When Robin came to his senses he found himself surrounded by the outlaw band. On this occasion they appeared as friends, however--and welcome ones to boot; for it had been a near matter that Robin's history had been ended by Master Carfax on this day.
Now were the tables turned, and very completely. The foresters had been overcome by Will and his outlaws, thanks to the diversion brought about by the Lincoln men. Much was sitting up with a more rueful countenance than he had when Robin had first spied him on this morning; and little sharp-nosed Midge was busy bathing and binding his cracked poll.
Some half-score of the foresters, with Master Ford, had escaped along the road towards Locksley: the rest were bound, and their horses confiscated by the outlaws.
Master Simeon, with rage and terror depicted plainly upon his countenance, lay writhing at Robin's feet, bound with the very cord with which he had sought to end young Fitzooth's life. His enemies had trussed him across a quarterstaff, and had tied the knots large and tight about him.
"Well, Locksley, how now?" asked Will o' th' Green, with gruff kindliness. "Are the vapours passed? Can you twiddle your bow again?"
"Not skilfully enough now to take place against you, Will," smiled Robin, recovering himself more and more. 'I am atrembling yet. I had thought to see the blue sky no more--"
"Ay, my man's arrow was not too soon, Locksley," said Will, gravely.
[paragraph continues] "This fellow's hand was upon the rope, and another moment might have seen you gallows fruit upon this tree." He paused to bend over a forester lying prone near them, with his face buried in the grass. Robin saw that the man's body was transfixed by an arrow.
"He is no more," Will told them, looking up presently; "your aim was a shrew one, Hal," he went on, addressing himself to one of his band.
"Is he indeed dead?" asked Robin, in an awestruck voice.
"'Twas his life or yours," answered Will o' th' Green, grimly. He turned to his men. "Now, comrades," cried he, "have you searched our prisoners and prepared them? 'Tis well. Are they bound together, then, by the arms, twos and threes, as is appointed in our rules; and is the right leg and left leg of each villain shackled together? . . . Stand them up, then, with their faces toward Nottingham, and bid them march."
"There is yet this one, captain," said one of the men, indicating Carfax. "What shall we do with him?"
"Has he been searched closely?" enquired Will. Without waiting a reply, he roughly ran his fingers through Master Carfax's pockets, and unfastened his tunic at the bosom. A parchment dropped out and Will snapped it up.
"I come from the Prince," whined Carfax, speaking at last; "and if so be you are Master Will Cloudesley, or Will o' th' Green--as these folks do call you--why, I have a very gracious message for you."
The outlaw gave a signal to his men. "Set him upon his feet," he ordered, "and loosen these cords. Now, Excellence, speak at your ease."
"Believe him not, Master Will," interposed Stuteley, afraid that Carfax was going to turn the tables on them in some treacherous way. "He is a very proper rogue."
"Be easy, friend," said Will o' th' Green. "Everyone is judged here in fairness. These men," pointing to the shamefaced, miserable foresters, "were caught in the doing of an evil deed, and so were dealt with summarily. But this one did not seem to have a hand in it."
"It was he who commanded them, sir," suddenly shrilled the little Lincoln named Midge. "He is, in sooth, a diabolical villain, and did very foully strike our companion here whilst men were holding him."
"All testify against you, Excellence," said the outlaw, speaking again to Carfax. "What is your story of it? Speak without fear."
"This rascal did imprudently waylay us on the road with a demand for money," began Carfax, "and I, riding back at his noise, did recognize him for one Robin Locksley, a notorious fellow who has defied my lord the Sheriff's authority; and has also been suspect of being of your company--which is a thing, saving your presence, Master Cloudesley, that has been poor recommendation in the past. Further, with our own eyes have we seen him shoot and kill one of his Majesty's stags, a most valued beast with sixteen pointed antlers, as you can see. We were but exercising the law upon him, as is appointed . . . . That is to say, Master Ford was directing his men to carry out the law," said Carfax, with his thin cheeks pale with fear. "I did but counsel prudence, and plead for the youth."
"Enough," cried Will, with contempt in his tones. "Now tell me the message which the Prince has sent by so worthy a messenger."
