Chorus:
Oh, dear! What can the matter be?
Dear, dear! What can the matter be?
Oh, dear! What can the matter be?
Johnny's so long at the fair.

He promised to buy me a trinket to please me
And then for a smile, oh, he vowed he would tease me
He promised to buy me a bunch of blue ribbons
To tie up my bonnie brown hair.

Chorus

He promised to bring me a basket of posies
A garland of lilies, a gift of red roses
A little straw hat to set off the blue ribbons
That tie up my bonnie brown hair.

Chorus

He promised to buy me a beautiful faring,
A gay bit of lace that the lassies are wearing
He promised he'd buy me a bunch of new ribbons
To tie up my bonnie brown hair.

Though included in several collections of nursery rhymes, including contemporary Mother Goose collections, this is not the version I knew from my childhood. The version I knew was obviously from the folk tradition, passed on from musician to musician, from singer to listener. One night while camping beneath the redwoods, our neighbors began a singalong, and with a banjo accompaniment, presented, to my astonished and delighted young ears, these words:

Chorus:
Oh, dear! What can the matter be?
Seven old ladies locked in the lavatory!
They were in there from Sunday to Saturday
Nobody knew they were there.

The first old lady was Elizabeth Porter.
She was the deacon of Dorchester’s daughter.
She went to relieve a slight pressure of water
And nobody knew she was there.
Chorus

The second old lady was Abigail Splatter
She went there ‘cause something was surely the matter
But when she got there, it was only her bladder.
And nobody knew she was there.
Chorus

The third old lady was old Mrs. Bickle.
Her urge was sincere, her reaction was fickle.
She hurdled the door; she’d forgotten her nickel
And nobody knew she was there.
Chorus

The fourth old lady was Hildegard Folye.
She hadn’t been living according to Hoyle.
Was relieved when the swelling was only a boil
And nobody knew she was there.
Chorus

The fifth old lady was Emily Clancy.
She went there ‘cause something tickled her fancy.
But when she got there it was ants in her pantsy
And nobody knew she was there.
Chorus

The sixth old lady was extremely fertile.
Her name was O’Connor, the boys called her Myrtle.
She went there to repair a slight hole in her girdle
And nobody knew she was there.
Chorus

The seventh old lady was Elizabeth Bender.
She went there to repair a broken suspender.
It snapped up and ruined her feminine gender
And nobody knew she was there.
Chorus

Of course, in the oral tradition, there are many more than just seven old ladies, the number only being limited by the ability to find clever rhymes. So, depending on where you hear the song ( Oscar Brand’s recorded version appears from time to time on the Dr. Demento radio show) or from whom, you might catch these ladies:
So urgently entered young Sally Wren
She got the wrong door, but went right on in.
The seats were all took so she stood with the men,
And EVERYONE knew SHE was there.
Chorus

The next to go in was Old Mrs. Brewster.
She couldn't see quite as well as she used'ter.
She sat on the handle and thought someone goosed her.
And nobody knew she was there.
Chorus

The next was the fidgety Georgine Treat
whose hair got caught in a cleft in the seat;
She couldn't move: not her *** nor her feet;
And nobody knew she was there.
Chorus

The second was the Duchess of Roylett,
Who picked a poor time to go to the toilet;
We were having such fun when she had to spoil it,
And nobody knew we were there.
Chorus

The fifth old lady was Eloise Geck
Who could not decide which hole to select
She got for her pains, a pipe organ effect ...
And nobody knew she was there.
Chorus

The sixth old lady was Mrs. McBligh
Went in with a bottle to booze on the sly
She jumped on the seat and fell in with a cry ...
And nobody knew she was there.
Chorus

The janitor came in early one morning.
He opened the door without any warning.
The seven old ladies their seats were adorning
And nobody knew they were there.
Chorus

They said they were going to have tea with the vicar
So they went in together cause they thought it was quicker
But the lavatory door was a bit of a sticker
And nobody knew they were there.
Chorus

Next to come in was Ms. Jessica Pierce
whose need for relief was something quite fierce
she disappeared just like old Ambrose Bierce
'cause nobody knew she was there.
Chorus

Next was a pair of ninjagirls rookies
Taking a break from baking their cookies
An oven mitt caught in the door (was it Wuukiee's?)
And nobody knew they were there.
Chorus

Now the first was the wife of a deacon from Dover
And though she was known as a bit of a rover
She liked it so much that she thought she'd stay over
And nobody knew she was there.
Chorus

Now the next was the bishop of Chichester's daughter
Who went in to pass some superfluous water
She pulled on the chain and the rising tide caught her
And nobody knew she was there.
Chorus

Now the next old gal was Abigail Humphrey
Who settled inside just to make herself comfy
Then she found out that she could not get her bum free
And nobody knew she was there.
Chorus

The next to come in was ocelotbob
Needing a break from Les Miserables
Trapped in hir stall by a defective knob
And nobody knew sie was there.
Chorus

Into the loo came Segnbora-t
Conducting her business etymologically
Luckily she'd brought the whole O.E.D.
And nobody knew she was there.
Chorus

The next old lady was old Mrs. Draper
She went in to find there was no paper
The only thing there was a brick layers scraper
And nobody knew she was there.
Chorus

A not so old lady known as ac_hyper
well renowned as a fastidious wiper
surreptiously changed her adult sized diaper
And nobody knew she was there.
Chorus

The last old lady was old Mrs. Mason
She had to go quick so she went in the basin
And that was the water that I washed my face in
Cause I didn't know she was there.
Chorus

(The seventh old lady was Abigail Quimm
Who crossed her legs on a personal whim,
But her thigh got caught twixt the bowl and the rim
And nobody knew she was there.) Chorus

The last one's name was Elizabeth Carter
She was known as a world renowned farter
She went in and played a Beethoven sonata
And nobody knew she was there.
Chorus
Sources:
rec.music.celtic
alt.music.lyrics
rec.music.folk

CST Approved

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