before the other two; but not so fast as to catch up with the man he
sought.

Presently he espied him far down the road; and, knowing a shorter path
to Lincoln, whither he judged the man was bound, Warrenton called to the
others and they struck away from the road.

They made their plans as they walked, and at length cut off the enemy.
He did not look so formidable as Stuteley had painted him; and as he
drew near they felt this was an easy business. Two of them sprang out
upon him, and one, seizing his twisted stick, dragged it violently out
of his hands. Warrenton flashed a dagger at his breast, saying
sinisterly: "Friend, if you utter any alarm I will be your confessor and
hangman. Come back with us forthwith and you may end your fight properly
with our companion. He waits greedily for you."

"Give me the chance," answered the fellow, valiantly, "and I will fight
with you all."

Berry and the other outlaw instantly gave him the frog's march backward
along the road; but the villain struggled so fiercely that they
presently began to tire.

"Now grant me my life," said their prisoner, "and I will give you good
money to the sum of one hundred pieces. It is all my savings, which I
promised to give into the hands of a wicked usurer in Lincoln."

"Well," said Berry, pausing, "this is a fair sum, and might heal our
companion's wounds very comfortably. Hold him fast, comrades, whilst I
go back for his staff. Without that he cannot do much harm."

Whilst he was gone the fellow began again. "I am a miller, friends,"
said he, much more at ease already, "and have but lately returned from
doing a good bargain in wheat. Also, I am esteemed a fair archer, and,
since I perceive that you are foresters all, this matter will tell with
you in my favor. I could draw you a pretty bow had I but the use of my
arms."

"Nay, master miller, but we would sooner hold you tight, and take your
skill for granted," answered the outlaw.

Berry came back and stuck the staff into the ground at a little
distance.

"Now count out your pieces, miller," said Warrenton.

There was a keen wind blowing and the miller turned about so as not to
face it directly they gave him half-freedom. Warrenton said gruffly to
him: "Count, miller; count truly and honestly."

"Let me open my bag then," said the rogue. He unfastened it from his
neck, and, setting it on the ground, took off his patched cloak. He
placed his bag carefully upon it, holding the bag as though it were
heavy indeed. Then he crouched down over it and fumbled at the leathern
thong.

The outlaws had all gathered closely before him as he plunged in his
fingers. In the bag were too pecks of fine meal; and as soon as the
cunning miller had filled his hands full he suddenly drew them out and
dashed the white powder fair into the eager faces of the men about him.

Then he snatched up the bag by the two corners and shook out the rest of
the meal. It blew in a blinding cloud about Warrenton and the rest, and
filled their eyes so utterly as to leave them all three at the miller's
mercy.

He caught up his stick and began to belabor them soundly.

"Since I have dirtied your clothes, friends," cried he, between the
blows, "'tis only right that I should dust them for you! Here are my
hundred 'pieces'; how like you them?"

Each word was accompanied by a tremendous thwack. He fell so heartily
into the business as to become unwary. Robin and the rest, hearing the
shouting and noise, came speeding down the road, with Stuteley recovered
already. They chanced on a strange sight.

Berry, old Warrenton, and the outlaw were dancing about in an agony of
rage, helpless and blind, and striking vain blows at empty air. The man
with the three hats was belaboring them with his staff so thoroughly as
to have become a man with no hat at all. They all were tumbled upon the
road.

"Why all this haste?" roared he, not noticing Robin or the others. "Why
will you not tarry for my money? 'Tis strange that no man will wait upon
me this day, whilst I am in so generous a mood!" He sprang up and down,
whacking them without ceasing. His feet encountered one of his many hats
and ruthlessly kicked it aside.

"'Tis Much the Miller!" cried Robin, recognizing him by his voice "'Tis
the miller who helped to save me in Sherwood. Friend, you have never yet
paid me my guinea, and I now do claim it of you."

Master Much ceased his occupation. He turned warily about to Robin. So
soon as he had looked well at him, he dropped his stick and came over
very frankly to him.

"So it's the gipsy?" said he, grinning all over his broad face. "And
they have neither flayed you nor hanged you yet? And are these fellows
with you?"

"We are the free men of Sherwood," said Robin, "and were coming to
Lincoln to get ourselves new clothes and weapons. Also we had hoped to
find other good men and true willing to join with us."

Much went up to Stuteley, and craved his pardon very handsomely at this.
"Had I but looked at you, friend, I might have known you for the other
gipsy, and these fellows for some of those who did save you both from
Master Carfax. That is always my way: but never have I been so sorry
for't as on this day, for now, through being too hasty, I have lost your
good will."

"Nay, Master Miller, but that is not so," said Stuteley.

Warrenton and Berry at first were inclined to play with the miller as he
had with them; but Robin pleaded so well for good fellowship that, after
a little, peace was proclaimed.

Much, to atone for his misdeeds, undertook to do their business in
Lincoln; and set himself busily to work on their behalf. He found them
all comfortable and quiet quarters where they might stay unnoticed and
unmolested, and Stuteley went with Robin to buy the cloth for their
suits.

They stayed in and about the old town for nearly three weeks, until all
were well equipped. Much asked that he might join with them and bring
his friend Midge and a few other merry souls.

Robin explained to him that they had rules, which, although few and
simple, were strict, and that they had, at present, no especial leader,
since all had elected to remain equal and free, observing the same laws
and pledged to each other in loyalty unto death. A common bond of
independence bound them.

"Why, then, master, we are your men," said Much; "for we are all sick to
death of the Normans and their high-handed ways, to tell truth; and
right gladly will we take service with you."

"I am not the first or only man of our company," began Robin, smiling;
but hasty Much interrupted him with a great oath.

"You shall be my captain, gipsy, I promise you! And captain of us
Lincoln men; for you did beat me in archery before the Prince, so I am
bound to own you as master. Here's my hand on it; and Midge's too. Come
hither, Midge, and swear fealty to Robin of Locksley."

Robin recognized Midge for the ferret-faced man who had been with Much
at the tourney. Both insisted on paying over to Stuteley the amount of
the wager lost by them on that day.

The outlaws returned to Sherwood well satisfied; and at Barnesdale went
on perfecting their plans and adding to their numbers. The day came at
length for them to announce themselves.



CHAPTER XVII


One bright morning in May a slim, straight youth, slightly bearded,
dressed in a green suit, with bow unstrung, and a fresh color blowing on
his cheeks, came out of the wood upon the highroad by Copmanhurst.

He stood erect, quietly alert, and with his brown eyes watchful of the
road. He then moved softly along the road until he came to where but
last year the brook had sprawled and scrambled across it. Now a fine
stone bridge had been built, at the word of Prince John, who had
complained much at having wetted his feet when he had passed by St.
Dunstan's shrine eight months agone.

The stranger smiled as he looked at the bridge, half sadly, half in
reverie. He paused to admire the neat work; then slowly walked over the
bridge still thinking deeply. Suddenly he plumped himself right into the
arms of a tall, ungainly man, who had crossed from the other side.

The youth sprang back; then planted his lithe body exactly in the center
of the bridge.

"Give way, fellow," roared the other, instantly. "Make room for your
betters, or I will throw you into the brook!"

The younger man laughed. "I know this little stream right well, friend.
Therefore I have no need to make that closer acquaintance of it which
you promise."

"You may be acquainted and yet make better acquaintance," returned his
big opponent, stirring not an inch. "This bridge is too narrow for us
both. One must go back."

"Go back then, friend, by all means. I will not stay you."

"Now will I trounce you right well, stripling," cried the tall man,
grasping his cudgel. He made a pass or two with it about the head of the
youth.

The latter jumped back and fitted an arrow to his bow.

"Nay, by my body, but this is ungenerous of you, forester," cried the
tall man. "I have only a stick and you have a bow! If we are to fight,
surely you might fight fairly."

Again the youth laughed brightly. "Nay, by my inches, friend," replied
he, "but how can we fight fairly with staves when you are so much the
bigger?"

"Cut yourself a longer cudgel, friend," retorted the big fellow.

The youth threw down his bow, and, opening a knife which hung at his
waist, went forthwith towards the nearest bush. He cut himself a stout
ash staff and fell to trimming it deftly.

When it was complete he came coolly up to his foe.

"Make ready, friend," said he, giving his cudgel a twirl. "Now take tune
from me. One, two----"

"Three!" roared the giant, smiting at him instantly.

The fight was a long one, for the youth had such skill and so ready a
guard that the other but wasted his anger on him. This "stripling"
jumped from one side to the other so lightly and unexpectedly, and
parried each thrust so surely, that presently the giant relaxed a little
from the fury of his onslaught. Then the youth ran in and gave him such
a crack as to make the welkin ring.

"By my life, but you can hit hard!" cried the giant, dropping his stick
that he might rub his pate. "For so small a man that was a right hearty
blow." He picked up his stick again. "Fall to, spitfire. I am ready!"

They sparred for a minute longer, and then the giant had his chance. He
caught the jumping youth so sound a thwack as to send him flying over
the low parapet of the bridge far into the bubbling brook. "How now,
spitfire? Have you had enough?"

"Marry, that have I," spluttered his antagonist, trying to scramble out
of the rushing water. Then he became dizzy again, and fell back with a
little cry.

The big man vaulted down to his help, and plucked his foe to the bank.
There he laid him down on the grassy sward and fell to bathing his brows
with handfuls of fresh water till the youth opened his eyes again.

"Friend," said the stripling, gravely, sitting up, "you dealt me that
blow most skilfully. Tell me your name."

"Why," said the giant, a little awkwardly, "as for the blow, 'twas but
an under-cut that I know well. My name is John Little Nailor."

"You are anything but little, friend," answered the youth, struggling to
his feet. "And now I will give you my name also." He put a horn to his
lips at this and blew a strange, shrill note.

Forthwith the greenwood was alive with men, all dressed in grass-colored
clothes like the youth's. They swarmed about him, full two score and ten
of them. One of them, a little man, having eyed the stranger askance,
gave a signal to the others to seize him; but the youth forbade this.
"The fight was a fair one, friends, and the right of this bridge
belongs for the moment to Master John Little Nailor. Take your rights,
friend," he went on, turning to the giant, "and go upon your way."

"In a manner, stripling, you have now the better of this adventure, and
yet do forbear," returned Master Nailor. "Wherefore I like you well, and
would ask again your name."

"Tell him, Will," commanded the youth.

The little man, stepping up to the giant impudently, then announced his
master. "Know, fellow, that this is none other than a dead man--a
wraith, indeed! At least, so saith Master Monceux, the lord Sheriff of
Nottingham. This is Robin Fitzooth."

"Then I am right sorry that I beat you," answered Master Nailor. "And
had I known you at the first your head would now be whole and your body
unbruised. By my inches, but I would like to join with you and your
company."

"Enter our company, then, John Little; and be welcome. The rites are
few; but the fee is large: for we shall ask unswerving loyalty of you,
and you must give a bond that you will be faithful even unto death."

"I give the bond, with all my soul, and on my very life," cried the tall
man.

"Master," said the little man, who was none other than our friend
Stuteley, "surely we cannot consent to welcome this fellow amongst us
having such a name? Harkee, John Little," he continued, turning to the
giant, "take your new name from me, since you are to be of our
brotherhood. I christen you Little John!"

At this small jest the merry men laughed long and loud.

"Give him a bow and find a full sheath for our friend Little John,
Warrenton," said Robin, joyfully. "And hurry, friends, for surely it is
the moment when our first new defiance of Master Monceux is to be made?
Fall back into the woods speedily; and bide my signal. Little John, we
now will try you. Stand out on the bridge path you have just won from me
and parley with those who are coming along the road from York. Speak
loudly that I may hear what answers you win."

He gave a signal, and at once all disappeared even as they had come,
swiftly and silently. Warrenton and Stuteley placed themselves low down
behind bushes of white thorn. Warrenton, who had given his quiver to
Little John, now produced a great bag from under a bush; and took out of
it a dozen or more long smocks such as shepherds wear. Hastily Robin and
Stuteley attired themselves as hinds, and the old retainer gave them
each a crook to hold. He explored again his stores under the bushes, and
dragged out a fat buck, freshly killed and ready spitted for the fire.

Robin and those of the freemen who were now attired in this simple garb
helped to pull the deer to the edge of the road; and, hastily making a
fire, they soon had their meat cooking merrily. Little John eyed them
askew, but made no offer to question them. He had recognized Robin by a
sign which the other had given to him.

Meanwhile the noise of a small company nearing them became more evident;
and presently seven horsemen turned a bend of the road. Their leader was
a stout and haughty looking man clothed in episcopal garments, and so
soon as he spied these shepherds he spurred his horse until he came
level with them.

Then he drew bridle sharply, and addressed himself to Little John.

"Who are these, fellow, that make so free with the King's deer?" he
asked, mildly, as one who wishes first to believe the best of every man.

"These are shepherds, excellence," answered Little John.

"Heaven have mercy! They seem more like to be robbers o' th' greenwood
at first glance," said the priest.

"One must not judge on half-hearing or half-seeing, lording," retorted
Little John.

"That is true, but I would question you further, good man. Tell me now
who has killed this deer, and by what right?" His tones had passed
insensibly to an arrogant note.

"Give me first your name, excellence, so that I may know I speak where
'tis fitting," said Little John, stubbornly.

"This is my lord the Bishop of Hereford, fellow," said one of the
guards, fiercely. "Keep a civil tongue in your head, or 'twill surely be
bad for you!"

Robin now came forward. "My lord," said he, bowing his curly head before
the Bishop, "I did hear your questions, and will answer them in all
truth. We are but simple shepherds, and tend our flocks year in and year
out about the forest of Sherwood, but, this being our holiday, we
thought there would be small harm in holding it upon one of the King's
deer, since there are so many."

"You are saucy fellows, in sooth," cried the Bishop, "and the King shall
know of your doings. Quit your roast, and come with me, for I will
bring you to the Sheriff of Nottingham forthwith! Seize this knave, men,
and bind his hands."

"Your pardon, excellence----"

"No pardon shall you have of me, rascal!" snapped the stout Bishop.
"Seize him, my men!"

Robin blew upon his horn a shrill, short note, and at once his freemen
sprang out from behind the thorn-bushes and flung themselves on the
bishop's guard. The good Bishop found himself a prisoner, and began to
crave indulgence of the men he had been so ready to upbraid.

"Nay, we will grant you no pardon, by my beard!" said Little John,
fiercely. "Lend me that sword, friend," he added, turning to Stuteley,
who had taken the weapon from one of the Bishop's guards. "Right
skilfully will I make this church to be without a head."

"There shall be no shedding of blood," cried Robin, interposing, "where
I can stay it. Come, friends, send these fellows unto Nottingham with
their legs tied under their horses' bellies. But my lord the Bishop of
Hereford shall come with us unto Barnesdale!"

The unwilling prelate was dragged away cheek by jowl with the
half-cooked venison on the back of his own horse, and Robin and the band
brought their guest to Barnesdale.

As soon as dusk had passed they lighted a great fire in the center of a
little hill-bordered glade, and fell to roasting the deer afresh.
Another and fatter beast was set to frizzle upon the other side of the
fire; and, as the night was chill, the men gathered close about their
savory dinner.

The Bishop sniffed the odorous air from his place of captivity; and was
nothing loth when they offered to conduct him to this fine repast. Robin
bade him take the best place.

"For you must know, excellence, that we freemen are all equal in each
other's sight in this free land. Therefore we have no one whom we can
specially appoint to do the honors such as your station warrants. Take,
then, the seat at the head of our feast and give us grace before meat,
as the occasion justifies."

The Bishop pronounced grace in the Latin tongue hastily; and then
settled himself to make the best of his lot. Red wines and ales were
produced and poured out, each man having a horn tankard from which to
drink.

Laughter bubbled among the diners; and the Bishop caught himself smiling
at more than one jest. Stuteley filled his beaker with good wine each
time the Bishop emptied it; and it was not until near midnight that
their guest began to show signs that he wished to leave them.

"I wish, mine host," said he, gravely, to Robin, who had soberly drunk
but one cup of ale, "that you would now call a reckoning. 'Tis late, and
I fear the cost of this entertainment may be more than my poor purse
will permit to me."

"Why, there," answered Robin, as if perplexed, "this is a matter in
which I am in your lordship's hands, for never have I played
tavern-keeper till now."

"I will take the reckoning, friends," said Little John, interposing. He
went into the shade and brought out the bishop's steed, then unfastened
from the saddle a small bag. Someone gave him a cloak; and, spreading it
upon the ground, Little John began to shake the contents of the Bishop's
money-bag upon it.

Bright golden pieces tumbled out and glittered in the pale moonlight;
while my lord of Hereford watched with wry face. Stuteley and Warrenton
counted the gold aloud.

"Three hundred and two pennies are there, master," cried Stuteley.
"Surely a good sum!"

"'Tis strange," said Robin, musingly, "but this is the very sum that I
was fain to ask of our guest."

"Nay, nay," began the Bishop, hastily, "this is requiting me ill indeed.
Did I not deal gently with your venison, which after all is much more
the King's venison than yours? Further, I am a poor man."

"You are the Bishop of Hereford," said Robin, "and so can well afford to
give in charity this very sum. Who does not know of your hard dealings
with the poor and ignorant? Have you not amassed your wealth by less
open but more cruel robbery than this? Who speaks a good word for you or
loves you, for all you are a Bishop? You have put your heels on men's
necks; and have been always an oppressor, greedy and without mercy. For
all these things we take your money now, to hold it in trust and will
administer it properly and in God's name. There is an end of the matter,
then, unless you will lead us in a song to show that a better spirit is
come unto your body. Or mayhap you would sooner trip a measure?"

"Neither the one nor the other will I do," snarled the Bishop.

Robin made Stuteley a sign and Will brought his master a harp: whereupon
Robin sat himself cross-legged beside the fire and twanged forth a
lively tune.

Warrenton and most of the men began forthwith to dance; and Stuteley,
seizing the Bishop by one hand, commenced to hop up and down. Little
John, laughing immoderately, grasped the luckless Bishop by the other
hand, and between the two of them my lord of Hereford was forced to cut
some queer capers.

The moon flung their shadows fantastically upon the sward, and the more
their guest struggled the more he was compelled to jump about. Robin put
heart into his playing, and laughed with the loudest of them.

At last, quite exhausted, the Bishop sank to the ground.

Little John seized him then like a sack of wood, and flung him across
the back of his horse. Rapidly they led the beast across the uneven
ground until the highroad was reached, the whole of the band
accompanying them, shouting and jesting noisily. The Bishop of Hereford,
more dead than alive, was then tied to his horse and the animal headed
for Nottingham.

"'Tis the most and the least that we can do for him," said Robin,
gleefully. "Give you good night, lording! A fair journey to you! Deliver
our respectful homage to Master Monceux and to the rest of law-abiding
Nottingham! Come now, Little John, you have borne yourself well this
day; and for my part I willingly give the right to be of this worshipful
company of free men. What say you, friends all?"

The giant was admitted by acclamation, and then all went back noisily
into that hiding-place in Barnesdale which had defied both the ferret
eyes of lean-faced Simeon Carfax and the Norman archer Hubert.

The Sheriff of Nottingham learned next day that Sherwood had not been
purged of its toll-collectors, as he had so fondly hoped.



CHAPTER XVIII


After the adventure with the good Bishop, Robin and his men waited in
some trepidation for a sign from Nottingham.

However, several weeks passed without any untoward incident.

The fourth week after my lord of Hereford's despoilment a quarrel broke
out betwixt Stuteley and Little John; and these two hot-headed fellows
must needs get from words to blows.

In the bouts of fencing and wrestling Little John could hold his own
with all; but at quarter-staff Stuteley could, and did, rap the giant's
body very shrewdly. After one bout both lost their temper: and Robin had
to stay them by ordering Stuteley to cease the play.

This was in the forenoon. Later on, chance threw Little John and
Stuteley into a fresh dispute. It happened just before dusk; the two of
them from different parts of the wood had stalked and run to earth the
same stag. Little John had already drawn his bow when Stuteley espied
him. At once the little esquire called out that no one had the right to
shoot such a deer but Robin of Locksley, his master. Little John scoffed
at this, and flew his arrow; but between them they had startled the stag
and it bounded away. Little John was furious with Stuteley, and the
noise of their quarrelling brought Robin again between them. This time
young Robin spoke his mind to Little John, saying that he was sorry
that Master John Little Nailor had ever come into their free band.

"'Tis not free at all!" cried Little John, raging. "'Tis the most
galling of service. Here I may not do this nor that. I'll stay no more
in Barnesdale, but try my fortunes with your foes."

He flung himself away from them, and when the roll was called that
night, the name of Little John evoked no response.

Robin was vexed at this, and saw that they must come to some agreement
if they would keep the company alive. He talked with Warrenton and Much
and some of the others, and they all pressed him to assume the captaincy
by right of his skill with the bow. They decided between them to have a
full council on the morrow and come to a decision: for without a captain
they were as a ship without a rudder.

The early morning found Robin walking thoughtfully in the greenwood. He
hoped that he might discover Little John returning to them, repentant.
He had taken a strange liking to this great giant of a man.

As he walked, he drew insensibly toward the highroad; but had not nearly
reached it when he came upon a herd of deer feeding peacefully in a
glade. Robin got his bow ready. Before he could fit a shaft to it,
however, one of the finest beasts fell suddenly, pierced by a clever
arrow.

Immediately he thought that Little John had indeed returned; and was
about to emerge from his hiding-place, when a handsome little page ran
gleefully towards the dying buck from the other side of the glade. This
was plainly the archer; and Robin, after a swift glance of surprise,
moved out upon him. "How dare you shoot the King's beasts, stripling?"
asked Robin, very severely.

"I have as much right to shoot them as the King himself," answered the
page, haughtily, and by no means afraid. "And who are you who dares to
question me?"

His voice stirred Robin strangely; yet he could fit no memory properly
to it. The lad was very handsome, slim, dark-haired, and with regular
features.

"My name is my own," said Robin to him, "and I do not like your
answering of a plain question. Keep a civil tongue in your head, boy, or
you will one day be whipped."

"Not by you, forester," cried the page, pulling out a little sword. "Put
up your hands, or draw your weapon. You shall have such answering now as
you can understand."

He flourished his point valiantly; and Robin saw nothing for it but to
draw also. The page thereupon engaged him quite fiercely; but Robin soon
perceived that the lad was no great master of the art of fencing.

Still, he played prettily, and to end it Robin allowed himself to be
pricked on the hand. "Are you satisfied, fellow?" said the page, seeing
the blood rise to the wound.

"Ay, honestly," said Robin, "and now, perhaps, you will grant me the
privilege of knowing to whom I owe this scratch?"

"I am Gilbert of Blois," replied the page, with dignity; and again his
voice troubled Robin sorely. He was certain that he had met with it
before; but this name was strange to his ears.

"What do you in the greenwood at such an hour, good Master Gilbert?"

The lad considered his answer, whilst wiping his sword daintily with a
pretty kerchief. The action brought a dim confused memory to Robin--a
blurred recollection of that scene discovered in the wizard's crystal
troubled his thoughts. Meanwhile the little page had condescended to
glance upon him.

"Forester," said he, somewhat awkwardly, "can you tell me--do you know
aught of one Robin o' th' Hood? He is believed to have been killed in
the fall o' last year, and truly they brought a body into Nottingham. He
was a merry youth."

"This is brother to my Marian!" cried Robin, inwardly. "Ay, for sure,
'tis the lad Fitzwalter, and no Gilbert of Bloist Yet Warrenton did not
tell me that there was a brother."

He replied to the page. "Did not this fellow, this Robin, have other
name? Robin o' th' Hood--why, all of them wear their capes and hoods
nowadays--how can such a man as I know him whom you seek, to say whether
he be dead or alive?"

"Forester, he was much like to you; but had no beard, nor was he quite
so uncouth as you. I mean no offence. I saw him but twice; but he seemed
a lovable fellow. I remember that some called him Robin of Locksley."

"I knew him right well," said Robin, in decided tones. "Come with me,
Master Gilbert, and you shall hear of him."

"He lives, then?" The page's blue eyes glistened happily.

"Did your--sister send you, Master Gilbert?" asked Robin, with his heart
in his mouth.

The boy gave him a puzzled stare. "My sister--who told you that I had a
sister?" Then, changing his policy with swift intuition: "Ay, my sister
did send me to find the man. Bring me to him."

"Follow me, Master Gilbert of Blois," cried Robin. So Marian had
remembered him. It was a happy morning, indeed!

"This poor stag," began the page, pointing to it. "I wish now that I had
not slain it."

"'Tis one of the King's deer," observed Robin, grave again, "and you may
be hanged for the killing of it. What put so desperate a business into
your mind, friend?"

"I--to tell truth, had a notion to be made outlaw, like--like unto
Master Robin, in short," said the page. "But I did not know that they
might hang me for't." He made a grimace.

Robin went up to the beast and drew out the boy's arrow. Then he stuck
one of his own peacocked shafts into the wound. "Now you are safe,
Gilbert," said he, smiling. "Take the arrow, and keep it in your quiver
until we can dispose of it. I leave my mark upon the buck--my fellows
will find and deal with it."

They walked together into Barnesdale, and Robin showed the boy their
hiding-place and presented him to the rest. He asked that he might
become one of their company, and all agreed. So he took the vow
fervently, and was given Little John's place for the nonce.

Robin asked them not to mention him by name, wishing to know more of
Master Gilbert's plans ere disclosing himself. The boy was full of
chatter, and had news for them, too. He gave them the sequel to the
Bishop's adventure, and told how my lord of Hereford had come into
Nottingham in parlous state--more dead than alive: how he had lain
prostrate upon a sick-bed in the Sheriff's house for the best part of
three days: how, having briefly recovered, he had made a full statement
of his experiences, and had cursed the greenwood men with bell, book,
and candle: how he had sworn that he they thought to be dead--Robin of
Locksley--was very much alive and full of wickedness.

"Master Monceux, whom I have no cause to love," continued Gilbert, in
quick speech, "has bidden his archers and men to assemble, and has
promised a round sum for the head of each greenwood man, such as I
perceive you all to be, and since I am now of your company, friends, I
suppose my head is worth as much as Master Robin's or any of yours?
Which of you is Robin o' th' Hood? I fain would look upon a man who can
recover from death so valiantly."

Berry and Much were, both together, preparing to point to Robin,
forgetting their promise. Robin gave them a quick glance of warning.
"Come, friends, let us to breakfast," he cried, rising. "I am sharp set,
and soon we shall be hearing from the Sheriff's men, no doubt. Let us
fortify ourselves withal."

All that morning went by, however, without further event. The greenwood
men became uneasy. All felt that some terrible plot was being hatched
against them, and their unrest grew with the day. Had Little John turned
traitor? And was he now preparing their enemies?

Soon after noon Robin called them together into the biggest of their
caves. He offered to disguise himself and go into Nottingham--there to
learn the best or worst.

Many of them made objection to this, saying that one had no reason to
take more risk than another in this free company. Robin persuaded them
at last to his own way of thinking, as he had already done before.
Unconsciously they were coming to regard him as their head, although any
one of them would have fiercely denied this in open council. Robin took
a staff, and hurried towards the highroad for the second time that day.

He had another reason for making this adventure: the fond hope of seeing
Mistress Marian. Her brother--for so he felt sure this young Gilbert
must be--had stirred afresh in Robin's heart all his warm love for her.
He wondered what he could say to her.

Why, he could tell her of Gilbert's escapade! Of course she must be
trembling at this very moment for the boy and thinking him in a thousand
dangers! It was another duty added to that to which Robin bore towards
the company of freemen. He doubled and trebled his pace.

Suddenly, as he came upon the road, the sound of a lusty singing struck
upon his ears. Robin became aware of a shabby cart and a bushy figure
leading a bony horse, and the smell of fresh-killed meat. It was an
honest butcher on his way to market in Nottingham.

"Give you good day, friend," called Robin to him. "You have a fair load
there--what is your price for it?"

"Why, truly, beggar, a bigger price than you will pay, I fear," answered
the butcher, in the middle of his song.

"I will give you four pieces of gold for it," said Robin.

The butcher stopped his thin horse at once. "Take the reins then,
master," cried he, joyfully; "the cart and all is yours for the sum!
Pay it to me, and I will go back into Locksley forthwith."

"Do you come from that village, friend?" asked Robin, as he paid over
the gold, "and are you not afraid to ride through Sherwood alone?"

"You are strange to this country, friend," answered the jolly butcher,
"else you would know that now our Sherwood is free as air to all men.
The outlaws and wicked ones have all been driven out of it."

"Is this indeed so? Truly I am rejoiced at the news. And Locksley--is
not the Ranger there now dead, and his house burned? I do misremember
his name."

"Master Fitzooth is dead and lieth in Locksley ground. Also his son,
wild Robin, is no more. He gave himself early to the outlaw band, and
was slain. We have a new Ranger at Locksley, one Adam of Kirklees, a
worthy man and a generous. I thank you for your gold: now take my load
and may fortune befriend you."

"God rest you, butcher," answered Robin, laughing, as the other turned
on his heel and began his song once more. "Stay--stay--I have a
thought," he called out after the butcher. "How can I sell meat in this
garb?"

The other paused and scratched his head doubtfully.

"I'll give you another piece for your clothes, friend," said Robin,
persuasively. "Is it a bargain?"

"I'll do it for another piece," said the butcher. "Ay, and think myself
fortunate. This is a very happy day, for sure. Strip yourself, beggar;
and you can hand your purse over to me with the rags if you care to!"

Robin laughed again and shook his head. The change was soon effected,
and within ten minutes he was leading his spavined horse toward the
gates of Nottingham. In the distance he could hear the butcher's loud
song losing itself in the forest sounds.

He smeared his face with grease and earth and rubbed his hair awry ere
daring to enter the city. Boldly he led his shuffling horse to the
market and there took up his place. He had no notion of the price to
ask, and the folk, finding him so foolish and easy a man, soon began to
crowd about the cart.

Robin gave as much for a penny as the other butchers did for five or six
when his customer was poor. If he seemed to be a prosperous citizen who
would buy, Robin had quite another price for him.

