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Chapter XV: How Robin Hood Was Tanned of the Tanner (Cont'd)
This went on for quite a space, until the tanner began to come upon the deer and to draw his bow in order to tickle the victim's ribs with a cloth-yard shaft. But just at this moment Robin unluckily trod upon a twig which snapped and caused the tanner to turn suddenly.
Robin saw that he was discovered, so he determined to put a bold face on the matter, and went forward with some smart show of authority.
"Hold!" he cried: "stay your hand! Why, who are you, bold fellow, to range so boldly here? In sooth, to be brief, ye look like a thief that has come to steal the King's deer."
"Marry, it is scant concern of yours, what I look like!" retorted Arthur-a-Bland. "Who are you, who speak so bravely?"
"You shall soon find out who I am!" quoth Robin, determining to find some sport in the matter. "I am a keeper of this forest. The King knows that I am looking after his deer for him; and therefore we must stay you."
"Have you any assistants, friend?" asked the tanner calmly. "For it is not one man alone who can stop me."
"Nay truly, gossip," replied Robin. "I have a good yew bow, also a right sharp blade at my side. Nathless I need no better assistant than a good oak-graff like unto yours. Give me a baker's dozen of minutes with it and it shall pleasure me to crack that pate of yours for your sauciness!"
"Softly, my man! Fair and softly! Big words never killed so much as a mouse—least of all yon deer which has got away while you were filling all the woods with your noisy breath. So choose your own playthings. For your sword and your bow I care not a straw; nor for all your arrows to boot. If I get but a knock at you, 'twill be as much as you'll need."
"Now by our Lady! Will you listen to the braggart?" cried Robin in a fine rage. "Marry, but I'll teach ye to be more mannerly!"
So saying he unbuckled his belt; and, flinging his bow upon the ground he seized hold of a young sapling that was growing near by. His hunting knife soon had it severed and lopped into shape.
"Now come, fellow!" said Arthur-a-Bland, seeing that he was ready. "And if I do not tan your hide for you in better shape than ever calf-skin was turned into top-boots, may a murrain seize me!"
"Stay," said Robin, "methinks my cudgel is half a foot longer than yours. I would have them of even length before you begin your tanning."
"I pass not for length," bold Arthur replied; "my staff is long enough, as you will shortly find out. Eight foot and a half, and 'twill knock down a calf"—here he made it whistle in the air—"and I hope it will knock down you."
Forthwith the two men spat on their hands, laid firm hold upon their cudgels and began slowly circling round each other, looking for an opening.
Now it so chanced that Little John had fared expeditiously with his errand. He had met the merchant, from whom he was wont to buy Lincoln green, coming along the road; and had made known his wants in few words. The merchant readily undertook to deliver the suits by a certain day in the following month. So Little John, glad to get back to the cool shelter of the greenwood, hasted along the road lately taken by Robin.
Presently he heard the sound of angry voices, one of which he recognized as his captain's.
"Now, Heaven forfend," quoth he, "that Robin Hood has fallen into the clutches of a King's man! I must take a peep at this fray."
So he cautiously made his way from tree to tree, as Robin had done, till he came to the little open space where Robin and Arthur were circling about each other with angry looks, like two dogs at bay.
"Ha! this looks interesting!" muttered Little John to himself, for he loved a good quarter-staff bout above anything else in the world, and was the best man at it in all the greenwood. And he crawled quietly underneath a friendly bush—much as he had done when Robin undertook to teach Will Scarlet a lesson—and chuckled softly to himself and slapped his thigh and prepared to watch the fight at his ease.
Indeed it was both exciting and laughable. You would have chuckled one moment and caught your breath the next, to see those two stout fellows swinging their sticks—each half as long again as the men were, and thick as their arm—and edging along sidewise, neither wishing to strike the first blow.
At last Robin could no longer forbear, and his good right arm swung round like a flash. Ping! went the stick on the back of the other's head, raising such a welt that the blood came. But the tanner did not seem to mind it at all, for bing! went his own staff in return, giving Robin as good as he had sent. Then the battle was on, and furiously it waged. Fast fell the blows, but few save the first ones landed, being met in mid-air by a counter-blow till the thwacking sticks sounded like the steady roll of a kettle-drum and the oak—bark flew as fine as it had ever done in Arthur-a-Bland's tannery.