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Chapter VI: How Robin Hood Met Will Scarlet (Cont'd)
The stranger thought a moment with his usual slowness, and eyed Robin from head to foot. Then he unbuckled his scabbard, laid it and the sword aside, and walked deliberately over to the oak thicket. Choosing from among the shoots and saplings he found a stout little tree to his liking, when he laid hold of it, without stopping to cut it, and gave a tug. Up it came root and all, as though it were a stalk of corn, and the stranger walked back trimming it as quietly as though pulling up trees were the easiest thing in the world.
Little John from his hiding-place saw the feat, and could hardly restrain a long whistle. "By our Lady!" he muttered to himself, "I would not be in Master Robin's boots!"
Whatever Robin thought upon seeing the stranger's strength, he uttered not a word and budged not an inch. He only put his oak staff at parry as the other took his stand.
There was a threefold surprise that day, by the brookside. The stranger and Robin and Little John in the bushes all found a combat that upset all reckoning. The stranger for all his easy strength and cool nerve found an antagonist who met his blows with the skill of a woodman. Robin found the stranger as hard to hit as though fenced in by an oak hedge. While Little John rolled over and over in silent joy.
Back and forth swayed the fighters, their cudgels pounding this way and that, knocking off splinters and bark, and threatening direst damage to bone and muscle and skin. Back and forth they pranced kicking up a cloud of dust and gasping for fresh air. From a little way off you would have vowed that these two men were trying to put out a fire, so thickly hung the cloud of battle over them. Thrice did Robin smite the scarlet man—with such blows that a less stout fellow must have bowled over. Only twice did the scarlet man smite Robin, but the second blow was like to finish him. The first had been delivered over the knuckles, and though 'twas a glancing stroke it well nigh broke Robin's fingers, so that he could not easily raise his staff again. And while he was dancing about in pain and muttering a dust-covered oath, the other's staff came swinging through the cloud at one side—zip!—and struck him under the arm. Down went Robin as though he were a nine-pin—flat down into the dust of the road. But despite the pain he was bounding up again like an India rubber man to renew the attack, when Little John interfered.
"Hold!" said he, bursting out of the bushes and seizing the stranger's weapon. "Hold, I say!"
"Nay," retorted the stranger quietly, "I was not offering to smite him while he was down. But if there be a whole nest of you hatching here by the waterside, cluck out the other chicks and I'll make shift to fight them all."
"Not for all the deer in Sherwood!" cried Robin. "You are a good fellow and a gentleman. I'll fight no more with you, for verily I feel sore in wrist and body. Nor shall any of mine molest you henceforth."
Sooth to say, Robin did not look in good fighting trim. His clothes were coated with dirt, one of his hosen had slipped halfway down from his knee, the sleeve of his jerkin was split, and his face was streaked with sweat and dirt. Little John eyed him drolly.
"How now, good master," quoth he, "the sport you were to kick up has left you in sorry plight. Let me dust your coat for you."
"Marry, it has been dusted enough already," replied Robin; "and I now believe the Scripture saying that all men are but dust, for it has sifted me through and through and lined my gullet an inch deep. By your leave"—and he went to the brookside and drank deep and laved his face and hands.