The butchers about him could not quite understand these novel methods:
but they saw with envy that the harebrained fellow was selling all his
meat. His loud voice and foolish gestures made them think him some crazy
loon who had slipped off with his good man's cart. They entered into
conversation with him, and found his witless speech most entertaining.

They had all been bidden to a supper in the Sheriff's buttery that
night, this being holiday-time; and they begged Robin to join with them,
hoping to have no little amusement from him. With a vacant stare he
agreed to eat the Sheriff's mutton.

All the time he had sharp eyes and long ears; but could find out nothing
of the Sheriff's plans, nor happen on sight of Mistress Fitzwalter. When
they were sitting down to the supper in Monceux's buttery he perceived
towering high amongst the Sheriff's servants the figure of Master Little
John.

"So, friend, my visit here has not been vain," thought Robin, grimly.
"Now we shall see and hear things, no doubt." He settled himself to an
attack upon the viands, and played his part with the Sheriff's ale, not
forgetting to keep up the attitude of foolishness he had adopted in the
market.

The laughter grew long and loud, and presently the Sheriff himself came
down. He made them a speech and gave a toast. My lord of Hereford,
looking very pale and limp, also came into the buttery for a space and
made them a Latin grace.

Then Monceux told them, with bristling eyebrows, how he had been
instructed by the Bishop of Hereford that the pestilent evil bands whose
power had once been broken had re-formed in Sherwood. The Sheriff
re-stated the reward to be given for the head of any malefactor and
disturber of their laws, as ordered by Prince John; and said further
that in a few days he was going to despatch his men into and about the
forest to satisfy the Bishop. "Whilst I am preparing my fellows, there
is a chance for all honest citizens and burgesses to earn a fair sum. My
lord of Hereford will add his reward to the man who shall recover his
money to him, or part of it; and I will give such man freedom from all
taxes and levies," added the Sheriff, importantly.

Robin wondered whether Little John had spoken of the company. While he
was eyeing darkly the burly figure of Master Nailor, the latter came
over to him under a pretence of filling Robin's glass.

"By my skin, Locksley," whispered the giant into his startled ear, "this
is a foolish adventure! Your head is as good as off your shoulders in
this place. Hasten to leave it soon as you can, for fear the Bishop may
know you as I have done."

Robin only stared in his new half-vacant manner. Little John moved away
to another part of the room. Hard questions formed themselves in Robin's
mind--how had Little John known him? Stranger still, why did not my lord
of Hereford recognize Master John Little Nailor? He had been foremost in
the business with the Bishop. Robin recollected, all at once, that when
the Bishop had briefly come in to bless the supper, Little John had gone
out hurriedly with some dishes.

That was it, no doubt; but a mystery still remained. Robin decided to
pierce it ere the night was done. Some of the guests were far gone in
their cups, already; and Monceux had given over the buttery to the
butchers for the night. "I'll stay here then," decided Robin; and,
pretending to be suddenly overcome by the strong ale, he tumbled himself
down upon the rush-strewn floor.

He set up a great snoring, until Little John, taking him by the heels,
dragged him through the kitchen into a little larder, and there shut the
door on him. "Lie there, nasty pig," cried Little John from outside with
disgusted air, for his fellow-servants to note. "Lie there in a clean
sty for once; and if you grunt again I will surely souse you under the
pump!" At this threat Robin's snores abated somewhat in their violence.

"_I_ would drop him into the river forthwith," spoke a harsh voice,
startling Robin into fierce astonishment. There was no mistaking those
tones: so cruel, so false, so malicious. "Roger and Micah--Micah and
Roger." One of these two villains it was of a surety! But Robin had seen
them both slain on the day of that battle wherein poor Will of
Cloudesley had perished?

Trembling with amazement, he cautiously got upon his knees and peeped
through the keyhole. In the flagged kitchen, amidst the reek of hot
foods and disordered dishes, were two men--one of them Little John. The
other was dressed as a cook, and as he turned his face towards the light
of the fire Robin knew him for one of the two traitor outlaws. He had
changed little.

Little John answered his remark over his shoulder: "You would do many a
rash thing, Roger, if you could," was all he said; but he spoke in
sneering tone.

"Ay, marry; and one thing I would do, right instantly, dear gossip,"
said Roger, busying himself with the dishes. Robin saw that they shone
like gold in the ruddy light of the fire. "I would not have _you_ as
helpmate in this kitchen had I the ordering of matters. Big hands and
heavy hands and thieving hands. Ah, I need not be wizard to know them
when I see them!"

"You shall feel them, little Roger," said Little John, very angry. And
he soundly cuffed the cook about the head. Roger snarlingly drew back
and snatched up a dish. Full viciously he flung it at Little John, and
after it another and another.

[Illustration: LITTLE JOHN FIGHTS WITH THE COOK IN THE SHERIFF'S HOUSE

_At last he made a dart upon Roger and the chase grew furious. Dishes,
plates, covers, pots and pans--all that came in the way of them went
flying._]

The first struck the giant's shoulder and fell clattering upon the red
tiles. The second dish struck Little John as he recoiled and cut his
forehead and head. Blood ran down instantly over his cheek. The third
smashed itself against the wall harmlessly. Drawing in his breath,
Little John commenced a long chase of his foe, who had raced off to the
other side of the table.

Neither man spoke, but each eyed the other warily. Anger shone on one
face, jealous hate upon the other. They moved round and round the table
carefully.

There were knives in plenty upon it; and every now and again Roger would
seize one and fling it hurriedly at his enemy. Little John ruthlessly
followed him, without flinching or abating his set purpose by one jot.

At last he made a dart upon Roger and the chase grew furious. Dishes,
plates, covers, pots and pans--all that came in the way of them went
flying. The noise was awful; then suddenly ceased--for Little John had
grasped his prey by the short skirt of his tunic. In another second of
time Roger was secured, fluttering, cursing, and green with a sick
terror.

Little John lifted him up bodily and flung him with all his strength
against the wall of the kitchen. He rebounded from the wall to the
dresser; and in convulsive agony gripped hold of those utensils near
him. All fell, with reverberations of sound, downward with him to the
ground. There Roger lay still--save for a slight and hideous twitching
of his mouth.

Little John opened the door to Robin. "Hasten--hasten away from here,
soon as you can. There is danger and death."

"And you?"

"I shall escape. I have a story for them." Little John suddenly pushed
Robin back into the larder. "'Tis too late: be silent on your life."

Some servants, alarmed by the din, entered. They found Little John, the
new kitchen-drawer, bending in consternation over the lifeless form of
the cook. "Run, run," cried he, scarce glancing at them. "Here is Roger
the cook suddenly dying. His brain has given way. See how the foam
flecks upon his lips. Get me water for him. Or stay, help me carry him
to his bed."

Little John picked him up tenderly and with a face full of seeming
concern. The others, aghast at the mere thought of touching a madman,
shrank back. The giant carried the unconscious Roger out of the kitchen.

The servants came and busied themselves in restoring the kitchen to
order. One of them opened the larder; but Robin had laid himself full
length upon the top shelf. So he was not discovered.

The night wore on and most of the servants went yawningly to bed. Little
John returned, telling the few who remained that the cook was recovered
from his fit; but was still delirious and unsafe. "I will bank the fire
and sleep here, so that I may be able to go to him," continued Little
John, with a kind air. "By my wits, but he did mightily scare me when
first the distemper showed in him. He sliced me with the spit. See how
my head is cut, and my cheek shows you how his horrid teeth did meet in
my flesh."

"Did he indeed bite you, Master Nailor?"

"By my bones, he bit and tore me like a wild beast. But since I am so
big and not fearful of him I will e'en watch him through the night,
unless you choose to do service, Mickleham?"

Mickleham swore roundly that he would not.

"Then get you gone, gossip," said the giant, busying himself with the
fire. "'Tis late: and my lord of Hereford has business abroad at an
early hour."

He bade Robin go back into the buttery and stay there until dawn, there
being no chance of escape out of the castle at this hour. "Play your
part, Locksley, and avoid the Bishop's eyes--even as have I. We may meet
on the morrow."

"You have not betrayed us, Little John?"

"Roger the cook was to have sold you. Therefore have I quietened him for
the nonce. Here's my hand on it, Locksley: that Little John is loyal.
But I do not love Stuteley yet."

"It will come in time," answered Robin, sleepily. "You are both sound
fellows. Give you good night, honest John. I'll sleep none the worse for
my pillow." He stretched himself amid the trampled rushes of the
buttery, and laid his head upon the prone body of one of the sleeping
butchers. Full a dozen of them had fallen into slumber to the Sheriffs
rush-bottomed buttery floor.

Little John went back to the kitchen and there carefully and silently
collected Master Monceux's gold plate. He put it all into a stout sack,
tied it up, and waited patiently for dawn.



CHAPTER XIX


Robin woke from a heavy slumber at daybreak. A faint noise from without
the buttery disturbed him. He very quietly rose up, and, picking his way
across the room, came to the entrance to the kitchens. He opened one of
the doors and found a passage, grey-lit by the first gleam of dawn.

At the end of it was the figure of a man. His height revealed him for
Little John. Over his shoulders was a short sack.

Seeing Robin, he beckoned to him; then whispered his plans. But Robin
did not intend to leave Nottingham so soon.

"Go, Little John, and take that which is in your sack----"

"I shall bring it to you, gossip," spoke Little John, in a muffled
voice: "to your haunts in Barnesdale. You shall see who is the better
servant--Stuteley or myself. Here have I the Sheriff's plate----"

An audacious notion flashed upon Robin.

"Take it to our cave in Barnesdale, honest John," said he, swiftly,
indicating the sack, "and, harkee; I will follow later with such a guest
as never our greenwood has yet carried. Lay out a royal feast and kill
one of the fattest bucks. Take my dagger in token to them that I have
sent you."

"Who will you bring with you, gossip? Not my lord of Hereford?"

"I will bring Monceux himself," said Robin, boldly. "Leave the business
in my hands. Go now, if you know a safe road from out of this place."

"I have a friend at the gate who will ask me no questions," answered
Little John, softly. "But you?"

"My wit shall lead me out from Nottingham," Robin told him.

Little John let himself out by one of the postern doors, and found means
to convey the Sheriff's plate through the streets. Afterwards when he
reached the gate, he continued to win his passage by pure statesmanship,
pretending that he had been sent out at that strange hour to snare young
rabbits for his lord's breakfast!

Meanwhile, Robin returned to the buttery, and waited for events to shape
themselves. Ere long the butchers began yawning and quarrelling betwixt
themselves; and Robin artfully persuaded them, by setting one against
the other, to a free fight.

The servants separated them, and in anger bade them all begone. Robin
besought them to let him stay, saying that he wished an audience with my
lord the Sheriff.

"Out upon you, pestilent fellow!" cried one of the servants. "You scum
of the earth! This comes of hobnobbing with such rascals. Go hence
quickly, with your fellows, or we will break all your bones."

So were they all bustled out into the cold streets, and Robin, in his
butcher's smock, went back, as if very crest-fallen, to his empty cart
and lean horse.

In due season the servants found that the Sheriff's new kitchen-hand
was gone, and with him the gold plate. Then they remembered how he had
been found with the cook.

Roger was plucked out of his bed, with all his bruises and wounds upon
him, to give evidence before Monceux, who was in a great fume. All that
spite and jealousy might do Roger performed with gusto, and so fixed the
blame upon Little John that no one else was even suspected.

Roger would have now spoken as to Barnesdale, and betrayed the secret
caves to the Sheriff; but he had once before persuaded them to search
the cave near Gamewell, with ill results.

"Enough of these tales," snarled the Sheriff; "keep them for the
Bishop's ears. _I_ am concerned for my plate; and will recover it ere I
put forth on any other enterprise."

He sent out his archers and men-at-arms, with such an incoherent
description of Little John that near all the tall men of Nottingham were
brought under arrest. The gate-keeper who had been so foolish as to open
to Little John became so fearful of the Sheriff's anger that, when they
questioned him, he vowed by all the saints that he had clapped eyes on
no such fellow in his life.

Monceux, getting more and more enraged, chanced at last upon the
butchers. He bade them all to be brought before him.

Small comfort did he gather from any, least of all from Robin, who
behaved in so foolish a manner before the great man that all who had not
believed him crazy before, were now well sure of it.

He would persist in talking to the irate lord of his own affairs: how
he had just inherited a farm with many head of cattle--such beasts! how
he had sold some of them in the market on the previous day for large
moneys; how he intended to always sell at Nottingham, since there the
people were so rich and generous.

"I have full five hundred and ten horned beasts upon my land that I will
sell for a just figure," said Robin. "Ay, to him who will pay me in
right money will I sell them for twenty pieces. Is that too much to ask,
lording?"

Monceux, in the midst of his frenzy, suddenly quieted down. This was the
idiot butcher of whom people had been chattering. No use to bluster and
threaten him.

Five hundred and ten fat beasts for twenty pieces! Was ever such a fool?
"I'll buy your beasts of you, butcher," said Monceux, "and will give you
twice the money you ask."

At this Robin was quite overcome, and fell to praising him to the skies.
For the moment the missing plate was forgotten.

"Drive in your beasts, butcher," said Monceux.

"They are but at Gamewell, excellence," said Robin; "not more than a
mile beyond it at most. Will you not come and choose your own beasts?
The day is fine."

The Sheriff dismissed all but Robin, in order that they might settle it
quietly. If he did not close upon this bargain straightway it would be
lost to him.

After some hesitation, "I will go with you, butcher," spoke Master
Monceux. After all, what had he to fear? Surely no man, be he ever so
wicked and desperate an outlaw, would _dare_ to lay hands upon the
Sheriff of Nottingham!

Monceux had all along suspected the Bishop of Hereford's story. There
were no robbers in Sherwood now--the Bishop had invented the tale in
order to cover up some disgraceful carousal, and had bribed his men. It
had been a plot by which my lord of Hereford had been able to foist
himself and his company upon the Sheriff, and so gain both free lodging
in Nottingham and save giving in charity to the poor folk of the town.

Thus Master Monceux argued swiftly within himself.

"Get ready, butcher, for," he said, briskly, "I will join you in a few
minutes."

He laid a solemn and dreadful charge upon the captain of his men-at-arms
and upon those of his household to find him his plate ere he returned.
He swore that their own goods should be seized and sold if they failed
him in this matter!

Then he affected to be going in secret search himself.

So the two of them, without guard, went off together, Robin driving his
shambling horse and rickety cart beside the Sheriff's little fat brown
pony.

They passed through the gate, and Monceux left word there that his
archers were to follow him to Gamewell so soon as they had returned from
their searching for his plate.

Robin was very gay, and kept the Sheriff amused with his foolish
chattering. Monceux congratulated himself more and more.

They had drawn nigh to Gamewell, and to that little gravel-pit wherein
was one of the hidden passages to the Barnesdale caves. Peering
irresolute through the tree-trunks far off to their right, Robin spied a
herd of deer.

They stood and trembled at sight of Robin and the Sheriff, preparing to
stampede.

Robin guessed that they had been driven by the greenwood men all that
day--that perchance Stuteley and the rest were near the beasts, in
ambush. Reining in his lean horse, he turned in his cart to call to the
Sheriff.

"See, excellence, here are my beasts, coming to welcome me! Now choose
those which your eyes like and pay me the gold."

Monceux saw then that he had been duped, and flew into a terrible
passion. Robin cut his reproaches very short, however; and, taking off
his butcher's smock, blew on his horn that short, queer signal.

The Sheriff turned to fly, but had not travelled a hundred yards ere,
hearing an uncomfortable hissing sound, made by an arrow, as it flew
just over his head, thought it better to stop. Robin had hidden his bow
and quiver in the straw at the bottom of the butcher's cart. He now
stood up and sped his shafts all round and about the poor Sheriff.

Then Monceux reined up his fat pony and surrendered himself grudgingly,
trying to bargain all the while. "If I give you my horse, and a golden
penny, will you let me go, butcher?" said he, whiningly. "Did I not
treat you well last night, giving you a fair supper and much ale? This
is ill requiting my usage of you, butcher."

Suddenly he saw himself surrounded by the men of the greenwood, headed
by Stuteley. Robin nodded, and in a moment the Sheriff was seized and
hurried away to the gravel-pit, and his pony was set galloping in the
direction of Nottingham with empty saddle.

The greenwood men soon brought their captive through the dangerous
passage, having first blindfolded him. Within five hours of his
departure from Nottingham my lord the Sheriff found himself in a
strange, unknown part of Sherwood, seated amongst two score and ten wild
fellows, to a wilder meal of venison, brown bread, and wine.

With a shock of surprise he saw that the hot, juicy portion of the
King's beast handed to him as his share was smoking fragrantly upon a
golden plate. He glanced around from the merry faces of the lawless men
to the dishes and plates from which they were eating. All were of gold
and very familiar.

His rolling eye encountered that of Little John's, coolly helping
himself to a second serve. "You rascal! you rogue!" spluttered Monceux.
"You scum of the kitchens! Where is my plate? You shall be shred into
little pieces for this trick, and you also, false butcher."

"Nay, excellence," said a gentle voice near to him, "this is no butcher;
but rather Master Robin o' th' Hood, a good yeoman and right Saxon. Some
call him Robin of Locksley. Let me fill your goblet, excellence, for you
have spilled all the wine."

Monceux glared at the speaker, a handsome lad dressed gaily in page's
costume. The Sheriff's frown would have frightened most people, but the
dark-haired boy only laughed and tossed his head in a queerly
fascinating way. The Sheriff, relaxing, held out his goblet, and smiled
back upon the page.

"Well done, Master Gilbert of Blois!" cried Robin, who sat at the
Sheriff's left hand. "Now tell me how you discovered me, and I will love
you----"

The lad blushed furiously. "I knew you from the first, Robin o' th'
Hood," he answered, defiantly.

"In truth?" questioned Robin, slily, and with his own suspicions
growing. No wonder he had seen nothing of Marian in Nottingham town.

"In truth--well, no," submitted the page. "Let me fill your tankard,
friend. But very soon I did discover you. Is this the stag that you
killed, Robin o' th' Hood?" he added, innocently.

Robin nodded; and the Sheriff flashed another look of anger upon him.
"Sit you beside me, Gilbert," Robin ordered; "I am very fain to have
speech with you."

Marian, with her woman's intuition, knew from his tone that she also was
discovered. Yet she braved it out. "I will fill all the cups, Robin o'
th' Hood," she said, firmly, with an adorable little shake of her black
curls; "then will hear your adventures as a Nottingham butcher, which I
see you are dying to tell to us."

The page skipped lightly from under Robin's threatening hand, and the
merry men laughed loud and long. "He calls you Robin o' th' Hood,
master!" cried John Berry, roaring like a bull. For some reason this
nick-name tickled him mightily. He kept repeating it in all kinds of
tones, and those about him began to laugh also.

"'Tis a very excellent name," said Robin, a little vexed. "A merry name,
a man's name, and a name to my heart! I do adopt it from this day; for
is not Robin Fitzooth of Locksley dead? My lord the Sheriff can tell you
that he is, for he has burned him. Laugh at it, or like it, friends,
which you will. But pledge me in it, for I have paid the reckoning."

Little John, Stuteley, and Much rose to their feet together in their
hurry to be first. The others were not slow in following them.

"Long life to you and happiness, Robin o' th' Hood! Here's fortune's
best and confusion to all your enemies! Huzza, Robin o' th' Hood!"

The darkening woods echoed it back to them. "Robin o' th' Hood!
Robin--Hood!"

"You will have to be christened, gossip," said Little John, with an air
of importance; "and surely I know the man who will be sponsor. But you
spoke just now of a reckoning; and I do see that our guest is become
fidgety. Shall I tot up the bill for him?"

"Do so, friend."

The Sheriff appeared uneasy at this. "I have not my purse with me," he
began, apologetically.

"How did you purpose paying me for my beasts?" asked Robin.

"Why--that is--I have, of course, a small sum about me."

"What is that sum, gossip?" questioned Little John, very kindly.

"'Tis no more than forty pieces of gold," said Monceux, recollecting
that he had named this amount to Robin.

"Is that all?"

"I have not another penny-piece, good Master Hood," replied the
Sheriff.

"If that is true, then you shall pay no more than ten pieces of gold for
your entertainment, excellence," decreed Robin. "Speak I soothly, men of
the greenwood?"

"The Sheriff should swear by his patron saint that he will never more
molest us," said one of the company, wisely; and this addition was
carried unanimously.

"So be it, then," cried Little John, approaching Monceux. "Now, swear by
your life and your patron saint----"

"I will swear it by St. George, who is patron of us all," cried the fat
Sheriff, vigorously; and he swore that never again would he disturb or
distress them in Sherwood.

"Let me catch anyone of you _out_ of it!" thought he to himself.

Then he paid them ten pieces of gold; and having done this, rose up to
go.

It was already full dusk. "Gossip," observed Little John, reprovingly,
"you did not hand me your wallet, but took out instead the ten golden
pieces. Let me see for myself that thirty remain. Mayhap some evil
person has robbed you unbeknown."

"Nay--I do not think that," said the Sheriff, quickly; "I take great
care of all my belongings----"

"Yet you may have been despoiled," persisted Little John; "permit me to
satisfy myself and this company that you have had honorable treatment in
these happy woods."

With a groan Monceux yielded his wallet, and Stuteley counted out the
money in it with a loud voice; otherwise the company was silent. "There
is another wallet, gossip," said the inexorable Little John, pointing
towards the Sheriff's belt.

In all they counted out one hundred gold pieces. "We must add another
'nought' to the foot of our bill, excellence," said Robin, gravely. "Be
of good heart; what is 'nought' but nothing? Ten pounds and a 'nought'
added to it is a most reasonable account for such royal fare. Take then
this money which you first gave me; we will keep the wallets."

"'Tis monstrous! 'Tis an enormity," bellowed Monceux, flying out.
"Already you have stolen my plate, and now would strip me utterly! 'Tis
rank villainy, and I promise you all----"

"You have promised enough to-night, Sheriff," retorted Robin: "away with
him, Stuteley, and go you, too, Little John. Take our guest through the
secret path so far as the roadway by Nottingham gate. There he may find
his archers waiting for him. Be speedy."

They nodded and grasped the struggling Sheriff by either arm. His eyes
were speedily bandaged by little Gilbert, and he made an undignified
exit. Whilst the rest busied themselves removing the remains of the
feast, Robin spoke quietly with the page.

"Since Little John has happily returned to us, Master Gilbert," said
Robin, "'tis clear that he will want his quarters again. So I must move
you."

"It matters not, Robin."

"You are over young to consort with such wild company, Gilbert," Robin
continued; "and so I will take you to a safe asylum, unless, of course,
you would sooner return into Nottingham."

"I have now no real home in Nottingham," said Marian, frankly. "My
father has gone to London to find us a home there. He has been offered a
post in the King's household. So soon as he had departed they sent for
me to attend at the Sheriff's castle, saying I was to become maid to the
demoiselle Marie. This I would not; and so escaped in the early dawn of
the day----"

"I have a friend at Gamewell," said Robin, diffidently. "In sooth, it is
mine own uncle, and he surely would not refuse me in this. Will you go
with me, Gilbert, at once? Soon it will be night indeed."

"I'll go anywhere with you, Robin," answered the little page.

Yet Robin would not affect to recognize Marian, though his heart was
thumping in his body. He led her silently, hastily, through the strange
passages towards Gamewell, thinking how he should bring a welcome for
the maid.

"You are not talkative, friend Robin," murmured his companion once.

"My heart is too full for speech, Gilbert," said Robin, softly then; and
this answer seemed to satisfy Master Gilbert of Blois. Under the night
he smiled happily to himself.

"Is this your bad hand, Robin?" he asked, presently, "the one that I did
wound? Poor fingers! I am sorry now. Can you forgive me, Robin?"



CHAPTER XX


When they had reached the little hut near by the pleasance, Robin bade
her stay. "I now must play Yellow Lady," said he, lightly. "She is the
spirit of this grove, and under her guise I can venture near to the
house. Lend me your cloak--the color will not matter on so dark a
night."

"I will not be left alone here," said Marian at this, with great
decision. "Not for all the Montfichets in Christendom. I'll go with
you."

They crossed the pleasance side by side. Lights burned within Gamewell
to guide them.

"I am not afraid, Robin," announced Master Gilbert of Blois,
courageously. "You know I am no coward."

"Take my hand then," said Robin; "I like to feel that you are with me."

"Yet you have but known me a day," said Marian, trying to peep at him.
Her tone was questioning and full of pretty malice.

He had a mind then to take her in his arms, but again forebore. "Be
silent now," whispered he; "I must proclaim myself. I have scarce
knowledge of the servants here, my chief friend being old Warrenton, and
he is in the greenwood."

"Let us go back there," suggested his companion; "I am willing to risk
the wild beasts and the Sheriffs wrath."

"'Tis no place for you," said Robin. "Here you will be both safe and
comfortable."

"I do not like the shape of this house," argued Marian. "I do not feel
that I will be happy in it."

"It is a home worthy to be your sister's, let alone yours, Master
Gilbert. Now be done with your grumbling, for here you shall stay until
your father's return."

At this she made a grimace, but obeyed him meekly, notwithstanding. As
they drew near to the courtyard, Robin bade her follow him cautiously
until they had made a full circle of it, and crept round to the front of
the hall.

By good fortune the bridge was down. Old Gamewell had no fear of the
world, it would seem. They might pretend now that they had crossed to
the hall from the road. Robin wound his horn suddenly and confidently.

The dogs within Gamewell began to bark and growl, and presently they
heard sounds of approach. In a moment more the doors were opened and
they saw a servant armed with a lanthorn and a stick.

"I would have audience with Master Montfichet," said Robin, in a bold
voice. "Pray take me to him at once."

"Do you come from Nottingham?" asked the man, civilly.

"I left there this day," replied Robin.

"Follow me," said the servant, briefly. He waited until they were safely
inside; then closed the doors carefully. He led them across the court to
the inner doors.

Here another fellow was in waiting, also carrying a light. "These are
travellers from Nottingham, desiring audience of Master Gamewell,"
observed the first servant.

"Your names, gentles?" asked the second.

"I am Robin o' th' Hood, and this is Master Gilbert of Blois," said
Robin, at once.

They were escorted into the great hall, and there, sat beside the open
hearth, was old Squire George. He made a pathetic figure. Robin felt his
heart go out to him.

Yet even when he had satisfied himself in a single glance as to the
identity of one of the late-coming guests, Montfichet gave no sign. His
was a strange nature, and he could not forgive Robin his innocent
deceit.

"Sir," said Robin, respectfully, "I do feel shame in coming before you
without waiting for your word of welcome. My errand must be my excuse."

"'Tis Robin Fitzooth!" said old Montfichet, then. "I was told that you
had been killed long since."

"Robin Fitzooth is truly dead, sir. Behold in his place Robin o' th'
Hood. I come to ask a service at your hands for the memory of this dead
man, and in redemption of your promise given to him once in Nottingham."

"Ask it, friend."

The Squire's tones were kinder. Looking at him, Robin saw that he had
aged. There were no longer signs of that fastidious attention to his
apparel which had characterized Montfichet of Gamewell.

"There is, sir, a maid who, losing her father on a journey to London,
hath had great trouble put upon her by the Sheriff. Monceux would
persecute her, in short; and she has flown from the city. Now, I would
ask an asylum for her here."

"She shall be made welcome and given full freedom of Gamewell,"
answered Montfichet, rising. "I shall rejoice to see her here, in sooth,
for my days lack company. When will you bring her to me, Master Robin o'
th' Hood, and pray what makes you wear so strange a name?"

He spoke quite in his old manner, and half smiled at them. He glanced
toward Master Gilbert of Blois. "Is this your little esquire, young
Stuteley?" asked he, lifting his brows. "Truly he has grown out of all
memory."

Robin felt himself to be in an awkward fix. His eyes glanced from one to
the other. Marian, at last, took pity on his distress. "Good my lord,"
said she, with that pretty shake of her dark curls, "I am the maid for
whom Master Robin pleads so earnestly. I am Marian Fitzwalter out of her
petticoats and into a boy's clothes. I had no other way of flying from
Nottingham, so behold me for the nonce as Gilbert of Blois."

The Squire listened, and slowly his face relaxed. Anything spirited or
daring always appealed to him strongly. "You are a pretty page, I swear,
Master Gilbert! Sure it will be hard for you to make fairer maid than
man. Welcome either way to Gamewell. I'll keep you safe from Monceux; I
have no love for him in any case. You have fasted to-day, no doubt; I'll
have supper brought us here."

"We have already supped, sir," said Robin, relieved to find this easy
way out of a difficult business. He had the hope that Marian would in
some way bring about a reconciliation between him and the Squire.

"We will sup a second time," said Montfichet. "Ho there! bring us a
pasty and a flagon! Hurry, knaves, bring us the best of our larder.
Come, Robin, sit here at my right hand, and you, Gilbert, by his side.
And so already it has come to this, Robin? Will not the greenwoods seem
dull to-morrow?"

"Mayhap I might change them for a seat at your table on occasion, sir?"
asked Robin.

"To see how badly I treat my guest? Is that it? Come when you will,
Robin o' th' Hood. Tell me now, why did you choose this name? Another
was offered you."

"Ask Master Gilbert here, sir--he is responsible for't. And, honestly, I
do like the name--'tis uncommon. May I pledge you, sir? Here's to our
friendship! May we grow old in it and ripe in it!"

"I have no wish, Robin, to grow either old or ripe," said Marian,
settling herself. "Let us eat first, and make our speeches afterward.
Help me to the pasty before you, and do not chatter so much."

Squire George nodded in approval. "Spoken like a man," cried he. "Robin
is too full of words to-night. Ay, but I am right glad to see him here,
for all that! Fill your glass, kinsman, and the lady's. Nay, look not so
distressed at her; up to the top, man, up to the top! This is no time
for half-measures."

       *       *       *       *       *

In the morning when Robin came blithely from his bed--the first bed that
he had known for many months--he found the Squire waiting for him in the
hall. His face was grave. "I must speed you, Robin," said he; "I have
news that Monceux is abroad, and will attack your company at
Barnesdale."

Robin had told him all, and the Squire had neither approved nor
disapproved. Working in his mind was jealous wonderment that Robin
should prefer such a life to that which might have been his at Gamewell.
The Squire made no show of this, however.

