For the final door of our Film Advent Calendar (you know, the big double one that usually has Jesus, Mary and Joseph behind it?) Rebecca has unearthed a mysterious historical document which hopefully should finally put paid to a ridiculous annual argument…
‘twas late in the century and later in the year. A white blanket fell on the watchman’s coach as he travelled back to his wife. To drive away the chilblains, he rolled his toes as the cobbles bounced his weary heart.
As he drove across the frozen Thames, he saw the remains of the old watchtower. Against it was a sign telling of the new watchtower to be erected in its place. He had first met his wife at the old tower, and it was her family name on the sign proclaiming its rebirth.
By the time he entered the family house, he was taken by an anger far from his self. How dare she despoil their memory. Her greeting started as genial but soon she too was overcome. There had to be progress and he was – as always – stuck in the past.
Unbeknownst to the couple – for that was still what they were – two hoodlums were outside with wicked thoughts on their mind. They knew that the Watchman’s wife was from a wealthy family and they desired that wealth for themselves. The watchdogs were swiftly dispatched by foul meat, and from the shadows, a highwayman appeared. Many had thought him hanged at the gibbet, but he had returned.
Solid hammer blows rained upon the door before it fell into splinters, and with that time the Watchman hid himself. No coward he, but gifted with the quickwit of a seasoned professional.
The Highwayman arrived in a shower of white wind, as if the winter itself had claimed a champion. Around the flickering fire, the rest of the family hid, their warmth threatened by this masked man. The Father, a strong-willed man, drew his sabre – but a single crack from the pistol ended his poor life.
From his hiding place in the kitchen, the Watchman devised a plan. He would take to the cellar and light the beacon lamps, letting the local watchmen know. But a Watchman is not known for his ability to shadow walk, and one of the hoodlums spotted him. The Hoodlum struck out with his beating stick, but the Watchman fell upon him and relieved him of his senses. Now he had a beating stick, and somewhere to go.
Within the cellar now, the Watchman saw that it was full of wrapped presents. The Watchman had married into a rich family – and now he was surrounded by all that he could not afford. He was still a Watchman though and found a lantern signalling a passer-by. The Passer-by looked down upon him and proclaimed him a looney. The Watchman had failed, but in his failure, he had given away his position. Three more hoodlums rushed into the cellar, minds full of wicked thoughts.
The Passer-by though, being of kind heart, told the local lamplighter that someone had a lamp in a cellar and that could cause a disturbance. The Lamplighter agreed and set off to check that all was well.
One by one, the hoodlums searched the cellar. And as each hiding place was uncovered, the Watchman moved to a new one. He was ever aware though and heard of the Lamplighters footsteps above. There was no way to alert the Lamplighter without revealing himself to the hoodlums though.
As one passed the shadows, the Watchman had an idea. Quick as a flash, he leapt from his hiding place and struck at the first hoodlum. Not for his head, but for his lantern hand. The lantern fell and smashed, leaving the first in the dark.
Two more strikes and there were no lanterns. The Lamplighters’ feet stopped. Every Lamplighter knew the dangers of a dropped lantern – and he had just heard three.
The Watchman took his own lantern and touched it to the remains of the third.
Bright summer flame leapt across the cellar, blinding the hoodlums and scaring the Lamplighter. The Watchman ran to the stairs and kicked hard, shattering the stairs behind him. He did not have time to look back on the three burning rogues.
Outside, the Lamplighter had already fled. He knew of the dangers of fire and shouted to all around to bring buckets.
As the Watchman returned to the kitchen, he wondered. There were four hoodlums he had met so far, and all were as skinny as orphans. How would such skinny people carry off the wealth within the family? It made not a lick of sense. Spying on the Highwayman, he also saw a man of little weight. There was something wrong about this whole thing. Who did the Highwayman serve?
Through the open door, the Watchman heard the cries of the Firemen and knew that help was coming. The Highwayman still stood still. He must be able to hear the sounds, thought the Watchmen – but the Highwayman did, and still laughed.
Pointing to his men, they started to pull straw and bedding from all over. As the fire raged in the basement, they started to build one in the entryway. They were not here to rob the place, but to destroy it! The Highwayman started to rifle through the Father’s drawers, malice visible through the mask, while the hoodlums built a pyre for the estate.
The Lamplighter had returned with many men, but as each went to the Thames, they found no water to take. The weather had turned all water to ice – and ice could not be thrown from buckets. The Lamplighter himself noticed that most of the buckets had holes in. Holes that had been freshly made!
From the ransacked drawers, back at the house, the Highwayman pulled a wax-sealed document. He exclaimed delight and removed his mask to study it closer. At that moment, both the Watchman and his wife recognise that this was not the dandy Highwayman hung at the gibbet, but the estranged son. Ostracised and locked up in the old watchtower for his crimes, he had returned. Both the husband and the wife gasped, as this had been the person who had first introduced them to each other.
With this gasp, the revealed son threw off his disguise and grabbed hold of the Watchman’s wife. She was now to be his bride and if the Watchman interfered, he would take a knife to her.
Outside, the Lamplighters men were searching for anything to douse the flames. One of them gave a shout and called the others over. He had found a collection of wooden buckets with liquid! They ran in and grabbed the buckets, carting them back to save the building from the flames.
The Highwayman had planned for this though. In fact, he had left the buckets there. For within them were liquids that would feed the fire, not quench it.
As the first bucket was thrown onto the fire, the Lamplighter recognised the danger and called for the procession to stop – but a fresh bout of flame robbed him of those words, with the fire growing ever higher.
The estranged Son called to the Watchman to watch his home go down in flames, but the Watchman was schooled by the best. Despite all around him burning, he remains as the calm and solid as the Thames and calls for the Son that he is a coward.
The Son, full of Pride, steps past the burning embers to proclaim himself the better man. After all, he has the Watchman’s wife now, and he cannot be hurt.
There are some that do not think there will ever be a Watchwoman, but a wife of a Watchman must take on something of her husband, as he takes on something of her. The Watchwoman bit at the arm around her, and the Son cried out in pain. At that moment, the Watchman stepped forward and delivering a loud blow knocked the Son back into the pyre.
Immediately, the flames he had brought took hold of his Highwayman’s cloak and hungrily spread. Still, he had hold of the Watchwoman, and she screamed as the flames came upon her. The Watchman leapt forward, with no thought to his own safety and pushed the Watchwoman away from the flames. The Son, being a thin man, could not hope to hold onto her as well and disappeared into the flames.
Both the Watchman and the Watchwoman, as she was now, stepped from the burning building. A whole family and their presents gone forever because of a family feud.
They stopped and kissed, vowing never to let this moment leave their minds. As they kissed though, the son appeared from the flames. Born of fire and rage, he wished final revenge.
He had not known of the Lamplighter, and would probably not have paid him attention, but the Lamplighter knew how to extinguish as well as illuminate. A swift move from his lighting stick and the Son was extinguished finally.
The Watchwoman took the deed the Son held onto for so long and looks at it. This was the deed to tear down the old Watchtower. She throws it back into the flames and walks off with her husband to rebuild across the New Year.
OK, is it a Christmas story now? 🙂