He did not come in the dawning; he did not come at
And out of 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—
King George’s men came marching, up to the old inn-door.
They said no word to the landlord, they drank his
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
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
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 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?
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,
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.