Lady Alice sees a beautiful corpse being carried by and learns it is her lover. She bids the bearers leave it; she will herself be dead by the next evening. They are buried apart but roses from his grave grow to reach her breast until severed by a priest.
Lady Alice [Child 85] Complete text(s) *** A *** George Collins As recorded by Roy Harvey and the North Carolina Ramblers, in Ashland, Kentucky, February 16, 1928 (Brunswick 250). Transcribed by Lyle Lofgren. George Collins rode home one cold winter night, George Collins rode home so fine, George Collins rode home one cold winter night, Was taken sick and died. Dear little sweet Nell in yonders room Was sewing her silks so fine, But when she heard that George was dead, She laid her silk aside. She followed him up, she followed him down, She followed him to the grave; And there she sat on a cold, cold stone, She wept, she mourned, she prayed. "Set down the coffin, take off the lid, Lay back the linens so fine, And let me kiss his cold, pale cheeks, For I know he'll never kiss mine." "O daughter, dear daughter, why do you weep so? There's more young men than one." "O mother, O mother, George has my heart, His day on earth is done." "Look up and down that lonesome road, Hang down your head and cry; The best of friend is bound to part, And why not you and I." "O, don't you see that lonesome dove, There, flyin' from pine to pine; He's mournin' for his own true love, Just like I mourn for mine."
A number of scholars (including Coffin and Lloyd, with some support from Bronson) believe that "Lady Alice" is a fragment of a larger ballad (called "George Collins" or the like). The first half is found in "Clerk Colville" [Child 42]; "Lady Alice" forms the second half. Lloyd writes, "Either these are two separate songs which have been combined to form George Collins or (which seems more likely) they are two fragments of the completer ballad."
Paul Stamler provides this description of the composite ballad:
George Collins, out walking, kisses a pretty maid, who warns him he won't live long. He kisses her, goes home and dies. His lover kisses his corpse goodbye; she dies too. In the last verse, it's said that six pretty maids died in one night for his sake. Many have interpreted the "pretty maid" as a water-fairy whom Collins has been trysting with; when she finds he's been betrothed, she gives him a poisoned kiss. - RBW, PJS
The supernatural explanation seems reasonable. But sudden death transmitted by a kiss -- has no one suggested communicable disease?
The ballad is found throughout western Europe, including a manuscript poem from Germany dated c. 1310. - PJS
[For discussions of the question of whether this is one ballad], see Barbara Craster in the _Journal of the Folk-Song Society_ 2:4 (15) (1910) pp. 106-109 (comparisons) and in Coffin, _Brit. Trad. Ballad in N. America_ (1977 edn.) p. 51 and pp. 86-88, 241 - JM
[Ewan] MacColl in The Long Harvest... feels there is little left to doubt and combines them. He cites S.P. Bayard, "No two ballads in English are more closely allied." Harbison Parker gives much detail and together, says MacColl, "make an almost watertight for the two Child ballads as springing from one and the same source. - AS
In general I have followed the policy of listing "George Collins" versions here, without further notes, as the "Lady Alice" portion is more integral to the story. - RBW
A curious thing is that Sharp calls the ballad "Giles Collins", but the protagonist is "George" in 5 of his 6 examples, and "Charles" in the sixth.
Again this [Silber's version] is fragmentary; George Collins, driving home, is taken sick and dies. His Nell opens his coffin to kiss him goodbye, then laments his passing. That's it; nothing else happens. Nothing to connect it to Lady A. except George's name. Arghh. - PJS