In this ballad, two boys named William and John decide to have a wrestling contest on their way home from school, during which John is accidentally wounded by William's knife. Despite his best efforts, William is unable to save the life of his dying sibling, and asks him what he should tell their family. John instructs William to tell his sweetheart and their father that he has gone to London to study and will return a good scholar with many good books; by contrast, he says to tell their stepmother that he is dead, as she has always prayed would happen.
8 verses of 4 lines; last line of each verse repeated.
See: 'The Sang's the Thing' (S. Douglas, 1992) pp. 142-143 'The Scottish Ballads' (R. Chambers, 1829) pp. 126-128 'Book of Scottish Ballads' (A. Whitelaw, 1845) pp. 157-158 'Jeannie Robertson' (J. Porter & H. Gower, 1995) pp. 253-255 'Ballads of Scotland' vol. 1 (W. E. Aytoun, 1858) pp. 191-193 'Till Doomsday in the Afternoon' (E. MacColl & P. Seeger, 1986) pp. 169-171 'Andrew Crawfurd's Collection of Ballads & Songs' vol. 2 (E. Lyle, 1996) pp. 125-126 'Traditional Tunes of the Child Ballads' vol. 1 (B. H. Bronson & F. J. Child, 1959) pp. 384-402