"That is for your private ear," said Simeon, cunningly.
"You may speak plainly before my comrades," said Will. "Doubtless they are as interested in the Royal words as I myself."
"I was to bid you come at once to the city gate, so many of you as would," Carfax said, "there to receive the King's pardon from the hands of our beloved Prince. Indeed, his gracious Highness did well expect to see you before him three days agone, at the tourney."
"Dressed about with red ribbons, I trow?" enquired the outlaw, as if helping him.
"Indeed yes, Master Cloudesley. You have said it, indeed. Knowledge of your loyalty to us was brought to the Prince by me. By me, good friend," he repeated, insinuatingly. "And now give back to me my parchment--which, being writ in the Latin tongue, is truly no more than a cartel to my lord the Abbot of York--and let us set forth joyfully. For henceforth ye will be as free men, and what is past will be forgotten."
"I can read you the scroll, Will," said Robin, quietly. "I have some knowledge of the priestly tongue."
The outlaw handed him the scroll, and all waited in silence whilst Robin deciphered it. Carfax snapped his teeth together in vexation at
this unexpected turn. "He cannot read the parchment. Is it likely?" he cried. "He will but pretend to read it, and make lies with which to confound me. 'Tis writ in most scholarly Latin, that only few may learn."
"There is treachery here for you, Will," spoke Robin, without heeding these outcries. "This is a notification from the Prince to the Abbot of York saying that his emissaries have sounded you and that you are ready with your men to strike for him."
"I have said so much," commented Will, "naming three conditions."
"They are written herein: first, that a general amnesty is to be granted; second, that the ban of excommunication is to be removed from off you by the Holy Church; and third, that the Prince shall find your men, afterward, honorable employment."
"That is so, Locksley. The letter is exact."
"So the Prince writes to the Abbot, asking him to promise the second of your conditions, saying that it need be only a promise, for he has not the least intention of holding to a bargain with one so evil as yourself, and that after he has won the throne from Henry his father, matters such as these will be disposed of by his soldiery, if need be."
"It is; not true," screamed Carfax. "He lies to you, Master Cloudesley, seeking to be revenged on me."
"Any clerk can read these lines to you, Will," answered Robin. "The Prince continues praying for the welfare of them all at York, and saying that he has already promised in the Abbot's name that the loan shall be taken off; that the Abbot is to receive and watch narrowly one Geoffrey of Montfichet, who has been exiled for treason, but who now imprudently has returned to work on their behalf in England."
"Now do I know that you are reading truly," cried Will, and his brow grew black. "For how could you know that your cousin was concerned in this? You false-hearted knave," he added, turning to Carfax, "false as your false master--your doom is sealed. Tie him up by his heels, and let him hang head downward from this tree whereon he would have hung gallant Locksley. Be speedy, men."
At this Simeon Carfax became as one quite demented, and Robin interposed.
"Let us not punish the man for his master's fault, Will," cried he.
[paragraph continues] "Deal with him only on the score of my quarrel with him, when I shall say--let him go. For I should always feel shame were we to be as harsh with an enemy as he would be with us. It would show us no better than he."
"Take him then, since Locksley will have it so, and tie his legs under the belly of his horse--first setting him face to tail upon it," said Will, "And you, Hal, go and cut me the antlers from off yon poor beast."
When this was done he caused his men to attach the horns by means of a cord to Master Carfax's head; then, with his own hand, Will gave the horse a lead towards Nottingham.
Then, with a "view halloo," the steed bearing the unfortunate man was started in real earnest; and the foresters sent staggering by after it along the road to Nottingham.
When they were out of sight, Robin thanked the outlaw again for all that he had done for them. Will merely shrugged his shoulders, as one who would say: "'Tis a matter not worth breath"; and, giving his men a signal, prepared to return to his own fastnesses. Robin begged them to take the body of the deer, and, with small reluctance, the outlaws accepted the offer.
The Lincoln men bade Robin farewell also, saying that they would now go on towards their own homes with a light heart: for, having met the outlaws and found them most agreeable company, they had no more fear of Sherwood.
