One day when Robin was walking through the wood, he met a gay young knight. The knight was dressed in scarlet satin, and wore a hat decked with feathers. He held his head erect and walked with a light and joyous step. As he walked he sang a merry song.
Robin wondered who the knight could be, but he did not stop him as he had other business that morning.
The next day Little John and Much, the tallest and the shortest of Robin Hood's band, went for a walk. It was very funny to see these two together. Little John was seven feet high and very straight and strong. Much was scarcely five and very broad and dumpy.
As they walked along they met the very knight that Robin had seen the day before. But how different he looked! It was difficult to believe that he was the same man.
"The scarlet he wore the day before
It was clean cast away,
And ev'ry step he fetched a sigh,
Alack, and well a day."
He was dressed all in dull grey. His head hung down, and he moved his feet as if they were made of lead. So sad was he that he did not see Little John and Much until they were close upon him. Then he would have drawn his bow and arrows to shoot at them, but they were too quick for him. Seizing him by the arms they led him before Robin Hood, who was sitting under his great oak-tree.
Robin rose politely, bowed to him, and bade him welcome to the Green Wood. Then still very politely (for being a real earl, Robin was always very polite to people, though he did rob them) he asked if the stranger had any money to spare for Robin Hood and his Merry Men.
"I have no money, the young man said,
But five shillings, and a ring;
And that I have kept, this seven long years,
To have at my wedding."
When Robin heard that the knight was so poor, he was very sorry for him, and asked him to sit down and tell him how that was, and why he was so sad. So with many a sigh the poor young man told his tale.
"My name is Allan-a-Dale," he said. "Seven years ago I fell in love with the most beautiful lady in all the world. She loved me too and we were very happy. But her father was very angry. I was poor, and he said we were too young to marry. He promised, however, that if we would wait seven years and a day we should then be married. The seven years are over, and yesterday should have been our wedding day. I went to claim my bride. But alas! the old knight would scarcely speak to me. He said his daughter was not for such a poor man as I. To-morrow she is to be married to another. He is old and ugly, but he has a great deal of money. So I have lost my love, and my heart is broken."
Then poor Allan-a-Dale dropped his head in his hands and groaned aloud.
"Nay," said Robin, "do not grieve so. A maiden who thus changes her mind is not worth so much sorrow."
But Allan-a-Dale shook his head. "Alas!" he sighed, "she loves me still. It is the old knight, her father, who forces her to do this thing."
"Then what wilt thou give to me, said Robin Hood,
In ready gold or fee,
To help thee to thy true love again.
And deliver her unto thee?"
"Why," said Allan, "I have no gold. But if you bring my true love back to me, I swear to serve you faithfully for ever and a day. I cannot shoot so far or so straight as your good men, but I can make and sing sweet songs and play upon the harp."
Robin was very glad when he heard that. He clapped Allan on the shoulder and told him to cheer up, for, said he, "to-morrow is your wedding day." Then he asked how far it was to the church where this wedding was to take place. Allan told him it was to be at Dale Abbey, not much more than five miles distant.
Very early next morning Robin Hood rose. He dressed himself like an old harper, and taking a harp, set off for Dale Abbey. He left orders with Little John that he was to follow with twenty-four good men all dressed in Lincoln green. Also he was to bring with him Friar Tuck and Allan-a-dale.
When Robin Hood arrived at the door of the Abbey, whom should he meet but the Bishop of Hereford, all dressed in his fine robes and all ready to marry poor Lady Christabel to the old knight.
"What do you here, my good man?" said the Bishop.
"Why," replied Robin, "I am a minstrel. Hearing there was to be a great wedding to-day, I have come to see it. Afterwards I can make a song about it."
"That is well," said the Bishop, "I love the sound of the harp and you can play some sweet music to us."
"I should like to see the bride and bridegroom first, before I play any music," replied Robin. Then he went into the church, and sat down behind a big pillar not far from the altar.
Soon the wedding guests began to arrive. There were a great many lovely ladies in beautiful dresses. They came in, rustling in silk and laces, nodding and smiling to each other, fluttering and flitting about the aisles of the great, dimly-lit church, like pretty painted butterflies. Robin watched them beckoning and whispering to each other. Sometimes he could hear what they said.
