Maid Marian, by Thomas Love Peacock

Chapter XVII

              Oh! this life

Is nobler than attending for a check,

Richer than doing nothing for a bribe

Prouder than rustling in unpaid-for silk.

Cymbeline.

So Robin and Marian dwelt and reigned in the forest, ranging the glades and the greenwoods from the matins of the lark to the vespers of the nightingale, and administering natural justice according to Robin’s ideas of rectifying the inequalities of human condition: raising genial dews from the bags of the rich and idle, and returning them in fertilising showers on the poor and industrious: an operation which more enlightened statesmen have happily reversed, to the unspeakable benefit of the community at large. The light footsteps of Marian were impressed on the morning dew beside the firmer step of her lover, and they shook its large drops about them as they cleared themselves a passage through the thick tall fern, without any fear of catching cold, which was not much in fashion in the twelfth century. Robin was as hospitable as Cathmor; for seven men stood on seven paths to call the stranger to his feast. It is true, he superadded the small improvement of making the stranger pay for it: than which what could be more generous? For Cathmor was himself the prime giver of his feast, whereas Robin was only the agent to a series of strangers, who provided in turn for the entertainment of their successors; which is carrying the disinterestedness of hospitality to its acme. Marian often killed the deer,

Which Scarlet dressed, and Friar Tuck blessed While Little John wandered in search of a guest.

Robin was very devout, though there was great unity in his religion: it was exclusively given to our Lady the Virgin, and he never set forth in a morning till he had said three prayers, and had heard the sweet voice of his Marian singing a hymn to their mutual patroness. Each of his men had, as usual, a patron saint according to his name or taste. The friar chose a saint for himself, and fixed on Saint Botolph, whom he euphonised into Saint Bottle, and maintained that he was that very Panomphic Pantagruelian saint, well known in ancient France as a female divinity, by the name of La Dive Bouteille, whose oracular monosyllable “Trincq,” is celebrated and under-stood by all nations, and is expounded by the learned doctor Alcofribas, 6 who has treated at large on the subject, to signify “drink.” Saint Bottle, then, was the saint of Friar Tuck, who did not yield even to Robin and Marian in the assiduity of his devotions to his chosen patron. Such was their summer life, and in their winter caves they had sufficient furniture, ample provender, store of old wine, and assuredly no lack of fuel, with joyous music and pleasant discourse to charm away the season of darkness and storms.

6 Alcofribas Nasier: an anagram of Francois Rabelais, and his assumed appellation.

The reader who desires to know more about this oracular divinity, may consult the said doctor Alcofribas Nasier, who will usher him into the adytum through the medium of the high priestess Bacbuc.

Many moons had waxed and waned, when on the afternoon of a lovely summer day a lusty broad-boned knight was riding through the forest of Sherwood. The sun shone brilliantly on the full green foliage, and afforded the knight a fine opportunity of observing picturesque effects, of which it is to be feared he did not avail himself. But he had not proceeded far, before he had an opportunity of observing something much more interesting, namely, a fine young outlaw leaning, in the true Sherwood fashion, with his back against a tree. The knight was preparing to ask the stranger a question, the answer to which, if correctly given, would have relieved him from a doubt that pressed heavily on his mind, as to whether he was in the right road or the wrong, when the youth prevented the inquiry by saying: “In God’s name, sir knight, you are late to your meals. My master has tarried dinner for you these three hours.”

“I doubt,” said the knight, “I am not he you wot of. I am no where bidden to day and I know none in this vicinage.”

“We feared,” said the youth, “your memory would be treacherous: therefore am I stationed here to refresh it.”

“Who is your master?” said the knight; “and where does he abide?”

“My master,” said the youth, “is called Robin Hood, and he abides hard by.”

“And what knows he of me?” said the knight.

“He knows you,” answered the youth “as he does every way-faring knight and friar, by instinct.”

“Gramercy,” said the knight; “then I understand his bidding: but how if I say I will not come?”

“I am enjoined to bring you,” said the youth. “If persuasion avail not, I must use other argument.”

“Say’st thou so?” said the knight; “I doubt if thy stripling rhetoric would convince me.”

“That,” said the young forester, “we will see.”

“We are not equally matched, boy,” said the knight. “I should get less honour by thy conquest, than grief by thy injury.”

“Perhaps,” said the youth, “my strength is more than my seeming, and my cunning more than my strength. Therefore let it please your knighthood to dismount.”

“It shall please my knighthood to chastise thy presumption,” said the knight, springing from his saddle.

Hereupon, which in those days was usually the result of a meeting between any two persons anywhere, they proceeded to fight.

The knight had in an uncommon degree both strength and skill: the forester had less strength, but not less skill than the knight, and showed such a mastery of his weapon as reduced the latter to great admiration.

They had not fought many minutes by the forest clock, the sun; and had as yet done each other no worse injury than that the knight had wounded the forester’s jerkin, and the forester had disabled the knight’s plume; when they were interrupted by a voice from a thicket, exclaiming, “Well fought, girl: well fought. Mass, that had nigh been a shrewd hit. Thou owest him for that, lass. Marry, stand by, I’ll pay him for thee.”

The knight turning to the voice, beheld a tall friar issuing from the thicket, brandishing a ponderous cudgel.

“Who art thou?” said the knight.

“I am the church militant of Sherwood,” answered the friar. “Why art thou in arms against our lady queen?”

“What meanest thou?” said the knight.

“Truly, this,” said the friar, “is our liege lady of the forest, against whom I do apprehend thee in overt act of treason. What sayest thou for thyself?”

“I say,” answered the knight, “that if this be indeed a lady, man never yet held me so long.”

“Spoken,” said the friar, “like one who hath done execution. Hast thou thy stomach full of steel? Wilt thou diversify thy repast with a taste of my oak-graff? Or wilt thou incline thine heart to our venison which truly is cooling? Wilt thou fight? or wilt thou dine? or wilt thou fight and dine? or wilt thou dine and fight? I am for thee, choose as thou mayest.”

“I will dine,” said the knight; “for with lady I never fought before, and with friar I never fought yet, and with neither will I ever fight knowingly: and if this be the queen of the forest, I will not, being in her own dominions, be backward to do her homage.”

So saying, he kissed the hand of Marian, who was pleased most graciously to express her approbation.

“Gramercy, sir knight,” said the friar, “I laud thee for thy courtesy, which I deem to be no less than thy valour. Now do thou follow me, while I follow my nose, which scents the pleasant odour of roast from the depth of the forest recesses. I will lead thy horse, and do thou lead my lady.”

The knight took Marian’s hand, and followed the friar, who walked before them, singing:

When the wind blows, when the wind blows From where under buck the dry log glows,

What guide can you follow,

O’er brake and o’er hollow,

So true as a ghostly, ghostly nose?

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Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 16:24