Squire George of Gamewell rested at his ease in the comfort of his own domain during the next day; and, though he would have Robin go into Nottingham, with his new esquire and Warrenton--Montfichet's own man--young Fitzooth was more than content to stay near to his patron's side.
There had been no difficulty in the matter of Master Stuteley's detachment from the other strollers. The old tumbler was shrewd enough to see that his son would considerably better his fortunes by joining them with those of Robin of Locksley. Will was delighted, and wished to commence his duty in Robin's service by instructing his young master at once in the arts of wrestling, singlestick, and quarterstaff.
The Squire laughed at their enthusiasm.
"Do you leave me, Robin, to the care of your mother: I warrant me I'll come to no harm!" he said. "There are matters on which I would talk with her, and we must be at peace."
Montfichet dismissed them. He was quite restored by this time, and settled himself to a serious conversation with his sister.
There were subjects which he touched upon only to her--being a secret man in some things, and very cautious.
"Having now no son, and being a lonely man," he had written in his letter, and Dame Fitzooth had known from this that unhappy relations still existed between George of Gamewell and Geoffrey Montfichet, his only son.
The two men had been for a long time on unfriendly terms, though the Squire latterly had sought honestly to undo that which had been
years a-doing. He could not own to himself that the fault was his altogether: but Geoffrey, exiled to London, had been brought back to Gamewell at his father's entreaty. For a time things had gone on in a better direction--then had come Prince John's rebellion.
Geoffrey Montfichet was found to have been implicated in it, and had been condemned to death. Only by the Squire's most strenuous endeavors had this sentence been commuted by the King to life punishment. Geoffrey fled to Scotland whilst the Squire had been exercising himself on his erring son's behalf. It was the last straw, and George Montfichet disinherited his son. The hard-won Manor of Gamewell must pass from the line.
Squire George had suddenly perceived a chance to prevent that catastrophe. He had taken greatly to the lad Robin Fitzooth: and this boy was of the true Montfichet blood--why should he not adopt the Montfichet name and become the Montfichet heir?
This notion had been simmering in the Squire's mind. It had been born at that moment when Robin had so cared for him and fought for him in Nottingham Fair. "Here, at last," said the Squire, "have I found a son, indeed."
Mistress Fitzooth had to listen to her brother's arguments submissively. The dame saw stormy days for her ahead, for well she guessed that Hugh Fitzooth would never agree to what the other in his impetuous way was proposing. She listened and said "yea" and "nay" as the occasion offered: once she mentioned Geoffrey's name, and saw Gamewell's face cloud instantly with anger.
"He is no son of mine," said Montfichet, in a hard voice. "Do not speak of him here, Sister Nell--nor think me an unforgiving man," he hastened to add, "for God knows that I did humble myself to the ground that I might save his head from the axe of the King's executioner! And he disgraced me by running away to Scotland on the very night that I had gained Henry's pardon for him. Nay; I have no kin with cowards!"
"Geoffrey may have some reasonable excuse, Brother mine," began the dame, anxious to make peace.
Gamewell cut her short. "There can be no excuse for him," he said, harshly.
His voice softened when he talked of Robin, for he was concerned to gain his point.
"Fitzooth will be difficult in the matter, I do fear me," murmured the dame, perplexed and ill at ease. "He is a Saxon, George, and thinks much of his descent and name. He looks to Robin winning fame for it, as in olden days. I do misdoubt me sorely."
"Well, let the lad be known as Robin Fitzooth Montfichet--'tis but tacking on another name to him," said the Squire. "If he lives here, as I shall devise in my will, right soon will he be known as Gamewell, and that only! That fate has befallen me, and one might believe me now as Saxon as your Hugh, Nell."
"You are none the worse for't, George," answered the dame, proudly. "Either race is a kingly one."
"Saxon or Norman--shall Robin become Montfichet?" asked the Squire, commencing his arguments again.
Fate had in store for young Robin, however, very different plans from those tormenting Fitzooth the Ranger and old Squire George of Gamewell Hall.
* * *
The two lads strolled arm in arm about the wide court of Gamewell, following Warrenton, in dutiful mood. The old henchman was very proud of the place, and had all the legends of it at his fingers' ends. He told young Robin of hidden treasure and secret passageways, and waxed eloquent concerning the tapestries and carvings.
