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Chapter XV: How Robin Hood Was Tanned of the Tanner (Cont'd)
Round and round they fought, digging their heels into the ground to keep from slipping, so that you would have vowed there had been a yoke of oxen ploughing a potato-patch. Round and round, up and down, in and out, their arms working like threshing-machines, went the yeoman and the tanner, for a full hour, each becoming more astonished every minute that the other was such a good fellow. While Little John from underneath his bushy covert had much ado to keep from roaring aloud in pure joy.
Finally Robin saw his chance and brought a full arm blow straight down upon the other's head with a force that would have felled a bullock. But Arthur's trebled cow-skin cap here stood him in good stead: the blow glanced off without doing more than stunning him. Nathless, he reeled and had much ado to keep from falling; seeing which Robin stayed his hand—to his own sorrow, for the tanner recovered his wits in a marvelous quick space and sent back a sidelong blow which fairly lifted Robin off his feet and sent him tumbling on to the grass.
"Hold your hand! hold your hand!" roared Robin with what little breath he had left. "Hold, I say, and I will give you the freedom of the greenwood."
"Why, God-a-mercy," said Arthur; "I may thank my staff for that—not you."
"Well, well, gossip' let be as it may. But prithee tell me your name and trade. I like to know fellows who can hit a blow like that same last."
"I am a tanner," replied Arthur-a-Bland. "In Nottingham long have I wrought. And if you'll come to me I swear I'll tan your hides for naught."
"Odds bodikins!" quoth Robin ruefully. "Mine own hide is tanned enough for the present. Howsoever, there be others in this wood I would fain see you tackle. Harkee, if you will leave your tan-pots and come with me, as sure as my name is Robin Hood, you shan't want gold or fee."
"By the breath o' my body!" said Arthur, "that will I do!" and he gripped him gladly by the hand. "But I am minded that I clean forgot the errand that brought me to Sherwood. I was commissioned by some, under the Sheriff's roof, to capture you."
"So was a certain tinker, now in our service," said Robin smilingly.
"Verily 'tis a new way to recruit forces!" said the tanner laughing loudly. "But tell me, good Robin Hood, where is Little John? I fain would see him, for he is a kinsman on my mother's side."
"Here am I, good Arthur-a-Bland!" said a voice; and Little John literally rolled out from under the bush to the sward. His eyes were full of tears from much laughter which had well-nigh left him powerless to get on his feet.
As soon as the astonished tanner saw who it was, he gave Little John a mighty hug around the neck, and lifted him up on his feet, and the two pounded each other on the back soundly, so glad were they to meet again.
"O, man, man!" said Little John as soon as he had got his breath. "Never saw I so fine a sight in all my born days. You did knock him over like as he were a ninepin!"
"And you do joy to see me thwacked about on the ribs?" asked Robin with some choler.
"Nay, not that, master!" said Little John. "But 'tis the second time I have had special tickets to a show from beneath the bushes, and I cannot forbear my delight. Howsoever, take no shame unto yourself, for this same Arthur-a-Bland is the best man at the quarter-staff in all Nottinghamshire. It commonly takes two or three men to hold him."
"Unless it be Eric o' Lincoln," said Arthur modestly; "and I well know how you paid him out at the Fair."
"Say no more!" said Robin springing to his feet; "for well I know that I have done good business this day, and a few bruises are easy payment for the stout cudgel I am getting into the band. Your hand again, good Arthur-a-Bland! Come! let us after the deer of which I spoiled your stalking."
"Righty gladly!" quoth Arthur. "Come, Cousin Little John! Away with vats and tan-bark and vile-smelling cowhides! I'll follow you two in the sweet open air to the very ends of earth!"