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Chapter IV: How Little John Entered the Sheriff's Service (Cont'd)
After the feast was over and night was beginning to advance, Little John felt faint of stomach and remembered him that he had eaten nothing all that day. Back went he to the pantry to see what eatables were laid by. But there, locking up the stores for the night, stood the fat steward.
"Good Sir Steward," said Little John, "give me to dine, for it is long for Greenleaf to be fasting."
The steward looked grimly at him and rattled the keys at his girdle.
"Sirrah lie-abed," quoth he, "'tis late in the day to be talking of eating. Since you have waited thus long to be hungry, you can e'en take your appetite back to bed again."
"Now by mine appetite, that will I not do," cried Little John. "Your own paunch of fat would be enough for any bear to sleep on through the winter. But my stomach craves food, and food it shall have!"
Saying this he brushed past the steward and tried the door, but it was locked fast; whereat the fat steward chuckled and jangled his keys again.
Then was Little John right mad, and he brought down his huge fist on the door-panel with a sledge-hammer blow that shivered an opening you could thrust your hand into. Little John stooped and peered through the hole to see what food lay within reach, when crack! went the steward's keys upon his crown, and the worthy danced around him playing a tattoo that made Little John's ears ring. At this he turned upon the steward and gave him such a rap that his back went nigh in two, and over went the fat fellow rolling on the floor.
"Lie there," quoth Little John, "till ye find strength to go to bed. Meanwhile, I must be about my dinner." And he kicked open the buttery door without ceremony and brought to light a venison pasty and cold roast pheasant—goodly sights to a hungry man. Placing these down on a convenient shelf he fell to with right good will. So Little John ate and drank as much as he would.
Now the Sheriff had in his kitchen a cook, a stout man and bold, who heard the rumpus and came in to see how the land lay. There sat Little John eating away for dear life, while the fat steward was rolled under the table like a bundle of rags.
"I make my vow!" said the cook, "you are a shrewd hind to dwell thus in a household, and ask thus to dine." So saying he laid aside his spit and drew a good sword that hung at his side.
"I make my vow!" said Little John, "you are a bold man and hardy to come thus between me and my meat. So defend yourself and see that you prove the better man." And he drew his own sword and crossed weapons with the cook.
Then back and forth they clashed with sullen sound. The old ballad which tells of their fight says that they thought nothing for to flee, but stiffly for to stand. There they fought sore together, two miles away and more, but neither might the other harm for the space of a full hour.
"I make my vow!" cried Little John, "you are the best swordsman that ever yet I saw. What say you to resting a space and eating and drinking good health with me. Then we may fall to again with the swords."
"Agreed!" said the cook, who loved good fare as well as a good fight; and they both laid by their swords and fell to the food with hearty will. The venison pasty soon disappeared, and the roast pheasant flew at as lively a rate as ever the bird itself had sped. Then the warriors rested a space and patted their stomachs, and smiled across at each other like bosom friends; for a man when he as dined looks out pleasantly upon the world.
"And now good Reynold Greenleaf," said the cook, "we may as well settle this brave fight we have in hand."
"A true saying," rejoined the other, "but first tell me, friend—for I protest you are my friend henceforth—what is the score we have to settle?"
"Naught save who can handle the sword best," said the cook. "By my troth I had thought to carve you like a capon ere now."
"And I had long since thought to shave your ears," replied Little John. "This bout we can settle in right good time. But just now I and my master have need of you, and you can turn your stout blade to better service than that of the Sheriff."
"Whose service would that be?" asked the cook.
"Mine," answered a would-be butcher entering the room, "and I am Robin Hood."