by Alfred Noyes
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.