The Highwayman


Written Text

I

The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty

trees.

The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy s

eas.

The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple

moor,

And the highwayman came riding—

Riding—riding—

The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door.

He’d a French cocked-hat on his forehead, a bunch o

f lace at his chin,

A coat of the claret velvet, and breeches of brown

doe-skin.

They fitted with never a wrinkle. His boots were up

to the thigh.

And he rode with a jewelled twinkle,

His pistol butts a-twinkle,

His rapier hilt a-twinkle, under the jewelled sky.

Over the cobbles he clattered and clashed in the da

rk inn-yard.

He tapped with his whip on the shutters, but all wa

s locked and barred.

He whistled 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 h

air.

And dark in the dark old inn-yard a stable-wicket c

reaked

Where Tim the ostler listened. His face was white a

nd peaked.

His eyes were hollows of madness, his hair like mou

ldy hay,

But he loved the landlord’s daughter,

The landlord’s red-lipped daughter.

Dumb as a dog he listened, and he heard the robber

say—

“One kiss, my bonny sweetheart, I’m after a prize t

o-night,

But I shall be back with the yellow gold before the

morning light;

Yet, if they press me sharply, and harry me through

the day,

Then look for me by moonlight,

Watch for me by moonlight,

I’ll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should

bar the way.”

He rose upright in the stirrups. He scarce could re

ach her hand,

But she loosened her hair in the casement. His face

burnt like a brand

As the black cascade of perfume came tumbling over

his breast;

And he kissed its waves in the moonlight,

(O, sweet black waves in the moonlight!)

Then he tugged at his rein in the moonlight, and ga

lloped away to the west.

II

He did not come in the dawning. He did not come at

noon;

And out of the tawny sunset, before the rise of the

moon,

When the road was a gypsy’s ribbon, looping the pur

ple 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 a

le 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 snig

gering jest.

They had bound a musket beside her, with the muzzle

beneath her breast!

“Now, keep good watch!” and they kissed her. She he

ard the doomed 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 wit

h sweat or blood!

They stretched and strained in the darkness, and th

e 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 le

ast was hers!

The tip of one finger touched it. She strove no mor

e for the rest.

Up, she stood up to attention, with the muzzle bene

ath her breast.

She would not risk their hearing; she would not str

ive again;

For the road lay bare in the moonlight;

Blank and bare in the moonlight;

And the blood of her veins, in the moonlight, throb

bed to her love’s refrain.

Tlot-tlot; tlot-tlot! Had they heard it? The horseh

oofs ringing clear;

Tlot-tlot; tlot-tlot, in the distance? Were they de

af 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 ligh

t.

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 hi

m—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 blood!

Not till the dawn he heard it, and his face grew gr

ey 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, shouting a curse to

the sky,

With the white road smoking behind him and his rapi

er brandished high.

Blood red were his spurs in the golden noon; wine-r

ed 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 a bunc

h of lace at his throat.

. . .

And still of a winter’s night, they say, when the w

ind is in the trees,

When the moon is a ghostly galleon tossed upon clou

dy seas,

When the road is a ribbon of moonlight over the pur

ple 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 l

ocked 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 h

air.