"What is thy name?" then said Robin Hood,
"Come tell me, without any fail!"
"By the faith o' my body," then said the young man,
"My name it is Allan-a-Dale."
Friar Tuck and Much the miller's son soon became right good friends over the steaming stew they jointly prepared for the merry men that evening. Tuck was mightily pleased when he found a man in the forest who could make pasties and who had cooked for no less person than the High Sheriff himself. While Much marveled at the friar's knowledge of herbs and simples and woodland things which savored a stew greatly. So they gabbled together like two old gossips and, between them, made such a tasty mess that Robin Hood and his stout followers were like never to leave off eating. And the friar said grace too, with great unction, over the food; and Robin said Amen! and that henceforth they were always to have mass of Sundays.
So Robin walked forth into the wood that evening with his stomach full and his heart, therefore, in great contentment and love for other men. He did not stop the first passer-by, as his manner often was, and desire a fight. Instead, he stepped behind a tree, when he heard a man's voice in song, and waited to behold the singer. Perhaps he remembered, also, the merry chanting of Will Scarlet, and how he had tried to give it pause a few days before.
Like Will, this fellow was clad in scarlet, though he did not look quite as fine a gentleman. Nathless, he was a sturdy yeoman of honest face and a voice far sweeter than Will's. He seemed to be a strolling minstrel, for he bore a harp in his hand, which he thrummed, while his lusty tenor voice rang out with—
"Hey down, and a down, and a down!
I've a lassie back i' the town;
Come day, come night, Come dark or light,
She will wed me, back i' the town!"
Robin let the singer pass, caroling on his way.
"'Tis not in me to disturb a light-hearted lover, this night," he muttered, a memory of Marian coming back to him. "Pray heaven she may be true to him and the wedding be a gay one 'back i' the town!"'
So Robin went back to his camp, where he told of the minstrel.
"If any of ye set on him after this," quoth he in ending, "bring him to me, for I would have speech with him."
The very next day his wish was gratified. Little John and Much the miller's son were out together on a foraging expedition when they espied the same young man; at least, they thought it must be he, for he was clad in scarlet and carried a harp in his hand. But now he came drooping along the way; his scarlet was all in tatters; and at every step he fetched a sigh, "Alack and a well-a-day!"
Then stepped forth Little John and Much the miller's son.
"Ho! do not wet the earth with your weeping," said Little John, "else we shall all have lumbago."
No sooner did the young man catch sight of them than he bent his bow, and held an arrow back to his ear.
"Stand off! stand off!" he said; "what is your will with me?"
"Put by your weapon," said Much, "we will not harm you. But you must come before our master straight, under yon greenwood tree."
So the minstrel put by his bow and suffered himself to be led before Robin Hood.
"How now!" quoth Robin, when he beheld his sorry countenance, "are you not he whom I heard no longer ago than yesternight caroling so blithely about 'a lassie back i' the town'?"
"The same in body, good sir," replied the other sadly; "but my spirit is grievously changed."
"Tell me your tale," said Robin courteously. "Belike I can help you."
"That can no man on earth, I fear," said the stranger; "nathless, I'll tell you the tale. Yesterday I stood pledged to a maid, and thought soon to wed her. But she has been taken from me and is to become an old knight's bride this very day; and as for me, I care not what ending comes to my days, or how soon, without her."
"Marry, come up!" said Robin; "how got the old knight so sudden vantage?"
"Look you, worship, 'tis this way. The Normans overrun us, and are in such great favor that none may say them nay. This old returned Crusader coveted the land whereon my lady dwells. The estate is not large, but all in her own right; whereupon her brother says she shall wed a title, and he and the old knight have fixed it up for to-day."
"Nay, but surely—" began Robin.
"Hear me out, worship," said the other. "Belike you think me a sorry dog not to make fight of this. But the old knight, look you, is not come-at-able. I threw one of his varlets into a thorn hedge, and another into a water-butt, and a third landed head-first into a ditch. But I couldn't do any fighting at all."
