Hero-Myths and Legends of the British Race

Page: 179

The Knight’s Poverty

“Is that the truth?” asked Robin, making a sign to Little John, who arose, and, going to the knight’s steed, unstrapped a small coffer, which he brought back and placed before his master. “Search it, Little John,” said he, and “You, sir, tell me the very truth, by your honour as a belted knight.” “It is truth, on my honour, that I have but ten shillings,” replied the knight, “and if Little John searches he will find no more.” “Open the coffer,” said Robin, and Little John took it away to the other side of the trysting oak, where he emptied its contents on his outspread cloak, and found exactly ten shillings. Returning to his master, who sat at his ease, drinking and gaily conversing with his anxious guest, Little John whispered: “The knight has told the truth,” and thereupon Robin exclaimed aloud: “Sir Knight, I will not take one [Pg 320] penny from you; you may rather borrow of me if you have need of more money, for ten shillings is but a miserable sum for a knight. But tell me now, if it be your pleasure, how you come to be in such distress.” As he looked inquiringly at the stranger, whose blush had faded once, only to be renewed as he found his word of honour doubted, he noticed how thin and threadbare were his clothes and how worn his russet leather shoes; and he was grieved to see so noble-seeming a man in such a plight.

The Knight’s Story

Yet Robin meant to fathom the cause of the knight’s trouble, for then, perhaps, he would be able to help him, so he continued pitilessly: “Tell me just one word, which I will keep secret from all other men: were you driven by compulsion to take up knighthood, or urged to beg it by reason of the ownership of some small estate; or have you wasted your old inheritance with fines for brawling and strife, or in gambling and riotousness, or in borrowing at usury? All of these are fatal to a good estate.”

The knight replied: “Alas! good Robin, none of these hath been my undoing. My ancestors have all been knights for over a hundred years, and I have not lived wastefully, but soberly and sparely. As short a time ago as last year I had over four hundred pounds saved, which I could spend freely among my neighbours, and my income was four hundred pounds a year, from my land; but now my only possessions are my wife and children. This is the work of God’s hand, and to Him I commit me to amend my estate in His own good time.”

How the Money was Lost

“But how have you so soon lost this great wealth?” [Pg 321] asked Robin incredulously; and the knight replied sadly: “Ah, Robin, you have no son, or you would know that a father will give up all to save his first-born. I have one gallant son, and when I went on the Crusade with our noble Prince Edward I left him at home to guard my lands, for he was twenty years old, and was a brave and comely youth. When I returned, after two years’ absence, it was to find him in great danger, for in a public tournament he had slain in open fight a knight of Lancashire and a bold young squire. He would have died a shameful death had I not spent all my ready money and other property to save him from prison, for his enemies were mighty and unjust; and even that was not enough, for I was forced to mortgage my estates for more money. All my land lies in pledge to the abbot of St. Mary’s Abbey, in York, and I have no hope to redeem it. I was riding to York when your men found me.”

The Sum Required

“For what sum is your land pledged?” asked the master-outlaw; and the knight replied: “The Abbot lent me four hundred pounds, though the value of the land is far beyond that.” “What will you do if you fail to redeem your land?” asked Robin. “I shall leave England at once, and journey once more to Jerusalem, and tread again the sacred Hill of Calvary, and never more return to my native land. That will be my fate, for I see no likelihood of repaying the loan, and I will not stay to see strangers holding my father’s land. Farewell, my friend Robin, farewell to you all! Keep the ten shillings; I would have paid more if I could, but that is the best I can give you.” “Have you no friends at home?” asked Robin; and the knight said: “Many friends I thought I had, sir. They were very [Pg 322] kind and helpful in my days of prosperity, when I did not need them; now they will not know me, so much has my poverty seemed to alter my face and appearance.”