The Sheriff of Nottingham hated Robin and would have been very glad if any one had killed him.
The Sheriff was a very unkind man. He treated the poor Saxons very badly. He often took away all their money, and their houses and left them to starve. Sometimes, for a very little fault, he would cut off their ears or fingers. The poor people used to go into the wood, and Robin would give them food and money. Sometimes they went home again, but very often they stayed with him, and became his men.
The Sheriff knew this, so he hated Robin all the more, and he was never so happy as when he caught one of Robin's men and locked him up in prison.
But try how he might, he could not catch Robin. All the same Robin used to go to Nottingham very often, but he was always so well disguised that the Sheriff never knew him. So he always escaped.
The Sheriff was too much afraid of him to go into the forest to try to take him. He knew his men were no match for Robin's. Robin's men served him and fought for him because they loved him. The Sheriff's men only served him because they feared him.
One day Robin was walking through the forest when he met a butcher.
This butcher was riding gaily along to the market at Nottingham. He was dressed in a blue linen coat, with leather belt. On either side of his strong grey pony hung a basket full of meat.
In these days as there were no trains, everything had to be sent by road. The roads were so bad that even carts could not go along them very much, for the wheels stuck in the mud. Everything was carried on horseback, in sacks or baskets called panniers.
The butcher rode gaily along, whistling as he went. Suddenly Robin stepped from under the trees and stopped him.
"What have you there, my man?" he asked.
"Butcher meat," replied the man. "Fine prime beef and mutton for Nottingham Market. Do you want to buy some?"
"Yes, I do," said Robin. "I'll buy it all and your pony too. How much do you want for it? I should like to go to Nottingham and see what kind of butcher I will make."
So the butcher sold his pony and all his meat to Robin. Then Robin changed clothes with him. He put on the butcher's blue clothes and leather belt, and the butcher went off in Robin's suit of Lincoln green, feeling very grand indeed.
Then Robin mounted his pony and off he went to Nottingham to sell his meat at the market.
When he arrived he found the whole town in a bustle. In those days there were very few shops, so every one used to go to market to buy and sell. The country people brought butter and eggs and honey to sell. With the money they got they bought platters and mugs, pots and pans, or whatever they wanted, and took it back to the country with them.
All sorts of people came to buy: fine ladies and poor women, rich knights and gentlemen, and humble workers, every one pushing and crowding together. Robin found it quite difficult to drive his pony through the crowd to the corner of the market place where the butchers had their stalls.
He got there at last, however, laid out his meat, and began to cry with the best of them.
"Prime meat, ladies. Come and buy. Cheapest meat in all the market, ladies. Come buy, come buy. Twopence a pound, ladies. Twopence a pound. Come buy. Come buy."
"What!" said every one, "beef at twopence a pound! I never heard of such a thing. Why it is generally tenpence."
You see Robin knew nothing at all about selling meat, as he never bought any. He and his men used to live on what they shot in the forest.
When it became known that there was a new butcher, who was selling his meat for twopence a pound, every one came crowding round his stall eager to buy. All the other butchers stood idle until Robin had no more beef and mutton left to sell.
As these butchers had nothing to do, they began to talk among themselves and say, "Who is this man? He has never been here before."
"Do you think he has stolen the meat?"
"Perhaps his father has just died and left him a business."
"Well, his money won't last long at this rate."
"The sooner he loses it all, the better for us. We will never be able to sell anything as long as he comes here giving away beef at twopence a pound."
"It is perfectly ridiculous," said one old man, who seemed to be the chief butcher. "These fifty years have I come and gone to Nottingham market, and I have never seen the like of it—never. He is ruining the trade, that's what he is doing.
They stood at their stalls sulky and cross, while all their customers crowded round Robin.
Shouts of laughter came from his corner, for he was not only selling beef and mutton, but making jokes about it all the time.
