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.
"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.
[paragraph continues] 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 of 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.