"'Tis a pity!" quoth Little John gravely. He had been sitting cross-legged listening to this tale of woe. "What think you, Friar Tuck, doth not a bit of fighting ease a man's mind?"
"Blood-letting is ofttimes recommended of the leeches," replied Tuck.
"Does the maid love you?" asked Robin Hood.
"By our troth, she loved me right well," said the minstrel. "I have a little ring of hers by me which I have kept for seven long years."
"What is your name?" then said Robin Hood.
"By the faith of my body," replied the young man, "my name is Allan-a-Dale."
"What will you give me, Allan-a-Dale," said Robin Hood, "in ready gold or fee, to help you to your true love again, and deliver her back unto you?"
"I have no money, save only five shillings," quoth Allan; "but—are you not Robin Hood?"
"Then you, if any one, can aid me!" said Allan-a-Dale eagerly. "And if you give me back my love, I swear upon the Book that I will be your true servant forever after."
"Where is this wedding to take place, and when?" asked Robin.
"At Plympton Church, scarce five miles from here; and at three o' the afternoon."
"Then to Plympton we will go!" cried Robin suddenly springing into action; and he gave out orders like a general: "Will Stutely, do you have four-and-twenty good men over against Plympton Church 'gainst three o' the afternoon. Much, good fellow, do you cook up some porridge for this youth, for he must have a good round stomach—aye, and a better gear! Will Scarlet, you will see to decking him out bravely for the nonce. And Friar Tuck, hold yourself in readiness, good book in hand, at the church. Mayhap you had best go ahead of us all."
The fat Bishop of Hereford was full of pomp and importance that day at Plympton Church. He was to celebrate the marriage of an old knight—a returned Crusader—and a landed young woman; and all the gentry thereabout were to grace the occasion with their presence. The church itself was gaily festooned with flowers for the ceremony, while out in the church-yard at one side brown ale flowed freely for all the servitors.
Already were the guests beginning to assemble, when the Bishop, back in the vestry, saw a minstrel clad in green walk up boldly to the door and peer within. It was Robin Hood, who had borrowed Allan's be-ribboned harp for the time.
"Now who are you, fellow?" quoth the Bishop, "and what do you here at the church-door with you harp and saucy air?"
"May it please your Reverence," returned Robin bowing very humbly, "I am but a strolling harper, yet likened the best in the whole North Countree. And I had hope that my thrumming might add zest to the wedding to-day."
"What tune can you harp?" demanded the Bishop.
"I can harp a tune so merry that a forlorn lover will forget he is jilted," said Robin. "I can harp another tune that will make a bride forsake her lord at the altar. I can harp another tune that will bring loving souls together though they were up hill and down dale five good miles away from each other."
"Then welcome, good minstrel," said the Bishop, "music pleases me right well, and if you can play up to your prattle, 'twill indeed grace your ceremony. Let us have a sample of your wares."
"Nay, I must not put finger to string until the bride and groom have come. Such a thing would ill fortune both us and them."
"Have it as you will," said the Bishop, "but here comes the party now."
Then up the lane to the church came the old knight, preceded by ten archers liveried in scarlet and gold. A brave sight the archers made, but their master walked slowly leaning upon a cane and shaking as though in a palsy.
And after them came a sweet lass leaning upon her brother's arm. Her hair did shine like glistering gold, and her eyes were like blue violets that peep out shyly at the sun. The color came and went in her cheeks like that tinting of a sea-shell, and her face was flushed as though she had been weeping. But now she walked with a proud air, as though she defied the world to crush her spirit. She had but two maids with her, finikin lasses, with black eyes and broad bosoms, who set off their lady's more delicate beauty well. One held up the bride's gown from the ground; the other carried flowers in plenty.
"Now by all the wedding bells that ever were rung!" quoth Robin boldly, "this is the worst matched pair that ever mine eyes beheld!"
"Silence, miscreant!" said a man who stood near.
The Bishop had hurriedly donned his gown and now stood ready to meet the couple at the chancel.
But Robin paid no heed to him. He let the knight and his ten archers pass by, then he strode up to the bride, and placed himself on the other side from her brother.
