The Geste of Duke Jocelyn
Part 3 out of 5
And fevered brows of prisoners forlorn,
Who, stirring 'neath sweet Zephyr's soft caress,
Dreamed themselves young, with all their sins unwrought.
So, gentle Zephyr, messenger of dawn,
Fresh as the day-spring, of earth redolent,
Through narrow loophole into dungeon stole,
Where Robin the bold outlaw fettered lay,
Who, sighing, woke to feel her fragrant kiss,
And, breathing in this perfume-laden air,
He seemed to smell those thousand woodland scents
He oft had known, yet, knowing, never heeded:
Of lofty bracken, golden in the sun,
Of dewy violets shy that bloomed dim-seen
Beside some merry-laughing, woodland brook
Which, bubbling, with soft music filled the air;
The fragrant reek of smouldering camp-fire
Aglow beside some dark, sequestered pool
Whose placid waters a dim mirror made
To hold the glister of some lonely star;
He seemed to see again in sunny glade
The silky coats of yellow-dappled deer,
With branching antlers gallantly upborne;
To hear the twang of bow, the whizz of shaft,
And cheery sound of distant-winded horn.
Of this and more than this, bold Robin thought,
And, in his dungeon's gloomy solitude,
He groaned full deep and, since no eye could see,
Shed bitter tears.
My daughter GILLIAN supplicateth:
GILL: Poor Robin! Father, promise me
To save him from the gallows-tree.
He's much too nice a man to kill;
So save him, father; say you will!
MYSELF: But think of poor Ranulph with no one to hang!
GILL: Ranulph's song was top-hole, but--
MYSELF: You know I hate slang--
GILL: Yes, father--but then I hate Ranulph much more,
With his nasty great beard that in tangles he wore.
So, father, if you must have some one to slay,
Instead of poor Robin, hang Ranulph--
MYSELF: Why, pray?
GILL: In nice books the nasty folks only should die;
Those are the kind of books nice people buy.
I like a book that makes me glad,
And loathe a book that makes me sad;
So, as this Geste is made for me,
Make it as happy as can be.
MYSELF: And is it, so far, as you'd wish?
GILL: Well, father, though it's rather swish,
I think it needs a deal more love--
MYSELF: Swish? How--what's this? Great heavens
Will you, pray, miss, explain to me
How any story "swish" may be?
And why, my daughter, you must choose
A frightful word like "swish" to use?
What hideous language are you talking?
GILL: Sorrow, father! "Swish" means "corking."
I think our Geste is "out of sight,"
Except that, to please me, you might
Put in more love--
MYSELF: Now, how can Joc'lyn go love-making
When his head is sore and aching?
Besides, this is no place to woo;
He'll love-make when I want him to.
GILL: But, father, think--in all this time,
In all this blank-verse, prose and rhyme,
The fair Yolande he's never kissed,
And you've done nothing to assist;
And, as I'm sure they're both inclined,
I think your treatment most unkind.
MYSELF: This Geste I'll write in my own way,
That is, sweet Prattler, if I may;
When I'm ready for them to kiss,
Then kiss they shall; I promise this.
Now I'll to Rob return, if you,
My Gillian, will permit me to!
Thus in his prison pent, poor woeful Rob,
Since none might see or hear, scorned not to sob,
And mightily, in stricken heart, did grieve
That he so soon so fair a world must leave.
And all because the morning wind had brought
Earth's dewy fragrance with sweet mem'ries fraught.
So Robin wept nor sought his grief to stay,
Yearning amain for joys of yesterday;
Till, hearing nigh the warder's heavy tread,
He sobbed no more but strove to sing instead.
"A bow for me, a bow for me,
All underneath the greenwood tree,
Where slaves are men, and men are free;
Give me a bow!
"Give me a bow, a bow of yew,
Good hempen cord and arrows true,
When foes be thick and friends be few,
Give me a bow!"
Thus cheerily sang Robin the while he dried his bitter tears, as the
door of his prison was flung wide and Black Lewin strode in and with him
men-at-arms bearing torches.
"What ho, rogue Robin!" cried he. "The cock hath crowed. Ha! Will ye sing,
knave, will ye sing, in faith?"
"In faith, that will I!" laughed Robin.
"Here come we to bring ye to the gallows, Robin--how say ye?"
"The more reason for singing since my singing must soon be done!" So, with
pikemen before him and behind, bold Robin marched forth to die, yet sang
full blithely as he went:
"So lay my bones 'neath good yew-tree,
Thus Rob and yew soon one shall be,
Where all true men may find o' we
A trusty bow!"
"Ha' done!" growled Black Lewin, shivering in the chilly air of dawn.
"Quit--quit thy singing, rogue, or by the foul fiend I--"
"Who dareth name the fiend?" croaked an awful voice, whereat Black Lewin
halted, gaped and stood a-tremble, while beneath steel cap and bascinet
all men's hair stirred and rose with horror; for before them was a ghastly
shape, a shape that crouched in the gloom with dreadful face aflame with
smouldering green fire.
"Woe!" cried the voice. "Woe unto thee, Lewin the Black, that calleth on
fiend o' the pit!"
And now came a fiery hand that, hovering in the air, pointed lambent finger
at gaping Lewin and at each of the shivering pike-men in turn.
"Woe--sorrow and woe to one and all, ye men of blood, plague and pest, pain
o' flesh, and grief of soul seize ye, be accursed and so--begone! Hence
"Rommani hi! Avaunt, I say,
Thus direst curse on ye I lay
Shall make flesh shrink and bone decay,
To rot and rot by night and day
Till flesh and bone do fall away,
Mud unto mud and clay to clay.
A spell I cast,
Shall all men blast.
Down fell pike and guisarme from nerveless fingers and, gasping with fear,
Black Lewin and his fellows turned and fled nor stayed for one look
behind; only Robin stood there (since he might not run away by reason of
his bonds) babbling prayers between chattering teeth and with all his
"Oho, Fool, aha!" cried the voice. "Thus have I, a poor, feeble old woman,
wrought better than all thy valiance or Lobkyn's strength. So, by potency
of my spells and magic are we quits, thou and I. Bring, then, thy rogue
outlaw and haste ye!"
So saying the old Witch muffled her awful, fiery face in ragged mantle and
turned away; and in that moment Robin was aware of three forms about him in
the grey dawn-light, felt his bonds loosed off by quick, strong hands and
drew a great, joyous breath.
"How, Fool, thou brave and noble Motley," quoth he, "is it thou again? And
I to live?"
"Aye, marry, Robin! But come apace, the day breaketh and the city is
astir--hark to yon shouts! Follow!"
So with the Tanner on one side and Lobkyn on the other, Robin ran, hard on
Jocelyn's heels; and ever the dawn brightened until up came the sun chasing
away sullen shadow and filling street and alley with his glory.
But now, and just as they reached that narrow street where safety lay,
they heard a shout, a scream, a rush of feet and roar of fierce voices and
beheld, amid a surge of armed men, the old woman struggling in the cruel
grip of Black Lewin who (like many others I wot of, my Gill) was brave
enough by daylight. Vainly the old creature strove, screaming for mercy as
Black Lewin whirled aloft his sword; but his blade clashed upon another as
Jocelyn sprang, and for a while the air rang with the sound of fierce-
smiting steel until, throwing up his arms, Black Lewin fell and lay there.
But, roaring vengeance, the soldiery closed about Jocelyn who, beset by
blows on every side, sank in turn, yet, even as he fell, two short though
mighty legs bestrode his prostrate form and Lobkyn Lollo, whirling huge
club, smote down the foremost assailant and, ever as he smote, he
versified and chanted--thus:
"I'm Lollo hight,
Brave Lobkyn Lollo, I,
I'm Lollo hight,
'Tis my delight
By day or night
In honest fight
With main and might
Good blows to smite,
And where they light
'Tis sorry plight
For that poor wight,
Brave Lobkyn Lollo, I.
"Bows, swords and staves,
Come, lusty knaves,
And fit for graves
Brave Lobkyn soon will make ye;
So fight, say I,
Nor turn and fly,
Or, when ye die,
Then may old Horny take ye."
Fierce raged the conflict, but in that narrow street they made good play
against their many assailants, the valiant Dwarf's mighty club, backed by
the Tanner's darting pike and Robin's flashing sword, which he had
snatched from a loosened grasp. But Jocelyn lay prone upon his face,
between Lobkyn's firm-planted feet, and stirred not. So club whirled,
sword flashed and pike darted while, high above the tumult, rose Lobkyn's
"Hot blood I quaff,
At death I laugh,
Brave Lobkyn Lollo, I.
Come all that may,
And all I'll slay,
And teach ye how to die."
"Lob--Lobkyn!" screamed the Witch. "Thou that drinkest nought but
milk--talk not of blood, thou naughty poppet. Back now--stand back, I do
Lobkyn smote a man to earth and, sighing regretful, stepped aside.
"Back!" screamed the Witch. "Stand back, I say, all three,
And leave this wicked rabblement to me.
Now shall they learn the terror of my curse,
Black magic shall they feel--and something worse!"
Then uttered she a sudden, hideous cry,
And, leaping, whirled her bony hands on high,
And lo! a choking dust-cloud filled the air;
That wreathed in whirling eddies here and there.
