Chapter 5 | Young Robin Hood


"As far as you like, Robin," said the outlaw, "only you must be wise. Don't go far enough to lose your way. Learn the forest by degrees. Some day you will not be able to lose yourself."

"But suppose I did lose myself," said the boy; "what then?"

"I should have to tell Little John to bring all my merry men to look for you, and Maid Marian here would sit at home and cry till you were found."

"Then I will not lose myself," said Robin. And he always remembered his promise when he took his bow and arrows and, with his sword hanging from his belt, went away from the outlaws' camp for a long ramble.

His bow was just as high as he was himself, that being the rule in archery, and his arrows, beautifully made by Little John, were just half the length of his bow.

As to his sword, that was a dagger in a green shark-skin sheath given to him by Robin Hood, who said rightly enough that it was quite big enough for him.

Maid Marian found a suitable buckle for the belt, one which Little John cut out of a very soft piece of deer-skin, the same skin forming the cross-belt which went over the boy's shoulder and supported his horn.

For he was supplied with a horn as well, this being necessary in the forest, and Robin Hood himself taught him in the evenings how to blow the calls by fitting his lips to the mouthpiece and altering the tone by placing his hand inside the silver rim which formed the mouth.

It was not easy, but the little fellow soon learned. All the same, though, he made some strange sounds at first, bad enough, Little John declared, to give one of Maid Marian's cows the tooth-ache, and frighten the herds of deer farther and farther away.

That was only at the first, for young Robin very soon became quite a woodman, learning fast to sound his horn, to shoot and hit his mark, and to find his way through the great wilderness of open moorland and shady trees.

But it was more than once that he lost his way, for the trees and beaten tracks were so much alike and all was so beautiful that it was easy to wander on and forget all about finding the way back through the sun-dappled shades.

And so it happened that one morning when the outlaw band had gone off hunting, to bring back a couple of fat deer for Robin Hood's larder, young Robin started by himself, bow in hand, down one of the lovely beech glades, and had soon gone farther than he had been before.

The squirrels dropped the beech mast and dashed away through the trees, to chop and scold at him; the rabbits started from out of the ferns and raced away fast, showing the under part of their white cotton tails, before they plunged into their shady burrows; and twice over, as the boy softly passed out of the shade into some sunny opening, he came upon little groups of deer--beautiful large-eyed thin-legged does, with their fawns--grazing peacefully on the soft grass which grew in patches between the tufts of golden prickly furze, for they were safe enough, the huntsmen being gone in search of the lordly bucks, with their tall flattened horns if they were fallow deer, small, round, and sharply pointed if they were roes.

There was always something fresh to see, and he who went slowly and softly through the forest saw most. At such times as this young Robin would stop short to watch the grazing deer and fawns with their softly dappled hides, till all at once a pair of sharp blue eyes would spy him out, and the jay who owned those eyes would set up his soft speckled crest, show his fierce black moustachios, and shout an alarm again in a harsh voice--"Here's a boy! here's a boy!" and the does would leave off eating, throw up their heads, and away the little herd would go, nip--nip--nip, in a series of bounds, just as if their thin legs were so many springs, their black hoofs coming down close together and just touching the short elastic grass, which seemed to send them off again.

"I wish they wouldn't be afraid of me," young Robin said. "I shouldn't hurt them."

But the does and fawns did not know that, for as Robin said this he was fitting an arrow to his bow-string, and threatening to send it flying after the shrieking jay which had given the alarm. He forgot, too, that he had eaten heartily of delicious roasted fawn only a few days before.

As he wandered on through glades where the sun seemed to send rays of glowing silver down through the oak or beech leaves as if to fill the golden cups which grew beneath them among the soft green moss, he would come out suddenly perhaps on one of the sunny forest pools, perhaps where the water was half covered with broad flat leaves, among which were silver blossoms, in other places golden, with arrow weed at the sides, along with whispering reeds and sword-shaped iris plants. There beneath the floating leaves great golden-sided carp and tench floated, and sometimes a fierce-eyed green-splashed pike, while over all flitted and darted upon gauzy wings beautiful dragon-flies, chasing the tiny gnats--blue, brown, golden, and golden-green--and now and then encountering and making their wings rustle as they touched in rapid flight. Then as he stood with his hand resting against a tree trunk, peering forward, a curious little head with bright crimson eyes divided the sedge or reeds growing in the water, its owner looking out to see if there was any danger; and as it looked, Robin could see that the bird's beak seemed to be continued right up into a fiat red plate between its eyes.

