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Chapter XIV: How Robin Hood Was Sought of the Tinker (Cont'd)
"What were you saying, friend, about the best plan (ya-a-a-ah!) for catching this fellow?—Hello!—where's the man gone?"
He had looked around and saw no one with him at the table.
"Host! host!" he shouted, "where is that fellow who was to pay my reckoning?"
"I know not," answered the landlord sharply. "Mayhap he left the money in your purse."
"No he didn't!" roared Middle, looking therein. "Help! Help! I've been robbed! Look you, host, you are liable to arrest for high treason! I am here upon the King's business, as I told you earlier in the day. And yet while I did rest under your roof, thinking you were an honest man (hic!) and one loving of the King, my pouch has been opened and many matters of state taken from it."
"Cease your bellowing!" said the landlord. "What did you lose?"
"Oh, many weighty matters, I do assure you. I had with me, item, a warrant, granted under the hand of my lord High Sheriff of Nottingham, and sealed with the Kings's own seal, for the capture (hic!)—and arrest—and overcoming of a notorious rascal, one Robin Hood of Barnesdale. Item, one crust of bread. Item, one lump (hic!) of solder. Item, three pieces of twine. Item, six single keys (hic!), useful withal. Item, twelve silver pennies, the which I earned this week (hic!) in fair labor. Item—"
"Have done with your items!" said the host. "And I marvel greatly to hear you speak in such fashion of your friend, Robin Hood of Barnesdale. For was he not with you in all good-fellowship?"
"Wh-a-at? That Robin Hood?" gasped Middle with staring eyes. "Why did you not tell me?"
"Faith, I saw no need o' telling you! Did you not tell me the first time you were here to-day, that I need not be surprised if you came back with no less person than Robin Hood himself?"
"Jesu give me pardon!" moaned the tinker. "I see it all now. He got me to drinking, and then took my warrant, and my pennies, and my crust—"
"Yes, yes," interrupted the host. "I know all about that. But pay me the score for both of you."
"But I have no money, gossip. Let me go after that vile bag-o'-bones, and I'll soon get it out of him."
"Not so," replied the other. "If I waited for you to collect from Robin Hood, I would soon close up shop."
"What is the account?" asked Middle.
"Ten shillings, just."
"Then take here my working-bag and my good hammer too; and if I light upon that knave I will soon come back after them."
"Give me your leathern coat as well," said mine host; "the hammer and bag of tools are as naught to me."
"Gramercy!" cried Master Middle, losing what was left of his temper. "It seems that I have escaped one thief only to fall into the hands of another. If you will but walk with me out into the middle of the road, I'll give you such a crack as shall drive some honesty into your thick skull."
"You are wasting your breath and my time," retorted the landlord.
"Give me your things, and get you gone after your man, speedily."
Middle thought this to be good advice; so he strode forth from the "Seven Does" in a black mood.
Ere he had gone half a mile, he saw Robin Hood walking demurely among the trees a little in front of him.
"Ho there, you villain!" roared the tinker. "Stay your steps! I am desperately in need of you this day!"
Robin turned about with a surprised face.
"What knave is this?" he asked gently, "who comes shouting after me?"
"No knave! no knave at all!" panted the other, rushing up. "But an honest—man—who would have—that warrant—and the money for drink!"
"Why, as I live, it is our honest tinker who was seeking Robin Hood! Did you find him, gossip?"
"Marry, that did I! and I'm now going to pay him my respects!"
And he plunged at him, making a sweeping stroke with his crab-tree-cudgel.
Robin tried to draw his sword, but could not do it for a moment through dodging the other's furious blows. When he did get it in hand, the tinker had reached him thrice with resounding thwacks. Then the tables were turned, for he dashed in right manfully with his shining blade and made the tinker give back again.
The greenwood rang with the noise of the fray. 'Twas steel against wood, and they made a terrible clattering when they came together. Robin thought at first that he could hack the cudgel to pieces, for his blade was one of Toledo—finely tempered steel which the Queen had given him. But the crab-tree-staff had been fired and hardened and seasoned by the tinker's arts until it was like a bar of iron—no pleasant neighbor for one's ribs.