15 December 2022
The Angel of Beddenham
A Christmas story.
By Neil Tidmarsh
“It’s all nonsense” said Brian the landlord. “Complete nonsense.”
It was Christmas Eve and the small group of regulars who’d already gathered in the bar of the Star Inn were discussing what everyone in the whole village discussed every Christmas Eve – their local and ancient legend, the Angel of Beddenham.
According to the legend, one of the angels got lost when that heavenly host was winging its way to the Nativity on the very first Christmas Eve two thousand years ago. Realising he was miles off-course, he touched down on top of a hill in Devon, assumed human form and asked a passing group of shepherds if they knew the way to the star at Bethlehem. “The Star at Beddenham?” they replied. “Of course we do! We’re going there ourselves! Come with us!”
It was an unfortunate coincidence and meant that the angel spent that world-changing night in completely the wrong place; nevertheless, he had a very good time indeed at the Star Inn that evening. The village gave such a warm welcome to this stranger in their midst (not knowing that he was an angel, of course) that he stayed there for a whole week and enjoyed Beddenham’s considerable pleasures to the full. He eventually made it to that stable and crib only just in time for Twelfth Night and the arrival of the Three Kings and rather the worse for wear. But he never forgot the villagers’ hospitality. To this day, the legend insists, he’s so grateful that he returns to the Star Inn every Christmas Eve, incognito, and repays their kindness by secretly performing good deeds and making dreams come true.
“A ridiculous fairy-tale made up by some marketing idiot, I reckon” Brian grumbled. “To bring the tourists in out of season, or something.” He was a ferociously ugly and bad-tempered old man. A humped back strained the fabric of his battered tweed jacket, a squint meant he could keep one eye on the customers standing at the bar and the other on the customers sitting at the tables behind them, and a gammy leg gave him a limp which made dogs bark at him as he passed. But everyone loved him, not least because his grumbles made them laugh and they knew that he didn’t mind them laughing. In fact, they suspected that that was why he grumbled in the first place.
“But the legend’s really old!” laughed the Reverend Trudy Bridger, Beddenham’s plump and pretty vicar, knocking back her gin and tonic. “Centuries old! Isaac Dobson recorded it in his ‘Folk Tales of the County of Devon’ of 1692. Much too old to be a PR stunt!”
“And if it was a marketing stunt, shouldn’t we be grateful?” said Anne the barmaid. “I mean, it really brings the punters in on Christmas Eve, doesn’t it?”
“Yeah, well, I wish it didn’t.” Brian grimaced. The pub was beginning to fill up and he glared round at his customers as they gathered, happy and chattering, at tables and along the bar beneath the wonderful Christmas decorations that he himself had put up so lovingly and carefully that very morning. “Bloody exhausting. I’m knackered all Christmas day. Takes me till New Year to recover.”
His words provoked gales of laughter and Terry the barman had to raise his voice to make himself heard. “What about Ken Brown, then, last year? Found a fifty quid note lying on the pavement on his way home from the Star, early Christmas morning! Where did that come from, eh? I mean, none of us here in the village has ever owned a fifty quid note, I don’t suppose, let alone lost one!”
“Coincidence.” Brian shrugged. “Pure coincidence.”
More laughter. “But what about Kay Walsh, the year before last?” Anne the barmaid said. “She got home after a glass of wine here, and there was an email waiting for her from the hospital, her cancer was in remission! And she’s still with us, isn’t she, even though the doctors said she only had six months to live?”
“Pure luck” said Brian. “And I’m glad of it, for Kay’s sake.” He shook his head. “All you gullible idiots, hoping for a bloody miracle.”
The Rev Trudy sighed. “Well, I could do with a miracle myself.” She brushed her hair out of her eyes, pink nail varnish peeping through blond curls. “I’ve just heard that the diocese has decided not to give us that grant after all.”