[Illustration: Robin stood with his hand resting against a tree trunk.]

Then it came sailing out, swimming by means of its long thin legs and toes, coming right into the opening, looking of a dark shiny brownish green, all but its stunted tail, the under part of which was pure white, with a black band across.

Little John told him afterwards that it was a moor-hen, even if it was a cock bird. It was, not this which took so much of Robin's attention, but the seven or eight little dark balls which followed it out along one of the lanes of open water, swimming here and there and making dabs with their little beaks at the insects gliding about the top.

It was so quiet and seemed so safe that directly after the reeds parted again and another bird swam out from among the sheltering reeds. Robin knew this directly as a drake, but he had never before seen one with such a gloriously green head, rich chestnut-colored breast, soft gray back, or glistening metallic purple wing spots.

Robin could have sent a sharp-pointed arrow at this beautiful bird, and perhaps have killed it, for he knew well that roast duck or drake is very nice stuffed with sage and onions, and with green peas to eat therewith; but he never thought of using his bow, and he was content to feast his eyes upon the bird's beauty and watch its motions.

The drake took no notice of the moor-hen and her dusky dabs, but swam right out in the middle, seemed to stand up on the water, stretching out his neck and flapping his wings so sharply that something right on the other side moved suddenly, and Robin saw that there was another bird which he had not seen before--a long-necked, long-legged, loose-feathered gray creature with sharp eyes and a thin beak, standing in the water and staring eagerly at the drake as much as to say:

"What's the matter there?" while he uttered aloud the one enquiring cry--


"Wirk--wirk--wirk!" said the drake.

"Quack, quack, quack, quack!" came from out of the reeds, and a brown duck came sailing out, followed by ten little yellow balls of down with flat beaks, swimming like their mother, but in a hurried pop-and-go-one fashion, in and out, and round and round, and seeming to go through country dances on the water in chase of water beetles and running spiders or flies, while the duck kept on uttering a warning quack, and the drake, who, first with one eye and then with the other, kept a sharp look up in the sky for falcons and hawks, now and then muttered out a satisfied "Wirk--wirk--wirk!"

Robin was Just thinking how beautiful it all was, when the danger for which the drake was watching in the sky suddenly came from the water beneath.

One of the downy yellow dabs had swum two yards away from the others and his mother, after a daddy long-legs which had flown down on to the surface of the water, and had opened its little flat beak to seize it, when there was a whirl in the water, a rush and splash, and two great jaws armed with sharp teeth closed over the duckling, which was visible one moment, gone the next, and Robin drew an arrow out to fit to his bow-string.

But he was too late to send it whizzing at the great pike, which had given a whisk with its tail and gone off to some lair in the reeds to peacefully swallow the young duck, while the rest followed their quacking father and mother back to the shelter of the reeds, rushes, and sedge, where the moor-hen and her brood were already safe, while, startled by the alarm, the heron bent down as it spread its great gray wing's, sprang up, gave a few flaps and flops, and began to sail round above the pool till it grew peaceful again, when, stretching out its legs, the heron dropped back into the water, stood motionless gazing down with meditative eyes as if quite satisfied that no fish would touch it, and then, _flick_!

It had taken place so rapidly that Robin hardly saw the movement, but certainly the heron's beak was darted in amongst the bottoms of the reeds where they grew out of the water, and directly afterwards the bird straightened itself again, to stand up with a kicking green frog in its scissor-shaped beak.

Then there was a jerk or two, which altered the frog's position, and the beak from being only a little way open was shut quite close, and a knob appeared in the heron's long neck, went slowly lower and lower, and then disappeared altogether.

Then the heron shuffled its wings a little as if to put the feathers quite straight, said "_Phenk_" loudly twice over, and shut one eye.

For the bird had partaken of a satisfactory dinner, and was thinking about it, while young Robin sighed and thought it seemed very dreadful; but the next moment he was watching a streak of blue, which was a kingfisher with a tiny silver fish in its beak, and thinking he was beginning to feel hungry himself.

So he left the side of the pool with another sigh, the noise he made sending off the great gray heron, and after a little difficulty he found his way back to the outlaws' camp and his own dinner, which, oddly enough, was not roast buck or fawn, but roast ducks and a fine baked pike, cooked in an earthen oven, with plenty of stuffing.

Then, being hungry, young Robin partook of his own meal, and forgot all about what he had seen.