Posted on Sunday, 7 January 2001
Authors' note: This story is based off the poem, The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes. This idea struck our nuggets one night while listening to Lorena McKennitt's CD--she put this poem to song. For those of you who haven't read it, we've provided a link at the bottom for the entire poem. Enjoy! ;-)
A cold wind howled through the bare limbs of the trees. Clouds raced across the sky, occasionally hiding the full moon. It was a night most people kept indoors by the warmth of their fire. The sound of a horse riding hard along the road echoed across the moor. A lone rider appeared out of the darkness and he reigned into to survey his surroundings. The moon peered beyond the clouds, momentarily illuminating the stranger. He was a handsome man, with a haughty mien. The moonlight glinted off his pistol butts, turning his lace cravat an ethereal white and draining the color from his claret coat.
The moon sunk behind the clouds and then reappeared one more time, revealing a small inn in the distance. The stranger urged his horse forward to this building. The sound of its hooves clattered over the empty inn yard. He looked about him for signs of life, but the windows were dark and the doors locked. He stopped underneath one certain window and whistled a peculiar tune. Several moments passed then the window above him opened.
A woman with dark glossy hair and what the stranger preferred to call "fine eyes" leaned out at his summons. She was braiding a red ribbon into hair. "Is it you, Fitzwilliam?" she called softly.
Fitzwilliam Darcy smiled. "Who else would it be, my love?" he asked.
In the darkness of the inn yard, an even darker shadow moved silently across the cobblestones. It went unnoticed by the two young lovers, who had eyes only each other.
"When will you take me away from here?" the lady asked. "My father becomes more insistent every day that I marry the Scottish sheep farmer, George Wickham."
"Oh my Elizabeth, do not worry. You will not have to marry that vile sheepherder," Fitzwilliam replied. "Tonight I will make my fortune. Tomorrow I shall return for you with enough gold to live on so that we may marry. But if I am pursued through the day, then look for me tomorrow by the moonlight."
Elizabeth Bennet smiled. "And we will go to Gretna Green?"
"Depend upon it, my love. Now give me a kiss and I will be off."
Darcy raised up in the saddle to take her hand, but he could not reach it. Elizabeth undid her hair and let it spill out the window. The highwayman caressed her black locks with his fingers and laid a soft kiss upon them before turning his horse and galloping off to the west. Elizabeth watched him disappear into the darkness before closing her shutter.
In the stillness of the yard, the shadow shuffled forward into the moonlight, muttering angrily to himself. He looked up at Elizabeth's window. "He shall not have you, my precious Elizabeth," Tim Collins, the stableman, growled. "If I cannot have your love, then no one will!" His mad eyes looked to the west, where the highwayman had gone. "No one!" He staggered off, cackling to himself.
The day passed slowly for Elizabeth for Fitzwilliam did not appear that morning. She kept herself occupied with memories of their past encounters, especially the first time.
A tall, dark-haired man strode in through the inn door. He looked about him contemptuously, even more so, when the sniveling innkeeper, one Mr. Bennet appeared at his elbow. Elizabeth watched from her position by the hearth, where she was preparing that day's meal. She blushed as her father bowed and scraped to the man before him, who seemed to grow more contemptuous with every passing moment.
"All I want is a room," the man sneered, "if they are relatively clean." His eyes swept across the room and rested momentarily on the young woman.
Elizabeth blushed and looked away, mortified at being caught staring.
Her first impression of him had not been very favorable. His disdainful treatment of her father, and his insulting behavior towards herself hardly recommended him to her good opinion. But during the course of his stay, something changed.
A pair of stern eyes followed her movements about the room. She would occasionally glance over at him, wondering what he was thinking, but his expression was enigmatical. She sighed before continuing her work, doing her best ignore him.
And then that fateful day...
She was alone. Her father had gone to the village for supplies, leaving the running of the inn to her. A pair of drunken travelers happened upon the inn, demanding room and board. When they saw she was alone, they began to take liberties with her. Elizabeth tried to fend them off in vain.
Suddenly one man collapsed to the floor with a groan. The other man was pinned to the wall with a rapier at his throat. She would never forget the burning rage in Darcy's eyes as he held the man captive. He made them apologize before escorting them, none too gently, out of the inn.
From that day forward, Fitzwilliam appointed himself as her guardian. Slowly, Elizabeth began to see another side to him, tender and caring. And perhaps the inevitable happened... They fell in love. The days that followed were some of the happiest in her life.
