“Yes, please,” said the boy, dolefully.
“What? Don’t want to ride on one of the mules, do you?”
“Yes, I do,” said the boy. “I should be more comfortable sitting on one of the packs. I’m sure aunt would have said I was to sit there, if she had known.”
“Look here, young squire,” said the man, sourly; “you’ve too much tongue, and you know too much what aren’t good for you. Your aunt, my old missus, says to me:
“‘David,’ she says, ’you are to take young Master Robin behind you on the horse, where he can hold on by your belt, and you’ll never lose sight of him till you give him into his father the Sheriff’s hands, along with the bales of cloth; and you can tell the Sheriff he has been a very good boy during his visit’; and now I can’t.”
“Why can’t you?” said the boy, sharply.
“’Cause you’re doing nothing but squirming and working about behind my saddle. I shall never get you to the town, if you go on like this.”
The boy puckered up his forehead, and was silent as he wondered whether he could manage to sit still for the two hours which were yet to elapse before they stopped for the night at a village on the outskirts of Sherwood Forest, ready to go on again the next morning.
“I liked stopping with aunt at Ellton,” said the little fellow to himself, sadly, “and I should like to go again; but I should like to be fetched home next time, for old David is so cross every time I move, and——”
“Look here, young fellow,” growled the man, half turning in his saddle; “if you don’t sit still I’ll get one of the pack ropes and tie you on, like a sack. I never see such a fidgety young elver in my——Oh, look at that!”
The man gave a tug at his horse’s rein; but it was not needed, for the stout cob had cocked its ears forward and stopped short, just as the mules in front whisked themselves round, and the men who drove them began to huddle together in a group.
For all at once the way was barred by about a dozen men in rough weather-stained green jerkins, each with a long bow and a sheaf of arrows at his back, and a long quarter-staff in his hand.
David, confidential servant and head man to Aunt Hester, of the cloth works at Ellton, looked sharply round at the half-dozen heavily-laden mules behind him; and beyond them he saw another dozen or so of men, and more were coming from among the trees to right and left.
“Hoi! all of you,” cried David to his men. “Swords out! We must fight for the mistress’s cloth.”
As he spoke, he seized the hilt of his sword and began to tug at it; but it would not leave its sheath, and all the while he was kicking at his horse’s ribs with his heels, with the result that the stout cob gave a kick and a plunge, lowered its head, and dashed off at a gallop, with David holding on to the pommel.
Two of the men made a snatch at the reins, but they were too late, and turned to the mule-drivers, who were following their leader’s example and trying to escape amongst the trees, leaving the mules huddled together, squealing and kicking in their fright.