Summery: Deserted coach-roads, daring thieves, distressed damsels and a better summery soon to come! (Rated for minor violence)

The Highwayman

By

Woodstock1330

1

In which the story opens, and a highway robbery takes place.

Dusk fell like a shroud over the vast wasteland known as Hounslow Heath. Frozen mist hung thick in the still air, tricking and obscuring the odd autumn twilight. A hawk cried somewhere beyond the trees, sending the small beasts scurrying through the underbrush back toward the safety of their burrows. All else was stillness and silence; the forest seemed to be holding its breath, waiting...

Beside the road, hiding within a small copse of birches, indistinguishable from the falling darkness, a pair of horsemen waited also. The gentlemen sat hunched in their saddles, neither speaking nor looking at the other, their eyes focused instead on the bare strip of road before them. The younger man leaned forward slightly to rub the neck of his mount, a slender dapple-gray mare, and whisper a compliment or two into her pricked ears. They had been waiting a long time and the horses were growing restless, "it'll come," he whispered, his words forming a white mist in the frigid air; he tilted his hat down to shield his face from the wind and jammed his hands into the wide pockets of his long greatcoat, "it always comes..."

Then, as if on queue, from the hush came a sound, so faint it was nearly inaudible, but it was steady, and growing louder each moment, louder and closer. Clip-clop--clip-clop it came, in that familiar steady rhythm, set against the whir and clatter of coach wheels over a well-worn track… clip-clop--clip-clop--there came then the flick of a whip and the call of the coachman, the reigns slapping lightly against horseflesh...and still the forest waited. The flicker of lantern light appeared--a yellow beam shining between the sparse trees and scrub; the sound continued to grow louder, closer, till it seemed to fill the whole wood.

Nerves elevated, the young horseman fought to keep his hands steady as he slid his pistol from its holster and peeked carefully out from his hiding place.

"Choo Jack," the man beside him whispered, clapping him on the shoulder, "what luck!" It was a fine coach; pulled by a double team of matching horses…it was as if providence had just dropped a chest of treasure right into their laps.

The young horseman's teeth glinted in the moonlight as he smiled before drawing his black kerchief up over the bridge of his nose, "luck indeed," with that, and a quick oath to Christ Jack nudged his horse out into the clearing. "Stand and deliver!" he cried, dashing the silence as he raised his pistol high in the air and let off a warning shot. Reining in his mount firmly he moved into the very center of the path and stood his ground, jaws locked as the carriage came on, closer and closer. The coachman set the break and the wheels skittered dangerously before coming to a full stop. The lead horse's nose was so close it nearly touched his knee but he didn't flinch, instead he drew his second pistol and raised it till it was level with the driver's head.

From within the coach, amid woman's screams, a man bellowed, "Driver, what the deuce is going on?!"

"Keep yer 'ands where I can see dem," His partner's thick bow bells' rang out, as he and his horse appeared from the cover of trees, "if I sees yer 'ands efen twitch, I'll blow dem aff so I will!"

The man within continued to bellow, entirely unchecked, "What is the meaning of this?! I'll have you know I am an affiliate to the Royal Courts of Justice, you shall--!"

Jack, ignoring this tirade, jogged his mare to the coach window and leveled his pistol with what could be seen of the figures within, "Your money or your life Sir, the decision is entirely yours, though I warn you, I am not a patient man."

There was a moment of anxious muttering from inside the coach before a gentleman's head issued from behind the dark curtains, he seemed prepared for another diatribe but at the sight of the cool steel barrel aimed for his head and the cold eyes of the horseman behind it, the gentleman paled and withdrew again into the confines of the carriage. There was another flurry of whispers before the door opened and the gentleman stepped out, his female counterpart clinging tightly to his arm.

Jack smirked behind his mask down at the young couple; they were sickeningly trite; the young lawyer with his maroon justaucorps, (a long formal coat with gold braiding on the hem and cuffs) which matched his gold embroidered silk gilet. He had apparently removed his wig at some point during the journey for under his high tricorn he wore only natural close-clipped dark hair. His lady was equally grand, beneath a dark green brocade cape she was dressed in an elaborately patterned blue silk Mantua gown with cuffed elbow-length sleeves. Her hair was a pile of russet curls falling gracefully over her shoulder, complimented by the short string of pearls at her throat. He noted, with growing pleasure, the rather large coin purse at the gentleman's waist, and the abundance of jewelry between them. Jack drew a sack from one of the many pockets of his coat.

"You won't get away with this," the man scowled, even as he dropped his purse into the sack, "I'll see you both hanged!"

Swiftie, for this was the other robber's name, cracked a rotten grin, "den we'll see ye in 'ell."

"Your timepiece as well if you please Sir, and your rings." The gentleman's face was growing red with suppressed rage but he looked again at the pistol facing him square between the eyes, and did as he was commanded, albeit grudgingly.

Jack tipped his hat to him before he turned his attention to the lady. She had remained quiet till now, bar the occasional shocked gasp, all heaving bosom and high color glossing her snowy white complexion. "Begging your most humble pardon Madam, we have not been introduced," he removed his hat with a flourish and bowed deeply, "I am Red Jack Avery."

"I do not care who the deuce you are, you filthy scoundrel!" The lady cried. Her gentleman here gasped and looked round at her sharply, rather disgruntled, for he had never before witnessed a lady use such language, even in the most dire of circumstances.

Again Jack found himself smiling; he liked a woman with a little spirit; his hand flew to his heart mockingly, as if her words pained him, "Madam! You cut me to the quick!"

