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Among the most popular of the prose epics is the story of Robin Hood, compiled from some twoscore old English ballads, some of which date back at least to 1400. This material has recently been charmingly reworked by Howard Pyle, who has happily illustrated his own book. The bare outline of the tale is as follows:

In the days of Henry II lived in Sherwood Forest the famous outlaw Robin Hood, with his band of sevenscore men. At eighteen years of age Robin left Locksley to attend a shooting-match in a neighboring town. While crossing the forest one of the royal game-keepers tauntingly challenged him to prove his skill as a marksman by killing a deer just darting past them. But, when the unsuspecting youth brought down this quarry, the forester proposed to arrest him for violating the law. Robin, however, deftly escaped, and, when the keeper sent an arrow after him, retaliated by another, which, better aimed, killed one of the king's men!

Although unwittingly guilty of murder, Robin, knowing his life was forfeit, took to the forest, where he became an outlaw. In vain the Sheriff of Nottingham tried to secure him: Robin always evaded capture at his hands. Still he did not remain in hiding, but frequently appeared among his fellow-men, none of whom would betray him, although the sheriff promised a reward of two hundred pounds for his capture.

Once, while in quest of adventures, Robin met on a narrow bridge a stranger who refused to make way for him. Irritated by what he considered the man's insolence, Robin seized his quarter-staff, only to find that his antagonist more than matched him in the skilful use of this weapon. Then a misstep suddenly toppled Robin over into the stream, where he might have perished had not some of his men leaped out of the thicket to his rescue. Vexed at being beaten at quarter-staff, Robin now proposed a shooting-match, and, his good humor entirely restored by winning a victory in this contest, he promptly enrolled the stranger in his band. His merry companions, on learning the huge new-comer was John Little, ironically termed him Little John, by which name he became very famous.

Baffled in his attempts to secure Robin and unable to find any one near there to serve a warrant upon him, the sheriff hired a Lincoln tinker, who, entering an inn, loudly boasted how cleverly he was going to accomplish his task. Among his listeners was the outlaw, who enticed the tinker to drink, and made him so drunk that he had no difficulty in stealing his warrant.

The tinker, on awaking, was furious, and, coming face to face with Robin soon after, attacked him fiercely. Seeing his opponent was getting the better of him, Robin blew his horn, whereupon six of his men appeared to aid him. Awed by the sudden appearance of these men,—who were all clad in Lincoln green,—the tinker laid down his cudgel and humbly begged permission to join the band.

The baffled sheriff now rode off to London to complain, but, when Henry heard one of his officers could not capture an outlaw, he indignantly bade him leave the court and not appear there again until he had secured Robin. Dismayed at having incurred royal displeasure, the sheriff concluded to accomplish by stratagem what he had failed to compass by force. He therefore proclaimed a shooting-match, and, feeling sure Robin would be among the competitors for the prize, posted a number of men to watch for and arrest him. These sleuths recognized all the contestants present, except a dark man, with a patch over one eye, who did not in the least resemble the fair-haired, handsome Robin. Although one-eyed, the stranger easily bore away the prize, and, when the sheriff offered to take him into his service, curtly rejoined no man should ever be his master. But that evening, in a secret glade in Sherwood Forest, Robin gleefully exhibited to his followers the golden arrow he had won, and, doffing his patch, remarked that the walnut stain, which had transformed a fair man into a dark one, would soon wear off.

Still, not satisfied with outwitting the sheriff, Robin, anxious to apprise him of the fact, wrote a message on an arrow, which he boldly shot into the hall where his enemy was seated at a banquet. Enraged by this impudence, the sheriff sent out three hundred men to scour the forest, and Robin and his men were forced to hide.

Weary of inaction, Robin finally bade Will Stutely reconnoiter, report what the sheriff was doing, and see whether it would be safe for him and his men to venture out. Garbed as a monk, Will Stutely sought the nearest inn, where he was quietly seated when some of the sheriff's men came in. The outlaw was listening intently to their plans when a cat, rubbing against him, pushed aside his frock, and thus allowed the constable a glimpse of Lincoln green beneath its folds. To arrest the outlaw was but the matter of a moment, and Will Stutely was led off to prison and execution, while a friendly bar-maid hastened off secretly to the forest to warn Robin of his friend's peril.

