April 01, 2021

#08-066: The Highwayman: A Ghost Story

dashing man wearing period clothing, with one arm around a woman as the black horse they're on leaps seemingly into water
Legendary film star Tom Mix as legendary highwayman Dick Turpin

Note: Every culture has ghost stories, and many of them cluster around the theme of love. In 1906, the English poet Alfred Noyes published "The Highwayman," an excellent example of the genre.

Get Ready: Do you believe in ghosts? Why or why not?

"The Highwayman" sets its scene on a dark, windy night, when "The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas," and "The road was a ribbon of moonlight..." Into this scene "The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door." He is described as a typical gallant rogue, with a cocked-hat, lace at his chin, a red velvet coat, brown doe-skin breeches, and thigh-high boots. He carried twin pistols and a rapier.

Rapping on the shutters, he discovered the inn locked up for the night, so he gave a whistle to alert the landlord's beautiful daughter, Bess, of his arrival. Unbeknownst to them both, however, "Tim the ostler listened" by the stable, and Tim was jealous, for he, too, loved Bess. "His eyes were hollows of madness" as he heard the highwayman speak, for he, too, loved Bess.

"One kiss, my bonny sweetheart," the highwayman asked, then promised, "I'm after a prize to-night, But I shall be back with the yellow gold before the morning light." If, however, the authorities caught on to him and gave chase, then, he said, "I'll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way." Even though he stood up in the horse's stirrup, he was unable to reach her hand, so he kissed her cascading hair and "galloped away to the West."

"Part Two" of the poem tells us he did not return at dawn, or noon, or even after sundown. Instead a troop of red-coated soldiers came to the inn. They bound and gagged Bess and placed her in front of a candle in the window of her room. Not only did they hide in the room with muskets trained on her, but they also placed one standing in front of her, "with the barrel beneath her breast!"

Straining at her bonds in the darkness, at last she got one finger onto the musket's trigger. As she stood as bait for her love's arrest, she heard the horse's hoofs approaching, and "Then her finger moved in the moonlight, Her musket shattered the moonlight," and she "warned him--with her death."

He fled, not knowing it was she who had fired the gun, sacrificing her life. When next day he heard what had happened, he returned, "shrieking a curse to the sky, With the white road smoking behind him and his rapier brandished high!" Naturally, "they shot him down... like a dog on the highway," where he lay in his own blood.

They say, though, on windy winter nights when the moon appears like a galleon, "a highwayman comes riding, up to the old inn-door." Then, discovering it locked up, "He whistles a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there, But... Bess, the landlord's daughter, Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair."


Read more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Highwayman_(poem)

Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. bonny
  2. breeches
  3. galleon
  4. highwayman
  5. musket
  6. ostler
  7. plaiting
  8. rapier
  9. rogue
  10. shrieking

  1. pants
  2. beautiful
  3. uttering a loud, sharp cry; screaming
  4. braiding
  5. a mischievous person; a rascal
  6. a hold-up man
  7. old-fashioned sailing ship
  8. one who takes care of horses
  9. an old-fashioned rifle
  10. a type of sword

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for April 1, 2021

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. b; 2. a; 3. g; 4. f; 5. i; 6. h; 7. d; 8. j; 9. e; 10. c