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Chapter XIV: How Robin Hood Was Sought of the Tinker (Cont'd)
He had not gone above a quarter of a mile when he met a young man with curling brown hair and merry eyes. The young man carried his light cloak over his arm, because of the heat, and was unarmed save for a light sword at his side. The newcomer eyed the perspiring tinker in a friendly way, and seeing he was a stout fellow accosted him.
"Good-day to you!" said he.
"Good-day to you!" said the tinker; "and a morrow less heating."
"Aye," laughed the other. "Whence come you? And know you the news?"
"What is the news?" said the gossipy tinker, pricking up his ear; "I am a tinker by trade, Middle by name, and come from over against Banbury."
"Why as for the news," laughed the stranger, "I hear that two tinkers were set i' the stocks for drinking too much ale and beer."
"If that be all your news," retorted Middle, "I can beat you clear to the end of the lane."
"What news have you? Seeing that you go from town to town, I ween you can outdo a poor country yokel at tidings."
"All I have to tell," said the other, "is that I am especially commissioned"—he felt mightily proud of these big words—"especially commissioned to seek a bold outlaw which they call Robin Hood."
"So?" said the other arching his brows. "How 'especially commissioned'?"
"I have a warrant from the Sheriff, sealed with the King's own seal, to take him where I can; and if you can tell me where he is, I will e'en make a man of you."
"Let me see the warrant," said the other, "to satisfy myself if it be right; and I will do the best I can to bring him to you."
"That will I not," replied the tinker; "I will trust none with it. And if you'll not help me to come at him I must forsooth catch him by myself."
And he made his crab-tree-staff whistle shrill circles in the air.
The other smiled at the tinker's simplicity, and said:
"The middle of the road on a hot July day is not a good place to talk things over. Now if you're the man for me and I'm the man for you, let's go back to the inn, just beyond the bend of road, and quench our thirst and cool our heads for thinking."
"Marry come up!" quoth the tinker. "That will I! For though I've just come from there, my thirst rises mightily at the sound of your voice."
So back he turned with the stranger and proceeded to the "Seven Does."
The landlord arched his eyebrows silently when he saw the two come in, but served them willingly.
The tinker asked for wine, and Robin for ale. The wine was not the most cooling drink in the cellar, nor the clearest headed. Nathless, the tinker asked for it, since it was expensive and the other man had invited him to drink. They lingered long over their cups, Master Middle emptying one after another while the stranger expounded at great length on the best plans for coming at and capturing Robin Hood.
In the end the tinker fell sound asleep while in the act of trying to get a tankard to his lips. Then the stranger deftly opened the snoring man's pouch, took out the warrant, read it, and put it in his own wallet. Calling mine host to him, he winked at him with a half smile and told him that the tinker would pay the whole score when he awoke. Thus was Master Middle left in the lurch "for the great shot to pay."
Nathless, the stranger seemed in no great hurry. He had the whim to stay awhile and see what the droll tinker might do when he awoke. So he hid behind a window shutter, on the outside, and awaited events.
Presently the tinker came to himself with a prodigious yawn, and reached at once for another drink.