Determined to save Will from the gallows at any risk, Robin immediately set out with four of his best men and let them mingle among the people assembled near the gallows. Although disguised, the outlaws were immediately recognized by Will when he arrived with the sheriff. Pressing forward as if to obtain a better view of the execution, the outlaws contrived to annoy their neighbors so sorely that a fight ensued, and, in the midst of the confusion, Little John, slipping close up to the prisoner, cut his bonds, knocked down the sheriff, and escaped with all the band!

Life in the forest sometimes proved too monotonous to suit Robin, who once purchased from a butcher his horse, cart, and meat, and drove off boldly to Nottingham Fair. There he lustily cried his wares, announcing churchmen would have to pay double, aldermen cost price, housewives less, and pretty girls nothing save a kiss! The merry vender's methods of trading soon attracted so many female customers that the other butchers became angry, but, deeming Robin a mere simpleton, invited him to a banquet, where they determined to take advantage of him.

The sheriff—who was present—blandly inquired of the butcher whether he had any cattle for sale, and arranged to meet him in the forest and pay 300 crowns in cash for 500 horned heads. But, when the gullible sheriff reached the trysting-spot, he was borne captive to Robin's camp, where the chief, mockingly pointing out the king's deer, bade him take possession of five hundred horned heads! Then he invited the sheriff to witness games exhibiting the outlaws' strength and skill, and, after relieving him of his money, allowed him to depart unharmed.

More determined than ever to obtain revenge, the sheriff again proclaimed an archery contest, which Robin shunned. Little John, however, put in an appearance, won all the prizes, and even accepted the sheriff's offer to serve him. But, living on the fat of the land in the sheriff's household, Little John grew fat and lazy, quarrelled with the other servants, and finally departed with his master's cook and his silver!

Robin, although delighted to acquire a new follower, hotly reviled his companion for stealing the silver, whereupon Little John declared the sheriff had given it to him and volunteered to produce him to confirm his words. He therefore set out, and waylaid his late employer, who, thinking himself under the protection of one of his own men, innocently followed him to the outlaws' camp. When brought thus suddenly face to face with Robin, the sheriff expected to be robbed or killed, but, after ascertaining the silver was not a free gift, Robin gave it back to him and let him go.

Angry because Robin often twitted him with his stoutness, Little John once wandered off by himself in the forest, and meeting Arthur a Bland challenged him to fight, little suspecting Robin was watching them from a neighboring thicket. From this hiding-place the chief of the outlaws witnessed Little John's defeat, and, popping out as soon as the fight was over, invited Arthur a Bland to join his band. The three men next continued their walk, until they met a "rose-leaf, whipped-cream youth," of whose modish attire and effeminate manners they made unmerciful fun. Boastfully informing his two companions he was going to show them how a quarter-staff should be handled, Robin challenged the stranger, who, suddenly dropping his affected manners, snatched a stake from the hedge and proceeded to outfence Robin. In his turn Little John had a chance to laugh at his leader's discomfiture, and Robin, on learning his antagonist was his nephew (who had taken refuge in the forest because he had accidentally killed a man), invited him to join his merry men.

Soon after Little John was despatched for food, and the outlaws were enjoying a jolly meal "under the greenwood tree," when a miller came trudging along with a heavy bag of flour. Crowding around him the outlaws demanded his money, and, when he exhibited an empty purse, Robin suggested his money was probably hidden in the meal and sternly ordered him to produce it without delay. Grumbling about his loss, the miller opened his sack, began to fumble in the meal, and, when all the outlaws were bending anxiously over it, flung a double handful of flour right into their eyes, thus blinding them temporarily. Had not other outlaws now rushed out of the thicket, the miller would doubtless have effected his escape, but the new arrivals held him fast until Robin, charmed with his ready wit, invited him to become an outlaw too.

