Winning the Sheriff's Golden Arrow by Bertha E. Bush

It was very pleasant in Sherwood Forest to those who did not fear hardship, and Robin Hood and his men came to love every tree that grew and every bird that sang there. They did not mind that they had no houses to live in. They made themselves shelters of bark and logs to keep the rain off, and mostly they stayed in the open. They did not sigh for soft beds or fine tables and furnishings. They put down rushes and spread deer skins over them to lie on, and slept under the stars. They cooked over a great fire built beside a big tree, and they sat and ate on the ground.

More than a hundred men were in Robin Hood's band; every one was devoted to him and obeyed his slightest word. They were the best archers, the best wrestlers, the best runners and the best wielders of cudgel and quarter-staff in all the country, and they grew better continually, for they practiced these things every day.

Robin Hood was the best archer in all the land. Even the king had heard of his wonderful marksmanship, and even though he knew him an outlaw, he had an admiring and almost kindly feeling for this bold outlaw who shot so marvelously well. But the greedy lords and churchmen who oppressed the people hated Robin Hood; and the sheriff of Nottingham hated him most of all, and wished above all things to hang him on the gallows.

He was a cruel, hard man with no kindness in his bosom, and all his spite was turned against Robin Hood, because every time that he tried to catch him, Robin outwitted him. Now he was especially angered, for he had sent a messenger with a warrant to take Robin Hood and the merry Robin had met the messenger and feasted him, and then, while he was asleep after the feast, stolen the very warrant out of his pocket so that he had to go back to the sheriff without man or warrant either. So the sheriff of Nottingham used all his wits to get another plan to take Robin Hood. It was plainly of no use to send men, no matter how stout, with warrants after him. He must be coaxed into their clutches.

"I have it," said the sheriff of Nottingham at last, with a very sour look on his grim face. "I'll catch him by craft. I'll proclaim a great archery festival, and get all the best archers in England to come here to shoot. I'll offer for the prize an arrow of beaten gold. That will be sure to fetch Robin Hood and his men here, and then I'll catch them and hang them."

Now Robin Hood and his men did come to the archery contest. But they did not come in the suits of Lincoln green that they wore as men of the forest. Each man dressed himself up to seem somebody else. Some appeared as barefoot friars, some as traveling tinkers or tradesmen, some as beggars, and some as rustic peasants. Robin Hood was the hardest to recognize of all.

"Don't go, master," his men had begged. "This archery contest is just a trap to catch you. The sheriff of Nottingham and his men will be looking for you and they will know you by your hair and eyes and face and height, even if you wear different clothes. The sheriff has made this festival just to lure you to death. Don't go."

But Robin Hood laughed merrily.

"Why, as to my yellow hair, I can stain that with walnut stain. As to my eyes, I can cover one of them with a patch and then my face will not be recognized. I would scorn to be afraid, and if an adventure is somewhat dangerous, I like it all the better."

So Robin Hood went, clad from top to toe in tatteredscarlet, the raggedest beggarman that had ever been seen in Nottingham. The field where the contest was to be held was a splendid sight. Rows and rows of benches had been built on it for the gentlefolk to sit on, and they wore their best clothes and were gayer than birds of paradise. As for the sheriff and his wife, they wore velvet, the sheriff purple and his lady blue. Their rich garments were trimmed with ermine. They wore broad gold chains around their necks, and the sheriff had shoes with wondrously pointed toes that were fastened to his gold-embroidered garters by golden chains. Oh! they were dressed very splendidly, and if their faces had been kind, they would have looked beautiful. But their faces were full of pride and hate. The sheriff was looking everywhere with spiteful glances for Robin Hood, and very cross he was that he did not see Robin there.

But Robin was there, though the sheriff did not see him. There he stood in his ragged beggar's garments, not ten feet away from the sheriff.

The targets were placed eighty yards from where the archers were to stand. Pace that off, and see what a great distance it is. There were a great number of archers to shoot and each was to have one shot. Then the ten who shot best were to shoot two arrows each; and the three who shot best out of the ten were to shoot three arrows apiece. The one who came nearest to the center of the target was to get a prize.

The sheriff looked gloweringly at the ten.

"I was sure that Robin Hood would be among them," he said to the man-at-arms at his side. "Could no one of these ten be Robin Hood in disguise?"

"No," answered the man-at-arms. "Six of these I know well. They are the best archers in England. There is Gill o' the Red Cap, Diccon Cruikshank, Adam o' the Dell, William o' Leslie, Hubert o' Cloud, and Swithin o'Hertford. Of the four beside, one is too tall and one too short and one not broad-shouldered enough to be Robin Hood. There remains only this ragged beggar, and his hair and beard are much too dark to be Robin Hood's, and beside, he is blind in one eye. Robin Hood is safe in Sherwood Forest."

Even as he spoke, the man-at-arms was glad, for he was but a common soldier, and he loved Robin Hood and wished no harm to come to him. One reason why Robin Hood got away from the sheriff so many times was that the common people, even among the sheriff's own men, were friendly to him and helped him all they could. The gatekeepers shut their eyes when Robin Hood went through the gates that they might say they had not seen him enter. Hardly any one would betray him, and many, when they knew of evil being planned against him, sent warning to him. But even the man-at-arms who loved him did not recognize Robin Hood today.

The ten made wonderful shots. Not one arrow failed to come within the circles that surrounded the center. But when the three shot, it was more wonderful still. Gill o' the Red Cap's first arrow struck only a finger's breadth from the center, and his second was nearer still. But the beggar's arrow struck in the very center. Adam o' the Dell, who had one more shot, unstrung his bow when he saw it.

"Fourscore years and more have I shot shaft, and beaten many competitors, but I can never better that," he said.

The prize of the golden arrow belonged to the tattered beggar, but the sheriff's face was very sour as he gave it to him. He tried to induce him to enter his service, promising great wages.

"You are the best archer I have ever seen," he said. "I trow you shoot even better than that rascal and coward of a Robin Hood who dared not show his face here today. Will you join my service?"

"No, I will not," answered the scarlet-clad stranger, and then the sheriff looked at him so spitefully that he knew it was well to get away. As he walked toward Sherwood Forest, the sheriff's words rankled.

"I cannot bear to have even my enemy think that I am a coward," he said to Little John. "I wish there was a way to tell the sheriff that it was Robin Hood that won his golden arrow."

And they found a way. That evening the sheriff sat at supper, and though the supper was a fine one, his face was gloomy.

"I thought I could catch that rascal Robin Hood by means of this archery contest," he said to his wife, "but he was too much of a coward to show his face here."

Just then something came through the window and fell rattling among the dishes on the table. It was a blunted gray goose quill with a bit of writing tied to it. The sheriff unfolded the writing. It told that it was Robin Hood who had won the golden arrow. When the sheriff read it, even his wife thought best to slip away, for he was the crossest man in Nottingham.