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HOW ROBIN HOOD MET FATHER TUCK
IT was full summer again, and life was very pleasant in the greenwood. However fiercely the sun burned in the open fields where the poor serfs swinked and sweated, it was always cool and shady in the woods, and under the trees the gentle breezes blew, and the flies, swinging to and fro in their perpetual dance, kept up a soft drone that seemed to invite one to slumber.
Many a poor villein as he bent over the digging or the reaping in the hot sun, thought of the cool shadows in the shaws, and raising his aching back would look far away to the dark line of tossing trees and think of the men who had escaped from serfdom, and now were ranging there free from toil and tax and hard usage. Many such wondered whether they, too, could ever be so bold as to break away from the habits and routine of years, and put themselves outside the law, and rob their lords of a valuable piece of farming stock, which was the true description of a villein in the eyes of the law of those hard times.
For many miles up and down the country bordering on the broad forest lands the fame of Robin Hood and his men had spread. Wandering pedlars, jugglers, and beggars told tales of his daring deeds, and minstrels already, when they found a knot of villeins in a village alehouse, would compose rough rhymes about him — how he did no evil to poor men, but took from rich, proud prelates, merchants, and knights.
Then, when times were hard, when the labors of sowing, reaping, or digging imposed upon the poor villeins seemed beyond all bearing, as they were already beyond all custom, one or two in a manor would find that their thoughts shaped for freedom, and taking the opportunity they would creep away from their village of little mean hovels and run to the greenwood.
It was thus that Robin Hood's band, which at first had numbered but twenty, had gradually grown until the runaway villeins in it numbered thirty-five, though he had only taken to the forest a full year. But there was another way in which Robin obtained good men of their hands. Wherever he heard of a man who was a good bowman, or one who could wield the quarterstaff well, or was a skilful swordsman, he would go and seek this man out and challenge him to fight.
Most times Robin conquered, but several times he came across men who were more skilful than he, or more lucky in their strokes. But, whatever the result, Robin's manliness and courtesy generally won them to become his comrades, and to join him and his band under the greenwood tree.
In this way he won over that valiant pinder or poundkeeper, Sim of Wakefield, with whom, as says the song which was made by Jocelyn the minstrel, he fought —
when Robin had to confess that he had had enough, and craved of the pinder that he would join him in the greenwood. The pinder was quite willing, but being a man of honesty, he said that he had been elected by his fellow villeins to the office of poundkeeper until next Michaelmas, when he would receive his fee for his work.
"Then, good Robin," said he, as he shook hands with the outlaw, "I'll take my blue blade all in my hand and plod to the greenwood with thee."
In the same way Robin fought a stout battle with Arthur-a-Bland of Nottingham, who was a famous man with the quarterstaff. In this case it was a drawn fight, and they agreed to be friends, and Arthur joined the band of outlaws. He was a cousin of Little John's, and the two kinsmen greeted each other right joyfully when they met. Ever afterward they were almost inseparable in all their exploits, and so tall were they, and skilful with staff and bow, that it was reckoned that together they were the equal of ten men.
When Robin Hood first went to the greenwood he found there were many bands of robbers in it — men who had been made outlaws for crimes of murder or robbery; and these had recruited their bands from runaway serfs and poor townsmen and other masterless men who were not really vicious themselves, but had had to seek the woods to escape from punishment.
Robin had had a very short way with these marauding bands of robbers, who made no distinction between rich and poor, but would as soon rob a poor serf of his last piece of salted pork or bag of meal as a rich priest of his purse of gold. Whenever Robin learned of the hiding-place of a band such as these, he would go there secretly with his men, and surprise them before they could lay hand to weapon. Then, while every one was covered by a yardlong arrow, he would say:
"I am Robin Hood, whom ye know, and I give ye this choice. Cease your evil pilferings, wherein ye respect neither the poor nor the needy, and join my band and take our oath, or fight with me to the death, and put the choice to the ordeal by combat."
Generally the robbers would give in, and joined Robin's band, taking the oath which all had sworn — to do harm to no poor man, honest yeoman, or courteous knight or squire, and to do no ill to any woman or any company which included a woman; but to help the poor and needy, and succor them whenever it was in their power. One or two of the robber leaders, however, had defied Robin, and had fought with him. Three of these he had slain, while four others had yielded to him and became his men.
By all these means his band, that had first been no more than twenty, now numbered fifty-five. All were dressed in Lincoln green while the leaves were on the trees, but when the leaves began to turn russet and to fall, and the forest to be filled with the sombre light of autumn, all the men assumed their tunics, hoods and hose of brown, or long-hooded capores of the same color, so that they passed among the trees unseen by many of the travelers from whom they were about to take toll.