Some time after this, Robin, Will Scarlet, and Little John discovered the minstrel Allan a Dale weeping in the forest because his sweetheart, fair Ellen, was compelled by her father to marry a rich old squire. Hearing this tale and sympathizing with the lovers, Robin engaged to unite them, provided he could secure a priest to tie the knot. When told Friar Tuck would surely oblige him, Robin started out in quest of him, and, finding him under a tree, feasting alone and toasting himself, he joined in his merry meal. Then, under the pretext of saving his fine clothes from a wetting, Robin persuaded the friar to carry him pick-a-back across a stream. While doing so, the friar stole Robin's sword, and refused to give it back unless the outlaw carried him back. Following Friar Tuck's example, Robin slyly purloined something from him, and exacted a new ride across the river, during which Friar Tuck tumbled him over into the water. Robin, who had hitherto taken his companion's pleasantries good-naturedly, got angry and began a fight, but soon, feeling he was about to be worsted, he loudly summoned his men. Friar Tuck in return whistled for his dogs, which proved quite formidable enough opponents to induce the outlaws to beg for a truce.

Robin now secured Friar Tuck to celebrate Allan's marriage and laid clever plans to rescue Ellen from an unwelcome bridegroom. So all proceeded secretly or openly to the church where the marriage was to take place. Pretending to be versed in magic, Robin swore to the ecclesiastics present that, if they would only give him the jewels they wore, he would guarantee the bride should love the bridegroom. Just as the reluctant Ellen was about to be united to the rich old squire by these churchmen, Robin interfered, and (the angry bridegroom having flounced out of church), bribed the father to allow Friar Tuck to unite Ellen and Allan a Dale. Because the bride undoubtedly loved her spouse, Robin claimed the jewels promised him, and bestowed them upon the happy couple, who adopted Sherwood Forest for their home.

Weary of the same company, Robin once despatched his men into the forest with orders to arrest any one they met and bring him to their nightly banquet. Robin himself sallied out too, and soon met a dejected knight, who declared he felt too sad to contribute to the outlaw's amusement. When Robin questioned him in regard to his dejection, Sir Richard of the Lee explained that his son, having accidentally wounded his opponent in a tournament, had been obliged to pay a fine of £600 in gold and make a pilgrimage to Palestine. To raise the money for the fine, the father had mortgaged his estates, and was now about to be despoiled of them by the avaricious prior of Emmet, who demanded an immediate payment of £400 or the estate.

Robin, ever ready to help the poor and sorrowful, bade the knight cheer up and promised to discover some way to raise the £400. Meantime Little John and Friar Tuck—who had joined Robin's band—caught the Bishop of Hereford, travelling through the forest with a train of pack horses, one of which was laden with an iron-bound chest. After entertaining these forced guests at dinner, Robin had them witness his archers' skill and listen to Allan a Dale's music, ere he set forth the knight's predicament and appealed to the bishop to lend him the necessary money. When the bishop loudly protested he would do so gladly had he funds, Robin ordered his baggage examined and divided into three equal shares, one for the owner, one for his men, and one for the poor.

Such was the value of the third set aside for the poor that Robin could lend Sir Richard £500. Armed with this money—which he promised to repay within a year—Sir Richard presented himself before the prior of Emmet, who had hired the sheriff and a lawyer to help him despoil the knight with some show of law and justice. It was therefore before an august board of three villains that Sir Richard knelt begging for time wherein to pay his debt. Virtuously protesting he would gladly remit a hundred pounds for prompt payment—so great was his need of money—the prior refused to wait, and his claim was duly upheld by lawyer and sheriff. Relinquishing his humble position, Sir Richard then defiantly produced 300 pounds, which he forced the prior to accept in full payment! Soon after, the happy knight was able to repay Robin's loan, and gratefully bestowed fine bows and arrows on all the outlaws. Little John, garbed as a friar, once set out for a neighboring fair, and, meeting three pretty girls with baskets of eggs, gallantly offered to carry their loads. When merrily challenged to carry all three, Little John cleverly slung one basket around his neck by means of his rosary, and marched merrily along carrying the two others and singing at the top of his lungs, while one of the girls beat time with his staff.

On approaching town, Little John restored the baskets to their owners, and, assuming a sanctimonious bearing, joined two brothers of Fountains Abbey, whom he implored to give him a little money. Because they turned a deaf ear to his request, Little John went with them, acting so strangely that he annoyed them sorely. Seeing this, he declared he would leave them if they would only give him two pennies, whereupon they rejoined they had no more than that for their own needs. Crying he would perform a miracle, Little John plumped down upon his big knees in the middle of the road and loudly intreated St. Dunstan to put money in their purses. Then jumping up, he seized their bags, vowing that anything above a penny was clearly his, since it was obtained through his prayers!

