Cold as Clay is a scary story for kids about a young girl whose father refuses to allow her to marry her lover. This tale is also sometimes known as “The Ghost Rider” and “The Holland Handkerchief”. It is based on a 17th Century English ballad called “The Suffolk Miracle”. A version of this story appeared in Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.
There was a wealthy farmer who had a beautiful young daughter. He cared for her more than anything on earth and called her his heart’s delight. Many young men came to visit her and asked for her hand in marriage, but she wasn’t interested in any of them.
Then, one day, she met a boy who worked in the stables and she fell in love with him. The boy came from a poor family and the farmer did not think he was a good enough match for his daughter. To keep them apart, he sent the girl to live with her uncle who had a farm 50 miles away.
After the girl left, the boy fell into a deep depression. Trying to forget about his lost love, he took a job as a sailor and went away to sea. On the voyage, the young man got sick and gradually wasted away. When he died, everyone said it was of a broken heart.
When the farmer learned of the poor boy’s fate, he felt so guilty that he could not bring himself to tell his daughter the terrible news. Unaware of her lover’s sad end, the girl continued to dream about the bright future they would someday spend together.
A year passed and, one dark night, there was a knock on her uncle’s door. When the girl opened the door, she found her lover standing there, holding the reins of a pale white horse.
“Your father asked me to come get you,” he said.
“Is there anything wrong?” asked the girl.
“You’ll see when we get there,” he replied.
She quickly packed some clothes and together, they rode off into the night. She sat behind him on the horse, her arms clutched tightly around his waist.
“The moon is bright and death is riding with us,” he said. “Are you not afraid?”
“I am not afraid because I am with you,” she replied.
The boy complained of a headache. She put her hand on his forehead.
“You’re as cold as clay,” she said. “I hope you are not ill!”
The girl tied her handkerchief around his head. They rode through the night and before long, they reached the farm. The girl quickly got down from the horse and knocked on the door.
“Who’s there?” her father demanded.
“It’s your daughter,” she replied. “Didn’t you send for me?”
“No, I certainly did not,” said her father.
She turned to her lover, but he was gone and so was the horse. They went into the stables and found the horse in a cold sweat and trembling with fear, but there was no sign of the boy.
Terrified, her father finally broke down and told her the truth about her boyfriend’s death. They went to see Jim’s parents and decided to open his grave. When they lifted the lid of the coffin and peered in at the corpse, they saw that, tied around his head, was the girl’s handkerchief.