Watch by Moonlight
Alfred Noyes’s tragic, romantic poem “The Highwayman” is the basis of this imaginative and vivid novel. In 1763, Jason Quick of London, son of a seditious printer, mistrusts the Crown and the law even more after their business is wrecked by vandals. Supporting himself as a pickpocket on the streets and in the playhouses after his father is imprisoned as a debtor, he encounters actor David Garrick and embarks upon an affair with an actress. On learning his parent was abruptly transported to Virginia, Jason hastens to Plymouth to arrange his own transport to America.
Making his way through rural Dorset, he encounters an infamous local highwayman and meets Bess Whateley, devout daughter of an innkeeper. Assuming the criminal’s identity, he waylays coaches and army paymasters to fund his and his father’s future in the New World. Bess’s romantic awakening and her hopes of a happy marriage are marred by concern at his recklessness. She urges her sweetheart to reform, even as he undermines her own morals and tests her loyalty.
A reader’s familiarity with Noyes’s rhyme (reprinted in full at the end) will not detract from the novel’s suspense and excitement, nor do a few minor anachronisms mar its appeal.