"Perendewix!" she cried. "Oh Radzywin--
Thraxa! Behold, my witchcraft doth begin!"
Back shrank their foes, back reeled they one and all,
They choked, they gasped, they let their weapons fall;
And some did groan, and some did fiercely sneeze,
And some fell prone, some writhed upon their knees;
Some strove to wipe the tears from blinded eyes,
But one and all gave voice to awful cries.
"Come!" cried the Witch, "to the door--the door. Lobkyn, bear ye the brave
Fool--and tenderly! Haste, naughty bantling, haste--I hear the tread of
So Lobkyn stooped and, lifting Jocelyn's inanimate form, tucked it beneath
one arm, and with Robin and Will the Tanner, followed the old Witch into
My daughter GILLIAN commandeth:
GILL: Go on, father, do; why will you keep stopping?
I think the old Witch is just perfectly topping.
And what frightful words she uses for curses!
MYSELF: Very frightful, indeed, though your slang still much worse is,
With your "topping," "top-holing," your "swishing" and "clipping,"
GILL: Well, I merely intended to say it was ripping;
But, if you object to my praises--
MYSELF: I only object to your phrases,
For there's no author but will own
He "liveth not by bread alone."
As for myself, if what I write
Doth please--then praise with all your might.
GILL: Well, then, the Witch is splendid, though
I'm very curious to know
Just how her face all fiery grew,
And what the stuff was that she threw--
The stuff that made the soldiers sneeze
And brought them choking to their knees
It sounds as though it might be snuff.
MYSELF: My dear, they'd not found out such stuff.
But grisly witches long ago
Did many strange devices know.
Indeed, my Gill, they knew much more
Than wise folk gave them credit for.
GILL: Well, what was it? You haven't said.
MYSELF: I'll get on with our Geste instead.
That telleth to the patient reader nought,
Save how the Duke was to the wild-wood brought.
* * * * *
With sleepy eyes Duke Jocelyn watched afar,
In deep, blue void a solitary star,
That, like some bright and wakeful eye, did seem
To watch him where he lay 'twixt sleep and dream.
And, as he viewed it winking high above,
He needs must think of Yolande and his love,
And how, while he this twinkling star did view,
She, wakeful lying, might behold it too,
Whereas she lay a spotless maid and fair,
Clothed in the red-gold glory of her hair;
And, thinking thus, needs must he fondly sigh,
Then frowned to hear a lusty snore hard by--
--and looking whence came this sound, the Duke sat up and his wonder grew;
for by light of a fire that glowed in a blackened fissure of rock he beheld
himself couched on a bed of bracken within a roomy cave. Beside the fire
leaned a mighty, iron-shod club, and beyond this, curled up like a dog,
snored Lobkyn Lollo, the Dwarf. Hereupon Jocelyn reached out and shook Lob
to wakefulness, who grunted sleepily, rubbed his eyes drowsily and yawned
Quoth JOCELYN: Good Dwarf, where am I?
Safe, Fool, safe art thou, I trow,
Where none but Lob and friends do know.
JOCELYN: But how am I hither?
LOBKYN: Why, truly thou art hither, Fool,
Because thou art not thither, Fool!
In these two arms, thy life to save,
I bore thee to this goodly cave.
JOCELYN: How may one of thy inches bear man of mine so far?
LOBKYN: Why, Fool, though I of inches lack,
I'm mighty strong, both arm and back,
Thou that art longer man than me,
Yet I am stronger man than thee,
Though, lusty Fool, big fool you be,
I'd bear thee, Fool, if thou wert three.
And mark, Fool, if my grammar seemeth weak,
Pray license it since I in verse must speak.
JOCELYN: And pray why must thou speak in verse?
LOBKYN: Nature hath on me laid this curse,
And, though to speak plain prose I yearn,
My prose to verse doth ever turn.
Therefore I grieve, as well I might,
Because of my poetic plight--
Though bards and rhymers all I scorn,
Alack! I was a rhymer born.
JOCELYN: Alack! poor Dwarf, as thou must versify,
By way of courtesy, then, so will I.
LOBKYN: How, Fool, then canst thou rhyme?
JOCELYN: Aye, Dwarf, at any time!
In dark, in light,
By day, by night,
As be fitting,
Quaint or pretty,
Incontinent I'll find.
Verses glad, Dwarf,
Verses sad, Dwarf,
Every sort, Lob,
Long or short, Lob
Or verses ill,
Yet verses still
Which might be worse,
I can rehearse
When I'm for verse inclined.
So, Lob, first speak me what became
Of our old Witch, that potent dame.
LOBKYN: Why, Fool, in faith she wrought so well
With direful curse and blasting spell
That every howling soldier-knave,
Every rogue and base-born slave
That by chance I did not slay,
From my grand-dam ran away.
JOCELYN: A noble Witch! Now, Lobkyn, tell
What hap'd when in the fight I fell,
And how alive I chance to be.
LOBKYN: Fool, I was there to succour thee.
I smote those pike-men hip and thigh,
That they did mangled pike-men lie;
Their arms, their legs, their skulls I broke,
Two, three, and four at every stroke.
I drave them here, I smote them there,
I smote, I slew, I none did spare,
I laughed, I sang, I--
"Ha, Lob!" growled a sleepy voice. "Now, as I'm a tanner, here's a-many
I's! By Saint Crispin, meseemeth thou'rt all I's--for as thou fought I
fought, or thought I fought, forsooth!"
LOBKYN: True, Will, did'st fight in goodly manner,
Though fightedst, Will, like any tanner;
But I did fight, or I'm forsworn,
Like one unto the manner born.
I fought, forsooth, with such good will,
'Tis marvel I'm not fighting still.
And so I should be, by my fay,
An I had any left to slay;
But since I slew them all--
"Hold there!" cried the Tanner. "I slew one or two, Lob, and Robin
likewise. Thou'rt a lusty fighter, but what o' me and Robin--ha, what o'
LOBKYN: In faith, ye're proper men and tall,
And I'm squat man, my stature small,
Nath'less, though small and squat I be,
I am the best man of the three.
"Why, as to that," quoth the Tanner, "'tis but you says so! As to me I
think what I will, and I do think--"
But here Lobkyn started up and seized the great club; quoth he:
"Hark and mark,
Heard ye nought there i' the dark?"
"Not I!" answered Will.
"Methought I heard an owl hoot," said Jocelyn.
"Aye," nodded Lobkyn:
"Aye, Fool, and yet this owl I 'll swear,
Hath ne'er a feather anywhere.
This owl hath ne'er a wing to fly,
But goes afoot like thou and I.
Hereupon the Dwarf laid finger to lip and uttered an owl-cry so dismal,
so tremulous and withal so true to nature that it was wonder to hear.
Instantly, from the dimness beyond the cavern-mouth, the cry was repeated,
and presently was heard a panting and 'plaining, a snuffling and a
shuffling, and into the light of the fire hobbled the old Witch. Beholding
Jocelyn sitting cross-legged on his couch of fern, she paused and, leaning
on her crooked stick, viewed him with her wise, old eyes.
"Aha, Motley!" she croaked. "Oho, thou flaunting jackanapes, didst peril
thy foolish flesh for me that am poor and old and feeble, and cursed by
all for witchcraft! So have I with my potions ministered to thee in thy
sickness, and behold thou'rt alive, hale and strong again. Give me thy
hand! Aha, here's cool, unfevered blood! Show me thy tongue. Oho! Aha! A
little sup o' my black decoction--roots gathered at full o' moon--a little
sup and shall be thyself by to-morrow's dawn. But--as for thee, thou
good-for-naught, thou wicked elf--aha! would'st dare leave thy poor old
grannam weak and 'fenceless? Give me thy rogue-ear!" Obediently, the mighty
Dwarf arose and sighfully suffered the old woman to grasp him by the ear
and to tweak and wring and twist it as she would.
"What dost thou here i' the wild-wood, thou imp, thou poppet o' plagues,
thou naughty wap-de-staldees?"
To which Lobkyn, writhing and watering at the eyes, answered thus:
"Stay, prithee grannam, loose thy hold!
I would but be an outlaw bold,
An outlaw fierce that men shall fear--
Beseech thee, grand-dam, loose mine ear!"
"An outlaw, naughty one!" screeched the Witch, tweaking ear the harder.
"Dare ye tell me so, elf?"
LOBKIN: Aye, grand-dam--cuff me an ye will,
Nath'less an outlaw I'll be still,
And many a wicked rogue I'll kill--
O grand-dam, loose mine ear!
And day and night I'll slay until
All rogues my name do fear.
For grand-dam, I'm a fighter--O,
Beseech thee, let my ear go!
And bones shall crack and blood shall flow,
If any dare resist me.
And all the world my name shall know,
Pray by the ear don't twist me!
All men before my club shall fly,
All on their knees shall "mercy" cry,
Or mangled in their gore shall lie--
Ah, grand-dam, pray don't clout me!
Don't beat me, grannam dear, but try
To do awhile without me--
"Without thee, thou piece o' naughtiness?" screamed the old woman. "Now
will I lay my stick about thee--hold still, Rogue!"