Her news provoked groans of sympathy from all around. Everyone knew about her plans to get an extension built onto the south side of Saint Botolph’s church, behind the village square. They knew how much the project meant to her and they shared her disappointment – the extension would have provided a valuable community space for them all. The whole village had pulled together to raise funds, but without that grant from the diocese to cover the greater part of the cost there was little hope that the work would ever go ahead.
“I’m sorry” Brian said. He noticed that her lipstick-stained glass was empty. He refilled it. “Here you are. On the house.”
“Thanks.” The Rev Trudy raised her glass to her scarlet lips. “Bless you, Brian.”
Brian and Terry and Anne were soon too busy to join in the conversations buzzing all along the bar. The pub was almost full. Most of the customers were villagers who all knew each other; many others were outsiders known in the village as friends and family; a very few were complete strangers. Everyone coming into the pub was subjected to the less-than covert scrutiny of most of the people already in there. That young man taking his hat off – look at his incredible pony-tail! – there’s something unworldly about him, surely? Could he be an angel? Oh, no, he’s Dave Palmer’s mate, just come over from Exeter… Or that girl with the impossibly shiny hair and the big innocent eyes, look, she’s really shy, as if she doesn’t know how to behave among mere mortals… Oh, no, she’s Carol’s cousin, you know Carol, she lives at the far end of Carter Lane, the cottage on the corner? There she is, at that table over there beside the door, hi Carol! Glad to see your cousin made it all the way from Taunton!
Only three actual strangers – absolutely unknown to anyone in there – had appeared by the time the evening’s celebrations were well under way. There was a couple – an old man and a young girl – who sat themselves down at the far end of the bar and conversed with each other in a beautiful-sounding language which no one there could identify. The young girl spoke for both of them when she ordered their drinks, in hesitant English, and her voice was so sweet and her accent so musical that the murmured description “heavenly!” immediately made its whispered progress around the pub.
The third stranger was an old lady who ordered champagne with a secretive twinkle in her eyes and met every curious gaze with a benevolent smile. No one had actually seen her arrive – and she didn’t seem to have a coat or hat or any kind of outdoor clothing – but there she was, sitting neatly at that little table by the Christmas tree as happily and comfortably if she was in her own home.
For most of the villagers, all this scrutiny and conjecture was just an idle and amusing entertainment. Some of them thought it was boring and stupid. But for more than a few it was a deadly serious business.
Young Garry from the petrol station on the Bridport road just outside the village and three of his mates pushed their way to the bar to stand elbow to elbow jammed in beside the seated strangers – the old man and the young girl – and proceeded to converse in loud voices about their band ‘Eagle Stone’ and how they deserved to be chart-topping mega-stars with a sell-out tour of the States and a yacht in the Caribbean and a villa in the South of France and a converted loft in London. “And with my looks I should be a top model and a movie star, too!” Garry exclaimed, trying to catch the eye of the young girl. Yes, she’s the angel, he thought, she must be! And she’s listening, I can tell, and she won’t let herself look at me even though she wants to, she’s so shy. Well, sooner or later I’ll catch her giving me a sneaky peek and I’ll give her a wink and a smile which will make her heart turn over. She won’t be able to resist me any more than any mortal girl can!
Edith Enderby, from the hardware shop at the bottom of Grub Hill, moved fast as soon as the smiling old lady settled herself down by the tree. Before anyone else could beat her to it, she quickly pulled up another chair to the little table (she was on her own – her husband never came out to the pub and rarely left the shop – in fact they were hardly ever seen together and village gossip had many explanations for that) and began to lament the fact that she had never won the lottery, even though she played it every week and had every need for a bit of luck, having never had any luck in her whole life, not like some she could mention. And what she would do with the millions she deserved! She wouldn’t waste it on other people, oh no, the undeserving and the ungrateful would get none of it! Why, she’d be out of this village like a flash and find some place where she’d be appreciated and valued by proper people who knew better than anyone here how to treat her with respect! The old lady stranger smiled and nodded politely and sipped her champagne but said nothing.
The Rev. Trudy shook her head in wry amusement at the sight of such blatant petitioning. “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers; for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” she said. “Hebrews, chapter 13, verse 2.”
