'A fine lady went to Stowe Fair. She was pregnant for the first time and, keen to know what the future held for her, she consulted an old gypsy woman.
‘ “Why, my dear, I do believe you will have seven babies,” said the gypsy woman studying her hand. The fine lady went away and thought no more about it.
‘When the time came for her child to be born, a midwife was summoned to attend the labour. “What have we here?” she exclaimed as she delivered first one baby, then another and another.
‘ “Oh no!” cried the young wife, remembering the gypsy’s prophecy. “That can’t be so!” She wept. But sure enough, one by one, seven little baby girls were born and laid into a basket.
‘The fine lady was upset fit to die. “I don’t care what the gypsy prophesied; I will only keep one baby. Take the other six away,” she begged the midwife. “Drown them in the river, but whatever you do, don’t tell my husband,” and she pressed a purse of silver into her hand.
‘So the midwife took the basket of six babies down to the river. But on the way she met the husband, a fine gentleman. He heard little squealings and noises. “Pray, what have you in that basket?” he asked.
‘ “Oh it’s nothing but six little kittens I am going to drown in the river,” quoth she.
‘ “I’m going that way myself,” said he. “Give them to me. I shall deal with them.” Whereupon, he took the basket and rode down to the river.
‘When the husband got to the riverbank and opened the basket, what did he see, but six little newborn girls. He frowned a dark, dreadful frown, then closing the basket took it away to a secret place.
‘Seven years passed. The gentleman and his fine lady prepared to celebrate their daughter’s birthday and to give thanks to God for preserving her through infancy. First they would go to church for a special service, then afterwards throw a party to which the whole village was invited.
‘ “And what shall our daughter wear for this special day?” the husband asked his wife.
‘ “Because she was born in October, I shall stitch her a dress of autumn colours,” the fine lady told him.
‘The little girl’s birthday dawned and she was all decked out in nut-brown velvet trimmed in red. The gentleman and his fine lady set off for the church with their pretty little daughter between them.
‘They sat in the front pew and said their prayers. The organ played, the choir sang. The minister raised his hand to give the blessing and make the sign of the cross, but he was interrupted. The east door of the church swung open. Everyone turned to see who had arrived so late. There standing in the threshold were six little girls, all dressed in nut-brown velvet trimmed in red. All were identical to the fine lady’s daughter.
‘At the sight of them, the fine lady gave one dreadful scream and fell down dead.’
The children clustered round the nursemaid were silent as she ended.
‘That’s a sad story,’ one whispered at last.
‘It’s a sad world out there,’ agreed the nursemaid. ‘Now come on, Nanny says it’s time for bed.’
There came six maids on their knee.
When do they come?
They come by night as well as by day,
To take your little child away.
My little child is yet too young,
To stay away from his mam.
Whether he’s old or whether he’s young
We’ll take him as he am.