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Last Post For A Highwayman

By: Roy Hare

A bright full moon, danced from behind the clouds, revealing the shape of horse and rider. The horse, snorted, stamped a foreleg, impatient to be on the move.

"Steady, boy steady, won't be long now."

As the dark clad rider spoke, the horse pricked his ears, at the approaching sound of galloping horses, creaks of the coach, shouts of the driver as he urged his team, to its destination.

As the coach and horses slowed, approaching the bend, the dark clad rider moved into their path. Raising his pistol he fired one shot into the air.

"Stand and deliver."

The warning, though muffled by a silk scarf, reached the coachman's ears, the menace in the voice told him, obey or die.

All was quiet as the carriage came to an abrupt halt, the horses stood steaming, glad of the rest.

"Throw down the mail box."

The words cracked through the night air, the driver, grunted and puffed, as he pulled the box from under his seat, and threw it to the ground, landing with a thud, and bursting open.

Opening the carriage door the highwayman addressed the occupants.

"Gentlemen, your wallets and purses please, ladies, keep your trinkets, be quiet, and no harm shall become you."

Stuffing the wallets and purses into a sack, expressing his thanks, he closed the door.

"Carry on your journey coachman, my business with you is done."

As the carriage proceeded on its way, he knelt beside the box, opening the letters and packets. All goods and cash were transferred to his sack, then his attention turned to the letters. Most of the mail proved to be of little use, one love letter could prove useful for blackmail, the most interesting being a long white envelope, which had his own name and address, written on it. Ripping open the envelope, extracting the letter, he read.


Jackson and Jackson Solicitors
Quay St

Dear Mr William Hill,

My partner and I are of the opinion that you are the heir to Philip Hills estate late of St Johns Rd, Sidney, along with one other William Hill who lives in the village of Blacksley in the same county as yourself.

We have had no reply from the other Mr William Hill, although we sent a letter to him first, in the hope he would contact you; at that time we did not know your whereabouts, however further enquiries have revealed your address, and we hope you will do the same, that is, find him and let him know of the situation.

The sum bequeathed, will be revealed to you, when you contact the Legacies Department of the Billingate Bank Fritter St London W1.

You will be required to present proof, and two people of standing in your community will have to vouch for you.

Please let us know as soon as possible of the receipt of this letter so we can inform the bank and put things in order for your arrival.

If you are unsuccessful in finding the other Mr Hill, or he is deceased we would be pleased of any information regarding his family.

I thank you in anticipation of your services, but if you are unable to help us for any reason we would be pleased if you would let us know, so we can follow up with more enquiries.

Yours sincerely,
Frederick Jackson

William's face was a picture of surprise and disbelief, he could not think of a letter of any consequence he had ever received before, and to find this in the mailbox perplexed him.

A strong gust of wind suddenly brought his mind round to the danger of staying too long, the coaching house in the next village was only half a mile down the road, it would not be long before the sheriff's men would be heading this way, even if they knew he would be gone, he may have left some clue as to his identity, a fresh hoof, or foot print could be well seen and measured in the bright moonlight.


Pushing everything in sight into his bag he made off, feeling not so much pleased by his apparent fortune but worried about how he had come across the letter, he had lived secretly as a highwayman for too long for him not to be suspicious of any such good luck.

What is more he had never heard of an uncle who lived in Australia, but he did know of a man with the same name as himself in Blacksley.

He could not rule out the possibility of a relative, he had been brought up by his grandmother, never knowing his parents who he had been told had died when he was young. He had continued to live in the cottage after his grandmother had died but she never spoke of any of his relatives. There had been hints by neighbours that not all was as it should have been in the family, but he never bothered to enquire about the details for fear of finding out things that are better not known, such was the tenor of their comments.

He had always kept himself to himself, and he preferred it that way. He did not want neighbours knowing his business; it was safer. He made his social life in the nearby town where he kept in touch with various women, and did his drinking. Even they knew nothing, and feared him enough not to pry into his means of making a living, they simply enjoyed what came their way and asked for nothing more.

