4th June

The Cruel Brother

from an old ballad

‘Hey ho, the lily is gay, and the primrose spreads so sweetly.’

This was the song of three sisters. A knight joined them at their play. Tall and fair was the eldest sister, graceful and kind the middle one, but it was the youngest, bonnie beyond compare, that he fell for.

‘Marry me and be mistress of all that is mine,’ he pleaded.

‘I am too young,’ she told him. ‘I will not wed you until you have the
consent of all my kin.’

He went to her parents, and they gave their consent. He went to her sisters, and they gave theirs. He won the consent of every one of her family, except her brother, John, whom he forgot or did not think to ask.

The wedding day arrived. There was not one man among the guests who saw the bride and did not wish to be her groom.

The time came for leaving. Her father led her down the stair, her sisters kissed her fondly, her mother took her through the courtyard, and her brother, John, set her on her horse.

But when she leaned from the saddle to kiss him goodbye, he drew a blade from his tunic, and stabbed her to the heart.

Before they were halfway through the town her dress was soaked in her own blood. Appalled, the groom and best man hurried her away to a quiet place.

They laid her down, but there was nothing they could do for her. As life ebbed from her, she began to make her will.

‘To my dear father, I leave the horse that brought me here.

‘To my dear mother, I leave my velvet cloak.

‘To my sister Anne, I leave my golden fan and my silken scarf.

‘To my sister Grace, I leave these bloody clothes to wash and mend.’

‘And what to your brother, John?’ they asked.

She raised herself a little. ‘The gallows tree, to hang him on.’

‘And what to his wife?’ they asked.

‘The wilderness,’ she said with her dying breath.

It would have torn your heart to see the bridegroom’s despair. ‘The lily is gay,’ her sisters sang, ‘and the primrose spreads so sweetly.’

Reader: Iona Zajac
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
Piano: Kit Downes
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