“Unawares?” snorted Brian, furiously washing and drying glasses. “Everyone in this whole village is only too aware. And all too gullible.”
“Now, now” Trudy laughed. “No sacrilege, please, tonight of all nights.” She put her empty glass down on the bar and stood up. “Time to go. Midnight mass in a couple of hours. Better be sober by then.”
On the way out she gave a cry of alarm – a figure loomed up in the doorway so suddenly that she couldn’t help bumping into it. She stepped back and gave a gasp of surprise. The newcomer was a man, a young man, who seemed to shine against the darkness outside. ‘Golden’ was the word that came to mind. He seemed to have golden hair and golden skin, and he looked like he was dressed in gold, too, his pale tan leather jacket – slick with rain or snow – shone under the soft light in the lobby. ‘Beautiful’ was another word which struck her. He was tall and slim and fine-featured and looked young and at the same time ageless. He peered at her and even his eyes looked golden in that light and she saw a sadness and a warmth in them which seemed to reach right through her, right to the place in her heart or soul or mind or wherever it was that she kept her hopes and dreams. Then he blinked and muttered “sorry” and squeezed past her. She looked back over his shoulder and caught Brian’s eye where he stood behind the bar. She pointed a finger at the stranger’s back, grinning and raising her eyebrows. “Gorgeous!” she mouthed silently, pressing both palms to her heart in a mime of infatuation.
The deafening roar of laughter and shouted conversations died away as all eyes turned to the newcomer. Everyone in the pub froze, taking in the stranger’s golden glow, his ageless beauty, his melancholy air of alienation and isolation, the sadness of solitude and exile which clung to him like the raindrops or snowflakes on his leather jacket gleaming and glittering as they melted or dried to nothing. He himself seemed oblivious of their reaction. A perfect silence had descended by the time he reached the bar. The crowd there immediately parted to let him through. Then they began to whisper and murmur amongst themselves. Here’s our angel, surely! He must be an angel – who else but an angel could look like that?
“Welcome to the Star Inn, sir” said Terry the barman with his usual friendly grin. He alone seemed unfazed by the apparent presence of magic. He was a happy-go-lucky twenty-year old, always and unfailingly cheerful, who had no use for miracles or three wishes or supernatural good deeds because he was perfectly content with his life as it was. As far as he was concerned (and who was to say that he was mistaken?) there was no better place to live in the whole world than the village of Beddenham and no better job than barman at the Star Inn. “Come far?”
“Far enough” said the golden stranger in a tone which was polite but discouraged any more questions. He ordered a double scotch and without further discussion or conversation took it to an almost hidden corner (beside the door through to the Gents) where he settled himself down on his own at a table which had mysteriously remained unoccupied in that otherwise packed pub.
The crowd at the bar burst into life again. Excited and barely-hushed voices exclaimed “Only an angel could look like that!” and “No mortal human being could look like that!” and “How could a mortal human being look like that? Impossible!”
Even Brian had stared in silence with all the rest of them. But then he shook his head. “Sun-beds, that’s how” he growled, pouring yet another pint of Beddenham’s very own locally-brewed ‘Heavenly Host’ best ale. “Sun-beds and botox and plastic surgery.”
A burst of jeering laughter poured scorn on that suggestion.
Gary and his mates lost no time in abandoning the old man and the young girl and hurrying over to the corner by the door to the Gents. There was room for them at the golden stranger’s table but they couldn’t quite bring themselves to sit down uninvited with him. His presence was too awe-inspiring and his brooding solitude warned them to keep their distance. So they stood behind him, far enough away but close enough for him to hear them, and repeated their dreams of chart-topping glory for their band: a recording contract with a top London label; supermodel girlfriends; millions of adoring fans; sell-out world tours…
Edith Enderby wasn’t far behind them. She left the smiling and champagne-drinking old lady without so much as a ‘thank you and goodbye’ and sat herself down at the golden stranger’s table without so much as a ‘hello and may I?’. Once more she launched into her pitch for a prize-winning lottery ticket. The golden stranger said nothing. His eyes were fixed on his glass of whisky. It was impossible to tell whether he was listening intently to her or whether his thoughts were somewhere else entirely. Her monologue faltered only once; when he lifted his glass to his lips, his cuff fell back and she spotted a tattoo on his wrist – a little tattoo of a winged and haloed being! An angel! Her mouth fell open wide and her voice ceased. He glanced up at her, surprised by her silence, saw what she was staring at and quickly tugged his cuff back up to hide the little tattoo. Unsettled and excited as she was, she immediately found her voice again and on she rushed with her petition.