So Robin and little Stuteley, waving farewell to all these strange friends, moved on towards Gamewell, although Robin really had little hope now of coming by the Prince's grace into what seemed to be but his rights. The Sheriff and Simeon Carfax would attend to that, no doubt.
A curious dejection settled upon Robin. He had nothing but gloomy thoughts upon him as he trudged towards the Squire's domain. Nor did his spirits rise at his reception by old Gamewell. The Squire appeared almost uneasy with him, and was short in his speech, although once or twice a kindlier light flashed in his bright eyes.
"Already he regrets that he should have pressed me to take up the Montfichet name," thought Robin to himself, imagining that herein was the cause of the Squire's distemper.
He began to tell Montfichet of their doings and adventures: but had no sooner come to that part of the narrative referring to the Prince's purse than the Squire broke out: "Talk not to me of that man," cried he, vehemently. "He is an unworthy son of a much-tried father. Forsooth, this has become an age of disobedience and unfilial behavior; one has but to look round to find most sons alike. The Fifth Commandment is now without meaning to the younger generation."
"I have no father, sir," said poor Robin, half in defense; for Gamewell looked so fiercely at him. "Nor do I seek to keep you to your offer," added he, in his thoughts.
"I was not thinking so much of you, boy," replied the Squire; and again a better expression shone briefly in his face. "Give you good night, Robin Locksley--you know your chamber. Sleep well and we will talk together in the morning."
* * *
The morning saw no easement of the Squire's attitude towards Robin; and as soon as breakfast was ended he determined to go without wasting breath upon the errand which had brought him.
"For sure, he is repenting of his offer," reasoned Robin. "Perchance already his heart is moved again towards Geoffrey, and who shall be more glad than I to find this so? I'll let the Squire think it comes from me--as in truth it does--this whimsey to prefer the name of Fitzooth to Montfichet!"
So, bravely, as he was about to leave him, Robin spoke to the old man.
"Sir," he said, "I have it in me to speak plain words with you, an I may."
"Have no fear, boy. I am one who loves an open mind." Montfichet spoke with meaning.
"Well, sir, I would say with reference to that which you once did press upon my mother and myself--that I should take your name and half-fortune with my cousin Geoffrey--that I have thought well upon your kind offer."
"There was to be a year go by, Master Fitzooth, ere you should give answer."
"In a year or now, sir," said Robin, firmly, "I cannot see that I should accept. I have no quarrel with my cousin, and I will not come
between him and your heart--which pleads against yourself on his behalf."
Montfichet broke forth then, and Robin learned suddenly what had come between him and this strange, capricious man.
"No quarrel with Geoffrey, say you?" he shouted, bringing his fist down with violence upon the oak table. "No, I trow you have not, Robin Fitzooth! But I have a quarrel both with him and you. Know that I have heard the story of your escapade with that mean son of mine, who must come prowling like a thief in the night about the walls of Gamewell. I know the Scarlet Knight's secret, and yours--who did think it brave to deceive and outwit an old man."
"Sir, sir!" began Robin, aghast at this storm.
"Nay, I will hear no more of it. Treachery and deceit--always they hang about my house. You deceived me, Robin Fitzooth, and cozened my servant Warrenton. So I cast you out of my heart forever. For the rest of my days; I will be sufficient unto myself: after I am gone, the dogs may quarrel above my grave for the bones of Gamewell."
He almost pushed Robin from him, and turned brusquely away. Dazed and confounded, Robin faltered rather than walked to reach Stuteley, who stood awaiting him in the courtyard. Without a word, Robin took his hand. "Come, Will; let us go," he muttered, thickly: and with wrathful heart Robin Fitzooth shook the dust of Gamewell from off his feet.
Faintly through his mind came memory of the clerk's warning: but it was all of it so unjust! He had never intended to deceive the Squire: all that he had done had been done without thought. After all, what fault had he committed against Montfichet?
'Fore Heaven," said Robin, furiously, "I never will speak with that man again--nor cross the threshold of his house!"
So the clouds gathered more and more thickly over the head of Robin Fitzooth.