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Chapter XVIII: How the Bishop Went Outlaw-Hunting (Cont'd)
"O hold your hand! hold your hand!" panted the supposed woman. "'Tis I, Robin Hood. Summon the yeomen and return with me speedily. We have still another score to settle with my lord of Hereford."
When Little John could catch his breath from laughing, he winded his horn.
"Now, mistress Robin," quoth he, grinning. "Lead on! We'll be close to your heels."
Meanwhile, back at the widow's cottage the Bishop was growing more furious every moment. For all his bold words, he dared not fire the house, and the sturdy door had thus far resisted all his men's efforts.
"Break it down! Break it down!" he shouted, "and let me soon see who will fetch out that traitor, Robin Hood!"
At last the door crashed in and the men stood guard on the threshold. But not one dared enter for fear a sharp arrow should meet him halfway.
"Here he is!" cried one keen-eyed fellow, peering in. "I see him in the corner by the cupboard. Shall we slay him with our pikes?"
"Nay," said the Bishop, "take him alive if you can. We'll make the biggest public hanging of this that the shire ever beheld."
But the joy of the Bishop over his capture was short lived. Down the road came striding the shabby figure of the old woman who had helped him set the trap; and very wrathy was she when she saw that the cottage door had been battered in.
"Stand by, you lazy rascals!" she called to the soldiers. "May all the devils catch ye for hurting an old woman's hut. Stand by, I say!"
"Hold your tongue!" ordered the Bishop. "These are my men and carrying out my orders."
"God-mercy!" swore the beldame harshly. "Things have come to a pretty pass when our homes may be treated like common gaols. Couldn't all your men catch one poor forester without this ado? Come! clear out, you and your robber, on the instant, or I'll curse every mother's son of ye, eating and drinking and sleeping!"
"Seize on the hag!" shouted the Bishop, as soon as he could get in a word. "We'll see about a witch's cursing. Back to town she shall go, alongside of Robin Hood."
"Not so fast, your worship!" she retorted, clapping her hands.
And at the signal a goodly array of greenwood men sprang forth from all sides of the cottage, with bows drawn back threateningly. The Bishop saw that his men were trapped again, for they dared not stir. Nathless, he determined to make a fight for it.
"If one of you but budge an inch toward me, you rascals," he cried, "it shall sound the death of your master, Robin Hood! My men have him here under their pikes, and I shall command them to kill him without mercy."
"Faith, I should like to see the Robin you have caught," said a clear voice from under the widow's cape; and the outlaw chief stood forth with bared head, smilingly. "Here am I, my lord, in no wise imperiled by your men's fierce pikes. So let us see whom you have been guarding so well."
The old woman who, in the garb of Robin Hood, had been lying quiet in the cottage through all the uproar, jumped up nimbly at this. In the bald absurdity of her disguise she came to the doorway and bowed to the Bishop.
"Give you good-den, my lord Bishop," she piped in a shrill voice; "and what does your Grace at my humble door? Do you come to bless me and give me alms?"
"Aye, that does he," answered Robin. "We shall see if his saddle-bags contain enough to pay you for that battered door."
"Now by all the saints—" began the Bishop.
"Take care; they are all watching you," interrupted Robin; "so name them not upon your unchurchly lips. But I will trouble you to hand over that purse of gold you had saved to pay for my head."
"I'll see you hanged first!" raged the Bishop, stating no more than what would have been so, if he could do the ordering of things. "Have at them, my men, and hew them down in their tracks!"
"Hold!" retorted Robin. "See how we have you at our mercy." And aiming a sudden shaft he shot so close to the Bishop's head that it carried away both his hat and the skull-cap which he always wore, leaving him quite bald.
The prelate turned as white as his shiny head and clutched wildly at his ears. He thought himself dead almost.
"Help! Murder!" he gasped. "Do not shoot again! Here's your purse of gold!"
And without waiting for further parley he fairly bolted down the road.
His men being left leaderless had nothing for it but to retreat after him, which they did in sullen order, covered by the bows of the yeomen. And thus ended the Bishop of Hereford's great outlaw-hunt in the forest.