"I will guard Mistress Fitzwalter from all harm, rely upon me. And go,
since you must. Here is our Master Gilbert--Gilbert no more. I should
scarcely have known her."

Marian entered from the other end of the hall. The maids had found her a
dress, grey-blue as her eyes. She bloomed like an early rose on this
sweet spring morning.

"And you are going to leave me, Robin?" she said, mournfully.

The Squire had disappeared. Robin, approaching, took her hand. He looked
up from it, and saw the golden arrow gleaming in her hair--that arrow
which had so strangely marked the beginning of his troubles. Marian
smiled, and her eyes invited him.

And so these two kissed each other frankly, mouth to mouth.

       *       *       *       *       *

A little later Robin was speeding through the forest. His feet were
light, and he sang softly to himself as he trod the springy grass.

Suddenly a sad song broke upon his ear. 'Twas a doleful song, full of
tears; and Robin, in consternation, stopped short.

Along the woodland path there came towards him a minstrel carrying a
harp and trailing a rope. "Marry, friend, but your harp is out of all
harmony!" began Robin.

"I do not play upon it," retorted the minstrel.

"You sing a sad song," said Robin; "and I, who am happy, am put out of
countenance by it. Therefore sing it not until I am far from you."

"My heart overflows with sorrow," said the minstrel, "and so I must sing
of sadness and of death."

"Tell me your sorrow, friend," Robin begged, "and walk with me back upon
the road. Like as not I can help you."

"I should not speak my grief to you," the minstrel told him, "for you
are happy."

"One who lives in the greenwood cannot be otherwise," observed Robin.
"Come, walk with me, and coil the rope."

"I had brought it," said the minstrel, "so that I might hang myself to
some old oak, and thus fittingly end the wretched, misfortunate life of
Allan-a-Dale."

Robin perceived that there was a story to follow. "Walk with me, gossip,
and ease your heart in confidence," he said, cheerfully. "I can likely
help you. To-day is my lucky day."

"Know then, happy stranger, that I have lost my dear, and through no
fault of mine own," said Allan-a-Dale, as they walked together. "A
wealthy baron has taken my love from me, and will marry her this very
day; so I have come into these quiet woods that I may kill myself, for
never can I live without my Fennel."

"Is that her name? 'Tis very quaint."

"'Tis a fitting name, gossip. Fennel means 'Worthy of all praise,' and
she is the most worthy of all maids."

"Perchance you do not know many maids, friend," said Robin. "Tell me, is
she dark-haired, and are her eyes sweet as violets?"

"In sooth, her eyes are blue enough, gossip," said Allan; "but her hair
is like finespun gold. And she has a little straight nose, and such a
tender smile. Marry, when I think upon her many perfections my heart
doth leap, to sink again when I mind me that I have lost her."

"And why have you lost her, Allan-a-Dale?"

"Look you, 'tis this way. The Normans overrun us, and are in such favor
that none may say them nay. This baron coveted the land wherein my love
dwells; so her brother, who was lord of it, was one day found still and
stark--killed whilst hunting, folks say. Thus the maid became
heir-at-law, and the baron wooed her, thrusting me aside."

"Nay, but surely----" began Robin.

"Hear me out, gossip," Allan said. "You think I am light overborne, no
doubt; but never should this Norman dog have triumphed had it been man
to man. But who can deal with a snake in th' grass? The wretch has
poisoned my Fennel against me, and 'tis she who has cast me into
despair, while she is to be wedded with mine enemy."

"Does she love you, Allan?"

"Once she loved me right well. Here is the little ring which she gave me
when we were betrothed."

"Enough," said Robin, "this wedding shall not be. Can you keep your own
counsel? Follow me then; and on your love for Fennel, see nothing of the
way in which I lead you. Hasten."

He brought the minstrel into Barnesdale woods and to their most secret
haunt. Then he summoned the greenwood men and told them first of the
Sheriff's plans and then gave out the grievous story of Allan-a Dale.

"Where is this marriage to be held?" asked Little John.

"In Plympton church," sighed the minstrel.

"Then to Plympton we will go, by my beard!" cried the giant, "and
Monceux may meanwhile scour Barnesdale for us in vain! Thus virtue is
plainly its own reward."

"Well planned, indeed, Little John. Fill quivers, friends, and let us
go. This shall be a strange marriage-day for your baron, Allan--if the
lady be not stubborn. You must move her, if she be cross with you. We
will do all other duties."

They travelled through one of their many secret ways towards Plympton.
The sun shone high in the heavens ere they had come within sight of the
small square church.

Without the building they espied a guard of ten archers liveried in
scarlet and gold. Robin bade the rest to approach under cover of the
hedgerows. He then borrowed Allan's cloak and harp, and stepped out
boldly towards the church.

A few villagers were gathered about the archers; and Robin mingled with
these, asking many quaint questions, and giving odd answers to any who
asked in turn of him. Hearing the laughter and chattering, the Bishop
who was to perform the marriage came to the church door all in his fine
robes and looked severely forth.

"What is the meaning of this unseemliness?" asked he, in well-known
tones.

Robin saw that here was my lord of Hereford again! He answered,
modestly: "I am a harper, good my lord. Shall I not make a song to fit
this happy day?"

"Welcome, minstrel, if such you are," said the Bishop. "Music pleases me
right well, and you shall sing to us."

"I must not tune my harp nor pluck the strings in melody until the bride
and bridegroom have come," Robin answered, wisely; "such a thing would
bring ill-fortune on us, and on them."

"You will not have long to wait," cried the Bishop, "for here they come.
Stand on one side, worthy people."

He busied himself in welcome of the bridegroom--a grave old man, dressed
up very fine. The bride was clothed in white samite, and her hair shone
like the sun. Her pretty eyes were dark with weeping; but she walked
with a proud air, as women will who feel that they are martyring
themselves for their love's sake. She had but two maids with her,
roguish girls both. One held up her mistress's gown from the ground; the
other carried flowers in plenty.

"Now by all the songs I have ever sung, surely never have marriage bells
rung for so strange a pair!" cried Robin, boldly. He had stopped them as
they were passing into the church. "Lady," he asked, "do you love this
man? For if you do not then you are on your way to commit sacrilege."

"Stand aside, fool," cried the bridegroom, wrathfully.

"Do you love this man?" persisted Robin. "Speak now or never. I am a
minstrel, and I know maids' hearts. Many songs have I made in their
honor, and never have I found worse things in them than pride or
vanity."

"I give my hand to him, minstrel, and that is enough," the girl answered
at last. She made a movement towards the aisle.

"And Allan?" whispered Robin, looking straight into her eyes.

At this she gave a little gasp of fear and love, then glanced
irresolutely towards the shrivelled baron. "I will _not_ marry you!" she
cried, suddenly.

Robin laughed and, dropping the harp, clapped his horn to his lips. Even
as the archers sprang upon him, the greenwood men appeared.

"Mercy me!" called out the Bishop, seeking to escape, "here are those
rascal fellows who did maltreat me so in Sherwood."

The archers were prisoners everyone, and the baron too, ere my lord of
Hereford had done exclaiming. Stuteley and Much pushed Allan-a-Dale
forward. "This is the man, good my lord, to whom you shall marry the
maid," cried Robin, flourishing his bow, "if she is willing."

"Will you marry _me_, dear heart?" pleaded Allan-a-Dale. "I am your true
love, and the stories they told to you were all false."

"Own to it, baron!" roared Little John, shaking up the unfortunate old
man. "Tell her that you did lie in your straggling beard when you said
that Allan was untrue."

"Ay, ay, I spoke falsely; ay, I own to it. Have done with me, villain."

"Spare him, Little John, for the nonce. Now, my lord, marry them for us,
for I am ready to sing you my song."

"They must be called in church three times by their names; such is the
law," the Bishop protested.

Robin impatiently plucked the Bishop's loose gown from off his back and
threw it over Little John's shoulders. The big fellow thrust himself
firmly into it and stood with arms akimbo. "By the faith o' my body,"
cried Robin, "this cloth makes you a man!"

Little John went to the church door, and all began to laugh consumedly
at him. Even the maid Fennel forgot her vexations. Seeing that she
smiled, Allan opened his arms to her, and she found her way into them.

Little John called their names seven times, in case three should not be
enough. Then Robin turned to the Bishop and swore that he should marry
these two forthwith. The gown was given back to him, and my lord of
Hereford commenced the service. He thought it more polite to obey,
remembering his last experience with this madcap outlaw.

"Who gives this maid in marriage?" asked the Bishop, in due season.

"I do," said Robin, "I give her heartily to my good friend,
Allan-a-Dale, and he who takes her from him shall buy her dearly."



CHAPTER XXI


They betook themselves to Barnesdale after the wedding, leaving my lord
of Hereford gownless and fuming in the organ-loft of the little church
at Plympton. His guard was variously disposed about the sacred edifice:
two of the bowmen being locked up in the tiny crypt; three in the
belfry, "to ring us a wedding peal," as Robin said, and the others in
the vestry or under the choir seats in the chancel. The old baron had
been forced to climb a high tree, and had been left in the branches of
it feebly railing at them.

Then they all came back into Barnesdale, there to make a proper
wedding-feast, after which Allan carried off his bride and her maids to
his own home in the north, promising stoutly to return to them in due
season.

The days came and went, and Monceux began to hope fondly that the
outlaws had gone out of Sherwood. On the third morning after Allan's
marriage the Bishop of Hereford came bursting into Nottingham with the
old baron and the humiliated guard. The Sheriff's hopes were shattered
under the furious indignation of the baron and my lord of Hereford.

It appeared that they had been released from their various positions of
confinement during the evening of the marriage-day, and had forthwith
hurried to the baron's castle. Thence they had set out for Allan's home
in the east of the county, near to Southwell, a pretty place.

Arrived there, they had demanded reparation and the maid Fennel, and in
order to be able to declare the marriage false, the Bishop had sent in a
petition to the Pope whereto Mistress Fennel was led to place her hand
in writing. Allan's answer was to tear the petition into little pieces
and fling it at the feet of the messenger who had brought it.

Whereupon the Bishop had withdrawn and the baron had commenced an attack
upon the place. After an hour or so of vain storming, Allan, at the head
of a small band of retainers, had issued forth and mightily discomfited
the baron and his men, beating them heartily out of the neighborhood of
Southwell.

These matters, instigated and brought about by one Master Robin o' th'
Hood, cried aloud for summary vengeance.

The Sheriff doubled and trebled the reward offered for his head,
mentioning him above all others who were known to aid and abet him.
Little John ranked next in point of infamous merit in the Sheriff's
reckoning, for Monceux remembered his golden plate.

The people of Nottingham, hearing continually of this pother, fell
a-chattering between themselves, and ere a week was out Monceux's reward
of a hundred golden pieces for the head of Robin Hood was the one theme
of conversation in the city.

No one identified him with Robin of Locksley--that brave misguided youth
being so entirely dead to their minds--and he was variously named as
Hood, Robin Hood, Captain Hood, and Master Robin.

A travelling tinker came at length upon the talk of the town. He had
been sitting on the bench without the "Sign of the Sixteen Does,"
dozing and drinking, and at last seeking to do both at once.

Mine host stood near by, discussing the eternal Robin.

"Folk do say that Master Monceux has sent into Lincoln for more
men-at-arms and horses, and that when he has these to hand he will soon
scourge Captain Hood from our forest."

"Of whom speak you?" asked the tinker, suddenly waking up.

"Of this Robin of the Greenwood," said the innkeeper, "but you will
never earn the Sheriff's hundred pieces!"

Then the tinker arose upon his dignity, and eyed the innkeeper
reproachfully.

"And why will I not earn the hundred pieces, gossip?" said he, with a
deadly calm in his manner.

"Where our Sheriff has failed, and a Bishop also, it is not likely that
a mere tinker will succeed," mine host answered. "Pay me for your ale,
gossip, and go on your way."

The tinker approached and laid a heavy hand upon the innkeeper's fat
shoulder. "Friend," he said, impressively, "I am one not noted either
for dullness or lack of courage. I do perpend that to earn these pieces
of which you speak one must perform some worthy business. Tell it to me,
and you and Nottingham shall see then what Middle the Tinker thinks on
it."

At this a great clacking began, so that Master Middle only came to the
gist of it in an hour. He valiantly proclaimed his intention, so soon as
he _did_ understand, of taking Robin Hood single-handed. "Why send into
Lincoln and the shires when Middle the Tinker will do this business for
you, gossips? I will go into your Sherwood this very day. Give me the
warrant, and I'll read it to Robin to purpose, I promise you!"

They pushed him, laughing and jesting between themselves, towards
Nottingham Castle, and there thrust him into the hall.

"Here is a champion come to take your pieces, Master Monceux," someone
called out. "Here is Middle, the pot-valiant," cried another.

Master Middle asked for the warrant, and obtained it. Then he sallied
forth, accompanied by the customers from the "Sign of the Sixteen Does"
as far as the gates of the city. There he made them a long speech and
left them.

They watched him making determinedly along the white road towards
Barnesdale; then returned to their tankards and their talk.

Master Middle reached Gamewell without mishap; and the brisk air having
revived him much, he gradually came into a placid frame of mind.

In this happy condition he encountered presently a comely youth, with a
little beard and a friendly tongue.

"Give you good-den, gossip," cried the youth. "I hear there is sad news
abroad. I fear all is not well with the world."

"Since I live in Banbury, good friend," the tinker replied, "I cannot
speak for the world. But Banbury is always willing to listen, and
learn."

"Harkee, then--this is the news I have heard: that in Nottingham town
they have put two tinkers in the stocks for drinking too much ale and
beer!"

"If that is all," said Middle, contemptuously, "your news is not worth a
groat; while as for drinking good ale, 'tis not you who would willingly
lose your part of it."

"By my faith, gossip, you are right!" laughed the youth. "But now give
me your news, since mine is worth so little. You who go from town to
town, must come by many strange items."

"All that I have heard," the tinker said, thinking of the Sheriff's
pieces, "is very good. I am in search of an outlaw whom men call Robin
Hood. In my wallet I have a warrant to take him wherever I can; and if
you can tell me where he is I will make a man of you, friend."

"Let me see the warrant," said Robin, for 'twas he, "and if I find it to
be right I will take you to him this very day."

"That I will not do," cried Middle, readily, "I will trust no man with
my warrant; and if you will not help me, gossip, why, pass on and good
riddance to you."

He began to stride along the road again, and until Robin had called him
thrice would not turn about. "If you will come with me to a certain inn
on Watling Street, good friend," called Robin, encouragingly, "I'll e'en
show you Robin o' th' Hood!"

At this, Middle turned his head, and then came back to Robin. "Lead the
way, gossip," said he, at length. "I'll walk behind you. I have my
stick."

Robin made no reply, but started at a good pace. He led the tinker
through the forest by many devious ways until they had arrived at a
little inn on Watling Street. It was styled the "Falcon," and mine host
came willingly to serve these guests.

The tinker asked for ale, Robin for wine. They sat at talk for near an
hour, Robin explaining much about this Robin o' th' Hood. The tinker
drank his ale and listened; then pronounced his plan for taking the
outlaw. This made a lengthy history, and was so dry withal that Master
Middle must needs fill and empty his tankard many times.

In the end he fell asleep. Robin deftly opened his pouch then, took out
the warrant, read it, and put it into his own wallet. He called mine
host, and, telling him that the tinker would pay the reckoning so soon
as he awoke, Robin left the "Falcon" and Master Middle together.

Having leisure for the whimsey, Robin bethought him to stay awhile and
see what Middle might do, for in a way he had taken Robin's fancy.

So Robin hid and waited events.

Presently the tinker awoke and called for the landlord. "Gossip," said
he to mine host, "I have a grave charge to lay upon you. In this house,
whilst I did rest in the thought that you were an honest man and one
loving the King, my pouch has been opened and many matters of importance
taken from it. I had in it, item, a warrant, granted under the hand and
seal of my lord the Sheriff of Nottingham, authorizing the arrest of a
notorious rascal, one Robin Hood of Barnesdale. Item, a crust of bread.
Item, six single keys, useful withal. Item, twelve silver pennies, the
which I have earned this week in fair labor----"

"I wonder to hear you speak so of Robin Hood, friend," answered the
landlord. "Was he not with you just now? And did he not clink glasses
with you in all amity?"

"Was Robin o' th' Hood _that_ little bag of bones?" cried Middle, in
great vexation. "God-a-mercy, but now I see it all. He has taken my
warrant and my pennies! Let me go after him, gossip; be sure that I will
bring him back right soon."

"There is first the reckoning to be paid, good friend," said the
landlord.

"Why, I would pay you with all pleasure, had I the means," the tinker
replied. "At this moment I have but my stick and my bag of tools. I will
leave them with you as hostages."

"Give me your leathern coat as well," said mine host, sharply; "the
hammer and tools are as naught to me."

"It would seem that I am fallen from one thief to another," snapped
Middle. "If you will walk with me to the green I'll give you such a
crack as shall drive some honesty into your thick skull."

"You are wasting your breath and my leisure," the other retorted,
contemptuously. "Get you gone after your quarry."

Middle thought this to be good advice, and he strode forth from the
"Falcon" in a black mood.

Ere he had gone half a mile upon the road he perceived Robin demurely
walking under the trees a little in front of him. "Ho there! you
villain!" shouted Middle. "Stay your steps. I am most desperately in
need of you this day!"

Robin turned about with a surprised face. "Well met again, tinker,"
cried he. "Have you found Robin Hood?"

"Marry, that have I!" roared Middle, plunging at him.

Robin had his sword at his side and tried to draw it; but the tinker
was too speedy for him. Middle laid on his blows with so much vigor that
for a while he had Robin at his mercy.

The greenwood rang with the noise of the fight, for now Robin had
plucked out his sword. 'Twas steel against oak; brute force matched
against skill. Indignation gave Middle the advantage, and he fought with
such fury that Robin's sides began to ache.

"Hold your hand, tinker," called Robin, at last. "I cry a boon of you."

"I would rather hang you upon this tree ere granting it to you," said
Middle, commencing afresh.

But Robin had had time to blow his horn in urgent summons of Stuteley
and Little John.

In a brief space they appeared, with most of the greenwood men at their
heels, and Master Middle was seized and disarmed rudely enough.

"This rascal tinker had made my bones quite sore," said Robin, ruefully.

"Is that your trouble?" said Little John. "Let me discover now if I may
not do the like for him."

"Not so, Little John," Robin said then. "This was my own quarrel, and I
deserved all that this rogue has bestowed on me. He had a warrant for my
arrest, which I have stolen from him."

"With twelve silver pennies, a crust of bread, and six little keys,"
remarked Middle, with emphasis.

"Here are the keys and the crust, gossip," answered Robin, smilingly.
"And here the pennies, turned by me into gold. Here also, if you will,
is my hand."

"I take it heartily, with the pence!" cried Middle, seizing the slim,
frank hand of the outlaw. "By my leathern coat, by my pots and pans, I
swear I like you, friend Hood, and will serve you and your men honestly!
Do you want a tinker? Nay; but I'll swear you do--who else can mend and
grind your swords and patch your pannikins? Will you take me, little
man, who can fight so well, and who knows how to play a bold game?"

"Marry, I will take you, tinker--if the rest be willing, and you will
swear the oath. But it rests not with me, for this is a band of freemen,
without a leader."

"Not so, Robin," cried Little John, glancing up from close perusal of
the Sheriff's warrant. "We have a leader, and you are the man! Master
Monceux of Nottingham has ordained it. Herein you are described as Robin
o' th' Hood, leader and captain of that band of evil robbers infesting
Barnesdale and our forest of Sherwood! The Bishop of Hereford has put
his blessing on the Sheriff's choice by excommunicating you. Shall we
not accept Monceux's word for it, comrades all?" he added turning round.
"He has named a leader for us whom we can trust."

It was carried with acclamation, and Robin found himself leader of the
greenwood men willy-nilly, for good and all. Warrenton was hugely
delighted; and the tinker seemed pleased that he had helped in bringing
about so excellent an arrangement. Master Middle swore the oath of
allegiance in good set terms, and they all repaired to Barnesdale to
call a full council and ratify their choice of captain.



CHAPTER XXII


Within the next few days came Allan-a-Dale into Barnesdale with his lady
and her two maids. Allan had the story to tell of the Bishop's encounter
with him and the baron's onslaught upon his house in Southwell. Allan
explained that, although he had triumphed over his enemies for the
present, tidings had been brought to him that the Bishop was plotting
fresh mischief against them at Southwell, and had already excommunicated
both Allan-a-Dale and his pretty wife.

"In that case you must take up your life with us," said Robin. "The
greenwood is the abode of liberty and justice; 'tis _our_ commonwealth,
in truth, and a happy enough place to live in even in winter-time. We
will find you a cave."

"There's Fennel," explained Allan, dubiously; "I do not think that she
will like to live in a cave."

This presented a difficulty. So Allan went over to where Fennel stood
waiting with her maids, and explained things to her. "So long as I am
with you, dear heart," answered Fennel, laughing, "I do not care if I
live under a tree or in a house. Do that which you think best for us."

Therefore, they came into the greenwood, and were found a cave opening
from one of the larger passages--a dry and excellent home in these long
summer months.

In the meantime little Midge had fallen sick, and Much the Miller wept
loudly over him as he lay, pale and languid, on a rude couch of dry
leaves. All the company sorrowed over this small Lincoln fellow, for he
had been a merry companion, and Robin himself sought to bring him back
to health with such simple remedies as he knew.

"Captain," said Much, with a woebegone countenance, "'tis all useless,
our doctoring--I am about to lose the best friend that ever I have
known. Can you get a priest to pray beside Midge's bed?"

"I did know of a right worthy priest," Robin answered, sorrowfully, "but
he has gone from these parts. He would have been just the one to cheer
us all."

"I have heard tell of a jovial fellow who has but lately come to our
parish," said Middle the Tinker. "You must know, comrades, that I was
born near to Fountain's Abbey, in York, and that once a year at least I
visit my old mother there. Now, I promise you, that never such a
frolicsome priest did you know as this one who has come to our priory.
He can bend a bow with any man, and sing you a good song."

"I would dearly love such a man to minister to me," pleaded poor Midge.
"I believe on my soul that he could cast out the fever from my bones.
Bring him to me, Much, as you love me."

This settled matters forthwith. "I will go to the world's end for you,
if there be need," sobbed the honest miller. "Give me leave, captain, to
go in search of this worthy friar."

"I will go with you, Much, and Little John shall come also," began
Robin; but now a fresh difficulty arose. All of them wished to go
wherever Robin went; he was their captain, they said, and so must be
protected.

In the end it was arranged that Stuteley should remain with two score of
men in Barnesdale, to guard their caves and keep the Sheriff at bay if
occasion arose. (In truth, however, Master Monceux had full hands just
now with affairs of state, although the greenwood men did not know of
this. The King was grievously ill; and Monceux had gone to London, with
the Bishop of Hereford and many of the neighboring barons, under Royal
command.)

Robin asked Mistress Fennel to give the sick man such nursing as she
would to Allan himself; and she sweetly promised that Midge should
suffer in no way by his captain's absence. Then Robin, with the rest of
the band--fifteen in all--set off for York.

It so happened that Master Simeon Carfax was departing from the old town
at nigh the same moment, with _his_ face set nodding homewards.

Warrenton, Little John, Much the Miller, and Master Middle were of
Robin's company. Also there was John Berry, the forester, and that one
called Hal, who had been so much at the right hand of poor Will o' th'
Green in other days.

This little company travelled speedily, and within three days they had
brought themselves over the borders into the county of York.

Another two days brought them within a league of Fountain's Abbey or
Dale, as some folk call it.

As they neared the Abbey Robin walked on in front of the rest and held
his bow free in his hand.

Presently he came to a stream, and heard sounds of a jovial song
floating towards him. He hid under a bush and watched alertly. At
length, approaching the far bank, Robin espied a knight, clad in chain
armor and very merry.

He sang, in a lusty voice, a hearty woodland song. "Now by my bones!"
thought Robin, puzzled, "but I have heard this song before."

He peeped forth again, and saw that the knight filled up the spaces of
his song with bites from a great pasty which he held in his hand. His
face was turned from Robin.

Robin called out suddenly upon him, fitting an arrow to his bow as he
did so. "I pray you, Sir Knight, to carry me across this stream," said
Robin, covering the stranger with his weapon.

"Put down your bow, forester," shouted the knight, "and I will safely
carry you across the brook. 'Tis our duty in life to help each other,
and I do see that you are a man worthy of some attention."

His voice troubled Robin as his song had done; but whilst he was
searching his memory to fit a name to this courteous knight the latter
had waded across to him. "Jump upon my back, forester, and I'll bring
you to shore." He spoke through the bars of his closed visor.

Robin had cast down his bow; and now, without thinking, jumped upon the
knight's shoulders. The knight carried him safely over the brook.

"Now, gossip, you shall carry me over this stream," said the knight,
serenely; "one good turn deserves another, as you know."

"Nay, but I shall wet my feet," Robin commenced.

"No more than I have wetted mine," retorted the other. "Besides, yonder
is your bow, and small use are your arrows without it."

Robin perceived then that he had been too hasty. He considered for a
moment. "Leave your sword behind as I do my bow, Sir Knight," he said,
presently, "and I will carry you across the river."

The knight laughed and agreed, and Robin took him upon his back. It was
all that Robin could do to bring himself and his load to the bank; but
at last he managed it. He set the knight down, then seized his bow.
"Now, friend, yonder is your sword. I'll e'en crave that you shall carry
me on your shoulders once more!"

The knight eyed Robin solemnly. "'Tis written in the Scriptures,
forester, that we should not be weary in well-doing," he observed, "so
for this reason I will do your behest. Get upon my back once more."

This time Robin carried his bow and smiled within himself. He found,
however, that the knight was holding him very lightly. Just as he had
opened his mouth in expostulation, the knight suddenly released his hold
of Robin's legs, and shook him into the running water. Then, laughing
heartily, he regained the other bank and his broadsword.

Robin, with wet skin and spoiled bow, struggled back to the bank
wherefrom he had first started out. He began to revile the knight in set
terms, and challenged him to fight.

"'Tis only fair, forester, that we should go half-way to each other,"
answered the knight, unconcernedly, "if so be we are able to fight. I
will come to the middle of the stream, and if I do not find you there, I
shall know you to be afraid."

Robin waded out to him with drawn sword; and there in the center of the
stream they fought together valiantly for near a quarter of an hour. "I
crave a boon of you, Sir Knight," cried Robin, then feeling himself in
danger of being drowned.

"'Tis yours, forester," spluttered the knight, still holding fast to his
manner of courtesy.

Forthwith Robin found his horn, and blew it somehow, all wet as it was.

"I too claim a boon," cried the knight.

"'Tis yours," answered Robin, hearing joyfully the approach of his men.

The knight produced a whistle and caused a shrill note to issue forth
from it. Even as Warrenton and the rest came leaping to Robin's rescue
on one hand, twenty and five great dogs sprang out of the bushes on the
opposite bank.

Warrenton and his fellows immediately sped a volley of arrows at the
yelping beasts; but, jumping and leaping they caught the arrows in their
mouths, even as they flew!

"I never have seen the like of this in my days!" cried Little John,
amazed. "'Tis rank sorcery and witchcraft."

"Take off your dogs, friar," cried Middle, who was the least surprised
of them all, "else ill will befall both them and you."

"He calls you friar," said Robin, astounded; "are you not a knight, in
sooth?"

"I am but a poor anchorite, a curtal friar," replied the other, pushing
out for his side of the river. "By name Friar Tuck of Fountain's Dale.
Are these your men, forester?"

"This is Robin Hood, come in all amity and peace from Nottingham to
bring you to a sick-bedside," the tinker told him. "'Tis a sorry welcome
that you accord to him!"

"I am Robin Fitzooth," said Robin, having in his turn regained the
river-bank. "And surely your name is _not_ Tuck, as you say."

The knight then lifted his visor, and Robin gave a cry of joy. It was
the merry face of the Clerk of Copmanhurst that beamed upon him from
under the mailed cap. "God save you, dear friend, why did you not say
'twas you?"

"To tell truth, Robin," answered the clerk, comically, "you scarce gave
me pause to eat my pie, let alone announce myself. Do I see Master Hal,
and my good friend Warrenton? Wait until I have chained my dogs, and I
will give you all such welcome as this place does know."

       *       *       *       *       *

They stayed with the worthy friar of Fountain's Dale long enough for
them to be all refreshed and rested; then started upon the return
journey into Barnesdale with good speed. Friar Tuck--for so we must know
him now--said he would go with them gladly, and bring his dogs also, for
a year had been sufficient for his liking of Fountain's Abbey. The place
was too quiet and deadly; and although he had succeeded to these dumb
and faithful friends, he had employed much time in the training of them.

Robin bethought him of poor Midge waiting patiently their return, and so
allowed no pause.

They came back to Barnesdale within three days, having encountered and
levied toll upon some rich merchants--penitents bound with presents for
the Priory of York.

Midge was found to be vastly recovered from his sickness, thanks to the
nursing of Mistress Fennel and her maids. He welcomed the friar in his
own droll way, begging to be forgiven by Master Tuck for not giving him
reason to perform prayers for an outlaw's soul, and offering to be
shrived, notwithstanding, if the priest felt aggrieved.

Little John, remembering his own words of many days afore, said: "'Tis a
pity indeed that the good friar should have made this grievous long
journey--all for naught! By my faith, but here is a notion for the use
of him and for yourself, Robin. Your name is not your own until Mother
Church has put it properly upon you. So therefore let us have a
christening, since by good fortune we may not have a burying."

"I am the man to fix your new name upon you right bravely," cried Tuck,
whistling to his dogs. "Come, we will have such a christening as these
woods have ne'er dreamed of. Get me a basin of water and a book."

"Nay," said Robin, laughing, "I think that you baptized me heartily
enough in the river by Fountain's Dale! 'Twill be fitting, to my mind,
if now we have the feast which follows upon all christenings. Bring out
of our best, comrades, and let good cheer and the right wine fill our
bodies. Afterward we can hold carnival, and the friar shall show how he
can use the bow."