Saying which, she proceeded to belabour the poor Dwarf with her knotted
stick, clutching him fast by his ear the while. Thus she be-thwacked him
soundly until he roared for mercy.
"Why, how now--how now?" cried a merry voice, and Robin strode into the
firelight. "Gentle Witch, sweet dame," quoth he, "what do ye with poor
"Thwack him shrewdly!"
"Which is, Witch, that which none but witch the like o' thee might do, for
lustier fighter and mightier dwarf never was. Thus, but for thy witch-like
witcheries, the which, Witch, witch do prove thee, but for this and the
power and potency of thy spells, now might he crack out thy life 'twixt
finger and thumb--"
"Ha, forest-rogue, 'tis a bad brat, a very naughty elf would run off into
the wild to be rogue like thee--an outlaw, forsooth!"
"Forsooth, Witch," laughed Robin, "outlaw is he in very truth, in sooth and
by my troth! Outlaw is Lob, banned by Church and Council of Ten, and so
proclaimed i' the market square of Canalise this very morn by sound o'
"How? How?" cried the old woman, wringing her trembling hands. "My Lobkyn
outlawed? My babe, my lovely brat, my pretty bantling, woe and alas! My
dear ugly one an outlaw?"
"Aye, marry is he, Witch, outlaw proclaimed, acclaimed, announced,
pronounced and denounced; as such described, ascribed and proscribed by
Master Gregory Bax, the port-reeve, for the late slaying and maiming of
divers of the city guard. So outlaw is Lobkyn, his life henceforth forfeit
even as mine."
"My Lobkyn an hairy outlaw i' the wild-wood! Out alas! And what of his poor
old grannam? What o' me--?"
"Content thee, sweet hag, since thou'rt outlawed along with him and, as
witch, doomed to die unpleasantly by fire and flame and faggot, if thou'rt
"Alack! Wala-wa! Woe 's me!" groaned the Witch, cracking her finger-bones.
"And all this by reason o' the Fool yonder."
"Why, the Fool is dubbed outlaw likewise, Witch," quoth Robin. "Outlaw is
he along o' thee and Tanner Will."
"And all by reason that this Fool must needs peril our lives for sake of
rogue-outlaw, of forest-robber, of knavish woodland-lurker--"
"Hight Robin!" laughed Robin, leaning on his long bow-stave. "Now, this
brave Fool having saved Robin his life, Witch, the which, Witch, was good
thing for Robin, our Fool next saved thee, Witch, which was nought to
Robin, in the which, Witch, Robin did not joy; for thou, old Witch, being
witch, art therefore full o' witcheries which be apt to be-devil a man and
fright his reason, for the which reason, being reasonable man, I reason,
for this reason, that, so reasoning, I love thee not. But thou art old,
Witch, which is good reason to reasonably reason thou art wise, Witch,
and, being wise, I on this wise would seek counsel of thy wisdom, Witch.
"Hold!" commanded the Witch; "here's a whirl o' windy wind! Hast more of
"Some little, Witch, which I will now, Witch--"
"Nay, then, Robin-a-Green, suffer me to rest my old bones whiles thy mill
clacks." Hereupon the old Witch seated herself beside the fire, with bony
knees up-drawn to bony chin. "Speak, outlaw Robin," she croaked, blinking
her red eyes, "and speak ye plain."
"Why, then, wise Witch, look 'ee: since we be outlaws each and every, with
all men's hands against us, with none to succour, and death watchful for
us, 'tis plain, and very plain, we, for our harbourage and defence, must in
the wild-wood bide--"
"Ho!" cried Lobkyn:
"It soundeth good,
The brave wild-wood,
Where flowers do spring
And birds do sing.
To slay the deer
And make good cheer,
With mead and beer,
The livelong year,
"Roar not, toad!" cried the Witch. "Say on--Rogue-Robin!"
"Why, mark me, good Witch, here's where buskin chafeth! Not long since I
ruled i' the wild-wood, a very king, with ten-score lusty outlaw-rogues
to do my will. To-day is there never an one, and for this reasonable
reason--to wit, I am hanged, and, being hanged, am dead, and, being dead,
am not, and thus Robin is nobody; and yet again, perceive me, Witch, being
Robin, I am therefore somebody; thus is nobody somebody, and yet somebody
that nobody will believe anybody. The which, Witch, is a parlous case,
methinks, for here am I, somebody, nobody and Robin altogether and at the
same time; therefore, Witch, o' thy witchful wisdom--who am I, what and
Here the Witch blinked and mowed, and cracked her finger-bones one after
another. Quoth she:
"For thy first, thou'rt thyself; for the second, a rogue; and for the
third, a wind-bag. I would thy second might tie up thy first in thy third."
"So should Robin choke Robin with Robin. But hark 'ee again, good, patient
dame. It seemeth that Ranulph the executioner betaketh him at cock-crow to
hang poor me; but, finding me not, made great outcry, insomuch that the
city guard, such as mighty Lob and Will had left alive, sought counsel
together; and taking one of their slain fellows, Ranulph hanged him in my
stead, and there he hangeth now, above the city gate, his face so marred
that he might be me or any other."
"This day, at sunset, came I unto the trysting-oak, and by blast of horn
summoned me my outlaw company. They came apace and in great wonderment,
for, seeing me, they fell to great awe and dread, thinking me dead, since
many had seen my body a-dangle on the gallows; wherefore, seeing me
manifestly alive, they took me for ghoulish ghost 'stead o' good flesh and
blood, and fled from me amain. So, by reason of my dead body, that is no
body o' mine, yet that nobody will believe is no body o' mine, they believe
that this my body is yet no body, but a phantom; the which is out of
reason; yet thus unreasonably do the rogues reason by reason of the body
that hangeth in place of my body above the city gate. Wherefore I reason
there is yet reason in their unreason, seeing this body was somebody, yet
no body o' mine, but which nobody among them can swear to. Which, Witch,
is a matter which none but wise witch may counsel me in. How say'st thou,
But for a while the old Witch scowled on the fire, bony chin on bony knees,
and dreamily cracked her finger-joints.
"Oho!" she cried suddenly. "Aha--a body that nobody's is, yet body that
everybody knoweth for body o' thine--aha! So must nobody know that nobody's
body is not thy body. Dost see my meaning, Robin-a-Green?"
"No whit, Witch! Thou growest involved, thy talk diffuse, abstruse and
altogether beyond one so obtuse as simple Rob--"
"Then hark 'ee again, Addlepate! Everybodymust believe nobody's body thy
body, so by dead body will I make thy live body of so great account to
everybody that nobody henceforth shall doubt dead body made live body, by
my witchcraft, and thou be feared, therefore, of everybody. Dost follow me
"Aye, truly, mother! And truly 'tis a rare subtlety, a notable wile, and
thou a right cunning witch and wise. But how wilt achieve this wonder?"
"Since dead thou art, I to life will bring thee. Oho, I will summon thee
through fire and flame; aha, I will make thee more dreaded than heretofore;
thy fame shall fill the wild-wood and beyond. Know'st thou the Haunted
Wood, hard by Thraxby Waste?"
Now here Robin's merry smile languished, and he rubbed nose with dubious
"Aye, I do," quoth he sombrely; "an ill place and--demon-rid, they say--"
"Come ye there to-morrow at midnight."
"Alone?" says Robin, starting.
"Nay, good Witch, most gentle, potent dame, I--though phantom accounted, I
love not phantoms, and Thraxby Waste--"
"Come ye there--at midnight!"
"Why, then, good Witch, an come I must, suffer that I bring the valiant
Fool and mighty Lob--prithee, now!"
At this the old Witch scowled and mumbled and crackled her finger-bones
louder than ever.
"Oho!" cried she at last, "thou great child, afraid-o'-the-dark, bring
these an ye will--but none other!"
"Good mother, I thank thee!"
"Tchak!" cried the Witch, and, struggling to her feet, hobbled to Jocelyn
and laid bony finger on wrist and brow, nodded, mumbled, and so, bent on
her staff, hobbled away; but, reaching the cave-mouth, she paused, and
smote stick to earth fiercely.
"To-morrow!" she croaked. "Midnight! Re--member!"
Tells how the Witch, with incantations dire,
In life to life brought Robin through the fire.
* * * * *
The wind was cold--indeed 'twas plaguy chill--
That furtive crept and crept, like something ill
Stealing with dreadful purpose in the dark,
With scarce a sound its stealthy course to mark;
While pallid moon did seem to swoon, as though
It ghastly things beheld on earth below;
And Robin gripped the good sword by his side,
And Joc'lyn looked about him watchful-eyed;
While Lobkyn Lollo felt and looked the bolder
By reason of the club across his shoulder.
"Here," whispered Robin, peering through the gloom,
"Is dismal place, I've heard, of death and doom.
Here do be ghosts and goblins, so 'tis said,
Demons, phantoms, spectres of the dead--"
"Aye, verily," quoth Lob, "and what is worse,
'Tis here my grand-dam oft doth come to curse,
And haunteth it with spiteful toads and bats,
With serpents fell, with ewts and clawful cats.
Here doth she revel hold o' moony nights,
With grave-rank ghouls and moaning spectral sprites;
And ... Saints! what's that?
A hook-winged bat?
Not so; perchance, within its hairy body fell
Is man or maid transformed by magic spell.
