19. The Hermit of Alford Abbey

Friar Tuck was the hermit of Alford Abbey, a plump faced cleric with a tonsured head burnt dark by the sun. He was dressed in a stained brown habit with the tattered cowl thrown back. Round his neck was a rosary and round his waist was a good broadsword. Contented in the warm sunshine, he was seated with his back against a giant oak singing a duet, with himself: first in a high shrill voice, then a deep bass.

“There was a lover and his lass,
Sat ‘neath a spreading oak,
And lest his heart should break apart,
The doting lover spoke:
‘Come sing low, come sing high;
Come change thy name to mine,
And you shall eat my capon pie,
And drink my Malmsey wine.’”

Robin had managed to come upon the fat friar unnoticed and hidden behind the tree he observed the friar’s merry game.
“We have meat and drink enough,” said Friar Tuck, (to himself) "but what is meat and drink without a merry song?”
So pleased with the first two verses, the friar cleared his throat and commanded, “now together!” And in a bass voice took up the next two lines:

“The maiden turned her head away
And answered ill at ease:”

The bass shot up alarmingly into falsetto:

“ ‘Is it in sport you pay me court
With such low words as these?’”

Robin had joined in with the second verse. As the notes died away the startled friar grabbed the wine bottle and spun around the tree.
“Spy on me, will you, you meddling prying snoopy-nose!” He roared.
“Nay,” said Robin making a gesture of peace. “We should not quarrel, who have sung together so sweetly.”

“What seek you here?” The friar asked.
“Would you lend me the breadth of your back to carry me over the stream?” Asked Robin pressing his sword into Friar Tuck’s fat stomach.
“Since you press me with such arguments,” he replied philosophically and walked down to the edge of water.

Robin Hood sheathed his sword and climbed onto the stout friar’s back.
As soon as they reached the farther bank, Friar Tuck sprung his surprise and pulled out his own broadsword and pushed its point into Robin’s chest.
“How now!” Said the rosy cheeked friar. “I carried you over. You carry me back!”

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