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Chapter IV: How Little John Entered the Sheriff's Service (Cont'd)
Then a long bow contest came on, and to it the beggar went with some of his new friends. It was held in the same arena that Robin had formerly entered; and again the Sheriff and lords and ladies graced the scene with their presence, while the people crowded to their places.
When the archers had stepped forward, the herald rose and proclaimed the rules of the game: how that each man should shoot three shots, and to him who shot best the prize of a yoke of fat steers should belong. A dozen keen-eyed bowmen were there, and among them some of the best fellows in the Forester's and Sheriff's companies. Down at the end of the line towered the tall beggar-man, who must needs twang a bow-string with the best of them.
The Sheriff noted his queer figure and asked: "Who is that ragged fellow?"
"'Tis he that hath but now so soundly cracked the crown of Eric of Lincoln," was the reply.
The shooting presently began, and the targets soon showed a fine reckoning. Last of all came the beggar's turn.
"By your leave," he said loudly, "I'd like it well to shoot with any other man here present at a mark of my own placing." And he strode down the lists with a slender peeled sapling which he stuck upright in the ground. "There," said he, "is a right good mark. Will any man try it?"
But not an archer would risk his reputation on so small a target.
Whereupon the beggar drew his bow with seeming carelessness and split the wand with his shaft.
"Long live the beggar!" yelled the bystanders.
The Sheriff swore a full great oath, and said: "This man is the best archer that ever yet I saw." And he beckoned to him, and asked him: "How now, good fellow, what is your name, and in what country were you born?"
"In Holderness I was born," the man replied; "men call me Reynold Greenleaf."
"You are a sturdy fellow, Reynold Greenleaf, and deserve better apparel than that you wear at present. Will you enter my service? I will give you twenty marks a year, above your living, and three good suits of clothes."
"Three good suits, say you? Then right gladly will I enter your service, for my back has been bare this many a long day."
Then Reynold turned him about to the crowd and shouted: "Hark ye, good people, I have entered the Sheriff's service, and need not the yoke of steers for prize. So take them for yourselves, to feast withal."
At this the crowd shouted more merrily than ever, and threw their caps high into the air. And none so popular a man had come to Nottingham town in many a long day as this same Reynold Greenleaf.
Now you may have guessed, by this time, who Reynold Greenleaf really was; so I shall tell you that he was none other than Little John. And forth went he to the Sheriff's house, and entered his service. But it was a sorry day for the Sheriff when he got his new man. For Little John winked his shrewd eye and said softly to himself: "By my faith, I shall be the worst servant to him that ever yet had he!"
Two days passed by. Little John, it must be confessed, did not make a good servant. He insisted upon eating the Sheriff's best bread and drinking his best wine, so that the steward waxed wroth. Nathless the Sheriff held him in high esteem, and made great talk of taking him along on the next hunting trip.
It was now the day of the banquet to the butchers, about which we have already heard. The banquet hall, you must know, was not in the main house, but connected with it by a corridor. All the servants were bustling about making preparations for the feast, save only Little John, who must needs lie abed the greater part of the day. But he presented himself at last, when the dinner was half over; and being desirous of seeing the guests for himself he went into the hall with the other servants to pass the wine. First, however, I am afraid that some of the wine passed his own lips while he went down the corridor. When he entered the banqueting hall, whom should he see but Robin Hood himself. We can imagine the start of surprise felt by each of these bold fellows upon seeing the other in such strange company. But they kept their secrets, as we have seen, and arranged to meet each other that same night. Meanwhile, the proud Sheriff little knew that he harbored the two chief outlaws of the whole countryside beneath his roof.