The hours went pleasantly enough, for, after the building had been duly shown them, Warrenton took Robin about the gardens and orchards. There was a pleasance, and a "Lady's Bower," wherein, Warrenton affirmed, walked a beautiful lady once in every twelve months, at Halloween, on the stroke of midnight. The old man then left them.
Very shocked was the old retainer to find these merry lads engaged together, later, at wrestling and the quarterstaff, as if they had been equals in birth. When Stuteley had thrown Robin thrice at "touch and hold," within sight of the hall--it was indeed upon the soft grass of the pleasance--Warrenton looked to see old Gamewell thundering forth.
When the Squire came not, and Robin nerved himself for yet another
tussle, the retainer shrugged his shoulders and even took an interest in the matter.
"Catch him by the middle," he shouted. "Now you have him, lording, fairly. Throw him prettily!" And, sure enough, Stuteley came down.
"Does Master Gamewell play at archery here, Warrenton?" Robin asked, presently, when he and Will were tired of wrestling. "Are they not targets that I see yonder?"
The old man's eye lit up with pride. "Squire's as pretty a marksman as any in Nottingham, lording, for all his years!" cried he. "And old Warrenton it was who taught him. Yon target is a fair mark for any shaft from where we stand. Yet I dare swear that Gamewell's lord would never miss the bull in fifty shots at it!"
"Have you bow and quiver here?" inquired Robin, eagerly. "Mine I have left in my room."
"Crossbow, longbow, or what you will, Most Noble. All that Gamewell has I am to give you. Such were my master's commands. An your esquire will run to the little hut nearby, within the trees, he will find all that we need."
"Go, Will. Haste you, and bring me a proper bow," cried Robin, with sparkling eyes. "Now I'll bend the yew and see if I cannot do better than in Sherwood."
Master Stuteley, having journeyed to the hut, peeped in and started back with a cry of affright.
"The Yellow Woman, Robin!" called he, scampering back to them. "She is in there, and did snatch at me! Let us run, quickly!"
"Beshrew me, Master, but this is an adventure, for sure! The Yellow One, was it? Then your days are numbered, and we had better be seeking a new esquire," said Warrenton.
"Are you afraid, Warrenton?" said Robin, moving involuntarily nearer to him. He glanced from one to the other, undecided whether to believe Will or stand and laugh at his fears.
"I have had the distemper, Master, and cannot again be hurt. But here she comes, by the Lord! Keep near to me, lording, and shut your eyes tight."
Robin was too dazed to heed the old man's advice. He glared in a fascinated way at the figure emerging from the hut.
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''Catch him by the middle,'' he shouted. ''Now you have him, lording, fairly. Throw him prettily!'' And sure enough Stuteley came down.
"It is a man," cried Robin, at last, "and listen--he is calling you, Warrenton."
The retainer uttered a little sound of astonishment and ran forward. "Sir--sir," he cried, as if in entreaty, to the man approaching: and he made a gesture as though to warn him.
The "Yellow Lady" appeared to be in doubt both of Robin and young Stuteley.
"Who are these, Warrenton?" called out a low, hushed voice.
Warrenton answered not, save with his half-warning, half-commanding sign. But as the stranger drew near, apparently come to a decision, the Squire's man spoke.
"It is your cousin, Master Geoffrey, and his esquire. They are here from Locksley."
"So, 'tis my kinsman, Robin, who has tried to startle me?" said the stranger, as Robin drew near to him. "Greetings, Cousin; here's my hand to you, for all that you come to supplant me. Nay! I bear no ill will. Gamewell has no charms in my eyes compared with those of a life of freedom."
"Is it Geoffrey, indeed?" asked young Fitzooth, gazing with both eyes wide. He had looked to see his cousin young as himself, and here was a man before him, bearded and bronzed, of nigh thirty summers. He was clad in sombre clothes, and wore upon his shoulders a great scarlet cape, cut extravagantly in the Norman fashion. Suddenly Robin laughed, heartily and frankly.
"Yellow, Will, yellow, forsooth? Are you color-blind, friend? Cousin Geoffrey, we had believed you none other than the yellow-clad damsel who walks here at Halloween. Forgive us the discourtesy, I pray you. Here is my hand and good fellowship in it. I am to relinquish all right to Gamewell ground at the end of a year an I like--such were your father's terms. I do doubt whether I may stay so long as that."
