ECAUSE OF THE hardness towards the English people of William the Conqueror, and of William's successors to several generations, many an Englishman exiled himself from town and passed his life in the greenwood. These men were called "outlaws." First they went forth out of love for the ancient liberties of England. Then in their living in the forest, they put themselves without the law by their ways of gaining their livelihood. Of such men none were more renowned than Robin Hood and his company.
We do not know anything about Robin Hood, who he was, or where he lived, or what evil deed he had done. Any man might kill him and never pay penalty for it. But, outlaw or not, the poor people loved him and looked on him as their friend, and many a stout fellow came to join him, and led a merry life in the greenwood, with moss and fern for bed, and for meat the King's deer, which it was death to slay. Tillers of the land, yeomen, and some say knights, went on their ways freely, for of them Robin took no toll; but lordly churchmen with money-bags well filled, or proud bishops with their richly dressed followers, trembled as they drew near to Sherwood Forest--who was to know whether behind every tree there did not lurk Robin Hood or one of his men?
One day Robin was walking alone in the wood, and reached a river spanned by a very narrow bridge, over which one man only could pass. In the midst stood a stranger, and Robin bade him go back and let him go over. "I am no man of yours," was all the answer Robin got, and in anger he drew his bow and fitted an arrow to it, "Would you shoot a man who has no arms but a staff?" asked the stranger in scorn; and with shame Robin laid down his bow, and unbuckled an oaken stick at his side. "We will fight till one of us falls into the water," he said; and fight they did, till the stranger planted a blow so well that Robin rolled over into the river. "You are a brave soul," said he, when he had waded to land, and he blew a blast with his horn which brought fifty good fellows, clad in green, to the little bridge. "Have you fallen into the river that your clothes are wet?" asked one; and Robin made answer, "No, but this stranger, fighting on the bridge, got the better of me, and tumbled me into the stream."
At this the foresters seized the stranger, and would have ducked him had not their leader bade them stop, and begged the stranger to stay with them and make one of themselves. "Here is my hand," replied the stranger, "and my heart with it. My name, if you would know it, is John Little."
"That must be altered," cried Will Scarlett; "we will call a feast, and henceforth, because he is full seven feet tall and round the waist at least an ell, he shall be called Little John." And thus it was done; but at the feast Little John, who always liked to know exactly what work he had to do, put some questions to Robin Hood. "Before I join hands with you, tell me first what sort of life is this you lead? How am I to know whose goods I shall take, and whose I shall leave? Whom I shall beat, and whom I shall refrain from beating?"
And Robin answered: "Look that you harm not any tiller of the ground, nor any yeoman of the greenwood--no knight, no squire, unless you have heard him ill spoken of. But if bishops or archbishops come your way, see that you spoil them, and mark that you always hold in your mind the High Sheriff of Nottingham."
This being settled, Robin Hood declared Little John to be second in command to himself among the brotherhood of the forest, and the new outlaw never forgot to "hold in his mind" the High Sheriff of Nottingham, who was the bitterest enemy the foresters had.
THE BALLAD OF ROBIN HOOD, THE BUTCHER AND THE SHERIFF.
Upon a time it chanced so,
Bold Robin in forest did spy
A jolly butcher, with a bonny fine mare,
With his flesh to the market did hie.
"Good morrow, good fellow," said jolly Robin,
"What food hast thou? tell unto me;
Thy trade to me tell, and where thou dost dwell,
For I like well thy company."
The butcher he answer'd jolly Robin,
"No matter where I dwell;
For a butcher I am, and to Nottingham
I am going, my flesh to sell."
"What's the price of thy flesh?" said jolly Robin,
"Come, tell it soon unto me;
And the price of thy mare, be she never so dear,
For a butcher fain would I be."
"The price of my flesh," the butcher replied,
"I soon will tell unto thee;
With my bonny mare, and they are not dear,
Four marks thou must give unto me."
"Four marks I will give thee," said jolly Robin,
"Four marks shall be thy fee;
The money come count, and let me mount,
For a butcher I fain would be."
Now Robin he is to Nottingham gone,
His butcher's trade to begin;
With good intent to the Sheriff he went,
And there he took up his inn.
When other butchers did open their meat,
Bold Robin got gold and fee,
For he sold more meat for one penny
Than others did sell for three.
Which made the butchers of Nottingham
To study as they did stand,
Saying, "Surely he is some prodigal
That has sold his father's land."
"This is a mad blade," the butchers still said;
Said the Sheriff, "He is some prodigal,
That some land has sold for silver and gold,
And now he doth mean to spend all.
"Hast thou any horn-beasts," the Sheriff asked,
"Good fellow, to sell to me?"
"Yes, that I have, good Master Sheriff,
I have hundreds, two or three.
"And a hundred acres of good free land,
If you please it to see:
And I'll make you as good assurance of it,
As ever my father made me."
The Sheriff he saddled his good palfrey,
And with three hundred pounds of gold,
Away he went with bold Robin Hood,
His horned beasts to behold.
Away then the Sheriff and Robin did ride,
To the forest of merry Sherwood;
Then the Sheriff did say, "God keep us this day
From a man they call Robin Hood."
But when a little farther they came,
Bold Robin he chanced to spy
A hundred head of good red deer,
Come tripping the Sheriff full nigh.
"How like you my horn-beasts, good Master Sheriff?
They be fat and fair to see";
"I tell thee, good fellow, I would I were gone,
For I like not thy company."
Then Robin set his horn to his mouth,
And blew but blasts three;
Then quickly anon there came Little John,
And all his company.
"What is your will?" then said Little John,
"Good master, come tell unto me";
"I have brought hither the Sheriff of Nottingham
This day to dine with thee,"
Then Robin took his cloak from his back
And laid it upon the ground;
And out of the Sheriff's portmanteau
He took three hundred pound.
He then led the Sheriff through the wood,
And set him on his dapple grey;
"Commend Robin Hood to your wife at home,"
He said, and went laughing away.