Saturday, October 26, 2013

Robin Hood meeteth the tall Stranger on the Bridge

..bookS ON THE BRidge.

an excerpt from 

of Great Renown, in Nottinghamshire.
By   Howard Pyle


          ...and of the merry adventure that gained him his good right-hand man, 
the famous Little John.

       Up rose Robin Hood one merry morn when all the birds were singing blithely among the leaves, and up rose all his merry men, each fellow washing his head and hands in the cold brown brook that leaped laughing from stone to stone.  Then said Robin: "For fourteen days have we seen no sport, so now I will go abroad to seek adventures forthwith. But tarry ye, my merry men all, here in the greenwood; only see that ye mind well my call. Three blasts upon the bugle horn I will blow in my hour of need; then come quickly, for I shall want your aid."
      So saying, he strode away through the leafy forest glades until he had come to the verge of Sherwood. There he wandered for a long time, through highway and byway, through dingly dell and forest skirts...but adventure found he none. At last he took a road by the forest skirts; a bypath that dipped toward a broad, pebbly stream spanned by a narrow bridge made of a log of wood. As he drew nigh this bridge he saw a tall stranger coming from the other side. Thereupon Robin quickened his pace, as did the stranger likewise; each thinking to cross first.
       "Now  stand  thou  back,"  quoth  Robin,  "and let the better man cross first."
       "Nay,"  answered the stranger,  "then  stand  back thine  own  self,  for  the  better  man,  I  wot, am  I." 
       "That will we presently see," quoth Robin; "and meanwhile stand thou where thou art, or else, by the bright brow of Saint ÆlfridaI will show thee right good Nottingham play with a clothyard shaft betwixt thy ribs."
       "Now," quoth the stranger, "I will tan thy hide till it be as many colors as a beggar's cloak, if thou darest so much as touch a string of that same bow that thou holdest in thy hands."
       "Thou pratest like an ass," said Robin, "for I could send this shaft clean through thy proud heart before a curtal friar could say grace over a roast goose at Michaelmastide."
       "And thou pratest like a coward," answered the stranger, "for thou standest there with a good yew bow to shoot at my heart, while I have nought in my hand but a plain blackthorn staff wherewith to meet thee."
       "Now," quoth Robin, "by the faith of my heart, never have I had a coward's name in all my life before. I will lay by my trusty bow and eke my arrows, and if thou darest abide my coming, I will go and cut a cudgel to test thy manhood withal."
       "Ay, marry, that will I abide thy coming, and joyously, too," quoth the stranger; whereupon he leaned sturdily upon his staff to await Robin.
       Then Robin Hood stepped quickly to the coverside and cut a good staff of ground oak, straight, without flaw, and six feet in length, and came back trimming away the tender stems from it, while the stranger waited for him, leaning upon his staff, and whistling as he gazed round about. Robin observed him furtively as he trimmed his staff, measuring him from top to toe from out the corner of his eye, and thought that he had never seen a lustier or a stouter man. Tall was Robin, but taller was the stranger by a head and a neck, for he was seven feet in height. Broad was Robin across the shoulders, but broader was the stranger by twice the breadth of a palm, while he measured at least an ell around the waist.
       "Nevertheless," said Robin to himself, "I will baste thy hide right merrily, my good fellow;" then, aloud, "Lo, here is my good staff, lusty and tough. Now wait my coming, an thou darest, and meet me, an thou fearest not; then we will fight until one or the other of us tumble into the stream by dint of blows."
       "Marry, that meeteth my whole heart!" cried the stranger, twirling his staff above his head, betwixt his fingers and thumb, until it whistled again.
       Never did the Knights of Arthur's Round Table meet in a stouter fight than did these two. In a moment Robin stepped quickly upon the bridge where the stranger stood; first he made a feint, and then delivered a blow at the stranger's head that, had it met its mark, would have tumbled him speedily into the water; but the stranger turned the blow right deftly, and in return gave one as stout, which Robin also turned as the stranger had done. So they stood, each in his place, neither moving a finger's breadth back, for one good hour, and many blows were given and received by each in that time, till here and there were sore bones and bumps, yet neither thought of crying "Enough," or seemed likely to fall from off the bridge. Now and then they stopped to rest, and each thought that he never had seen in all his life before such a hand at quarter-staff. At last Robin gave the stranger a blow upon the ribs that made his jacket smoke like a damp straw thatch in the sun. So shrewd was the stroke that the stranger came within a hair's breadth of falling off the bridge; but regained himself right quickly, and, by a dexterous blow, gave Robin a crack on the crown that caused the blood to flow. Then Robin grew mad with anger, and smote with all his might at the other; but the stranger warded the blow, and once again thwacked Robin, and this time so fairly that he fell heels over head into the water, as the queen pin falls in a game of bowls.
       "And where art thou now, good lad?" shouted the stranger, roaring with laughter.
       "Oh, in the flood and floating adown with the tide," cried Robin; nor could he forbear laughing himself at his sorry plight. Then, gaining his feet, he waded to the bank, the little fish speeding hither and thither, all frightened at his splashing.
       "Give me thy hand," cried he, when he had reached the bank. "I must needs own thou art a brave and a sturdy soul, and, withal, a good stout stroke with the cudgels. By this and by that, my head hummeth like to a hive of bees on a hot June day."
       Then he clapped his horn to his lips, and winded a blast that went echoing sweetly down the forest paths. "Ay, marry," quoth he again, "thou art a tall lad, and eke a brave one, for ne'er, I trow, is there a man betwixt here and Canterbury Town could do the like to me that thou hast done."
         "And thou," quoth the stranger, laughing, "takest thy cudgelling like a brave heart and a stout yeoman."
       But now the distant twigs and branches rustled with the coming of men, and suddenly a score or two of good stout yeomen, all clad in Lincoln green, burst from out the covert, with merry Will Stutely at their head.    
       "Good master," cried Will, "how is this? Truly thou art wet from head to foot, and that to the very skin."
       "Why, marry," answered jolly Robin, "yon stout fellow hath tumbled me neck and crop into the water, and hath given me a drubbing beside."
       "Then shall he not go without a ducking and eke a drubbing himself!" cried Will Stutely. "Have at him, lads!"
       Then Will and a score of yeomen leaped upon the stranger, but though they sprang quickly they found him ready and felt him strike right and left with his stout staff, so that, though he went down with press of numbers, some of them rubbed cracked crowns before he was overcome.
       "Nay, forbear!" cried Robin, laughing until his sore sides ached again; "he is a right good man and true, and no harm shall befall him. Now hark ye, good youth, wilt thou stay with me and be one of my band? Three suits of Lincoln green shalt thou have each year, beside forty marks in fee, and share with us whatsoever good shall befall us. Thou shalt eat sweet venison and quaff the stoutest ale, and mine own good right-hand man shalt thou be, for never did I see such a cudgel-player in all my life before. Speak! wilt thou be one of my good merry men?"
       "I will be thy man henceforth and for aye," cried the stranger.
       "Then have I gained a right good man this day,"quoth jolly Robin. "What name goest thou by, good fellow?"
       "Men call me John Little whence I came."
       Then Will Stutely, who loved a good jest, spoke up. "Nay, fair little stranger," said he, "I like not thy name and fain would I have it otherwise. Little art thou indeed, and small of bone and sinew, therefore shalt thou be christened Little John, and I will be thy godfather."
       Then Robin Hood and all his band laughed aloud until the stranger began to grow angry.
       "An thou make a jest of me," quoth he to Will Stutely, "thou wilt have sore bones and little pay, and that in short season."
       "Nay, good friend," said Robin Hood, "bottle thine anger for the name fitteth thee well. Little John shalt thou be called henceforth, and Little John shall it be. So come, my merry men, and we will go and prepare a christening feast for this fair infant."  