"Poor girl," said one, "so young and pretty."
"And he so old and ugly."
"Not to say wicked."
"And she loves some one else, I hear."
"What! the handsome young man who sings so beautifully?"
"Then why does he not carry her off?"
"Oh, he is too poor."
"Oh, the pity of it!"
Robin was glad. From all he heard, he learned that every one in the church was sorry for poor Christabel.
At last the bridegroom came. Silence fell upon the church as he entered. Nothing was heard except the ring of his gold-headed cane on the flagstones, as he hobbled up the aisle. So old and ugly he was. Older and uglier even than Robin had expected. He was tricked out, too, in a suit of white satin which helped to make him look more aged and withered.
Suddenly there was a little stir at the great west door. All heads turned. The bride had arrived. A sigh of admiration passed through the crowd.
She was so beautiful. With slow and stately steps she came, leaning on her father's arm. Her face was sad, her eyes cast down. Pale as any lily, she came robed in shimmering white satin. Round her white throat and in her golden hair, wonderful pearls gleamed in the dim light. If the bridegroom was more ugly than Robin had expected, the bride was far more beautiful. Behind her came the little choir boys, dressed in red and white, singing a sweet bridal song.
They reached the altar rails, and the Bishop opened his book to begin the service.
At that moment Robin sprang from behind the pillar and stood beside the bride.
"Stop!" he cried, "I do not like this wedding. The bridegroom is too old and ugly for such a lovely bride."
The ladies screamed, and at once the whole church was in commotion.
"Who are you who thus disturbs the peace of our holy service?" asked the Bishop.
"I am Robin Hood," replied he, throwing off his disguise, and putting his horn to his lips.
"I am Robin Hood," replied he, throwing off his disguise and putting his horn to his lips
When they heard that, every one stopped screaming, and pressed forward, trying to catch sight of the wonderful man of whom they had heard so much.
"Then four-and-twenty bowmen bold
Came leaping o'er the lea.
And when they came to the churchyard,
Marching all in a row,
The first man was Allan-a-Dale
To give bold Robin his bow."
"Now," said Robin, "seeing we have all come to church it is a pity there should be no wedding. Let the lady choose of all these fine men which she will have."
The Lady Christabel's face was no longer pale, but dainty pink like the inside of a shell. She raised her eyes and saw that Allan-a-Dale was standing beside her. She put out her hand timidly and slipped it into his. He clasped it and bent to kiss it tenderly. Then it was as if two red rose petals had fluttered to her cheeks. She was no longer like a lily, but a queen with head erect, and shining, happy eyes.
"Now," said Robin, "the lady has chosen. We can have the wedding. Sir Bishop, do thy duty."
"Nay, but I will not," said the Bishop. "It is the law that every one must be asked in church three times before they can be married. Therefore I will not."
"If you will not we must get some one else," said Robin. "Come along, Friar Tuck."
So Friar Tuck put on the Bishop's fine gown and took his big book, and every one laughed as he stepped to the rails of the altar, he looked so fat and jolly.
"When Friar Tuck went to the quire
The people began to laugh,
He asked them seven times in the church
Lest three times should not be enough."
Then when he had finished asking them seven times, he told the people gravely that they really must not laugh any more, that it was not at all the proper thing to do in church. But the people were all so glad for Christabel they really could not help it.
Then he began the marriage service. "Who gives this maiden to be married?"
"That do I," said Robin.
Christabel's father would have liked to cry out and stop the wedding, but he could not. Two of Robin's men held him tight and kept their hands over his mouth so that he could not make a sound. No one else in all the church wanted to stop it except the Bishop and the old knight. They were both so angry that they could not speak. Besides they were both so old and feeble that they could do nothing.
So Christabel and Allan-a-Dale were married and went to live with Robin Hood in Sherwood Forest.
The wedding was long talked about. The people who were there said it was the prettiest and the merriest wedding they had ever seen. And to this day, if you go to Derbyshire, you can still see the ruins of the great abbey in which it took place.