The Highwayman

At the beginning of winter, the Countess of Crimppington had thrown a marvellous ball that the noble ladies and gentry of the county were invited to attend. Her parties were famed for their extravagances and their opulence and to be invited to such a soiree was indeed supposed the finest privilege of the year.

The Lord and Lady of Plumchester were terribly pleased to receive an invite to such a prestigious event as were their splendid neighbours; the Duke and Duchess of Rumplescone. Preceding the great event, to aid in the merriment and spare the extra horses, both decided in their exchange of letters to share the carriage ride together.

And so, laden in their finery, the Lord and Lady and the Duke and the Duchess set off in good cheer on the road to Crimpington Hall.

But thirty minutes into their journey a noisy startling of the horses could be heard, and the carriage quickly slowed to a stop. Then, all of a sudden, a masked figure appeared at the carriage door provoking much shock within the cabin.

“Good Lords and Ladies, Dukes and Duchesses, I beg thee do not be too daunted by my unusual appearance. I have splendid business at the ball of the Countess of Crimppington and if you would let me ride with you, then I shall gladly endeavour to explain the oddity of my current fashion.”

Seeing that the man appeared unarmed and that he was rather well-spoken for a would-be highwayman, the four gentlefolk agreed to this amusement. After all, they were in good spirits and this aperitif to their evening’s entertainments would surely aid the revelry.

“It all began in Hungary…” the stranger began, and he proceeded to tell the must outrageous tale of fortune and adventure that the listeners had ever heard.

Born into nobility, as a boy the storyteller had travelled extensively. His father had been a diplomat of some repute, helping to maintain the peace between England and the bickering nations of foreigners on the continent. His mother had died giving birth and his one true sorrow was that he would never know her.

One fateful day, the day of his thirteenth birthday, his father, after much consumption and imbibing of Portuguese wine it should be said, had become involved in a duel with a fellow diplomat. And so it was that his beloved father, peace-maker by profession, a model all his life of such sensibility, would die in such a folly of violence. The risk to negotiations going on between the nations was severe and so, in great secrecy, the young man was to be spirited away from the country and the matter hushed by all involved. Yet on the voyage home what fate should befall him but pirates!

Attacked by brigands and seeing the rest of the crew slaughtered, he dived from the boat and swam for the nearest shore. As he climbed the beach there, he had realised that he was not on the coast of Portugal nor of Spain but of Africa! It would take him another seven years, through many trials and torments to find his way around the Mediterranean to Italy where a priest took pity on him and sent word to the pope himself of the story of the boy’s miraculous escape. So convinced was the pope that the survival of the boy was proof of God’s mercy that he granted him funds for travel home.

Yet due to the delicate nature of his family’s past and the fine nature of European war and diplomacy he swore him to certain conditions to his aid.

Firstly, he demanded that he travel only at night and even then, only in disguise so that there was no chance of his being recognised.

Second, that he must travel as swiftly as possible to live out his days with his only family relative, the Countess of Crimppington, to whom he would write and send word of his incredible story lest it not be believed.

Thirdly, that he never reveal his true name, so long as he should live.

Upon hearing all this, the group were enthralled. Such a tale was beyond all comprehension. The tiresome hours of the travel ride had quickly passed by and as they passed through the gates of the Countess’s grand and stately home, they felt awed by the stranger with whom they had shared their journey.

Proudly, they presented the masked stranger on their arm as they stepped down from the carriage.

They smiled mischievously to one another as they walked towards the ballroom passing bewildered footmen.

They basked in the spotlight as all eyes turned to look at the sparkliest, most intriguing objects of attention in the room.

The countess turned from her guests to see what bright light had distracted from her pageantry. As the musicians stopped, the stranger unlinked his arms from the two noble ladies with which he had been joined, bowing appreciatively to both in turn. Then he reached into his pockets and turned to address his onlookers.



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