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Chapter III: How Robin Hood Turned Butcher, and Entered the Sheriff's Service (Cont'd)
But the other butchers were wroth when they found how he was taking their trade; and they accordingly put their heads together.
One said, "He is a prodigal and has sold his father's land, and this is his first venture in trading."
Another said, "He is a thief who has murdered a butcher, and stolen his horse and meat."
Robin heard these sayings, but only laughed merrily and sang his song the louder. His good-humor made the people laugh also and crowd round his cart closely, shouting uproariously when some buxom lass submitted to be kissed.
Then the butchers saw that they must meet craft with craft; and they said to him, "Come, brother butcher, if you would sell meat with us, you must e'en join our guild and stand by the rules of our trade."
"We dine at the Sheriff's mansion to-day," said another, "and you must take one of our party."
"Accurst of his heart," said jolly Robin, "That a butcher will deny. I'll go with you, my brethren true, And as fast as I can hie."
Whereupon, having sold all his meat, he left his horse and cart in charge of a friendly hostler and prepared to follow his mates to the Mansion House.
It was the Sheriff's custom to dine various guilds of the trade, from time to time, on Fair days, for he got a pretty profit out of the fees they paid him for the right to trade in the market-place. The Sheriff was already come with great pomp into the banqueting room, when Robin Hood and three or four butchers entered, and he greeted them all with great condescension; and presently the whole of a large company was seated at a table groaning beneath the good cheer of the feast.
Now the Sheriff bade Robin sit by his right hand, at the head of the board; for one or two butchers had whispered to the official, "That fellow is a right mad blade, who yet made us much sport to-day. He sold more meat for one penny than we could sell for three; and he gave extra weight to whatsoever lass would buss him." And others said, "He is some prodigal who knows not the value of goods, and may be plucked by a shrewd man right closely."
The Sheriff was will to pluck a prodigal with the next man, and he was moreover glad to have a guest who promised to enliven the feast. So, as I have told you, he placed Robin by his side, and he made much of him and laughed boisterously at his jests; though sooth to say, the laugh were come by easily, for Robin had never been in merrier mood, and his quips and jests soon put the whole table at a roar.
Then my lord Bishop of Hereford came in, last of all, to say a ponderous grace and take his seat on the other side of the Sheriff—the prelate's fat body showing up in goodly contrast to the other's lean bones.
After grace was said, and while the servants clattered in with the meat platters, Robin stood up and said:
"An amen say I to my lord Bishop's thanks! How, now, my fine fellows, be merry and drink deep; for the shot I'll pay ere I go my way, though it cost me five pounds and more. So my lords and gentlemen all, spare not the wine, but fall to lustily."
"Hear! hear!" shouted the butchers.
"Now are you a right jolly soul," quoth the Sheriff, "but this feast is mine own. Howbeit you must have many a head of horned beasts, and many an acre of broad land, to spend from your purse so freely."
"Aye, that have I," returned Robin, his eyes all a twinkle, "five hundred horned beasts have I and my brothers, and none of them have we been able to sell. That is why I have turned butcher. But I know not the trade, and would gladly sell the whole herd, an I could find a buyer."
At this, the Sheriff's greed 'gan to rise. Since this fool would be plucked, thought he, why should not he do the plucking?
"Five hundred beasts, say you?" he queried sharply.
"Five hundred and ten fat beasts by actual count, that I would sell for a just figure. Aye, to him who will pay me in right money, would I sell them for twenty pieces of gold. Is that too much to ask, lording?"
Was there ever such an idiot butcher? thought the Sheriff; and he so far forgot his dignity as to nudge the Bishop in his fat ribs.
"Nay, good fellow," quoth he chuckling, "I am always ready to help any in my shire. An you cannot find a buyer for your herd at this just figure, I will e'en buy them myself."
At this generosity Robin was quite overcome, and fell to praising the Sheriff to the skies, and telling him that he should not have cause to forget the kindness.
"Tut, tut," said the Sheriff, "'tis naught but a trade. Drive in your herd tomorrow to the market-place and you shall have money down."
"Nay, excellence," said Robin, "that can I not easily do, for they are grazing in scattered fashion. But they are over near Gamewell, not more than a mile therefrom at most. Will you not come and choose your own beasts tomorrow?"
"Aye, that I will," said the Sheriff, his cupidity casting his caution to the winds. "Tarry with me over night, and I will go with you in the morning."
This was a poser for Robin, since he liked not the idea of staying over night at the Sheriff's house. He had hoped to appoint a meeting-place for the other, but now saw that this might excite doubt. He looked around at the company. By this time, you must know, the feast had progressed far, and the butchers were deep in their cups. The Sheriff and Robin had talked in a low voice, and my lord Bishop was almost asleep.