One day in July Robin and many of his band were passing the time in their caves in Barnisdale. Outside all was wet and stormy, for the rain beat down like great gray spears. Every leaf dripped like a spout, the forest ways were sodden, and the dark mist hung sombrely in the hollows and moved but slowly down the long forest drives. None that could help themselves were out on the high roads, which were no more than rivers of mud, but every beggar, pedlar, quack-doctor, pilgrim, juggler or other traveler had fled to the village alehouse, or to the inn that at rare places could be found at the side of the highway.
In their caves on Elfwood Scar, Robin and his band sat dry and cozy, telling tales to each other, or listening to the travels of a pilgrim whom Will Scarlet had found that morning with a swollen foot, limping on his way. Gilbert of the White Hand had washed the wound and salved it, and now for payment the grateful pilgrim, a brown-faced, simple man, told of his marvelous experiences and the sights which he had seen on the long road to Rome, and the terrible days spent on the sea from Venice to Jaffa.
There were other wayfarers with them. One was a quack-doctor, a merry, wizened rogue, with a wise look which he often forgot to wear in the midst of his solemn talk. He had a much-worn velvet cloak trimmed with fur which had almost worn off, and on his hat were cabalistic signs which he asserted only the very wisest of men could read, including himself. He had with him, he asserted, a little of the very elixir which had given Hercules his godlike strength, and some of the powder which had made Helen of Troy so beautiful.
"'Tis a marvel thou takest not some of Hercules his liquor thyself," said Little John, laughing, "for thy wizened frame was no good to thee when that great rogue at the Goose Fair at Nottingham downed thee with his fist for saying thy salve would cure his red nose."
"I need not strength of arm," said the quack, his little black eyes lit up merrily. "Confess, now, thou big man, did not my tongue scorch him up? Did not my talk cause the sheriff's man to hustle the big fellow away with great speed! Why do I need strength of limb when I have that which is greater than the strongest thews" — he tapped his forehead — "the brains that can outwit brute strength?"
"Yet I doubt if thy wit availed thee much," said a voice in a far corner of the cave, "when thou camest across the curtal hermit of Fountains Dale. Tell this good company what befell thee that day."
The little quack's face darkened angrily, whereat the speaker, a pale-faced man in pilgrim's robes, laughed, but not with ill-nature.
"Tell us the tale, doctor!" cried the outlaws, enjoying the quack's discomfiture, while others besought the pilgrim to relate it. But to all their appeals the quack turned a deaf ear, his face red with anger, and his mouth filled with muttered curses on the loose tongue of the pilgrim-rogue and on the curtal hermit.
"Tell us, good pilgrim," commanded Little John, whereat the quack snapped out:
"That rogue is no pilgrim! I know the gallows face of him. He is a run thrall of the abbot of Newstead, and I could get a mark for my pains if I put the abbot's bailiff on his track."
All looked at the pilgrim. He was big of body and limbs, but by his face he looked as if he had suffered some illness.
"Ay, he speaks truth," said the man; "I am Nicholas, cottar and smith of my lord, the abbot of Newstead. But," and his voice became hard and resonant, "I will not be taken back alive to the serfdom in which I served until yesterday's blessed morn. I seek only to work in freedom under a master who will give me due wage for good work done. I can do any smith's work well and honestly — I can make and mend plows, rivet wheels and make harrows, and I have even made swords of no mean workmanship. But because I fell ill and could not work, my lord's bailiff thrust my poor mother out of her holding and her land, ay, with blows and evil words he thrust her out, and while I was on my pallet of straw too weak to move, they bore me out to the wayside, and the sturdy villein whom they put in our place jeered at us with evil words. And thus against all right and custom were we cast out!"
"A foul deed, by the Virgin!" cried Robin. "But, poor lad, thou canst not expect aught else of priests and prelates and their servants. Their hearts are but stones. And so thou hast run. 'Twas well done. But what of thy mother?"
"She is out of it all, thanks be to God," said Nicholas solemnly, "and under the turf of the churchyard, where no lord's bailiff can harm her more."
"Lad, if thou wantest work in freedom," said Robin, "stay with me and thou shalt have it, and thy due wage every Michaelmas. Many's the brown bill or sword blade we want mended. Wilt thou come with us?"
"Ay, master, willingly," said Nicholas. Coming forward, he put his hand in Robin's and they grasped each other's hands in sign of agreement. Then the smith took off his palmer's robe, and his great frame in rough jerkin and hose seemed thin and worn.
"Thou'rt fallen away a bit, lad," said Robin with a smile, "but I can see good thews are there, and in a month our forest air, our cream and venison and good ale will fill thee out till I can see thee o'ertopping Little John here."
Little John smiled good-naturedly and nodded in friendly wise to the new recruit.
"But now, tell us, good Nick," said Robin, "who is this hermit of Fountains Dale, and how served he our friend here, Peter the Doctor."
"Oh," said Nick with a smile, "I meant no ill-will to Peter. Often hath his pills cured our villeins when they ate too much pork, and my mother — rest her soul — said that naught under the sun was like his lectuary of Saint Evremond."