He decided not to make his way to his own cottage that night but go to an old broken down farm he knew, and go through what he had taken and think a little more about the letter.

When he arrived, he looked all round outside, a habit he had developed over the years of watching his back. Then went inside lighting his lantern and hanging it over a rough-hewn table.

Closing some tattered curtains he listened intently for a few minutes then emptied the loot on to the table, but he went straight for the letter, he may have missed something in the moonlight, it was much easier to see now as the lamp began to heat up. It was then he noticed that the corner of the envelope was missing, the stamp, and date of posting were gone, torn away roughly, and yet, as he envisioned what had happened that evening he could not recall the way in which he had come to tear it so. He grabbed the bag and looked inside but there was no sign of the missing piece there.

His eyes narrowed as he thought about the episode, could it be a trap, and yet he knew that no one could have known he was to stop that coach in particular.


How was he to follow up the letter when it had come into his possession in such a way, he began to wish he had never gone out that night.

He thought he might drop it in the area where he had held up the coach in the hope that someone would find it and pass it on to him, but he decided that it would be too hit and miss, it may stay there and never be seen, or blown out of sight into a hedge, in any event he did not want all the people around to know his business.

He hit upon the idea of posting the letter to himself, he could then say that it had come into his possession by legal means and had no idea about the hold-up, except local gossip, --yes that is what he would do.

The next day he went into the town and posted the letter as arranged, then went home to wait for its arrival, but it did not come the following day as he expected. The postman did not come to the village every day, letters were far and few between, the folk were mainly farmer labourers, and he was not sure just how long letters took to arrive after posting. He became impatient; sitting around did not suit his temperament. During his wait he had taken a walk. On the village green was a large oak where notices were posted regarding local business and events; as he went by he decided to pass some time reading what was there.

One notice read; Sale of contents of J. Thomas's. Cottage Blacksley will be held on Thursday 19th July, open for viewing seven days previous to sale.

He decided to ride the, twenty miles or so, to the village on the pretence, should he be asked, of going to the viewing, but his real intention was to enquire about the other William Hill, who, if deceased could be without kin, leaving the possibility of an even bigger legacy.

It was now 8.30. in the morning he could be there for lunch at the local inn by 12. o'clock.

Local communities were always aware of any strangers who came into their midst, and Blackley was no exception, travellers usually confined themselves to the local inns especially the coaching house in the village.

As he rode up to the inn he was aware of people looking at him with their usual cowed expression, not wanting to be noticed, in case one might ask them to do something, not unknown at that time by people who considered themselves to be above them in status.


However one man was mounted, and finely dressed in the custom of one of the gentry, a man of means perhaps, but apparently not accompanied.

Without any disguising his manner he sized William up as he rode toward him.

"You Sir" He said more politely than expected, "Come a long way?" Although his voice was soft and rather cultured there was the strength of enquiry, not one of casual conversation in attitude.

"From Attken village," he lied -"you ask for a purpose sir?" William enquired with genial interest.

"I do sir, - a highwayman held up a coach the night before last -what is your business" His tone was still friendly.

"I am going to a viewing for sale, -- furniture."

"Ah! Yes Thomas's" He said raising his eyebrows for confirmation of correctness.

"It is indeed" William assured "Any problems in connection with that?"

"If you have money I would be careful"

"I will Sir - do you know who he is?"

"No Sir, but we aim to find out- you could be he" he said curling his lips a little in humour.

"Me Sir," William laughed in response -"So I could."

"Good day to you sir" He said pulling his reign "But if it be you, enjoy your meal, it could be your last" He continued not letting him off his list, as if to let him know he would not be misled by the casualness of the conversation.

It struck something of a chill into William as he dismounted. It seemed to him more than a coincidental meeting, there was something in the man's manner that smacked of a knowingness, as if it was only a matter of time.

