But as they looked in Barnsdale, by a little private path there came a knight riding, whom they soon met. Very dreary and woebegone seemed this traveller; one foot was in the stirrup, the other dangled outside; his hood hung down over his eyes; his attire was poor and shabby; no sorrier man than he ever rode on a summer's day.
Little John bent low in courtesy before him.
"Welcome, sir knight! Welcome to greenwood! I am right glad to see you. My master hath awaited you fasting these three hours."
"Who is your master?" asked the knight.
"Robin Hood, sir," answered Little John.
"He is a brave yeoman; I have heard much good of him," said the knight. "I will go in company with you, my comrades. My purpose was to have dined to-day at Blyth or Doncaster."
So the knight went with the yeomen, but his face was still sad and careworn, and tears often fell from his eyes. Little John and Will Scarlet brought him to the door of the lodge in Barnsdale, where the outlaws were staying at that time, and as soon as Robin saw him he lifted his hood courteously, and bent low in token of respect.
"Welcome, sir knight, welcome. I am right glad to see you. I have awaited you fasting, sir, for the last three hours."
"God save thee, good Robin, and all thy fair company," returned the knight pleasantly.
Robin brought clear water from the well for the guest to wash himself from the dust of travel, and then they sat down to dinner. The meal was spread under the trees in the greenwood, and rarely had the stranger seen a repast so amply furnished. Bread and wine they had in plenty, and dainty portions of deer, swans and pheasants, plump and tender, and all kinds of water-fowl from the river, and every sort of woodland bird that was good for eating.
Robin heaped his guest's plate with choice morsels, and bade him fall to merrily.
"Eat well, sir knight, eat well," he urged him.
"Thanks, thanks," said the knight. "I have not had such a dinner as this for three weeks. If I come again into this country, Robin, I will make as good a dinner for you as you have made for me."
"Thanks for my dinner, good knight, when I have it," returned the outlaw. "I was never so greedy as to crave for dinner. But before you go, would it not be seemly for you to pay for what you have eaten? It was never the custom for a yeoman to pay for a knight."
"I have nothing in my coffers that I can proffer, for shame," said the knight.
"Go, Little John, and look," said Robin. "Now swear to me that you are telling the truth," he added to his guest.
"I swear to you, by heaven, I have no more than ten shillings," said the knight.
"If you have no more than that I will not take one penny," said Robin. "And if you have need of any more I will lend it you. Go now, Little John, and tell me the truth. If there be no more than ten shillings, not one penny of that will I touch."
Little John spread out his mantle on the ground ready to hold any treasure he might find, but when lie looked in the knight's coifer he saw nothing but one piece of money of the value of half a pound. He left it lying where it was, and went to tell his master.
"What tidings, John?" asked Robin.
"Sir, the knight is true enough."
"Fill a cup with the best wine, and hand it first to the knight," said Robin. "Sir, I much wonder that your clothing is so thin. Tell me one thing, I pray. I trow you must have been made a knight by force, or else you have squandered your means by reckless or riotous living?
Perhaps you have been foolish and thriftless, or else have lost all your money in brawling and strife? Or possibly you have been a usurer or a drunkard, or wasted your life in wickedness and wrong-doing?"
"I am none of those things, by heaven that made me," declared the knight. "For a hundred years my ancestors have been knights. It has often befallen, Robin, that a man may be disgraced, but God who waits in heaven above can amend his state. Within two or three years, my neighbours knew it well, I could spend with ease four hundred pounds of good money. Now I have no goods left but my wife and my children. God has ordained this until He see fit to better my condition."
"In what manner did you lose your riches?" asked Robin.
"By my great folly and kindness," was the answer. "I had a son, who should have been my heir. At twenty years old he could joust right well in the field. Unhappily the luckless boy slew a knight of Lancashire, and to pay the heavy penalty exacted from him to save his rights I was forced to sell all my goods. Besides this, Robin, my lands are pledged until a certain day to a rich abbot living close by here at St. Mary's Abbey."
"What is the sum?" asked Robin.
"Sir, four hundred pounds, which the abbot lent me."
"Now, if you lose your land what will become of you?" asked Robin.
"I will depart in haste over the salt sea to Palestine. Farewell, friend, there is no better way." Tears filled the knight's eyes, and he made a movement to go. "Farewell, friends, farewell! I have no more that I can pay you."
But Robin stopped him as he would have gone.
"Where are your friends?" he asked.
"Sir, there are none who will know me now. When I was rich enough at home they were glad to come and flatter me, but now they all run from me. They take no more heed of me than if they had never seen me."
The knight's sorrowful story so touched the hearts of Little John and Will Scarlet that they wept for pity.
"Come, fill of the best wine," cried Robin. "Come, sir, courage!
Never be downcast! Have you any friends from whom you can borrow?"
"None," replied the knight.
"Come forth, Little John, and go to my treasury," said Robin. "Bring me four hundred pounds, and look that you count it out carefully."
Then forth went Little John, and with him went Will Scarlet, and he counted out four hundred pounds. But Much, the miller's son, did not look very well pleased to see all this money going into the hands of a stranger.
"Is this wisely done?" he muttered.
"What grieves you?" said Little John. "It is alms to help a noble knight who has fallen into poverty. Master," he went on to Robin Hood, "his clothing is full thin; you must give the knight a suit of raiment to wrap himself in. For you have scarlet and green cloth, master, and plenty of rich apparel. I dare well say there is no merchant in England who has a finer store."
"Give him three yards of cloth of every colour," said Robin Hood, "and see that it be well meted out."
Little John took no other measure than his bow, and every handful he measured he leapt over three feet.
"What devilkin's draper do you think you are?" asked little Much in half-angry astonishment.
Will Scarlet stood still and laughed.
"John may well give him good measure," he said. "It cost _him_ but light."
Little John paid no heed to their scoffing, but quietly went on with his task.
"Master," he said to Robin Hood, when he had put aside a bountiful store for their guest, "you must give the knight a horse to carry home all these goods."
"Give him a grey courser, and put a new saddle on it," said Robin.
"And a good palfrey as befits his rank," added little Much.
"And a pair of boots, for he is a noble knight," said Will Scarlet.