"Thou hearest, good folks!" cried the little quack, restored to good humor by the smith's friendly speech. "I deserve well of all my patients, but" — and his eyes flashed — "that great swineheaded oaf of a hermit monk-Tuck by name, and would that I could tuck him in the deepest, darkest hole in Windleswisp marsh! — that great ox-brained man beguiled me into telling him of all my good specifics. With his eyes as wide and soft as a cow's he looked as innocent as a mawkin [maiden], and asked me this and that about the cures which I had made, and ever he seemed the more to marvel and to gape at my wisdom and my power. The porcine serpent! He did but spin his web the closer about me to my own undoing and destruction. When I had told him all, and was hopeful that he would buy a phial of serpent's oil of Jasper — a sure and certain specific, my good freemen, against ague and stiffness — for he said the winter rains did begin to rust his joints a little, the vile rogue did seize me by the neck and take my box of medicaments. Then he tied my limbs to the tree outside his vile abode, and from my store he took my most precious medicines, sovereign waters and lectuaries, and did force me to swallow them all. Ugh, the splay-footed limb of Satan! He said that I was too unselfish — that I gave all away and obtained none of the blessings myself, and that when he had done with me I should be as strong and as big as Hercules, as fair as Venus, as wise as Solomon, as handsome as Paris, and as subtle as Ulysses. Then, too, did he stick hot plasters upon my body, making me to suffer great pain and travail. In a word, if it had not been that I always keep the most potent and valuable of my medicines in a secret purse, I should not only have been killed but ruined, for — "
Further words were drowned by the burst of uncontrollable laughter which greeted his unconscious "bull." He was plied with many questions as to the effects which this commingling of the whole of his potent wares had had upon him, to all of which the little quack replied in good humor.
"But now tell us," said Robin Hood, "who is this hermit who treated thee to so complete a course of thy own medicines? Where doth he dwell?"
"I will tell thee," replied Peter the quack. "I have heard it said of thee that since thou hast come to the greenwood thou dost allow no one to rob and reive and fight and oppress poor folks. Well, this runaway priest is one who doth not own thee master. He is a man who shoots the king's own deer, if it were known, with a great longbow; he is such a hand with the quarterstaff that he hath knocked down robbers as great as himself. He liveth a wicked and luxurious life. He hath great dogs to defend him, who I believe are but shapes of evil fiends. He is a great spoiler of men, and would as lief fight thee, Robin Hood, as a lesser man."
"This is not truth which Peter saith," said Nick the Smith angrily. "Father Tuck is no false hermit; he liveth not a wicked life as other false hermits do. He ever comes and solaces the poor in our village, and any good he can do if one is sick, that he doth for no payment. He is great of limb, and can fight well with the bow, the staff or the sword, but he is no robber. He is humble and kind in heart, but he can be as fierce as a lion to any that would do ill to a poor man or woman. Evil wandering knights have sometimes striven to thrust him from his hold, but with the aid of his great ban-dogs and his own strong arms he hath so prevailed that neither knight nor other lord or robber hath made him yield."
"He is a strong and a masterless rogue, this curtal monk," repeated Peter, "a man that will not confess that any one is his better. 'Tis said that he was thrust forth from the brotherhood of Fountains Abbey to the north by reason of his evil and tumultuous living, and hath come into this forest to hide. If thou art truly master of the greenwood, Sir Robin," he said, "thou hadst best look to this proud and truculent hermit and cut his comb for him."
Little more was said about the hermit then, and in a little while, when the rain had ceased and the sun shone out, making every leaf dazzle as if hung with a priceless pearl, the wayfarers went on the road again, and the outlaws separated to their various tasks. Some made arrows and bows, others cut cloth for new tunics, or stitched up hose which had been torn by brambles. Others, again, took up their position among the trees along the highroad to watch for a rich convoy of the Bishop of York which they heard was on its way from Kirkstall to Oilerton, for they were lacking many good things both of food and clothing and other gear, which they could only replenish from some rich prelate's store.
It was some days before Robin found an opportunity of faring south to seek the hermit of whom Peter and the runaway workman had spoken. The boldness and independence of the hermit, Father Tuck, had excited his curiosity, and Robin was eager to put the skill of the fellow to the test. He therefore gave the word to Little John and some dozen or so of the others to follow him in the space of an hour, and then betook his way toward Newstead Abbey, near where he had learned was the "hold" or strong dwelling-place of Father Tuck.
To make greater speed Robin was mounted, and, moreover, he wore his thick jerkin of tanned leather. A cap of steel was on his head, and at his side were sword and buckler. Robin never moved a step without his good yewbow, and this was slung across his body, while a sheaf of arrows in a loose quiver hung from his gridle.
