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Chapter XV: How Robin Hood Was Tanned of the Tanner
In Nottingham there lived a jolly tanner, With a hey down, down, a down down! His name was Arthur-a-Bland, There was ne'er a squire in Nottinghamshire
Dare bid bold Arthur stand. And as he went forth, in a summer's morning, With a hey down, down, a down down! To the forest of merrie Sherwood, To view the red deer, that range here and there, There met he with bold Robin Hood.
The Sheriff's daughter bided for several days in the faint hope that she might hear tidings of the prattling tinker. But never a word heard she, and she was forced to the conclusion that her messenger had not so much as laid eyes upon the outlaw. Little recked she that he was, even then, grinding sword-points and sharpening arrows out in the good greenwood, while whistling blithely or chatting merrily with the good Friar Tuck.
Then she bethought herself of another good man, one Arthur-a-Bland, a tanner who dwelt in Nottingham town and was far-famed in the tourneys round about. He had done some pretty tricks at archery, but was strongest at wrestling and the quarter-staff. For three years he had cast all comers to the earth in wrestling until the famous Eric o' Lincoln broke a rib for him in a mighty tussle. Howsoever, at quarter-staff he had never yet met his match; so that there was never a squire in Nottinghamshire dare bid bold Arthur stand.
With a long pike-staff on his shoulder, So well he could clear his way That by two and three he made men flee And none of them could stay.
Thus at least runs the old song which tells of his might.
"This is just the man for me!" thought the Sheriff's daughter to herself; and she forthwith summoned him to the Mansion House and commissioned him to seek out Robin Hood.
The warrant was quite to Arthur's liking, for he was happiest when out in the forest taking a sly peep at the King's deer; and now he reckoned that he could look at them boldly, instead of by the rays of the moon. He could say to any King's Forester who made bold to stop him: "I am here on the King's business!"
"Gramercy! No more oak-bark and ditch-water and the smell of half-tanned hides to-day!" quoth he, gaily. "I shall e'en see what the free air of heaven tastes like, when it sweeps through the open wood."
So the tanner departed joyfully upon his errand, but much more interested in the dun deer of the forest than in any two-legged rovers therein. This interest had, in fact, caused the Foresters to keep a shrewd eye upon him in the past, for his tannery was apt to have plenty of meat in it that was more like venison than the law allowed. As for the outlaws, Arthur bore them no ill-will; indeed he had felt a secret envy in his heart at their free life; but he was not afraid to meet any two men who might come against him. Nathless, the Sheriff's daughter did not choose a very good messenger, as you shall presently see.
Away sped the tanner, a piece of bread and some wine in his wallet, a good longbow and arrows slung across his shoulder, his stout quarter-staff in his hand, and on his head a cap of trebled raw-hide so tough that it would turn the edge of a broadsword. He lost no time in getting out of the hot sun and into the welcome shade of the forest, where he stalked cautiously about seeking some sign of the dun deer.
Now it so chanced that upon that very morning Robin Hood had sent Little John to a neighboring village to buy some cloth of Lincoln green for new suits for all the band. Some of the money recently won of the King was being spent in this fashion, 'gainst the approach of winter. Will Scarlet had been sent on a similar errand to Barnesdale some time before, if you remember, only to be chased up the hill without his purchase. So to-day Little John was chosen, and for sweet company's sake Robin went with him a part of the way until they came to the "Seven Does," the inn where Robin had recently played his prank upon Middle the tinker. Here they drank a glass of ale to refresh themselves withal, and for good luck; and Robin tarried a bit while Little John went on his errand.
Presently Robin entered the edge of the wood, when whom should he see but Arthur-a-Bland, busily creeping after a graceful deer that browsed alone down the glade. "Now by Saint George and the Dragon!" quoth Robin to himself. "I much fear that yon same fellow is a rascally poacher come after our own and the King's meat!"
For you must know, by a curious process of reasoning, Robin and his men had hunted in the royal preserves so long that they had come to consider themselves joint owners to every animal which roamed therein.
"Nay!" he added, "this must be looked into! That cow-skin cap in sooth must hide a scurvy varlet!"
And forthwith he crept behind a tree, and thence to another, stalking our friend Arthur as busily as Arthur was stalking the deer.