Hero-Myths and Legends of the British Race

Page: 183

Sir Richard’s lands were safely his; he had no pity for the poor unlucky knight, but rather exulted in the legal cruelty which he could inflict. Very joyfully he called aloud, early that morn: “A twelvemonth ago to-day we lent four hundred pounds to a needy knight, Sir Richard of the Lea, and unless he comes by noon to-day to repay the money he will lose all his land and be disinherited, and our abbey will be the richer by a fat estate, worth four hundred pounds a year. Our Lady grant that he keep not his day.” “Shame on you!” cried the prior. “This poor knight may be ill, or beyond the sea; he may be in hunger and cold as well as poverty, and it will be a foul wrong if you declare his land forfeit.”

“This is the set day,” replied the abbot, “and he is not here.” “You dare not escheat his estates yet,” replied the prior stubbornly. “It is too early in the day; until noon the lands are still Sir Richard’s, and

“Sir Richard knelt in courteous salutation”

Sir Richard Implores the Justice

Still kneeling, Sir Richard turned to the justice and said: “Good Sir Justice, be my friend and plead for me.” “No,” he replied, “I hold to the law, and can give thee no help.” “Gentle abbot, have pity on me, and let me have my land again, and I will be the humble servant of your monastery till I have repaid in full your four hundred pounds.” Then the cruel prelate swore a terrible oath that never should the knight have his land again, and no one in the hall would speak for him, kneeling there poor, friendless, and alone; so at last he began to threaten violence. “Unless I have my land again,” quoth he, “some of you here shall dearly abide it. Now may I see the poor man has no friends, for none will stand by me in my need.”

The Justice Suggests a Compromise

The hint of violence made the abbot furiously angry, and, secure in his position and the support of the justice, he shouted loudly: “Out, thou false knight! Out of my hall!” Then at last Sir Richard rose to his feet in just wrath. “Thou liest, Sir Abbot; foully thou [Pg 327] liest! I was never a false knight. In joust and tourney I have adventured as far and as boldly as any man alive. There is no true courtesy in thee, abbot, to suffer a knight to kneel so long.” The quarrel now seemed so serious that the justice intervened, saying to the angry prelate, “What will you give me if I persuade him to sign a legal deed of release? Without it you will never hold this land in peace.” “You shall have a hundred pounds for yourself,” said the abbot, and the justice nodded in token of assent.

Sir Richard Pays the Money

Now Sir Richard thought it was time to drop the mask, for noon was nigh, and he would not risk his land again. Accordingly he cried: “Nay, but not so easily shall ye have my lands. Even if you were to pay a thousand pounds more you should not hold my father’s estate. Have here your money back again”; and, calling for Little John, he bade him bring into the hall his coffer with the bags inside. Then he counted out on the table four hundred good golden pounds, and said sternly: “Abbot, here is your money again. Had you but been courteous to me I would have rewarded you well; now take your money, give me a quittance, and I will take my lands once more. Ye are all witnesses that I have kept my day and have paid in full.” Thereupon Sir Richard strode haughtily out of the hall, and rode home gladly to his recovered lands in Uterysdale, where he and his family ever prayed for Robin Hood. The abbot of St. Mary’s was bitterly enraged, for he had lost the fair lands of Sir Richard of the Lea and had received a bare four hundred pounds again. As for Little John, he went back to the forest and told his master the whole story, to Robin Hood’s great satisfaction, [Pg 328] for he enjoyed the chance of thwarting the schemes of a wealthy and usurious prelate.

Sir Richard Sets Out to Repay the Loan

When a year had passed all but a few days, Sir Richard of the Lea said to his wife: “Lady, I must shortly go to Barnesdale to repay Robin Hood the loan which saved my lands, and would fain take him some small gift in addition; what do you advise?” “Sir Richard, I would take a hundred bows of Spanish yew and a hundred sheaves of arrows, peacock-feathered, or grey-goose-feathered; methinks that will be to Robin a most acceptable gift.”

Sir Richard followed his wife’s advice, and on the morning of the appointed day set out to keep his tryst at the outlaws’ oak in Barnesdale, with the money duly counted, and the bows and arrows for his present to the outlaw chief.

The Wrestling

As he rode, however, at the head of his troop he passed through a village where there was a wrestling contest, which he stayed to watch. He soon saw that the victorious wrestler, who was a stranger to the village, would be defrauded of his well-earned prize, which consisted of a white bull, a noble charger gaily caparisoned, a gold ring, a pipe of wine, and a pair of embroidered gloves. This seemed so wrong to Sir Richard that he stayed to defend the right, for love of Robin Hood and of justice, and kept the wrestling ring in awe with his well-appointed troop of men, so that the stranger was allowed to claim his prize and carry it off. Sir Richard, anxious not to arouse the hostility of the villagers, bought the pipe of wine from the winner, and, setting it abroach, allowed all who would to drink; [Pg 329] and so, in a tumult of cheers and blessings, he rode away to keep his tryst. By this time, however, it was nearly three in the afternoon, and he should have been there at twelve. He comforted himself with the thought that Robin would forgive the delay, for the sake of its cause, and so rode on comfortably enough at the head of his gallant company.