The sun was nearly overhead when Robin set out, and he traveled for some hours through the fair forest roads before he began to approach the neighborhood of the curtal monk's abode. At length he reached the silent solitudes of Lindhurst Wood. As he was riding through the trees a sound made him check his horse and listen. He looked about him, peering under the giant branches flung out by the gray monarchs of the forest. All about him they stood, trunk after trunk, stretching out their gnarled and knotted arms, hung with gray moss like giant beards. In the green twilight he could see nothing moving, yet he felt conscious that something watched him. He turned his horse aside into a dim alley which seemed to lead to an opening among the trees. His horse's feet sank noiselessly into a depth of moss and leaves, the growth of ages. He reached the opening among the great gray trees, and whether it was a flicker of waving leaves or the form of a skulking wolf he was not sure, but he believed that away in the dark under the trees to his left, something had passed, as silent as a shadow, as swift as a spirit.
He turned back upon his proper path, looking keenly this way and that. At length he came to where the trees grew less thickly, and he knew that he was approaching the stream near which the hermit's hold was situated. Dismounting, he tied his horse to a tree and then gave a long, low bird's note. Twice he had to give this before a similar note answered him from a place away to the right of him. He waited a few moments and then a squirrel churred in the thick leaves of the oak above his head. Without turning to look, Robin said:
"Sawest thou, Ket, any one in the wood but now as I came down by the Eldritch Oaks?"
For a moment there was silence, then from the leaves above Ket answered:
"Naught but a charcoal burner's lad, belike."
"Art sure 'twas not some one that spied on me?"
"Nay, sure am I 'twas no one that meant thee hurt." This was not a direct reply, and for a moment Robin hesitated. But he did not know any reason for thinking that any one knew of his presence in Lindhurst, and therefore he questioned Ket no more.
"Keep thy eye on my horse, Ket," said Robin; and began to walk toward the stream. Soon the trees opened out, and he saw the water gleaming in the sunlight. Looking up and down, he saw where a small low house stood beside the stream to the left. It was made of thick balks of timber, old and black with age. A wide, deep moat surrounded it on three sides, and before a lowbrowed door stretched a wide plank which was the means by which the inmate of the house gained the land. This plank had chains fixed to it whereby it could be raised up, thus effectually cutting off the dwelling from attack or assault by all who had not boats.
"A snug hermit's hold, by my troth," said Robin; "more like the dwelling of some forest freebooter than the cell of an austere monk who whips his thin body by day, and fasts and prays all night. Where, now, is the humble hermit himself?"
He looked more closely by the trees, and saw where a little path came down through the trees to the water as if to a ford, and on the opposite bank he saw where it issued again from the stream and went like a tunnel through the trees that there came down to the water's edge. Sitting, as if in meditation, by a tree beside the path on this side of the stream was a man in the rough homespun garb of a monk. He seemed big and broad of body, and his arms were thick and strong.
"A sturdy monk, in faith!" exclaimed Robin. "He seems deep in thought just now, as if the holy man were meditating on his sins. By the rood, but I will test his humility at the point of a good clothyard arrow!"
Robin silently approached the monk, who seemed sunk in thought or slumber. Drawing an arrow, and notching it upon the string of his longbow, Robin advanced and said:
"Ho, there, holy man, I have business t'other side of the stream. Up and take me on thy broad back, lest I wet my feet."
The big monk stirred slowly, lifted his face, and looked stolidly at Robin for a moment as if he hardly understood what was said. Robin laughed at the simple look upon his face.
"Up, oaf," he cried; "ferry me over the stream on thy lazy back, or this arrow shall tickle thy ribs!"
Without a word the monk rose, and bent his back before Robin, who got upon it. Then slowly the monk stepped into the stream and walked as slowly across the paved ford till he came to the other side. He paused for a moment there as if to take breath. Then he stepped up to the bank, and Robin prepared to leap off. But next moment he felt his left leg seized in an iron grip, while on his right side he received a great blow in the ribs. He was swung round, and fell backward upon the bank, and the monk, pressing him down with one knee, placed great fingers upon his throat, and said:
"Now, my fine fellow, carry me back again to the place whence I came, or thou shalt suffer for it."
Robin was full of rage at his own trick being turned upon him in this way, and tried to snatch at his dagger, but the monk caught his wrist and twisted it in a grasp so powerful that Robin knew that in strength, at least, the monk was his master.
"Take thy beating quietly, lad," said the monk, with a slow smile. "Thou'rt a saucy one, but thou hast not reached thy full strength yet. Now, then, up with thee, and carry me back."
The monk released him, and Robin, in spite of his rage, wondered at this. Why had he not beaten him senseless, or even slain him, when he had him in his power? Most other men would have done this, and none would have blamed them. Already in his heart Robin regretted that he had treated the monk with so high a hand. He saw now that it was in his ignorance that he had scorned Father Tuck.
