The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood by Howard
(from the Legends and Myths of the British Race)
How Robin Hood Came to be an Outlaw
In merry England in the
time of old, when good King Henry the Second ruled the land, there lived within
the green glades of Sherwood Forest, near Nottingham Town, a famous outlaw whose
name was Robin Hood. No archer ever lived that could speed a gray goose shaft
with such skill and cunning as his, nor were there ever such yeomen as the
sevenscore merry men that roamed with him through the greenwood shades. Right
merrily they dwelled within the depths of Sherwood Forest, suffering neither
care nor want, but passing the time in merry games of archery or bouts of cudgel
play, living upon the King's venison, washed down with draughts of ale of
Not only Robin himself
but all the band were outlaws and dwelled apart from other men, yet they were
beloved by the country people round about, for no one ever came to jolly Robin
for help in time of need and went away again with an empty fist.
And now I will tell how
it came about that Robin Hood fell afoul of the law.
When Robin was a youth of
eighteen, stout of sinew and bold of heart, the Sheriff of Nottingham proclaimed
a shooting match and offered a prize of a butt of ale to whosoever should shoot
the best shaft in Nottinghamshire. "Now," quoth Robin, "will I go
too, for fain would I draw a string for the bright eyes of my lass and a butt of
good October brewing." So up he got and took his good stout yew bow and a
score or more of broad clothyard arrows, and started off from Locksley Town
through Sherwood Forest to Nottingham.
It was at the dawn of day
in the merry Maytime, when hedgerows are green and flowers bedeck the meadows;
daisies pied and yellow cuckoo buds and fair primroses all along the briery
hedges; when apple buds blossom and sweet birds sing, the lark at dawn of day,
the throstle cock and cuckoo; when lads and lasses look upon each other with
sweet thoughts; when busy housewives spread their linen to bleach upon the
bright green grass. Sweet was the greenwood as he walked along its paths, and
bright the green and rustling leaves, amid which the little birds sang with
might and main: and blithely Robin whistled as he trudged along, thinking of
Maid Marian and her bright eyes, for at such times a youth's thoughts are wont
to turn pleasantly upon the lass that he loves the best.
As thus he walked along
with a brisk step and a merry whistle, he came suddenly upon some foresters
seated beneath a great oak tree. Fifteen there were in all, making themselves
merry with feasting and drinking as they sat around a huge pasty, to which each
man helped himself, thrusting his hands into the pie, and washing down that
which they ate with great horns of ale which they drew all foaming from a barrel
that stood nigh. Each man was clad in Lincoln green, and a fine show they made,
seated upon the sward beneath that fair, spreading tree. Then one of them, with
his mouth full, called out to Robin, "Hulloa, where goest thou, little lad,
with thy one-penny bow and thy farthing shafts?"
Then Robin grew angry,
for no stripling likes to be taunted with his green years.
"Now," quoth he,
"my bow and eke mine arrows are as good as shine; and moreover, I go to the
shooting match at Nottingham Town, which same has been proclaimed by our good
Sheriff of Nottinghamshire; there I will shoot with other stout yeomen, for a
prize has been offered of a fine butt of ale."
Then one who held a horn
of ale in his hand said, "Ho! listen to the lad! Why, boy, thy mother's
milk is yet scarce dry upon thy lips, and yet thou pratest of standing up with
good stout men at Nottingham butts, thou who art scarce able to draw one string
of a two-stone bow."
"I'll hold the best
of you twenty marks," quoth bold Robin, "that I hit the clout at
threescore rods, by the good help of Our Lady fair."
At this all laughed
aloud, and one said, "Well boasted, thou fair infant, well boasted! And
well thou knowest that no target is nigh to make good thy wager."
And another cried,
"He will be taking ale with his milk next."
At this Robin grew right
mad. "Hark ye," said he, "yonder, at the glade's end, I see a
herd of deer, even more than threescore rods distant. I'll hold you twenty marks
that, by leave of Our Lady, I cause the best hart among them to die."
cried he who had spoken first. "And here are twenty marks. I wager that
thou causest no beast to die, with or without the aid of Our Lady."