"Ay, marry, friend," laughed the fat clerk, "and I have learned other
things in this year beside that. You are wondering to see me so changed,
doubtless, but I must tell you that the life at Fountain's Dale has not
been an easy one. I have had to hold mine own against the earls and
squires of the borders, who have sought to rob me often enough,
thinking that every son of Mother Church must needs be wealthy. So I
have learned to use the broadsword and quarter-staff as well as the
bow."

"Father," exclaimed Hal, "you knew how to play all these very prettily
when you were Clerk of Copmanhurst, though then you chose to have folks
believe that naught but holiness was in you."

"A man should not boast of all there is in him," answered the friar.
"But now, since I am found out, you know me for what I am."

"I am well content with you, anyway," Robin told him.

The worthy friar would not stay altogether with them in Barnesdale. He
left his dogs there--save three--and returned to Copmanhurst, when the
little hermitage knew him again as master. Each day he would come into
Barnesdale, howbeit, to give news to Robin and hear the items that the
greenwood men had for him. 'Twas from Friar Tuck that the outlaws
learned much as to travellers through Sherwood ere inquiring of them
whether they were rich, whether worthy, or whether they were poor and
deserving of help rather than taxing.



CHAPTER XXIII


Master Carfax had by this time arrived in Nottingham, all eager to marry
his cold bride. He found, however, that this was a happiness not yet to
be, for matters were in a grievous state in the Sheriff's household.

My lord of Hereford was very wrath with them all, and had sent Monceux
back to his native city with much to think upon. The Bishop had taken
the opportunity of laying formal complaint at Court before the King; and
his Majesty had told Master Monceux that when he went back to Nottingham
it must be to keep the Royal forest free of all evil-doers. Otherwise a
new Sheriff would be found for Nottingham, and that right soon.

Henry, the King, was near to his own end, and had become very irritable
in consequence of his illness. His sons tried his scanty patience sorely
with their waywardness and their ingratitude. So Monceux had none too
pleasant a reception at Court, and returned therefrom with a heavy
heart.

Simeon Carfax was therefore despatched into Sherwood to find the tinker,
so that Middle might be whipped and put into the stocks for having
failed; also Carfax was to secure Robin and the ringleaders at all
hazard. To this end Master Simeon was given command of the Sheriff's own
men-at-arms, and a great body of citizens from the town wards, each man
having the promise of a large reward and freedom thenceforth from all
taxes.

The news soon came to Robin, and he and his men retired at once into the
innermost parts of Barnesdale, and secured their caves by covering the
mouths of them with barricades artfully concealed behind green boughs
and the like.

So Carfax and his fellows searched without avail for near three weeks,
only occasionally having evidence of the greenwood men by finding the
feet and antlers of the King's deer lying here and there in the forest.
The Sheriff's men laid many traps for Robin, but all in vain.

Stuteley, being of venturesome mind, must needs attempt all manner of
tricks upon this motley company of soldiers. He would dig a pit with
Little John and Much, and hide it up with branches and earth, so that
Master Carfax might stray into it and haply break his neck.

At last Carfax bethought him of a good plot. He had nigh fallen into one
of Will Stuteley's pits, but suddenly stayed his men from demolishing
it. He planned instead to pretend to be trapped in the pit that very
night; and, having hidden his fellows all round about, he walked out
boldly at dusk with but three of them, and fell a-talking loudly of his
schemes for capturing Robin Hood.

He walked carelessly up to the hidden pit and with great outcry fell
into it, the others with him running off then as if in deadly alarm.
Then Master Carfax began a loud lament, and made such a noise that
Stuteley must hear it.

Young Will came bounding joyfully to the pit's edge, and, spying Carfax
therein, fell into an ecstasy of delight. He railed at Simeon very
pleasantly, and made merry at the other's supposed mishap. But presently
Carfax blew his horn, and shortly Stuteley found the position reversed.
After a desperate struggle he was overpowered and carried off, although
not without being seen by another of Robin's men. This man brought Robin
the bad news within an hour of Will Stuteley's capture.

The greenwood men flung prudence to the winds and sallied forth. They
pursued and came up with the rear-guard of the enemy, and a terrible
battle was fought. Thirteen of Robin's brave fellows were wounded, five
of them so grievously as to die soon afterward of their wounds, and as
many of the Nottingham soldiery also were slain.

Carfax returned to Nottingham, however--this time in some triumph. His
men had beaten back the outlaws, and he had secured the lieutenant of
the band, a "desperate villain, next to Robin Hood himself in deeds of
violence and disorder."

So all agreed; and by dint and hard swearing soon wove a noose to fit
Will Stuteley's thin neck. Monceux, in grave satisfaction, ordered that
their prisoner should be hanged and quartered, within a week, in the
streets of Nottingham, as a warning and example to all wrong-doers.

The Sheriff gave a feast to all the soldiery and doubled the reward upon
Robin's head. Until _he_ was caught Monceux could but remain uneasy, for
Henry of England was a man of his word.

Robin was sorely grieved at the loss of Stuteley, and swore that he
would save his little squire or die. He went, therefore, to Gamewell to
discover from Marian precisely how they had arranged for the hanging of
Stuteley, for she was able to go into Nottingham in her page's dress.

Marian had learned it all. "First, he will be tortured to tell the
secret of your hiding-place, dear heart," she told Robin, in bated
breath. "Then he will suffer the full penalty, and will be hanged from a
gallows with three other poor wretches. Last of all he is to be
quartered, and his body flung to the people."

She burst into weeping, and sobbed so grievously that Robin was hard put
to it to keep back his own tears. "Did you learn who these others might
be?" he asked her, to change her thoughts and to satisfy himself that no
other friend was with little Will.

"They are the three sons of a poor widow, who lives in the forest. They
found the body of one of the deer, and, being very hungry, were carrying
it from the forest to their little home. Someone, passing by, accused
them of having first killed it, and this quarrel came to the Sheriff's
ears. Master Carfax then affected to recognize them as being three
greenwood men; and they have been tried summarily and found guilty, and
will be hanged together with Will."

"I swear that this shall not be," cried Robin, in heat, "since no doubt
I am to blame for leaving the slain deer in their way."

"It was, I believe, the very stag that I did kill," said Marian, in a
troubled voice. "They have been in prison for near a month; and the
beast was found without part of the woods," said Marian. "Shall I not go
and give myself up in their place? Since I have had this dreadful
guilty thought in my mind I have known no moment's peace; but,
cowardlike, I do not dare to be honest with myself."

"Be of good courage, dear maid," said Robin. "We have killed many of the
King's deer since the day I first did meet with Master Gilbert of Blois.
For we are hungry every day, prithee, and the beasts are many. Also in
this season they are very wild and ferocious--'tis like this one was
killed in a battle royal between itself and another stag. But to make
all sure, we will rescue the widow's three sons with my Stuteley from
the Sheriff's foul clutches."

"Go not into danger, dear heart, for my sake," Marian pleaded, and she
held him close to her as though she never would let him depart again.

       *       *       *       *       *

Robin went back to his men, and they made their plans. Little John was
given the second place of command, and it was agreed that upon the
morning on which Stuteley and the others were to be hanged the greenwood
men should risk all by marching into Nottingham to the rescue.

The dawn of this eventful morning broke bright and sunny. Robin was
clothed in a gay scarlet dress and his men wore their mantles of
Lincoln-green cloth. They were armed with broadswords, and each carried
a full quiver of new arrows, fashioned for them during the past winter
by the cunning hands of Warrenton.

They marched boldly towards Nottingham, leaving Allan-a-Dale with his
little dame and six of the outlaws to keep house for them, as it were.
When they were within a mile of Nottingham gates, Robin called a halt,
and said: "I hold it good, comrades, that we stay here in hiding, and
send forth someone to hear the news. There comes upon the road a
palmer--see you him near by the gates? Who will go forth and engage him
in talk?"

"I will," said Midge, at once; "for I am used to deal with holy men."

So Midge went out from them, whilst they all hid themselves and waited.
When he was close to the palmer, Midge said, amiably: "I pray you, old
palmer, tell me if you know where and when these robbers are to die?
Doubtless you have passed the very spot?"

"That have I, indeed," answered the palmer, sadly, "and 'tis a sorry
sight to see. By the Sheriff's castle, out upon the roadway, they have
built an angled gallows-tree to bear the four of them at once. They are
to die at noon, after the torturing is done. I could not bear the sight;
and so have turned my back upon it."

The palmer spoke in a muffled voice; and as his hood had been pulled
well over his head, Midge could not see what manner of man he might
exactly be. He carried his long stick with its little cross at the top;
and had sandalled feet, like any monk. Midge noticed idly how small his
feet were for a man of his size, but gave no second thought to the
matter.

"Who will shrive these poor fellows, then, if you have turned your back
upon them?" asked Midge, reproachfully. This seemed to present itself as
a new idea to the palmer.

"Do you think, friend," he enquired, in a troubled way, "that I should
undertake the office?"

"By Saint Peter and Saint Mary, I do indeed," cried Midge, roundly.
"Would you leave them to the empty prayers which the Sheriff's chaplain
will pour coldly over them? Nay, in sooth, if your heart be turned to
sympathy, surely you are the man to administer this last consolation to
these poor fellows."

"If it might be permitted I would dearly love to shrive them," said the
palmer, still hesitating. "But I am only a poor palmer."

"Keep close to me," Midge told him, valiantly, "and you shall shrive
these good fellows an it become necessary. That I promise you."

He returned to Robin and told him that the execution had been fixed to
take place outside Nottingham Castle at noon. "We must hasten then,"
said Robin. "Go you first, Little John; and we will tread close upon
your heels."

Little John swam the moat, and sprang upon the warder of the city gates
suddenly, whilst he was craning his neck to get a view of the Sheriff's
procession of death. The big outlaw seized his victim from behind, and
clapped his great hand over his mouth. Very soon the warder was prisoner
in the round tower by the gate; and Little John had slipped himself into
his uniform.

Little John then lowered the bridge quietly, and passed the rest of them
into Nottingham. Midge and the palmer came last of all. "Now spread
yourselves about into groups of twos and threes," said Robin, "and have
your swords ready when you hear my horn. Little John, prithee draw the
bridge again, so that none may suspect us; but leave the winch loose,
for we may have to use it hastily. Go you first, and Heaven speed thee."

Will Stuteley at length came out of the castle surrounded by the
Sheriff's guards; and behind him walked dejectedly the widow's three
sons. Poor Will looked ghastly pale, and marks of the torturings showed
upon his skin. His face was drawn and lined with anguish.

Monceux was there, dressed out in his best; and was blowing out his fat
cheeks in vast self-importance. Beside the Sheriff was Master Carfax,
lean-faced as ever. They were mounted on white horses; and behind them
were two score of archers and pikemen.

Stuteley, seeing that no help appeared at hand, asked, in a weak voice,
that he might have words with the Sheriff.

Monceux went up to him and bade him speak out.

Stuteley said, in a sad tone: "Sheriff, seeing that I must die to-day,
grant me this one boon, that I may not be hanged upon a gallows-tree,
but rather that I die with my sword in my hand, fighting you and all
your men to the last."

The Sheriff laughed coarsely: "Not so, my man; you shall die instead a
shameful death, and after you your master, Robin Hood, that false
butcher, so soon as I have him fast."

"That you will never do," answered Stuteley, with prophecy, in his weak
voice. "But unbind my hands, Sheriff, for your soul's sake, and let me
meet my end valiantly."

"To the gallows with him!" roared Monceux, giving the sign to the
executioner; and Stuteley was hustled into the rude cart which was to
bear him under the gallows until his neck had been leashed. Then it
would be drawn roughly away and the unhappy man would swing out over
the tail of it into another world.

Two fellows had great knives with them ready to cut him down, and
quarter his body whilst life was in it, as the cruel sentence had
ordained.

"Let me, at the least, shrive this man's soul ere it be hurled into
eternity," said the palmer, stepping forward.

Monceux's face grew black with rage; and yet he scarcely liked to
refuse, for fear it should injure him too much in the eyes of the
people. "Perform the duty quickly then, Sir Priest," he snarled; and
then rode back to Carfax. "Watch the palmer narrowly," he told him, "and
do you secure him afterwards. Methinks he is some ally of these rascal
outlaws; and, in any case, we shall do no harm in questioning him."

The palmer had hardly begun to string his beads when Little John
commenced to elbow a path for himself through the crowd. He roughly
thrust the soldiers aside as if they had been so many children, and came
up to the edge of the cart. "I pray you, Will, take leave of your true
friend here before you die," cried Little John.

The palmer had fallen back at his approach; and stood in some hesitancy.
In a moment Monceux saw what happened. "Seize that man!" he shouted to
his pikemen. "He is that villain who did rob us of our gold plate, who
nearly slew Roger, our cook. He is of the band--seize him; and he too
shall hang!"

"Not so fast, gossip," Little John answered, with an ugly look; "I must
needs borrow my friend of you for a while."

He had cut Stuteley's bands with two quick strokes of his dagger, and
having wrenched a pike from out of one of the soldiers' hands, flung it
to little Will. "Now, by my freedom, here's your prayer answered,
comrade," cried Little John. "I have found you a weapon--do your best
with it!"

The soldiers had recovered from their temporary surprise and flung
themselves upon the prisoner and his would-be rescuer. Robin, from the
back of the Sheriff's bowmen, sounded his horn, and instantly all became
confusion and riot. In the mêlée the palmer sought to slip away
unnoticed, but was detected by the keen eyes of Carfax. Master Simeon
rode round with six of his fellows and caused them to seize the holy
man, and bind him fast with leathern thongs.

But this small success was more than outweighed by the reverse suffered
by Monceux and his men. Taken in assault at the rear, they had no chance
with the greenwood men. Robin himself had released the widow's three
sons, and they had not been slow in arming themselves. Some of those in
the crowd, having secret sympathy with the outlaws and hating the
Sheriff heartily for many small injustices, also flung themselves into
the fray.

The greenwood men cleared the green square before the Sheriff's home by
repeated rushes and desperate chargings. Broken heads and cut knees
there were in plenty; and lucky the man who escaped with so little as
these. Carfax won a place of safety for Master Monceux, and fell back
slowly, with him the unwilling palmer, until shelter of the castle gates
had been attained. Then the soldiers and pikemen grew very valiant, and
shot out clouds of arrows, through the loopholes in the castle towers,
upon townsmen and rioters alike.

Half a score of men were killed ere this day was ended, amongst them
being that very apprentice who had wrestled on the day of Nottingham
Fair with little Stuteley, the tumbler, for Squire o' th' Hall's purse.
Robin had an arrow through his hand, and nigh broke the shaft in pulling
it out.

The greenwood men, well satisfied with the day's work, commenced an
orderly retreat. Little John lowered the bridge for them, when they
reached the city gates, and all fell back into Sherwood in good style.
Stuteley had been rescued, and walked joyfully by the side of his
master. Next to him was Little John, and near him the widow's three
sons. They had already asked for and obtained permission to take up a
free life in the woods of Sherwood.

Two of the band had been killed by the murderous arrows of the Sheriff's
fellows, and most of the outlaws bore wounds of some sort. Yet they were
not cast down. Sorrow sat upon them for the loss of those two brave
hearts, but for their own hurts they cared naught. The bodies of their
comrades were being carried with them into the free and happy woods, and
there should find rest.

"Tell me, Midge," said Robin, presently, and looking round for him,
"what did become of the palmer who was so wishing to be of service to
our Stuteley? He seemed a likeable old man, and I would not that we
should seem ungrateful."

"I much fear me that Monceux's fellows did capture him, the same who
bore off thee, Will," said Midge. "But they will scarcely do him hurt,
being a holy man."

"I have no trust in either of them," Robin answered, vexed, "and I am
grievously angry with you, Midge, for keeping this news to yourself.
The palmer must be recovered from Monceux, and at once. I will bethink
me upon some plan to this end."

They walked on in silence. After a while, "I ne'er thought, master,"
said Stuteley, brokenly, "that I should see these woods again--nor meet
Little John, either in quarrel or in friendship, nor see any of your
dear faces again."

"By my crown, which is the hardest part of me," Little John cried, "I
swear that in future you shall meet me how you will, gossip. Here's my
hand on it."

Thus began the great friendship between these two, which was to last
them all their days. Robin was glad enough of it; but the doubtful fate
of the palmer still troubled him sorely. If he had known then that
bitter truth which he was to learn very shortly he would have ridden
back forthwith into Nottingham town, there to end this story at once.
Life had, however, many years and queer twists in it yet for Robin Hood
of Barnesdale.



CHAPTER XXIV


The time of Nottingham Fair had come round once more, and again the
Sheriff would give a prize. Monceux determined to make the prize a good
one, such as might tempt any archer. He hoped thus that Robin might be
lured into Nottingham.

He smiled to himself in grim satisfaction, and rubbed his hands softly
together. To tell truth, he had been expecting Robin any moment during
these last ten days, and had wondered why he had not come. The palmer
should have proved a bait in himself, so the Sheriff imagined.

But Robin only learned on the eve of the Fair the whole truth about that
holy man.

It was in this way. For ten nights had Robin waited at the trysting
place for sight of Marian; and had waited in vain.

At last doubt grew into suspicion, and suspicion into fierce terror. Had
Marian been abducted by Monceux, and did the Squire fear to tell him?

On the night before the Fair he took courage and marched up to the
castle entrance, then wound his horn for the bridge to be lowered. Now,
if Monceux could but have known, Robin would have been easy prey.

He rushed across the bridge soon as it had fallen, clangingly, upon the
buttresses. The same old servant met him at the gates, holding it open
just a little way so that he might peer forth. Robin pulled his cloak
about himself.

"I would see Master Montfichet, and at once," he began.

"My master is in London," replied the man, eyeing him.

"Did he journey alone? Did not Mistress Fitzwalter go with him? When did
they go?"

Robin's questions came all of a rush. "My master hath been gone near two
weeks. He went alone from here. But tell me who you are, clamoring so
noisily with your questioning?"

"I am Robin Hood," said Robin, in desperation, "and now, for the love of
Heaven, give me news of Mistress Fitzwalter."

"She left here on the day after my lord's departure."

"Hath left Gamewell?" Robin gasped. "How? In what way?"

The man sniggered. "To tell truth, excellence, she did leave us in
strange guise. I have pondered more than ever upon the ways of women
since the day. Mistress would have our maids make her a monk's gown, and
I was bid to fashion her a staff such as these palmers carry in their
hands. Then with sandalled feet----"

"Did she go forth from here upon the day of the rioting in Nottingham,
when Stuteley and the others escaped?"

"It was upon the morning of that day," the man replied; "and I promise
you, we have not seen her since."

Robin turned abruptly from him. Next minute he was running blindly under
the night towards the city gates.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Sheriff's prize had been announced far and wide. For the best archer
there was an Arab horse, coal-black and worth a bag of gold, and with
the horse there would be a saddle of silver and fine leather. Also a
silk purse, worked by the demoiselle Marie, containing a hundred pieces.

There were other rewards for the quarter-staff and single-stick, but
this year there would be no tourney.

It was a fête-day, and folk crowded into Nottingham by all gates. These
had been lowered hospitably and were to remain down all day. The stages
had been erected for quarter-staff.

There was a fellow, one Nat of Nottingham, who was believed to be the
finest player at the game for many miles around. Several had tried their
skill with Nat, but he had soon knocked every man of them off the stage
rudely to the ground. He began boasting then of his prowess, and called
them all cowardly and the like.

A lame beggar who had pushed himself well to the front of the ring about
the stage came in for a share of Nat's abuse. This was a strange-looking
fellow, with very dirty ragged clothes upon him, and a black patch over
one eye. He wore a beard, pointed and untrimmed, and he listened very
calmly to the other's noisy chattering.

"Come up here, you dirty villain; and I'll dust your rags for you,"
cried Nat, flourishing his staff.

"If you will use a shorter staff than this, Master Wind-bag," said the
beggar, quietly, and showing his stick, "I'll take all the beating _you_
can give me."

With scornful laughter Nat accepted this challenge.

The beggar took off his ragged coat and limped painfully on to the
stage.

[Illustration: ROBIN HOOD DEFEATS NAT OF NOTTINGHAM AT QUARTER-STAFF

_The beggar dealt his foe a back-thrust so neatly, so heartily, and so
swiftly that Nat was swept off the stage into the crowd as a fly off a
table._]

They fenced for an opening, both playing well. The beggar, for all
his limp and one eye, had a pretty notion of the sport, but he had the
queerest gait upon him; and as he hobbled round and round the stage
under Nat's blows the people laughed continuously.

Nat caught him smartly upon the right arm a sounding thwack. The beggar
made as if to drop his staff forthright, and Nat lifted himself for
another and crushing blow.

But the one-eyed man recovered his guard, sprang suddenly on one side,
and, as Nat's staff was descending vainly, the beggar dealt his foe a
back-thrust so neatly, so heartily, and so swiftly that Nat was swept
off the stage into the crowd as a fly off a table.

The beggar waited the full time for him to return; and then claimed the
prize.

The victory of this queer unknown was popular. Nat was a great bully and
braggart, and many of them had suffered insult at his hands. Therefore,
when the beggar went to fetch his prize from the Sheriff's own hands,
there was great cheering and applause. He found Monceux seated in a
handsome booth, with his daughter and her maids, near by the archery
rings. Here the shooting was in progress.

The Sheriff narrowly watched each competitor, and glanced often towards
Mistress Monceux. The demoiselle Marie had one of her women sitting near
her feet, so that every movement she made might be observed. The
Sheriff's daughter signalled "No," and "No" again to her father as the
various bowmen took their places.

The beggar paused to watch the contest. It seemed to amuse him
exceedingly.

Master Patch was thus for some minutes close to the Sheriff's tent. His
patched eye was turned towards it, and he seemed to be blissfully
unaware of the great man's near presence. But he had taken due note,
nevertheless, of Master Monceux and his cold daughter, and the maid
sitting so forlornly upon the hard ground at the latter's feet.

One of the Nottingham men, a tanner by trade, had so far been most
successful, and, like Nat, he began to be disdainful of the rest, and to
swagger it somewhat each time his turn to shoot came round. "The prize
will surely be thine, Arthur-à-Bland," cried Monceux, loudly clapping
his hands together after this fellow had made a fair shot.

"Indeed, I do not think that Master Hood himself would beat me to-day,"
admitted Arthur-à-Bland, conceitedly.

The beggar heard both remark and answer. "Thou speakest well, gossip,"
he said, "here in Nottingham town; yet I would venture to advise thee,
were this pretty place in Sherwood and the bold Robin within earshot."

The archer turned towards him. "What do _you_ know, old Patch-and-Rags,
of Robin Hood?" he sneered, angrily.

"I know too much of him," answered the beggar. "Once, like you, gossip,
I boasted of my skill with the bow--'twas in Sherwood, whilst I was
walking with a stranger who had met me very civilly upon the road. Says
he: 'If you can hit yon mark I'll know you a better archer than Robin
Hood.' So I flew my shaft arrogantly, and 'twas a tidy shot, near two
hundred paces. My arrow struck the mark fairly. 'What say you,
stranger?' says I. He made for reply such a bowshot as never I have seen
before; for, having stepped back a score of yards, he yet was able to
speed his arrow so cleverly as to split mine own from end to end. 'Thou
art Robin Hood,' I said then, and I had fear upon me."

"What then?" asked Arthur-à-Bland, composedly.

"For my boasting he gave me a drubbing," the beggar went on, "and for my
archery five silver crowns."

"Then thou canst bend the bow?" said Arthur. "Will you not attempt my
lord Sheriff's prize, old Patch-and-Rags?"

"Marry, I would most willingly," cried the beggar, "but for my lame leg
and blind eye."

"One does not need a leg to shoot arrows, nor yet two eyes. Take aim,
gossip, and show us how you played the sport in Sherwood on that day."

The archer's tone was mocking; but the beggar only replied that he had
already won a prize and was content.

Just then one of the Sheriff's guards approached him.

"My master would have speech with you, friend," said he.

"And so you have met bold Robin Hood?" asked Monceux, so soon as the
beggar stood before him.

"Well do I know it," the beggar answered, writhing his eye in fiery
glance about the Sheriff's tent. "My body is full sore yet from the
beating he gave me."

"Are you sure 'twas Robin Hood?"

"That am I. He is a slim, slight man with long hair, and small, fair
beard."

"If you could lead me to him, friend, I would reward you well," said the
Sheriff, in malicious tones.

"I will show the place where we met soon as you will, excellence,"
replied the beggar.

Monceux nodded, and made a sign of dismissal. "I will speak further with
you later, friend," he said.

The beggar went back to the archer and said that now he would take a
shot with him. "I may as well win two prizes as one," he continued,
affably, "for the horse will help me carry my pieces."

Arthur-à-Bland was greatly incensed at this speech, and took aim with
hands that trembled with anger. However, he made a pretty shot, and a
round of cheering met his effort.

The beggar took the bow which one of the archers held out to him, and
fitted his arrow to it with a great show of care. When at last he
released the arrow all got ready to laugh and jeer at him.

He contrived, however, to surprise them once again, for his arrow was
found to be a full inch nearer the middle of the mark than all the
others.

They shot again and again, and at length Arthur-à-Bland lodged his shaft
in the center of the target. "Now mend that shot, Master Patch, an you
can," cried he.

"Nay, I fear that I must now yield the prize to you, gossip," declared
the beggar. "Yet I will even do my best."

He aimed with every circumstance of effort, and flew his shaft with a
loud sigh. It rose up high in the air as though it must fly altogether
wide of the target, and folk had already opened their mouths to laugh,
when suddenly it dropped in a graceful curve towards the mark, the steel
point struck exactly on the point of the other's arrow, just where it
had lodged loosely in the bull, and Master Bland's arrow came tumbling
to the ground, leaving the beggar's shaft shaking in the very hole its
opponent's arrow had made.

This wondrous feat of archery evoked the loudest applause, and had not
the Sheriff been so foolish a man, must have awakened suspicion in his
breast. But, no--Master Monceux pompously gave over the Arab horse with
its saddle, and the purse of gold to the victorious beggar; and then
turned to leave the sports.

He bade Master Carfax to see that the beggar did not go far away. The
Sheriff did not mean to lose his gifts so easily. But the beggar was
very willing to keep near to the Sheriff, and asked very humbly that he
might be given a place in Monceux's household, instead of taking this
horse, which was of small use to one of his trade.

"I will accept your offer," said Monceux, "on the understanding that you
will take the captaincy of my archers."

With such a fellow as this in his household Monceux felt that he would
soon lay Robin Hood by the heels. So he strutted to his horse, and was
lifted thereon in fine self-satisfaction. His daughter mounted her
palfrey, and Carfax led the beast gently, whilst the maids had to hurry
over the rough stones as best they might.

The beggar gripped his staff and limped along beside the women. His
roving eye implored a glance from the grey-blue eyes of the maid who had
sat so uncomfortably at her mistress's knee. She moved, with downcast
looks, after the rest, and only dared once peep at this strange ragged
fellow.

His lips moved, making her a signal, then were shut resolutely.

       *       *       *       *       *

That night Monceux kept open house and grew noisy in his cups. He swore
that Robin Hood was both coward and villain not to have come into
Nottingham to take his chance of winning the horse and purse.

Even as he spoke an arrow came flying in through one of the narrow
windows of the Sheriff's hall, and, curving, fell with a rattle upon the
table in front of the startled Monceux. Attached to it was an empty
purse, Monceux's own--that one indeed which had that morn held the
hundred pieces so comfortably! "Where is that rascal beggar?" cried the
Sheriff, suddenly having his doubts.

"Where is my maid?" shrilled the demoiselle Marie, rushing in upon her
father.

"I did not send for her," shouted Monceux, seeing it all. "Haste thee,
Simeon, pursue them. They cannot be far away."

"Excellence, the Arab steed hath been stolen, and by thy beggar guest,"
cried one of the servants, running in at the other door. "Even now he
has gained the bridge, carrying your new maid a-pillion, mistress. None
may hope to catch them on that fleet horse."

"They cannot win through the gates. After them, Simeon, as you love me.
I never will look on you again if you do not capture Robin Hood and this
girl."

Mistress Monceux was quite beside herself with fury.

"Alas, mistress," said the servant, "the gates of Nottingham stand
wide; did not my master order it so but this very morn?"

"Silence!" roared Monceux; and, unable to control his rage, he struck
the fellow to the ground. "After them, Simeon, and take what men you
will."

Master Carfax had other duty before him, however, for his gentle lady
had relapsed into a screaming hysteria. They slapped her hands and
poured wine between her lips, and finally her maids had to cut her laces
and put her to bed.



CHAPTER XXV


Days passed into weeks and weeks into months, and Robin Hood was still
to seek. The Sheriff waged an intermittent warfare with him, scoring a
few minor successes; then Robin moved himself and his men farther
afield. Many of the Nottingham apprentices and other roving spirits
joined when they might with Robin and his band.

Arthur-à-Bland, the tanner, who had so nearly won the Sheriff's prize,
had often in these days envious thoughts for the outlaws in their free
life. Anything was better, to his mind, than oak-bark and ditch-water
and the smell of half-tanned hides. Also he was ambitious to beat Robin
at his own game. By dint of perseverance Arthur had once come very nigh
to emulating that masterly feat of archery by which Robin had wrested
the purse of gold and the Arab horse from him. Vastly elated at this
promise of success, the tanner had flung down his trade and had marched
off towards Barnesdale, armed with his bow and a long pike-staff. He
strode across the close turf, browning now under an August sun, and was
soon far away from the highroad and the small protection it afforded. He
espied a herd of deer, and prepared himself to shoot one of them. Just
as his bow was bent Robin came out of the bushes on his left hand; and,
not noticing the tanner, the young outlaw began to move stealthily round
to the windward side of the beasts in order that they might make a
fairer mark for his arrows.

"What makes you here so like a thief, gossip?" enquired Arthur-à-Bland,
arrogantly. "I am a keeper in this forest, and it is my duty to stay
you."

"Have you any assistants, friend?" Robin asked, scarcely glancing
towards him. "For it is not one man alone who will stop me."

"Truly, gossip," cried Arthur, "I have no better assistant than this
good oak-graff; but he will do all that I want. For your sword and your
arrows I care not one straw--if I can get but a knock at your poll you
will ask me no further question."

