"And what will you give him, Little John?" asked Robin.
"Sir, a pair of shining gilt spurs to pray for all this company. God bring him safely out of all his trouble."
The poor knight scarcely knew how to thank them for all their goodness.
"When shall the day be for me to pay back the money you have lent me?"
he said. "What is your will?"
"This day twelve-month under this greenwood tree," said Robin. "It were a great shame," he added, "for a knight to ride alone without squire, yeomen, or page to walk by his side. I will lend you my man, Little John, to be your lad. He may stand you in yeoman stead if ever you are in need."
As the knight went on his way he thought how well matters had happened for him, and when he looked on Barnsdale be blessed Robin Hood. And when he thought of Will Scarlet, Much, and Little John he blessed them for the best company he had ever been in.
"To-morrow I must go to York town to St. Mary's Abbey," he said to Little John, "and to the abbot of that place I have to pay four hundred pounds. If I am not there by to-morrow night my lands will be lost for ever."
The next day he strode out of the abbot's hall, all his care gone; he flung off his worn raiment, put on his good clothing, and left the other lying where it fell. He went forth singing merrily, back to his own home at Wierysdale, and his lady met him at the gate.
"Welcome, my lord," said his wife. "Sir, are all your possessions lost?"
"Be merry, dame," said the knight, "and pray for Robin Hood that his soul may always dwell in bliss. He helped me out of my distress; had it not been for his kindness we should have been beggars. The abbot and I are in accord; he is served with his money; the good yeoman lent it me as I came by the way."
The good knight, whose name was Sir Richard Lee, dwelt in prosperity at home till he had four hundred pounds all ready to pay back Robin Hood. He provided himself with a hundred bows made with the best string, and a hundred sheaves of good arrows with brightly burnished heads. Every arrow was an ell long, well dressed with peacock's feathers, and they were all inlaid with silver so that it was a goodly sight to see. The knight provided himself also with a hundred men, well armed, and clothed in white and red, and in the same fashion he attired himself. He bore a lance in his hand, and a man led the horse which carried his change of apparel. And thus he rode with a light heart to Barnsdale.
As he drew near a bridge he was forced to tarry awhile, for there was a great wrestling, and all the best yeomen of the West Country had flocked to it. A good game had been arranged, and valuable prizes were offered. A white bull had been put up, and a great courser, with saddle and bridle all burnished with gold, a pair of gloves, a red gold ring, and a pipe of wine in prime condition. The man who bore himself the best would carry off the prize.
Now there was a certain worthy yeoman there who ought by rights to have been awarded the prize, but because he was a stranger the other wrestlers were jealous, and all set on him unfairly. As he was far from home and had no friends there, he would certainly have been slain if it had not been for the knight who, from the place where he stood, saw what was going on. He took pity on the yeoman, and swore no harm should be done to him, for the love he bore to Robin Hood. He pressed forward into the place, and his hundred archers followed him, with bows bent and sharp arrows to attack the crowd. They shouldered every one aside, and made room for Sir Richard Lee to make known what he had to say.
Then the knight took the yeoman by the hand, and declared he had fairly won the prize. He bought the wine from him for five marks, and bade that it should be broached at once, and that every one who wished should have a draught. Thus good humour and jollity were restored, and the rest of the sports went on merrily.
The knight tarried till the games were done, and in the meanwhile it came to be three hours after noon. And all this time Robin had waited fasting for the coming of the knight to whom twelve months before he had lent the four hundred pounds.
LITTLE JOHN AND THE SHERIFF OF NOTTINGHAM
Retold by Mary Macleod
It will be remembered that when the poor knight left Robin Hood in the forest Little John went with him to act as his yeoman. He stayed for some time in Sir Richard's service, and a light and pleasant post he found it, for he was free to do pretty much as he liked.
It happened one fine day that the young men of Nottingham were eager to go shooting, so Little John fetched his bow, and said he would meet them in a trial of skill. While the match was going on, the Sheriff of Nottingham chanced to pass, and he stood for a while near the marks to watch the sport.