Then Robin took his good
yew bow in his hand, and placing the tip at his instep, he strung it right
deftly; then he nocked a broad clothyard arrow and, raising the bow, drew the
gray goose feather to his ear; the next moment the bowstring rang and the arrow
sped down the glade as a sparrowhawk skims in a northern wind. High leaped the
noblest hart of all the herd, only to fall dead, reddening the green path with
his heart's blood.
Robin, "how likest thou that shot, good fellow? I wot the wager were mine,
an it were three hundred pounds."
Then all the foresters
were filled with rage, and he who had spoken the first and had lost the wager
was more angry than all.
he, "the wager is none of thine, and get thee gone, straightway, or, by all
the saints of heaven, I'll baste thy sides until thou wilt ne'er be able to walk
again." "Knowest thou not," said another, "that thou hast
killed the King's deer, and, by the laws of our gracious lord and sovereign King
Harry, thine ears should be shaven close to thy head?"
cried a third.
"Nay," said a
fourth, "let him e'en go because of his tender years."
Never a word said Robin
Hood, but he looked at the foresters with a grim face; then, turning on his heel,
strode away from them down the forest glade. But his heart was bitterly angry,
for his blood was hot and youthful and prone to boil.
Now, well would it have
been for him who had first spoken had he left Robin Hood alone; but his anger
was hot, both because the youth had gotten the better of him and because of the
deep draughts of ale that he had been quaffing. So, of a sudden, without any
warning, he sprang to his feet, and seized upon his bow and fitted it to a shaft.
"Ay," cried he, "and I'll hurry thee anon." And he sent the
arrow whistling after Robin.
It was well for Robin
Hood that that same forester's head was spinning with ale, or else he would
never have taken another step. As it was, the arrow whistled within three inches
of his head. Then he turned around and quickly drew his own bow, and sent an
arrow back in return.
"Ye said I was no
archer," cried he aloud, "but say so now again!"
The shaft flew straight;
the archer fell forward with a cry, and lay on his face upon the ground, his
arrows rattling about him from out of his quiver, the gray goose shaft wet with
his; heart's blood. Then, before the others could gather their wits about them,
Robin Hood was gone into the depths of the greenwood. Some started after him,
but not with much heart, for each feared to suffer the death of his fellow; so
presently they all came and lifted the dead man up and bore him away to
Meanwhile Robin Hood ran
through the greenwood. Gone was all the joy and brightness from everything, for
his heart was sick within him, and it was borne in upon his soul that he had
slain a man.
he, "thou hast found me an archer that will make thy wife to wring! I would
that thou hadst ne'er said one word to me, or that I had never passed thy way,
or e'en that my right forefinger had been stricken off ere that this had
happened! In haste I smote, but grieve I sore at leisure!" And then, even
in his trouble, he remembered the old saw that "What is done is done; and
the egg cracked cannot be cured."
And so he came to dwell
in the greenwood that was to be his home for many a year to come, never again to
see the happy days with the lads and lasses of sweet Locksley Town; for he was
outlawed, not only because he had killed a man, but also because he had poached
upon the King's deer, and two hundred pounds were set upon his head, as a reward
for whoever would bring him to the court of the King.
Now the Sheriff of
Nottingham swore that he himself would bring this knave Robin Hood to justice,
and for two reasons: first, because he wanted the two hundred pounds, and next,
because the forester that Robin Hood had killed was of kin to him.
But Robin Hood lay
hidden in Sherwood Forest for one year, and in that time there gathered around
him many others like himself, cast out from other folk for this cause and for
that. Some had shot deer in hungry wintertime, when they could get no other food,
and had been seen in the act by the foresters, but had escaped, thus saving
their ears; some had been turned out of their inheritance, that their farms
might be added to the King's lands in Sherwood Forest; some had been despoiled
by a great baron or a rich abbot or a powerful esquire-- all, for one cause or
another, had come to Sherwood to escape wrong and oppression.
So, in all that year,
fivescore or more good stout yeomen gathered about Robin Hood, and chose him to
be their leader and chief. Then they vowed that even as they themselves had been
despoiled they would despoil their oppressors, whether baron, abbot, knight, or
squire, and that from each they would take that which had been wrung from the
poor by unjust taxes, or land rents, or in wrongful fines. But to the poor folk
they would give a helping hand in need and trouble, and would return to them
that which had been unjustly taken from them. Besides this, they swore never to
harm a child nor to wrong a woman, be she maid, wife, or widow; so that, after a
while, when the people began to find that no harm was meant to them, but that
money or food came in time of want to many a poor family, they came to praise
Robin and his merry men, and to tell many tales of him and of his doings in
Sherwood Forest, for they felt him to be one of themselves.