"I would cut more than that Sir, if I had the opportunity, I would cut your throat!"

The gentleman seemed now truly horrified, he squeezed her hand, "come now Amelia, calm yourself, if you should be overcome, I have not the salts with us."

Jack's eyes flashed, "Would you Madam? I believe you jest…do you believe it Swift?"

Swiftie grinned, "naw Jack, she be bluffin' sure as anyfin'."

"Indeed, although we cannot be certain, can we?" The lady had gone quite pale now, though her gray eyes remained fiercely cool. Jack dismounted, swinging gracefully from his saddle down onto the moist earth. He took a few steps toward her, smirking as the man stepped between them.

"You keep away from her, or so help me God I will—."

There was a click as Swift cocked the hammer of his second pistol, leveling it with the lady's head, "ye'll wot?"

"Raph, it's alright…"

Jack brushed the man aside and continued toward the girl until he almost tread upon the hem of her skirts. He met her eyes levelly for a moment while his unoccupied hand disappeared into the confines of his coat. Steel glinted in the moonlight as his hand again withdrew, and Amelia had to stifle a cry. It was a parrying dagger, with a long double edged blade tapering down to a deadly point. He was grasping it by the blade, extending the pommel to her.

"Take it," he said his voice treacherously soft, almost kind. Amelia raised her hand ever so slightly, as if to do so, but it fell limply again at her side, her eyes moving from the dagger to the pistol still in his other hand.

He tossed the pistol away, "now take it," his voice was still soft, but it was not an offer this time, it was a command.

Amelia's hand shook as she seized the pommel, and watched as the man threw off his greatcoat. This revealed a foppishly bright red double breasted waistcoat, of which he undid the top two rows of buttons and drew back his cravat, revealing the flesh of his neck and chest to her, "Now then, a lady is true to her word is she not?"

She felt the color drain from her cheeks, her heart was racing so that she thought she might indeed faint, but she fought stubbornly against the feminine weakness. She raised the dagger, trying to stem the violet shaking of her hands, and pressed the tip to his throat. It seemed she could hear the beating of his heart beneath his breast; see the pulsating flow of blood through the vein of his neck…

"Do it," he urged, "you want to."

"Amelia...!" Raph shouted beside her, but she hardly heard him, and couldn't tell whether he was try to stop her or urging her on. She pressed the dagger farther, the point just piercing the skin, drawing a spot of blood, the man did nothing to stop her and for a moment Amelia believed she might actually be able to do it, but just as she was about to press down, full force, her nerve failed her and the dagger dropped onto the damp soil at their feet.

"That's what I thought." The other bandit laughed uproariously as the man bent and retrieved his weapons; Amelia fell back against the coach, tears burning at the corners of her eyes. She felt his eyes on her as he tucked his dagger back into his belt but she could no longer meet them. He bent again, this time to seize her hand, Amelia sucked in a sharp breath but he only removed the two rings from her middle and third finger and dropped them into his little sack.

He was just taking her other hand when Raph's good-temper finally reached its end, "enough!" he roared, though the man ignored him, "That is enough! Unhand my betrothed this instant!"

"Yer betro'ed ye say? Oy, Jack, we should toas' de 'appy couple so we should!"

Jack laughed, "There will be time enough for celebration later, no doubt, don't you think Swift?" Despite his nonchalant manner his nerves were beginning to fray, he had wasted valuable time, toying with that girl… He was just fiddling with the clasp, trying to remove the string of pearls around her neck when something, a sound, or a premonition of growing dread, seized him, and he froze, ears pricked. The two gentleman of the road exchanged glances, Swiftie had heard it too…

"There!" Amelia shrilled, having removed the necklace, an heirloom that had once belonged to her grandmother, and tossing it into his bag, "you have what you desired, now—."

The robber clapped a hand roughly over her mouth, stifling the end of her outburst. She struggled, enraged that he would have the gall to lay so much as a finger on her, but when she felt the barrel of his pistol pressed against her temple common sense constrained her.

"Why you—unhand her at once!" Raph roared, but ceased when he heard the click of the pistol's hammer being pulled back, fully cocked.

This was the scene upon which a small party of soldiers quite unknowingly stumbled upon, and so it was no wonder that at first they had no idea what to make of it. They were cavalry men, five in all traveling back toward London from holiday in the West of England. The first thing that any one of them could think to say was, rather daftly, "what the devil is going on here?!"

Their confusion gave the two bandits just enough time to hatch a plan. "Don't come any closer or I'll take her head off!"

The soldiers had enough sense to go for their pistols, "No, stay your hands! I will kill her! Mark me Sirs, I do not jest!"

"Do as he says, that is my bride!"

Jack removed his hand from her mouth, ignoring the woman's screams as he seized his horse's bridal and swung himself up into the saddle, the lady with him. Jack dug in his heels, sending his mount into full gallop. Swiftie fired once into the crowd of soldiers before following, close at his comrade's heels.

The soldiers hastily drew their weapons intending to fire off a volley after the escaping men. "No no! You might hit Amelia, do not—."

One of the soldiers, who either hadn't heard him, or didn't care, was taking aim, "No!" Raph roared, shoving the man from his mount just as he pulled the trigger, there was an earth shattering crack as the gun fired.

A.N.- Please please review! I'd really appreciate any comments or critiques! Btw, that's supposed to be a cockney accent Swiftie is speaking with, sorry if it's a bit off. Oo; Chapter 2 should be up tomorrow or the next day!