Jamie was nervous. He couldn’t quite believe that Mary had agreed to marry him.

She’d been his secret sweetheart ever since he’d first seen her all those years ago at harvest time. It was one of those buzzing, sun-drenched days and he remembered asking his best friend George if he knew who she was. Her family had just arrived in the area, so Jamie made it his business to find out all about her.

And now, after years of wooing, here he was, finally standing at the kirk with his best friend George, waiting for Mary to arrive.

“Mebbe she’ll get cauld feet,” said Jamie, anxiously.

“Dinnae be daft,” said George, reassuringly, “she adores ye, dinnae ken why, ye’ve nae siller and a horse wud beat ye in a beauty contest, but as they say, love is blind… jest as weel fir ye!” Jamie just smiled, but he felt his heartbeat pulsate because his pal was right. He had no money and he wasn’t the best-looking lad in the district. That accolade went to Henry, who was the son of the neighbouring farm. For a while it had seemed that Henry would steal Mary’s heart. He wooed her in ways Jamie couldn’t – rides in a fancy car, and of course Mary’s father was much more amenable to Henry, who did have some money!

But then, just as it seemed that Henry had won Mary’s heart, she stopped seeing him. Jamie didn’t know what happened and he didn’t ask. But whatever it was, it ended what seemed to be a budding romance.

And so now here he stood by the auld kirk, waiting for her to agree to be his wife. The cherry tree under which they would sit and talk stood guard on the hill overlooking the kirk. From there they got to know each other, visible from her house so her father could watch from afar, ensuring there was no inappropriate conduct.

If trees could talk, that cherry tree could tell how awkward conversation eventually melted into deep affection and then love. Can you really love someone before you have really known them physically? Is it not the chemistry of physical love that cements romance?

Well to be sure they talked of it. Perhaps the cherry tree knows more, but even if trees could talk, they keep secrets. Under the tree, Jamie asked Mary to marry him. He broke tradition, by asking her first.

“If ye say aye, then I’ll talk wi yer faither,” said Jamie.

It was an “aye”, of course, and so Jamie had a task to persuade Mary’s father. But persuade him he did, mainly by first speaking to Mary’s mother. She understood how happy her daughter was. She had never really liked that Henry, despite his money, but her husband had favoured him.

But Jamie eventually won the approval of Mary’s father, who could feel the happiness of his daughter. The wedding would be a simple affair and Jamie’s best friend George would be the best man.

And so here they both stood, under the gaze of the old cherry tree, waiting for Mary to arrive.

“I’ll gang intae the Kirk an wait fir ye,” said George.

“Aye a’richt, I’ll join ye in a moment, I need a moment tae pull masel thegither,” said Jamie.

Mary’s mother came into the kirk some minutes later.

“Where’s Jamie? Mary has arrived with her faither,” she said.

“Weel he’s outside,” said George, confused as to how she couldn’t have seen him. They then both went outside to the kirkyard, but there was no sign of Jamie.

“We were standing just here thegither, by the wall. He cannae hae gone far,” said George.

Mary’s father came over to ask what was going on. Mary was standing by the entrance to the kirkyard, looking beautiful and brimming with expectation and joy.

But Jamie was gone. George couldn’t understand it, how could he vanish? Nobody saw him go. Mary and her father had arrived only moments after George had left him, yet they saw nothing.

Mary was inconsolable, and her father enraged. Gossip spread like hogweed as to why Jamie did a runner. Did he have a guilty secret? Did Henry have anything to do with it? After all, everyone knew he had wanted to marry Mary; had he paid Jamie to go?

Mary wasn’t seen for months after this humiliation. But despite all the gossip and rumours, she knew in her heart that Jamie hadn’t deserted her. Something had happened, something she didn’t understand, but her heart told her that Jamie would come back.

Then, one late summer’s day, Mary’s mother saw her sitting under the cherry tree. She joined her daughter.

“He’s still alive, I’m sure o’ it,” said Mary, “an whatever has happened he will come back tae me, I feel it.” Her mother felt her pain but didn’t want her daughter to waste her life waiting for a man who had clearly abandoned her.

“Och lass, I ken yer heart is sair, but Jamie has shown he wasnae the man who we thocht he wis,” she said. “Dinnae sit here an greet fir him, get oan wi yer life.” “I will mither, but pairt o’ ma heairt will ay be his,” she replied.

“Fair enough,” said her mother, “I ken whit ye mean... just dinnae tell yer faither that!” They both smiled and hugged under the cherry tree, which now had another secret to keep.

