11th April

The Wife of Usher's Well

from an old ballad

There lived a wife at Usher’s Well, a woman of substance. She had three sons, big, strapping boys, and she sent them on a trip across the sea.

Barely a week had passed and word came that the ship they had sailed in was lost, with all aboard feared dead.

Two more weeks went by before the awful news was confirmed: never again would she see her boys.

Then the woman made a terrible wish: that neither wind nor flood should cease till her sons came home to her, in flesh and blood just as they had been.

All summer and autumn storms raged, both at sea and on land, till about Martinmas, when a calm descended; and home at last to the wife came her sons.

They wore hats fashioned from birch bark, a wood that is said to protect the dead from the living. But the tree from which that bark came grew in neither bog nor ditch on this earth, but at the gate to some other world.

Joyfully the woman ordered a feast to be prepared. The house was swept and cleaned, and fires lit. And there was a servant girl, shy and lovely, who had been fond of the youngest son, and he of her, and he caught her eye again as she worked, and again her heart was softened.

The mother prepared a bed for her boys, long and wide enough to take all three. And through the deep night, as they lay sleeping, she sat with her cloak about her, watching over them.

Weariness at last overtook her. While she dozed, the dawn broke. The eldest son stirred. ‘Time we were away,’ he said.

The youngest son sat up. ‘Time indeed, brother,’ he said. ‘I hear the cock crowing, and the fretful worm turning in the earth. We must return to the place we came from, before we are missed.’

Softly they made their way from the room, out of the house and past the steading. And all three, as they went, cast a fond last look at their sleeping mother, and the youngest bit his lip as he thought of the girl who had kindled the fire.

Reader: Kate Molleson
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
Piano: Kit Downes
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