Bess glanced nervously out her window at the approaching line of red-coated soldiers. What if they had catured Westley, and he let slip that she'd not turned him in? Oh, there would be a double hanging, she was sure of it!
But the soldiers said nothing, except to ask for something to drink. Bess's father got out his best ale for them, and they sat there for a long time. Bess was just starting to feel at ease, however, when they got up and ordered her to her room, their guns pointed at her chest. She turned around slowly and walked up the stairs as if in a trance. Surely this was all a bad dream that would be over soon.
But it wasn't, and by the time she regained control she was tied up and lying on her bed. Two soldiers knelt by the window, watching for Westley. Well, they'll wait that way for a while, she thought to herself. Westley's not coming till tonight, and I'll think of something by then.
Hours passed this way, and by dusk the soldiers were all tired, and many of them half-drunk on the ale. One of them left his musket on the bed beside Bess. She saw, and tried to loosen her hands enough to grab it. She would never be able to shoot the soldiers, oh no, but there was something she could do that might save Westley.
By midnight, Bess had managed to reach the musket, and she slid off the bed over to the window. All the soldiers were drunk and angry at having been sent on what seemed to be a wild goose chase. Bess, though, could hear the faint clop-clop of horse hooves on stone. She gazed out at the road, watching for Westley and praying that the soldiers didn't hear him. If she failed, he would have no way of knowing it was a trap, and- No, she mustn't think of that. Finally, she began to see his silhouette becoming clearer and clearer against the starry sky. It was time. She braced herself, took a deep breath, and squeezed the trigger.
The sound of a gunshot rang out through the still night. Westley turned abruptly and galloped back in the direction he'd come. So the soldier thought they could catch him, eh? Well, they would have to try a bit harder than that.
"Nooooo!" Tim's hoarse cry seemed never to end. It wasn't supposed to be like that!The soldiers would capture that blasted highwayman, and he would have Bess. But now Bess was dead, and the highwayman had escaped!
Westley stared in disbelief at the newspaper. On the front page it read: "The notorious highwayman who has plagued this part of England for over a year has once again managed to elude the grasp of the Law. Last night soldiers waited for him at an inn where it was said he had met with the daughter of the landlord, but the girl, Bess, shot herself in order to keep him from entering the trap..."
"What?!" and he raced out, leapt onto his horse, and galloped off towards the inn.
The soldiers marched perfectly and in formation, their muskets flashes of reflected sunlight on the background of their red uniforms. A passerby would notice nothing, although they might feel a surge of pride in their country's fine soldiers. But in their minds the soldiers could still hear the horse's screams even though someone had long since shot it - partly out of pity for the horse, partly out of pity for himself. They could still see the glint of sunlight striking a brandished rapier pointed in their direction, and the hatred burning like fire in the outlaw's eyes. And not a single soldier could truthfully deny that they often felt the young highwayman's ghost coming to haunt them at night. Always, though, there was another with him on the back of his shadow-horse - a young maiden with a jet-black braid streaming out behind her. And at the end of her braid was a blood-red ribbon that all felt sure they'd seen before.
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