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Chapter VII: How Robin Hood Met Friar Tuck (Cont'd)
Lightly leaped Robin off his back, and said, "I am much beholden to you, good father."
"Beholden, say you!" rejoined the other drawing his sword; "then by my faith you shall e'en repay your score. Now mine own affairs, which are of a spiritual kind and much more important than yours which are carnal, lie on the other side of this stream. I see that you are a likely man and one, moreover, who would not refuse to serve the church. I must therefore pray of you that whatsoever I have done unto you, you will do also unto me. In short, my son, you must e'en carry me back again."
Courteously enough was this said; but so suddenly had the friar drawn his sword that Robin had no time to unsling his bow from his back, whither he had placed it to avoid getting it wet, or to unfasten his scabbard. So he was fain to temporize.
"Nay, good father, but I shall get my feet wet," he commenced.
"Are your feet any better than mine?" retorted the other. "I fear me now that I have already wetted myself so sadly as to lay in a store of rheumatic pains by way of penance."
"I am not so strong as you," continued Robin; "that helmet and sword and buckler would be my undoing on the uncertain footing amidstream, to say nothing of your holy flesh and bones."
"Then I will lighten up, somewhat," replied the other calmly. "Promise to carry me across and I will lay aside my war gear."
"Agreed," said Robin; and the friar thereupon stripped himself; and Robin bent his stout back and took him up even as he had promised.
Now the stones at the bottom of the stream were round and slippery, and the current swept along strongly, waist-deep, in the middle. More-over Robin had a heavier load than the other had borne, nor did he know the ford. So he went stumbling along now stepping into a deep hole, now stumbling over a boulder in a manner that threatened to unseat his rider or plunge them both clear under current. But the fat friar hung on and dug his heels into his steed's ribs in as gallant manner as if he were riding in a tournament; while as for poor Robin the sweat ran down him in torrents and he gasped like the winded horse he was. But at last he managed to stagger out on the bank and deposit his unwieldy load.
No sooner had he set the friar down than he seized his own sword.
"Now, holy friar," quoth he, panting and wiping the sweat from his brow, "what say the Scriptures that you quote so glibly?—Be not weary of well doing. You must carry me back again or I swear that I will make a cheese-cloth out of your jacket!"
The friar's gray eyes once more twinkled with a cunning gleam that boded no good to Robin; but his voice was as calm and courteous as ever.
"Your wits are keen, my son," he said; "and I see that the waters of the stream have not quenched your spirit. Once more will I bend my back to the oppressor and carry the weight of the haughty."
So Robin mounted again in high glee, and carried his sword in his hand, and went prepared to tarry upon the other side. But while he was bethinking himself what great words to use, when he should arrive thither, he felt himself slipping from the friar's broad back. He clutched frantically to save himself but had too round a surface to grasp, besides being hampered by his weapon. So down went he with a loud splash into the middle of the stream, where the crafty friar had conveyed him.
"There!" quoth the holy man; "choose you, choose you, my fine fellow, whether you will sink or swim!" And he gained his own bank without more ado, while Robin thrashed and spluttered about until he made shift to grasp a willow wand and thus haul himself ashore on the other side.
Then Robin's rage waxed furious, despite his wetting, and he took his bow and his arrows and let fly one shaft after another at the worthy friar. But they rattled harmlessly off his steel buckler, while he laughed and minded them no more than if they had been hail-stones.
"Shoot on, shoot on, good fellow," he sang out; "shoot as you have begun; if you shoot here a summer's day, your mark I will not shun!"
So Robin shot, and passing well, till all his arrows were gone, when from very rage he began to revile him.
"You bloody villain!" shouted he, "You psalm-singing hypocrite! You reviler of good hasty pudding! Come but within reach of my sword arm, and, friar or no friar, I'll shave your tonsure closer than ever bald-pated monk was shaven before!"
"Soft you and fair!" said the friar unconcernedly; "hard words are cheap, and you may need your wind presently. An you would like a bout with swords, meet me halfway i' the stream."
And with this speech the friar waded into the brook, sword in hand, where he was met halfway by the impetuous outlaw.
Thereupon began a fierce and mighty battle. Up and down, in and out, back and forth they fought. The swords flashed in the rays of the declining sun and then met with a clash that would have shivered less sturdy weapons or disarmed less sturdy wielders. Many a smart blow was landed, but each perceived that the other wore an undercoat of linked mail which might not be pierced. Nathless, their ribs ached at the force of the blows. Once and again they paused by mutual consent and caught breath and looked hard each at the other; for never had either met so stout a fellow.