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Chapter V: How the Sheriff Lost Three Good Servants and Found them Again (Cont'd)
Then the best archers of the band set up a small wand at eightscore paces distant, and thereon they affixed a wreath of green. And the archers began to shoot; and he who shot not through the garland without disturbing its leaves and tendrils was fain to submit to a good sound buffet from Little John. But right cunning was the shooting, for the men had spent a certain time in daily practice, and many were the shafts which sped daintily through the circle. Nathless now and again some luckless fellow would shoot awry and would be sent winding from a long arm blow from the tall lieutenant while the glade roared with laughter. And none more hearty a guffaw was given than came from the Sheriff's own throat, for the spirit of the greenwood was upon him.
But presently his high mood was dashed. The company sat down to meat, and the guest was treated to two more disturbing surprise. The cook came forward to serve the food, when the Sheriff beheld in him his own former servant, and one whom he supposed was at the moment in the scullery at Nottingham.
Much the miller's son grinned by way of answer to the Sheriff's amazement, and served the plates, and placed them before the party. Then did the Sheriff gasp and fairly choke with rage. The service was his own silverware from the Mansion House!
"You rascals! you rogues!" he spluttered. "Was it not enough to defraud me out of three of my servants, that you must also rob me of my best silver service? Nay, by my life, but I will not touch your food!"
But Robin Hood bade him pause.
"Gramercy!" quoth he, "servants come and go, in merry England, and so does service. The platters are but used to do your worship honor. And as for your life, it is forfeit to your eagerness to buy my herd of cattle so cheaply. Now sit you down again and make good cheer, Sheriff, for charity! And for the love of Little John your life is granted you!"
So the Sheriff sat him down again, with the best face he could assume, and soon the cook's viands were disappearing down his gullet as rapidly as the next man's. And they feasted royally and clinked each other's cups until the sun had ceased to print the pattern of the leaves upon the forest carpet.
Then the Sheriff arose and said: "I thank you, Robin Hood, one-time butcher, and you, Little John, one-time beggar, and you, Much, one-time cook, and all you good men who have entertained me in Sherwood so well. Promises I make not as to how I shall requite you when next you come to Nottingham, for I am in the King's service. So for the present the score rests with you. But the shadows grow long and I must away, if you will be pleased to pilot me to the road."