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Whereupon the Bishop had withdrawn and the baron had commenced an attack upon the place.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 nearby, 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 potvaliant," 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 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!
[paragraph continues] 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 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 around. "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.