Anne the barmaid came round collecting empty glasses just as he was finishing his scotch. “Another one?” she asked.
He nodded and held out his glass. “Please.”
She reached for it and her fingers brushed his. The contact sent a shock all the way up her arm. She almost dropped the glass. “Sorry” he said. He glanced up at her and the sadness and warmth in his golden eyes gave her another shock. Her hands shook and she blinked back tears. He knows, she thought. He knows about Tom. But how can he know?
Brian gave her a curious look when she came back to the bar. “You OK?”
Anne nodded without looking at him. She put the empties down on the bar. “He wants another scotch. The… the man in the corner.”
“I’ll see to that” Brian said. “It’s time you took your break. Go on. Make sure you’re back in ten minutes, mind.” He turned to the rack of whisky bottles behind him. “Another double, I suppose. I hope he isn’t driving.”
More laughter from the drinkers sitting at the bar. “Driving? Course he isn’t driving! Angels don’t need cars, do they?”
Anne went out into the darkness and the cold of the car-park and lit up a cigarette. She’d been trying not to think about Tom all evening. Tom, who had walked out on her three weeks ago, after four years together. He’d gone off with a girl he’d met in Bristol when he was there on some course or other, a girl who as it happened lived in a village only six miles away. It was a total shock for Anne, coming completely out of the blue. She had no idea why Tom had left. They’d been happy together, she was sure of it. Even Tom himself had been unable to explain it when he moved out. Unable, or unwilling. She didn’t feel any anger, surprisingly, she just felt bewildered and crushed. Too sad and shattered for hatred or anger.
Did the stranger really know about Tom? She shook her head. No. Impossible. Ridiculous. That was one of the terrible things about trying to hide the shame of betrayal and the sorrow of heart-break; you suspect that everyone around you knows all about it and is talking about you behind your back. And yet, perhaps they do, perhaps they are. She was sure she wasn’t imagining the concern and sympathy in the voices and faces of those close to her, of Brian and Terry for instance, as if they’re expecting her to break down into tears or not turn up for work or something. And that time last week when she’d shut herself in the Ladies because she thought she really was going to break down in tears in the middle of the pub, and a group of village girls had come into the Ladies and started talking about her and Tom, not realising she was behind the locked cubicle door. Tom must be mad to dump Anne, they’d said, but have you seen his new squeeze? Long blonde hair, big boobs, long legs… I mean, Anne isn’t bad looking herself, is she, but, really, competition like that, it would take a miracle for him to get back with her, wouldn’t it?
By the time she’d finished her cigarette she was shivering violently. The cold and the fresh air had been invigorating at first, after the hot, stuffy bar, but now it was freezing. Time to go back inside. It was then that she realised she’d been crying. Stop that, she told herself sternly. She dried her eyes and took half-a-dozen slow, deep breaths. Right. Back to work.
Edith Enderby was still in full swing when Brian limped his way across the pub to the golden stranger’s table. “Here we are, sir” he said, holding out the double scotch.
“Thank you.” The stranger stood up to take it. It was a strange sight, the two of them face to face: one of them old and ugly, crippled and squinting and hunch-backed, dressed in a battered old tweed suit; the other young and tall and straight and slim, fine-featured, unnaturally beautiful, his golden hair and golden skin and golden jacket – a shining raiment – seeming to give off a glow all around him. Eye to eye, hand to hand, the glass passing between them.
