Flash Fiction: The Highwayman
Such lovely eyes,’ he said to me, and the depth of his murmur thrilled me.
He had black eyes matching his pony-tailed hair, with an olive skin on a well-muscled body, and he beamed down at me. I saw the smile in his eyes, and I felt the excitement of him.
We kissed and lost ourselves in each other. It was a gentle, fleeting kiss, yet still it touched my soul. I knew it touched his as well because, in a moment, I was in another place, and he was with me.
Neil and I had met the day before in a somewhat hectic way. I had been dreaming my way across the road, loaded with shopping bags and imagining a knight in shining armour coming to rescue me from the daily grind. A little too lost in contemplation, I was unaware that I had stepped in front of a fast moving cab. It would have taken me down had Neil not dived from the other side and pushed me on to the pavement.
When I opened my eyes, all I saw was heaven staring down at me. I was convinced that my knight had finally arrived. I made light of my bruises and even the broken contents of my week’s shopping didn’t deaden my dancing heart.
He insisted on taking me to Guy’s Hospital which, fortunately, was just around the corner. I was too taken up with him to hear a word the examining doctor said to me, but I gathered I was lucky, and that all was well.
Neil then offered me coffee and I couldn’t refuse. He could have offered me anything, and I still wouldn’t have refused. I was just lost the moment I saw him.
Mostly, we just stared, our eyes speaking in ways I could not translate, until sometime in the evening, we both gradually came to and started laughing, both of us seeing the humour. Chemistry has its funny moments.
We did decide to meet again – nothing that good could be overlooked. Yet I wondered as I went home if it was another three day wonder. Mark and I had started off the same way, and less than a week after our meeting, our ‘never ending’ romance had hit the rocks. I discovered that he was married and didn’t think such a mundane matter would stand in our way. I had different thoughts about that.
So Neil and I set a time to meet, and pretty much after work (I sailed through the day on clouds of delight), we met at the Pig and Whistle.
We eased into conversation almost immediately despite not knowing a thing about each other. He was thirty five, had two brothers, both of whom were married, and his parents lived in Cork where he had grown up. Now, a roving journalist, he covered wars and other hot spots in the world on a freelance basis. He liked the action he said, and meeting me in such an action-packed way was really a good omen. He always had a yearning, he said, to rescue a maiden in distress.
I didn’t tell him that I always had a hankering to be rescued. I think he knew that. We were two of a kind and our eyes continued to speak eloquently. There was something so familiar about him - as if I had known him a thousand years.
I told him about Agnes, my sister, and Luke, my brother. Dad wasn’t around any more, I said, and Mother lived alone at the vicarage which wasn’t too healthy for her. My voice dropped then, because even meeting someone this exciting didn’t rid me of the concern I felt for Mum. She had had a hard time since Dad’s passing.
As the evening drew to a close, we strolled to my place. It wasn’t very far, and the night was made for lovers. The moonlight touched his eyes, and I saw depths that I could not fathom. I thought he was a dangerous man, but I had no thought of safety.
We arrived at my door and the gentle touch of his lips on mine no doubt triggered the dream that followed that night.
The thundering of Black Bess’s hooves echoed the thundering of my heart. Her flanks were wet with sweat, and she couldn’t carry the two of us much longer.
It was but a mile distant and our followers were not far behind. They were catching up rapidly. My highwayman was noble and didn’t want to dishonour the parson’s daughter. I had tended his wounds earlier that night, and, as so often, had spent the night talking to him until morning caught us unaware. A foolish thing to do, for the trackers had caught up with him. The blood of his injury and the hooves of his horse were easy to follow in the early morning light.
We had warning, but not much. As quickly as he could, he aided me onto his horse. It did not enter his thinking that his escape would be quicker and much more likely to succeed, should he leave me behind. My dishonour was of greater importance to him than his own life. And so we set off, weighted down, towards the vicarage. Neille was a brave man, but I was frightened, for I could not imagine life without him.
He spoke sweetly then into Bess’s ear. ‘Come sweet thing, ride your damndest, for if you do not, then we're done for.’ It frightened me to hear my highwayman speak that way, for I felt it boded ill. And I knew he felt it, too.
Now there rode a different man. The night before I had confessed my love for him. The son of my neighbour, not at all like his father who was a drunken and evil man. Lord Lucifer we called him behind his back. He took from the poor and left his vassals with naught to live by. Neille did not like his ways, for he had his mother’s noble soul. And so by day he was the son of the father, and at night he was the highwayman, robbing those who earlier in the day had taken what was not theirs. Then, secretly, he returned it to the poor. A man of contrasts and one difficult to understand. The price on his head was high.
Now there rode a different man. The night before I had confessed my love for him.
The son of my neighbour, not at all like his father who was a drunken and evil man. Lord Lucifer we called him behind his back. He took from the poor and left his vassals with naught to live by.
Bess surged forward, fast and strong. My love rode her hard. I clung to him as if there was no to-morrow. Safety lay at the vicarage where I should have spent the night, but I spent it with my highwayman instead. He was injured, shot in the leg, and it had needed tending to. So I had tended to it and we had spoken. Our love had grown through the years of rambling childhood and youthful pursuits. We were betrothed quite early, and when Neille told me of his double life though I deeply disapproved, I knew it was the only way he could help those around him.
The vicarage lay before us. I was ready to dismount rapidly. Once there, I would try to delay the hunt behind us, offer them food, and give Neille time to reach the grounds of the castle. Then it was but a short journey through a back and hidden passage, and then he would be safe. Out of sight for a few days, perhaps weeks, while the worst of his wound mended, and then, perhaps, we could be together again.
‘I’ll come back for you,’ he said, and kissed me a gentle kiss, a soft and tender kiss, upon my brow. Then I jumped and ran for the door. And in a moment, he was gone.
The horsemen passed. They did not stop. They followed the trail. They missed me and found him. And that was how they hung him. No quarter was given. His father did not spare him, and Neille never came back for me.
I was woken from the dream by the ringing of the telephone. For a moment I did not know what was real – my bedroom or the strange reality of the dream.
It was Neil.
‘Can’t get you out of my head,’ he said. ‘Had you in my dreams last night.’
We made arrangements to meet within the hour. He insisted on coming to collect me. So it was when the knock on the door came, I was ready. I opened the door and stared into black eyes that looked into mine.
His arms went around me and I felt his ponytail, soft like lamb’s wool. I was confused for a moment. Was it a dream? Could a man spark such romance from me? I didn’t know.
‘You’ve come back,’ I murmured, for a moment transported back to the dream. I was lost in his kiss - his gentle, tender kiss. ‘You’ve come back for me.’
He glanced down at me, then said, ‘Yes, I’ve come back for you."