William bowed his head and entered the inn, then walked through to where he positioned himself in a chair enabling him to see out onto the road.

The landlord shouted from the back of the bar toward an open door where some kitchen activity and steam seemed to be involved.


Emily emerged looking flustered and followed the landlord's eyes to where William sat almost unaware of their presence, his mind more concerned with what could be going on outside.


"Yes Sir, what would you like" She enquired a little nervously as if not sure of herself.

William turned and came to his senses "Ah ! Yes."

"Would you be wanting a meal Sir we have all that on the slate, and some beef pie just coming out of the oven."

"Just a pint of ale, for the minute, I'll think about the food."

"Light ale sir."

"Yes, -- by the way," he said, as she was about to go, "Do you know who that man is on the horse?"

She looked through the window, "You mean him Sir?"


"I don't know sir he's not from round here. I could ask at the bar, he may know."

"No,- I was just being curious,-- just the ale."

The landlord came over with the ale, "They're looking for someone sir-I heard you asking."

"They, -is there more of them?"

" I don't rightly know sir, I've only seen him, I said 'they' because I am surmising more of them, something about a highwayman. I think he is one of the gentry from up the valley. I might be speaking out of turn but someone says it was his bride-to-be that was in the coach, but that maybe local gossip, you know what they're like sir. It's not as though its not happened before, but I suppose he will be offended if it is. It's nice to see someone doing something, it's only when the real Gents get involved that anything seems to get stirred."

The landlord looked out of the window; "Let me know when you want your meal sir, I don't suppose much is going to happen, who ever he is will be miles away by now, anyhow why would he come here, unless they've got a tip off."

With that he returned to the bar and resumed busying himself, occasionally glancing out of a nearby window, but without an air of expectancy.

William's appetite for food left him as he sat taught and pensive. He could see his horse and saddle bags, his pistol was in the right one, loaded, needing only to be cocked for use.


Why, he wondered, did the enquirer not ask for his name, maybe that would have made it look too official, but he could not rid himself of the strong notion that some ploy was afoot to trick him so as to reveal his true identity. He also felt that the landlord was watching him, not overtly, but the way William was acting himself was self-conscious and his guilt made him feel it was obvious.

"I'll have the pie" he shouted to the landlord, "You've got a wide selection, you had me thinking which one to have," he said trying to give reasons for his actions.

"I could see you deliberating sir-- so it's the pie finally?"

"Yes, not too bigger piece, I'm not over hungry."

"Right sir."

The landlord gave a quick look out of the window, and went through the open door into the kitchen, then, as if an after thought, put his head back round the door "Be with you in a moment sir." If it had not been for the quick look out of the window and the landlord going into the kitchen, William would have thought he had managed to not look guilty, but he now felt that he was obviously acting suspiciously, and the landlord could be about to tell the horseman.

He could feel panic, but also the need to stay in charge of the situation; after all it could be nothing more than imagination.

"Landlord," He shouted loudly. He was to ask for another drink, just to make sure, he had not slipped out. There was no reply.

He had the sudden urge to have his pistol about him, he was about to get up and dash to his horse when the landlord came out of the kitchen carrying a plate of steaming food.

"There you are sir, beef pie,-- would you be needing another ale."

William was frozen for a moment, the landlord continued, "I heard you call sir----from the kitchen."

"Aye-aye, another ale" he said gruffly.

The landlord frowned a little as he put the food down, "Are you all right sir?"

"Of course" William answered tersely.

"I mean, would you be wanting anything else."

"No, nothing."

William found it difficult to act normally and he knew the landlord was now acutely aware of his awkwardness.


"I have a sudden tooth ache, --it strikes out of the blue, another ale might just dull it a bit" he said trying to justify his actions.

"Aye sir I know what you mean, we have a remedy of sorts, if you'd like to try some, Tincture of Poppy, they call it, some of the gents take it without having toothache," he said winking "But it's dear sir."

