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Chapter XIX: How the Sheriff Held Another Shooting Match
And forth went they from the greenwood, with hearts all firm and stout, resolved to meet the Sheriff's men and have a merry bout. Along the highway they fell in with many other bold fellows from the countryside, going with their ruddy-cheeked lasses toward the wide-open gates of Nottingham.
So in through the gates trooped the whole gay company, Robin's men behaving as awkwardly and laughing and talking as noisily as the rest; while the Sheriff's scowling men-at-arms stood round about and sought to find one who looked like a forester, but without avail.
The herald now set forth the terms of the contest, as on former occasions, and the shooting presently began. Robin had chosen five of his men to shoot with him, and the rest were to mingle with the crowd and also watch the gates. These five were Little John, Will Scarlet, Will Stutely, Much, and Allan-a-Dale'.
The other competitors made a brave showing on the first round, especially Gilbert of the White Hand, who was present and never shot better. The contest later narrowed down between Gilbert and Robin. But at the first lead, when the butts were struck so truly by various well known archers, the Sheriff was in doubt whether to feel glad or sorry. He was glad to see such skill, but sorry that the outlaws were not in it.
Some said, "If Robin Hood were here, And all his men to boot, Sure none of them could pass these men, So bravely do they shoot."
"Aye," quoth the Sheriff, and scratched his head,
"I thought he would be here; I thought he would, but tho' he's bold, He durst not now appear."
This word was privately brought to Robin by David of Doncaster, and the saying vexed him sorely. But he bit his lip in silence.
"Ere long," he thought to himself, "we shall see whether Robin Hood be here or not!"
Meantime the shooting had been going forward, and Robin's men had done so well that the air was filled with shouts.
One cried, "Blue jacket!" another cried, "Brown!" And a third cried, "Brave Yellow!" But the fourth man said, "Yon man in red In this place has no fellow."
For that was Robin Hood himself, For he was clothed in red, At every shot the prize he got, For he was both sure and dead.
Thus went the second round of the shooting, and thus the third and last, till even Gilbert of the White Hand was fairly beaten. During all this shooting, Robin exchanged no word with his men, each treating the other as a perfect stranger. Nathless, such great shooting could not pass without revealing the archers.