"Courage, lady!" he whispered, "there is another minstrel near, who mayhap may play more to your liking."
The lady glanced at him with a frightened air, but read such honesty and kindness in his glance that she brightened and gave him a grateful look.
"Stand aside, fool!" cried the brother wrathfully.
"Nay, but I am to bring good fortune to the bride by accompanying her through the church-doors," said Robin laughing.
Thereupon he was allowed to walk by her side unmolested, up to the chancel with the party.
"Now strike up your music, fellow!" ordered the Bishop.
"Right gladly will I," quoth Robin, "an you will let me choose my instrument. For sometimes I like the harp, and other times I think the horn makes the merriest music in all the world."
And he drew forth his bugle from underneath his green cloak and blew three winding notes that made the church—rafters ring again.
"Seize him!" yelled the Bishop; "there's mischief afoot! These are the tricks of Robin Hood!"
The ten liveried archers rushed forward from the rear of the church, where they had been stationed. But their rush was blocked by the onlookers who now rose from their pews in alarm and crowded the aisles. Meanwhile Robin had leaped lightly over the chancel rail and stationed himself in a nook by the altar.
"Stand where you are!" he shouted, drawing his bow, "the first man to pass the rail dies the death. And all ye who have come to witness a wedding stay in your seats. We shall e'en have one, since we are come into the church. But the bride shall choose her own swain!"
Then up rose another great commotion at the door, and four-and-twenty good bowmen came marching in with Will Stutely at their head. And they seized the ten liveried archers and the bride's scowling brother and the other men on guard and bound them prisoners.
Then in came Allan-a-Dale, decked out gaily, with Will Scarlet for best man. And they walked gravely down the aisle and stood over against the chancel.
"Before a maiden weds she chooses—an the laws of good King Harry be just ones," said Robin. "Now, maiden, before this wedding continues, whom will you have to husband?"
The maiden answered not in words, but smiled with a glad light in her eyes, and walked over to Allan and clasped her arms about his neck.
"That is her true love," said Robin. "Young Allan instead of the gouty knight. And the true lovers shall be married at this time before we depart away. Now my lord Bishop, proceed with the ceremony!"
"Nay, that shall not be," protested the Bishop; "the banns must be cried three times in the church. Such is the law of our land."
"Come here, Little John," called Robin impatiently; and plucked off the Bishop's frock from his back and put it on the yeoman.
Now the Bishop was short and fat, and Little John was long and lean. The gown hung loosely over Little John's shoulders and came only to his waist. He was a fine comical sight, and the people began to laugh consumedly at him.
"By the faith o' my body," said Robin, "this cloth makes you a man. You're the finest Bishop that ever I saw in my life. Now cry the banns."
So Little John clambered awkwardly into the quire, his short gown fluttering gaily; and he called the banns for the marriage of the maid and Allan-a-Dale once, twice, and thrice.
"That's not enough," said Robin; "your gown is so short that you must talk longer."
Then Little John asked them in the church four, five, six, and seven times.
"Good enough!" said Robin. "Now belike I see a worthy friar in the back of this church who can say a better service than ever my lord Bishop of Hereford. My lord Bishop shall be witness and seal the papers, but do you, good friar, bless this pair with book and candle."
So Friar Tuck, who all along had been back in one corner of the church, came forward; and Allan and his maid kneeled before him, while the old knight, held an unwilling witness, gnashed his teeth in impotent rage; and the friar began with the ceremony.
When he asked, "Who giveth this woman?" Robin stepped up and answered in a clear voice:
"I do! I, Robin Hood of Barnesdale and Sherwood! And he who takes her from Allan-a-Dale shall buy her full dearly."
So the twain were declared man and wife and duly blessed; and the bride was kissed by each sturdy yeoman beginning with Robin Hood.
Now I cannot end this jolly tale better than in the words of the ballad which came out of the happening and which has been sung in the villages and countryside ever since:
"And thus having end of this merry wedding,
The bride lookt like a queen;
And so they returned to the merry greenwood
Amongst the leaves so green."