Before he knew it, the landlord brought a large blue bottle and a small cup, tipping a small amount in the bottom he suggested dipping his finger in and massaging the offending tooth.

William found he had to go through with the charade, but it wasn't long before he began to get a feeling of well being along with numbness about the teeth and gums.

"It goes well with the ale," William said, feeling at ease with himself once more.

"Yes" said the landlord " You will be able to eat without any problem."

And so he did, enjoying the food and his surroundings as never before, almost forgetting the problem that had brought about this euphoria.

The landlord had not really been at ease with William's demeanour, even though he had ministered to him the pain killing potion, he also knew it was one way of pacifying him, and once sure he was no longer suspicious went in search of the gentleman horse rider, who fortunately for William was not to be found. The landlord was not overly concerned, well, not enough to give up tending to some more passengers who arrived by coach requiring a meal and an overnight stay. It was during the general hubbub, that William paid for the meal and the extras and made his way to his horse, feeling the right hand bag for his pistols, making sure they were still there before mounting.

Looking round for the horseman, who was by now out of sight, he went along the road towards the centre of the village, still feeling at ease with the world, probably, as he thought, due to the drink, but was, in large part, due to the efficacy of the toothache cure.

Finding the notice of sale outside the house in question, he read instructions as to the whereabouts of the key, which was at a neighbour's house. Dismounting he went across and knocked on the door.

He was not prepared for the beauty of the girl who answered and there was a brief but noticeable loss of concentration in his voice as he stammered his request for the key or to be shown round.


"My father's in the garden, I will show you round" she said already with the key in her hand.

"You are from Hampsville, aren't you" she said looking up at him.

"Yes" he said taken aback, and then feeling he had let out a secret.

"How do you know?"

"I remember you, from a long way back, you would've been about sixteen or seventeen and I was a little girl, we were attending a Harvest Festival, in your village and you were sat on the wall outside the chapel. You had long black curly hair, you picked up some fruit that had fallen from my basket and handed to me, do you remember?"

"I'm sorry, but that must be ten years ago."

"Yes, my father was the visiting minister, but it sticks in my memory, I don't know why, you were not part of the congregation, and I have seen you in town once when I went to the market, I knew it was you then, but I never knew your name."

William was about to say his name but he avoided it, and it was very obvious, covering up by saying "I can't believe you know so much about me, I mean, and not to remember you."

By this time they were at the door of the cottage, he felt awkward at not being able to give his name, and she looked so beautiful. She let them in and waved her hand as if to say it is all here, and looking, as he thought, slightly disappointed at his manner.

He suddenly said "There is, or was a man in this village called, William Hill, is he still here?"

"Were you related?"

"Were," he emphasised "Does that mean he is still not here?"

"There was a fire, two years ago now, he was never seen afterwards so it was taken that he must've died in it, you were not related then? She said frowning.


"Some say he was a highway man, and was about to get caught so he set fire to the house and faked his death, there was no remains ever found, they say he had long black curly hair, are you sure you were not related, she said amusingly.

"I hope he is no relation of mine, he could be a right villain. As a matter of interest how would I get to this house? It might be worth rebuilding."


She gave directions how to get to the house, while opening the door to the cottage, a musty smell greeted their nostrils, the disturbance of dust made them sneeze. From the light of the open door, William stumbled across the floor to a window and pulled aside the heavy drapes. A myriad specks of dust danced in the shafts of sunlight.

"Not many people have looked at this place."

"No, I shall be glad when it is sold, it was a pretty little place."

While they talked, William cast his eyes over the once highly polished items of furniture. He made his way to the other rooms, keeping up the pretence of his visit, also wanting to delay his departure from this very attractive lady.

"The table and chairs are well made and well kept, not quite the thing I was looking for but I could return for the sale, the prices may tempt me."

"Maybe we shall meet again."

"Possibly now I must be on my way, I have been informed that a highwayman is on the prowl after dark."

