The Highwayman and Hurnby
by Lesley-Anne McLeod
© 2001

"Remove your cloak, my dear," instructed the masked highwayman with quiet resolution.  He tossed his antiquated tricorne on the polished entry hall table revealing thick fair hair waving to his collar.  His black mask was startling against the pale skin that matched his fair colouring.
The petite, dark-haired lady to whom he spoke obeyed slowly, casting on a chair her wrap of black velvet.  It was dim in the hall and very cold.  The lady’s high-waisted gown was fashioned of peacock blue satin, trimmed with black lace in the Spanish fashion.  A lace mantilla, elevated by a high comb, covered her dark hair.  Diamonds flashed at her slender throat, on her right wrist and at her delicate ears.

The highwayman fumbled with his elaborate sword, tangling it among the full skirts of his riding coat which was cut in the fashion of twenty years previous.  It was the perfect moment to launch an attack, possibly with the single branch of candles that illuminated the hall, but the lady made no such movement. 

She watched wordlessly as the highwayman unbuckled the sword and laid it aside, and unbuttoned his frieze coat.  He strolled to stand before her, and she lifted her pointed chin to stare at his masked face.  Her height and her strength were no match for his.  With a long finger, he touched the diamonds that encircled her throat; she shivered.  His finger lowered to the curve of pale tender skin revealed by the bodice of her lace-edged gown. 

Her small hand shot out to claw the mask from his square-jawed face.  He stepped back, and untied it himself, allowing it to fall unheeded to the floor.  He was very handsome with strong regular features and bright blue eyes that had taunted her from the slits of the mask.

"Will you remove the diamonds, or shall I?" he asked his deep voice a little hoarse.

"Is that all you would take from me?" she countered, still unmoving.

"No," he responded, "And you know it…"

He swept her into his arms, and made for the staircase, carrying her easily.  Her mantilla fell to the floor, and her tortoiseshell comb.  She neither struggled nor dissented. 

The highwayman’s booted foot was on the bottom step when an oak door shadowed in the back of the broad, dim hall burst open.  A portly butler, tugging on his coat, hurried to the candles and began to light another branch. 

"My lord," he hurried into speech.  "My apologies for not opening the door."

The highwayman continued undisturbed up the wide staircase, carrying his burden carefully, his voice echoing back to the older man.

"Nonsense, Hurnby.  My lady informed you your presence would not be required on our return from the masquerade." 

Her ladyship’s head appeared over her husband’s shoulder.  She surveyed the butler, who was picking the comb, the mantilla and the mask from the floor. 

"We shall want to be roused at 11 of the clock on the morrow—ah, this morning—" she laughed,  "We must be off to Brighton before the hour grows too late.  Thank you, Hurnby."

"There are lamps lit above stairs, my lady.  As you requested, your dresser and valet have retired."

The portly butler, an indulgent smile on his round face, watched his recently-wed master and mistress disappear from his sight at the turn of the staircase.  Then he locked the entry door and began to snuff the candles.