I heard an old, old song done to a very pretty tune on the radio this week. The pretty tune was a morris tune I can’t remember the name of, and the song was Sir Arthur – or Sir Arthur and Charming Molly (or even, “Mollee”, but I suspect if you’re going to go that far you might already have your fingers in your ear and your eyes closed, and don’t need anybody else’s input on the subject).
As is usually the case with pretty folk songs, you’re best not to listen to the words.
In short, Sir Arthur fancies poor-girl ‘charming Molly’ and offers her everything if she'll (heh, heh) love him. Molly says she'll never lie with a married man till his wife is dead, which if nothing else, is disarmingly honest.
Well, in some versions of the story, Sir Arthur waits seven years until his wife dies, and in other versions, he waits seven years till his wife ups and takes a lover, and then he's free to marry charming Molly, who becomes a lady. The moral: lucky poor girl gets what she wants – providing, that is, what she wants is to marry Sir Arthur, which to be honest isn’t all that clear – by standing firm, as outlined in the last verse:
Now charming Molly in her carriage doth ride,
With her hounds at her feet, and her lord by her side:
Now all ye fair maids take a warning by me,
And ne'er love a married man till his wife dee (or runs off with a lover, whichever)
This is all well and good, until you look at the verse tucked in the middle, just after Molly rejects Sir Arthur the first time:
'Oh, charming Molly, lend me then your penknife,
And I will go home, and I'll kill my own wife;
I'll kill my own wife, and my children all three,
If you will but love me, my charming Molly!'
YES. Now, credit where it’s due, he doesn’t kill his wife. He waits. Until she decides she’d rather go off with presumably just about anybody who isn’t plotting to kill her with a penknife.
What a catch.
Eternal worship to the ethnomusicologist who unearths the buried real final verse that nobody sings any more because the world of folk music is controlled by the bearded and the mad. I believe it has something to do with how, after the penknife comment, charming Molly gathers a bunch of her mates and warns them if they ever see that big freak Sir Arthur come within five mile of her again, they should run like dogs for the constable. I think she also tells the lass who milks the cows on Sir Arthur’s estate, in this same lost verse, that she should probably hie her up to the big house as soon as possible and warn the wife she’s married a dangerous lunatic, and she and the kids should get the frack out of there and go stay with her mum.
Alternatively, eternal worship to the songwriter who can come up with this infinitely better version.