The Highwayman – A Struggle Between Romance and Reality


The Highwayman Came WaltzingMy latest release, a novella, The Highwayman Came Waltzing is, I readily admit, a decidedly improbable tale. Improbable, but fun–a whimsical peek into the world of thieves and, in my opinion, deliciously romantic. But today I’m confessing my inner struggle between the myth and reality.

First, a brief background:

In the sixth grade I fell in love with Alfred Noyes’s wonderful poem, The Highwayman. If you haven’t read it in a year or two–you must! You really must. It was the inspiration for this novella, and you’ll find many allusions to his poem within the story.

Alfred Noyes - The Highwayman

Oh, the mystery and romance of the Midnight Rider and his dark deeds

 The Highwayman

By Alfred Noyes

 PART ONE [The first stanza]

The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door.
The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees.
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas.
The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,
And the highwayman came riding—
The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door.

Here’s a pdf of the whole poem: Alfred Noyes -The Highwayman on blue background


Wonderful, isn’t it? Most of my books and stories are written in tribute to one or the other of my favorite authors. I couldn’t resist tipping my hat to Alfred Noyes and his marvelous poem. But I also love to twist things up just to keep life interesting. So I thought to myself, what if a woman played the part of the illusive bandit?

Margaret Lockwood as the Wicked Lady, 1945, courtesy Gainsborough Pictures

Margaret Lockwood as the Wicked Lady, 1945, courtesy Gainsborough Pictures

Thus was born the story for The Highwayman Came Waltzing: When Elizabeth’s childhood sweetheart returns from the Napoleonic wars to investigate a series of robberies in Claegburn Woods. She never dared dream a shared waltz would rekindle their affection for one another. But she knows loving Lord Ryerton is impossible, because Elizabeth hides a dark and dangerous secret.

The story holds a few twists and turns that I had my usual fun with and I hope you’ll enjoy. Let me know. But unfortunately, as I did research I learned the inevitable truth… the reality isn’t at all like the romantic ideal of the dashing highwayman.

To be brutally frank, the life of the highwayman was usually a short one that ended with the fellow doing the hangman’s jig. Hard as I might try, I could not ignore this fact while writing The Highwayman Came Waltzing. Justice for the victims haunted me until I finally gave in to it and constructed for my readers a story of redemption and payment for crime.

To reassure those of you who put a premium on plausibility, I found several recorded instances where British highwaymen, who were not involved in murder, found clemency. Sadly, there are far more instances where even a minor infraction ended in a ragged waltz at the end of a rope. I’m very sorry to report; justice in historical England was not tempered with a great deal of mercy. For example, cases at the old bailey records a 12 year old girl sentenced to death because of a missing guinea. Nor was justice even-handed. Sigh.

Stand and Deliver, is one of my favorite websites about Highwaymen. It covers most of the famous fellows, including good ‘ole Dick Turpin and James MacLaine, the Gentleman Highwayman, pictured below. Interestingly, MacLaine lived by day as a respectable gentleman in London’s St James’s Square. On the Stand and Deliver site, you’ll find biographies of most of the famous highwaymen. There is also a copy of Alfred Noyes poem.

Stand and Deliver - MacLaine robbing Lord Eglington [pullquote]“we do not consider how naturally we go from one thing to another, till at last we get to the end of a rope.”[/pullquote]



Another superb website is Outlaws and Highwaymen. I love this site because you’ll find documented records of how many famous and not so famous highwaymen fell into their lives of thievery, and many of the stories include direct quotes. Intriguing resource for those of you who are writers.

This link will take  you to Ralph Wilson’s fascinating account of how he became a highwayman.

His story illustrates the realities of the highwayman’s usually brief career. He also puts paid the old adage ‘there is honor among thieves.’ I particularly liked this quote of his,“we do not consider how naturally we go from one thing to another, till at last we get to the end of a rope.”