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Chapter III: How Robin Hood Turned Butcher, and Entered the Sheriff's Service
The butcher he answered jolly Robin, "No matter where I do dwell, For a butcher am I, and to Nottingham Am I going, my flesh to sell."
The next morning the weather had turned ill, and Robin Hood's band stayed close to their dry and friendly cave. The third day brought a diversion in the shape of a trap by a roving party of the Sheriff's men. A fine stag had been struck down by one Of Will Stutely's fellows, and he and others had stepped forth from the covert to seize it, when twenty bowmen from Nottingham appeared at the end of the glade. Down dropped Will's men on all fours, barely in time to hear a shower of arrows whistle above their heads. Then from behind the friendly trees they sent back such a welcome that the Sheriff's men deemed it prudent not to tarry in their steps. Two of them, in sooth, bore back unpleasant wounds in their shoulders, from the encounter.
When they returned to town the Sheriff waxed red with rage.
"What," he gasped, "do my men fear to fight this Robin Hood, face to face? Would that I could get him within my reach, once. We should see then; we should see!"
What it was the Sheriff would see, he did not state. But he was to have his wish granted in short space, and you and I will see how he profited by it.
The fourth day and the one following this friendly bout, Little John was missing. One of his men said that he saw him talking with a beggar, but did not know whither they had gone. Two more days passed. Robin grew uneasy. He did not doubt the faith of Little John, but he was fearful lest a roving band of Foresters had captured him.
At last Robin could not remain quiet. Up sprang he, with bow and arrows, and a short sword at his side.
"I must away to Nottingham town, my men," he cried. "The goodly Sheriff has long desired to see me; and mayhap he can tell me tidings of the best quarter-staff in the shire"—meaning Little John.
Others of the band besought him to let them go with him, but he would not.
"Nay," he said smilingly, "the Sheriff and I are too good friends to put doubt upon our meeting. But tarry ye in the edge of the wood opposite the west gate of the town, and ye may be of service ere to-morrow night."
So saying he strode forward to the road leading to Nottingham, and stood as before looking up and down to see if the way was clear. Back at a bend in the road he heard a rumbling and a lumbering, when up drove a stout butcher, whistling gaily, and driving a mare that sped slowly enough because of the weight of meat with which the cart was loaded.
"A good morrow to you, friend," hailed Robin. "Whence come you and where go you with your load of meat?"
"A good morrow to you," returned the butcher, civilly enough. "No matter where I dwell. I am but a simple butcher, and to Nottingham am I going, my flesh to sell. 'Tis Fair week, and my beef and mutton should fetch a fair penny," and he laughed loudly at his jest. "But whence come you?"
"A yeoman am I, from Lockesley town. Men call me Robin Hood."
"The saints forefend that you should treat me ill!" said the butcher in terror. "Oft have I heard of you, and how you lighten the purses of the fat priests and knights. But I am naught but a poor butcher, selling this load of meat, perchance, for enough to pay my quarter's rent."
"Rest you, my friend, rest you," quoth Robin, "not so much as a silver penny would I take from you, for I love an honest Saxon face and a fair name with my neighbors. But I would strike a bargain with you."
Here he took from his girdle a well-filled purse, and continued, "I would fain be a butcher, this day, and sell meat at Nottingham town. Could you sell me your meat, your cart, your mare, and your good-will, without loss, for five marks?"
"Heaven bless ye, good Robin," cried the butcher right joyfully, "that can I!" And he leaped down forthwith from the cart, and handed Robin the reins in exchange for the purse.
"One moment more," laughed Robin, "we must e'en change garments for the nonce. Take mine and scurry home quickly lest the King's Foresters try to put a hole through this Lincoln green."
So saying he donned the butcher's blouse and apron, and, climbing into the cart, drove merrily down the road to the town.
When he came to Nottingham he greeted the scowling gate-keeper blithely and proceeded to the market-place. Boldly he led his shuffling horse to the place where the butchers had their stalls.
He had no notion of the price to ask for his meat, but put on a foolish and simple air as he called aloud his wares:
"Hark ye, lasses and dames, hark ye, Good meat come buy, come buy, Three pen'orths go for one penny, And a kiss is good, say I!"
Now when the folk found what a simple butcher he was, they crowded around his cart; for he really did sell three times as much for one penny as was sold by the other butchers. And one or two serving-lasses with twinkling eyes liked his comely face so well that they willingly gave boot of a kiss.