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Chapter VII: How Robin Hood Met Friar Tuck
The friar took Robin Hood on his back, Deep water he did bestride, And spake neither good word nor bad, Till he came at the other side.
In summer time when leaves grow green, and flowers are fresh and gay, Robin Hood and his merry men were all disposed to play. Thus runs a quaint old ballad which begins the next adventure. Then some would leap and some would run and some try archery and some ply the quarter-staff and some fall to with the good broad sword. Some again would try a round at buffet and fisticuff; and thus by every variety of sport and exercise they perfected themselves in skill and made the band and its prowess well known throughout all England.
It had been a custom of Robin Hood's to pick out the best men in all the countryside. Whenever he heard of one more than usually skilled in any feat of arms he would seek the man and test him in personal encounter—which did not always end happily for Robin. And when he had found a man to his liking he offered him service with the bold fellows of Sherwood Forest.
Thus it came about that one day after a practice at shooting, in which Little John struck down a hart at five hundred feet distance, Robin Hood was fain to boast.
"God's blessing on your heart!" he cried, clapping the burly fellow on the shoulder; "I would travel an hundred miles to find one who could match you!"
At this Will Scarlet laughed full roundly.
"There lives a curtall friar in Fountain's Abbey—Tuck, by name—who can beat both him and you," he said.
Robin pricked up his ears at this free speech.
"By our Lady," he said, "I'll neither eat nor drink till I see this same friar."
And with his usual impetuosity he at once set about arming himself for the adventure. On his head he placed a cap of steel. Underneath his Lincoln green he wore a coat of chain metal. Then with sword and buckler girded at his side he made a goodly show. But he also took with him his stout yew bow and a sheaf of chosen arrows.
So he set forth upon his way with blithe heart; for it was a day when the whole face of the earth seemed glad and rejoicing in pulsing life. Steadily he pressed forward by winding ways till he came to a green broad pasture land at whose edge flowed a stream dipping in and out among the willows and rushes on the banks. A pleasant stream it was, but it flowed calmly as though of some depth in the middle. Robin did not fancy getting his feet wet, or his fine suit of mail rusted, so he paused on the hither bank to rest and take his bearings.
As he sat down quietly under the shade of a drooping willow he heard snatches of a jovial song floating to him from the farther side; then came a sound of two men's voices arguing. One was upholding the merits of hasty pudding and the other stood out stoutly for meat pie, "especially"—quoth this one—"when flavored with young onions!"
"Gramercy!" muttered Robin to himself, "that is a tantalizing speech to a hungry man! But, odds bodikins! did ever two men talk more alike than those two fellows yonder!"
In truth Robin could well marvel at the speech, for the voices were curiously alike.
Presently the willows parted on the other bank, and Robin could hardly forebear laughing out right. His mystery was explained. It was not two men who had done all this singing and talking, but one—and that one a stout curtall friar who wore a long cloak over his portly frame, tied with a cord in the middle. On his head was a knight's helmet, and in his hand was a no more warlike weapon than a huge pasty pie, with which he sat down by the water's edge. His twofold argument was finished. The meat pie had triumphed; and no wonder! for it was the present witness, soon to give its own testimony.
But first the friar took off his helmet to cool his head, and a droll picture he made. His head was as round as an apple, and eke as smooth in spots. A fringe of close curling black hair grew round the base of his skull, but his crown was bare and shiny as an egg. His cheeks also were smooth and red and shiny; and his little gray eyes danced about with the funniest air imaginable. You would not have blamed Robin Hood for wanting to laugh, had you heard this serious two-faced talk and then seen this jovial one-faced man. Good humor and fat living stood out all over him; yet for all that he looked stout enough and able to take care of himself with any man. His short neck was thick like that of a Berkshire bull; his shoulders were set far back, and his arms sprouted therefrom like two oak limbs. As he sat him down, the cloak fell apart disclosing a sword and buckler as stout as Robin's own.
Nathless, Robin was not dismayed at sight of the weapons. Instead, his heart fell within him when he saw the meat pie which was now in fair way to be devoured before his very eyes; for the friar lost no time in thrusting one hand deep into the pie, while he crossed himself with the other.
Thereupon Robin seized his bow and fitted a shaft.
"Hey, friar!" he sang out, "carry me over the water, or else I cannot answer for your safety."
The other started at the unexpected greeting, and laid his hand upon his sword. Then he looked up and beheld Robin's arrow pointing full upon him.
"Put down your bow, fellow," he shouted back, "and I will bring you over the brook. 'Tis our duty in life to help each other, and your keen shaft shows me that you are a man worthy of some attention." So the friar knight got him up gravely, though his eyes twinkled with a cunning light, and laid aside his beloved pie and his cloak and his sword and his buckler, and waded across the stream with waddling dignity. Then he took Robin Hood upon his back and spoke neither good word nor bad till he came to the other side.