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Chapter XX: How Will Stutely Was Rescued (Cont'd)
"Perform your duty, Sir Priest," quoth he, "and be quick about it!" Then turning to his soldiers. "Watch this palmer narrowly," he commanded. "Belike he is in league with those rascally outlaws."
But the palmer paid no heed to his last words. He began to tell his beads quickly, and to speak in a low voice to the condemned man. But he did not touch his bonds.
Then came another stir in the crowd, and one came pushing through the press of people and soldiery to come near to the scaffold.
"I pray you, Will, before you die, take leave of all your friends!" cried out the well-known voice of Much, the miller's son.
At the word the palmer stepped back suddenly and looked to one side. The Sheriff also knew the speaker.
"Seize him!" he shouted. "'Tis another of the crew. He is the villain cook who once did rob me of my silver plate. We'll make a double hanging of this!"
"Not so fast, good master Sheriff," retorted Much. "First catch your man and then hang him. But meanwhile I would like to borrow my friend of you awhile."
And with one stroke of his keen hunting-knife he cut the bonds which fastened the prisoner's arms, and Stutely leaped lightly from the cart.
"Treason!" screamed the Sheriff, getting black with rage. "Catch the varlets!"
So saying he spurred his horse fiercely forward, and rising in his stirrups brought down his sword with might and main at Much's head. But his former cook dodged nimbly underneath the horse and came up on the other side, while the weapon whistled harmlessly in the air.
"Nay, Sir Sheriff!" he cried, "I must e'en borrow your sword for the friend I have borrowed."
Thereupon he snatched the weapon deftly from the Sheriff's hand.
"Here, Stutely!" said he, "the Sheriff has lent you his own sword. Back to back with me, man, and we'll teach these knaves a trick or two!"
Meanwhile the soldiers had recovered from their momentary surprise and had flung themselves into the fray. A clear bugle-note had also sounded the same which the soldiers had learned to dread. 'Twas the rallying note of the green wood men.
Cloth yard shafts began to hurtle through the air, and Robin and his men cast aside their cloaks and sprang forward crying:
"Lockesley! Lockesley! a rescue! a rescue!"
On the instant, a terrible scene of hand to hand fighting followed. The Sheriff's men, though once more taken by surprise, were determined to sell this rescue dearly. They packed in closely and stubbornly about the condemned man and Much and the palmer, and it was only by desperate rushes that the foresters made an opening in the square. Ugly cuts and bruises were exchanged freely; and lucky was the man who escaped with only these. Many of the onlookers, who had long hated the Sheriff and felt sympathy for Robin's men, also plunged into the conflict—although they could not well keep out of it, in sooth!—and aided the rescuers no little.