O, brothers, heedful be, and careful tread
Lest magic gin should catch and strike us dead!
O would my grannam might go with us here.
Since, being witch, she doth no witchcraft fear."
So came the three at last to Haunted Wood,
Where mighty trees in gloomy grandeur stood,
Their wide-flung boughs so closely interweaving
Scarce space between for ghostly moonbeams leaving;
But, snake-like, round each other closely twined,
In shuddering wind did mournful voices find,
And, groaning, writhed together to and fro
Like souls that did the fiery torment know.
Thus, in the wood, 'twas dark and cold and dank,
And breathed an air of things long dead and rank;
While shapes, dim-seen, did creep and flit and fly
With sudden squeak, and bodeful, wailing cry.
At last they reached a clearing in the wood,
Where, all at once, as 'mid the leaves they stood,
From Lobkyn's lips, loud, tremulous, and high,
There rose and swelled the owlet's shuddering cry.
Scarce on the air this dismal sound had died,
When they the Witch's hobbling form espied.
Beholding Robin, by the arm she caught him,
And to a place of rocks in haste she brought him;
And here, where bosky thickets burgeoned round,
She pointed to a chasm in the ground.
"Go down!" she hissed. "Go down, thou thing of clay,
Thou that art dead--into thy grave I say.
Since thou 'rt hanged, a dead man shalt thou be
Till from thy grave my spells shall summon thee--"
"My grave?" gasped Robin, blenching from her frown.
"Aye, Rogue!" she croaked. "Behold thy grave! Go down!"
So shiv'ring Robin, in most woeful plight,
Crept into gloom and vanished from their sight.
"O, Robin, Robin!" the old Witch softly cried,
"Alack, I'm here!" faint voice, below, replied.
"Thou dead," croaked she, "thou ghostly shade forlorn,
From charnel-vault sound now thy spectral horn,
Sound now thy rallying-note, then silent be
Till from thy mouldering tomb I summon thee!"
Now, on the stillness rose the ghostly sound
Of Robin's hunting horn that through the ground
Rang thin and high, unearthly-shrill and clear,
That thrilled the shivering woodland far and near,
And shuddering to silence, left behind
A whisper as of leaves in stealthy wind.
A rustling 'mid the underbrush they heard
Where, in the gloom about them, dim things stirred--
Vague, stealing shapes that softly nearer drew,
Till from the tree-gloom crept a ragged crew,
Wild men and fierce, a threatening, grimly herd,
Who stood like shadows, speaking not a word;
And the pale moon in fitful flashes played
On sword and headpiece, pike and broad axe-blade.
While the old hag, o'er witch-fire crouching low,
Puffed at the charcoal till it was aglow;
Then hobbling round and round her crackling fire,
She thus began her incantations dire:
"Come ye long-dead,
Ye spirits dread,
Ye things of quaking fear,
Ye poor, lost souls,
Ye ghosts, ye ghouls,
Haxwiggin bids ye here!
By one by two, by two by three,
Spirits of Night, I summon ye,
By three by four, by four by five,
Come ye now dead that were alive,
Come now I bid ye
From grave-clods rid ye,
From South and North,
I bid ye forth,
From East, from West,
At my behest--
Come great, come small,
Come one, come all,
Heed ye my call,
List to my call, I say,
From pitchy gloom
Of mouldered tomb
Here find ye room
For sport and holiday.
Come grisly ghosts and goblins pale,
Come spirits black and grey,
Ye shrouded spectres--Hail, O Hail!
Ho! 'tis your holiday.
Come wriggling snakes
From thorny brakes,
Come grimly things
With horny wings,
That flit, that fly,
That croak, that cry,
"Come ghouls, come demons one and all,
Here revel whiles ye may;
Ye noisome things that creep and crawl,
Come, sport and round me play.
Ho, claw and wing and hoof and horn,
Here revel till the clammy dawn.
Come to my spell,
Ho! 'tis your holiday!
So, are ye there,
High up in air,
The moonbeams riding
'Mid shadows hiding?
"Now gather round, ye spectral crew,
This night have we brave work to do--
Bold Robin o' the Green, 'tis said,
On gallows hangeth cold and dead
Beneath the sky
On gibbet high,
They in a noose did swing him.
Go, goblins, go,
And ere they know,
Unto me hither bring him."
Here paused the Witch to mend her glowing fire,
While each man to his neighbour shuffled nigher,
As witch-flame leapt and ever brighter grew,
Till, to their horror, sudden it burned blue;
Whereat each silent, fearful beholder
Felt in the gloom to touch his fellow's shoulder,
Yet, in that moment, knew an added dread
To see the fire from blue turn ghastly red;
Then, as the Witch did o'er it crooning lean,
Behold! it changed again to baleful green.
Whereat the Witch flung bony arms on high,
As though with claw-like hands she 'd rend the sky;
And while the lurid flames leapt ever higher,
She thus invoked the Spirit of the Fire.
"As fire doth change, yet, changed, unchanged doth burn,
By fiery spell shall dead to life return!
"Ho, goblins yonder--'neath the moon,
Have ye brought me the dead so soon?
Ha! is it Bxibin that ye bring,
That pale, that stiff, that clammy thing?
Now work we spell with might and main,
Shall make it live and breathe again.
"Now in and out,
And round about,
Ye wriggling rout,
With hoof and claw and wing;
Now high, now low,
Now fast, now slow,
Now to and fro
Tread we a magic ring.
"Thus, while the frighted moon doth peep,
We 'll wake this cold, dead thing from sleep,
Till Robin back to life shall leap.
And when he from the fire shall spring,
Ye outlaws hail him for your King.
"For on that wight
Who, day or night,
Shall Robin disobey
With purpose fell
I'll cast a spell
Shall wither him away.
"Ho, Robin! Ope thy death-cold eyes,
Ho, Robin! From thy grave arise,
Ho, Robin! Robin, ho!
Robin that doth bide so near me,
Robin, Robin, wake and hear me,
Ho, Robin! Robin, ho!
"Back to life I summon thee,
Through the fire thy path must be,
Through the fire that shall not harm thee,
Through flame that back to life shall charm thee,
Shall warm thy body all a-cold,
And make grim Death loose clammy hold.
Leap back to life by all men seen!"
Through curling smoke-wreaths and through writhing flame,
With mighty bound, bold Robin leaping came,
And by the Witch did in the fire-light stand,
Sword by his side and bugle-horn in hand,
And laughed full blithe as he was wont to do,
And, joyous, hailed his wild and ragged crew:
"What lads, are ye there forsooth? Is't Myles I see with lusty Watt and
John and Hal o' the Quarterstaff? God den t' ye, friends, and merry hunting
to one and all, for by oak and ash and thorn here stand I to live with
thee, aye, good lads, and to die with ye here in the good greenwood--"
But now and all at once from that grim and silent company a mighty shout
"'Tis Robin--'tis Robin, 'tis bold Robin-a-Green! 'Tis our Robin himself
come back to us!"
And fearful no longer, they hasted to him and clasped him in brawny arms,
hugging him mightily and making great rejoicing over him.
That tells almost as fully as it should,
The joys of living in the good greenwood.
* * * * *
Deep-hidden in the trackless wild the outlaws had made them a haven of
refuge, a camp remote and well sequestered. Here were mossy, fern-clad
rocks that soared aloft, and here green lawns where ran a blithesome brook;
it was indeed a very pleasant place shut in by mighty trees. Within this
leafy boskage stood huts of wattle, cunningly wrought; beneath the steep
were many caves carpeted with dried fern and fragrant mosses, while
everywhere, above and around, the trees spread mighty boughs, through which
the sun darted golden beams be-dappling the sward, and in whose leafy
mysteries the birds made joyous carolling.
And here beneath bending willows arched over this merry brook, one
sun-bright morning riotous with song of birds, sat Jocelyn with Robin
a-sprawl beside him.
"O brother," says Robin, "O brother, 't is a fair place the greenwood, a
fair, sweet place to live--aye, or to die in methinks, this good greenwood,
whereof I have made a song--hark 'ee!"
"Oho, it is a right good thing
When trees do bud and flowers do spring
All in the wood, the fair, green wood,
To hear the birds so blithely sing,
Adown, adown, hey derry down,
All in the good, green wood.
"Who cometh here leaves grief behind,
Here broken man hath welcome kind,
All in the wood, the fair, green wood.
The hopeless here new hope may find,
Adown, adown, hey derry down,
All in the kind, green wood.
"Ho, friend, 'tis pleasant life we lead,
No laws have we, no laws we need
Here i' the good, green wood.
For every man's a man indeed,
Adown, adown, hey derry down,
Here i' the good, green wood.
"All travellers that come this way
Must something in fair tribute pay
Unto the wood, the fair, green wood.
Or here in bonds is like to stay,
Adown, adown, hey derry down,
Lost in the good, green wood.
"Full many a lord, in boastful pride,
This tribute, scornful, hath denied
Unto the wood, the fair, green wood.
And thereupon hath sudden died,
Adown, adown, hey derry down,
All in the fair, green wood.
"And when our time shall come to die
Methinks we here may softly lie
Deep in the fair, green wood.