Without a word, therefore, he bent his back, and the monk slowly straddled upon it and clasped his hands round Robin's neck, not tightly, but just enough to make him understand that if he tried to play another trick the monk was ready for him. When he reached the middle of the stream, where it ran most deeply and swiftly, Robin would greatly have liked to have tipped the monk in the water; but as the odds were too much against him he went on.
When he was nearing the bank he suddenly heard a laugh come from the hermit's hold, and looking up he saw at a little window hole which looked upon the stream the face of a lady. It had a dimple about it, and she was very pretty. As he looked up the face swiftly disappeared. He did not knew who the lady might be, but the thought that he was made to appear so foolish in her eyes made Robin almost mad with rage. He reached the bank, and when the monk had got from his back he turned to him and said:
"This is not the last thou shalt see of me, thou false hermit and strong knave. The next time we meet thou shalt have a shaft in thy great carcass."
"Come when thou likest," said the monk with a jolly laugh. "I have ever a venison pasty and a bottle or two of Malvoisie for good friends. As to thy bow shafts, keep them for the king's deer, my pretty man. Pay good heed to thy wits, young sir, and try not thy jokes on men until thou knowest they go beyond thy strength or not."
So enraged was Robin at the monk's saucy answer that next moment he had dashed at him, and in an instant they were struggling fiercely, each striving to throw the other into the stream. The end of it was that both slipped on the soft bank, and both, still clutching each other, rolled into the stream.
They crawled out quickly, and Robin, still blinded with rage, ran to his bow and arrows, which he had dropped on the bank, and notching a bolt, he turned and looked for the monk. The latter had disappeared, but next moment he came from behind a tree with a buckler in one hand and a sword in the other, while on his head was a steel cap. Robin drew the string to his ear, and the arrow twanged as it sped from the bow. He looked to see it pierce the great body of his enemy, but instead, with a laugh the monk caught it on his buckler, and it glanced off and stuck in the ground, where it stood and shook for a moment like a strange stiff kind of plant moved by the wind.
Three more arrows Robin shot at him, but each was deftly caught by the monk upon his shield, and the outlaw was in a rage to see that by no means could he get the better of this redoubtable monk.
"Shoot on, my pretty fellow," cried the monk. "If you wish to stand shooting all day I'll be thy mark, if it gives thee joy to waste thy arrows."
"I have but to blow my horn," returned Robin angrily, "and I should have those beside me who should stick so many arrows in thy carcass that thou wouldst look like a dead hedgehog."
"And I, thou braggart," said the monk, "have but to give three whistles upon my fingers to have thee torn to pieces by my dogs."
As the monk spoke, Robin was aware of a noise in the trees beside him. He looked, and saw a slim youth running toward him, with a hood round his head so that his face was almost concealed, a bow slung on his back, and a staff in his hand. Robin thought the youth was about to attack him, and therefore brought his buckler up and drew his sword. At the same time came other sounds from the woods as of men dashing through the undergrowth. There came a shrill whistle, and then Robin heard a scream as of an animal or bird in the talons of a hawk. Robin recognized it at once as the danger-signal of Ket the Trow, and knew that enemies were upon him.
He thought the slim youth who had paused for a moment at the sound of the whistle was some spy of Guy of Gisborne's who was leading an ambush upon him. Robin lifted his sword and rushed upon the youth. He was but the space of a yard from the other, and noticed how he stood panting and spent as with running. The youth raised his head, and Robin caught a glimpse of the face in the shadow of the hood.
"Marian!" he cried, for it was his sweetheart. "What is this? What "
"Robin," she panted, and her face flushed as she looked at him, and laid one fair hand on his arm, "sound thy horn for thy men, or thou art lost indeed."
Instantly she turned and ran to the monk and said some rapid words to him. The notes of Robin's horn rang out clear and shrill, and reverberated through the dim leafy alleys. Almost at the same moment the monk raised two fingers, and putting them in his mouth, blew so shrill a whistle as almost to split the ear. As he did so, men came running from the trees, and Robin knew them for the men-at-arms of the abbot of St. Mary's.
"Quick, Marian!" cried Robin, "get thee to the monk's hold. There is still time!"
Swiftly Robin looked about for some point of vantage whence he could defend himself, and saw a spit of land where it jutted into the stream. He notched an arrow on his bowstring, shot the first man down, then ran lo the spit, and notched another arrow as he ran. Marian and the monk reached it as soon as he.
"Nay, nay," repeated Robin, "go ye across the bridge to the monk's hold. If my fellows are not near 'twill go hard with me, and I would not have thee harmed, sweetheart." He notched a third arrow.
"Nay, Robin," cried Marian. "I can bend a bow, as thou well knowest, and the good monk Tuck will aid us. Look, here are the dogs!"
The men-at-arms by this time were but some ten yards away, and already Robin had sent three arrows among them, wounding two and killing one man.