Robin, longing for a little variety, once met a beggar with whom he exchanged garments. Soon after, meeting four other mendicants, Robin joined them, and having gotten into a quarrel with them had the satisfaction of routing all four. A little later he met an usurer, whom he gradually induced to reveal the fact that he had never lost his money because he always carried his fortune in the thick soles of his shoes. Of course Robin immediately compelled the usurer to remove his foot-gear, and sent him home barefoot, while he rejoined his men and amused them with a detailed account of the day's adventures.

Queen Eleanor, having heard endless merry tales about Robin Hood, became very anxious to meet him, and finally sent one of her pages to Sherwood Forest to inform Robin the king had wagered his archers would win all the prizes in the royal shooting-match. Because she had wagered the contrary, she promised Robin a safe-conduct for himself and his men if he would only come to court and display his skill.

Choosing Will Scarlet, Little John, and Allan a Dale as his companions, Robin attended the tournament and won all the prizes, to the great disgust of the king, the sheriff, and the Bishop of Hereford, which latter recognized the hated outlaw. On discovering the king would not respect the safe-conduct she had given Robin, Eleanor sent him word: "The lion growls; beware of thy head." This hint was sufficient to make Robin leave immediately, bidding his companions re-enter the forest by different roads and reserving the most difficult for himself.

Although Robin's men reached the forest safely, he himself was hotly pursued by the sheriff's and bishop's troops. Once, when they were so close on his heels that it seemed impossible for him to escape, Robin exchanged garments with a cobbler, who was promptly arrested in his stead and borne off to prison. Such was Robin's exhaustion by this time that he entered an inn, and, creeping into bed, slept so soundly that only on awaking on the morrow did he discover he had shared his bed with a monk. Slyly substituting the cobbler's garments for those of the sleeping monk, Robin peacefully departed, while the sheriff's men, having discovered their mistake, proceeded to arrest the false cobbler! Meantime the Queen succeeded in softening the king's resentment, so Robin was allowed to rejoin his companions, and his sweetheart, Maid Marian, who could shoot nearly as well as he.

Many years now elapsed, during which King Henry died and King Richard came to the throne. Robin, still pursued by the sheriff, once discovered in the forest a man clad in horse-skin, who, having been an outlaw too, had been promised his pardon if he would slay Robin. Hearing him boast about what he would do, Robin challenged him first to a trial of marksmanship, and then to a bout of sword play, during which the strange outlaw was slain. Then, donning the fallen man's strange apparel, Robin went off to Nottingham in quest of more adventures.

Meantime, Little John had entered a poor hut, where he found a woman weeping because her sons had been seized as poachers and sentenced to be hanged. Touched by her grief, Little John promised to rescue them if she would only supply him with a disguise. Dressed in a suit which had belonged to the woman's husband, he entered Nottingham just as the sheriff was escorting his captives to the gallows. No hangman being available, the sheriff gladly hired the stranger to perform that office. While ostensibly fastening nooses around the three lads' necks, Little John cleverly whispered directions whereby to escape. This part of his duty done, Little John strung his bow, arguing it would be a humane act to shorten their agony by a well-directed shaft. But, as soon as his bow was properly strung, Little John gave the agreed signal, and the three youths scampered off, he covering their retreat by threatening to kill any one who attempted to pursue them.

The angry sheriff, on perceiving Robin, who just then appeared, deeming him the man he sent into the forest, demanded some token that he had done his duty. In reply Robin silently exhibited his own sword, bugle, and bow, and pointed to his blood-stained clothes. The officers having meantime captured Little John, the sheriff allowed Robin—as a reward—to hang his companion. By means of the same stratagem as Little John employed for the rescue of the youths, Robin saved his beloved mate, and, when the sheriff started to pursue them, blew such a blast on his horn that the terrified official galloped away, one of Robin's arrows sticking in his back.

