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Chapter I: How Robin Hood Became an Outlaw (Cont'd)
By the light of the camp-fire the band exchanged signs and passwords. They gave Robin Hood a horn upon which he was to blow to summon them. They swore, also, that while they might take money and goods from the unjust rich, they would aid and befriend the poor and the helpless; and that they would harm no woman, be she maid, wife, or widow. They swore all this with solemn oaths, while they feasted about the ruddy blaze, under the greenwood tree.
And that is how Robin Hood became an outlaw.
Chapter II: How Robin Hood Met Little John
"O here is my hand," the stranger reply'd, "I'll serve you with all my whole heart. My name is John Little, a man of good mettle, Ne'er doubt me for I'll play my part."
"His name shall be altered," quoth William Stutely, "And I will his godfather be: Prepare then a feast, and none of the least, For we will be merry," quoth he.
All that summer Robin Hood and his merry men roamed in Sherwood Forest, and the fame of their deeds ran abroad in the land. The Sheriff of Nottingham waxed wroth at the report, but all his traps and excursions failed to catch the outlaws. The poor people began by fearing them, but when they found that the men in Lincoln green who answered Robin Hood's horn meant them no harm, but despoiled the oppressor to relieve the oppressed, they 'gan to have great liking for them. And the band increased by other stout hearts till by the end of the summer fourscore good men and true had sworn fealty.
But the days of quiet which came on grew irksome to Robin's adventurous spirit. Up rose he, one gay morn, and slung his quiver over his shoulders.
"This fresh breeze stirs the blood, my lads," quoth he, "and I would be seeing what the gay world looks like in the direction of Nottingham town. But tarry ye behind in the borders of the forest, within earshot of my bugle call."
Thus saying he strode merrily forward to the edge of the wood, and paused there a moment, his agile form erect, his brown locks flowing and his brown eyes watching the road; and a goodly sight he made, as the wind blew the ruddy color into his cheeks.
The highway led clear in the direction of the town, and thither he boldly directed his steps. But at a bend in the road he knew of a by-path leading across a brook which made the way nearer and less open, into which he turned. As he approached the stream he saw that it had become swollen by recent rains into quite a pretty torrent. The log foot-bridge was still there, but at this end of it a puddle intervened which could be crossed only with a leap, if you would not get your feet wet.
But Robin cared little for such a handicap. Taking a running start, his nimble legs carried him easily over and balanced neatly upon the end of the broad log. But he was no sooner started across than he saw a tall stranger coming from the other side. Thereupon Robin quickened his pace, and the stranger did likewise, each thinking to cross first. Midway they met, and neither would yield an inch.
"Give way, fellow!" roared Robin, whose leadership of a band, I am afraid, had not tended to mend his manners.
The stranger smiled. He was almost a head taller than the other.
"Nay," he retorted, "fair and softly! I give way only to a better man than myself."
"Give way, I say", repeated Robin, "or I shall have to show you a better man."
His opponent budged not an inch, but laughed loudly. "Now by my halidom!" he said good-naturedly, "I would not move after hearing that speech, even if minded to it before; for this better man I have sought my life long. Therefore show him to me, an it please you."
"That will I right soon," quoth Robin. "Stay you here a little while, till I cut me a cudgel like unto that you have been twiddling in your fingers." So saying he sought his own bank again with a leap, laid aside his long bow and arrows, and cut him a stout staff of oak, straight, knotless, and a good six feet in length. But still it was a full foot shorter than his opponent's. Then back came he boldly.