Black Hugo was leading them, and cried:
"Lads, we must get together and rush him. If he can hold us at distance with his arrows we shall all be shot down."
Even as he spoke, the long snore of an arrow suddenly stopped, and the man beside him fell with the clothyard wand sticking through his throat. The men began to egg each other on, but the great arrows made them wary. While they hesitated, suddenly they heard a baying, and before they were aware of the cause ten great ban-dogs had leaped upon them. Fierce brutes they were, of the size of bloodhounds, with great collars about their necks in which were set keen spikes.
The men fought blindly with sword and dagger against these strange and terrible foes. Suddenly a shrill whistle sounded, a giant man in monk's form, bearing a buckler, came toward them, crying upon the dogs by name to cease. Five hounds lay wounded or dead, but the others at the sound of their master's voice ceased and drew back, licking their wounds.
Black Hugo wiped the sweat from his swarthy face, and looked about him, and his face went suddenly white. Across the lea or open field which was on this side of the monk's hold, were the forms of a score of men in green running toward them as fast as they could, and each was notching an arrow to his bow even as he ran.
"Save thyselves!" cried Black Hugo; "here come more rogues than we can face."
The men gave a swift look across the lea, and then, turning, they dashed for the cover of the trees. The outlaws paused for a moment, and a flight of arrows droned through the air, cutting the fans of leaves, and disappearing into the bushes. Three were slain by these bolts, but the others rushed madly on in the green twilight of the old trees, scattering as they ran, to make pursuit more difficult.
When the last of the outlaws had disappeared after the fleeing men-at-arms, Robin turned to Marian, who, with heightened color and quick breath, tried to forestall the anger which she feared her lover would have against her.
"Be not angry with me, Robin," she said, "but I have feared for thee so much that I had to come to the greenwood to learn how it fared with thee. You know how many a time and often we have shot and hunted on Locksley Chase when we were boy and girl together. Why should I not do that now?"
"Why shouldst thou not, sweetheart?" answered Robin. "Because I am an outlaw, and thou art a lording's daughter. My head is for any one to take who may, and those who aid me run the same danger. But tell me, Marian, how long is it since thou hast donned the clothes that make thee so sweet-looking a lad, and how dost thou know this rascal monk?"
"He is no rascal, Robin, but a good man," answered Marian. "He is Sir Richard at Lee's good friend, and hath ever spoken well of thee, and cheered me greatly when I have sorrowed for thee. And when at last I resolved to don these clothes and come to the greenwood to learn, if I might, how thou didst live, I spoke to Father Tuck, and he promised to aid me. For he hath friends throughout the forest, and thus I got to know thy friends the trolls. And I watched thee in the forest as thou didst ride hither, and Ket knew I was there."
While Marian had been talking, she had led Robin across the drawbridge, and they were now in the dwelling of the monk. It was a room which partook of the character of kitchen, oratory, and hall. A crucifix with a praying-stool before it stood in one comer; on another wall were coats of chain-mail, steel headpieces, a double-handed sword, two or three bright bills, and a sheaf of arrows, together with a great bow. Along a third wall were ranged rough shelves on which were bags of meal and two or three pieces of salted ham or venison. In the center of the room was a table.
As they entered, a lady rose from a seat, and Marian ran to her with hands outstretched, and drew her impulsively forward.
"Alice, this is my Robin," she said.
Robin recognized the lady's face. She it was who had seen him carrying the monk across the river, and had laughed at him. The lady had a bright and merry face, and looked at him with a twinkle in her eye. Then she put forth her hand and said:
"So you are that bold outlaw whose head Sir Ranulf de Greasby swears every night ere he goes tipsy to bed shall yet be hung on the walls of Hagthorn Castle."
He bent his knee and kissed the lady's hand very gallantly.
She gave so merry a laugh, and her eyes spoke her admiration of the handsome outlaw so eloquently, that Robin's heart was completely won. He bent his knee and kissed the lady's hand very gallantly.
"I am Robert or Robin Hood, as men call me," he said, "and I think you must be Mistress Alice de Beauforest, whom Alan-a-Dale loves so well."
The lady's face flushed for a moment and then went pale, and a look of pain came into her eyes. She turned away and Marian went to her with a tender look and put her arm about her neck.
Just then the monk entered. "By my faith," he said, "but thou'rt a wasteful fellow to aid. Four of my poor hounds have barked their last bark and gnawed their last bone on thy account."
"Good hermit," said Robin, going up to him with outstretched hand, "I hear thou hast been a true friend to the lady I love best in the world, and I would that thou wert my friend also."