With birds to sing us lullaby,
Adown, adown, hey derry down,
All in the good, green wood."
"So there it is, brother--and life and death in a nutshell, as 'twere. Now,
wherefore wilt not join us and turn outlaw, good Fool?"
"For that I am a fool belike, Robin. Howbeit, I'm better Fool than outlaw."
"Say, rather, greater fool, Fool, for foresters' life is better than life
o' folly, and payeth better to boot, what with booty--ha! Moreover, I do
love thee, since, Fool, though fool, art wise in counsel and valiant beyond
thought--so 'tis I would not lose thee. Stay, therefore, and live my
comrade and brother, equal with me in all things. How say'st thou?"
"Why, Robin, I say this: True friendship is a goodly thing and a rare in
this world, and, therefore, to be treasured; 'tis thing no man may buy or
seek, since itself is seeker and cometh of itself; 'tis a prop--a staff
in stony ways, a shield 'gainst foes, a light i' the dark. So do I love
friendship, Robin, and thou'rt my friend, yet must leave thee, though
friendship shall abide."
Quoth ROBIN: How abide an we be parted?
"In heart and mind and memory, Robin. Moreover, though I go, yet will I
return anon, an life be mine."
"And wherefore go ye, brother?"
"First to seek my comrade."
"Thy comrade--ha! I mind him, a fierce great fellow with hawk's beak and a
fighting eye. And whither trend ye?"
"Art crazed, brother? 'Tis there death waiteth thee!"
"Yet must I go, Robin, since there my heart waiteth me."
"A maid, brother?"
"A maid, Robin."
"Heigho! So wilt thou go, come joy, come pain, come life or death, since a
maid is made to make man saint or devil, some days glad and some days sad,
but ever and always a fool. And thou art Fool by profession, and, being
lover professed and confessed, art doubly a fool; and since, good Folly,
love's but folly and thou, a Fool, art deep in folly, so is thy state most
"And dost think love so great folly, Robin?" said a soft voice, and,
looking round, they beheld the lovely, dark-tressed Melissa, who viewed
them bright-eyed and pouted red mouth, frowning a little.
"Aye, verily, lady," laughed Robin, as she sank on the grass beside them.
"Forsooth, 'tis a madness fond. For see, now, a man being in love is out of
"As how, Sir Outlaw?"
"Marry, on this wise--when man's in love he mopeth apart and is ill
company, so is he out o' friends; he hangeth humble head abashed, so is he
out o' countenance; he uttereth frequent, windy, sighful suspirations,
so is he out o' breath; he lavisheth lucre on his love, so is he out o'
pocket; he forsweareth food, despiseth drink, scorneth sleep, so is he
out o' health--in fine, he is out of all things, so is he out of himself;
therefore he is mad, and so may go hang himself!"
MELISSA: And hast thou loved, Robin?
ROBIN: Ever and always, and none but Robin!
MELISSA: And none more worthy, Robin?
ROBIN: And none more, as I am worthy Robin.
MELISSA: Lovest thou not Love, Robin?
ROBIN: Love, love not I.
MELISSA: Then Love canst thou know not.
ROBIN: Then if I love Love for Love's sake, must Love then love me,
MELISSA: If thy love for Love be true love, so shall Love love thee true.
ROBIN: Then if Love should love me for my sake, then would I love Love for
Love's sake; but since Love ne'er hath sought me for my sake, ne'er will I
seek Love for Love's sake for my sake, since Love, though plaguy sweet, is
a sweet plague, I judge and, so judging, will by my judgment stand.
MELISBA: And how think you, Sir Fool?
JOCELYN: I think if Love find Robin and Robin, so found of Love, shall
learn to love Love for Love's sake, Love shall teach Robin how, hi loving
Love--Love, if a plague, doth but plague him lovingly to his better
judgment of Love, till, being on this wise, wise--he shall judge of Love
lovingly, loving Love at last for Love's own lovely sake, rather than for
his own selfish self. For as there is the passion of love, the which is a
love selfish, so there is the true Spirit of Love, the which forgetteth
self in Love's self, thus, self-forgotten, Love is crowned by Love's true
MELISSA: How think ye of this, Robin?
ROBIN: By Cupid, we are so deep in love that we are like to drown of love
and we be not wary. Here hath my lovely jowlopped-crested brother so beset
poor Robin with Love and self and Robin, that Robin kens not which is Love,
Love's self or himself.
MELISSA: And yet I do think 'tis very plain! Yet an thou canst express this
plainer, prithee do, Sir Fool.
"Blithely, sweet lady, here will I frame my meaning in a rhyme, thus:
"Who loveth Love himself above,
With Love base self transcending
Love, Love shall teach how Love may reach
The Love that hath no ending.
"'Tis thus Love-true, Love shall renew,
Love's love thus waning never,
So love each morn of Love new-born,
Love shall live loving ever."
ROBIN: Aye, verily, there's Love and yet such a love as no man may find
JOCELYN: Never, Robin, until it find him. For true love, like friendship,
cometh unsought, like all other good things.
ROBIN: 'Las! then needs must I be no good thing since I am sought e'en now
of old Mopsa the Witch yonder!
And he pointed where the old creature hobbled towards them bent on her
crooked staff. Up rose Robin and, hasting to meet her, louted full low,
since she was held in great respect of all men by reason of her potent
spells. Chuckling evilly, she drew down Robin's tall head to whisper in his
ear, whereupon he laughed, clapped hand to brawny thigh, and taking old
Mopsa's feeble arm, hastened away with her. But Melissa, reclining 'neath
the willow-shade, gazed down into the murmurous waters of the brook with
eyes of dream whiles Jocelyn struck soft, sweet chords upon his lute. And
presently she turned to view him thoughtfully--his strange, marred face;
his eyes so quick and keen 'neath battered cock's-comb; his high, proud
bearing despite his frayed and motley habit; and ever her wonder grew
until, at last, she must needs question him:
"Fools, Sir Fool, have I seen a-many, both in the motley and out, but thou
art rare among all fools, I do think."
JOCELYN: Gramercy, lady! Truly fool am I of all fools singular.
MELISSA: Thou'rt he I heard, upon a day, sing strange, sweet songs, within
the marketplace of Canalise!
JOCELYN: The same, lady.
MELISSA: That soused my lord Gui head over ears in a lily-pool?
JOCELYN: Verily, lady.
MELISSA: O! Would one might do as much for Sir Agramore of Biename!
JOCELYN: One doubtless will, lady.
JOCELYN: Nay--one that loveth the disputatious bickering of sharp steel
better than I--one had rather fight than eat, and rather fight three men
"Three men?" cried Melissa, starting.
"Aye, lady--and six men than three!"
"There was such an one, Fool, in truth a very brave man, did fight three of
my Lord Agramore's foresters on my behalf. Dost know of such an one, Fool?"
"Methinks he is my comrade, Lady."
"Thy comrade--in truth? Then, pray you, speak me what seeming hath he."
"How so, Fool?"
"A great, fierce rogue is he, unlovely of look, bleak of eye, harsh of
tongue, hooked of nose, flinty of soul, stony of heart, of aspect grim and
"Then, verily, thy comrade have I never seen!" quoth Melissa, flushing and
with head up-flung. "He that saved me is nothing the like of this."
"And yet," said Jocelyn slyly, "'tis thus he hath been named ere now!"
"Nay, Fool, indeed he that saved me was tall and seemly man, very fierce
and strong in fight, but to me wondrous gentle--in truth, something
timorous, and, 'spite rusty mail, spake and looked like a noble knight."
"Then forsooth, lady, thy champion is no comrade of mine, for he is but a
poor rogue, ill-beseen, ill-kempt, ill-spoken, ill-mannered and altogether
ill, save only that he is my friend--"
"And thou speakest ill of thy ill friend, the which is ill in thee--ill
Fool!" and the fair Melissa rose.
"And pray, lady, didst learn thy preserver's name?"
"Indeed, for I asked him."
"And it was--?"
"Pertinax!" she sighed.
"Pertinax!" said Jocelyn, both in the same moment; the dark-browed Melissa
sat down again.
"So thy comrade and--he are one, Fool?"
"Indeed, lady. Yet here we have him, on the one hand, a man noble and
seemly, and, on the other, a poor rogue, hook-nosed, ill-beseen, ill--"
"'Tis thou hast miscalled him, Fool!" said she, frowning.
"Not I, lady."
"Ah!" said Melissa, frowning blacker than ever. "A maid, Fool? What maid?"
"A wandering gipsy o' the wood, lady--a dark-eyed damsel with long, black
curling hair and 'voice of sweet allure'--'tis so he named her--"
"This was belike some wicked witch!" said Melissa, clenching white fist.
"Aye, belike it was, lady, for she bestowed on him a strange jewel, a heart
in heart of crystal, that wrought for us in Canalise marvels great as our
wondrous Witch herself."
Now here the lovely Melissa's frown vanished, and her red lips curved to
"Belike this was no witch after all!" said she gently.
"Howbeit, lady," quoth Jocelyn slyly, "my poor comrade is surely bewitched
by her none the less. She hath wrought on him spell so potent that he
groweth mopish and talketh of her eyes, her hair, her sweet and gentle
voice, her little foot, forsooth."