"Yes the Duke of Westchester is out with his men looking for him, it seems a good friend of his was on the coach that was robbed. That rogue of a highwayman is in for a rough hanging if he is caught."

"Ah that's the fine gentleman I met on my arrival, a real live Duke, never met one of those before."

"Do not be fooled by his pleasant manner some of the stories of his terrible rage, when he is in his cups, are really frightening."

"Then I shall watch my step if our paths cross. Thank you for showing me the furniture, if I return, I hope we shall meet. We seem to have forgotten something."

He was beginning to feel that this young lady would forgive a small lie about his name.

"What would that be?"

" I do not know your name."

A blush started to rise on her cheeks, her heart beat a little faster.

"Nor I yours."

"Then you must call me William, William Turner, at your service."

"I am called Imogen Watson." Feeling comfortable in this man's presence she added." Please call, I am sure my father would approve."

Giving a final wave she returned to her home.


William mounted his horse and following her directions soon found the burnt out ruin of a house. He poked about in the ashes and rubble, finding little of interest, until his eye caught a glint of sunshine on metal. Lifting some charred timbers revealed a steel box blackened by the heat of the fire, scraping away the soot from a nameplate he saw the words, William G. Hill. Forcing the lid he found a bundle of papers charred at the edges, carefully removing them, he tucked the papers in the poachers' pocket of his coat.

After a further ten minutes of searching he decided it was time to go, it was then he sensed danger.

"Now then fellow, what brings you to this place?"

William stiffened at the sound of the Duke's voice.

"The young lady who showed me over Thomas's cottage, mentioned this ruin. Being a builder my interest lies in the possibility of rebuilding what looks like a good profit maker."

"A man with an eye to business, well you have no business on my property, so take my friendly advice and be on your way."

William glanced around at the Dukes heavily armed men, then back to the Duke's steely face, and decided that he had overstayed his welcome.

"Yes, it is time I was returning home. I should make it before dark. I bid you good day sir."

After a hastily prepared meal he sat sipping a glass of ale, studying the papers he had found. They looked like pages torn from a Bible, placing a knife between the burnt edges, he read.

'o ever finds this poor baby pleas
ook after and care for him
can no longer
God bless you

The next page had some dates and notes which he read and deciphered, he managed to deduce from these, that he could have a twin brother somewhere in the world. According to these notes, the people who had raised his twin must have died, and his brother had inherited the house and land.

He spent a restless night, tossing and turning, waking from unpleasant dreams. A banging on his door woke him, staggering from his crumpled bed he opened the door to blinding sunlight. His eyes focused on a small man holding a letter.


"William Hill?"


"Letter for you."

He grabbed the letter and recognised it as the one he had addressed to himself.

"Thank you." He called to the messenger's disappearing back.

Ripping open the envelope he checked it was the original letter, then prepared for a trip to London.

"Yes, Mister Hill everything seems to be in order"

The gaunt looking solicitor, peered over his spectacles, rubbed his horny hands as if he was expecting a large fee.

"Yes, I feel we shall be able to place this considerable sum of money into your bank within a day or two. Less our fee, of course.

"Thank you very much, I am only sorry that the other William Hill, is not able to share in this good fortune."

"We cannot trace him or any of the movements of Norman Hill. It seems that he just appeared in Australia, kept himself to himself, only dealt with people if he had to. Could have been a released convict or maybe a seaman who jumped his ship."

"Well I shall enjoy my good fortune and drink a toast to Norman Hill. Good day to you sir."

William almost danced out of the musty office to the nearest tavern to celebrate his new wealth.

As he journeyed back to Hampsville he decided that he would ask Imogene for her hand in marriage and also buy the burnt ruin of a house from the Duke.

It was the day of the sale at Thompson's cottage, so William had an excuse for seeing Imogene also he hoped he would see the Duke.

When Imogene opened the door to his knock, her smile made his heart flutter. His first words after hello were an apology and explanation of why he had given her a false name, making sure that his nighttime activities were not mentioned, he could now live his lie of being a builder.