"Robin, lad," replied Father Tuck with a smile on his broad good-humored face, "I ha' been thy well-wisher since I heard how thou didst help burn Sir Guy's house about his ears. I think we are not enemies at heart, lad, you and I. Since I ha' kept this hold these seven years with the help of my good friend, Sir Richard at Lee, I ha' never heard of a man whose doings I like to hear o' so well as thine. How thou didst put the surly sheriff o' Nottingham to scorn! I never laughed so much since the day I trundled my holy brothers into the fish-stews at Fountains Abbey and got my wicked self expelled for the deed!"
The monk caught Robin's hand and gave it a squeeze that would have crushed a weak man's bones. But Robin's grip was almost as strong, and Father Tuck smiled admiringly.
Thereafter there was much talk between them all. Marian told how Father Tuck had been her guide through the forest ways during the summer, teaching her woodcraft, and giving her much knowledge of herbs and cures. She told him that she had also made friends with Ket the Trow and Hob o' the Hill and their mother and sisters, and through them had been kept informed of all that had befallen Robin and his men.
"Robin," said Father Tuck, "a proud man thou shouldst be to think so fair a maid should do all this for love of thee."
"Proud I am," said Robin, "and yet I have sorrow in my hem~ to think that I am an outlawed man, and can offer her, who hath ever known the softest ways of living, only the bare and houseless life of the wild forest. I would not change my life for anything the king could offer me, but for my nut-brown maid here to wish to wed me against her kinsmen's wishes would be to doom herself to a life that I would not — nay, that I cannot ask her to share."
"Robin," said Marian, "I love but you alone, and I will wed none but thee. I love the woodland life even as thou dost, and I should be happy, though I forsook all my kindred. You think doubtless that I should repine when the leaves fall from the trees, when the wind snarls down the black ways or the snow-wreaths dance in the bitter winter. But, my heart would be warm having thee to turn to, and I would never repent leaving the thick walls of my father's castle. He is kind to me, but he scorns me and daily rails at me for my love of thee, and though I would leave him with sorrow, I will come to thee swiftly if and when thou hast need of me."
There was a little shake in her gentle voice as she ended, and tears were in the brave eyes. Robin took her hands and raising them to his lips, kissed them fervently.
"Almost you persuade me, sweetheart mine," he said. "I know thou lovest but me alone, but it is not right that a maid should run to the wood with an outlaw, to live in dread, watching day and night lest their enemies approach. But this! promise thee, Marian, that if at any time ye are in peril from those that wish ye ill, and are alone and pursued by evil men, then do ye send to me and I will come, and we will be wed by this good monk here, and then together we will suffer whatever fortune doth betide us."
"Well said, Robin Hood," said the monk heartily, "and well advised ye be. I see thou art an honorable man, as indeed I knew aforetime. And indeed I think it not unlikely that ere much more water floweth under Wentbridge, the fair young maid will have need of thy strong arm and the love of a good man strong enough to protect her from evil wishers."
The monk said this knowing that Marian's father was but sickly, and that if he should die many powerful and evil barons or prelates, desiring the lands and riches of the lady Marian, would plot to get her into their power, so that they could profit from her wealth, and sell her to a husband who would give them a good price for her rich dower.
A horn sounded from the forest outside, and going to the door, Robin espied Little John and the ether outlaws. Little John reported that the abbot's men and the king's rangers had been chased to the highway beyond Harlow Wood, several having been wounded. That then two knights, who seemed to be waiting for them, had striven to rally the men-at-arms, but that the arrows of the outlaws had put them all to the rout, one of the knights riding away with an arrow in his side.
"Was there aught to show who they were?" asked Robin.
"One had a blank shield, the other had a red tower on his," replied Little John. "The red tower was a man I did not know," said Scarlet, "but he with the white shield was one of those whom we beat back last year at the church at Campsall."
"Scarlet speaks truth," said Will the Bowman, "he is Niger le Grym, and I think the other, by the snarl in his voice and the fire of his curses, was no other than the fiend Isenbart de Belame himself."
"I doubt it not," said Robin. "It shows that their spies watch us continually. Go into the forest and keep within sound of my horn. There are two ladies here within whom we must guard to their homes."
Within, Father Tuck was preparing a woodland meal, and Marian having changed into her proper attire, they all sat to eat. Afterward two horses were brought forward from their hiding-place in the forest, and the ladies, having mounted, bade good-bye to the monk and set off with Robin to the castle of Sir Richard at Lee, where both were dwelling for a time.
As they rode along down the sunny forest ways, Robin saw that the lady Alice still seemed sad and thoughtful, and he asked Marian why his words had caused such sorrow in her.
"Because," said Marian, "she can no longer save herself from wedding the old and evil lord, Sir Ranulf de Greasby. The day of marriage is set and her lover, Alan-a-Dale, is outlawed, and is hiding in the wild hills of Lancaster."
"I heard not of that," said Robin. "Why is the young squire outlawed?"
