Outlaws and Highwaymen

Passage from Rookwood, by William Harrison Ainsworth
William Harrison Ainsworth, Rookwood, (London, George Routledge, c. 1856), pp. 272–3


Black Bess being undoubtedly the heroine of the Fourth Book of this Romance, we may, perhaps, be pardoned for here expatiating a little in this place upon her birth, parentage, breeding, appearance, and attractions. And first as to her pedigree; for in the horse, unlike the human species, nature has strongly impressed the noble or ignoble caste. He is the real aristocrat, and the pure blood that flows in the veins of the gallant steed will infallibly be transmitted, if his mate be suitable, throughout all his line. Bess was no cock-tail.1 She was thorough-bred; she boasted blood in every bright and branching vein:

               If blood can give nobility,
               A noble steed was she;
               Her sire was blood, and blood her dam,
               And all her pedigree.

As to her pedigree. Her sire was a desert Arab, renowned in his day, and brought to to this country by a wealthy traveller; her dam was an English racer, coal-black as her child. Bess united all the fire and gentleness, the strength and hardihood, the abstinence and endurance of fatigue of the one, with the spirit and extraordinary fleetness of the other. How Turpin became possessed of her is of little consequence. We never heard that he paid a heavy price for her; though we doubt if any sum would have induced him to part with her. In colour, she was perfectly black, with a skin smooth on the surface as polished jet; not a single white hair could be detected in her satin coat. In make she was magnificent. Every point was perfect, beautiful, compact; modelled, in little, for strength and speed. Arched was her neck, as that of the swan; clean and fine were her lower limbs, as those of the gazelle; round and sound as a drum was her carcase, and as broad as a cloth-yard shaft her width of chest. Hers were the “pulchrae clunes, breve caput, arduaque cervix,” of the Roman bard.2 There was no redundancy of flesh, ’tis true; her flanks might, to please some tastes, have been rounder, and her shoulder fuller; but look at the nerve and sinew, palpable through the veined limbs! She was built more for strength than beauty, and yet she was beautiful. Look at that elegant little head; those thin tapering ears, closely placed together; that broad snorting nostril, which seems to snuff the gale with disdain; that eye, glowing and large as the diamond of Giamschid!3 Is she not beautiful? Behold her paces! How gracefully she moves! She is off!—no eagle on the wing could skim the air more swiftly.

William Harrison Ainsworth


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