Hero-Myths and Legends of the British Race

Page: 128

The Leaders

While the outlaws of merry Sherwood recognised no chief but Robin Hood and no foe but the Sheriff of Nottingham, the outlaws of Englewood were under the headship of three famous archers, brothers-in-arms sworn to stand by each other, but not brothers in blood. Their names were Adam Bell, William of Cloudeslee, and Clym of the Cleugh; and of the three William of [Pg 227] Cloudeslee alone was married. His wife, fair Alice of Cloudeslee, dwelt in a strong house within the walls of Carlisle, with her three children, for they were not included in William’s outlawry. It was possible thus for her to send her husband warning of any attack planned by the Sheriff of Carlisle on the outlaws, and she had saved him and his comrades from surprise already.

William Goes to Carlisle

When the blithe spring had come, and the forest was beautiful with its fresh green leaves, William began to long for his home and family; he had not ventured into Carlisle for some time, and it was more than six months since he had seen his wife’s face. Little wonder was it, then, that he announced his intention of visiting his home, at the risk of capture by his old enemy the Sheriff. In vain his comrades dissuaded him from the venture. Adam Bell was especially urgent in his advice that William should remain in the greenwood.

“You shall not go to Carlisle, brother, by my advice, nor with my consent. If the sheriff or the justice should know that you are in the town short would be your shrift and soon your span of life would end. Stay with us, and we will fetch you tidings of your wife.”

William replied: “Nay, I must go myself; I cannot rest content with tidings only. If all is well I will return by prime to-morrow, and if I fail you at that hour you may be sure I am taken or slain; and I pray you guard well my family, if that be so.”

Taking leave of his brother outlaws, William made his way unobserved into the town and came to his wife’s dwelling. It was closely shut, with doors strongly bolted, and he was forced to knock long on the window before his wife opened the shutter to see who was the importunate visitor.

[Pg 228] “Let me in quickly, my own Alice,” he said. “I have come to see you and my three children. How have you fared this long time?”

“Alas!” she replied, hurriedly admitting him, and bolting the door again, “why have you come now, risking your dear life to gain news of us? Know you not that this house has been watched for more than six months, so eager are the sheriff and the justice to capture and hang you? I would have come to you in the forest, or sent you word of our welfare. I fear—oh, how I fear!—lest your coming be known!”