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They are featured in a Poem by Alfred Noyes, published in the early 20th century. The lovers, of course, are from the 18th century. Their love affair ends tragically, like Romeo and Juliet, and yet, it also has a positive note, unlike Romeo and Juliet, as they are reunited in the after-life.
The Highwayman still comes to visit Bess at the Inn after their demise.
Ah, now we have romantic ghosts! Love it. You will, too. With the coming full moon this week, enjoy this poem and imagine a bit of ghostly courtship taking place on a lonely, moonlit road, as gentleman caller rides up to the old abandoned inn door and pays a visit to the lovely, pale Bess, the Landlord's Black eyed daughter . . .
Part one of this excerpt was in the previous post, and the following lines are from Part II of the famous poem.
When we left the lovely Bess on Friday, she was having a bad night as the soldiers came to the inn and seem to be settling in. She's worried, for you see, her lover, the highwayman, promised to come to her that night.
The Highwayman, Part II by Alfred Noyes:
He [the highwayman] did not come in the dawning; he did not come at noon;
And out o' the tawny sunset, before the rise o' the moon,
When the road was a gypsy's ribbon, looping the purple moor,
A red-coat troop came marching—Marching—marching—
King George's men came marching, up to the old inn-door.
They said no word to the landlord, they drank his ale instead,
But they gagged his daughter and bound her to the foot of her narrow bed;
Two of them knelt at her casement, with muskets at their side!
There was death at every window; And hell at one dark window;
For Bess could see, through her casement, the road that he would ride.
They had tied her up to attention, with many a sniggering jest;
They had bound a musket beside her, with the barrel beneath her breast!
"Now, keep good watch!" and they kissed her.
She heard the dead man say—
"Look for me by moonlight;
Watch for me by moonlight;
I'll come to thee by moonlight, though Hell should bar the way!"
She twisted her hands behind her; but all the knots held good!
She writhed her hands till her fingers were wet with sweat or blood!
They stretched and strained in the darkness, and the hours crawled by like years,
Till, now, on the stroke of midnight,
Cold, on the stroke of midnight,
The tip of one finger touched it! The trigger at least was hers!
The tip of one finger touched it; she strove no more for the rest!
Up, she stood up to attention, with the barrel beneath her breast,
She would not risk their hearing; she would not strive again;
For the road lay bare in the moonlight;
Blank and bare in the moonlight;
And the blood of her veins in the moonlight throbbed to her love's refrain.
Tlot-tlot; tlot-tlot! Had they heard it? The horse-hoofs ringing clear;
Tlot-tlot, tlot-tlot, in the distance? Were they deaf that they did not hear?
Down the ribbon of moonlight, over the brow of the hill,
The highwayman came riding, Riding, riding!
The red-coats looked to their priming!
She stood up, straight and still!
Tlot-tlot, in the frosty silence! Tlot-tlot, in the echoing night!
Nearer he came and nearer! Her face was like a light!
Her eyes grew wide for a moment; she drew one last deep breath,
Then her finger moved in the moonlight,
Her musket shattered the moonlight,
Shattered her breast in the moonlight and warned him— with her death.
He turned; he spurred to the West; he did not know who stood
Bowed, with her head o'er the musket, drenched with her own red blood!
Not till the dawn he heard it, his face grew grey to hear
How Bess, the landlord's daughter,
The landlord's black-eyed daughter,
Had watched for her love in the moonlight, and died in the darkness there.
Back, he spurred like a madman, shrieking a curse to the sky,
With the white road smoking behind him and his rapier brandished high!
Blood-red were his spurs i' the golden noon; wine-red was his velvet coat,
When they shot him down on the highway,
Down like a dog on the highway,
And he lay in his blood on the highway, with the bunch of lace at his throat.
And still of a winter's night, they say, when the wind is in the trees,
When the moon is a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
When the road is a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,
A highwayman comes riding—Riding—riding—
A highwayman comes riding, up to the old inn-door.
Over the cobbles he clatters and clangs in the dark inn-yard;
He taps with his whip on the shutters, but all is locked and barred;
He whistles a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there
But the landlord's black-eyed daughter,
Bess, the landlord's daughter,
Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair
Again, if you are looking for a musical rendition of the this lovely poem, check out Lorena McKennitt's version from her Book of Secrets CD. The link is here again for your convenience:
Lorena McKennitt's rendition of "The Highwayman"
For Romance Novels featuring a highwayman, here is a brief listing:
A Perfect Hero by Samantha James 2005 ---I enjoyed this story so much I can still remember it years later. The hero is a masked highwayman who kidnaps the heroine from a carriage and keeps her in his isolated cottage in the woods as his prisoner.
The Highwayman (Wicked Games Series) by Michele Hauf, 2010.---here is a paranormal twist on the old legend, as the highwayman is cursed to roam the highways forever hunting demons. The novel takes place in modern times. My personal favorite.
Other titles you might like:
Lord Midnight by Donna Cummings 2012
Secrets of the Highwayman, by Sarah McKenzie 2012
The Highwayman's Daughter by Anne Avery, 2012
The Highwayman's Mistress by Francine Howarth 2011
The Raven's Revenge by Gina Black, 2010
If you enjoy movies, there is a great Movie called Plunkett and McCleane from 1999. It takes place in 18th century England, and while not the pure Highwayman story of the poem, it has similar themes, with the robbers Plunkett and McCleane as masked highwaymen holding up the rich in their carriages and there is a love interest of Liv Tyler for McCleane. Well done if you like period dramas. I've enjoyed this older movie again and again, but then I enjoy most movies that take place in the 18th century. This one had it all, romance, intrigue, adventure and humor!
Movie Trailer on YouTube
Now then, if you're looking for more masked men fighting injustice, well, there is Batman, Zorro, among others, and of course the usual modern day marvel comic heroes ranging from the Green Lantern to Spider Man. Somehow, they just don't hold a candle to the romantic old 18th Century image of the masked highwayman on the horse confronting a carriage on a dark road.