SHARING We encourage sharing--forward to a friend!
Chapter XVI: How Robin Hood Met Sir Richard of the Lea (Cont'd)
"I am a Saxon knight in my own right; and I have always lived a sober and quiet life," the sorrowful guest replied. "'Tis true you have seen me at court, mayhap, for I was an excited witness of your shooting before King Harry—God rest his bones! My name is Sir Richard of the Lea, and I dwell in a castle, not a league from one of the gates of Nottingham, which has belonged to my father, and his father, and his father's father before him. Within two or three years ago my neighbors might have told you that a matter of four hundred pounds one way or the other was as naught to me. But now I have only these ten pennies of silver, and my wife and son."
"In what manner have you lost your riches?" asked Robin.
"Through folly and kindness," said the knight, sighing. "I went with King Richard upon a crusade, from which I am but lately returned, in time to find my son—a goodly youth—grown up. He was but twenty, yet he had achieved a squire's training and could play prettily in jousts and tournaments and other knightly games. But about this time he had the ill luck to push his sport too far, and did accidentally kill a knight in the open lists. To save the boy, I had to sell my lands and mortgage my ancestral castle; and this not being enough, in the end I have had to borrow money, at a ruinous interest, from my lord of Hereford."
"A most worthy Bishop," said Robin ironically. "What is the sum of your debt?"
"Four hundred pounds," said Sir Richard, "and the Bishop swears he will foreclose the mortgage if they are not paid promptly."
"Have you any friends who would become surety for you?"
"Not one. If good King Richard were here, the tale might be otherwise."
"Fill your goblet again, Sir Knight," said Robin; and he turned to whisper a word in Marian's ear. She nodded and drew Little John and Will Scarlet aside and talked earnestly with them, in a low tone.
"Here is health and prosperity to you, gallant Robin," said Sir Richard, tilting his goblet. "I hope I may pay your cheer more worthily, the next time I ride by."
Will Scarlet and Little John had meanwhile fallen in with Marian's idea, for they consulted the other outlaws, who nodded their heads. Thereupon Little John and Will Scarlet went into the cave near by and presently returned bearing a bag of gold. This they counted out before the astonished knight; and there were four times one hundred gold pieces in it.
"Take this loan from us, Sir Knight, and pay your debt to the Bishop," then said Robin. "Nay, no thanks; you are but exchanging creditors. Mayhap we shall not be so hard upon you as the Christian Bishop; yet, again we may be harder. Who can tell?"
There were actual tears in Sir Richard's eyes, as he essayed to thank the foresters. But at this juncture, Much, the miller's son, came from the cave dragging a bale of cloth. "The knight should have a suit worthy of his rank, master—think you not so?"
"Measure him twenty ells of it," ordered Robin.
"Give him a good horse, also," whispered Marian. "'Tis a gift which will come back four-fold, for this is a worthy man. I know him well."
So the horse was given, also, and Robin bade Arthur-a-Bland ride with the knight as far as his castle, as esquire.
The knight was sorrowful no longer; yet he could hardly voice his thanks through his broken utterance. And having spent the night in rest, after listening to Allan-a-Dale's singing, he mounted his new steed the following morning an altogether different man.
"God save you, comrades, and keep you all!" said he, with deep feeling in his tones; "and give me a grateful heart!"
"We shall wait for you twelve months from to-day, here in this place," said Robin, shaking him by the hand; "and then you will repay us the loan, if you have been prospered."
"I shall return it to you within the year, upon my honor as Sir Richard of the Lea. And for all time, pray count on me as a steadfast friend."
So saying the knight and his esquire rode down the forest glade till they were lost to view.