Luckily she was in love with him and understood his reasons. After being introduced to her father and afternoon tea, William mentioned that he was hoping to meet up with the Duke.


"Not a very good idea at the moment, he is in the foulest of moods."

Imogene's father spoke as if he feared for Williams's safety.

"Why would that be?"

"It seems he lost quite a large amount of money gambling and his debts are being called in. Many tradesmen in the district are also owed money. Even his servants are rebelling in a small way."

"Perhaps I have come by my inheritance at a very opportune time. I shall approach the fellow as soon as possible."

" William Hill; William Hill. Ain't that the scoundrel that's supposed to have been a highwayman; got roasted when his house burnt down."

William could hear the Duke shouting as he patiently waited in the hall.

"Send the fellow in."

As William entered the drawing room, he could see that the Duke was half drunk and in a foul temper.

"Good morning to you sir."

"What the devil do you want? You're supposed to be dead."

"That was not I sir."

The Duke walked unsteadily towards William, pushed his face close to William's, breathing stinking whisky fumes.

"Seen you before. You look like the fellow who got burnt. Are you?"

"No! I am a builder, we last met at the supposed highwayman's burnt out ruin."

"Ah that's where I saw you, skulking about. What is it you want from me?"

"I come to make you an offer for the ruin and maybe some of the land. There are rumours abroad, that you need the money."

"Huh! Damned peasants enjoying a laugh at me are they? They'll laugh the other side of their faces when I'm finished with them."

"Well, are you wanting to sell or not? I do have other places to look at."

The Duke swallowed the remains of his drink, poured another, flopped into his favourite armchair, and gave a deep sigh, with a look of despair on his face, muttered. "I suppose so."


Raising his voice, he shouted. "I suppose so. Yes, damn you, yes."

William gave a smile of satisfaction. Though he was reluctant to do so, offered his hand to seal the deal. The Duke reluctantly took it.


Three years have passed. William and Imogene, were happily married with two children. William rebuilt the ruin and prospered by building small cottages on his land and renting them out.

The Duke was found sprawled on his drawing room floor, having died in a drunken stupor, still owing money to all and sundry.

The mystery of the second William Hill was still not resolved.

A highwayman still roamed the dark roads and byways.

William was returning, by stagecoach, from a business meeting, on a chilly November evening. His traveling companions were all dozing and half asleep.

Then sudden shouts of the driver, creaks and squeals as the horses were reined to a sharp halt.

The dreaded words." Stand and deliver." Cracked into the frosty air.

William still carried his pistol, more from habit than protection. Tonight he was not in the mood to be robbed of his newfound wealth, even though his sympathy lay with the robber.

"Everybody out"

Nobody hesitated, scrambling through the coach door.

"Line up."

The orders were coming short and sharp, the shadowy figure moved forward into the moonlit road.

"Right ladies, let's have your pretty trinkets, give them all to one of these gentlemen. Gentlemen your wallets and purses, to the lucky person who catches this bag."

He threw a saddlebag at the nearest male passenger.

"Come on look lively, the cold is attacking my bones."

All the valuables had been collected and placed in the bag, the man who held the bag moved to give it to the highwayman. William saw his chance, drew his pistol, took aim and fired, all in seconds.

The highwayman looked surprised as the ball hit him, he slid slowly back and sideways from his horse. Nobody moved, all frozen with shock in the still night.

William was first to move, he knelt at the side of the dead man, pulled the mask down revealing the highwayman's face. He could have been looking in a mirror; the face was his, except for a neat purple edged hole in the centre of the forehead.

About the Author

Roy E. Hare was born in East London in 1928. At the end of the Second World War, Roy served in the Royal Air Force between 1945 - 1948, mainly in various posts in India. Married in 1954 and still going strong. Moved to Yorkshire a number of years ago, and spends his time walking and writing stories and poetry.

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