Mary managed to fend off Henry, who eventually married another lass. It was George whom she eventually married. Maybe it was to feel close to Jamie, and poor George knew how much she had loved him and that he would always be second best to his best friend’s memory. But she grew into love for George too, and she found happiness with him and their five children.

As each year went by, Mary would think of Jamie less, but every year, on the date of their wedding, or rather the date their wedding would have been, she would venture up to the old cherry tree and sit. George understood this. He missed his old friend as well.

Mary would speak to the tree, as it had been the only witness to much of what was said all those years ago between her and Jamie. The tree must also have witnessed what had happened to Jamie. It looked down onto the kirk and the spot where he had stood all those years ago. But of course it kept the secret.

As each year went by and her hair turned grey, she felt less sad but nevertheless determined that one day she would know the truth. The tree stood through all this, rooted in the past and growing into the future – holding its secrets.

Then her husband died. Mary wept with her children for this kind and generous man who had shared the joy of life with her. He had known she loved Jamie, and so had he loved him. But together they made the best of life, not in his memory but not forgetting him either. Their children were now all grown up, three sons and two daughters. They would look after Mary in her twilight years after her years of toil.

And her favourite way to pass the time was of course to sit under the tree. Now, she had another reason. She looked down on the grave of her husband, and the kirk where her children had been baptised. It made her feel totally at home.

Fifty years to the day after Jamie had vanished, Mary once again walked up to the tree to sit. She was helped by her eldest son, as now her legs did not carry her up the hill so easily. He left her there, but watched from a distance, from the same window that his grandfather had watched his mother as she sat under the tree. He was worried about her, as her sadness seemed deeper this day than previously.

Perhaps, finally, after 50 years, she had given up hope of ever finding out the truth. Then her son saw a young man approaching his mother. He didn’t recognise him. His eyebrows wrinkled as he watched the young man approach his mother from the field behind the tree. She hadn’t yet noticed him but his behaviour made Mary’s son suspicious. He was creeping up on her, half hiding.

Then Mary saw the young man and screamed. Her son flew out of the house, leapt across the burn and drove his legs up the hill towards the tree.

“It’s a’richt George,” Mary said to her son, “it’s fine.” George was panting, fists still clenched.

“George?” said the young man, “you have the name of your father and you look like him too.” George looked at his mother for an explanation. There were tears in her eyes, as there were in the young man’s. “I need ye tae lea me alane fir a while George, sae I can talk,” she said.

“But who is this man mither, dae ye ken him?” George asked.

“Aye ma dear ,I ken him; his name is Jamie,” his mother replied.

George’s head reeled back in confusion. “Jamie? Ye mean the man wha abandoned ye a’ thae years ago? Dinnae be daft mither, it cannae be, he is younger tham me. It wis 50 years ago he fled, he maun be 70 now if still alive, but he is nae mair that 20.” “Trust me, son,” said Mary, softly, “trust me.” And so her son went back to the vantage point by the window and watched as his elderly mother spoke to this young man.

Her face beamed; despite her wrinkled face, joy made her look young. They talked and they both wept. Then they embraced.

George’s sister entered the room. “Whit’s goin oan?” she asked. “Och it’s mither, look at her talkin wi that young man,” said George. “I fear something amiss here. She thinks it’s Jamie, ye ken the friend o’ faither’s who abandoned mither at the kirk.” “But it cannae be,” she said, “he’s a young man. That happened ower 50 years ago.” “I ken,” replied George.

They spoke for long time, a very long time, under the tree. Until finally the sunset and the chill in the air brought Mary’s children up to the hill. The young man left as they approached.

“Time tae come in, mither,” said the daughter.

“Aye, it is,” said Mary.

When they were in the house, Mary’s son broke the silence first. “Well who was he really?” he asked.

“It wis Jamie,” said his mother.

“But it cudnae huv been, mither, Jamie wud be an auld man noo, it’s 50 years since he abandoned ye,” said George.

“He didnae abandon me, I’ve ay kent that. But noo I ken whit happened I can rest,” she said. Her face was tearstained but happy.

That night, Mary passed away peacefully in her sleep and was buried by her beloved husband. Her children noticed the young man standing in the crowd of mourners, and the daughter approached him.

“Who are you, I mean really?” she asked. “You made my mother happy, but what did you say to her?” “I’m Jamie,” he said, “I loved your mother, and your father too. I have been trapped in another place, perhaps you won’t believe me, but your mother did and that’s what matters. I never abandoned her, I was taken.” “Taken? By whom and where? And why?” asked the sister.

He looked towards the hill that rose in the background: “The wee folk, and as to why, then I never discovered.” The sister shook her head in disbelief, looking towards her siblings. When she turned to tell the young man she didn’t believe him, he was gone.