Tree

This is yesterday’s story for the tea sachet challenge, but for reasons* I didn’t get time to write yesterday. That’s the first day I haven’t, though, so I’ll let me off.

*Reasons being: lots of work to get delivered for today and a three-hour online dance party with a load of fellow IDLES fans. It was fantastic (but would have been even better IRL…maybe next year. KFG.)


There are many trees on the Isle of Man, and as many stories associated with them. But the one most Manx people know is no kind of plant at all – ’tis a number. For in the language they speak on the island, the number three is spelled “tree”.

‘Tis said to come from the Vikings who once lived here, and who brought their language with them when they decided to settle and stay here all year round rather than just raiding the place in the summer. But whatever the reason, it’s a fine number, and not just because of the famous three legs of Mann either. For it wasn’t so long ago that the best known three wasn’t the symbol at all, but the Three Sisters of Sartfell.

Nowadays Sartfell is a bit of a bleak place, away up there in the hills and either drizzling and damp or blinding sun or howling wind. And in truth when the Three Sisters lived there it wasn’t much better. But they liked their own company, and they loved the hills and the big skies above them, and the sweet mountain air with just the sound of the sheep and the skylarks for neighbours.

They had a neat white cottage in a hollow about where the plantation is now, and a vegetable garden that they grew in the old way with long rows of raised soil, and bladderwrack added to the one fallow bed every three years.

But they didn’t just live on the produce of their own little bit of garden, for the Sisters had come from a good family in the south of the island once, before they made their home at Sartfell, and they still had a bit of money at them for all they’d set their faces against their kin. Some said it was because they’d been found husbands they didn’t love. Others said they just didn’t want to live a life of duty and manners, for such was the lot of a genteel lady in those days.

Whatever it was, here they were, renting a cottage from James Corlett, one he’d been sure he’d never find a tenant for. And a repairing lease too, so when they took possession the place was not much better than a ruin, but in just a few weeks it had a new coat of limewash and a fine new stove inside on new laid flagstones and the chimney all repaired and cleaned, and the thatch as neat as a corn dolly. And then came the removals carts – for they had a fair few belongings too, and ye’d have thought they’d never fit all of it in the house, but ’twas all judged to a nicety and in it all went. Vases for flowers and dainty little tables and curtains of sprigged muslin and even a piano – only a small one, to be sure, but all the same, ’twas magical to be walking on the Beinn-y-Phott road over to Ballaugh or Kirk Michael and to hear Miss Alice tinkling away on it.

For all three of the Sisters had their own talents. Miss Alice was the musical one, who could lay her hand to any instrument and had a voice that could charm the birds from the trees. And she was greatly in demand for weddings and the like down in the lowlands.

Miss Moira was the artist, often to be seen sitting amongst the heather and stone walls of the high hills with her easel weighted down with a stone and her hat tied on against the wind with a bit of old string.

And Miss Eleanor could have been a pastry chef to the King of England himself, if only she’d have agreed to come down from Sartfell and compete with the other bakers in the kingdom, for there wasn’t a one who could make lighter puff pastry nor do a more beautiful bit of icing.

They had suitors, over the years, for even up there in the hills there are others around, and word of their beauty wasn’t long in spreading from the artisans who repaired their cottage. Many’s the man who’d call with a posy, all dressed up in his Sunday best no matter the day. And some of them were received kindly, and treated to Miss Eleanor’s delicious biscuits and kind enquiries as to his family. But just as often the would-be suitor would have his hand raised to knock on the door only to see the three of them flee in different directions from the back of the house, their long wild hair that never saw a comb floating behind them like banners, and their queer white dresses and overjackets they always wore concealing their forms like Mannanan’s Cloak does the island against invading foes.

It could never be said whether they had something against a given suitor or whether he’d just come at a wrong time, for there was many a good man never got closer to the sisters than hearing their laughter as they slammed the garden gate and ran out onto the moors. And there was certainly no catching them once they’d decided they were away.

Some say the Three Sisters were witches, but I’m thinking they were just happier in their own company than pandering to a husband – and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Writing

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