Up rose Robin Hood one
merry morn when all the birds were singing blithely among the leaves, and up
rose all his merry men, each fellow washing his head and hands in the cold brown
brook that leaped laughing from stone to stone. Then said Robin, "For
fourteen days have we seen no sport, so now I will go abroad to seek adventures
forthwith. But tarry ye, my merry men all, here in the greenwood; only see that
ye mind well my call. Three blasts upon the bugle horn I will blow in my hour of
need; then come quickly, for I shall want your aid."
So saying, he strode
away through the leafy forest glades until he had come to the verge of Sherwood.
There he wandered for a long time, through highway and byway, through dingly
dell and forest skirts. Now he met a fair buxom lass in a shady lane, and each
gave the other a merry word and passed their way; now he saw a fair lady upon an
ambling pad, to whom he doffed his cap, and who bowed sedately in return to the
fair youth; now he saw a fat monk on a pannier-laden ass; now a gallant knight,
with spear and shield and armor that flashed brightly in the sunlight; now a
page clad in crimson; and now a stout burgher from good Nottingham Town, pacing
along with serious footsteps; all these sights he saw, but adventure found he
none. At last he took a road by the forest skirts, a bypath that dipped toward a
broad, pebbly stream spanned by a narrow bridge made of a log of wood. As he
drew nigh this bridge he saw a tall stranger coming from the other side.
Thereupon Robin quickened his pace, as did the stranger likewise, each thinking
to cross first.
"Now stand thou
back," quoth Robin, "and let the better man cross first."
answered the stranger, "then stand back shine own self, for the better man,
I wet, am I."
"That will we
presently see," quoth Robin, "and meanwhile stand thou where thou art,
or else, by the bright brow of Saint Aelfrida, I will show thee right good
Nottingham play with a clothyard shaft betwixt thy ribs."
the stranger, "I will tan thy hide till it be as many colors as a beggar's
cloak, if thou darest so much as touch a string of that same bow that thou
holdest in thy hands."
"Thou pratest like
an ass," said Robin, "for I could send this shaft clean through thy
proud heart before a curtal friar could say grace over a roast goose at
"And thou pratest
like a coward," answered the stranger, "for thou standest there with a
good yew bow to shoot at my heart, while I have nought in my hand but a plain
blackthorn staff wherewith to meet thee."
Robin, "by the faith of my heart, never have I had a coward's name in all
my life before. I will lay by my trusty bow and eke my arrows, and if thou
darest abide my coming, I will go and cut a cudgel to test thy manhood withal."
"Ay, marry, that
will I abide thy coming, and joyously, too," quoth the stranger; whereupon
he leaned sturdily upon his staff to await Robin.
Then Robin Hood stepped
quickly to the coverside and cut a good staff of ground oak, straight, without
new, and six feet in length, and came back trimming away the tender stems from
it, while the stranger waited for him, leaning upon his staff, and whistling as
he gazed round about. Robin observed him furtively as he trimmed his staff,
measuring him from top to toe from out the corner of his eye, and thought that
he had never seen a lustier or a stouter man. Tall was Robin, but taller was the
stranger by a head and a neck, for he was seven feet in height. Broad was Robin
across the shoulders, but broader was the stranger by twice the breadth of a
palm, while he measured at least an ell around the waist.
said Robin to himself, "I will baste thy hide right merrily, my good fellow";
then, aloud, "Lo, here is my good staff, lusty and tough. Now wait my
coming, an thou darest, and meet me an thou fearest not. Then we will fight
until one or the other of us tumble into the stream by dint of blows."
meeteth my whole heart!" cried the stranger, twirling his staff above his
head, betwixt his fingers and thumb, until it whistled again.