Then one day, a troop of soldiers arrived, looking for Darcy. He was exposed as a wanted man, a feared highwayman, the infamous Gentleman Robber. This did not make one wit of difference to Elizabeth, for she knew his true nature and would love him for it. It was through her contrivance that Fitzwilliam escaped. But he could not stay away. He risked detection by coming under cover of darkness to see her. Those stolen moments were more precious to her than anything in this world.
Darkness was falling over the moor. Elizabeth watched through the window for any sign of her love. In the distance a cloud of dust could be seen on the road and her heart quickened in anticipation. She ran out the inn and to the road to meet her beloved. As the cloud moved closer, she could discern several figures and the last gleam of the sun revealed their blood-red coats. She gasped in alarm. It was a troop of King George's soldiers.
Elizabeth ran back to the inn, hoping that the troop was not searching for the highwayman. Alas it was not to be. Their corporal pounded on the inn door before bursting inside. He ignored the innkeeper's protests as spoke to his men.
"All right lads, I want a post at every window. The scoundrel will not escape this time." He turned to see the innkeeper's daughter standing by her father and smirked. "Drag the lass to her room and tie her to keep her quiet. I do not want her getting out to warn the rogue."
Elizabeth screamed as two of the soldiers grabbed her and dragged her away. She fought like she had never fought before but still they overpowered her. They laughed as they tied a musket beside her; the barrel aimed at her heart.
The one called Denny sneered and said, "Now keep good watch, my girl! We will get your gentleman, just wait and see." Then he gave her a mocking kiss as the others snickered derisively. "To your places!" he ordered.
Two men kneeled at her window, watching the road that the highwayman would travel.
Tears slipped down Elizabeth's face as she gazed out into the darkness, remembering his words from the previous evening. Look for me tomorrow by the moonlight. A sudden resolve replaced her sorrow. She would save him by any means possible. Her thoughts raced until they settled on the only possible solution.
All through those dark hours, Elizabeth strained at her bonds until her hands were damp with the effort. Whether it was blood or sweat, she did not know. Finally, after what seemed an eternity, her fingers touched the trigger on the musket.
Then in the silence of the night, a faint noise could be heard. Elizabeth raised her head as she heard the distinct sound of a horse's hooves clattering down the road. The soldiers had not heard it yet.
The horse came closer, the sounds of its approach growing louder. One the soldiers stirred. "Eh, Carter, do you hear something?" he asked.
Carter peered out the window and listened. "Yes, it is him!" He turned to another soldier at door. "Go inform the corporal." He glanced at his captive before loading his musket.
Elizabeth prayed softly as the men in the window took aim down the road. The sound moved closer, so deathly close. She took a shuddering breath and whispered, "I love you Fitzwilliam." Her finger pressed down on the trigger. The bullet tore through her breast and the report of the gun echoed throughout the moor.
Darcy reigned in as the roaring of the musket ripped through the night. He did not hesitate but turned his horse back down the road and galloped to safety.
Darcy stumbled wearily into a tavern some miles from the inn. He slumped down at one of the tables as the proprietor approached him.
"You look like you have had a rough ride, man," the barkeep said.
Darcy could only nod.
"Where do you come from?" the man asked. He was fond of the sound of his own voice and detested silence.
The highwayman pointed to the east.
"Ah! So you might have some information about the ______ Inn. I was told this morning of some dire happenings there."
Darcy looked up. "What?" he asked harshly.
The barkeep blinked. "You must have been riding all night, not to know!" He sat down in a chair across from Fitzwilliam. "Well it seems that a troop was in search of a highwayman and used the ____ Inn as place for an ambush. They tied up the innkeeper's daughter for bait and probably to keep her from warning the rogue for it was rumored that she was in love with him." He grunted in disgust. "The fools made the mistake of tying her up with a musket. They almost had the highwayman in their grasp when the lass shot herself to warn him of the danger."
A gasp tore from Darcy's lips and his face paled. He stood abruptly. "N-n-no," he cried hoarsely, "Not Elizabeth!" He stood there, breathing raggedly for several moments before turning on his heel and running out of the tavern.
He leaped onto his horse and galloped down the road towards the inn. As he neared the building, he whipped his rapier from its sheath, howling curses at the redcoat troop, which had formed up in the road. He charged straight towards them, his blade glinting in the sunlight. The last sound he heard was the explosion of the muskets as the entire troop fired upon him.
Fitzwilliam Darcy died on that highway, his crimson blood mingling with the white dust of the road.
On an occasional night when a cold wind howls through the bare limbs of the trees and clouds race across the sky, one can see a ghostly rider galloping over the moor towards an inn. The sound of the hooves echoes in the silence. He approaches a certain window and taps on the shutter. It opens to reveal a dark-haired woman, braiding a red ribbon into her hair.