Printed by  C h ar l e s  S c r i b n e r's  S o n s  at
     Nos. 597-599  Fifth Ave. and sold by same



Howard Pyle and daughter Phoebe

Howard Pyle was born March 5, 1853 in Wilmington, Delaware and died November 9, 1911 in Florence, Italy. He was one of America's best-loved illustrators and founded the Brandywine school of painting.  Howard Pyle had an enormous impact on the world of American illustration and literature which continues to this day.

Howard Pyle was a Quaker and attended the Friends' School in Wilmington. But, as Pyle himself later recalled, "I spent my time largely in scrawling drawings on my slate and in my books."  Realizing their son's lack of interest in studying, his parents gave up their idea of sending Howard to college and, instead, encouraged him to study art. At sixteen he began three years of daily commutes to Philadelphia in order to study under the Belgian artist Van der Weilen. 

Three years later he set up a studio in Wilmington and helped his father in his leather business while beginning his career as an illustrator. His earliest work was published in Scribner's Monthly in 1876. That same year he moved to New York, where he was associated with the Art Students' League from 1876-77. His early illustrations, short stories and poems appeared in the leading New York periodicals at that time, including Harpers Weekly.

Howard Pyle flourished as an illustrator and author, gaining an international reputation.  In America he became something of a national celebrity.

In 1910, Howard Pyle relocated his family to Florence, Italy where he hoped to learn the technique of mural painting. It was his second trip abroad. In November of 1911, he suddenly became ill and died of a kidney infection. He was only 58 years old. 

                         Based on Vici Churchman's biography at Howard Pyle

Two images from some of Howard Pyle's earliest published work in Scribner's Monthly, 1898

..bookS ON THE BRidge.. is a series of articles on this site that feature literature that includes bridges, actual or metaphorical.

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