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Chapter X: How A Beggar Filled the Public Eye (Cont'd)
There were but two things to do; either stand there and take a sound drubbing, or beat a hasty retreat. Robin chose the latter—as you or I would probably have done—and scurried back into the wood, blowing his horn as he went.
"Fie, for shame, man!" jeered the bold beggar after him. "What is your haste? We had but just begun. Stay and take your money, else you will never be able to pay your reckoning at the tavern!"
But Robin answered him never a word. He fled up hill and down dale till he met three of his men who were running up in answer to his summons.
"What is wrong?" they asked.
"'Tis a saucy beggar," said Robin, catching his breath. "He is back there on the highroad with the hardest stick I've met in a good many days. He gave me no chance to reason with him, the dirty scamp!"
The men—Much and two of the widow's sons—could scarce conceal their mirth at the thought of Robin Hood running from a beggar. Nathless, they kept grave faces, and asked their leader if he was hurt.
"Nay," he replied, "but I shall speedily feel better if you will fetch me that same beggar and let me have a fair chance at him."
So the three yeomen made haste and came out upon the highroad and followed after the beggar, who was going smoothly along his way again, as though he were at peace with all the world.
"The easiest way to settle this beggar," said Much, "is to surprise him. Let us cut through yon neck of woods and come upon him before he is aware."
The others agreed to this, and the three were soon close upon their prey.
"Now!" quoth Much; and the other two sprang quickly upon the beggar's back and wrested his pike-staff from his hand. At the same moment Much drew his dagger and flashed it before the fellow's breast.
"Yield you, my man!" cried he; "for a friend of ours awaits you in the wood, to teach you how to fight properly."
"Give me a fair chance," said the beggar valiantly, "and I'll fight you all at once."
But they would not listen to him. Instead, they turned him about and began to march him toward the forest. Seeing that it was useless to struggle, the beggar began to parley.
"Good my masters," quoth he, "why use this violence? I will go with ye safe and quietly, if ye insist, but if ye will set me free I'll make it worth your while. I've a hundred pounds in my bag here. Let me go my way, and ye shall have all that's in the bag."
The three outlaws took council together at this.
"What say you?" asked Much of the others. "Our master will be more glad to see this beggar's wallet than his sorry face."
The other two agreed, and the little party came to a halt and loosed hold of the beggar.
"Count out your gold speedily, friend," said Much. There was a brisk wind blowing, and the beggar turned about to face it, directly they had unhanded him.
"It shall be done, gossips," said he. "One of you lend me your cloak and we will spread it upon the ground and put the wealth upon it."
The cloak was handed him, and he placed his wallet upon it as though it were very heavy indeed. Then he crouched down and fumbled with the leather fastenings. The outlaws also bent over and watched the proceeding closely, lest he should hide some of the money on his person. Presently he got the bag unfastened and plunged his hands into it. Forth from it he drew—not shining gold—but handfuls of fine meal which he dashed into the eager faces of the men around him. The wind aided him in this, and soon there arose a blinding cloud which filled the eyes, noses, and mouths of the three outlaws till they could scarcely see or breathe.