"And doth he so, indeed?" said Melissa softly, and, twiddling one of
her own pretty feet, she smiled at it. "Doth he sigh o'er much?" she
"Consumedly! By the minute!"
"Poor soldier!" she murmured.
"Aye, poor rogue!" said Jocelyn; whereupon she frowned again, and turned
her back upon him.
"And he is thy comrade."
"Even so--poor knave!"
"And destitute--even as thou?"
"Aye, a sorry clapper-claw--even as I, lady."
"Then, pray thee, why doth he wear gold chain about his neck?"
"Such as only knights do wear!"
"Belike he stole it, lady--"
"Aye--belike he did!" said she, rising; then she sighed and laughed, and so
turned and left him.
And in a while Jocelyn rose also, and went on beside the brook; but as he
walked deep in thought, there met him Robin, he full of mirth and laughter.
"Oho, brother, good brother!" cried he joyfully, clapping hand on Jocelyn's
broad shoulder, "come away, now, and see what the good wind hath blown
hither--come thy ways and see!"
So came they where rose a great tree of huge girth, whose gnarled branches
spread far and wide, a veryforest of leaves, beneath whose shade were many
of the outlaws grouped about one who crouched miserably on his knees, his
arms fast bound and a halter about his neck; and, as obedient to Robin's
words the fierce company fell back, Jocelyn saw this torn and pallid
captive was none other than Ranulph the Hangman.
"Woe's me, my masters!" quoth he 'twixt chattering teeth. "'Tis pity poor
Ranulph must die before his time, for ne'er shall be found hangman,
headsman or torturer the like o' Ranulph--so dainty i' the nice adjustment
o' noose! So clean and delicate wi' the axe! So tender and thoughtful wi'
pincers, thumbscrew, rack or red-hot iron! A hangman so kindly o' soul, so
merry o' heart, alack, so free, so gay, so merry--forsooth a very wanton,
waggish, jovial bawcock-lad--"
"Why, then, good, merry wag," laughed Robin, "now shalt thou cut us an
antic aloft in air, shalt caper and dance in noose to our joyance! Up with
him, bully lads, and gently, that he may dance the longer!"
But as Ranulph was dragged, shivering, to his feet, Jocelyn stepped
"Stay!" he cried. "Look, now, here's hangman did but hang since hang he
must; must he hang therefore?"
ROBIN: Aye, marry, since hanging shall his hanging end!
JOCELYN: But if to hang his duty is, must he for duty hang? Moreover, if ye
hang this hangman, unhanged hangmen shall hang still, and since ye may not
all hangmen hang, wherefore should this hangman hang?
ROBIN: Brother, an this hangman hang, fewer hangmen shall there be to hang,
JOCELYN: Not so, Robin, for hangman dead begetteth hangman new; this
hangman hanged, hangman in his place shall hang men after him. Shall this
hangman hang for hanging as in duty bound, whiles other hangmen, unhanged,
hang still? Here, methinks, is small wisdom, little reason, and less of
ROBIN: Beshrew me, brother--but here's so much of hanging hanging on
hanging plaguy hangman that hang me if I get the hang on't--
JOCELYN: Plainly, Robin--wilt hang a man for doing his duty?
ROBIN: Plainly, brother--no. But--
JOCELYN: Then canst not hang this hangman, since hanging his duty is--
ROBIN: Yet 'tis base, vile duty--
JOCELYN: Yet duty it is--wherefore, an there be any justice in the good
greenwood, this hangman unhanged must go.
Now here Robin scowled, and his brawny fellows scowled likewise, and began
to mutter and murmur against Jocelyn, who, leaning back to tree, strummed
his lute and sang:
"O, Life is sweet, but Life is fleet,
O'er quick to go, alack!
And once 'tis spilt, try as thou wilt,
Thou canst not call it back!
"So bethink thee, bold Robin, and, as thou 'rt king o' the wild-wood, be
thou just king and merciful--"
"Now out upon thee, brother!" cried Robin, forgetting to scowl. "Out on
thee with thy honied phrases, thy quipsome lilting rhymes! Here go I to do
a thing I ha' no lust to do--and all by reason o' thee! Off--off wi' the
halter, lads--loose the hangman-claws of him! Hereafter, since he can pay
no ransom, he shall be our serf; to have a hangman fetch and carry shall
be rare, methinks!"
Quoth JOCELYN: How much should hangman's flesh be worth i' the greenwood,
"Why, brother, 'tis poor, sad and dismal knave; five gold pieces shall buy
him, aye--halter and all, and 'tis fair, good halter, look you!"
"Why, then," said Jocelyn, opening his wallet, "behold the monies, so do I
buy him of thee--"
"Now, by Saint Nick!" cried Robin, amazed. "Nay, brother, an thou'lt buy so
sorry a thing, give thy money to the merry lads; I'll none on't. And now,"
said he, the money duly paid, "what wilt do wi' thy hangman?"
"Sir Fool," cried Ranulph, falling on his knees at Jocelyn's feet, "fain
would I serve thee--e'en to the peril o' the life thou hast saved. Bid me
labour for thee and in labour shall be my joy, bid me fight for thee and I
will fight whiles life is in me; bid me follow thee and I will follow even
"Nay, hangman," said Jocelyn, "I bid thee rise and sing for us, and so be
gone wheresoever thou wilt."
Then Ranulph arose and glancing round upon the fierce company, from the
noose at his feet to Jocelyn's scarred face, he drew a great breath; quoth
"Sir Fool, since 'tis thy will fain would I give thee song blithe and
joyful since joy is in my heart, but alack, though my songs begin in merry
vein they do grow mournful anon; howbeit, for thy joy now will I sing my
cheeriest;" whereupon Ranulph brake into song thus:
"I am forsooth a merry soul,
Hey deny down, ho ho!
I love a merry song to troll,
I love to quaff a cheery bowl,
And yet thinks I, alas!
Such things too soon do pass,
And proudest flesh is grass.
Alack-a-day and woe,
Alack it should be so!
"A goodly lover I might be,
Merrily, ho ho!
But pretty maids in terror flee,
When this my hangman's head they see.
But woe it is, thinks I,
All fair, sweet dames must die,
And pale, sad corpses lie.
Alack-a-day and woe,
Alack it should be so!
"Fairest beauty is but dust,
Shining armour soon will rust,
All good things soon perish must,
Look around, thinks I, and see
All that, one day, dead must be,
King and slave and you and me.
Alack-a-day and woe,
Alack it must be so!"
"Out!" cried Robin. "Here forsooth is dolorous doleful dirge--out on thee
for sad and sorry snuffler!"
"Aye, verily," sighed Ranulph, "'tis my curse. I begin with laugh and end
in groan. I did mean this for merry song, yet it turned of itself sad song
despite poor I, and there's the pity on't--"
"Enough!" growled Robin, "away with him. Brand, do you hoodwink him in his
'kerchief and give him safe conduct to beyond the ford, and so set Master
Hangman Grimglum-grief on his road--"
"Sir Fool," cried Ranulph, "God den t'ye and gramercy. Should it be e'er
thy fate to die o' the gallows, may I have thy despatching--I will contrive
it so sweetly shalt know nought of it--oho! 'twould be my joy."
"Off!" cried Robin. "Off, thou pestiferous fungus lest I tread on
So the outlaws blindfolded Ranulph and led him off at speed.
"Away," quoth Jocelyn, nodding, "so now in faith must I, Robin--"
"What, is't indeed farewell, brother?"
"Why, then, what may I give thee in way o' love and friendship?"
"Behold it, brother! And what beside? Here is purse o' good pieces--ha?"
"Nay, Robin, prithee keep them for those whose need is greater."
"Can I nought bestow--dost lack for nothing, brother?"
"What thou, methinks, may not supply--"
"Horse and armour!" Now at this, Robin laughed and clapped hand to thigh;
"Come with Robin, brother!" So he brought Jocelyn into a cave beneath the
steep and, lighting a torch from fire that burned there, led him on through
other caves and winding passages rough-hewn in the rock, and so at last to
a vasty cavern.
And here was great store of merchandise of every sort,--velvets, silks,
and rich carpets from the Orient; vases of gold and silver, and coffers
strong-clamped with many iron bands. And here also, hanging against the
rocky walls, were many and divers suits of armour with helms and shields
set up in gallant array; beholding all of which Jocelyn paused to eye merry
Robin askance; quoth he soberly:
"Sir Rogue, how came ye by all this goodly furniture?"
"By purest chance, brolher," laughed Robin, "for hark 'ee--
"Chance is a wind to outlaws kind,
And many fair things blows us,
It--merchants, priors, lords, knights and squires,
And like good things bestows us--"
"Aye," said Jocelyn, "but what of all those knights and squires whose
armour hangeth here?"
"Here or there, brother, they come and they go. Ha, yonder soundeth
Ralfwyn's horn--three blasts which do signify some right fair windfall.
Come, let us see what this jolly wind hath blown us this time!" So
saying, Robin laughed and led the way out into the sunny green. And here,
surrounded by a ring of merry forest rogues, they beheld a knight right
gallantly mounted and equipped, his armour blazing in the sun, his gaudy
bannerole a-flutter from long lance, his shield gaudy and brave with new
paint; beholding which, Robin chuckled gleefully; quoth he:
"Oho! On a field vert three falcons gules, proper, charged with heart
ensanguined--aha, here's good booty, methinks!"