"Sir Isenbart de Belame got him proclaimed outlaw because he slew Ivo le Ravener," was the reply. "Moreover, he hath got a heavy fine placed on the lands of Alan's father, Sir Herbrand, and it is likely that Sir Herbrand will be ruined and his son slain ere long. Therefore, for the misery that she suffers because of this, my dear friend Alice is sad."
"He did in truth slay Ivo le Ravener," said Robin, 'but 'twas in fair fight, for I was by them when they fought, but I know not how the report could have been made that Alan slew him, because there was no one of his party near him, except a churl whom Ket the Trow slew."
Robin related what had happened at the fight in the forest between Alan and Ivo le Ravener.
"I remember now," said Marian, "that Sir Richard told me that word was given by a forester that on the day when the knight was found slain, Alan-a-Dale came to him for a horse which he had left in his charge, and he had a sore wound on his shoulder."
"That was Black Hugo," said Robin, "who was with the men-at-arms to-day. Said he aught else? Said he anything of who was with Alan when he came for his horse, or of the plight in which Hugo was himself?" "Nay, I think not."
Robin told Marian of how they had found Black Hugo tied up to his own door-post, while a big man was seated before him eating the toasted collops which the forester had prepared for his own dinner. Marian laughed heartily at this, and said that Sir Richard would be hugely delighted to hear so merry a tale.
"See you that tall fellow there?" said Robin, pointing to where the fine athletic figure of Little John, supple and wiry, strode before them, glancing keenly here and there into the forest beside them. "He is the villein who tied up the forester, and a jollier comrade and a finer fighter I ne'er wish to meet."
Marian thereupon wished to speak to Little John, who was called up by his leader, and soon Little John, his face flushing, was speaking to the first lady he had ever met in his life. Yet he bore himself with the dignity of a freeman, for in the frank life of the forest and the open air, the awkward and loutish manners of a serf quickly dropped away from manly natures.
While they spoke thus together, Marian asking Little John many questions concerning the life of the outlaws under the greenwood tree, Robin rode forward to the lady Alice where she rode with her woman beside her.
"Lady Alice," said the outlaw, "sorry am I that those words of mine caused your sad thoughts to rise. But tell me — for I have known young Alan, and a bolder, braver squire I never met, nor one more courteous in speech and kindly in manner — how soon is it appointed that thou shalt wed the old knight whom those tyrants of Wrangby wish to be thy husband?"
"Sir Outlaw," said the lady, and her dark eyes glowed, "I thank thee for thy kind words concerning him I love. He hath written of thee in his few letters which I have received since, a year ago, he fled an outlaw to the woods and wilds, and ever he spoke warmly of thy friendship. My hateful marriage is fixed for three days hence on the feast of St. James at the church of Cromwell. My poor father can no longer resist the wicked demands of Sir Isenbart, who threatens fire and sword if he submit not to his will and weds me to the old tyrant, Sir Ranulf. And we have no great and powerful friends to whom we may appeal for protection, and my lover is outlawed and cannot save me."
Tears were falling from the brave eyes, and they went to Robin's heart. His brow was dark with anger as he though for some moments deeply. Then he said:
"Take heart, dear lady. There may be hope in a few strong arms and stout hearts, though the time is but short. Hast thou any one who could take a message to thy lover from me?"
"Thanks for thy great cheer, good Robin," replied the lady, and smiled through her tears. "There is a serf of my father's who knoweth my lover's hiding-place and hath taken four messages from me, though the way is fearsome and long for a poor untraveled villein. Yet he is brave, and loves to do my behests."
"How is he named and where doth he live?"
"He is named John or Jack, son of Wilkin, and dwelleth by the Hoar Thorn at Cromwell."
"Give me something which he will know for thine," said Robin, "for I will send one of my fellows to him ere the vesper bell rings tonight."
Lady Alice took a ring from one slender finger and put it in Robin's hand.
"This will he know as from me, and he will do whatsoever the bearer telleth him to do gladly," she said, "for my sake."
The waiting-woman riding beside her now put out her hand, holding a thick silver ring between her fingers.
"Bold Outlaw," said the girl, a dark-haired, rosy cheeked and pretty lass with a high look, "let thy man take this also to Jack, and bid him from me, whom he saith he loves, that if he do not what you tell him and that speedily, then there is his ring back again, and when I see him again he shall have the rough side of my tongue and my malison besides. For if he'll not bestir his great carcass for the love of my lady who is in such a strait, then he is no man for Netta o' the meering."
"I will do thy bidding, fair lass," said Robin with a smile. "And as I doubt not he is a brave man indeed from whom thou hast accepted this ring, I have no fear that all will go well."
In a little while they had reached Sir Richard's castle, and the ladies were safely in hall again. By this time the afternoon light was softening to evening, and Robin knew that no time was to be lost. He called Will the Bowman to him, and giving him the two rings entrusted him with the mission he had planned. A few moments later, on Robin's own swift horse, Will was galloping with loose rein along the forest drives that led eastward to the waters of the Trent.
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