Many years ago, there was a lad named Jack who lived in a small cottage with his mother. I’m not sure how many years ago this happened, but as you will see, you would probably want to know.)
Jack worked as a shepherd for a rich laird who was as stingy a man as ever there was. But although he was paid little, Jack liked his job. Most of the time he sat at the top of the hill watching the sheep and leaning against a large and ancient oak tree, an oak tree so large that it had a name. Auld Cruvie.
One day as he sat enjoying the sunshine and the trees and the view of the nearby loch, Jack saw someone coming up the hill. It was his mother, who often brought him some lunch – a piece of fruit, a chunk of cheese, and a bannock or a bit of cake – that they could share. A wee picnic. Then on her way back home, his thrifty mother would gather bits of fleece that the sheep had rubbed off on the bushes. She would wash, card, and spin that fleece and knit it into jumpers to be sold at the market. That day, as they enjoyed their lunch, Jack’s mother told him of her dream of the dancing trees.
She said that her old granny used to say that every seventy years on midsummer’s night, the trees would rise up out of the ground and dance. The trees all had treasure beneath them in their roots, and when they went dancing, a person might get some of the treasure. She said that that very night was the seventieth year and the trees would go dancing. She warned Jack that if he took some of the treasure, he should not be greedy, but should choose only a few precious things, for if he was greedy, he’d never live to tell about it. Jack listened and assured his mother that he would be quite satisfied with a few treasures. Before she made her way back down the mountain, Jack’s mother told him one more thing. She had often knitted him caps and scarves and jumpers, but that day she handed him a long rope that she had knitted, a long rope with twelve loops. She felt that he might be in need of such a rope sometime. Jack thanked his mother for the lunch, the advice, and the rope, which he wrapped several times around his waist.
Then he leaned back on Auld Cruvie and resumed his watch. The birds were twittering and tweeting in the trees, and Jack listened, for they seemed unusually agitated. Jack had spent so many years on that hill, listening to the birds, that he had learned their language, and now he heard that the birds were leaving for the night. When he asked why, they told him that the trees would be dancing that night, so they would spend the night elsewhere and return the next day.
Not long after, Jack saw another figure come up the hill. It was Mary, a young lass who worked in the laird’s house. Jack and Mary had been friends since they were babies, and Mary had come to warn Jack.
“Jack,” she said, “I saw the laird in his study, pacing back and forth and muttering something about dancing trees and treasure. He said he’d be after that treasure and woe to anyone who got in his way. I think he means you, Jack. And oh, Jack, he has his sharp hunting knife with him. He surely means to do you harm. You’d best be on guard. And now I must hurry back before they see that I’m gone.”
Jack thanked Mary for the warning and gave her a little kiss — in appreciation.
The sun set, and the moon rose, and as midnight approached, there was a stirring among the trees, the stand of birch trees, the circle of oaks. And even Auld Cruvie seemed restless. There was the faint sound of music, fairy music. And Jack saw another figure coming up the hill. It was the laird, and Jack saw the knife at his belt glinting in the moonlight.
When he reached the top of the hill, the laird brandished his knife and said, “I know about the dancing trees and the treasure, and I’m warning you to stay away from Auld Cruvie. That treasure is mine. Do not think of taking any of it.”
Just at that moment, the birch trees began to lift up from the ground and twirl and dance down the slope towards the loch. Next the smaller oak trees followed. And finally Auld Cruvie, with a creak and a groan joined them.
The laird immediately ran to the hole beneath Auld Cruvie and taking out an enormous sack, he jumped into the hole and began filling his sack with the gold and silver and jewels that lay there. Meanwhile, Jack went to one of the smallest oak trees, jumped down into the hole beneath it, and found great treasure of his own. Remembering his mother’s warning, he took only a handful of jewels and put them in his pocket, but when he went to climb out of the root hole, he found himself slipping down beneath the earth, so much that he began to fear that he might not escape.
Just then he saw a familiar face peering down into the hole. It was Mary. He called up to her to say that he could not climb out and was sliding down into the hole.
“If only I had a rope, Jack. I could pull you out,” she said. And Jack remembered the knitted rope he had wrapped around his waist. He tossed one end up to Mary, and using the loops as footholds, he was able to climb out of the hole. It was just in time, for the trees were coming back up the hill to their accustomed spots.
Thinking to save the laird, Jack ran to Auld Cruvie’s spot and called down to the laird that he must come up immediately, for the trees would soon be settling back into their places. But the greedy laird only shouted at Jack, telling him that nothing would stop him from taking every last piece of treasure.
And, sure enough, the trees returned, the birch trees still twirling and dancing. The oak trees marching in grand fashion. And finally Auld Cruvie striding to his place. They hovered for a few seconds and then settled down into the ground. And that was the end of that.
No one ever saw the greedy laird again. But Jack was able to sell his handful of jewels for a good price. With that and the good salary their old laird’s nephew paid him, he bought a neat little cottage. He and Mary were married, and they had space in the cottage for Jack’s old mother. And they all lived happily.
Now as I said, this was many years ago. Could be seventy years. And midsummer’s night? Well, some say that’s the night of the solstice, but others celebrate on St. John’s night – June 23. Will the trees be dancing? Perhaps. And if they do, and their treasure is uncovered, you can help yourself. But remember that no good comes to those who are too greedy in such a time.
Contributed by Marilyn McPhie