From haunted houses to haunted soldiers; from Irish writers to Cornish ones. Today’s winter tale is by writer, anthologist and literary critic Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch (1863-1944).
Beside the Plymouth road, as it plunges down-hill past Ruan Lanihale church towards Ruan Cove, and ten paces beyond the lych-gate — where the graves lie level with the coping, and the horseman can decipher their inscriptions in passing, at the risk of a twisted neck — the base of the churchyard wall is pierced with a low archway, festooned with toad-flax and fringed with the hart’s-tongue fern. Within the archway bubbles a well, the water of which was once used for all baptisms in the parish, for no child sprinkled with it could ever be hanged with hemp. But this belief is discredited now, and the well neglected: and the events which led to this are still a winter’s tale in the neighbourhood. I set them down as they were told me, across the blue glow of a wreck-wood fire, by Sam Tregear, the parish bedman. Sam himself had borne an inconspicuous share in them; and because of them Sam’s father had carried a white face to his grave.
A handsome dragoon (cavalry or mounted infantryman), searching for a fugitive smuggler, billets himself and his men at the home of a miserly farmer and his much younger, love-starved wife. The inevitable happens, with dark, dark consequences….
What I particularly like about this tale, in addition to the creepiness of its haunting, is the sprinkling of local folklore, like the well mentioned in the quote above. We learn that the touch of a hanged person’s hand cures affliction, and that the sun never shines on the face of a person who commits perjury. I love stuff like that. I really must read more of Quiller-Couch’s ghost stories.
A list (with links) of the winter tales I’ve shared in previous years is on my Winter Tales page.