It was Warrenton who brought Master Geoffrey his red-armored steed and lance, after all; for, although Robin had had a voice in the choosing of the horse, and had helped the retainer to bind the shaft and interlace the cuirass and gyres with riband such as the knight had ordered, events stayed Robin from going out with these appurtenances of war to the Lady's Bower.
Young Fitzooth had been commanded to his mother's chamber so soon as he had come out from his converse with the Squire. There befell an anxious interview, Mistress Fitzooth arguing for and against the Squire's project in a breath. Robin was perplexed indeed: his ambition was fired by the Squire's rosy pictures of what he, as a true Montfichet, must adhere to without fail upon assuming the name and mantle of Gamewell.
Most of all Robin thought of his father. What would he counsel? "Remain Fitzooth, and fight your own way in the world, boy." That is what he might say. In the end Robin decided to sleep upon the matter. In any case he would not consent to rob Geoffrey of his inheritance; and he told old Gamewell this to his face. "When I am gone you can do what you will with the place, boy," the old man had answered. "I have no son; but, of course, the fees and revenues will be yours. If, for a whim, you beggar yourself, I cannot stay you. But take it whilst I live; and wear Montfichet's shield in the days when my eyes can be rejoiced by so brave a sight, for you will ne'er disgrace our 'scutcheon, I warrant me. Perchance 'tis Geoffrey's sole chance that you should wear the badge of Gamewell. I might choose to bequeath it elsewhere."
The lad had checked him then. "Never that, sir," he had said. "Let Gamewell land be ruled, forever, by Gamewell's proper lord. I pray you to let me take counsel with my mother ere I answer you."
"It is what I would suggest myself. Go to her."
Then had come the argument with his mother, which had unsettled him more than before.
He went down to discuss with Warrenton and Stuteley the means by which they best could bring the horse and arms to Geoffrey, and it soon became evident that no one other than Warrenton dare attempt it, for fear of betraying the son to his still angry father.
"Are you sure, Warrenton, that you will perform this business right carefully?" Robin asked, over and over again, until the old servant became vexed.
"I am part of the house of Montfichet, lording," snapped Warrenton, at last, "and it is not reasonable to think that I will turn against myself, as it were. Be sure that the horse and his trappings will be safely carried to my second master, Geoffrey, at the hour given. Do you keep the Squire employed in talk; and find excuse to lie in the little room next to his own that you may hear him if he moves."
So Robin and Will went back to the hall, and presently the Squire's voice was heard through the arras which covered the north entrance to the apartment. He was in deep converse with the clerk, and entered the hall holding him by the arm. For a moment Robin and Will were unperceived; then the Squire's bright, keen eyes discovered them.
"Now to bed, boy!" cried he, dropping his detaining hold of the priest. "'Tis late; and I go myself within a short space. Dismiss your squire, Robin, and bid me good e'en. An early sleeper maketh a sound man."
"Did I see you with Warrenton, Robin Fitzooth?" put in the clerk, curiously. "I would fain have some talk with him on the matter of archery. I am told that this old man can draw as pretty a bow as any in Nottingham."
"As any in England, I would say," said Gamewell, proudly. "That is, in his day. Now that age is upon Warrenton and his master, cunning in such matters is to seek. Yet he will teach you a few tricks when morning is come. Now kiss me, boy, and keep clear head and ready hand for the
joustings and games tomorrow. Good night; God keep thee, Robin."
He seemed to take it for granted that Robin would, in the end, consent to become of the house of Gamewell. Already Squire George looked upon him as heir to the hall and its acres; even as slowly did Warrenton, the shrewd and faithful man-at-arms. Truth to tell, the old servant did not regard the prospect with too kind an eye.
Young Fitzooth embraced his uncle, and bade him good night with real affection. There was no chance to alter his sleeping-room to one nearer to Gamewell's chamber.
When he had reached his chamber, again came the suspicion of Warrenton. Robin unfastened his tunic slowly and thoughtfully. Presently he crossed the floor of his room with decided step.
"Will," cried he, softly; and Stuteley, who had chosen his couch across the door of his young master's chamber, sprang up at once in answer.
"Do you hold yourself ready, Will, so soon as the house is asleep. We will go out together to the bower; there is a way down to the court from my window. Rest and be still until I warn you."
Stuteley replied in a word to him; and, blowing out his taper, Robin returned to his bed and flung himself upon it in patient expectation.
The hours passed wearily by, and movement could yet be heard about the hall. The open lattice gave entry to all sound from the court below: and from his window Robin could tell when the tapers in the hall were extinguished. Thrice he got up from his bed, and his stock of patience was slipping from him.
At last all was quiet and black in the courtyard of Gamewell.
"Will," whispered Robin, opening his door as he spoke, "are you ready?"
Stuteley nodded as he entered on pointed toes.
"From the window," explained Robin, pushing him towards the lattice. A faint starry radiance illumined the sky, and dim shadows held the angles and nooks of the court below them.