"I tell you what," said the old butcher, "it is no use standing here doing nothing. We had better go talk to him, and find out, if we can, who he is. We must ask him to come and have dinner with us and the Sheriff in the town-hall to-day." For on market days the butchers used to have dinner altogether in the town-hall, after market was over, and the Sheriff used to come and have dinner with them.
"So, the butchers stepped up to jolly Robin,
Acquainted with him for to be;
Come, butcher, one said, we be all of one trade,
Come, will you dine with me?"
"Thank you," said Robin. "I should like nothing better. I have had a busy morning and am very hungry and thirsty."
"Come along, then," said the butchers.
The old man led the way with Robin, and the others followed two by two.
As they walked along, the old butcher began asking Robin questions, to try and find out something about him.
"You have not been here before?" he said.
"Have I not?" replied Robin.
"I have not seen you, at least."
"Have you not?"
"You are new to the business?"
"Well, you seem to be," said the old butcher, getting rather cross.
"Do I?" replied Robin laughing.
At last they came to the town-hall, and though they had talked all the time the old butcher had got nothing out of Robin, and was not a bit wiser.
The Sheriff's house was close to the town-hall, so as dinner was not quite ready all the butchers went to say "How do you do?" to the Sheriff's wife.
She received them very kindly, and was quite interested in Robin when she heard that he was the new butcher who had been selling such wonderfully cheap meat. Robin had such pleasant manners too, that she thought he was a very nice man indeed. She was quite sorry when the Sheriff came and took him away, saying dinner was ready.
"I hope to see you again, kind sir," she said when saying good-bye. "Come to see me next time you have meat to sell."
"Thank you, lady, I will not forget your kindness," replied Robin, bowing low.
At dinner the Sheriff sat at one end of the table and the old butcher at the other. Robin, as the greatest stranger, had the place of honour on the Sheriff's right hand.
At first the dinner was very dull. All the butchers were sulky and cross, only Robin was merry. He could not help laughing to himself at the idea of dining with his great enemy the Sheriff of Nottingham. And not only dining with him, but sitting on his right hand, and being treated as an honoured guest.
If the Sheriff had only known, poor Robin would very soon have been locked up in a dark dungeon, eating dry bread instead of apple pie and custard and all the fine things they were having for dinner.
However, Robin was so merry, that very soon the butchers forgot to be cross and sulky. Before the end of dinner all were laughing till their sides ached.
Only the Sheriff was grave and thinking hard. He was a greedy old man, and he was saying to himself, "This silly young fellow evidently does not know the value of things. If he has any cattle I might buy them from him for very little. I could sell them again to the butchers for a good price. In that way I should make a lot of money."
After dinner he took Robin by the arm and led him aside.
"See here, young man," he said, "I like your looks. But you seem new to this business. Now don't trust these men," pointing to the butchers. "They are all as ready as can be to cheat you. You take my advice. If you have any cattle to sell, come to me. I'll give you a good price."
"Thank you," said Robin, "it is most kind of you."
"Hast thou any horned beasts, the Sheriff then said,
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 for to see;
And I'll make you as good assurance of it,
As ever my father did me."
The Sheriff nearly danced for joy when he heard that Robin had so many horned cattle for sale. He had quite made up his mind that it would be easy to cheat this silly young fellow. Already he began to count the money he would make. He was such a greedy old man. But there was a wicked twinkle in Robin's eye.
"Now, young man, when can I see these horned beasts of yours?" asked the Sheriff. "I can't buy a pig in a poke, you know. I must see them first. And the land too, and the land too," he added, rubbing his hands, and jumping about in his excitement.
"The sooner the better," said Robin. "I start for home to-morrow morning. If you like to ride with me I will show you the horned beasts and the land too."
"Capital, capital," said the Sheriff. "To-morrow morning then, after breakfast, I go with you. And see here, young man," he added, catching hold of Robin's coat tails, as he was going away, "you won't go and sell to any one else in the meantime? It is a bargain, isn't it?"
"Oh, certainly. I won't even speak of it to any one," replied Robin; and he went away, laughing heartily to himself.