Never did the Knights of
Arthur's Round Table meet in a stouter fight than did these two. In a moment
Robin stepped quickly upon the bridge where the stranger stood; first he made a
feint, and then delivered a blow at the stranger's head that, had it met its
mark, would have tumbled him speedily into the water. But the stranger turned
the blow right deftly and in return gave one as stout, which Robin also turned
as the stranger had done. So they stood, each in his place, neither moving a
finger's-breadth back, for one good hour, and many blows were given and received
by each in that time, till here and there were sore bones and bumps, yet neither
thought of crying "Enough," nor seemed likely to fall from off the
bridge. Now and then they stopped to rest, and each thought that he never had
seen in all his life before such a hand at quarterstaff. At last Robin gave the
stranger a blow upon the ribs that made his jacket smoke like a damp straw
thatch in the sun. So shrewd was the stroke that the stranger came within a
hair's-breadth of falling off the bridge, but he regained himself right quickly
and, by a dexterous blow, gave Robin a crack on the crown that caused the blood
to flow. Then Robin grew mad with anger and smote with all his might at the
other. But the stranger warded the blow and once again thwacked Robin, and this
time so fairly that he fell heels over head into the water, as the queen pin
falls in a game of bowls.
"And where art thou
now, my good lad?" shouted the stranger, roaring with laughter.
"Oh, in the flood
and floating adown with the tide," cried Robin, nor could he forbear
laughing himself at his sorry plight. Then, gaining his feet, he waded to the
bank, the little fish speeding hither and thither, all frightened at his
"Give me thy hand,"
cried he, when he had reached the bank. "I must needs own thou art a brave
and a sturdy soul and, withal, a good stout stroke with the cudgels. By this and
by that, my head hummeth like to a hive of bees on a hot June day."
Then he clapped his horn
to his lips and winded a blast that went echoing sweetly down the forest paths.
"Ay, marry," quoth he again, "thou art a tall lad, and eke a
brave one, for ne'er, I bow, is there a man betwixt here and Canterbury Town
could do the like to me that thou hast done."
quoth the stranger, laughing, "takest thy cudgeling like a brave heart and
a stout yeoman."
But now the distant
twigs and branches rustled with the coming of men, and suddenly a score or two
of good stout yeomen, all clad in Lincoln green, burst from out the covert, with
merry Will Stutely at their head.
cried Will, "how is this? Truly thou art all wet from head to foot, and
that to the very skin."
answered jolly Robin, "yon stout fellow hath tumbled me neck and crop into
the water and hath given me a drubbing beside."
"Then shall he not
go without a ducking and eke a drubbing himself!" cried Will Stutely.
"Have at him, lads!"
Then Will and a score of
yeomen leaped upon the stranger, but though they sprang quickly they found him
ready and felt him strike right and left with his stout staff, so that, though
he went down with press of numbers, some of them rubbed cracked crowns before he
cried Robin, laughing until his sore sides ached again. "He is a right good
man and true, and no harm shall befall him. Now hark ye, good youth, wilt thou
stay with me and be one of my band? Three suits of Lincoln green shalt thou have
each year, beside forty marks in fee, and share with us whatsoever good shall
befall us. Thou shalt eat sweet venison and quaff the stoutest ale, and mine own
good right-hand man shalt thou be, for never did I see such a cudgel player in
all my life before. Speak! Wilt thou be one of my good merry men?"
"That know I
not," quoth the stranger surlily, for he was angry at being so tumbled
about. "If ye handle yew bow and apple shaft no better than ye do oaken
cudgel, I wot ye are not fit to be called yeomen in my country; but if there be
any man here that can shoot a better shaft than I, then will I bethink me of
joining with you."
"Now by my faith,"
said Robin, "thou art a right saucy varlet, sirrah; yet I will stoop to
thee as I never stooped to man before. Good Stutely, cut thou a fair white piece
of bark four fingers in breadth, and set it fourscore yards distant on yonder
oak. Now, stranger, hit that fairly with a gray goose shaft and call thyself an
"Ay, marry, that
will I," answered he. "Give me a good stout bow and a fair broad arrow,
and if I hit it not, strip me and beat me blue with bowstrings."
Then he chose the
stoutest bow among them all, next to Robin's own, and a straight gray goose
shaft, well-feathered and smooth, and stepping to the mark--while all the band,
sitting or lying upon the greensward, watched to see him shoot--he drew the
arrow to his cheek and loosed the shaft right deftly, sending it so straight
down the path that it clove the mark in the very center. "Aha!" cried
he, "mend thou that if thou canst"; while even the yeomen clapped
their hands at so fair a shot.
