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Chapter VI: How Robin Hood Met Will Scarlet
The youngster was clothed in scarlet red In scarlet fine and gay; And he did frisk it o'er the plain, And chanted a roundelay.
One fine morning, soon after the proud Sheriff had been brought to grief, Robin Hood and Little John went strolling down a path through the wood. It was not far from the foot—bridge where they had fought their memorable battle; and by common impulse they directed their steps to the brook to quench their thirst and rest them in the cool bushes. The morning gave promise of a hot day. The road even by the brook was dusty. So the cooling stream was very pleasing and grateful to their senses.
On each side of them, beyond the dusty highway, stretched out broad fields of tender young corn. On the yon side of the fields uprose the sturdy oaks and beeches and ashes of the forest; while at their feet modest violets peeped out shyly and greeted the loiterers with an odor which made the heart glad. Over on the far side of the brook in a tiny bay floated three lily-pads; and from amid some clover blossoms on the bank an industrious bee rose with the hum of busy contentment. It was a day so brimful of quiet joy that the two friends lay flat on their backs gazing up at the scurrying clouds, and neither caring to break the silence.
Presently they heard some one coming up the road whistling gaily, as though he owned the whole world and 'twas but made to whistle in. Anon he chanted a roundelay with a merry note.
"By my troth, a gay bird!" quoth Robin, raising up on his elbow. "Let us lie still, and trust that his purse is not as light as his heart."
So they lay still, and in a minute more up came a smart stranger dressed in scarlet and silk and wearing a jaunty hat with a curling cock feather in it. His whole costume was of scarlet, from the feather to the silk hosen on his legs. A goodly sword hung at his side, its scabbard all embossed with tilting knights and weeping ladies. His hair was long and yellow and hung clustering about his shoulders, for all the world like a schoolgirl's; and he bore himself with as mincing a gait as the pertest of them.
Little John clucked his teeth drolly at this sight. "By my troth, a gay bird!" he said echoing the other's words—then added, "But not so bad a build for all his prettiness. Look you, those calves and thighs are well rounded and straight. The arms, for all that gold-wrought cloak, hang stoutly from full shoulders. I warrant you the fop can use his dainty sword right well on occasion."
"Nay," retorted Robin, "he is naught but a ladies' man from court. My long-bow 'gainst a plugged shilling that he would run and bellow lustily at sight of a quarter-staff. Stay you behind this bush and I will soon get some rare sport out of him. Belike his silk purse may contain more pennies than the law allows to one man in Sherwood or Barnesdale."
So saying Robin Hood stepped forth briskly from the covert and planted himself in the way of the scarlet stranger. The latter had walked so slowly that he was scarce come to their resting-place; and now on beholding Robin he neither slackened nor quickened his pace but sauntered idly straight ahead, looking to the right and to the left, with the finest air in the world, but never once at Robin.
"Hold!" quoth the outlaw. "What mean ye by running thus over a wayfarer, rough shod?"
"Wherefore should I hold, good fellow?" said the stranger in a smooth voice, and looking at Robin for the first time.
"Because I bid you to," replied Robin.
"And who may you be?" asked the other as coolly as you please.
"What my name is matters not," said Robin; "but know that I am a public tax-gatherer and equalizer of shillings. If your purse have more than a just number of shillings or pence, I must e'en lighten it somewhat; for there are many worthy people round about these borders who have less than the just amount. Wherefore, sweet gentleman, I pray you hand over your purse without more ado, that I may judge of its weight in proper fashion."
The other smiled as sweetly as though a lady were paying him a compliment.
"You are a droll fellow," he said calmly. "Your speech amuses me mightily. Pray continue, if you have not done, for I am in no hurry this morning."
"I have said all with my tongue that is needful," retorted Robin, beginning to grow red under the collar. "Nathless, I have other arguments which may not be so pleasing to your dainty skin. Prithee, stand and deliver. I promise to deal fairly with the purse."
"Alack-a-day!" said the stranger with a little shrug of his shoulders; "I am deeply sorrowful that I cannot show my purse to every rough lout that asks to see it. But I really could not, as I have further need of it myself and every farthing it contains. Wherefore, pray stand aside."
"Nay that will I not! and 'twill go the harder with you if you do not yield at once."
"Good fellow," said the other gently, "have I not heard all your speech with patience? Now that is all I promised to do. My conscience is salved and I must go on my way. To-rol-o-rol-e-loo!" he caroled, making as though to depart.
"Hold, I say!" quoth Robin hotly; for he knew how Little John must be chuckling at this from behind the bushes. "Hold I say, else I shall have to bloody those fair locks of yours!" And he swung his quarter-staff threateningly.
"Alas!" moaned the stranger shaking his head. "The pity of it all! Now I shall have to run this fellow through with my sword! And I hoped to be a peaceable man henceforth!" And sighing deeply he drew his shining blade and stood on guard.
"Put by your weapon," said Robin. "It is too pretty a piece of steel to get cracked with common oak cudgel; and that is what would happen on the first pass I made at you. Get you a stick like mine out of yon undergrowth, and we will fight fairly, man to man."