“On the house, sir” Brian said, turning away. “And a Merry Christmas to you.”
“Thank you” the stranger said again. He watched Brian limp painfully back to the bar and then raised his glass and drank as if toasting him. “And a Merry Christmas to you too, landlord.” He drained his glass and put it down on the table and went out through the door to the Gents, bumping into a newcomer who was hurrying into the pub from the back entrance. “Sorry” he said, but the newcomer seemed too preoccupied to notice him.
The newcomer was a farmer from the hills some miles inland from the village. He had a weather-beaten face and wore a weather-beaten Barbour and muddy wellington boots. He was a young man but he looked old because his hair was grey and his face was deeply lined with worry. He made his determined but effortful way across to the bar, leaning forwards as if struggling against a strong head wind out on some desolate hillside.
“Good to see you, Geoff” said Brian. “How are you this evening?”
“Fine, Brian, thanks.” Geoff wasn’t fine and everyone knew it. “I’ll just have a quick one, Brian. A bottle of Heavenly Host Zero, please. I’ll be driving back to the farm in a moment.”
“Alcohol-free beer, I don’t know, what’s the world coming to?” grumbled Brian as he rummaged among the bottles. “You’d better have this on the house, Geoff. I’d feel like a con-man if I charged you for it.” He passed bottle and glass across the counter. “And how’s the misses?”
“Fine, thanks, Brian.” But Geoff’s wife Fiona wasn’t fine, either, and everyone knew it too. The farm was remote and Geoff, like all hill-farmers, was struggling to make it pay. He was a good farmer, hard-working and experienced and skilled, but each year the costs seemed to go up and the income seemed to go down. Geoff could cope with it because he loved farming and couldn’t imagine any other life, but Fiona felt lonely and isolated and anxious. And they had no children. That was the worst of it. Fiona desperately wanted children, but after seven years of marriage and numerous medical opinions it was clear that they would remain childless, unless some kind of miracle happened. It was particularly hard at lambing and calving time – year after year their animals became pregnant and gave birth as a matter of course, increasing Fiona’s sense of isolation and abandonment and apparent failure. His wife’s unhappiness cut Brian to the heart.
He looked at his watch. He’d come in to the village to deliver some hams to friends and family there, and he’d promised Fiona he’d go straight back home. He worried about Fiona waiting all alone in their draughty old stone farmhouse, but he couldn’t resist the lure of the Star Inn and he reckoned that a quick drink would do no harm. And a quick drink it was – he gulped down the ale, set his empty glass back on the bar and took his woolly cap out of his pocket and pulled it on over his grey hair. “Thanks, Brian. Merry Christmas to you.”
“A Merry Christmas to you too, and to Fiona. Give her our best wishes. And drive safely.”
Geoff hurried out just as Anne the barmaid came back in. Brian looked at her. “You ok?”
Anne nodded again and managed a smile. “Thanks, Brian. Yes, I’m sure.”
Brian poured a glass of wine and passed it to here. “Here, this’ll help. On the house, of course.”
“It certainly will.” Anne took the glass and laughed. Yes, I could do with a drink, she thought. She glanced round the pub. “But where’s our stranger in the corner gone?”
“He’s just nipped out to the Gents” Brian said. “Proof indeed that he’s no heavenly body, you gullible fools. I don’t think angels would drink scotch or need to go to the loo, do you?”
“Actually,” said a brandy-drinker, an ex-headmaster who’d retired to the village four years earlier, “John Milton tells us that angels are indeed corporeal beings. All the angels in ‘Paradise Lost’ eat and drink just like us humans, so it’s safe to conclude that they’re subject to all the other bodily needs and functions too.”
“John Milton? Well, whoever he is, tell him he’s barred from my pub.”
But half-an-hour later the stranger still hadn’t reappeared. Gary and his mates and even Edith Enderby drifted away from that corner table. Brian sent Terry into the Gents to make sure everything was all right, but there was no sign of the stranger in there.