Two months after, there was great excitement in Nottingham, because King Richard was to ride through the town. The gay procession of knights, pages, and soldiers was viewed with delight by all the people, among whom Robin's outlaws were thickly dotted. Riding beside the king, the Sheriff of Nottingham paled on recognizing in the crowd Robin himself, a change of color which did not escape Richard's eagle eye. When the conversation turned upon the famous outlaw at the banquet that evening, and sheriff and bishop bitterly declared Robin could not be captured, Richard exclaimed he would gladly give a hundred pounds for a glimpse of so extraordinary a man! Thereupon one of the guests rejoined he could easily obtain it by entering the forest in a monk's garb, a suggestion which so charmed the Lion-hearted monarch that he started out on the morrow with seven cowled men. They had not ridden far into the forest before they were arrested by a man in Lincoln green—Robin himself—who conducted them to the outlaw's lair.

As usual, the chance guests were entertained with a feast of venison and athletic games, in the course of which Robin declared he would test the skill of his men, and that all who missed the bull's-eye should be punished by a buffet from Little John's mighty fist. Strange to relate, every man failed and was floored by Little John's blow, the rest roaring merrily over his discomfiture. All his men having tried and failed, Robin was asked to display his own skill for the stranger's benefit, and, when he too shot at random, all loudly clamored he must be punished too. Hoping to escape so severe a blow as Little John dealt, Robin declared it was not fitting a chief should be struck by his men, and offered to take his punishment at his guest's hands. Richard, not sorry to take his revenge, now bared a muscular arm, and hit poor Robin so heartily that the outlaw measured his full length on the ground and lay there some time wondering what had occurred.

Just then Sir Richard's son rushed into the outlaw's camp, breathlessly crying the king had left Nottingham and was scouring the forest to arrest them. Throwing back his cowl Richard sternly demanded how one of his nobles dared reveal his plans to his foes, whereupon the young knight, kneeling before his monarch, explained how Robin had saved his father from ruin.

Richard, whose anger was a mere pretence, now informed Robin he should no longer be persecuted, and proposed that he, Little John, Will Scarlet, and Allan a Dale should enter his service. The rest of the outlaws were appointed game-keepers in the royal forests, a life which suited them admirably.

After spending the night in the camp of the outlaws, Richard rode away with his new followers, and we are told Robin Hood served him to such good purpose that he soon earned the title of Earl of Huntington. Shortly after Richard's death, Robin, seized with a longing for the wild free life of his youth, revisited Sherwood Forest, where the first blast of his hunting-horn gathered a score of his old followers about him. Falling at his feet and kissing his hands, they so fervently besought him never to leave them again that Robin promised to remain in the forest, and did so, although King John sent for him sundry times and finally ordered the sheriff to arrest him.

By this time Robin was no longer a young man, so life in the open no longer proved as delightful as of yore. Seized with a fever which he could not shake off, Robin finally dragged himself to the priory of Kirk Lee, where he besought the prioress to bleed him. Either because she was afraid to defy the king or because she owed Robin a personal grudge, this lady opened an artery instead of a vein, and, locking the door of his room, left him there to bleed to death. The unsuspecting Robin patiently awaited her return, and, when he finally realized his plight and tried to summon aid, he was able to blow only the faintest call upon his horn. This proved enough, however, to summon Little John, who was lurking in the forest near by, for he dashed toward the priory, broke open the door, and forced his way into the turret-chamber, where he found poor Robin nearly gone.

At his cries, the prioress hastened to check the bleeding of Robin's wound, but too late! Faintly whispering he would never hunt in the forest again, Robin begged Little John string his bow, and raise him up so he could shoot a last arrow out of the narrow window, adding that he wished to be buried where that arrow fell. Placing the bow in Robin's hand, Little John supported his dying master while he sent his last arrow to the foot of a mighty oak, and "something sped from that body as the winged arrow sped from the bow," for it was only a corpse Little John laid down on the bed!

At dawn on the morrow six outlaws bore their dead leader to a grave they had dug beneath the oak, above which was a stone which bore this inscription:

  Here underneath this little stone
  Lies Robin, Earl of Huntington,
  None there was as he so good,
  And people called him Robin Hood.
  Such outlaws as he and his men
  Will England never see again.

Died December 24th, 1247.


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