Robin unbuckled his belt at this; and, flinging his bow upon the ground,
tore down a young sapling that was growing near by. With his dagger he
quickly lopped it into shape; and then strode up to the tanner.

"Eight foot and a half, and 'twill knock down a calf," sang Arthur,
flourishing his staff still more, "and I hope it will knock down you."

Robin sparred with him for a little, and then, making a sudden feint,
bestowed such a blow on Master Bland that the blood ran down his cheek
from his broken pate.

But the tanner did not accept this favor without making some return, and
soon was giving Robin as good as he gave. The wood rang with the noise
of their blows, and the tanner laid on his strokes as if he were beating
hides.

"Hold your hand," cried Robin, at last. "You have done enough, and I
will make you free of these woods."

"Why, God-a-mercy," said Arthur, "I may thank my staff for that, good
fellow; not you."

"Well, well, gossip, let that be as it may. But ere we continue, tell
me your name and trade, at the least. I fain would know who 'tis who
hath beaten me so well."

"I am a tanner, gossip," replied Arthur, jovially now, "and by my soul,
if you will come to my pits I will tan your hide for naught."

"In sooth you have already done me that service," said Robin, ruefully.
"But, harkee, if you will leave your tanpots and come with me, as sure
as my name is Robin Hood, you shall not want gold or fee."

"If you be Robin Hood," said Arthur, "then I am Arthur-à-Bland; and I
have come to live with you and my cousin Little John, in the free woods
of Barnesdale. That is, if you will have me."

"I have already given you freedom of the woods, and you shall see what
welcome Little John can offer," answered Robin. "But tell me, friend,
are you not that archer who so nearly won the Sheriff's horse from me in
Nottingham town?"

The tanner acknowledged himself to be the man, and since Robin put it so
handsomely to him he forgot all his hard thoughts about the defeat. They
joined hands in friendship and went together to find Little John, who
seemed right glad to find his cousin ready to join the band.

The day was spent in the usual free and happy manner. And when time for
supper came round with the dusk Robin asked Little John for the name and
style of their guest at supper this night. "For," said Robin, "you must
have got me at least a bishop, a baron, or a knight, or some squire from
the north country, to meet our new comrade to-night."

"We have no guest, master," answered Little John, regretfully.

"Then have I no stomach for my supper," Robin cried. "Go you at once,
Little John, and you, Stuteley, and you also, Much, and find us such a
guest, worthy of our company, and well able to pay for the pleasure of
it."

"Where may they find so desirable a man?" asked the little ferret Midge,
eagerly.

"Go into Watling Street," Robin told them. "At this time o' th' year
there are many people passing that way."

"May Heaven send us a guest speedily," said Arthur-à-Bland, "for I am
growing wondrous hungry."

The three outlaws started off at once and in high spirits, the adventure
being one much to their liking. They had scarcely watched the great
highroad known to all as Watling Street (and which runs from Dover in
Kent to Chester town) for many minutes, when they espied a knight riding
by in a very forlorn and careless manner. One foot was in the stirrups,
the other out; his visor was raised above his eyes, and his face was
pinched and woebegone.

Little John approached the stranger and bade him stay; for who can judge
of a man's wealth by his looks? The outlaw saluted the knight
courteously and informed him that his master was fasting, having waited
supper for him a full three hours.

The knight reined in his sorry steed, and glanced toward his questioner
with lack-lustre eye. Little John repeated his speech.

"And who is your master?" asked the knight then.

"None other than Robin Hood, of Barnesdale," Little John returned,
laying his great hand on the knight's bridle. "He bids us speed you to
the feast."

Seeing the other two, the knight shrugged his shoulders.

"'Tis clear that this is an invitation which will brook no refusal," he
said. "So I will go with you, friends."

When they were returned to Barnesdale, Robin saluted the knight very
magnificently; and his horse having been cared for, all sat down to a
plentiful supper of venison, pheasants, and various small birds.

After partaking liberally of the good cheer, the knight brightened up
considerably and declared that he had not enjoyed so good a meal for
nigh three weeks; and he vowed that if ever Robin and his comrades
should come to his country he would entertain them with an equally
worthy and honorable repast.

This was not, however, the exact payment which Robin had intended. He
thanked the knight, therefore, and reminded him that a yeoman like
himself might hardly offer such a supper to a knight as a gift of
charity.

"I have no money, Master Hood, nevertheless," answered the knight,
frankly. "I have so little of this world's goods in sooth that I should
be ashamed to offer that which I have."

"Money, however little, always finds a welcome from us," said Robin,
smiling. "Will you deem me too impertinent, Sir Knight, if I ask what
moneys you have?"

"I have, of my own, ten silver pennies," said the knight. "Here they
are, and I wish they were a hundred times as many." He handed Little
John his pouch; and the big fellow soon had knowledge of its contents.
It was as the knight said, no more nor less.

Robin filled his guest a bumper of wine, and made a sign for Little John
to hand back the pouch.

"Pledge me, Sir Knight," cried the merry outlaw, "and pledge me
heartily, for these be sorry times. I see that your armor is bent and
that your clothes are worn. Tell me now, were you a yeoman and made a
knight by force? Or have you been bad steward to yourself and wasted
your property in lawsuits and the like? Be not bashful with me, we shall
not betray your secrets."

"I am a Norman knight in my own right; and I have always lived a sober
and quiet life," the sorrowful knight replied. "My father, and his
father, and his father's father were all knights of the King; but, as is
often the case, friend Robin, rich men sometimes find their riches fly
away from them. Until within this last year I have contrived by dint of
care and labor, to live on the few hundreds of rent and the like which
fall to me year by year; but now I have only these ten pennies of silver
and my wife and children three."

Robin asked how his moneys had gone from him.

"I lost them through misfortune and naught else," the knight declared,
sighing. "I have a son--a good youth--who, when he was but twenty years
of age, could play prettily in jousts and tournaments and other knightly
games. He had the ill luck to push his sports too far; and did kill a
knight of Lancashire in a battle _à outrance_. To save my boy I had to
sell my lands and mortgage my estates; and this not being enough, in
the end I have had to borrow money from my lord of Hereford."

"A most worthy Bishop," said Robin, ironically; "I know him well."

"He seemeth to be a hard man in law," said the knight; "and since I
cannot pay him the four hundred pieces he has promised to foreclose his
mortgage on our home."

"Have you not any friends who would become a surety for you, Sir
Knight?" queried Robin, thoughtfully.

"None. My friends have fallen away from me in mine adversity as leaves
from an autumn tree."

"Fill your goblet again, Sir Knight," Robin commanded; and he turned to
whisper a word in Marian's ear. She nodded, and beckoned Little John and
Much the Miller to her side.

"Here is health and prosperity to you, gallant Robin," the knight said,
tilting his goblet, "and my best thanks for your cheer. Would that I
might make better recompense."

The two outlaws, with Mistress Marian, had now consulted the others, and
all seemed to be agreed. Warrenton, as treasurer to the band, was sent
into one of the inner caves, and presently returned, bearing a bag of
gold. He counted it out before the knight; and there were four times one
hundred golden pieces.

"Take this loan from us, Sir Knight, and pay your debt to the Bishop,"
Robin told him. "Nay, no thanks; you are but exchanging creditors.
Mayhap we shall not be so hard on you as was the Christian Bishop; yet
again, we may be harder. Who can say, where human nature is concerned?"

Much now appeared, dragging a bale of cloth. "The knight should have a
suit worthy of his rank, master, do you not think?"

"Measure him twenty ells of it," Robin ordered.

"Give him your Arab horse also," whispered Marian; "it is a gift which
will come back to you fourfold, for this is a worthy man. My father doth
know him well."

So the horse was given also, and Robin bade Arthur-à-Bland ride as
esquire to the knight; to be good use and to fulfil his first duty as
one of the band.

The knight was sorrowful no longer. He could scarcely voice his thanks
to them; and was nigh overcome when time for his departure came round on
the following morning.

"God save you, comrades," said he, with deep feeling in his tones, "and
give me a grateful heart."

"We shall wait for you twelve months from to-day, here in this place,"
said Robin, smiling cheerfully. "And then you will repay us for the loan
of the gold."

"I shall return it to you within a year," replied the knight, firmly.
"So sure as I am Sir Richard of the Lee, the money shall be returned,
with interest beside. Look for me in the early days of March, friends,
for then I expect to have good news of my son."

"Then, or later, Sir Knight, as you will," said Robin.



CHAPTER XXVI


The Sheriff having failed to ensnare Robin Hood, and Master Simeon
having done so little better, it became clear that a more wise person
than either must attempt the business. The demoiselle Marie had
recovered from her fit of anger, and announced her intention of showing
them both how such an affair should be approached. To this end she
employed herself in archery and won some accomplishment in the sport;
then she caused Master Fitzwalter's house to be searched thoroughly and
any writings of his to be brought to her.

Mistress Monceux engaged her fingers next in a pretty schooling,
teaching them to hold a pen as awkwardly as might Master Fitzwalter
himself. So she produced at last a writing purporting to come from him
to Maid Marian, his daughter. She wrote it simply and in few words:--

       *       *       *       *       *

     "This to my dear child Marian, from her affectionate father, Henry
     Fitzwalter, now in the Court of St. James, in London town. I send
     you all greetings, and am well both in mind and spirit. I pray God
     that He has kept you as jealously in my long absence from home.
     This is to tell you, dear heart, that, after all, I shall return to
     Nottingham, mayhap very soon, and that you are to provide
     accordingly. I have had tidings of you given to me by my lord
     Bishop of Hereford, and now send you this by the hand of his man,
     who returns to Nottingham on other business of my lord's. I pray
     you to remain closely in Nottingham during my absence.

  "(Signed) FITZWALTER, Warden of the City Gates.
  "The twenty-fifth day of August, 1188."



The demoiselle Marie had made several attempts before she had succeeded
in producing a letter so entirely to her satisfaction; and when she had
sealed the above with the Fitzwalter arms and had addressed it, she felt
such a glow of pride in it that she could scarce bring herself to part
with the missive.

At length she bade one of her maids fetch Master Simeon to her. When,
all delighted, he stood before her, his love handed him the note.

"Take this, dear fool," said she, kindly, "and bring it to the hand of
the maid Fitzwalter. She is with the outlaws in Barnesdale, hidden in
one of their deeps, no doubt. I care not how you give it to her so long
as you are speedy."

"I will send it by the hand of Roger, your father's cook. He is well
acquainted with their hiding-places."

"That would be to spoil my plot at its outset," Marie answered,
cuttingly. "Gather your wandering wits, and bethink you of some more
likely messenger. Have you not someone in this town who can be trusted?"

"I have the very man for it," suddenly cried Carfax. "There is a young
knight, one who hath been exiled by the King for plotting with Prince
John. He is the only son of our fiery neighbor Montfichet. He hath done
secret work for the Prince, and will do it again if he believes that he
hath need for it."

"You are for ever employed in doubtful business," said Marie, crossly.
"I do not like your fiddling with Prince John. You may be sure that
Richard will succeed to the throne; and then we shall see where your
plottings have brought you."

"Richard hath already succeeded," said Carfax, whisperingly. "I had the
news but an hour since. Old Henry of Angevin is King no more--he is
dead. And Richard, _Coeur de Lion_, as the commoners do call him, hath
gone to Palestine, all unknowing that he is King!"

"So you think that John may seize the throne?" sneered Marie Monceux,
unconvinced. "Let it be, I tell you, Simeon. In any case we must destroy
these outlaws of Sherwood or they will destroy us. If they be not
exterminated by the end of this year my father will cease to be
Sheriff."

"May the Lord forbid!" cried Carfax, startled.

"Ay, and we shall be poor folk, Simeon, unworthy of you, no doubt. But
that is not yet. Take this note, and send it how you will so long as it
comes to this girl's hands within two days."

Carfax accepted the charge; and went into the lodgings of one who had
entered the town within the last few hours--none other, indeed, than
Geoffrey de Montfichet, who had brought Master Simeon the startling news
of the King's sudden death.

Geoffrey perceived that he might openly show himself now if the Sheriff
would but ignore the dead King's decree of exile passed upon him. He was
sounding Carfax in the matter, and the wily go-between was temporizing
in his usual way--trying to make some gain to himself out of one or the
other of them.

"If you will but carry this letter to Mistress Fitzwalter, who is with
thy cousin Robin Fitzooth in Barnesdale, Sir Knight," said Simeon,
plausibly, "you will win the gratitude of the Sheriff's daughter, at the
least; and she doth rule the roost here, as I can tell you. 'Tis but a
letter from Master Fitzwalter to his child."

"I know the woods and will take the note," Geoffrey said. "See to it
that Monceux does not move against me."

"His girl will tie his hands, if need be," grinned Carfax. "Ay, she can
drive us all. God speed you, Sir Knight."

       *       *       *       *       *

It fell out that whilst Robin was walking alone near the highroad to
York, close to that very bridge whereon he had fought with Little John,
he perceived a smart stranger dressed in scarlet and silk. Just as Robin
espied this gay gentleman and was marvelling at his daring in walking
these woods so coolly, unattended by squire or guard, the knight deftly
fitted an arrow to his bow, and with a clever shot brought down a fine
stag.

"Well hit," cried Robin, who could never abstain from admiration of a
good bowman. "You have used your bow full well, Sir Knight."

The scarlet knight turned towards Robin, and, taking him for some
husbandman or hind, called out in high tones, asking how he dared to
speak to his betters in that insolent way.

"How is one to know one's betters, Sir Knight?" queried Robin,
cheerfully. "A noble is not always known by his dress, but rather by his
manners and his deeds."

"Your insolence shall be well paid for," returned the other, putting by
his bow and drawing his sword. Without further argument he approached
Robin angrily, and struck at him with meaning.

Robin was too quick for him, however, and caught the blow upon the edge
of his own trusty blade. After a few passes Robin feinted, and, catching
the other unawares, dealt him a thwack with the flat of his blade. The
scarlet stranger reeled under the blow.

"I find you are not so mean a person as I had thought," observed he, in
a series of gasps. "Yet, even now, 'tis not amiss that you should have a
lesson."

With that the two engaged heartily, and fought for nigh an hour, without
either side gaining an advantage.

At length he succeeded in pricking Robin on the cheek.

"Hast enough, fellow?"

"A rest would be welcome," admitted Robin, with a laugh.

They called a truce and sat down side by side beneath a tree. The
stranger eyed Robin thoughtfully; and Robin glanced back at him, with
his suspicions slowly growing to certainty. Presently:

"You are he whom they call Robin Hood, I take it," said the stranger,
"although I do not know you by such a strange name."

"It is my own name," replied the outlaw, "and I am proud of it. Are you
not Geoffrey of Gamewell?"

"That _was_ my name, cousin, even as yours was once Robin Fitzooth, but
now I call myself Will Scarlett. 'Tis a whimsey; but since Geoffrey
Montfichet has a bigger price on his head than I can afford to pay, why,
I have buried him under a prettier name! But tell me why you are
dressed so plainly. On my life, I did not know you when first we met."

"A man should have clothes to suit his work, cousin," argued Robin. "And
'tis a wonder to me that you should have been able to kill yon stag with
such a wild color upon you. Howbeit, thy arrow was shrewd enough, and
I'll say no more than to tell how well pleased I am to have fallen in
with you again. Here's my hand in all true affection, cousin Scarlett."

"And mine, cousin Hood."

They carried the stag between them to Barnesdale; and Robin learned that
his cousin had a letter with him for Marian. When Robin heard who had
given it to Will Scarlett his suspicions were immediately awakened.

"However, let us give Marian the letter, and see what she may think upon
it," he observed. "There cannot be much harm in that."

Thus did Mistress Monceux succeed admirably in the first part of her
scheme.

       *       *       *       *       *

Soon as Marian had had her letter she was all agog to go back into
Nottingham. She showed the scroll to Robin, and though his heart misgave
him he could hardly say her nay. No doubt as to the genuineness of the
letter occurred to Marian: she knew her father's peculiarly awkward
handwriting too well. Certainly the phrasing of it seemed a little too
easy for so plain a man, yet since he had been so long in London he had,
of course, acquired Court ways.

On the third week in September Marian determined to return to her old
home, and take the risk of any treachery.

"Allan-a-Dale and Fennel shall go with you, dear heart," said Robin.
"Why not? They can appear as your father's guests, and the two maids
will help you keep house. Also Warrenton shall go as Allan's man. I can
be sure that these faithful ones will guard my pretty love from all
harm."

"Am I indeed your pretty love?" asked Marian, in foolish happiness; "are
you sure that you would not have some other maid--to wit, the demoiselle
Marie? She hath an eye for you, as I know--for all she seemeth so much
our enemy. Trust a woman for finding out another woman's secret!"

Mistress Fennel was not loth to leave the greenwood. In the summer
months the life was none too bad a one, but now that September mists and
rains were upon Barnesdale, the young wife shivered and complained.
"Hereford is the only one we need fear, after all," Allan admitted;
"your old baron would never look for us in Nottingham."

"And the Bishop is in London," said Marian, showing her letter. "See
what my father saith."

Therefore Robin and his men were left to their own devices in the matter
of cooking and kitchen work soon as September's third week had come and
gone. Allan-a-Dale, Warrenton, the two girls and their two maids, all
travelled into Nottingham on the best horses that the outlaws could
provide, under escort so far as Gamewell. They were secretly watched
into the town, that Robin might be sure no one attempted any treachery.

It was arranged that Allan should come himself to Gamewell, and seek the
Squire's friendship on some near occasion. Then he might tell the old
man about Marian and how she had left his roof.

Montfichet would not be vexed with her, Marian felt. If he were, she
would come herself, and coax him. Also either Allan or Warrenton would
find means to send Robin news of the household, and tell him whether
Fitzwalter returned as the latter promised.

So all safeguards that wit could devise were taken, and Robin, having
kissed her little fingers very tenderly, left Marian with her cortège,
upon the road by Gamewell, and having satisfied himself that all had
gained safe entrance to Nottingham, journeyed back to the caves at
Barnesdale with quiet mien. His heart told him to suspect some evil
plot--yet where could he find one? Scarlett, his own cousin, had brought
the letter, and Marian had recognized the writing.

Oh, how dull the caves and the woods seemed without her! Tuck and the
miller had employed themselves in cooking them all a royal dinner; and
Stuteley tried his best to lighten the gloom. Robin laughed with them,
and sought to hide his grief, feeling it to be unmanly.

But never had he enjoyed a feast so little in the free woods as this
one. Good food and good company he had, but not that salt with which to
savor them--a merry heart.



CHAPTER XXVII


The autumn ripened into winter. Allan found means to send Robin news of
them often: Master Fitzwalter had not returned; but had sent another
letter saying that he would do so ere long. They all were happy and
unmolested in the city. Of the Sheriff and his daughter they had seen
nothing. That Warrenton was well, and that they had gotten them a
man-cook and other servants.

Marian wrote little crabbed messages to him. Brief and ill-spelt as they
were, they became Robin's chiefest treasures. Marian forebore making any
attempt to see her love, for fear that she might be watched and
followed, and so bring about Robin's capture. She fretted sorely at this
restraint placed upon her by Allan's more prudent hands.

The demoiselle Marie had made a miscalculation. She knew that presently
Robin would seek Marian, even in the lion's mouth. _Then_ would come the
day of the Sheriff's triumph.

The little house of the Fitzwalters was spied upon from within. No one
bethought them of this new cook. Had Little John once espied him there
would have been a different tale to tell, however.

He had offered his services to Warrenton at a small premium, saying that
he had lost his last place with being too fond of his bed.

He said his name was Roger de Burgh, and that he came of good family.
The wages he asked were so small, and he seemed so willing, and had been
so frank as to his failing, that Marian bade him take up his quarters
forthwith in her father's house.

Life passed uneventfully for them in the Fitzwalter household. It was
neither happy nor unhappy. Mistress Fennel found it vastly more amusing
than the draughty caves of Barnesdale; but then Mistress Fennel had her
dear--and Marian had not. She was vaguely disturbed at her father's
lengthened absence. Surely he should by now have determined where he
would live--Nottingham or London.

The months crawled on and Christmas came and went.

Marian was still tied to Nottingham streets and Robin to Barnesdale
woods. This state of inactivity had told much upon the greenwood
men--upon Little John most of all.

At last the big fellow fell out with Friar Tuck, and began to grumble at
everyone in turn. Robin, in despair, bade him go into Nottingham, to see
how the land lay there. "If you must be breaking someone's head, Little
John, let it be one of our enemies who shall suffer. But have a care,
for your tongue is as long as your body. Choose a cunning disguise
therefor."

"I will go as a beggar," said Little John, brightening up at the
prospect of adventure. "For a beggar may chatter as much as he
will--'tis part of his trade."

So clad all in rags, and bent double as though with age, Little John
went forth from their caves upon a February morning. He supported
himself with a stout oak staff, and carried two great bags upon his
shoulders. One held his food, and the other was to be refuge for
anything of note that he might find left about--such as Sheriff's plate,
to wit, or a Bishop's valuables.

He encountered four fellows of the like profession near by Nottingham
north gate. One was dumb, another blind, the other two halt and lame.
"Give you good morrow, brothers," said he, in a gruff voice. "It's my
fortune that brings me to you, for I am in sore need of company. What is
there a-doing in Nottingham since the bells be ringing a-merrily? Are
they hanging a man, or skinning a beggar?"

"Neither one nor the other, you crooked churl," replied one of the
crippled beggars. "The Sheriff is returned from London with his
daughter, and the folk are giving him a welcome, such as you will never
have from the city! Stand back, for there is no room for you there. Four
of us as it is are too many, and we have come here to settle who shall
go on and who turn back."

"And how will you settle such a knotty point, gossip?"

"Marry, with our sticks," retorted the beggar, threateningly. "But first
we will dispose of you;" and he made a fierce blow at Little John.

"If it be a fight that your stomachs are yearning for--why, I am the man
for you all," Little John said at once, "and I will beat the four of you
heartily, whether you be friends or enemies." Then he began to twirl his
staff right merrily, and gave the dumb fellow such a crack upon his
crown that he began to roar lustily.

"Why, I am a doctor, then, since I can cure dumbness," cried the
outlaw. "Now let me see whether I can mend your broken leg, gossip," and
he cut the first cripple so suddenly across the shins that he dropped
his staff and commenced to dance with pain. "Now for your eyes, friend."

But the blind one did not wait for the cure. He took to his heels
forthwith, running surprisingly straight. The other lame one ran after
him full as fast.

Little John caught them after a short chase, and dusted their rags
thoroughly.

"Give you good day, brothers," said he, then, well satisfied. "Now I am
going to welcome the Sheriff, and, as you say Nottingham is too small a
place for us all, therefore speed you towards Lincoln; 'tis a pretty
town and none too far for such strong legs."

His flourishing stick spoke even more eloquently. The four of them
shuffled away speedily, sore in their minds and bodies.

Nottingham was gay indeed. The Sheriff had returned from London, where
he had been in order to gain more time for the capture of Robin Hood and
his men. His daughter had complete faith in her scheme--it was bound in
the end to be successful.

"Be patient, and all will be well," she told her father. But Christmas
was the end of the time which Prince John had allowed Monceux for
Robin's capture. Therefore, both the Sheriff and his daughter had
journeyed to Court to see what instructions had been left, and whether
they might not get the time extended.

They contrived by spending much money in bribes, and in giving grand
entertainments, to achieve their ends. King Richard was away in the
Holy Land. Prince John was well employed in stirring up the barons to
espouse him as King while there was such an opening. There was thus no
actual monarch, and none in the Court to care much about the Sheriff or
Robin. Those high in authority accepted the Sheriff's bribes, and bade
him take till Doomsday.

Squire Montfichet, who was, as we know, a staunch supporter of the old
order of things, would recognize no other King than Richard. As a matter
of fact, the old man had no great love for him, but he was, after all,
the true King, and Montfichet threw all his weight into the scale
against John. The Saxon nobles were also active, feeling that now was
their chance to recover power.

So Monceux and the demoiselle saw for themselves that they had nothing
to fear from the Court, at any rate. They had stayed and enjoyed
themselves in the city, and the Sheriff was able to make himself
presently very useful.

The Princess of Aragon, one of the Court beauties, had need of an escort
to York. She was going there to be married (much against her royal will)
to one of the great Saxon notables. This was an arrangement made by the
Richard party, in the hopes of winning the Saxons to themselves, as
against John, who had already Salisbury, De Bray, and the cunning
Fitzurse upon his side.

The Sheriff had arrived with his train in great state, just as Little
John entered Nottingham. The outlaw came in by the north gate, as
Monceux, proud of escorting the pretty Princess, entered by the south.
Nottingham was gay with bunting and flags, and the bells were ringing
noisily.

It was a royal procession, and soon as Little John was able to join with
it his bag began to swell rapidly. Many a pocket did his sharp knife
slice away from the side of unsuspecting wealthy citizens.

Sports were held in the fields, and the beggar had a merry time of it.
Towards nightfall his bags were both filled, and he began to think it
about time to attend to the commissions which Robin had laid upon him.
This was to convey a letter to Marian, and to discover how Allan-a-Dale
and his little wife were faring.

Little John shuffled with his bags along the narrow streets until he
came to the house. He began to cry his wares, calling out that he was
ready to change new goods for old ones, that he would buy old clothes
and give good money for them.

Marian and the rest had, however, gone to see the sights, for there were
to be illuminations. Only Roger the cook had been left in charge, and
he, having glanced once at the noisy beggar, angrily bade him begone.

Little John only shouted the louder, and the cook furiously flung to the
casement windows. The beggar passed by the house slowly, still calling
"old clothes," as if he had not even noticed the angry cook.

Yet Roger's few angry words had awoke sharp recognition in Little John.
"By my rags and bags," muttered he, amazed, "this rascal needeth much
killing!" The scene in the Sheriff's kitchen arose before him. "This
time I will fling you into the river, Master Roger--be sure of it. I
wonder what evil hath brought you to this house of all others! If by
chance you have harmed any one of them vengeance shall fall upon you
swift and deadly."

A thin rain had commenced to fall, and so the beggar turned back.

The house was dark and silent. The beggar stopped in front of it
uncertainly, grumbling under his breath at the driving rain. Just as he
was about to move towards the door, the click of its latch warned him to
jump back into the shadows of the next house.

A white face looked out of the Fitzwalter home, stealthily peering right
and left. Little John crept farther into the shadows.

The cook came out into the wet road. He seemed to be scared and
troubled. After a moment's pause he returned to the house, entered it
silently, and Little John heard the latch click once more.

"Now, what mischief is in the air?" thought Little John. "Some knavish
business doubtless, or my friend Roger would not be in it. By my faith,
I do mistrust that man."

He went back into the middle of the road with his sacks, and commenced
crying his wares afresh. Almost at once Roger opened the door again. "A
murrain upon you, noisy rascal," he called; "can you not be still?"

"Ay, truly, an it pay me," answered Little John, lurching towards him,
as though he were tipsy. "Can I strike a bargain with you, gossip?"

"What have you in the sacks, beggar?"

"Everything in the world, brother. I have gifts for the rich, presents
for the poor."

"Have you anything fit for a cook?" asked Roger.

"I have a basting spoon and a spit."

"I will give you meat and bread--much as you can carry--if you have such
a spoon as my kitchen lacks," whispered Roger.

Little John dived his hand into a sack, and brought out a silver ladle,
which he had stolen from a shop that day. Roger took it eagerly, and his
fingers were icy cold.

"Put your sacks down by the door, dear gossip," said Roger, after a
moment's pause. "_Here_ they will be out of the rain. I must go within
to examine this ladle."

"Have you not a tankard of ale to give me?" begged Little John, "I am
worn with the day."

"Enter, friend," Roger said then. "Tread lightly, for fear we disturb my
folk." He took Little John into the dark passage. "I'll bring your sacks
in for you, whilst you are here," continued Roger, very obligingly; and
before the other could say him yea or nay, he had pulled the sacks into
the house and had closed the door tightly.

It was very dark, and Little John thought it only prudent to keep his
fingers on his knife. He heard the cook rustling about near to him, and
presently came a faint sound as if one of the sacks had bulged forward
and shifted its contents. "Hasten with the ale, good friend," whispered
Little John, hoarsely. "I feel mighty drowsy in this close place; soon I
shall be asleep."

Roger's voice answered him then softly from the end of the narrow hall,
and almost at once the cook appeared with a lantern. He came creakingly
over the boards, and handed Little John a mug of beer. "Your ladle is
of the right sort, dear gossip," he announced, "and I will give you a
penny for it."

"Twenty silver pennies is my price for the spoon," answered Little John,
tossing off the ale at a draught. "Give it to me, brother, or return me
my spoon. I do not find your ale to my taste," he added, wiping his
mouth.

Roger opened the door roughly. "Then begone, ungrateful churl," he
cried, forgetting his caution. He tried to push Little John roughly out
into the night. "What! would you try to steal my bags?" roared Little
John, suddenly snatching hold of Roger by the scruff of his neck. "You
villain--you rascally wretch--you withered apple!"

He tossed and shook Roger like a rat, and finally flung him into the
center of the muddy road. "Help! help!" screamed the cook, at the full
pitch of his voice. "Help! a thief, a thief! Help! murder! help!"

His cries at once attracted notice. The dull, dead street became
instantly alive. With an angry exclamation Little John dashed into the
passage, seized up his bags, and fled, stepping upon the writhing body
of the cook as he ran.

Little John turned the first corner at top speed. Three men rushed at
him with drawn swords. He swung his bags right and left and felled two
of them. The third he butted with his head, and the man asked no more.

Under the wet driving night Little John ran. The bags sadly impeded him,
but he would not let them go. He darted down a little court to avoid a
dozen clutching hands, and fancied he had now safety.

He paused, drawing in his breath with a sob. The race had tried him
terribly. The court was all dark, and his pursuers had overshot it; next
instant, however, they recovered the scent and were upon him full cry.

Little John, snatching his bags, dashed up to the end of the alley.
There was a door, which yielded to him.

Next instant he had plunged into the open lighted space before
Nottingham Castle, into the midst of a shouting throng. The
illuminations had not been a success, owing to the rain, but they gave
enough light to achieve Little John's undoing. The beggar was seized and
his bags were torn from him, just as those other pursuers sprang out
through the alley.