"That is a keen
shot indeed," quoth Robin. "Mend it I cannot, but mar it I may,
Then taking up his own
good stout bow and nocking an arrow with care, he shot with his very greatest
skill. Straight flew the arrow, and so true that it lit fairly upon the
stranger's shaft and split it into splinters. Then all the yeomen leaped to
their feet and shouted for joy that their master had shot so well.
"Now by the lusty
yew bow of good Saint Withold," cried the stranger, "that is a shot
indeed, and never saw I the like in all my life before! Now truly will I be thy
man henceforth and for aye. Good Adam Bell was a fair shot, but never shot he
 Adam Bell, Clym o'
the Clough, and William of Cloudesly were three noted north-country bowmen whose
names have been celebrated in many ballads of the olden time.
"Then have I gained
a right good man this day," quoth jolly Robin. "What name goest thou
by, good fellow?"
"Men call me John
Little whence I came," answered the stranger.
Then Will Stutely, who
loved a good jest, spoke up. "Nay, fair little stranger," said he,
"I like not thy name and fain would I have it otherwise. Little art thou
indeed, and small of bone and sinew, therefore shalt thou be christened Little
John, and I will be thy godfather."
Then Robin Hood and all
his band laughed aloud until the stranger began to grow angry.
"An thou make a
jest of me," quoth he to Will Stutely, "thou wilt have sore bones and
little pay, and that in short season."
"Nay, good friend,"
said Robin Hood, "bottle thine anger, for the name fitteth thee well.
Little John shall thou be called henceforth, and Little John shall it be. So
come, my merry men, we will prepare a christening feast for this fair
So turning their backs
upon the stream, they plunged into the forest once more, through which they
traced their steps till they reached the spot where they dwelled in the depths
of the woodland. There had they built huts of bark and branches of trees, and
made couches of sweet rushes spread over with skins of fallow deer. Here stood a
great oak tree with branches spreading broadly around, beneath which was a seat
of green moss where Robin Hood was wont to sit at feast and at merrymaking with
his stout men about him. Here they found the rest of the band, some of whom had
come in with a brace of fat does. Then they all built great fires and after a
time roasted the does and broached a barrel of humming ale. Then when the feast
was ready they all sat down, but Robin placed Little John at his right hand, for
he was henceforth to be the second in the band.
Then when the feast was
done Will Stutely spoke up. "It is now time, I ween, to christen our bonny
babe, is it not so, merry boys?" And "Aye! Aye!" cried all,
laughing till the woods echoed with their mirth.
sponsors shall we have," quoth Will Stutely, and hunting among all the
band, he chose the seven stoutest men of them all.
"Now by Saint
Dunstan," cried Little John, springing to his feet, "more than one of
you shall rue it an you lay finger upon me."
But without a word they
all ran upon him at once, seizing him by his legs and arms and holding him
tightly in spite of his struggles, and they bore him forth while all stood
around to see the sport. Then one came forward who had been chosen to play the
priest because he had a bald crown, and in his hand he carried a brimming pot of
ale. "Now, who bringeth this babe?" asked he right soberly.
"That do I,"
answered Will Stutely.
"And what name
callest thou him?"
"Little John call I
"Now Little John,"
quoth the mock priest, "thou hast not lived heretofore, but only got thee
along through the world, but henceforth thou wilt live indeed. When thou livedst
not thou wast called John Little, but now that thou dost live indeed, Little
John shalt thou be called, so christen I thee." And at these last words he
emptied the pot of ale upon Little John's head.
Then all shouted with
laughter as they saw the good brown ale stream over Little John's beard and
trickle from his nose and chin, while his eyes blinked with the smart of it. At
first he was of a mind to be angry but found he could not, because the others
were so merry; so he, too, laughed with the rest. Then Robin took this sweet,
pretty babe, clothed him all anew from top to toe in Lincoln green, and gave him
a good stout bow, and so made him a member of the merry band.
And thus it was that
Robin Hood became outlawed; thus a band of merry companions gathered about him,
and thus he gained his right-hand man, Little John; and so the prologue ends.
And now I will tell how the Sheriff of Nottingham three times sought to take
Robin Hood, and how he failed each time
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