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 wintertime. 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 bond 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 of 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, lumped 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 halfway 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 centre 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 sickbedside," 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 riverbank. "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 quarterstaff 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.