SHARING We encourage sharing--forward to a friend!
Chapter XIV: How Robin Hood Was Sought of the Tinker
And while the tinker fell asleep, Robin made haste away, And left the tinker in the lurch, For the great shot to pay.
King Henry was as good as his word. Robin Hood and his party were suffered to depart from London—the parting bringing keen sorrow to Marian—and for forty days no hand was raised against them. But at the end of that time, the royal word was sent to the worthy Sheriff at Nottingham that he must lay hold upon the outlaws without further delay, as he valued his office.
Indeed, the exploits of Robin and his band, ending with the great tourney in Finsbury Field, had made a mighty stir through all England, and many there were to laugh boldly at the Nottingham official for his failures to capture the outlaws.
The Sheriff thereupon planned three new expeditions into the greenwood, and was even brave enough to lead them, since he had fifteen-score men at his beck and call each time. But never the shadow of an outlaw did he see, for Robin's men lay close, and the Sheriff's men knew not how to come at their chief hiding-place in the cove before the cavern.
Now the Sheriff's daughter had hated Robin Hood bitterly in her heart ever since the day he refused to bestow upon her the golden arrow, and shamed her before all the company. His tricks, also, upon her father were not calculated to lessen her hatred, and so she sought about for means to aid the Sheriff in catching the enemy.
"There is no need to go against this man with force of arms," she said. "We must meet his tricks with other tricks of our own."
"Would that we could!" groaned the Sheriff. "The fellow is becoming a nightmare unto me."
"Let me plan a while," she replied. "Belike I can cook up some scheme for his undoing."
"Agreed," said the Sheriff, "and if anything comes of your planning, I will e'en give you an hundred silver pennies for a new gown, and a double reward to the man who catches the outlaws."
Now upon that same day, while the Sheriff's daughter was racking her brains for a scheme, there came to the Mansion House a strolling tinker named Middle, a great gossip and braggart. And as he pounded away upon some pots and pans in the scullery, he talked loudly about what he would do, if he once came within reach of that rascal Robin Hood.
"It might be that this simple fellow could do something through his very simplicity," mused the Sheriff's daughter, overhearing his prattle. "Odds bodikins! 'twill do no harm to try his service, while I bethink myself of some better plan."
And she called him to her, and looked him over—a big brawny fellow enough, with an honest look about the eye, and a countenance so open that when he smiled his mouth seemed the only country on the map.
"I am minded to try your skill at outlaw catching," she said, "and will add goodly measure to the stated reward if you succeed. Do you wish to make good your boasted prowess?"
The tinker grinned broadly.
"Yes, your ladyship," he said.
"Then here is a warrant made out this morning by the Sheriff himself. See that you keep it safely and use it to good advantage."
And she dismissed him.
Middle departed from the house mightily pleased with himself, and proud of his commission. He swung his crab-tree-staff recklessly in his glee—so recklessly that he imperiled the shins of more than one angry passer-by—and vowed he'd crack the ribs of Robin Hood with it, though he was surrounded by every outlaw in the whole greenwood.
Spurred on by the thoughts of his own coming bravery, he left the town and proceeded toward Barnesdale. The day was hot and dusty, and at noontime he paused at a wayside inn to refresh himself. He began by eating and drinking and dozing, in turn, then sought to do all at once.
Mine host of the "Seven Does" stood by, discussing the eternal Robin with a drover.
"Folk do say that my lord Sheriff has sent into Lincoln for more men-at-arms and horses, and that when he has these behind him, he'll soon rid the forest of these fellows."
"Of whom speak you?" asked the tinker sitting up.
"Of Robin Hood and his men," said the host; "but go to sleep again. You will never get the reward!"
"And why not?" asked the tinker, rising with great show of dignity.
"Where our Sheriff has failed, and the stout Guy of Gisborne, and many more beside, it behoves not a mere tinker to succeed."
The tinker laid a heavy hand upon the innkeeper's fat shoulder, and tried to look impressive.
"There is your reckoning, host, upon the table. I must e'en go upon my way, because I have more important business than to stand here gossiping with you. But be not surprised, if, the next time you see me, I shall have with me no less person than Robin Hood himself!"
And he strode loftily out the door and walked up the hot white road toward Barnesdale.