I have time for one more folklore-themed winter tale before Christmas Eve! But I plan to keep sharing until Epiphany, so never fear….
Night, and especially Christmas night, is the best time to listen to a ghost story. Throw on the logs! Draw the curtains! Move your chairs nearer the fire and hearken!
“The Ghost of the Cross-Roads,” by one Frederick Manley, is an especially Christmasy tale. It was published in the South London Press for December 23, 1893. I found it in The Valancourt Book of Victorian Christmas Ghost Stories, Volume 3. If you aren’t familiar with the series, I recommend it.
It’s a cold, blustery Christmas night, and jolly festivities are going on at the humble Sweeny household. Suddenly, a wealthy upper-class stranger stumbles, half frozen, to the house. He has a strange tale to tell about a mysterious dark man, and a card game at the crossroads.
“It’s all very strange, to be sure,” said the gentleman. Then he added, with a little forced laugh that would hardly come from a person whose nerves were in good condition, “I will tell you all that happened.”
At these words, which promised the glorious entertainment always to be had from a ghost story, more especially when you sit in the midst of friends before a roaring, crackling fire, with a sparkling punch in your hand, listening to the storm that rattles the windows and doors….
…No wonder the cottagers huddled round the fire! So Andy’s guests being Irishmen, and having adamantine faith in the existence of all manner of “uncanny” things, awaited the stranger’s story with breathless interest.
The story’s title refers to a ghost, but really, who do you meet at the crossroads? The events of this story aren’t a surprise, but I liked the way the devil got around to proposing the deal. It was a bit different. The notion of the crossroads as a place where mortals meet devils to make dark bargains is widespread in Western folklore. Selling your soul at the crossroads for amazing musical prowess is a rumor that’s told about many great musicians, like Blues guitarist Robert Johnson — and Paganini. Though Paganini’s deal might not have been at the crossroads, and it might have been his mother who struck the bargain. Anyway….
The story is a little long-winded getting to the point. Manley spends a lot of time describing the Sweenys’ party, especially all the food. It made me hungry, reading it. Once the gentleman starts his tale, though, the narrative moves at a good pace. The interjections by the listening partygoers are fun, too.
Find a warm fire and a sparkling punch, and savor the tale for Christmas Eve.
Enjoy! And a Merry Christmas to all who celebrate it, and a lovely day to all who don’t.
A list (with links) of the winter tales I’ve shared in previous years is on my Winter Tales page.
Nice article about “The Devil’s Violinist,” Nicolo Paganini. Includes one brief version of the Robert Johnson story.
A post I wrote a while ago about the song “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” I don’t think the tale in the song explicitly happens at a crossroads, but it’s a fun song anyway. The post includes a different brief version of the Robert Johnson story.
Featured image: Winter Landscape, Caspar David Friedrich (1811). Source: Wikimedia.
Playing Cards: Original by Alexas_Fotos, modified by Nina Zumel. Source: Pixabay