Three times Little John shot, and each time he cleft the wand.
"By my faith, this man is the best archer that ever I saw," cried the sheriff. "Tell me now, my fine lad, what is your name? In what county were you born, and where do you dwell?"
"I was born at Holderness," said Little John, "and when I am at home men call me Reynold Greenleaf."
"Tell me, Reynold Greenleaf, will you come and live with me? I will give you twenty marks a year as wages."
"I have a master already, a noble knight," answered Little John. "It would be better if you would get leave of him."
The sheriff was so pleased with the prowess of Little John that he wanted to get him into his own service, so he went to the knight, and it was agreed the sheriff should have him for twelve months. Little John was therefore given at once a strong horse, well equipped, and now behold him the sheriff's man.
But Little John had not forgotten Robin Hood's words of warning about the sheriff; he knew him to be a false and greedy man, and a ruthless enemy to the outlaws, and Little John was always thinking how he could pay him out for his treachery.
"By my loyalty and truth," said Little John to himself, "I will be the worst servant to him that ever he had."
Little John soon found that his new place was little to his liking.
The other servants were not well pleased to see the newcomer; they were jealous of the favour shown to him at first by his master, and treated him with rudeness and contempt. The sheriff himself was very mean; he wished to secure Little John for his service, for he knew such a comely lad and fine archer would do him credit, but once he was sure of him he paid no heed to seeing that he was properly lodged and fed.
It happened one day the sheriff went out hunting, and Little John was left at home forgotten. No meal was served to him, and he was left fasting till noon. As he was by this time very hungry he went to the steward, and asked civilly for something to eat.
"Good sir steward, I pray thee give me to dine," he said. "It is too long for Greenleaf to be so long fasting, therefore I pray thee, steward, give me my dinner."
"I've had no orders," said the steward rudely. "Thou shalt have nothing to eat or to drink till my lord comes back to town."
"Rather than that I'll crack thy head," said Little John.
The steward started forward to the buttery, and shut fast the door, but Little John gave him such a rap on his back it almost broke in two--as long as he lived he would be the worse for the blow. Then Little John put his foot to the door, and burst it open, and Little John went in and helped himself plentifully to both ale and wine.
"Since you will not dine, I will give you to drink," he said to the steward; "though you live for a hundred years you shall remember Little John."
He ate and drank for as long as he chose, and the steward dared say nothing, for he was still smarting from the blow. But the sheriff had in his employ a cook, a bold, sturdy man, and he was no coward either.
"A fine sort of fellow you are to dwell in a house and ask for dinner thus," he cried, and he dealt Little John three good blows.
"I vow I am very well pleased with those strokes of yours," said Little John, "and before I leave this place you shall be tested better."
He drew his good sword, and the cook seized another, and they went for each other then and there. Neither had any thought of giving in, but both meant to resist stoutly. There they fought sorely for a whole hour, and neither could in any way harm the other.
"Thou art truly one of the very best swordsmen that ever I saw," said Little John. "Couldst thou shoot as well with a bow thou shouldst go with me to the greenwood. Thou wouldst have from Robin Hood twenty marks a year as wages, and a change of clothing twice a year."
"Put up thy sword, and we will be comrades," said the cook.
He fetched at once for Little John a right good meal--dainty venison, good bread, and excellent wine--and they both ate and drank heartily.
When they had well feasted they plighted their troth together that they would be with Robin that self-same night. Then they ran as fast as they could to the sheriff's treasury, and though the locks were of good steel they broke them every one. They carried off all the silver plate--vessels, dishes, gold pieces, cups, and spoons, nothing was forgotten.
They took also the money--three hundred and three pounds--and then they went off straight to Robin Hood in the forest.
"God save thee, my dear master," cried Little John.
"Welcome art thou, and also that fair yeoman whom thou bringest with thee," said Robin Hood. "What tidings from Nottingham, Little John?"
"The proud sheriff greeteth thee well, and sendeth you here by me his cook and his silver vessels and three hundred and three pounds," said Little John.
"I dare take my oath it was never by his good will these goods come to me," laughed Robin.