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Chapter II: How Robin Hood Met Little John (Cont'd)
The cool rushing current quickly brought him to his senses, howbeit he was still so dazed that he groped blindly for the swaying reeds to pull himself up on the bank. His assailant could not forbear laughing heartily at his plight, but was also quick to lend his aid. He thrust down his long staff to Robin crying, "Lay hold of that, an your fists whirl not so much as your head!"
Robin laid hold and was hauled to dry land for all the world like a fish, except that the fish would never have come forth so wet and dripping. He lay upon the warm bank for a space to regain his senses. Then he sat up and gravely rubbed his pate.
"By all the saints!" said he, "you hit full stoutly. My head hums like a hive of bees on a summer morning."
Then he seized his horn, which lay near, and blew thereon three shrill notes that echoed against the trees. A moment of silence ensued, and then was heard the rustling of leaves and crackling of twigs like the coming of many men; and forth from the glade burst a score or two of stalwart yeomen, all clad in Lincoln green, like Robin, with good Will Stutely and the widow's three sons at their head.
"Good master," cried Will Stutely, "how is this? In sooth there is not a dry thread on your body."
"Why, marry," replied Robin, "this fellow would not let me pass the footbridge, and when I tickled him in the ribs, he must needs answer by a pat on the head which landed me overboard."
"Then shall he taste some of his own porridge," quoth Will. "Seize him, lads!"
"Nay, let him go free," said Robin. "The fight was a fair one and I abide by it. I surmise you also are quits?" he continued, turning to the stranger with a twinkling eye.
"I am content," said the other, "for verily you now have the best end of the cudgel. Wherefore, I like you well, and would fain know your name."
"Why," said Robin, "my men and even the Sheriff of Nottingham know me as Robin Hood, the outlaw."
"Then am I right sorry that I beat you," exclaimed the man, "for I was on my way to seek you and to try to join your merry company. But after my unmannerly use of the cudgel, I fear we are still strangers."
"Nay, never say it!" cried Robin, "I am glad I fell in with you; though, sooth to say, I did all the falling!"
And amid a general laugh the two men clasped hands, and in that clasp the strong friendship of a lifetime was begun.
"But you have not yet told us your name," said Robin, bethinking himself.
"Whence I came, men call me John Little."
"Enter our company then, John Little; enter and welcome. The rites are few, the fee is large. We ask your whole mind and body and heart even unto death."
"I give the bond, upon my life," said the tall man.
Thereupon Will Stutely, who loved a good jest, spoke up and said: "The infant in our household must be christened, and I'll stand godfather. This fair little stranger is so small of bone and sinew, that his old name is not to the purpose." Here he paused long enough to fill a horn in the stream. "Hark ye, my son,"—standing on tiptoe to splash the water on the giant—"take your new name on entering the forest. I christen you Little John."
At this jest the men roared long and loud.
"Give him a bow, and find a full sheath of arrows for Little John," said Robin joyfully. "Can you shoot as well as fence with the staff, my friend?"
"I have hit an ash twig at forty yards," said Little John.
Thus chatting pleasantly the band turned back into the woodland and sought their secluded dell, where the trees were the thickest, the moss was the softest, and a secret path led to a cave, at once a retreat and a stronghold. Here under a mighty oak they found the rest of the band, some of whom had come in with a brace of fat does. And here they built a ruddy fire and sat down to the meat and ale, Robin Hood in the center with Will Stutely on the one hand and Little John on the other. And Robin was right well pleased with the day's adventure, even though he had got a drubbing; for sore ribs and heads will heal, and 'tis not every day that one can find a recruit as stout of bone and true of soul as Little John.