He’d disappeared. They never saw him again.
Closing time came and went and the pub was still packed and noisy with loud voices and laughter. The little champagne-drinking and smiling old lady was caught drunkenly trying to lift a wallet from the inside pocket of a coat slung across the back of a chair, and spent the next half-hour sobering up in a back room with a pot of coffee and Bob the village’s special constable for company before being sent on her way. A violent row broke out between the old man and the young girl; they started yelling at each other in their own language, words which nobody understood but which sounded shockingly indecent nevertheless, and then the girl slapped the man round the face and the man seized the girl by the shoulders and shook her as if he was trying to get a whole swarm of insects off her. Terry separated them and threw the man out of the front door and ejected the girl – swearing at him now and trying to slap him – out of the back door.
At half-past eleven Brian closed the bar and started turning off the lights and everyone went off across the village square for midnight mass at Saint Botolph’s just as the church bells started ringing.
After the service, the Rev Trudy Bridger felt exhausted but knew she wouldn’t be able to sleep for a good few hours yet. She gave her two cats extra treats when she returned to the vicarage and turned on her computer to pass the time. One of the cats curled up on her lap and the other tried to sprawl across the keyboard as she logged on to check her e-mails. She’d checked them only a few hours ago, and there was only one new message waiting for her, but her heart leapt when she saw who it was from. The diocese office. And the subject line read “Grant for St Botolph’s, Beddenham”. Calm down Trudy, she told herself. Don’t get too excited. It’ll only make the disappointment worse.
She opened the email, and there it was. The diocese had reconsidered its decision. It was now prepared to cover all necessary costs for the planned building works.
Trudy threw herself back in her chair, laughing with joy, and then danced madly round her table, twice, before putting her hands together and offering up a prayer of thanks for this Christmas miracle.
After the service, Anne the barmaid was dreading going home to her silent and dark and empty flat. But as she approached along Downing Lane she was puzzled to see that the lights were on in her windows and the curtains were closed. She was sure she’d turned the lights off and left the curtains open when she’d gone out to work earlier that day. She put the key in the lock and heard movement – the shuffle of approaching footsteps – on the other side of the front door. She felt a sudden shock of fear but couldn’t stop herself from pushing the door open.
And there was Tom, standing in the little hallway. Pale-faced and anxious, fearful even, head bowed in an attitude of shame and penitence and pleading. “Anne” he gasped. “I’m sorry. I must have been mad. I’m so sorry. Will you ever forgive me?”
Anne stared at him. “I should have changed the bloody locks” she said. And then she started laughing. And crying. And then they were in each other’s arms, laughing and crying together.
It was late and very dark when Geoff pulled up in his ancient Land Rover outside his big front door. The empty hills loomed pitch black all around, but the clear sky was full of bright stars. It was very cold and the ‘crack!’ as he shut the car door rang out through the frosty air like a gunshot. He was glad to get indoors and was surprised to find it warmer in there than he remembered. His dogs – three border collies and two lurchers – came running across the big hallway to greet him, barking with excitement and waving their tails happily. And in their wake came Fiona, running towards him, smiling – no, laughing – as happy and excited as the dogs.
He didn’t understand it at first. He thought he was dreaming. He’d expected to find her as he usually found her, slumped in her chair by the Aga in the kitchen, silent and dejected, not like this, not… What had happened? What was going on?
Then he saw what she was clutching in her right hand. She was waving it at him across the turbulent sea of dogs. A little blue plastic gadget. He knew what it was. He had every reason to know – home pregnancy testing kits had cruelly dominated and cursed his life for ages. And yet, here, now, his wife was laughing, she was happy! Happier than he’d know her to be for years and years!
“It’s positive, Geoff! Positive! We’re going to have a child, Geoff! A baby! We’re going to be parents! I’m pregnant! I really am this time!”
Geoff waded through the surging mass of dogs to embrace his wife, the two of them as ecstatic as the hounds bounding and barking around them.