"He hath robbed a house, and killed a man," shouted the foremost. "Hold
him fast and sure."

"Nay--I have killed no one," cried the giant, struggling hopelessly and
desperately. "Take my bags an you will; I was but bearing them to my
master."

"Pretty goods to be carrying, indeed," said a voice, as someone turned
one bag upside down. On to the hard wet stones rolled a number of things
collected by this industrious outlaw--pockets, daggers, purses, knives,
pieces of gold, and pennies of silver, a motley company of valuables.

"They are my master's," panted Little John, furiously. "Let them be."

"See what he hath in the other sack," cried another. "He seemeth to have
robbed our butchers also." The sack was opened, and the contents laid
bare.

A sudden silence fell upon the crowd, a silence of horror and hate. Then
a thousand tongues spoke at once, and Little John, frozen cold with
loathing, saw under the flickering lamps a dreadful thing.

Out of the second sack had fallen the limbless trunk of a dead man, cold
and appalling even in this uncertain light. A head, severed through the
jugular arteries, rolled at his feet, grinning and ghastly.

"'Tis Master Fitzwalter," whispered one, in a lull. "Dead and
dishonored----"

The clamor became deafening, and Little John felt his senses failing
fast. He was beaten and struck at by them all; they tore at him, and
cursed him.

Their blows and their rage were as nothing beside the thought of that
awful thing upon the ground. The crowd and the lamps reeled and swam
before the outlaw's eyes and became blurred.

But the grim vision of that dreadful body became plainer and plainer to
him. It assumed terrible proportions, shutting out all else.



CHAPTER XXVIII


As the days sped on and nothing was heard of Little John, Robin began to
grow more and more anxious. He made up his mind to go himself into
Nottingham and there see Marian, and discover and (if need be) rescue
his faithful herdsman.

All the greenwood men were against him in this, however, and for once
had their own way. "Let me go, Master," begged Stuteley; "for my life is
of little account compared with yours."

"I will go," said Scarlett. "There is no such animus in the Sheriff's
mind against me as he hath against the rest of you. I can ask for Master
Carfax and he will perforce treat me fairly."

"I am not so sure of it," said Robin, significantly; "I would not trust
Master Simeon further than a rope would hold him. Still, what you say is
fair enough, cousin, and if you will go into the city for us we shall
all be grateful. For my part, I would dearly like to accompany you."

"Your duty is here," answered Scarlett. "Rely on me. I will find out
what hath chanced to Little John, and will also attend Mistress
Fitzwalter."

Will Scarlett started at once, and bore himself so well that he made
sight of Gamewell within two hours. He paused for a moment without his
father's house, regarding the old place with half scornful eyes. Then,
"What is to be, must be," said Will, to hearten himself.

He walked on toward Nottingham meditatively. If he could have met old
Gamewell then and there he would have stopped him and asked his
forgiveness. 'Twas in the morning, the sweet fresh morn, in the happy
woods, wherein birds fluttered and sang tenderly, and the peaceful deer
fed placidly on the close grass of the glades.

This sylvan picture was disturbed rudely for him. A stag, wild and
furious, dashed out suddenly from amongst the trees, scattering the does
in terrified alarm. The vicious beast eyed Will in his bright dress,
and, lowering its head, charged at him furiously. Will nimbly sprang
aside, and having gained shelter of an oak, scrambled hurriedly into its
branches.

The stag turned about and dashed itself at the tree.

"Now am I right glad not to be in your path, gentle friend," murmured
Scarlett, trying to fix himself on the branches so that he might be able
to draw an arrow. "Sorry indeed would be anyone's plight who should
encounter you in this black humor."

Scarcely had he spoken when he saw the stag suddenly startle and fix its
glances rigidly on the bushes to the left of it. These were parted by a
delicate hand, and through the opening appeared the figure of a young
girl. She advanced, unconscious alike of Will's horrified gaze and the
evil fury of the stag.

She saw the beast, standing as if irresolute, there, and held out her
hand to it with a pretty gesture, making a little sound with her lips as
if to call it to her side. "For the love of God, dear lady----" cried
Will.

And then the words died on his throat. With a savage snort of rage the
beast had rushed at this easy victim, and with a side blow of its
antlers had stretched her upon the ground. It now lowered its head,
preparing to gore her to death.

Already its cruel horns had brushed across her once. A piteous cry rang
through the woods. Will set his teeth, and swung himself to the ground
noiselessly.

Then he quickly dropped to his knee, and was aiming his shaft whilst the
stag was making ready for a more deadly effort. Will's arrow struck it
with terrific force full in the center of its forehead. The stag fell
dead across the body of the fainting maid.

Will Scarlett had soon dragged the beast from off the girl, and had
picked her up in his strong arms. He bore her swiftly to the side of one
of the many brooks in the vale.

He dashed cool water upon her face, roughly almost, in his agony of fear
that she was already dead, and he could have shed tears of joy to see
those poor closed eyelids tremble. He redoubled his efforts; and
presently she gave a little gasp: "Where am I, what is't?"

"You are here, dear maid, in the forest of Sherwood, and are safe."

She opened her eyes then, and sat up. "Methinks that there was danger
about me, and death," she said, wonderingly. Then recognition shone in
her face, and she incontinently began to bind her fallen hair and tidy
her disordered dress. "Is it you, indeed, Master Scarlett?" she asked.

"Ay, 'tis I. And, thank Heaven, in time to do you a service." Will's
tones were deep and full of feeling.

"I am always in your debt, Master Will," she said, pouting, "and now you
have me at grievous disadvantage. Tell me where you have been, and why
you did leave cousin Richard and France?"

"Once I had no safety there," replied Will, with meaning, "neither for
myself nor for my heart. As for my leaving Richard's Court, why,
foolishly, I would be always where you are."

"So you have followed me, then; is that what I am to believe?" The maid
smiled. "I will confess, I did know that you were come to London, and I
was glad, Will, for I had not too many friends in England, nor have them
now, it would seem. But why was there no safety for you in London? And
where have you hidden yourself of late?"

"There is a price upon my head. I am in exile. You know me as Will
Scarlett, but in sooth my name is not so Saxon."

"I hate the Saxons," said the maid, pettishly. She had risen to her
feet, but still was troubled about her tumbled hair. "I am to be married
to one, and so have run away. That is why I am wandering in this stupid
wood."

"Call it not stupid, it hath brought you to me once more," whispered
Will, taking her hands; "and so you do not love this man after all? Is
it so? Had I but known!"

"Didst leave London because of _that_?" asked she, lightly. "Ay, but men
know how to cozen us! I'll not believe a foolish thing, not if you were
to tell it me a thousand times."

"I'll tell it to you once, sweetheart. I did leave London because I
learned that you were to be married to another. Life had no more to
teach me than that one thing, and it was enough. For what was left for
me to learn? I had loved you and loved you so well, and had loved you in
vain."

"Had loved, Will? Is thy love so small, then, that it burns out like a
candle, within an hour? I had believed----"

But Master Scarlett suddenly took this wilful maid to his heart. "I do
love you, oh, my dear, with all my body and my life--till the end of
ends, in waking and sleeping. And so I pledge my troth."

She struggled out of his arms. "I am encumbered with wild beasts at each
step," cried she, all rosy and breathless. "One would kill me for blind
rage, the other for love. Oh, I do not know which to fear the most.
There, you may kiss my hand, Will, and I will take you for my man, since
it seems that I am to be married whether I will or no. But _you_ must
carry the tidings to my Saxon in York, and, beshrew me, I hope he will
not take it too hardly, for your sake."

"And yours also." Scarlett was holding her again.

"I like you well enough to be sorry if he should hurt you," said this
teasing little Princess. She looked up at him, and then dropped her
lashes. "Do you _truly_ love me, Will? For truly do I love you."

And so the Princess of Aragon elected to marry Geoffrey of Montfichet,
notwithstanding the politic choice of husband made for her by the wise
old men in London town.

They walked on together towards Nottingham, quietly, and in deep content
with the world.

They encountered a stately little cavalcade near by the gates of the
city, and knew themselves observed ere they could hope to avoid them.
Putting a bold face on it, the lovers stood on one side, to permit this
company to pass them.

An old man, richly dressed, came first, followed at a respectful
distance by six horsemen.

The Princess watched them in happy indifference. Her frank glance roved
from one to the other of the would-be steadfast faces before her. She
turned her head to gaze again at the absorbed old man who led the
company.

Then she checked herself in a little exclamation; and hastily averted
her face. It was too late, the old fellow had been roused from his
apathy. He reined in his grey horse, and asked over his shoulder: "Who
are these, Jacquelaine?"

The esquire so addressed at once rode forward, but before he could speak
his master had discovered an answer for himself. He had fixed fierce
eyes upon Master Scarlett, and made a scornful gesture. "So 'tis you,
Geoffrey, daring death now for the sake of some country wench? Ay, but
you will end upon the gallows, for sure."

"I shall not ask you to pray at my bedside," retorted Scarlett,
bitterly.

The Princess suddenly whipped round. "Who are you, Sir Churl, to talk of
gallows and the like to us? Hast come from a hanging thyself? There is
one a foot in Nottingham, I mind me."

It was now the turn of the old knight to exclaim. "Princess, _you_?"
gasped he, in sheer amaze. He tumbled from his horse to the ground, and
with old-fashioned courtesy knelt before her. She put out her hand for
him to kiss.

"Rise, Master Montfichet, I pray you, 'tis not your place to kneel to
me," she said, with her little Court smile.

The other horsemen had dismounted and now stood apart from the trio. The
Princess was the first to speak, so soon as the old Squire had risen.
"Master Montfichet and Will Scarlett, pray let me make you known to each
other," she said, prettily. "This is Squire George of Gamewell, a good
friend and honest adviser to me, although I do not always listen to him
as I should," she laughed, easily. "_This_ is Master Will Scarlett, whom
I have known both in France and now again in England. He hath but now
saved me from a dreadful death."

She paused; then added quickly and a little nervously: "My life is his,
in short, Master Montfichet, and so--and so I have given it to him. We
are to be married, and live in the greenwood. Therefore, you are not to
speak slightingly of Master Scarlett in my presence."

Consternation, astonishment and gratification struggled together
mightily in the Squire's breast. "Geoffrey, you!" he said again. "But
this is beyond belief."

"Therefore believe it," spoke the Princess, lightly; "for _that_ will
show you to be no common man."

"Sir," said Geoffrey, kneeling before his father, "I pray you forgive
both my rash words just now and all my seeming ingratitude. I am very
fain to be friends again with you, and I do swear to be more dutiful in
the years to come. Will you take my hand?"

"Ay, freely as it is offered. God save us; but who am I to be stubborn
of will, in the face of these miracles?"

"Do the miracles work happiness for you, Master Montfichet?" enquired
the maid, archly.

"Ay, marry. But the King will never consent to this business, be sure of
it. _You_ marrying my son--a commoner!"

"Your son?" It was now the Princess's turn to be amazed. But soon the
matter was explained to her. "So, Will, you have begun by deceiving me;
a bad beginning."

"I was trying to tell you, dear heart, when we made this encounter. Was
I not saying that my father lived near by here? Did I not tell you that
he was a Norman----"

"There, there, do not fret your dear self. I will marry you, whether you
be Will Scarlett or Geoffrey of Montfichet. It is yourself I need, after
all."

"Take my steed and ride with us to Gamewell. There, at least, I must
keep thee, Princess, until the King hath given his sanction to this
marriage. _You_ to rule over Gamewell? In sooth I will be a joyful man
upon that day."

"And I," murmured Master Scarlett.

So they turned back towards Gamewell, and only when they were in sight
of it did Scarlett remember poor Little John. Then he stopped short,
reining in the horse which one of the knights had lent to him. The
Princess had accepted loan of the esquire Jacquelaine's palfrey.

Will soon had told them this errand which he had come so near to
forgetting altogether. "If this be the man they call John Little
Nailor," said the Princess, sorrowfully, "why, he is in perilous plight.
You have but just ridden through Nottingham, I take it, Master
Montfichet, and have some of its news?"

"They do not seem yet to know of your adventurings, Princess."

"No, surely; for what is a woman, missing or to hand, when there is red
murder abroad? This poor fellow, whom I do believe to be innocent, was
accused of theft by a rascally cook, and was pursued. 'Twas the night of
our return. They chased him from pillar to post, and presently caught
him close to the castle. He had two bags with him."

"'Tis Little John, then," cried Scarlett; "I saw him go out with the
sacks across his back."

"In one of them they found many things that other folk had strangely
lost," said the Princess, with a little grimace. "In the other there was
the dead, dishonored body of a good citizen foully done to death."

Her listeners stared in their amazement. "It is a Master Fitzwalter who
hath been so cruelly murdered," continued the Princess, her color coming
and going. "This Little John swears that the cook did kill his master;
and whilst he, Little John, was resting in Fitzwalter's house this
rascal fellow must have changed the sacks."

"Fitzwalter, the warden of the gates? I knew him well. Why, he left us
but three weeks since to travel to Nottingham. It seems that he had sent
a messenger to his girl there that she was to follow him, but either his
letter miscarried or the maid would not. So poor Fitzwalter, busy as he
was, must needs return to meet his death."

"Who is this cook?" asked Scarlett.

"An evil character, he hath altogether. Once he was of an outlaw robber
band, headed here in these very woods under one Will of Cloudesley."

"Tell me, is he called Roger de Burgh?" asked Will.

"That is his name," answered the Princess, surprised; "do you know aught
of him?"

"I know much evil of him," replied her lover; and then he told them how
this very Roger had planned to take his (Will's) life, and how Robin had
saved him.

The Squire nodded. "I remember," said he, slowly.

"Ay, Robin was always a good lad. This news of yours will stagger him,
for he is betrothed to Mistress Fitzwalter, daughter of him who hath so
dreadfully met his end."

"The two of them were arraigned, I must tell you," went on the Princess,
"and both were to be racked. But they did not put it too hardly upon
Master Roger, as I have reason to know, wherefore he was able to
maintain his innocence; whilst the other, in his bitter anguish, made
confession of a crime which he did never commit."

"And they are hanging him whilst I stand idly here," cried Scarlett,
turning to horse. "I must leave you, sweet; forgive me. Here is a man's
life in the balance."

"What would you, Will?" she asked, fearfully. "The hanging is fixed for
the Thursday in next week."

"Before then he shall be free," said Will Scarlett, firmly. "Farewell,
dear heart. Wait for me here at Gamewell; my father will be good host to
you, I know."

"The maid Fitzwalter was lodging with us when I was called to London,"
the Squire began.

"She is now in Nottingham, sir. It is a story which I will tell you
later. Now give me farewell, and your blessing."

"God's blessing be in you, Geoffrey, my son," said the Squire. It was
the first time for many years that he had called Geoffrey by that name.

"And take all my heart with you, Will." The voice of this little
Princess was husky; and a sob sounded in her throat. "Be cautious, and
return soon to me."

She watched his swift retreating figure as he sped towards Nottingham,
there to argue it with Master Carfax.



CHAPTER XXIX


The day after Scarlett's departure found Robin in frantic mood. Two
emissaries had he sent out to gain news of Marian, and neither had
returned. He had had now no direct tidings of her for nigh on three
months. Little John's silence, too, disturbed him.

Robin determined that he would see Marian, at least, this day, or die in
the attempt. So, notwithstanding all that the rest could urge, their
leader started away on foot towards the city.

He walked quickly, and his mind was so filled with dreadful thoughts
that he exercised little of his usual care. Emerging suddenly upon the
high road, he plunged almost into the arms of his enemy, the Lord Bishop
of Hereford.

It was too late for Robin to retreat, and he was too far away for him to
wind his horn in the hope of rousing his men. The Bishop rode at the
head of a goodly company and had already espied him.

About a mile away, near by the roadside, was a little tumble-down
cottage. Robin remembered it and saw his only chance of safety. At once
he doubled back through the underwood, much to the surprise of the
Bishop, who thought he had truly disappeared by magic. In a few minutes
Robin had come to the little cottage. The owner of the place, a little
crabbed old woman, rose up with a cry of alarm.

"'Tis I, Robin Hood; where are your three sons?"

"They are with you, Robin. Well do you know that. Do they not owe life
to you?"

"Help now repay the debt," said Robin, in a breath. "The Bishop will
soon be without, and he has many men."

"I will save you, Robin," cried the old woman, bustlingly. "We will
change raiment, and you shall go forth as the poor lone woman of this
cot. Go without and strip yourself speedily; and throw me your clothes
through the doorway."

Robin was in the garden and had slipped out of his Lincoln green in a
moment. He clad himself with equal celerity in the old woman's rags, as
she flung them out to him one by one.

The Bishop perceived an old decrepit woman hobbling across the road, as
he with his company came hastening down it. He bade one of his fellows
to stay her, and ask if she had seen such and such a man. The soldier
gave her a full and vivid description of Robin Hood. The old woman, thus
rudely prevented from gathering her sticks--already she had a little
handful of them--answered that there _was_ a man within her cottage; and
that she would be right glad if my lord Bishop would cause him to be
driven out of it. "In sooth, my good gentlemen, he is none other than
that vagabond Robin Hood," piped she.

"Enough!" cried the Bishop, triumphantly. "Enter the cottage, men; beat
down the door, if need be. A purse of gold pieces is already offered for
the capture of Robin Hood, and I will give a hundred beside!"

The old woman was released, and went on gathering twigs for her fire.
Little by little she edged towards the forest, and while the Bishop's
men were beating down her cottage door she vanished between the trees.

Then she began to run, with surprising quickness, towards Barnesdale.

Stuteley encountered her presently, and was at first prepared to treat
her in rough fashion. "Hold your hand, sweet Will," cried Robin, "it is
I, your master. Summon our fellows, and return with me speedily. My lord
of Hereford is come again to Sherwood."

When Will had done laughing he blew his horn. "Why, mistress," said he,
turning his grinning face to Robin as though seized with a notion, "is
not this the day when the knight Sir Richard of the Lee--he to whom you
gave Arthur-à-Bland--swore he would return to pay us our moneys?"

"'Tis near the time, in sooth," admitted Robin.

"Then surely he hath sent the Bishop to us, not being able to come
himself?" argued Will. "We will see if the Bishop is carrying four
hundred gold pennies with him. If it be so, then I am right, indeed."

       *       *       *       *       *

The Bishop, for all his bold words, had not yet nerved himself to give
the necessary command of death against the person of Robin Hood. Since
he would not come out of the cottage, the door must be beaten down.

When this had been done the Bishop's men had peeped in. "He is here,
hiding," they cried, exultingly. "Shall we slay him with our pikes?"

"Nay, keep watch upon and guard this cottage against all comers. Go, one
of you, to Nottingham, with all speed, and bring the Sheriff to us,
with many men. Say that I bid him here to settle matters with Robin
Hood."

The good Bishop of Hereford did not intend to give this villain a single
chance. Were he brought out into the open, he might, by some magic,
contrive an escape. Lying in this hut under the pikes of the Bishop's
men he was safe, and if the worst came to the worst might readily be
slain.

The messenger detached from his escort had not carried the Bishop's
message to the Sheriff very far ere his master would have wished to
change it. In a moment, whilst my lord of Hereford was complacently
gloating over his capture--whilst indeed he was himself peering into the
dark cottage in order to catechise his prisoner--there appeared on the
high road the shabby figure of that very old woman who had innocently
helped to set the trap.

She called out in a strident voice to the soldiers about her dwelling.
"Stand by, lazy rascals," cried she, "stand away from my gates. What are
you doing on my ground?"

"Madam," answered the Bishop, turning round to her, "these are my men,
and I have given them the order to guard this cottage."

"God-a-mercy!" swore the beldame, harshly. "Things have come to a pass
in sooth when our homes may be treated like common jails. Take away this
robber and your fellows from my house on the instant, or I will curse
you all in eating and drinking and sleeping."

"Not so fast, mother," argued the Bishop, smiling easily at her
simulated rage. "All this has been done by my orders, and is therefore
in law."

The old woman clapped her hands impatiently. At the signal the greenwood
men sprang out on all sides of the cottage. The Bishop saw himself and
his men-at-arms trapped; but he determined to make a fight for it. "If
one of you but stir an inch towards me, rascals," he cried, spitefully,
"it shall be to sound the death of your master Robin Hood. My men have
him here under their pikes, and I will command them to kill him
forthwith. Further, he shall be killed an you do not at once disperse."

Then Robin stepped out before his men. He flung off the old crone's cap
which he had worn so cleverly. "Come, kill me, then, lord," he called,
cheerfully. "Here am I, waiting for your pikes and their pokes. Hasten
to make sure business of it, for I am in no gentle humor."

The old woman, who, in the garb of Robin Hood, had been lying silent and
still so long within the cottage, jumped up then quite nimbly. In all
the bald absurdity of her disguise she came to the door of the cottage
and looked forth. "Give you good-den, my lord Bishop," piped she; "and
what make _you_ at so humble a door as this? Do you come to bless me and
give me alms?"

"Ay, marry, that does he!" said Stuteley, coming forward. "To you,
mother, and to us also. You must know that my lord bears with him a bag
of four hundred pieces from Sir Richard of the Lee, who did borrow this
money from us to lend it to my lord."

"Now, by all the saints----" began the Bishop.

"They are watching you, brother," said Stuteley, impudently, "so be wary
in your speech. Give into my hand the four hundred pieces which you
took from the knight I have named. You cannot deny that you _did_ take
them from him in the June of last year?"

"The knight owed them to me, villain," said the Bishop, furiously. He
saw that his men were outnumbered, and that all the outlaws had drawn
bows aimed against them and him. A word not to the liking of these
desperate fellows would loosen fifty horrid shafts upon him. "Sir
Richard did owe them to me," he repeated, omitting the epithet.

"Hark now to that!" said Robin, still in his disguise. "Listen to it,
friends, for ye all were witnesses that Sir Richard swore to me that the
Bishop had robbed him, and sought to rob him more. Did not you, in
honest truth, lend the knight four hundred pieces, my lord?"

"I did not lend him that precise amount," admitted the Bishop. "Four
hundred pieces included also the interest of the sum I gave."

"Ho! you gave?" Robin snapped up the word. "You gave it, my lord?"

"I will not bandy words with you, you false villain," shouted the
Bishop, suddenly losing control of himself. "Why do you not charge them,
men? Take the word from me, and hew these fellows down as they stand."

"They will be well advised to remain as they are," spoke Robin. "See now
how we command you all!" He took a bow and arrow out of Much's hands,
and sped a shaft so truly towards the purpling Bishop that his mitred
cap was sent spinning from off his bald head.

My lord turned green and yellow. He had thought himself dead almost.
"Take my money, rascals," he quavered, feebly; and Stuteley approached
him, cap in hand.

"Tied to the saddle of my palfrey you will find my all," murmured the
Bishop, sighing deeply.

Stuteley took a well-filled bag from under my lord's empty saddle. He
spread his cloak upon the road and counted out four hundred pieces into
it. "The interest, master?" asked Will, twinkling to Robin.

"Pay that to this old woman who hath befriended and saved me; and give
her, further, two hundred of the pieces on thy cloak," commanded Robin.
"We will share with her, even as she hath already shared with me this
day."

The outlaws then withdrew, taking with them the old woman and the
Bishop's gold. They left him in no great humor; but forebore to provoke
him further.

This adventure had, however, banished all hope of Robin making his
projected journey into Nottingham. He had perforce to return to the
caves at Barnesdale, to get changed again into a more befitting dress.
The day was old when he was ready to go out once more; and at Stuteley's
entreaty Robin consented to wait until the morning.

The Bishop lost no time in making Nottingham. He and his men were so
ashamed of having been overcome so easily by the greenwood men that they
had perforce to magnify Robin's band and its prowess twenty-fold.

Amongst the many knights who had followed, hopelessly, in the Princess's
train was one whose attentions had ever been very noxious to her. This
was a coarse, over-fed, over-confident Norman, brutally skilful in the
games at tourneys and ruthless in battles _à outrance_. His name was
Guy of Gisborne, and he hailed from the borders of Lancashire. To him
had fallen the rich fat acres of Broadweald, that place for which poor
Hugh Fitzooth had wrestled vainly for so long.

He had persecuted her unavailingly--'twas through a scene with him that
Scarlett had come so much into the maid's favor. Sir Guy had followed
her to Nottingham, meaning to steal her from the Sheriff at first
chance. "No Saxon churl shall hope to carry off this prize from me,"
thought Sir Guy. "Her beauty pleaseth me, and her fortune will help mine
own. Therefore, I will follow her meekly until we come nearer to my own
land. Then, perhaps, one night pompous Monceux may find her flown. He
will be blamed; and none need know whither the little bird has gone and
by whom she hath been trapped."

Sir Guy of Gisborne found another in the field with him; the Princess
had not waited for him to steal her. The little bird had flown ere Sir
Guy's trap had been set.

So the Bishop of Hereford found both the Sheriff and Sir Guy in evil
humor. My lord told his story, raging against Robin; the Sheriff had his
complaint--directed against the Princess in general and no man in
particular.

"Depend on it, Monceux, this rascal hath stolen away your charge," said
the Bishop, in order to stir the Sheriff to greater lengths against
Robin. "How can you sit here so idly, first losing your gold plate to
him and then your gold? Now, with one blow goeth this Princess who was
most solemnly committed to your charge, and with her your good name.
For, without doubt, this matter will cost you your office."

Monceux was overcome with terror; his eyes started out from his head. "I
did hear them speak of some girl betwixt themselves, now that I think on
it," continued the Bishop, artfully, noting the effect he had made.
"'This woman shall share with us'--ay, those were Robin's very words.
The Princess hath been stolen by him."

"She last was seen walking towards the woods, 'tis true," murmured the
unhappy Sheriff. "But, truly, I am not to blame in this plaguey
business."

"I will encounter the villain for you, Sheriff," said Sir Guy, with a
cunning glance. "And if I do rid you of him, will you swear to stand by
me in another matter?"

"Surely, surely."

"Your word on it, then--here in my lord's holy presence," Sir Guy went
on. "This girl hath been told by a council of wiseacres that she must
marry some Saxon noble. But her heart is given to another--to myself, in
short. Swear that you both will help me to win her, and I will take her
from your merry Robin and kill him afterward."

They both promised readily that they would do all that he could ask--if
only he would kill Robin Hood outright. The Bishop had great influence
at Court, and Sir Guy intended that he should smooth matters for him
after the abduction of the Princess. The Sheriff was to hold fast to any
story that might be necessary, and to swear to the little Princess that
Sir Guy of Gisborne was the very Saxon whom she had been ordered to
marry.

"All this is settled between us," observed the knight, comfortably.
"Give me a number of men, all of them good archers, and put them at my
sole command. I will go forth to-morrow in a disguise such as will
deceive even your wonderful Robin."

"We will hold over the hanging and flaying of the other rascal until his
master can dance beside him," cried the Sheriff, conceiving Robin to be
already caught.



CHAPTER XXX


Robin started out early in the day towards the city. This time nothing
should stay him from entering it--and finding Marian. The demoiselle
Marie's plan would surely have succeeded on this day, for Robin was
careless of all things but the hope of seeing his dear.

Sir Guy of Gisborne was there, however, as Robin's good angel, as we are
to see, although Sir Guy had, in truth, no very merciful feelings
towards the outlaw.

Robin perceived upon the highroad a very strange figure coming towards
him. It seemed to be a three-legged monster at first sight, but on
coming nearer one might see that 'twas really a poorly clad man, who for
a freak had covered up his rags with a capul-hide, nothing more nor less
than the sun-dried skin of a horse, complete with head and tail and
mane.

The skin of the horse's head made a helmet for the man; and the tail
gave him the three-legged appearance.

"Good morrow, gossip," said Robin, cheerily; "by my bow and by my
arrows, I could believe you to be a good archer--you have the shape of
one."

The man took no offence at this greeting, but told Robin that he had
lost his way and was anxious to find it again.

"By my faith, I could have believed that you had lost your wits,"
thought Robin, laughing quietly to himself. "What is your business,
friend?" he asked, aloud; "you are dressed in strange clothes and yet
seem by your speech to be of gentle blood."

"And who are you, forester, to ask me who I am?"

"I am one of the King's rangers," replied Robin; "and 'tis my part to
look after the King's deer and save them from the wicked arrows of Robin
Hood."

"Do you know Robin Hood?" asked the man, shrewdly eyeing him.

"That do I; and last night I heard that he would be coming alone in a
certain part of this wood to meet a maid."

"Is that so indeed?" cried the man, eagerly.

"'Tis very truth," answered Robin. "And I, knowing this, am going to
take him, and carry off both the girl and the reward upon his head."

"Tell me, friend, is this girl a little creature, royal looking and very
beautiful?"

"Marry, she appeared to me a very Princess," cried Robin, with
enthusiasm.

"We are well met," remarked the yeoman, presently, and speaking as if
come to a decision. "Now I will tell you, friend, that I am in search of
Robin Hood myself, and will help you to take him. I am Sir Guy of
Gisborne, and can make your fortune for you."

"And I am Robin Hood, so, prithee, make it quickly for me!" cried Robin,
imprudently.

Sir Guy was not taken so much aback as Robin had hoped. Quickly he drew
his sword from underneath the capul-hide, and he smote at Robin full and
foul.

Robin parried the thrust with his own true blade, and soon they were at
a fierce contest. They fought by the wayside for a long while in a
deadly anger, only the sharp clashing of their blades breaking the
silence.

Then Robin stumbled over the projecting root of a tree; and Sir Guy, who
was quick and heavy with his weapon, wounded Robin in his side.

The outlaw recovered himself adroitly; and, full of sudden rage, stabbed
at the knight under and across his guard. The capul-hide hindered Sir
Guy in his attempt at a parry--the horse head fell across his eyes.

Next instant Sir Guy of Gisborne went staggering backward with a deep
groan, Robin's sword through his throat.

"You did bring this upon yourself," muttered Robin, eyeing the body of
the knight in vain regret. "Yet you did fall bravely, and in fair fight.
You shall be buried honorably."

He dragged the body into the bushes; and, having taken off the horse
hide, slipped it upon himself. He then perceived that, hanging from the
dead man's belt, there was a little silver whistle. "What may this be?"
thought Robin.

