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"We will fight
till one of us falls into the water,"
he said; and fight
Hood and Little John
(Robin Hood duels Little John
BECAUSE of the hardness towards
the English people of William the Conqueror, and of William's
successors to several generations, many an Englishman exiled
himself from town and passed his life in the greenwood. These
men were called "outlaws." First they went forth out of love for
the ancient liberties of England. Then in their living in the
forest, they put themselves without the law by their ways of
gaining their livelihood. Of such men none were more renowned
than Robin Hood and his company.
We do not know anything about
Robin Hood, who he was, or where he lived, or what evil deed he
had done. Any man might kill him and never pay penalty for it.
But, outlaw or not, the poor people loved him and looked on him
as their friend, and many a stout fellow came to join him, and
led a merry life in the greenwood, with moss and fern for bed,
and for meat the King's deer, which it was death to slay.
Tillers of the land, yeomen, and some say knights, went on their
ways freely, for of them Robin took no toll; but lordly
churchmen with money-bags well filled, or proud bishops with
their richly dressed followers, trembled as they drew near to
Sherwood Forest—who was to know whether behind every tree there
did not lurk Robin Hood or one of his men?
One day Robin was walking alone
in the wood, and reached a river spanned by a very narrow
bridge, over which one man only could pass. In the midst stood a
stranger, and Robin bade him go back and let him go over. "I am
no man of yours," was all the answer Robin got, and in anger he
drew his bow and fitted an arrow to it, "Would you shoot a man
who has no arms but a staff?" asked the stranger in scorn; and
with shame Robin laid down his bow, and unbuckled an oaken stick
at his side. "We will fight till one of us falls into the
water," he said; and fight they did, till the stranger planted a
blow so well that Robin rolled over into the river. "You are a
brave soul," said he, when he had waded to land, and he blew a
blast with his horn which brought fifty good fellows, clad in
green, to the little bridge. "Have you fallen into the river
that your clothes are wet?" asked one; and Robin made answer,
"No, but this stranger, fighting on the bridge, got the better
of me, and tumbled me into the stream."
At this the foresters seized the
stranger, and would have ducked him had not their leader bade
them stop, and begged the stranger to stay with them and make
one of themselves. "Here is my hand," replied the stranger, "and
my heart with it. My name, if you would know it, is John
"That must be altered," cried
Will Scarlett; "we will call a feast, and henceforth, because he
is full seven feet tall and round the waist at least an ell, he
shall be called Little John."
And thus it was done; but at the
feast Little John, who always liked to know exactly what work he
had to do, put some questions to Robin Hood. "Before I join
hands with you, tell me first what sort of life is this you
lead? How am I to know whose goods I shall take, and whose I
shall leave? Whom I shall beat, and whom I shall refrain from
And Robin answered: "Look that
you harm not any tiller of the ground, nor any yeoman of the
greenwood—no knight, no squire, unless you have heard him ill
spoken of. But if bishops or archbishops come your way, see that
you spoil them, and mark that you always hold in your mind the
High Sheriff of Nottingham."
This being settled, Robin Hood
declared Little John to be second in command to himself among
the brotherhood of the forest, and the new outlaw never forgot
to "hold in his mind" the High Sheriff of Nottingham, who was
the bitterest enemy the foresters had.