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Chapter VIII: How Allan-A-Dale's Wooing Was Prospered (Cont'd)
"'Tis a pity!" quoth Little John gravely. He had been sitting cross-legged listening to this tale of woe. "What think you, Friar Tuck, doth not a bit of fighting ease a man's mind?"
"Blood-letting is ofttimes recommended of the leeches," replied Tuck.
"Does the maid love you?" asked Robin Hood.
"By our troth, she loved me right well," said the minstrel. "I have a little ring of hers by me which I have kept for seven long years."
"What is your name?" then said Robin Hood.
"By the faith of my body," replied the young man, "my name is Allan-a-Dale."
"What will you give me, Allan-a-Dale," said Robin Hood, "in ready gold or fee, to help you to your true love again, and deliver her back unto you?"
"I have no money, save only five shillings," quoth Allan; "but—are you not Robin Hood?"
"Then you, if any one, can aid me!" said Allan-a-Dale eagerly. "And if you give me back my love, I swear upon the Book that I will be your true servant forever after."
"Where is this wedding to take place, and when?" asked Robin.
"At Plympton Church, scarce five miles from here; and at three o' the afternoon."
"Then to Plympton we will go!" cried Robin suddenly springing into action; and he gave out orders like a general: "Will Stutely, do you have four-and-twenty good men over against Plympton Church 'gainst three o' the afternoon. Much, good fellow, do you cook up some porridge for this youth, for he must have a good round stomach—aye, and a better gear! Will Scarlet, you will see to decking him out bravely for the nonce. And Friar Tuck, hold yourself in readiness, good book in hand, at the church. Mayhap you had best go ahead of us all."
The fat Bishop of Hereford was full of pomp and importance that day at Plympton Church. He was to celebrate the marriage of an old knight—a returned Crusader—and a landed young woman; and all the gentry thereabout were to grace the occasion with their presence. The church itself was gaily festooned with flowers for the ceremony, while out in the church-yard at one side brown ale flowed freely for all the servitors.
Already were the guests beginning to assemble, when the Bishop, back in the vestry, saw a minstrel clad in green walk up boldly to the door and peer within. It was Robin Hood, who had borrowed Allan's be-ribboned harp for the time.
"Now who are you, fellow?" quoth the Bishop, "and what do you here at the church-door with you harp and saucy air?"
"May it please your Reverence," returned Robin bowing very humbly, "I am but a strolling harper, yet likened the best in the whole North Countree. And I had hope that my thrumming might add zest to the wedding to-day."
"What tune can you harp?" demanded the Bishop.
"I can harp a tune so merry that a forlorn lover will forget he is jilted," said Robin. "I can harp another tune that will make a bride forsake her lord at the altar. I can harp another tune that will bring loving souls together though they were up hill and down dale five good miles away from each other."
"Then welcome, good minstrel," said the Bishop, "music pleases me right well, and if you can play up to your prattle, 'twill indeed grace your ceremony. Let us have a sample of your wares."
"Nay, I must not put finger to string until the bride and groom have come. Such a thing would ill fortune both us and them."
"Have it as you will," said the Bishop, "but here comes the party now."
Then up the lane to the church came the old knight, preceded by ten archers liveried in scarlet and gold. A brave sight the archers made, but their master walked slowly leaning upon a cane and shaking as though in a palsy.
And after them came a sweet lass leaning upon her brother's arm. Her hair did shine like glistering gold, and her eyes were like blue violets that peep out shyly at the sun. The color came and went in her cheeks like that tinting of a sea-shell, and her face was flushed as though she had been weeping. But now she walked with a proud air, as though she defied the world to crush her spirit. She had but two maids with her, finikin lasses, with black eyes and broad bosoms, who set off their lady's more delicate beauty well. One held up the bride's gown from the ground; the other carried flowers in plenty.
"Now by all the wedding bells that ever were rung!" quoth Robin boldly, "this is the worst matched pair that ever mine eyes beheld!"
"Silence, miscreant!" said a man who stood near.
The Bishop had hurriedly donned his gown and now stood ready to meet the couple at the chancel.
But Robin paid no heed to him. He let the knight and his ten archers pass by, then he strode up to the bride, and placed himself on the other side from her brother.