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Chapter XVII: How the Bishop Was Dined (Cont'd)
So the unwilling prelate was dragged away, cheek by jowl, with the half-cooked venison upon the back of his own horse; and Robin and his band took charge of the whole company and led them through the forest glades till they came to an open space near Barnesdale.
Here they rested, and Robin gave the Bishop a seat full courteously. Much the miller's son fell to roasting the deer afresh, while another and fatter beast was set to frizzle on the other side of the fire. Presently the appetizing odor of the cooking reached the Bishop's nostrils, and he sniffed it eagerly. The morning's ride had made him hungry; and he was nothing loath when they bade him come to the dinner. Robin gave him the best place beside himself, and the Bishop prepared to fall to.
"Nay, my lord, craving your pardon, but we are accustomed to have grace before meat," said Robin decorously. "And as our own chaplain is not with us to-day, will you be good enough to say it for us?"
The Bishop reddened, but pronounced grace in the Latin tongue hastily, and then settled himself to make the best of his lot. Red wines and ale were brought forth and poured out, each man having a horn tankard from which to drink.
Laughter bubbled among the diners, and the Bishop caught himself smiling at more than one jest. But who, in sooth, could resist a freshly broiled venison streak eaten out in the open air to the tune of jest and good fellowship? Stutely filled the Bishop's beaker with wine each time he emptied it, and the Bishop got mellower and mellower as the afternoon shades lengthened on toward sunset. Then the approaching dusk warned him of his position.
"I wish, mine host," quoth he gravely to Robin, who had soberly drunk but one cup of ale, "that you would now call a reckoning. 'Tis late, and I fear the cost of this entertainment may be more than my poor purse can stand."
For he bethought himself of his friend, the Sheriff's former experience.
"Verily, your lordship," said Robin, scratching his head, "I have enjoyed your company so much, that I scarce know how to charge for it."
"Lend me your purse, my lord," said Little John, interposing, "and I'll give you the reckoning by and by." The Bishop shuddered. He had collected Sir Richard's debt only that morning, and was even then carrying it home.
"I have but a few silver pennies of my own," he whined; "and as for the gold in my saddle-bags, 'tis for the church. Ye surely would not levy upon the church, good friends."
But Little John was already gone to the saddle-bags, and returning he laid the Bishop's cloak upon the ground, and poured out of the portmantua a matter of four hundred glittering gold pieces. 'Twas the identical money which Robin had lent Sir Richard a short while before!
"Ah!" said Robin, as though an idea had but just then come to him. "The church is always willing to aid in charity. And seeing this goodly sum reminds me that I have a friend who is indebted to a churchman for this exact amount. Now we shall charge you nothing on our own account; but suffer us to make use of this in aiding my good friend."
"Nay, nay," began the Bishop with a wry face, "this is requiting me ill indeed. Was this not the King's meat, after all, that we feasted upon? Furthermore, I am a poor man."
"Poor forsooth!" answered Robin in scorn. "You are the Bishop of Hereford, and does not the whole countryside speak of your oppression? Who does not know of your cruelty to the poor and ignorant—you who should use your great office to aid them, instead of oppress? Have you not been guilty of far greater robbery than this, even though less open? Of myself, and how you have pursued me, I say nothing; nor of your unjust enmity against my father. But on account of those you have despoiled and oppressed, I take this money, and will use it far more worthily than you would. God be my witness in this! There is an end of the matter, unless you will lead us in a song or dance to show that your body had a better spirit than your mind. Come, strike up the harp, Allan!"
"Neither the one nor the other will I do," snarled the Bishop.
"Faith, then we must help you," said Little John; and he and Arthur-a-Bland seized the fat struggling churchman and commenced to hop up and down. The Bishop being shorter must perforce accompany them in their gyrations; while the whole company sat and rolled about over the ground, and roared to see my lord of Hereford's queer capers. At last he sank in a heap, fuddled with wine and quite exhausted.
Little John picked him up as though he were a log of wood and carrying him to his horse, set him astride facing the animal's tail; and thus fastened him, leading the animal toward the highroad and, starting the Bishop, more dead than alive, toward Nottingham.