He spoke fearlessly. The two cousins embraced each other, and for an instant Geoffrey gave play to his better self; then, next moment, suspicion returned upon him.
"I am but come to see you, Warrenton, on a small matter. I must have a horse and armor and a lance, that I may ride at Nottingham in the joustings. I shall be disguised, and will wear my visor down:
a hungry wolf prowling unrecognized about his lord's domain."
His speech was bitter and his voice harsh. "Kinsman," added he, to Robin, "do you keep still tongue in the business, and tell your squire to be as discreet. I am outlawed in England and have no right in it--"
"That is not so, Geoffrey; surely your father will forgive--"
"It is in the King's hands, Cousin. My father has no voice in it, nor would desire to speak again for me, I trow. I have heard all that he hath already done in my behoof, Warrenton--the item was brought to me circuitously. Now I will keep you no longer: this hut has been and will be my shelter until the horse and arms are brought here to me."
"I'll saddle him myself for you, Coz: and choose you as stout a lance as Gamewell can provide. Let me help you in this, and be to you always a true friend."
"You speak soothly, young Robin, and it may be with sincerity. I'll trust you then." Geoffrey drew him on one side. "See that the trappings and armor be of good steel and furbished with red leather: let the note of them be steel and scarlet. No device upon the shield, if you should think to bring me one; and stay, I would like the sword hilt and the lance to be bound in red. Thus may you know me, if so be you are at the jousts; but be secret, and trust no other man than Warrenton. I'll wait you here at midnight--have no fear of the yellow ghost, kinsman!"
"You'll be as red as she is yellow, Cousin," whispered back Robin, with smiling face. "I'll do your behest, and attend you in this pleasance tonight at twelve o' th' clock. My squire can be trusted, I well believe."
"Believe in no man until you have tried him, Coz," answered Geoffrey. He paused. "Does Master Montfichet keep well in health, kinsman?" he asked.
"He is well, now, but has been indisposed . . . . Yesterday at Nottingham--"
"Ay, I heard of the doings there--no matter how," muttered the other, hastily. "Tell me that he is restored again; and that you will keep him from harm always as valiantly as you did then. Does your father still guard the forest at Locksley? 'Tis many years since I have seen Master Fitzooth, but thy mother hath always been kindly disposed to me. Farewell.
He nodded to Warrenton, and slipped back to the little hut, and they heard him push the bolts after him. Robin turned to Stuteley.
"Will, speak not of this meeting with anyone save Warrenton. I have promised for you."
"Right, Master; the matter has already passed from my mind. Shall we try our skill at archery? Warrenton can find me a bow, and I'll fetch yours from the hall. Here comes a priest; surely he were good mark for us had we our arrows here! And with him behold a forester of the King--green-clad and carrying a royal longbow. Do you beg it of him, Master mine, whilst I seek yours. I go."
Young Stuteley hurried across the green, whilst Robin advanced to meet the Clerk of Copmanhurst and the captain of the King's Foresters. They were in earnest converse, and clearly had not spied the gay cloak of Geoffrey Montfichet.
Warrenton, with significant gesture to Robin, began a lecture on the making and choosing of arrows, as he walked beside his master's guest.
"Are you talking of arrow-making, friend?" asked the forester, overhearing them. "Now I will tell you the true shape and make of such shafts as our Will o' th' Green uses," he struck in. "One bare yard are they in length, and are sealed with red silk, and winged with the feathers of an eagle."
"Peacock," corrected the clerk, interposing. "You're wrong, Master Ford, as I will prove. Here is the head of one of Will's bolts, dropped in the greenwood on the day you rescued us from him. I have kept it in my pouch, for 'tis a pretty thing." He laughed all over his jolly face. "Here, Robin, keep it, and learn therefrom how not to make arrows, for vanity is a sin to be avoided and put on one side. The plainer the barb the straighter does it fly, as all true bowmen must admit."
He took Robin's hand, soon as the lad had fastened the trophy in his belt. "I have been bidden to you by the Master of Gamewell. He would speak with you, Robin; and I do counsel you to give all heed and weight to his words, and be both prudent and obedient in your answerings to him."
They moved together towards the hall, whilst Warrenton and the forester argued still on the matter of winging arrows.