That night the Sheriff went into his counting-house and counted out three hundred pounds in gold. He tied it up in three bags, one hundred pounds in each bag.
"It's a lot of money," he said to himself, "a lot of money. Still I suppose, I must pay him something for his cattle. But it is a lot of money to part with," and he heaved a big sigh.
He put the gold underneath his pillow in case any one should steal it during the night. Then he went to bed and tried to sleep. But he was too excited; besides the gold under his pillow made it so hard and knobby that it was most uncomfortable.
At last the night passed, and in the morning
"The Sheriff he saddled his good palfrey,
And with three hundred pounds in gold
Away he went with bold Robin Hood,
His horned beasts to behold."
The sun shone and the birds sang as they merrily rode along. When the Sheriff saw that they were taking the road to Sherwood Forest, he began to feel a little nervous.
"There is a bold, bad man in these woods," he said. "He is called Robin Hood. He robs people, he—do you think we will meet him?"
"I am quite sure we won't meet him," replied Robin with a laugh.
"Well, I hope not, I am sure," said the Sheriff. "I never dare to ride through the forest unless I have my soldiers with me. He is a bold, bad man."
Robin only laughed, and they rode on right into the forest.
"But when a little further they came,
Bold Robin he chanced to spy
An hundred head of good fat deer
Come tripping the Sheriff full nigh.
"Look there," he cried, "look! What do you think of my horned beasts?"
"I think," said the Sheriff, in a trembling voice, "I think I should go back to Nottingham."
"What! and not buy any horned Cattle? What is the matter with them? Are they not fine and fat? Are they not a beautiful colour? Come, come, Sheriff, when you have brought the money for them too."
At the mention of money the Sheriff turned quite pale and clutched hold of his bags. "Young man," he said, "I don't like you at all. I tell you I want to go back to Nottingham. This isn't money I have in my bags, it is only pebble stones."
"Then Robin put his horn to his mouth,
And blew out blasts three;
Then quickly and anon there came Little John,
And all his company."
"Good morning, Little John," said Robin.
"Good morning, Master Robin," he replied. "What orders have you for to-day?"
"Well, in the first place I hope you have something nice for dinner, because I have brought the Sheriff of Nottingham to dine with us," answered Robin.
"Yes," said Little John, "the cooks are busy already as we thought you might bring some one back with you. But we hardly expected so fine a guest as the Sheriff of Nottingham," he added, making a low bow to him. "I hope he intends to pay honestly."
For that was Robin Hood's way, he always gave these naughty men who had stolen money from poor people a very fine dinner and then he made them pay a great deal of money for it.
The Sheriff was very much afraid when he knew that he had really fallen into the hands of Robin Hood. He was angry too when he thought that he had actually had Robin in his own house the day before, and could so easily have caught and put him in prison, if he had only known.
They had a very fine dinner, and the Sheriff began to feel quite comfortable and to think he was going to get off easily, when Robin said, "Now, Master Sheriff, you must pay for your dinner."
"Oh! indeed I am a poor man," said the Sheriff, "I have no money."
"No money! What have you in your saddle bags, then?" asked Robin.
"Only pebbles, nothing but pebbles, I told you before," replied the frightened Sheriff.
"Little John, go and search the Sheriff's saddle bags," said Robin.
Little John did as he was told, and counted out three hundred pounds upon the ground.
"Sheriff," said Robin sternly, "I shall keep all this money and divide it among my men. It is not half as much as you have stolen from them. If you had told me the truth about it, I might have given you some back. But I always punish people who tell lies. You have done so many evil deeds," he went on, "that you deserve to be hanged."
The poor Sheriff shook in his shoes.
"Hanged you should be," continued Robin, "but your good wife was kind to me yesterday. For her sake, I let you go. But if you are not kinder to my people I will not let you off so easily another time." And Robin called for the Sheriff's pony.
"Then Robin he brought him through the wood,
And set him on his dapple grey:
Oh, have me commended to your wife at home,
So Robin went laughing away."