Now, as this splendid knight rode nearer, contemptuous of his brawny
captors, Robin stared to see that on his helmet he wore a wreath of
flowers, while lance and sword, mace and battle-axe were wreathed in
"Ho, Jenkyn, Cuthbert!" cried Robin, "what Sir Daintiness have ye here?"
But ere his grinning captors could make reply, the knight himself spake
"Behold a very gentle knight,
Sir Palamon of Tong,
A gentle knight in sorry plight,
That loveth love and hateth fight,
A knight than fight had rather write,
And strophes to fair dames indite,
Or sing a sighful song.
"By divers braggarts I'm abused,
'Tis so as I've heard tell,
Because, since I'm to fight unused,
I many a fight have bold refused,
And, thereby, saved my bones unbruised,
Which pleaseth me right well.
"No joy have I in steed that prances,
True gentle man am I
To tread to lutes slow, stately dances.
'Stead of your brutish swords and lances,
I love love's lureful looks and glances,
When hand to hand, unseen, advances,
And eye caresseth eye."
"And how a plague, Sir Gentleness," questioned Robin, "may eye caress eye?"
"E'en as lips voiceless may wooing speak, Sir Roguery, and tongue unwagging
tell tales o' love, Sir Ferocity."
ROBIN: Then had I the trick o' voiceless speech, now would I, with silly
tongue, tell thee thou art our prisoner to ransom, Sir Silken Softness.
SIR PALAMON: And I joy therefore, Sir Forest Fiend.
ROBIN: And wherefore therefore?
SIR PALAMON: For that therefore I need not to the joust, to that
bone-shattering sport of boastful, brutal braggadocios, but here, lapped
soft in the gentle green, woo the fair Yolande--
JOCELYN: How, knight, the fair lady Yolande, say'st thou?
SIR PALAMON: Even she.
JOCELYN: But here she is not and thou art, how then may one that is, woo
one is not?
SIR PALAMON: Gross mountebank, by thought--I woo in thought, breathe my
thought upon the balmy air and air beareth it to her feet.
ROBIN: And she treadeth on't, so there's an end o' thy love! But pray you,
Sir Downy Daintiness, how come ye that are so gentle so ungently dight?
Discourse, Sir Dove!
SIR PALAMON: In two words then, thou lewd lurcher o' the thickets; I ride
thus in steely panoply--the which doth irk me sore--by reason of the tongue
of my mother (good soul!) the which doth irk me more. For she (worthy
lady!) full-fed o' fatuous fantasies and fables fond, fuddled i' faith
o' faddling fictions as--gestes of jongleurs, tales told by tramping
troubadours, ballades of babbling braggarts, romances of roysterous
rhymers, she (good gossip!) as I say, having hearkened to and perused the
works of such-like pelting, paltry prosers and poets wherein sweep of sword
and lunge o' lance is accompted of worthier repute than the penning of
dainty distich and pretty poesies pleasingly passionate. She, I say--my
mother (God rest her!), e'en she with tongue most harsh, most bitter and
most unwearying, hath enforced me, her son (whom Venus bless!)--e'en I that
am soul most transcendental--I that am a very wing-ed Mercury--me, I say
she hath, by torrential tongueful tumult (gentle lady!), constrained to don
the habit of a base, brawling, beefy and most material Mars! Wherefore at
my mother's behest (gracious dame!) I ride nothing joyful to be bruised and
battered by any base, brutal braggart that hath the mind to try a tilt with
ROBIN: Hold! Take breath, gentle sir, for thine own sweet sake draw thy
SIR PALAMON: 'Tis done, fellow, 'tis done! And now in three words will
ROBIN: Cry ye mercy, sir, thy two words do yet halloo "Buzz-buzz" in mine
SIR PALAMON: Faith, robber-rogue, since I a tongue possess--
ROBIN: Therein thou art very son o' thy mother (whom St. Anthony cherish!).
SIR PALAMON: With this rare difference, outlaw--for whereas her tongue
(honoured relict!) is tipped with gall, wormwood, henbane, hemlock,
bitter-aloes and verjuice, and stingeth like the adder, the asp, the toad,
the newt, the wasp, and snaky-haired head of Medusa, mine--
ROBIN: Buzzeth, buzz, O buzz!
SIR PALAMON: Mine, thou paltry knave, I say mine--
JOCELYN: I pray you, Sir Knight, doth the Red Gui tilt at to-morrow's
SIR PALAMON: Base mime, he doth! My Lord Gui of Ells, Lord Seneschal of
Raddemore, is myfriend, a very mirror of knightly prowess, the sure might
of whose lance none may abide. He is, in very truth, the doughtiest
champion in all this fair country, matchless at any and every weapon, a-
horse or a-foot, in sooth a very Ajax, Achilles, Hector, Roland and Oliver
together and at once, one and indivisible, aye--by Cupid a very paladin!
"'Tis so I've heard," said Jocelyn thoughtfully.
SIR PALAMON: Two knights only there are might cope with him, and one Sir
Agramore and one Jocelyn of the Helm, Duke of Brocelaunde. The fame of
which last rumour hath so puffed up that thrice my Lord Gui hath sent his
cartel of defiance, but the said Duke, intent on paltry battles beyond his
marches, hath thrice refused, and wisely--so 'tis said.
"Aye me, messire," quoth Jocelyn, strumming his lute, "and so bloweth the
wind. Yet mayhap these twain shall meet one day."
ROBIN: And heaven send me there to see! Now as to thee, Sir Softly Sweet,
fair Lord of Tong, thy goodly horse and armour are mine henceforth,
first because thy need of them is nothing, secondly because thou art my
SIR PALAMON: And thirdly, Sir Riotous Roughness, I do freely on thee bestow
them, hide and hair, bolt and rivet.
ROBIN: Now as to thy ransom, Sir Mildly-Meek, at what price dost rate thy
value, spiritual and corporeal?
SIR PALAMON: Fellow, though youthful, well-favoured and poet esteemed, I am
yet marvellous modest! 'Tis true I am knight of lineage lofty, of patrimony
proud, of manors many--
ROBIN: Even as of thy words, Sir Emptiness.
SIR PALAMON: 'Tis also true, thou ignorant atomy, I, like Demosthenes, am
blessed with a wonder o' words and glory o' sweet phrase, and yet, and
here's the enduring wonder--I am still but man, though man blessed with so
much profundity, fecundity, and redundity of thought and expression, and
therefore a facile scribe or speaker, able to create, relate, formulate or
postulate any truth, axiomatic, sophistry subtle, or, in other words, I
ROBIN: Verily Sir Windbag thou dost, to narrate, thyself with wind
inflate, and, being thus thyself inflate of air, thou dost thyself deflate
of airy sounds which be words o' wind, and windy words is emptiness--thus
by thy inflatings and deflatings cometh nought but wind bred o' wind, and
nought is nothing, so nought is thy relation or narration; whereof make
now a cessation, so will I, in due form, formulate, postulate and
deliberate. Thus, with my good rogues' approbation and acclamation, I will
of thy just valuation make tabulation, and give demonstration in relation
to thy liberation from this thy situation, as namely, viz. and to-wit:
First thou art a poet; in this is thy marketable value to us nought, for
poets do go empty of aught but thought of sort when wrought, unbought;
thus go they short which doth import they're empty, purse and belly.
Second, upon thy testimony thou'rt a man. Go to! Here we be out again, for
on the score of manliness thou art not. Yet thou art flesh and blood--
good! for here we deal in such. Not that we yearn for thy flesh and blood,
but, being thine, they are to thee dear, perchance, and thou would'st fain
keep them alive a little longer; wherefore thou shalt for thy loved flesh
and blood pay--purchasing the same of us. And, as flesh varies, so do our
prices vary; we do sell a man his own flesh and blood at certain rateable
values. Thus unto a hangman we did of late sell a hangman, in fair good
halter, and he a hangman brawny, for no more than five gold pieces, the
which was cheap, methinks, considering the goodly halter, and he a lusty,
manly rogue to boot. Now as for thee, thou'rt soft and of a manlihood
indifferent, so would I rate thee at one gold piece.
SIR PALAMON: Ignorant grub! Am I less than base hangman--I, a knight--
ROBIN: True, Sir Knight, thou'rt a knight for no reason but that thou
art knight born and thus, by nought but being born, hath won to thyself
nobility, riches and honours such as no man may win either by courage,
skill, or learning, since highborn fool and noble rogue do rank high 'bove
such. So _thou_ art knight, Sir Knight, and for thy knighthood, thy lineage
lofty, thy manors many, mulcted thou shalt be in noble fashion. For thy
manhood I assess thee at one gold piece, but, since thou'rt son o' thy dam
(whom the Saints pity!) we do fine thee five thousand gold pieces--thy body
ours until the purchase made. Away with him, lads; cherish him kindly,
unarm him gently, and set him a-grinding corn till his ransom be
Now here was mighty roar of laughter and acclaim from all who heard,
only Sir Palamon scowled, and, for once mute and tongue-tied, was led
incontinent away to his labours.