Sir Guy, clothed in old and ragged dress, looked to be a plain yeoman,
slain in defence of his life, or mayhap a forester. Pulling the hide
well over himself Robin put the little whistle to his lips and blew it
shrilly.

Instantly, far off to the right of him, sounded an answering note, and
again from behind him there was reply. In about four or five minutes
twenty of the Sheriff's best archers came running through the wood to
Robin's side.

"Didst signal for us, lording?" asked the leader of them, approaching
Robin.

"Ay, see him! I have encountered and slain one of your robber fellows
for ye," answered Robin, simulating Sir Guy's voice and manner. "I would
have you take up his body upon your shoulders and bear him along this
little path, wherefrom he sprang upon me."

The archers obeyed him immediately, "Do you follow us, lording?" they
asked.

"I will lead ye," cried Robin, waving his red sword truculently, "Follow
me speedily."

Thus he led them after him through the secret paths into Barnesdale, and
there blew his horn so suddenly that Stuteley and his fellows were upon
the Sheriff's men ere they might drop Sir Guy's dead body to the earth.

Robin bade his men disarm the archers, and tie such of them as would not
prove amenable.

Thus the Sheriff was robbed of his best archers; for these fellows,
finding the greenwood men to be of such friendly mind, soon joined in
with them.

"This is well done, in sooth," said Robin, gently, to himself. "A good
day's work; and Monceux will have cause to regret his share in it. Yet
am I no nearer Nottingham after all, tho' I have twice sworn that naught
should stay me. Stuteley," added he, aloud, calling his squire to his
side, "see you that this dead knight be buried with all respect; he
fought me well and fairly."

"It shall be done, master," answered Will Stuteley; "you may be easy
about it. But I would have you listen to the talk of these archers--they
have grave news of our comrade Little John. It seems that the Sheriff
hath seized him for the killing of thy maid's father, and will
presently have him dreadfully hanged and burned."

Robin uttered an exclamation of horror. Soon the terrible story was told
him, and his brain reeled under the shock of it. All that night he paced
the woods until the dawn, then fell incontinently into a deep and heavy
slumber.

"Disturb him not nor let him take action until I do return," said the
comfortable Friar Tuck, in business-like manner. "I know how his
distemper will play upon him, and how he will bring us all to grief if
he attempts the city again. Now I may go in and out as I will, being a
curtal friar and not now remembered in these parts. I will visit the
Sheriff and ask for leave to confess Master Little John. Then I will
come back to you with the best news I may."

       *       *       *       *       *

Geoffrey of Montfichet had ridden into Nottingham on the day before Sir
Guy had left it. Carfax had known where the Princess might be found all
the while his master, with the Bishop, was busy persuading the Knight of
Gisborne that the maid was with Robin. One might be sure, however, that
neither Monceux nor Carfax gave out any hint of this knowledge, for to
do that would have stayed Sir Guy in his praiseworthy attempt upon the
bold outlaw.

Geoffrey--Master Scarlett--had found difficult work before him, but he
intended to save Little John. He was convinced that the cook had slain
Fitzwalter, most likely at the command of some other person interested
in the death.

Who might this be? Who had profited by the death of so unassuming a man
as the late city warden?

Carfax treated Scarlett with scant ceremony. The lean-faced fellow
devoured the item that the Princess of Aragon was safe at Gamewell, but
gave nothing in return. Scarlett had been left to cool his heels in the
great hall of Nottingham Castle for near an hour afterward, whilst
Simeon Carfax was closeted with the Sheriff.

They were having a tidying of the rooms in honor of the Bishop's visit.
Whilst Scarlett impatiently waited the good pleasure of Master Carfax
the maids were busy carrying many things to and fro; fresh rushes to
strew my lord's rooms, candles and tapers, silks and cloths, and brown
ewers of water. All the rubbish and sweepings of the floors were borne
out in great baskets to the courtyard.

One of the maids, a plump, roguish, lazy wench, would only carry her
basket so far as the hearth of the hall. A fire was there, why not use
it? Also she could ogle and throw sidelong looks at Master Scarlett,
who, for his beard and thirty-five grave years, was none so bad a man.

This girl was throwing into the open hearth a lot of ends of silk and
combings from her mistress's room. She tossed the rubbish on the fire,
at the same time eyeing Master Scarlett. Then, finding that he would not
notice her, she poutingly returned with her basket upon a fresh journey.

Scarlett came over to the fire to pick up some of the burning scraps.
They were drifting over the hearth into the room dangerously, thanks to
the maid's carelessness.

He found in his hand a half-burned piece of parchment, which still
fizzled and crackled in quaint malicious fashion.

Upon the parchment was an awkward writing, and some of the words showed
up very black under the heat. Half idly, Scarlett tried to make sense of
them:

"This ... dear child Marian, ... her affectionate father ... Court of
... in London town."

So far did Master Scarlett read before suddenly the beginnings of the
truth flashed upon him. This was the very letter which he had borne to
Marian.

How had it come into the castle? By what strange magic? Could Marian
have carried it here herself?

He remembered that she had given it to Robin, and that he had put it
into his bosom.

"Mistress, you seem indeed to be very busy this day," said Master
Scarlett, affably, to the girl next time she appeared. "Do you prepare
me a chamber, for it seems that I am to wait here for a week at least."

"I am tidying my mistress's room, and have had hard work I promise you,"
replied the girl, impudently. "Mayhap you will give me a help whilst you
wait, Sir Taciturn? This is the fifth basket of rubbish I have borne
from the demoiselle Marie's little cupboard."

"I will readily help you if you will help me," said Scarlett,
pleasantly. "Canst tell me who wrote this little paper? The writing
seemeth familiar to mine eyes."

"'Tis a piece of my lady's jesting," said the girl, after a glance at
the parchment. "'Twas written in imitation of Master Fitzwalter's hand
after we had searched his house last year. Ah, poor man, who would have
then imagined so hard a fate for him?" She sighed prodigiously, and
rolled her eyes.

"Tell me the story of this murder, mistress, I pray you."

She was not loth to fall a-chattering, and she told Scarlett all she
knew of it. From the rambling history he discovered another strange
fact, that Roger de Burgh had been cook in the Sheriff's household
before he had gone to the Fitzwalter house. Slowly he began to see that
the letter he had so blithely put into Marian's hand was a forgery, done
by the clever fingers of the demoiselle Marie.

"So," thought he, swiftly, "Mistress Fitzwalter was persuaded to return
to this place in order that Robin Hood might visit her secretly. The
house was watched by a spy from the Sheriff's own kitchen. Soon as Robin
came, this spy was to give warning; or, if matters pressed, kill him.
But after many months of waiting, _Fitzwalter_ came instead."

His quick mind, used to the intrigues and plots of a capricious Court,
had unravelled the mystery. Yet how could he act upon this knowledge in
the midst of the enemy's camp? If the Sheriff could stoop already to
such foul business as this, to what further lengths would he not go?
Dismissing himself through the girl, Scarlett strode out of the castle.
The air seemed fresher and more wholesome without. He enquired and found
his way to the house of grief, and there asked audience with its little
heart-broken mistress.

       *       *       *       *       *

Whilst Scarlett was plotting and inventing a hundred schemes to save
Little John, a poor wandering priest appeared one evening before the
gates of Nottingham Castle. Most humbly he begged a little bread and a
drink of water; and, having received these, he blessed the place and all
within it.

"You should not bless _all_ within this castle, Sir Priest," the
Sheriff told him. Monceux had pompously administered to the man's simple
wants with his own hands. "There is a villain in our cells who hath done
wicked murder."

The ragged friar asked who that might be; and when he had heard, said
that at the least he would confess this poor misguided fellow and so
deliver his soul from everlasting punishment.

The Sheriff was rather doubtful, but seeing that the priest had no
weapon upon him, he gave a sign that he should be admitted to Little
John's cell.

There the friar found the big outlaw very dejected. "Give you good
cheer, brother," said the friar, gently; "I have come to pray with you."

"What assistance can your prayers be to me?" asked Little John, sharply;
"I am to be hanged to-morrow morn, and all your prayers will scarce
alter that."

"Anger is a great sin," replied the priest.

"I have no sins against God," said Little John; "I have always
endeavored to live easily and justly." Then the friar came up close to
him, and whispered something in his ear. The outlaw's expression altered
at once. "By the Sheriff's rope," muttered he, quite in his old manner,
"but I swear that if thou canst get me a weapon----"

"Here is a little dagger," said Friar Tuck, pulling it out from under
his gown. "'Tis small, but to-morrow it may be of use. I can do no more
now; but be ready for us to-morrow, when the last moments are come.
Robin Hood will not easily let you die, be sure of it."

The friar, after he had left the prison, ran all the way to Barnesdale,
under the stars.



CHAPTER XXXI


It was hardly dawn when a strong guard of soldiers was drawn up without
Nottingham Castle, and the prisoner was dragged forth from his cell.
Monceux had wisely come to the conclusion that Sir Guy of Gisborne had
also failed, and he saw no reason to delay Little John's execution.

Early as was the hour, yet both the Sheriff and the Bishop of Hereford
were present. The space before the castle was thronged with people.
Beside the prisoner walked the castle chaplain.

The crowd swayed and roared, and a small disturbance broke out on the
right of the Sheriff. At once the soldiers hurried to quell it.

As the prisoner neared the gallows, the crowd so bore upon the cart in
which he stood upright that progress for a few minutes was out of all
question.

Another disturbance broke out in the rear of the procession. Next
instant the prisoner was seen to have free hands. He stooped and sliced
the cords about his feet, and, releasing himself, all at once he sprang
out of the cart.

Then was an uproar indeed. The soldiers had strict orders that the
episode of Stuteley's escape was not to be repeated. But whilst they
exerted themselves desperately a sudden hail of arrows fell upon them
from the sky, as it were. Robin Hood's horn was heard blowing merrily,
and the Sheriff saw the huge mob of people break up into billows of
contending portions under his very eyes.

"Lock the gates of the city," screamed Carfax, at this juncture. "We
have them trapped at last."

Little John was free and had seized an axe. Much and Middle had brought
bags of meal with them, and both repeated the miller's old trick of
flinging the white meal into the eyes of the enemy.

Robin had broken up his band into small parties, and all were engaged
simultaneously.

In less time than it takes to tell, the space without the castle was
turned to pandemonium.

Again and again Robin's horn sounded, calling them together, and slowly
but surely his small parties formed up into a whole, beating their way
through the crowd with their swords and axes. So soon as they were
together, with Little John safely in the middle of them, they fell to
their bows and sped a cloud of arrows amongst the Sheriff's men.

Then they turned to retreat, and fell back so suddenly that they had
made good start ere Monceux had divined their intent. They sped towards
the north gate, that one being nearest to Barnesdale.

Crafty Carfax had forestalled them, however. The north gate was closed
hard and fast, and the bridge drawn.

The outlaws doubled on their track and charged at their pursuers with
lowered pikes and waving axes. The crowd before them yielded sullenly
and allowed them passage.

"To the west gate, Robin, hasten," cried a shrill voice. "'Tis more
easily opened than the rest, and the bridge is down--someone hath
smashed the winch."

Robin's heart leaped in his body--'twas the voice of Gilbert of Blois!
"Marian," breathed he, overcome with terror for her, "oh, my dearest!"

"Follow, follow!" she cried, with flashing eyes; "there is not a moment
to be lost."

Robin saw that it was a matter of life or death now in any case. "To the
west gate!" he called, "Locksley! a Locksley!"

It was the old battle cry, and only a few of them remembered it. Yet it
served and served well. The greenwood men formed up into close ranks,
and all followed the little page, shouting lustily, "Locksley! a
Locksley!"

In the rush and hurry Robin saw that Scarlett was there, and Warrenton
and Allan-a-Dale. And with the little page ran another, a fair-haired
boy, with strangely familiar face.

"'Tis Fennel," whispered Allan, at Robin's side. "She would not be
left."

He spoke as they ran, with the enemy now in full pursuit of them. Every
now and again the outlaws turned and sped a hail of arrows into the mob
behind them.

The west bridge was gained, and Scarlett had dispossessed the warder of
his keys in a moment. He unlocked the gates and flung them wide open.

The two boys--for so they seemed--raced through and over the broken
bridge, and Allan followed next. The outlaws were soon free of the town,
and once more in their own element, but Little John must needs go back
to cover the retreat with Stuteley.

Carfax and the Sheriff were close at hand with their men, furious and
determined. Even as the last of Robin's men gained and fell over the
bridge, Little John was wounded seriously by a shaft from Simeon
Carfax's bow.

His cry brought Robin back to his side. In a moment Robin's arms were
about him. "Lean on my shoulder, dear heart," cried Robin, and sure
'twas a ludicrous sight to see this stripling seeking to hold up the
great form of Little John.

They ran along in this way, and the outlaws formed a bodyguard about
them. Allan and those in front had fired the dry furze and grasses, and
the smoke began to roll heavily against the faces of the soldiers.

This gave the greenwood men a small advantage, and they gained the open
country; but not for long did the honors of this day rest on one side or
the other. The Sheriff and his fellows broke through the fire; and then
it was seen that some of them were mounted on fleet horses.

Little John begged to be left behind; and again did Robin try to rally
him. Onward they ran; and presently found themselves approaching a hill,
thickly wooded about the base.

They gained cover of these trees, and turned at bay. Hidden behind
tree-trunks they sent forth a death volume of peacock-shafts to the
Sheriff. Master Carfax was seen to fall, and with him six of the
horsemen.

The soldiers halted and prepared their crossbows. A volley of their
arrows crashed and splintered the trees, whilst Carfax rose up stiffly
to give fresh orders. A duello commenced of longbow against crossbow;
and as the freebooters could deliver near a dozen shafts to each bolt,
they more than held their own.

When a bolt _did_ strike, however, death was instant. A man was shot
near to Marian, and fell with his head shattered and ghastly. She gave a
little scream, and put her hands over her eyes.

Robin bade her keep near to him--"Behind me, sweetheart," cried he,
feverishly, "that naught may hurt you save through me."

So they fought for near an hour; and then the greenwood men saw that
reinforcements were coming to their enemies. Robin's horn gave once more
the order for retreat.

Slowly they fell back through the woods and up the rising ground. "Alas,
alas!" cried poor Mistress Fennel, wringing her hands in utter
forgetfulness that now she was dressed as a man. "We are undone! Here
come others to meet us, with pikes and many men!"

Robin saw that upon the hill-top there was a grey castle. From its open
gate there poured out a motley crowd of men armed rudely with pikes and
with staves. They rushed downward to intercept the outlaws as it seemed,
and Robin thought that, in truth, he and his merry men were trapped at
last.

But--oh, joyful sight!--foremost among those coming from the castle was
the once mournful knight Sir Richard of the Lee. He was smiling now and
very excited. "A Hood! a Hood!" he cried. "To the rescue. A Hood!"

Never was there more welcome sight and hearing than this. Without a word
the outlaws raced up to meet their timely friends, and gained shelter of
the castle, whilst Sir Richard kept the Sheriff and his fellows at bay.
Then, when all were safely across the little drawbridge, the knight gave
the word, and fell back upon his stronghold also. The bridge was drawn
and the gates clashed together, almost in the frantic, hideous face of
Master Simeon, upon whose features showed streaks of blood from his
wound and rage commingled.

       *       *       *       *       *

The knight stationed his men about the walls. Soon appeared Monceux
beneath them alone, and demanding speech. He commanded the knight to
deliver up Robin and his men upon pain of assault and burning of the
castle with fire.

Sir Richard replied briefly. "Show me your warrant, Sir Malapert, and I
will consider it," he said, from within the gates. And Master Monceux
had no warrant with him.

"My word is enough for you, Richard of the Lee," roared he, furiously.
"Am I not Sheriff of Nottingham?"

"You cannot be the Sheriff of Nottingham, good man," answered the
knight, getting ready to close the wicket, "for he is Master Monceux,
and is busy escorting the Princess of Aragon towards York. Go to and
mend your manners, rascal, and call away these ruffians with you."

Then Sir Richard snapped to the wicket gate, and returned to Robin.
"Well met, bold Robin," he cried, taking him by both hands. "Well met,
indeed. I had intended to ride forth this very day to your home in the
woods, to pay you your moneys with my thanks added thereto; but you have
happily saved me and mine the journey. Welcome to my castle, recovered
to me by your generosity."

[Illustration: LITTLE JOHN SINGS A SONG AT THE BANQUET

_That evening, whilst Monceux raged and stormed without, they all sat to
a great feast._

[** "D.McK." (the illustrator?), below and to the left of the
illustration, is probably a part of the illustration. The c is
underlined and superscripted. The period after the K is not evident.]]


Sir Richard presented his wife to Robin, and his son, who had but just
returned from the Holy Land. The knight told him how the last few months
had been most prosperous with him, instead of going so badly as he had
feared; and explained that now, from one source and another, he was
as rich as of yore. "So when we have feasted I will take you to my
treasury, and there count you out thy money and its interest faithfully.
Yet in ridding myself of this debt I do not free my life of the
obligation."

"You need say no more, Sir Richard," interposed Robin. "'Tis we who owe
_all_ to you. As for your debt, why, it hath been repaid me already by
my lord of Hereford. Is it not so, Stuteley?"

The little esquire protested solemnly that the Bishop had paid it to
them as conscience-money. "Then I will pay it again," cried the knight,
cheerfully, "sooner than be outdone by a Bishop in the matter of
honesty; and I have a few presents for you, but these I will show you
later."

Robin thanked him gratefully, and, taking him on one side, told how
boy's clothes were covering Mistress Marian and Dame Fennel at this
instant. Would the knight's wife take charge of them, and find them some
apparel as would ease one of them at least from most uneasy feelings?

That evening, whilst Monceux raged and stormed without, they all sat to
a great feast. Little John was already so much recovered of his wound as
to sing them a song, whilst Robin made sweet accompaniment upon a harp.

The knight showed Robin presently his treasury, and again implored him
to take the four hundred pieces of gold, if he would take no interest.
But his guest was firm: "Keep the money, for it is your own. I have but
made the Bishop return to you that which he had first stolen from your
hands."

Sir Richard again expressed his thanks, and now led them to his armory.
Therein Robin saw, placed apart, a hundred strong bows with fine waxen
silk strings, and a hundred sheaves of arrows. Every shaft was an ell
long, and dressed with peacock's feathers and notched with silver.
Beside them were a hundred suits of red and white livery, finely made
and stitched. "These are the poor presents we have made for you, Robin,"
said Sir Richard. "Take them from us, with ten thousand times their
weight in gratitude."

One of the knight's own men came forward to give a sheaf of the arrows
into Robin's hand, and, behold, it was Arthur-à-Bland!



CHAPTER XXXII


A searching rain continued all that night. They well expected to find
the Sheriff and his army encamped against them on the morrow.

Strangely enough, the morning showed the countryside quiet and peaceful
as of old. Monceux and his fellows, if there, were well hid
indeed--nothing might be seen of them.

From the castle battlements, afar off, mysterious under grey opaque
morning, lay Nottingham. The old town seemed to be yet asleep; but there
was plenty of movement within its gates for all that. A messenger had
come out hastily to Monceux, even while he and Carfax had been
perfecting details of the siege which they intended to apply to the
knight's castle. This man brought the Sheriff news of such moment as to
cause him to give up the hope of catching Robin without another effort.
My lord of Hereford had had the news from York--he had sped it to
Monceux: "The King is abroad; take care of thyself."

That was the item even as it had come in to Prince John from his cousin
Philip of France: "The King is abroad."

Richard of England, the Lion Heart, he whom all thought to be safely out
of the country--some said in a foreign prison, others that he was
fighting the paynims in the Holy Land. In any case, he had returned, and
now all such as the Sheriff and the Bishop of Hereford must put their
houses in order, and say, once and for all, that they would be loyal and
faithful and plot no more with fickle princes behind their true King's
back.

Sir Richard of the Lee, whose son had so lately come home to his
father's castle, could, an he had liked, have explained much to them. He
knew that the King was in England; for had he not but a few hours since,
parted from him with a pardon in his hand and happiness in his heart?

       *       *       *       *       *

Friar Tuck, having been forced to run all night in order that he might
be able to bring the news as to Little John in to Robin, had compensated
himself for the loss of his repose by lying abed the better part of the
next day. Stirring things were going forward in the old city of
Nottingham, as we know; but only at dusk, when all was over and Robin
and them all were safely lodged in Sir Richard's stronghold, did the
worthy friar open his little wicket gate and remember him of his fasting
dogs.

He fed them and passed the remaining hours of day in putting them
through their tricks; then, feeling that he had well earned a good meal,
the friar took out some sumptuous fare from his larder and arranged it
conveniently upon the small wooden bench in his cell. He then lit a
taper, as the night was at hand, bolted and barred his door, and drew
his seat close to the promising board.

He uprolled his eyes, and had commenced a Latin grace, when suddenly
came interruption unpleasant and alarming. One of his dogs began to
bark, deeply and resentfully. The others followed him in the same note,
changing the calm stillness of the night into discordant, frenzied
clamor. "Now, who, in the name of all the saints, cometh here?"
exclaimed Tuck, wrathfully, proceeding to bundle his supper back into
the small larder. "May perdition and all the furies grant that he may
evermore know the pangs of an empty stomach!"

His pious wishes were rudely interrupted by a loud knocking upon the
door of his hermitage. "Open, open!" cried a strident voice.

"I have no means of helping you, poor traveller," roared the friar. "Go
your way into Gamewell, 'tis but a few miles hence upon a straight
road."

"I will not stir another yard," said the voice, determinedly; "open your
door, or I will batter it down with the hilt of my sword."

The priest then, with anger glowing in his eyes, unbarred the door, and
flung it open. Before him stood the figure of a knight, clad in black
armor and with vizor down.

The Black Knight strode into the friar's cell without waiting for
invitation.

"Have you no supper, brother?" asked the knight, curtly. "I must beg a
bed of you this night, and fain would refresh my body ere I sleep."

"I have naught but half of mine own supper to offer you," replied Tuck;
"a little dry bread and a pitcher of water."

"Methinks I can smell better fare than that, brother;" and the Black
Knight offered to look into the larder.

This was more than Tuck could bear, so he caught up his staff and flung
himself before his guest in a threatening attitude. "Why, then, if you
_will_," cried the knight, and he struck the priest smartly with the
flat of his sword.

The friar put down his staff. "Now," said he, with meaning, "since you
have struck me we will play this game to a fair finish. Wherefore, if
you are a true knight, give me your pledge that you will fight me on
to-morrow morn with quarter-staff until one of us shall cry 'Enough.'"

"With all my soul," cried the knight, readily. "And will give more
knocks than ever you have given your dogs."

"One gives and takes," retorted Tuck, sententiously; "put up your sword
and help me to lay supper, for I am passing hungry."

They spread the supper table between them, and once again the friar sat
down hopefully. He spoke his grace with unction, and was surprised to
hear his guest echo the Latin words after him. The knight unlaced his
helm and took it off. He appeared as a bronzed and bearded man,
stern-looking and handsome.

They then attacked the venison pasty right valiantly, and pledged each
other in a cup of wine. The good food and comfort warmed them both, and
soon they were at a gossip, cheerful and astounding. So they passed the
time until the hour grew late; and both fell asleep together, almost in
their places, by the despoiled supper table.

In the morning they breakfasted on the remains, and then they washed
their faces in the jumping brook. The knight told the priest that he had
left his companions at Locksley on the previous evening. He asked so
many questions as to Robin Hood and his men that the priest had to fence
very skilfully.

If the knight had been in a hurry before he seemed now to have changed
his mind. He said that he would wait for his companions, if the priest
could bear with him, and Friar Tuck, having taken a great liking to this
genial traveller, made no complaint.

"I must presently journey forth to visit a poor man who lieth on a sick
bed," said the friar, thinking of Robin.

"Mayhap we may travel together?" suggested the knight. "I am going, so
soon as friends have found me, into Gamewell."

"I go into Barnesdale," said Tuck, quickly, "which is in quite another
direction."

At last the knight said he must go on, with or without his fellows, and
he took up his sword. The friar then got out two quarter-staves, full
nine feet long. Without a word he handed one to the knight.

He took it, and eyed the friar whimsically; then, seeing no sign of
relenting in him, shrugged his shoulders. He put off his helm again, and
both going out to the little glade by the ruined shrine of St. Dunstan,
they prepared for a bout with the staves.

For all his plumpness Tuck was no mean opponent at the game. He skipped
and flourished about and around the knight in a surprising way; and gave
him at last such a crack upon his crown as made the tears start.

Then the Black Knight struck in mighty wrath, and soon the blows of
their staves were making the welkin ring. So busy they were as to give
no heed of the approach of a goodly company of men.

It was Sir Richard of the Lee, with his son and retinue, journeying in a
roundabout way in order to throw Monceux off the scent, and so give
Robin a chance to reach his stronghold in Barnesdale. Both knights
paused in amazement to see this furious combat.

At last the Black Knight brought down his staff with a noise like
felling timber upon the shoulder of the priest. Tuck staggered, and
dropped his staff. "Enough, enough," he cried; then fell in a heap upon
the wet grass.

The knight flung away his staff and ran to help him. He lifted up the
priest's head and put it on his knee. Glancing up, he espied them all
staring at him. "Run, one of you, and bring me some water."

Sir Richard of the Lee started when he heard that voice. He turned to
his son, but already the young man had doffed his helm and was filling
it with water from the brook. He brought it quickly to the Black Knight,
and, offering it, kneeled before him in deepest respect and affection.

"I thank you, child," spoke the Black Knight, graciously. "See, this
good fellow hath but swooned and already doth revive. Are these your
men, and this the father who gave his all for you?"

Sir Richard drew nearer and kneeled as his son had done, whilst the
servitors looked on in strange fear. "Arise, honest man," said the Black
Knight, with feeling, "I know your story, and have pardoned your son.
What can I give to you to show you how we esteem a man just and
faithful, even in adversity?"

"Sire," faltered Sir Richard, rising and standing with bared head before
him. "If I might ask aught of you I would crave amnesty for myself and
for my men. You will hear ere long how we have befriended one Robin
Hood, an outlaw of these woods. Through his generous help I was able to
disencumber my estates, and yesterday, seeing him hard pressed, I opened
my hall to him."

"I will hear the story," the Black Knight said, briefly, "and then I
will judge." He turned to Tuck, who now was sitting up, and gazing about
him in bewildered fashion. "Take my hand, brother; let me help you to
your feet."

"Tell me," said the friar, leaning on the knight, after he had risen,
"was that a bolt from the sky which just now did strike me down?"

"I do fear it was this staff, brother," answered the other, smiling,
"with my poor arm to guide it. 'Twas an ill-requital for your
hospitality, and I ask your forgiveness."

"So small a thing as man's forgiveness of man," spoke Tuck,
sententiously, "I freely accord to you." He peeped at Sir Richard, and
recognized him at once as the knight of the woeful visage. He made no
sign of this knowledge, however. "Are these your companions, Sir Knight,
of whom you did tell me last night?" he asked, indicating the others
with a wide gesture.

"Why, yes, and no, brother," replied the knight, whimsically. "They are
not my companions in a sense, and yet I do purpose to make them such
forthwith. But come, 'tis time for me to be stirring an I would make an
end of my quest. I will be frank with you, brother. I seek Robin Hood,
and had hoped that he might be attending you to-day in this very place."

The friar put up his hands with an exclamation of horror. "I am a lover
of peace, Sir Knight, and do not consort with such as these."

"Nay, I think no harm of Master Hood," the knight hastened to say, "but
I much yearn to see and speak with him."

"If that be all, and you will come with me," said Tuck, scenting a good
prey for Robin, "I will undertake to show you where these villains say
their nightly Mass. I could not live long in this wood without knowing
somewhat of Master Hood, be sure; and matters of religion have perforce
my most earnest attention."

"I will go with you, brother," said the Black Knight.

The friar led the three to his cell. "Bid all the men return to your
castle," the Black Knight commanded, loudly, "save four of those most to
be trusted." Under his breath he bade Sir Richard tell his fellows to
pretend to disperse, and to follow stealthily after their master soon as
an hour was gone.

Friar Tuck had produced some old monkish gowns from under a bench. He
bade the seven of them put them on, the three knights and the four
chosen men. "We will attend the Mass as brothers of my order, which is
Dominican, as you may see," explained Tuck, easily. "You, Sir Knight of
the iron wrist, shall wear this dress, which was an abbot's once. I
would we had a horse for you; it would be more seemly, and less like to
rouse suspicion."

Sir Richard said that there were horses with his men in plenty; and one
was readily obtained for the Black Knight's use. The little cavalcade
set out for Barnesdale, the friar joyfully leading the way. The
servitors affected to return to Sir Richard's castle, but hid themselves
in the bushes instead.

After going deeper and deeper into the forest they came at last to a
part of Watling Street, and there was Robin Hood with a score of his
men. He was watching the road for Monceux, having a notion that the
Sheriff would try now to take them in the rear.

Recognizing Tuck at once, Robin walked boldly up to them. "By your
leave, brothers," cried he, taking hold of the bridle of the knight's
horse and stopping him, "we are poor yeomen of the forest, and have no
means of support, thanks to the tyranny and injustice of the Norman
nobles in this land. But you abbots and churchmen have both fine
churches and rents, and plenty of gold without. Wherefore, for charity's
sake, give us a little of your spending money."

"We are poor monks, good Master Hood," cried Tuck, in a wheedling tone;
"I pray you do not stay us. We are journeying with all speed to a
monastery in Fountain's Dale, which we hear hath been deserted by its
owners."

"I can tell you much concerning this very place," said Robin. "Give me
alms, and I will open my lips to purpose."

The pretended abbot spoke now. "I have been journeying, good Master
Hood, with the King," said he, in full deep voice, "and I have spent the
greater part of my moneys. Fifty golden pieces is all that I have with
me."

"It is the very sum I would ask of thee, Sir Abbot," said Robin,
cheerily.

He took the gold which the other freely offered, and divided it into two
even sums. One half he gave to those with him, bidding them take it to
the treasury, the other he returned to the knight. "For thy courtesy,
Sir Abbot, keep this gold for thine own spending. 'Tis like that you
will journey with the King again, and need it."