The golden stranger stood in the darkness at the sea’s edge. He’d left his car in the pub’s car park and taken the footpath away from the village and down the cliffs to the deserted midnight beach. It was very quiet there after the noise of the crowded pub. And very cold and very dark. He’d gone to the pub to build up his courage and to wait for the tide to turn. Now the tide was going out and he was going to go out with it. He was going to do it. There was no putting it off any longer. It was time to put an end to it all. It was all hopeless and nothing had helped. The money, the sunbeds, the botox, the cosmetic surgery, he’d thought it would make things better. But it didn’t. Made it all worse, if anything. Hopeless. He looked out to sea. It would be agonisingly cold out there in the deep dark water, but he didn’t suppose he’d have to put up with it for long. It would be over soon enough.
He took off his jacket and let it fall onto the wet sand at his feet. He slipped off his shoes and unbuttoned his shirt and removed his cufflinks. He was about to take his shirt off when the little tattoo on his wrist caught his eye. No, the tattoos hadn’t helped either. An angel. Why an angel? What had he been thinking of? Stupid. No such things as angels. All nonsense.
Or was it? For some reason he remembered the pub. And that last double scotch; it had been even more comforting and warming than usual. The pub’s good cheer – if that could be bottled, it would taste exactly like that whisky. If it was whisky. Whisky? No, it was the wonder of life, the magic and miracle of the everyday world, served up in a glass. He could feel it warming his bones and his blood, his very soul even. There was a word for it. A word he hadn’t used for a long time. Happiness…
He started laughing. What on earth was he doing? He realised he was shivering. Freezing. Why wasn’t he wearing shoes and a jacket, on a night like this? He looked down and saw the jacket and shoes abandoned on the sand. What were they doing there? How absurd! He slipped the shoes back on and picked up his jacket, thrust his arms into the sleeves and zipped it up to his chin. He shook his head. No, the moment of madness had passed. Still laughing, he made his way back up the path to the cliff top.
Brian made himself a mug of tea and put another log on the fire in his sitting room above the bar when he returned from the church. He stared at the flames for a moment, smiling to himself, relishing the peace and quiet and solitude after the packed pub and the crowded church. He stretched luxuriously and took off his tweed jacket, revealing not a hunched back but a pair of big, beautiful white wings which hung shining feathers from his shoulder blades down to the small of his back. They looked rather crushed and disordered, but he shook his shoulders and with a rustle and a whisper the feathers fluffed out and fell into place.
He sat down with his tea by the fire and thought about Trudy and Anne and Geoff and the golden stranger. He was glad he’d been able to help them. It was a good night’s work. As for Gary and his mates, well, they didn’t need his help; they’d fall out with each other in two month’s time and their terrible band would collapse and they’d all go on to do more constructive and rewarding things with their lives. And as for Edith Enderby, well, she was perfectly all right as she was and should be grateful for what she had.
He loved living in Beddenham and being the landlord of the Star Inn. It was the next best thing to heaven, literally, even if he had to change his mortal form every fifty years or so to prevent the villagers from realising that the landlord never aged or retired. The thrill of it hadn’t worn off after, well, how long was it now? Five hundred years? Six hundred? He’d spent more than a millennium lobbying the Seraphim and Cherubim and Thrones for a terrestrial position here on Earth, but it had been worth the wait, and once granted he’d of course chosen this very place as his base. The ancient legend was true, but he still didn’t understand how Isaac Dobson had managed to uncover it and record it in his ‘Folk Tales of the County of Devon’. He’d investigated Dobson at the time and found him to be very clever for a mere human, a gifted alchemist and a skilled astrologer. But try as he might, Brian hadn’t managed to get the legend erased from Dobson’s writings. Well, if angels were a mystery to man, why couldn’t man be a mystery to angels at times?
He stood up and limped over to his window and peered out of the curtains at the sleeping village spread out in the darkness below. “Thank you, Beddenham” he chuckled. “Thank you for looking after me, a lost stranger, two thousand years ago. A very Merry Christmas to you all and a Happy New Year!”