A dense ivy clung to and covered the walls of the house. To one of light and agile body it gave fair footing. Robin had hands and feet in it in a moment; and cautiously, adroitly came to the ground, and signalled to Will Stuteley.
The little ex-tumbler would have liked to have done tricks and shown his cleverness in the business, had there been time for it: as it was, Will dropped beside Robin lightly and easily, and instantly the two began to cross the court.
It was necessary for them to climb over the stables at their left hand. Some dogs, hearing these quiet, stealthy footfalls, began to bay furiously: and both the youths stayed themselves until the beasts went grumbling and suspicious back to the kennels.
They then renewed their journey, and, under the better light, made a safe crossing of the stable roofs.
They managed at length to win the gardens, and then raced across the open ground to gain the shelter of the yew trees bordering the bower. The pleasance, in the soft moonlight, looked ghostly enough: the statues and stone ornaments placed about the place seemed to be instinct with life and to wave signals of horror to Will's starting eyes.
At last they approached the hut, and Robin saw in the bright moonlight that the door gaped black at them. There was no sign to betray either Warrenton or Geoffrey to him. Robin entered the hut, dragging the unwilling esquire after him.
A draught of chill air puffed in their faces as they entered; and a great owl blundered screamingly out into the night, the rush and noise of it startling Will to a cold ecstasy of terror. He would have plunged madly back to the hall had not Robin held firmly to him.
"Be not so foolish, friend," said Fitzooth, crossly. His voice took his father's tone, as always happened when he was angered.
They moved thereafter cautiously about the hut, groping before and about them to find something to show that Warrenton had fulfilled his mission. Presently Will stumbled and fell, pulling down Robin atop of him.
Robin, putting out his hand to save himself, found that his fingers grasped nothing but air. They were upon the verge of an open trap, in the far corner of the hut; and Stuteley had tripped over the edge of the reversed flap mouth of this pit. Fitzooth's hand rested at last upon the top rung of a ladder, and slowly the truth came to him. Quickly he drew himself up and whispered the discovery to the other.
In an instant, then, their fears were dispelled. Will would have gone
down first into the pit had not Robin stayed him. Stuteley was anxious that his young master should come to no harm; and where a danger appeared an earthly one, he was quite willing to bear the brunt of it. It was thought of the Yellow Woman which dried up all the courage in his small, wiry body.
Robin carefully descended the ladder and found himself soon upon firm rocky ground. Stuteley was by his side in a flash: and then they both began feeling about them to ascertain the shape and character of this vault. Hardly had they commenced when Robin's quick ears took warning. Sound of a quiet approach was plain.
The darkness of the pit was suddenly illumined, and the lads found themselves suddenly faced by the beams of a lanthorn suspended at about a man's height in the air. From the blackness behind the light they heard a voice--Warrenton's!
"Save me, Masters, but you startled me rarely!" cried he, waving the lanthorn before him to make sure that these were no ghosts in front of him. "I have but this minute left Master Montfichet, having carried his horse to him in safety. He rides into Nottingham tomorrow, unattended. I would that I might be squire to him!"
"Did you indeed bring horse and arms down this ladder, Warrenton?" enquired Robin, with his suspicions still upon him. "Truly such a horse should be worth much in Nottingham Fair! I would dearly have loved to see so brave a business--"
"Nay, nay, lording," answered Warrenton, with a half-laugh. "See"--and again he waved his light, showing them where the underground passage, for such it was, sloped upward to another and larger trap, now closed. "This way is one of the many secret ones about Gamewell, Master: but do you keep the knowledge of it to yourselves, I beg, unless you would wish hurt to our future lord of Gamewell."
Warrenton spoke thus with significance, to show Robin that he was not to think Geoffrey's claims to the estate would be passed by. Robin Fitzooth saw that his doubts of Warrenton had been unfair: and he became ashamed of himself for harboring them.
"Give me your hand, Warrenton, and help me to climb these steps," said he, openly. "'Tis dark, for all your lamp; and I fain would feel friendly assistance, such as you can give."
His tones rang pleasantly on Warrenton's ears, and forthwith a good-fellowship was heralded between them. This was to mean much to the young hero of Locksley in the time to come; for Warrenton's help and tuition were to make Robin Fitzooth something far better than the clever bowman he was already. This night, in a way, saw the beginning of Robin's fortunes and strange, adventurous afterlife.
The old servant told him quietly as they crept back to Gamewell that this passageway led from the hut in the pleasance to Sherwood; and that Geoffrey for the time was hiding with the outlaws in the forest. "Our master is to be recognized by us as the Scarlet Knight at Nottingham Fair, should one ask of us, lording," Warrenton told him. "He implores us to be discreet as the grave in this matter, for in sooth his life is in the hollow of our hands."
The old servant spoke no more. In silence he led them back into Gamewell by the private door through the stables by which he had himself emerged.
They regained their apartment, apparently without disturbing the household of Gamewell. Only did one pair of eyes and ears look and listen for them, and observe both their exit and return. It was the Clerk of Copmanhurst's door that stood ajar; his busy mind that employed itself in speculation as to the cause and meaning of this midnight adventure.