"I will tell you now," said the pretended abbot, "for I see that you are
truly Robin Hood, although so small a man, that Richard of the Lion
Heart is returned to England, and hath bid me seek you out. He hath
heard much of you, and bids you, through me, to come into Nottingham and
there partake of his hospitality."

Robin laughed heartily. "That is where we may not venture, Sir Abbot,
since we value our skins. But where is your authority?"

The knight produced the King's seal from under his abbot's gown. Robin
looked at it, and fell at once upon his knees. "I love a true man,"
cried he, "and by all hearing my King is such an one. Now that he is
come to take sovereignty over us we may hope for justice, even in
Nottingham town. I thank you for your tidings, Sir Abbot; and for the
love I have of valor and all true kingly virtues, I bid you and your
fellows to sup freely with us under my trystal tree." He then offered to
lead them into Barnesdale; and the pretended monks, after a short
discussion, agreed to accept his offer.

They soon were come before the caves of Barnesdale, and were presented
to those of the band already there. Presently Robin blew two blasts upon
his horn, and the rest of the greenwood men made their appearance. All
were dressed in their new livery, and carried new bows in their left
hands. Each one knelt for a moment before Robin, as leader of them, ere
taking his place.

A handsome, dark-haired page stood at Robin's right hand, to hold his
cup for him and pour him wine. The signal was given, Robin graciously
placed the abbot in the place of honor; and under the cool fresh
evening, bright still with the aftermath of the day, the banquet was
begun.

The Black Knight was struck with astonishment. "By all the saints,"
thought he, "this is a wondrous sight. There is more obedience shown to
this outlaw man than my fellows have shown to me."



CHAPTER XXXIII


After supper Robin signalled to his men to bend their bows. The knight
was startled, for he thought they intended to choose him for their
target.

He was quickly undeceived, however, for two arrows were set up as butts
for these archers. The knight marvelled indeed to see so small a mark
given in this waning light. A garland of leaves was balanced on the top
of each arrow, and Robin laid down the rules. Whoever failed to speed
his shaft through this garland--and it was to be done without knocking
it off the arrow--was to yield up his own shaft to Robin, and receive
also buffet from the hand of Friar Tuck.

"Master," said Stuteley, "that may not be, for the good friar is not yet
come to confess us this day." He winked his eyes at Robin, well knowing
that the friar sat near to the other monks.

"Doubtless he will be here ere the game be ended," replied Robin,
smiling. "I prithee commence soon as I clap my hands."

Little John, limping, Stuteley and old Warrenton each flew their arrows
truly through the garlands, as did many of the rest. Poor Midge and
Arthur-à-Bland were not so fortunate, for though both came near to doing
it, the garlands unkindly fell off an instant after their shafts had
flown through them.

"Where is the friar?" cried Robin, affecting to peer into the distance,
already blue-grey with twilight. "Surely he is late to-night."

Then Tuck could bear it no longer, but stood up in his place. "Come near
to me, thou villainous archers," he roared, "and I will buffet you right
well."

"Ah, brother, what are you saying?" cried the knight, anxiously. "Surely
you forget our vows and our cloth."

"I forget neither the one nor the other," returned Tuck. "But I would be
no true man did I submit to watch quietly such bungling as these fellows
have done. Come hither, Midge."

"You know them--you are of this company?" continued the knight, as if in
alarm.

"I am very proud to be of it, brother," said the friar.

"I crave a boon," the knight then said, turning to Robin. "This is a
little man who will receive the buffets; and though I seem a priest, yet
am I willing to take the blow instead."

"If you would care to have a buffet from me," the friar cried, "you are
most welcome. For though my arm is sore still from our play of this
morn, I warrant me there is still some strength left in it;" and he
rolled up his sleeve.

"Take, then, the first blow," said the knight, "and I promise you I will
return it you with interest."

A smile lit up the face of the jolly friar. He turned up the sleeve of
his cassock still further, and smote the false abbot such a blow as
would have felled an ox.

"Thou hittest well, brother," the knight remarked, coolly.

The friar was amazed to see him withstand such a blow, and so was Robin.
"Now, 'tis my turn," the knight said; and, baring his arm, he dealt Tuck
such a blow as to send him flat upon his back.

There was a general laugh at this; but the exertion had caused the
abbot's cowl to slip away from his head. The strong face and light beard
of the Black Knight showed plainly to them all. "Alas, your majesty,"
cried Sir Richard of the Lee, springing up; "you have betrayed
yourself."

"It is the King!" cried Scarlett, in sheer surprise; and reverently he
knelt before the Black Knight. Robin glanced questioningly towards the
greenwood men; then knelt himself beside Scarlett. At once the whole
company fell upon their knees also.

"My lord King," said Robin, in hushed voice, "I crave mercy for my men
and for myself. We have not chosen this life from any wickedness, but
rather have come to it perforce."

The King towered amongst them. "Swear," cried he, in clear, loud voice.
"Swear that you will forsake your wild ways, Robin Fitzooth, and will
come with your men into my Court, and be good and faithful subjects from
this night, and I will give you all the pardon that you crave."

"We will come into your Court and into your service, sire," answered
Robin, gratefully, "nor ask anything better in this world than that."

The King bade them rise and continue their sports. "Night is come and I
must ask a lodging of you--even as your chaplain gave me of his
hospitality yester e'en," he said, comfortably. "And tell me, Robin,
where is your Marian? What laggard in love are you to be here without
her?"

"Nay, sire," said the little page, coming forward, "Robin is no laggard,
nor am I far to seek. He is a very valiant, honorable man, and should
indeed be a knight of this realm, if all men had their deserts."

Richard smiled then, and bent his haughty head to kiss the little hand
she had extended to him. "Thou speakest truth, lady," he answered. "And
I had not forgotten how the fair lands of Broadweald once were in Hugh
Fitzooth's honest keeping. It may be that they will return to his son
one day, for folks tell me that Guy of Gisborne is no more."

He turned to Scarlett. "And you are Master Geoffrey of Montfichet," said
he, fixing his keen eyes on the other's face, "son of my father's
friend, George Montfichet of Gamewell? And prithee, Master Geoffrey,
what have you done with my little cousin, Aimée of Aragon?"

Scarlett confusedly explained that she was safe in his father's hall at
Gamewell. "It seemeth, then, that you also have stolen from our Sheriff
at Nottingham, Master Scarlett?" Richard observed, quizzing him. "Surely
all men's hands are against Monceux!"

"Even as all men's hands are against venomous reptiles and the like,"
observed the friar, nodding his head. He had recovered from the buffet
which Richard's hand had dealt, and had seated himself conveniently to
watch the scene. He was truly the one least put about by it.

The King eyed him, and smiled to note his quiet self-possession. "What
can I find for you, brother?" he asked, indulgently. "Some fat living,
where there are no wicked to chastise, and where the work is easy and
well endowed?"

"I only wish for peace in this life," replied the friar. "Mine is a
simple nature, and I care not for the gewgaws and shams of Court. Give
me a good meal and a cup of the right brew, health, and enough for the
day, and I ask no more either of my God or of my King."

Richard sighed. "You ask the greatest thing in the world,
brother--contentment. It is not mine to give or to deny. Yet if I can
help you to find that wondrous jewel, I will do it right heartily." He
glanced curiously from one to the other of the greenwood men. "Which of
you is called Allan-a-Dale?" he asked; and when Allan had come forward,
"So," said Richard, half sternly, "you are the man who stole a bride
from her man at my church doors of Plympton. What have you to say in
excuse of this wickedness?"

"Only that I loved her, sire, and that she loved me," said Allan. "Your
Norman baron would have forced her to wed with him, desiring her lands."

"Which since hath been forfeited by my lord of Hereford," said Richard,
quickly. "I know your story, Allan. Take back your lands and hers from
me this night, and live in peace and loyalty upon them with your dame.
Fennel, she is called, is't not so? 'Tis a pretty name."

"I thank you humbly, sire," said Allan-a-Dale, joyfully. "And Fennel
shall thank you for herself. She will do it far better than I, be sure
of it."

"Where is your dame?" said the King, looking about and half expecting to
find her clad like Marian in boy's attire.

"She also is at Gamewell," said Sir Richard, hastily. "We left her there
this morning when on our way to Copmanhurst. The Princess will take her
into her train, and protect both Mistress Fennel and her lord."

"Our Princess will need a protector for her own self, I am thinking,"
said the King, thoughtfully. "Come hither, Scarlett, and kneel before
me!"

Geoffrey wonderingly did so. "Arise, Geoffrey Earl of Nottingham," cried
Richard, striking his shoulder with the flat of his sword; "take back
your freedom from my hands, and be no more ashamed to attend our Court
disguised and in false pretence. From this moment you have the
overlordship of this forest for your father's sake and mine, and you are
worthy to ask the hand of any woman in this realm."

It was impossible not to perceive the King's gracious meaning, although
Geoffrey could scarce believe in his good fortune. He thanked his King
in a voice full of gratitude and affection. "You did say that the
Princess of Aragon might need a protector, sire," he added, trembling at
his own audacity. "Will you grant me permission to be her champion and
defy the world?"

"'Tis what I had promised for you, my lord of Nottingham," said Richard,
quietly, "and best reason for your knight-hood! Watch well over her, and
guard her from herself--if need be."

For Much the Miller, for Middle the Tinker, for Little John, Stuteley
and old Warrenton the King had kindly words. He knew them all, it
seemed; and they marvelled more and more amongst themselves to hear how
he was aware of all their histories. There was no adventurer, no man of
them whom he did not know by name and fame, at least; and this King
proved so gracious and royal a man that all of them loved him forthwith
and dubbed him in their hearts a right worthy monarch.

They built a great fire, having now no more fear of Monceux or Hereford,
or any one of them. The Sheriff would hold his office from Will
Scarlett's hands from now!

The archers from Nottingham who had been held as prisoners were at once
released, and the King signalled for Sir Richard's followers to appear.
This they did with a rush, and Robin saw then how the King had held them
all truly in his hand, for these fellows, and even Sir Richard of the
Lee, their master, would have had to obey him had he ordered them to
engage the greenwood men in sudden combat.

As it was, all were merry and boon companions. Laughter and song floated
upward as the jumping flames of the camp fire they had built. The friar
sang them the song which Robin had heard so often, and Robin himself
played upon the harp. Night came and they slept--King of England and his
subjects together, in all joy and happiness. The fire burned low, and
deep Sherwood watched over them--forest mother of them all.

       *       *       *       *       *

Next morning the King asked if they had any spare liveries of the
scarlet and white. "For," said he, "'tis only fair that I should lead
you into the city of Nottingham clad as you are yourselves, since now
you are my bodyguard."

So Nottingham awoke to find a great company of men approaching it.
Foremost came a number of archers dressed all in bright liveries and
carrying their bows unslung in token of peace. Behind them marched a
motley host--the servitors of Sir Richard and of old George of Gamewell,
and last of all the Sheriff's own archers.

Monceux came out to meet them with Master Simeon, whilst my lord of
Hereford watched furtively from the city walls. The chief of the
approaching host rode forward, and his stern, dark face was plain to
see.

"'Tis the King!" cried Carfax, who knew Richard well. "Now may our
tongues be politic and say the right words."

"Go to meet him, Simeon," whispered the Sheriff, all in a flutter of
fear and hope. "'Tis like that he hath encountered Sir Richard of the
Lee, and so will know his story of things. Be prudent, be humble."

But Richard waved Carfax haughtily aside. "I will speak with your
master, fellow," he said, harshly. Carfax shrank cringingly to one side,
and Monceux dismounted from his milk-white horse to meet his King.

"Greetings and welcome, sire, from this your faithful city," began
Monceux, very hurriedly. "The joyful tidings of your return were brought
to me two days agone, and at once I did prepare for your coming."

"With a-hanging to wit, and murderous attack upon the castle of this
faithful knight," said Richard. "A welcome not much to our mind,
Sheriff."

"Sire, when the hanging was going forward I did not then know you were
so near," explained Monceux, making matters worse. "And, for the matter
of that, 'twas for foul murder that I would have hanged the villain, who
did escape through your knight's evil practices. Thereby I do accuse Sir
Richard of offending against the laws."

"Enough, Master Monceux," interrupted the King, contemptuously. "The
murder was not done by the man whose life you did seek so earnestly to
end. The killing of Fitzwalter, my warden of these gates, was due to the
foul hands of your own cook, Roger de Burgh. As you have stomach for a
hanging, see to it that this fellow be brought to book. Know you this
writing?"

And Richard showed him the parchment which Will Scarlett had found in
the hearth of the hall at Nottingham Castle.

Monceux turned green and white, and gasped for air. "I had no hand in
this dreadful business, sire, I swear it," he gurgled. "We did conspire
between us to entice the maid Fitzwalter into Nottingham, I confess,
hoping that Robin Hood, the outlaw, would come to visit her, and we
might so trap him. He hath been the author of this mischief, I promise
you, and is a villainous wretch. If Roger killed Master Fitzwalter,
'twas done in the belief that he was engaged with Hood."

"As I thought," muttered the new Earl of Nottingham, under his breath.

"Therefore," said Richard, slowly, "you, Monceux, knew all along that
Little John was not guilty, and yet did seek to hang him."

"Sire, he stole my plate also, and had been excommunicated by my lord of
Hereford."

"Take Roger and hang him speedily," cried the King, to end it. "And
bring me to the Bishop. Stay!" he called to the quickly retreating
Sheriff; "ere you go, Monceux, learn that from henceforward you must
look for patronage from this my lord of Nottingham," he added, with a
gesture. "He will be your master, and you will hold the feof of
Nottingham Castle at his hands."

"Will Scarlett--Master Geoffrey of Montfichet--you?" gasped Monceux.

"Even I, Master Sheriff," replied the man of many names.

"Know also, Monceux," added Richard, indicating Robin and his men,
"these are my archers and especial guards. From now the ban of
excommunication must be removed."

The Bishop had come down from the walls and had drawn nigh. "Fetch me
book and candle, Carfax," said he, "and I will remove the ban."

"You will be wise to do so, my lord," the King said, significantly. The
Bishop deemed it prudent to give no particular heed to his sire's tone.
At once he proceeded to take off the ban of excommunication he had so
hastily pronounced upon Robin Hood and the rest of his merry men.

"Now, Robin, take payment for your entertainment of me in the woods,"
the King said, in a voice that would brook no denial. Robin drew near
and kneeled before him, doubtfully. "Rise, Robin of Huntingdon, first
Earl of the shire!" cried Richard, tapping him with the point of his
blade. "Take rank amongst my knights, and learn that thy King
recognizeth above the other neither Saxon nor Norman of his
subjects--all to me are English; and I love the man who is brave and who
dealeth fairly as he may with his fellow men. You have kept the spirit
of liberty alive in this my land, and I hold no anger against you
because you have been impatient under wrong."

His proud voice was silent; while Robin Earl of Huntingdon seized his
King's hand to his lips and kissed it in a wonderment of gratitude.



CHAPTER XXXIV


It was the wedding-day of four happy people. The day was bright, the sky
blue, and Sherwood had taken upon itself early summer raiment.

The old church of Nottingham was already crowded to excess.

The newly banded guard of Royal bowmen, gay in their scarlet and white
livery, were formed up in two straight lines from the church door to the
lych gate.

So soon as the weddings were over all would go back to a great feast,
given at Gamewell Hall, in honor of the day. Then afterward the two
couples would go with the king into London, to be followed within seven
days by the rest of the Royal guard. Richard meant to employ these
fellows shrewdly and test their loyalty. Not for reasons of sentiment
only had he forgiven Robin and his men.

The hour was reached, and at once a small company was seen issuing forth
from Nottingham Castle. Against his will Master Monceux had given use of
the castle to the two bridegrooms--the newly made Earls of Nottingham
and Huntingdon.

With Robin and Geoffrey were, firstly, old George of Gamewell, proud
above all others in knowing that he had now a son who would ensure honor
to the race of Montfichet all their days. The Squire was happy and
radiant. He walked between them, and turned his head ever and again in
laughing speech with Sir Richard of the Lee and his heir. Stuteley and
Little John were next, the long and short of it; and after them the
jovial Friar of Copmanhurst. Arthur-à-Bland, with a gold chain about his
neck, given him by the knight Sir Richard, walked with Middle the Tinker
on his left and Much the Miller on his right. Close behind trotted the
small complaisant Midge, dressed up very fine in a livery of purple
doublet and green hose.

They came to the lych gate, and the crowd jostled itself in its
admiration. As they walked, rather consciously, up the narrow path
between the smiling ranks of their fellows the crowd cheered them
radiantly.

"A Hood! A Montfichet!" was called and called again. Some maids from the
opposite windows threw them kisses and waved pretty kerchiefs in their
honor.

Within the church, waiting for them soberly at the chancel steps, was my
lord of Hereford, dressed out in his finest and richest robes, and
beside him Friar Tuck. For Robin Hood and Will Scarlett the Bishop had
enmity and contempt, but towards the Earls of Huntingdon and Nottingham
this time-serving man could only profess an abundance of respect.

The brides were to be escorted from Gamewell by no other person than the
King himself. He was to give them both in marriage, and had promised
them jewels and to spare when they were come to Court.

Loud cheering and noise from the mob without the church told of their
approach. The people were wild with joy at having their King amongst
them like this.

Citizens, burgesses, apprentices were all in their best, their wives and
their sweethearts all dressed out in splendid attire. As the King jumped
down from his horse before the lych gate, and held out his strong hand
to help the brides from off their milk-white mares, the whole place
became alive with excitement and rapture.

Little maids, with baskets of violets and primroses, flung their
offerings prettily under the feet of the two beauteous blushing brides,
who leaned so timidly upon the King's proud arms.

At last the service was begun and both couples were well nigh wed. The
Bishop had spoken the Latin service impressively and with unction.

In the first row stood Monceux, in all the pomp of his shrievalty, with
his councilmen and aldermen. Master Simeon, with face leaner than ever
and inturning eyes, glared impotently at the chief actors in this
historic scene.

Alone missing from it was the cold, colorless beauty of the demoiselle
Marie. She had taken herself to her room this morn, and had sworn never
to leave it again. But now that the double marriage was nearly made she
suddenly appeared, thrusting her way rudely through the gathered crowd
at the church door. She was wild-eyed, dishevelled, her dress fastened
all awry. Folks looked once at her, and then exchanged glances between
themselves.

"Stay this mockery of marriage, my lord," she cried, fiercely facing the
Bishop. She had elbowed a path for herself to the chancel steps. "I do
forbid the marrying of these two." She pointed a trembling finger from
Robin to Marian. "This woman is blood-guilty, and Holy Church may not
countenance her." She shrilled, desperately, "'Twas she who foully
killed Master Fitzwalter, her own father, and I have proof of it!"

"'Tis false!" roared Robin, then beside himself. "You viper--you
mean-souled spy! Is no crime too great for you?"

"There is no need for defence," spoke the King; "the charge is too wild
and foolish an one. Seize this woman, some of you, and take her without.
I will deal with her later." He imperiously signed to his guards, and at
once the demoiselle was gripped harshly by both arms.

"Be gentle with her," pleaded Marian; "she is distraught, and hath not
command upon herself. I beg of you, sire, to forgive this; I have no
quarrel with Mistress Monceux."

The demoiselle had suddenly become quiet under the fierce hands of Much
and Little John. She allowed them to thrust her ignominiously forth. At
the door of the church she turned once as though to renew her
preposterous charges, but contented herself merely with a single glance
towards them of malignant hate. Then she was gone; and people stirred
themselves uneasily, as folks do when having been within touch of the
plague.

The Sheriff had stared with protruding eyes of horror and dismay upon
his daughter. When he saw that she was gone, that the dreadful episode
was done, he gasped hurriedly and sat down. His mind became confused,
his vision obscured as by a cloud. The service was finished. Robin and
Marian, Geoffrey and Aimée (no longer of Aragon) were joined together
for the rest of their lives. The Bishop pronounced a blessing; and
forgetting himself utterly in the emotion of the moment, spoke fervently
and with purpose.

The King kissed the brides, and after him their husbands kissed them
also. Then all signed their names in the church books, and the
trumpeters and heralds made music for them.

They returned through the streets of Nottingham, gay now with flags and
merry with a joyful populace. Loud cheerings rent the air, and people
showered flowers and blessings upon them. Before the happy couples ran
six of the greenwood men, loyal subjects now, flinging largesse upon the
people right and left from out of well-filled bags. All the treasure
that they had accumulated in their caves at Barnesdale the King's bowmen
freely distributed this day. All were happy--the nightmare of unjust
dealings, of Norman oppression, of laws for the poor and none for the
rich, was ended. The King had said it, and the King had already made
good the promise in his words.

Afterward, at Gamewell, Richard conferred upon Montfichet full rank as
Baron of the Realm, with power to speak and vote in the Upper Court of
Appeal, the highest rank in the land, next to the King himself. Sir
Richard of the Lee and his son became members of the Star Chamber, with
grants of land in perpetuity.

Turning to Marian, the King wished her every joy that she could wish
herself, and gave to her the lands of Broadweald in Lancashire to hold
in her own right for ever. "Thus you shall have wealth to share with
your Robin; and I counsel you both to make good use of your days. My
subjects who are loyal to me shall have no cause to regret it. I will
give you, Aimée, the Castle of Acquitaine, which I held under my
father's grant until his death. You know how fair a spot it is, and how
sweet the sky of France! Help her to administer her riches, Geoffrey,
wisely and well; and be you all ready when I shall call upon you. Now
God save you all. Amen."



EPILOGUE


In all sincerity there should be no more of this tale, seeing that we
have found ourselves at last come from beginning to end of Robin's
quarrelings with the Sheriff. Most histories end, and end properly, with
just such a marriage as we have seen.

Yet, to tell the truth, however strange and distressful, is the business
of a good historian; and so it must be written that in the end of it sad
days came again for Robin Hood. For five years he lived in peace and
prosperity, a faithful, loyal subject, having two sons born to him in
his home in Broadweald. Then came the plague, raging and furious, and
claimed amongst many victims Marian Countess of Huntingdon.

For a time Robin was as one distraught. He had no joy left to him. He
was as one without energy or hope; a miser robbed of his gold, suddenly
and cruelly. He gave his two boys into the charge of Geoffrey of
Nottingham, and went on a journey to London, there to beg of the King
that he might find him active employment, instead of being but one of a
guard of honor, as he and his men had so truly become.

Richard had already gone to France, and John was acting as Regent of
England in his absence. "Go, shoot some more of my brother's deer,"
sneered the Prince, having heard Robin impatiently. "Doubtless if you do
but slay enough of them he will make you Privy Councillor at the least
when he returns."

This great insult fired Robin's blood; he had been in a strange
distemper ever since the fatal day of his beloved's death. He answered
the disdainful Prince scornfully; and John, growing white with anger,
bade his guards to seize upon him.

Faithful Stuteley helped his master to win freedom from the prison into
which he had been flung; and, with the majority of his men, Robin
returned to the greenwood life. The King's guard was broken up, for the
King had no need of it, nor never would again.

Legends are told of Robin's scorned defiance of the laws, but they are
intangible and unauthentic. It is a sure thing, howbeit, that he did not
revert to Sherwood and Barnesdale as some aver, but rather took up his
quarters near Haddon Hall, in Derbyshire. There is a curious pile of
stones and rocks shown to this day as the ruins of Robin's Castle, where
the bold outlaw is believed to have lived and defied his enemies for a
year at least. Two stones stand higher than the others. These are
supposed to be the seats in the hall of this vanished stronghold whereon
Robin and Little John sat delivering judgment on matters of forest law.

Another chronicle gives these stones as being the scene of a wondrous
leap done by Robin, to show his men that strength and will were his yet.
"Robin Hood's stride," folks say.

One thing is sure--that Prince John did not easily forgive or forget
him. After many attempts made upon them at Haddon--some desperate enough
in all conscience, Robin and his men were allowed to be at peace. In one
of these encounters Robin was sorely wounded; and none but Little John
knew of it.

The wound was in Robin's breast, and looked but a small place. It bled
little, yet would not heal; and slowly became inflamed in wider circles.
Inwardly it burned him as with a consuming fire, his strength was sapped
out from him and his eyes began to lose their shrewdness. No longer
could he split an arrow at forty paces, as in olden days.

At last he took Little John on one side. "Dear heart," said he, "I do
not feel able to shoot another arrow, and soon the rest will know I am
stricken sore. I have it in me to return to London and there give myself
to the Prince. Mayhap if I did this he would give you all amnesty here."

"Sooner would I see you dead than you should do such a thing," cried
Little John; "I swear it by my soul and by my body! Now listen, dear
master, and I will tell you that I have heard of a wondrous cure for
thee. An old beggar came this morn through the woods, and, strangely,
when he spied me, asked if there was not one amongst us ill and
hopeless."

"This beggar--where is he?"

"He waits below," said Little John, hurriedly. "I bethought me to talk
with Stuteley on the matter. The beggar told me that the Abbess of
Kirklees had stayed him as he was travelling past her Priory: 'Go to
Haddon, brother, and there you will find Robin Hood sick unto death. Say
that in the woods near by there is one who is practising magic upon him,
having made a little image of Robin Hood. At each change of the moon
this rascal doth stick a needle into the waxen heart of this image, and
so doth Robin slowly die. Tell him that the name of the man is Simeon
Carfax.'"

"Ay, by my soul, but I thought as much. What villainy! What foul
villainy! Get me a horse, John, and one each for thyself and Stuteley."

The beggar had gone when they went to the hall. None had offered to stay
him. "Let us go quietly, swiftly," said Robin, "for I feel that my hours
are short."

They rode all through the day and night, and came upon the Priory in
early dawn--a quaint, strange building, surrounded by heavy trees.

The journey and fierce excitement told upon Robin. His wound was beating
red-hot irons into his heart; hardly could they get him from his horse
to the gate of Kirklees.

Stuteley rang the bell loudly, and anon the door was opened by a woman
shrouded in black. She spoke in a cold low voice. "Is this Robin Earl of
Huntingdon?" asked she. "I pray God that it may be true, for at this
moment the wizard is meditating his very death."

"Tell us where this miscreant doth make his sorcery, good mother," cried
Stuteley and Little John together, "and not all the magic in the world
shall save him from our swords!"

"Go out yonder to the left, where ye will find a little stream; near by
it is a tree blasted by Heaven's fires. Under the tree is the man
Carfax[A]--I have watched and known him for many days. Go quickly, and I
will tend your master. See, already he swoons--the hour is very nigh!"

[Footnote A: Carfax was then actually in France, acting against
Richard.]

The two men gave Robin into her keeping, with a fury of impatience;
then, with brandished swords, ran swiftly in search of the wizard. Robin
had swooned, and lay a dead weight in the arms of the Prioress.

With amazing strength and tenderness she lifted his slight body and bore
it to a little room, near to the entrance of the Priory. She laid the
unconscious man upon a couch, then hastily bared his right arm.

She paused an instant to throw back her hood; then taking the scissors
of her chatelaine, suddenly and resolutely gashed the great artery in
his arm. He gave a cry of pain and started up. "Be still, be still," she
muttered, soothing him. "The pain is naught, it will cure thee--lie back
and sleep--sleep."

"Who are you?" he asked, feebly, and with swimming eyes. Then blackness
came upon him again, and he fell back upon the couch. Out of the night
of pain the cold face of the demoiselle Marie smiled mockingly at him!

She raised herself and softly withdrew. As she locked the door upon him
she smiled thinly, wickedly. "So, Robin--at last, Robin," she murmured,
"I am avenged."

Two hours later Little John returned. Behind him was Stuteley, anxious
and ashamed. They had found a man in the woods, and had killed him
instantly, in their blind rage, only to discover then that he was but a
yeoman, and not him whom they sought.

"I did hear my master's horn, mother," cried Little John, when the
Prioress had opened the wicket to them. "Three blasts it gave."

[Illustration: THE PASSING OF ROBIN HOOD

_Leaning heavily against Little John's sobbing breast, Robin Hood flew
his last arrow out through the window, far away into the deep green of
trees._]

"'Twas the wind in the trees," said she, serenely. "He sleeps." She
prepared to close the wicket quietly. "Disturb him not."

But Little John was alarmed and began to fear a trap. With his sword he
hewed and hacked at the stout oak door, whilst Stuteley sought to prise
it open.

When it yielded they rushed in upon a sorry scene. Robin lay by the
window in a pool of blood, his face very white.

"A boon, a boon!" cried Little John, with the tears streaming from his
eyes. "Let me slay this wretch and burn her body in the ruins of this
place."

His master answered him with a voice from the grave: "'Twas always my
part never to hurt a woman, John. I will not let you do so now. Look to
my wishes, both of you. Marian's grave--it is to be kept well and
honorably. And my two sons--but Geoffrey will care for them. For me,
dear hearts, bury me near by, in some quiet grave. I could not bear
another journey."

They sought to lift him up. "Give me my bow," said Robin, suddenly, "and
a good true shaft." He took them from Stuteley's shaking hands, and,
leaning heavily against Little John's sobbing breast, Robin Hood flew
his last arrow out through the window, far away into the deep green of
the trees.

A swift remembrance lit up the dying man's face. "Ah, well," he cried,
"Will o' th' Green--you knew! Marian, my heart ... and that day when
first we met, beside the fallen deer! And she is gone, and my last arrow
is flown.... It is the end, Will----" He fell back into Little John's
arms. "Bury me, gossips," he murmured, faintly, "where my arrow hath
fallen. There lay a green sod under my head and another beneath my feet,
and let my bow be at my side."

His voice became presently silent, as though something had snapped
within him. His head dropped gently upon Little John's shoulder.

"He sleeps," whispered Stuteley, again and again, trying to make himself
believe it was so. "He is asleep, Little John--let us lay him quietly
upon his bed."

So died Robin Fitzooth, first Earl of Huntingdon, under treacherous
hands. Near by Kirklees Abbey they laid to his last rest this bravest of
all brave men--the most fearless champion of freedom that the land had
ever known.

Robin Hood is dead, and no man can say truly where his grave may be. At
the least it but holds his bones. His name lives in our ballads, our
history, our hearts--so long as the English tongue is known.





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