The wood so softly singing
In a language strange to hear
And the song it sings will find you
As the twilight draws you near


The Apple Tree Man

There is a place where it was once the custom for the youngest rather than the oldest son to inherit the family wealth. In one family where this happened the youngest son had a particular dislike for the oldest son, so when he came to share out the inheritance all the oldest got was “an old dunk [donkey] and an ox that had gone to natomy [like a skeleton]” together with an old ruined cottage with three apple trees that had belonged to their grandpa. For this he had to pay rent. He didn’t grumble but cut all the grass along the lane to feed the donkey and the ox and he rubbed the ox with herbs to revive him. The he put the two animals into the orchard of three apple trees, and the trees flourished too.

Just before the rent was due on Midwinter Day his brother came to him and made him an offer to reduce the rent by sixpence if he could come and listen to the animals on Midwinter Night. He had heard that animals could talk to each other at this time and he hoped they might reveal the whereabouts of some treasure that had been buried in the area.

On Midwinter Day the older brother gave the animals some extra feed and hung up some holly in the barn. Then he took the last of his cider, mulled it by the embers and took it to give to the trees. When he had done this, the Apple Tree Man spoke to him, telling him to look under the exposed roots of one of the trees. There he found a box full of gold. “Tis yours”, the Apple Tree man said. “Put it away safe and tell no-one”.

When the older brother came out at midnight sure enough he heard the donkey and the ox speaking. The donkey said : “You know this gurt, greedy fool that’s listening to us – he wants to know where the treasure is”.

And the ox replied: “But he won’t never get it, cos someone else has took it already”.


Adapted from a dialect version in Katherine Briggs A Dictionary of British Folk Tales.

The obvious interest here is the Apple Tree Man, but I wonder if the reference to the inheritance by the youngest rather than the oldest son is something that just happens to have got mixed up with this tale, or whether it has some other significance?


Magaly Guerrero said...

Very nice. In Caribbean mythology one will find that many things--especially work--are given to the youngest of the family. The girls get to take care of the old because the live longer and the boys of the business or farm because they will have more time. I had never heard of it happen in other culture's mythology, not until now that is.

Kris Hughes said...

As this is a midwinter tale, I wonder if the reversal of the usual rule of inheritance could be something to do with the "lord of misrule" idea, where the roles of nobles and peasants or servants were sometimes reversed. Just a thought...