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Chapter XVII: How the Bishop Was Dined
"O what is the matter?" then said the Bishop, "Or for whom do you make this a-do? Or why do you kill the King's venison, When your company is so few?"
"We are shepherds," quoth bold Robin Hood, "And we keep sheep all the year, And we are disposed to be merrie this day, And to kill of the King's fat deer."
Not many days after Sir Richard of the Lea came to Sherwood Forest, word reached Robin Hood's ears that my lord Bishop of Hereford would be riding that way betimes on that morning. 'Twas Arthur-a-Bland, the knight's quondam esquire, who brought the tidings, and Robin's face brightened as he heard it.
"Now, by our Lady!" quoth he, "I have long desired to entertain my lord in the greenwood, and this is too fair a chance to let slip. Come, my men, kill me a venison; kill me a good fat deer. The Bishop of Hereford is to dine with me today, and he shall pay well for his cheer."
"Shall we dress it here, as usual?" asked Much, the miller's son.
"Nay, we play a droll game on the churchman. We will dress it by the highway side, and watch for the Bishop narrowly, lest he should ride some other way."
So Robin gave his orders, and the main body of his men dispersed to different parts of the forest, under Will Stutely and Little John, to watch other roads; while Robin Hood himself took six of his men, including Will Scarlet, and Much, and posted himself in full view of the main road. This little company appeared funny enough, I assure you, for they had disguised themselves as shepherds. Robin had an old wool cap, with a tail to it, hanging over his ear, and a shock of hair stood straight up through a hole in the top. Besides there was so much dirt on his face that you would never have known him. An old tattered cloak over his hunter's garb completed his make-up. The others were no less ragged and unkempt, even the foppish Will Scarlet being so badly run down at the heel that the court ladies would hardly have had speech with him.
They quickly provided themselves with a deer and made great preparations to cook it over a small fire, when a little dust was seen blowing along the highway, and out of it came the portly Bishop cantering along with ten men-at-arms at his heels. As soon as he saw the fancied shepherds he spurred up his horse, and came straight toward them.
"Who are ye, fellows, who make so free with the King's deer?" he asked sharply.
"We are shepherds," answered Robin Hood, pulling at his forelock awkwardly.
"Heaven have mercy! Ye seem a sorry lot of shepherds. But who gave you leave to cease eating mutton?"
"'Tis one of our feast days, lording, and we were disposed to be merry this day, and make free with a deer, out here where they are so many."
"By me faith, the King shall hear of this. Who killed yon beast?"
"Give me first your name, excellence, so that I may speak where 'tis fitting," replied Robin stubbornly.
"'Tis my lord Bishop of Hereford, fellow!" interposed one of the guards fiercely. "See that you keep a civil tongue in your head."
"If 'tis a churchman," retorted Will Scarlet, "he would do better to mind his own flocks rather than concern himself with ours."
"Ye are saucy fellows, in sooth," cried the Bishop, "and we will see if your heads will pay for your manners. Come! quit your stolen roast and march along with me, for you shall be brought before the Sheriff of Nottingham forthwith."
"Pardon, excellence!" said Robin, dropping on his knees. "Pardon, I pray you. It becomes not your lordship's coat to take so many lives away."
"Faith, I'll pardon you!" said the Bishop. "I'll pardon you, when I see you hanged! Seize upon them, my men!"
But Robin had already sprung away with his back against a tree. And from underneath his ragged cloak he drew his trusty horn and winded the piercing notes which were wont to summon the band.
The Bishop no sooner saw this action than he knew his man, and that there was a trap set; and being an arrant coward, he wheeled his horse sharply and would have made off down the road; but his own men, spurred on the charge, blocked his way. At almost the same instant the bushes round about seemed literally to become alive with outlaws. Little John's men came from one side and Will Stutely's from the other. In less time than it takes to tell it, the worthy Bishop found himself a prisoner, and began to crave mercy from the men he had so lately been ready to sentence.
"O pardon, O pardon," said the Bishop, "O pardon, I you pray. For if I had known it had been you, I'd have gone some other way."
"I owe you no pardon," retorted Robin, "but I will e'en treat you better than you would have treated me. Come, make haste, and go along with me. I have already planned that you shall dine with me this day."