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 crestfallen, 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 gatekeeper 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.
[paragraph continues] 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 nickname 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 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 plates, and now would strip me utterly! 'Tis rank villainy, and I promise you all--"
"You have promised enough tonight, 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?"