"And now, brother," quoth Robin, turning where Jocelyn stood smiling and
merry-eyed, "what o' this armour dost seek, and wherefore?"
"Art a lovely robber, Robin," said he; "a very various rogue, yet no rogue
"I was not always outlaw, brother--howbeit, what would a Fool with horse
and knightly arms?"
Now Jocelyn, bending close, whispered somewhatin Robin's ear, whereon he
clapped hand to thigh, and laughed and laughed until the air rang again.
"Oho, a jape--a jape indeed!" he roared. "O lovely brother, to see proud
knight unhorsed by prancing motley Fool! Hey, how my heart doth jump for
gladness! An thou wilt a-tilting ride, I will squire thee--a Fool of a
knight tended by Rogue of a squire. O, rare--aha! oho! Come thy ways, sweet
brother, and let us set about this joyous jape forthwith!"
And thus it was that, as evening fell, there rode, through bowery bracken
and grassy glade, two horsemen full blithe and merry, and the setting sun
flashed back in glory from their glittering armour.
How Red Gui sore smitten was in fight
By motley Fool in borrowed armour dight.
* * * * *
Now shrill tucket and clarion, trumpet and horn
With their cheery summons saluted the morn,
Where the sun, in his splendour but newly put on,
Still more splendid made pennon and brave gonfalon
That with banners and pennoncelles fluttered and flew
High o'er tent and pavilion of every hue.
For the lists were placed here, for the tournament set,
Where already a bustling concourse was met;
Here were poor folk and rich folk, lord, lady and squire,
Clad in leather, in cloth and in silken attire;
Here folk pushed and folk jostled, as people still do
When the sitters be many, the seats scant and few;
Here was babble of voices and merry uproar,
For while some folk laughed loud, some lost tempers and swore.
Until on a sudden this tumult and riot
Was hushed to a murmur that sank into quiet
As forth into the lists, stern of air, grave of face,
Five fine heralds, with tabard and trumpet, did pace
With their Lion-at-arms, or Chief Herald, before;
And a look most portentous this Chief Herald wore,
And, though portly his shape and a little too round,
Sure a haughtier Chief Herald could nowhere be found.
So aloof was his look and so grave his demeanour,
Humble folk grew abashed, and mean folk felt the meaner;
When once more the loud clarions had all echoes woke
This Chief Herald in voice deep and sonorous spoke:
"Good people all,
Both great and small,
Ye noble dames of high degree
Your pretty ears now lend to me,
And much I will declare to ye.
Ye dainty lords of might and fame,
Ye potent gentles, do the same,
Ye puissant peers of noble name,
Now unto ye I do proclaim:
Oyez! Oyez! Oyez!"
Here pealed the trumpets, ringing loud and clear,
That deafened folk who chanced to stand too near.
In special one--a bent and hag-like dame,
Who bent o'er crooked staff as she were lame;
Her long, sharp nose--but no, her nose none saw,
Since it was hidden 'neath the hood she wore
But from this hood she watched with glittering eye
Four lusty men-at-arms who lolled hard by,
Who, 'bove their armour, bore on back and breast
A bloody hand--Lord Gui's well-hated crest,
And who, unwitting of the hooded hag,
On sundry matters let their lewd tongues wag:
THE FIRST SOLDIER: Why, she scorned him, 'tis well beknown!
THE SECOND SOLDIER: Aye, and it doth not do to scorn the Red Gui, look 'ee!
THE THIBD SOLDIER: She'll lie snug in his arms yet, her pride humbled, her
proud spirit broke, I'll warrant me!
THE FOURTH SOLDIER: She rideth hence in her litter, d'ye see; and with but
scant few light-armed knaves attendant.
THE FIRST SOLDIER: Aye, and our signal my lord's hunting-horn thrice
Thus did they talk, with laughter loud and deep,
While nearer yet the hooded hag did creep;
Now blew the brazen clarions might and main,
Which done, the portly Herald spake again:
"Good people, all ye lords and ladies fair,
Now unto ye forthwith I do declare
The charms of two fair dames beyond compare.
Oyez! Oyez! Oyez!
The first, our Duchess--Benedicta hight,
That late from Tissingors, her town, took flight,
To-day, returning here, doth bless our sight,
And view the prowess of each valiant knight;
Each champ-i-on, in shining armour dight,
With blunted weapons gallantly shall fight.
And, watched by eyes of ladies beamy-bright,
Inspired and strengthened by this sweet eye-light,
Shall quit themselves with very main and might;
The second:--in her beauty Beauty's peer,
Yolande the Fair, unto our Duchess dear,
For whose sweet charms hath splintered many a spear,
Throned with our lovely Duchess, sitteth here
With her bright charms all gallant hearts to cheer.
Now, ye brave knights, that nought but Cupid fear,
To these sweet dames give eye, to me give ear!
'Tis now declared--"
My daughter GILLIAN expostulateth:
GILL: O, father, now
You must allow
That your herald is rather a bore.
He talks such a lot,
And it seems frightful rot--
MYSELF: I hate slang, miss! I told you before!
If my herald says much,
Yet he only says such
As by heralds was said in those days;
Though their trumpets they blew,
It is none the less true
That they blew them in other folks' praise.
If my herald verbose is
And gives us large doses
Of high-sounding rodomontade,
You'll find they spoke so
In the long, long ago,
So blame not--O, blame not the bard.
But while we are prating
Our herald stands waiting
In a perfectly terrible fume,
So, my dear, here and now,
The poor chap we'll allow
His long-winded speech to resume:
"'Tis here declared by order of the Ten,
Fair Benedicta's guardians--worthy men!
Thus they decree--ye lovers all rejoice!
She shall by their command, this day make choice
Of him--O, him! O blest, thrice blessed he
Who must anon her lord and husband be.
'Tis so pronounced by her grave guardians ten,
By them made law--and they right reverend men!
And this the law--our lady, be it said,
This day shall choose the husband she must wed;
And he who wins our Duchess for his own
Crowned by her love shall mount to ducal throne,
So let each knight, by valiant prowess, prove
Himself most worthy to our lady's love.
Now make I here an end, and ending, pray
Ye quit you all like val'rous knights this day."
Thus spake the Chief Herald and so paced solemnly down the lists while the
long clarions filled the air with gallant music. But the lovely Benedicta,
throned beneath silken canopy, knit her black brows and clenched slender
hands and stamped dainty foot, yet laughed thereafter, whereupon Yolande,
leaning to kiss her flushed cheek, questioned her, wondering:
"How say'st thou to this, my loved Benedicta?"
Quoth the DUCHESS:
"I say, my sweeting, 'tis quite plain
That I must run away again!
Howbeit I care not one rush for their laws! Marry forsooth--a fig! Let them
make laws an they will, these reverend, right troublesome grey-beards of
mine, they shall never wed me but to such a man as Love shall choose me,
and loving him--him only will I wed, be he great or lowly, rich or poor,
worthy or unworthy, so I do love him, as is the sweet and wondrous way of
"Ah, Benedicta! what is love?"
"A joy that cometh but of itself, all unsought! This wisdom had I of a Fool
i' the forest. Go learn you of this same Fool and sigh not, dear wench."
"Nay, but," sighed Yolande, lovely cheeks a-flush, "what of Sir
Agramore--hath he not sworn to wed thee?"
"I do fear Sir Agramore no longer, Yolande, since I have found me one may
cope with him perchance--even as did a Fool with my Lord Gui of Ells upon a
tune. Art sighing again, sweet maid?"
"Nay, indeed--and wherefore should I sigh?"
"At mention of a Fool, belike."
"Ah, no, no, 'twere shame in me, Benedicta! A Fool forsooth!"
"Yet Fool of all fools singular, Yolande. And for all his motley a very
man, methinks, and of a proud, high bearing."
Here Yolande's soft cheek grew rosy again:
"Yet is he but motley Fool--and his face--marred hatefully--"
"Hast seen him smile, Yolande, for then--how, dost sigh again, my sweet?"
"Nay, indeed; but talk we of other matters--thy so sudden flight--tell me
all that chanced thee, dearest Benedicta."
"Why first--in thine ear, Yolande--my jewel is not--see!"
"How--how, alas! O most sweet lady--hast lost it? Thy royal amulet?"
"Bestowed it, Yolande."
"Benedicta! On whom?"
"A poor soldier. One that saved me i' the forest from many of Sir
Agramore's verderers--a man very tall and strong and brave, but dight in
ragged cloak and rusty mail--"
"Ragged? A thief--"
"A wolf's-head--a wild man and fierce."
"True he is very wild and very fierce, but very, very gentle--"
"And didst give to such thy jewel? O Benedicta! The Heart-in-heart?"
"Freely--gladly! He begged it of me very humbly and all unknowing what it
"O my loved Benedicta, alas!"
"O my sweet Yolande, joy!"
"But if he should claim thee, and he so poor and wild and ragged--"
"If he should, Yolande, if he should--
'He that taketh Heart-in-heart,
Taketh all and every part.'
O, if he should, Yolande, then I--must fulfil the prophecy. Nay, dear my
friend, stare not so great and sadly-eyed, he knoweth not the virtue of the
jewel nor have I seen him these many days."
"And must thou sigh therefore, Benedicta?"
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