Another competition entry. Not a winner, sadly.
Ah, a fine night, this. There hangs the moon, haloed, unobscured, round as a penny, brighter than any lantern. She’ll light the way to my quarry tonight and no mistake.
‘Tis a cold one, though. Shadow’s breath billows out of her nostrils in great clouds as she paws the ground nervously with a hoof.
“Easy, my beauty,” I whisper, bending down to caress her sleek, sinewy neck. “My heart tells me tonight shall bring us good sport.”
The road below is dark and quiet, as it has been for some little time. These country lanes may be unparalleled for seclusion and lack of witnesses, but prey seldom comes within my grasp. All the same, I fight back sleep and persevere with my vigil.
Oh Shadow, it’s a lonely life I live. Dear as you are to me, I need so much more than a graceful black charger. How I wish I could take a wife, with whom I could share my secrets, pass the time with in the daylight and evenings, then find comfort with through the night. But no, it would be odiously cruel of me to promise love to a fair lady, when the law could come for me any hour and sunder us forever.
I check the powder in my flintlocks. Still dry. I holster them once more, resting a hand upon the hilt of my sword as further reassurance.
Then a distant sound reaches my ears. Aha! My instincts are never false to me! The lights of a coach are passing over the crest of a hill to the east. If it continues its present course, it will pass along the road beneath me.
“Come, Shadow!” I cry, spurring her on. “We must be ready to greet them.”
Shadow canters down the hill with me, then through a little copse that leads to the road. The two of us know this route as we know ourselves, and soon we are beside the road, ready to strike. A quick glance to the left tells me the coach has not altered course.
I reach into Shadow’s saddlebag, so that I may retrieve and untie the sack that holds my caltrops. When the coach is almost on top of me, a thrust of my arm hurls the spiny missiles out of the sack and into its path. Shadow retreats a few paces as the great vehicle rumbles by.
Success! The caltrops have wrecked two of the coach’s wheels and it is forced to stop. Riches will soon be mine.
“No need to panic, everyone,” the driver shouts over the commotion of the passengers. “I’ll just go and inspect the damage. We’ll be on our way soon.”
He disembarks, and as he inspects the damaged wheels, I kick Shadow into motion. Riding the driver down while uttering the bright, ringing laugh I am named for, I draw my sword and a firm blow with the pommel causes the hapless fellow to fall. The passengers now start to panic as they realise what is about to happen.
Dismounting from Shadow, I draw my pistols, leap aboard and take aim round the door of the coach at the seated passengers.
“Stand and deliver!” I bellow.
There is a chorus of screams from the ladies as I bawl my command, but two young boys seem fascinated.
“Cor, look James! It’s a real ‘ighwayman! Black mask, big hat an’ all!”
“Wow, yeah! You reckon ‘is guns are real?”
“They are indeed, young fellow,” I call out, “As is my intention to use them on those who do not pay handsomely for the rare privilege of standing in the presence of the great Laughing Jack, Lord of the Highway! Now start emptying your pockets, my friends. Money and jewellery!”
The sack that once held my caltrops now makes a more than adequate depository for my winnings. Any passengers reluctant to part with their valuables are quickly humbled by a cocked pistol levelled at their heads. Naturally, I laugh at the impotent rage that seethes behind their eyes.
It is just as I turn and prepare to depart that I notice a passenger whose manner tugs at my consciousness. I turn again, intrigued by this aberrant sensation. There I see a young lady, slender as a willow cane and pale as virgin snow. Straw-like hair frames a lily-white face with wide, watery blue eyes and thick, partly open lips.
The soft hues of the maiden’s dress seem to echo a gauche distance that I perceive in her character. The gaze she casts upon me as I approach is haunting. She seems set apart from her fellow travellers, as if she appreciates their company, yet finds it only marginally more preferable than her own.
“Do you fear me, my lady?” I ask her.
“Yes… Sir,” she utters.
I lean towards her and study her closely. Her hand is at her breast; why? Is she concealing something?
“Jack will do,” I say with a smile, “And yes, I perceive the fear in your lovely eyes. That is to be expected. But I suspect it is not me you fear most of all, nor the guns I carry. What then do you fear, my fair one?”
Her pale cheeks colour slightly and she gasps, a hand flying to her lips. It is then that I see what she was concealing.
“That cameo broach about your neck,” I say softly, “It is dear to you, yes?”
“It belonged to my mother,” she whimpers. “It’s all I have left of her. Please don’t take it off me.”
Her entreaty does not fall upon deaf ears. I caress the curve of her chin with a gloved hand and meet her eyes.
“Never fear, madam, I shall not,” I whisper. “Indeed, there is a token just as precious that I might take instead.”
“I d-don’t understand,” she stammers.
I educate her by pressing my lips against hers. She squeals in shock, but only for a moment. As the kiss lingers, I can feel the eyes of the disbelieving passengers upon me. I break it only when instinct warns me of approaching danger.
“Back, Sir!” I cry, drawing my sword.
I level the tip at the throat of a hefty fellow who had been creeping up on me a heartbeat earlier, his arms outstretched to seize me. I laugh as force him back.
“No foolhardy traveller makes a prisoner of Laughing Jack,” I utter mockingly. “I suggest you resume your seat expediently.”
He does so. I sheathe my sword and seize my booty.
“Safe journey, my good people,” I sing, making for the door. “Laughing Jack thanks you for your generosity and prays you will remember him, especially you, my lady.”
I raise my tricorn to her, as a gentleman should, then leap to the ground with a flourish and whistle for Shadow.
“Are you alright, Mabel?” I hear one of the passengers say.
“Yes, I’m fine. He… didn’t hurt me,” replies the fair young woman.
Shadow hurries up to me and once I am upon her back, we gallop into the night. I laugh with delight as I ride past the coach’s windows. The intrigued passengers watch me go. I let them take pictures and film me with their little devices. It is of no consequence. They will soon find out that the laws of sweet England are not the master of Laughing Jack.
YOUR MOBILE OR YOUR LIFE! MODERN DAY HIGHWAYMAN AT LARGE IN THE SOUTHWEST
Gloucestershire police have begun a manhunt for the most unlikely criminal imaginable. Known only as Laughing Jack, he is a thief who styles himself as an 18th century highwayman, complete with a horse, tricorn hat, black eye mask, flintlock pistols and a basket-hilted sword. “Jack” is wanted in connection with four roadside hold-ups in southwest England, the last of which was perpetrated only last night. A tour group coach was heading back to Bristol after a two day excursion in the Cotswolds when the thief punctured its tyres, bludgeoned the driver as he made an inspection and proceeded to rob the passengers.
Although nobody yet knows how this man has so far managed to elude capture, police spokeswoman Trudy Mayhew had this to tell the press.
“We do not condone users of social media who depict Laughing Jack as a loveable rogue who is able to mock justice and defy authority. He is a violent, thoughtless, possibly delusional man and a menace to law-abiding citizens. I urge the public to report all sightings of him and any information that may lead to his arrest.”
If judged to be of sound mind when apprehended, Laughing Jack will be charged with assault, criminal damage, larceny, reckless endangerment and demanding money with menaces. Yet he may escape harassment charges, for although he forced a kiss upon 22-year-old Mabel Fitzhugh in the course of his latest robbery, she appears oddly reluctant to file charges against him.