Cassie and Jess had made good progress in the garden of Stanecroft House. Andrew had done the heavy digging but planning and arranging the flowerbeds and vegetable plot had been done by the women of the household. Jess had drawn, labelled and coloured a plan of the garden.
“What we need now, Jess, is a central feature. Perhaps a tree. What do you say? Shall we plant a tree?”
Jess was enthusiastic and together mum and daughter consulted various gardening books and looked on the internet to see what would suit their garden in terms of size, colour and geographical location. Having made their choice they visited Skerrabost’s small garden centre and made their purchase.
They were carefully lifting the sapling out of the car as Murdo MacKenzie was passing.
“Hello, there,” he said. “What have we here?”
“We’ve bought a tree, Murdo,” Jess said. “Do you like it? It’s for our garden. Do you know what it is?”
“Och, I do, indeed. I don’t need to look at the label. It’s a rowan tree.”
“You’re spot on, Murdo,” Cassie said. “Well done.”
“You know, Jess of Skerrabost, there’s a poem about the rowan tree,” the old man said.
“Is there? Do you know it?” Jess asked.
Murdo crinkled his brow.
“Let me see. I can perhaps manage the first verse.
‘Oh, rowan tree! Oh, rowan tree!
Thou’lt aye be dear tae me
Entwined thou art wi’ mony ties
O’ hame and infancy.
Thy leaves were aye the first o’ spring,
Thy flow’rs the summer pride
There was nae sic a bonnie tree in a’ the country side.’”
“That’s lovely, Murdo!” Cassie said.
Murdo turned to Jess.
“The Gaelic word for the rowan tree is caorunn.” He pronounced it koroon.
Jess repeated it.
“Well done,” Murdo said. “Now, I’ll leave you to your planting. I’m away to my bench. Take care now. Take care.”
They watched him move slowly towards the cliff path leading down to the sea.
* * * *
In the back garden having decided on the location of the rowan – or caorunn, as Jess called it – Cassie dug a hole. She left the spade upright in the soft soil and looked at Jess, holding the little tree.
“You know, dear, I think we should plant this tree in memory of your little brother, Thomas. That way, when we look at it, we can remember him. What do you think, darling?”
Jess nodded solemnly.
“I think that would be good.”
“Right, let’s put it in together. There. Now, hold it while I fill in the hole. Then we’ll give it a good watering.”
Cassie was on her knees, patting the soil down firmly, when Andrew appeared.
“Hello,” he called. “What are you two up to?”
“Hello, Daddy.” Jess twirled around the rowan. “See what we’ve got? A Thomas tree!”
Andrew glanced from Jess to Cassie.
“It’s a rowan tree, Daddy. A caorunn in Gaelic, and we’ve planted it so we can remember Thomas.”
Andrew’s eyes darted to Cassie on her knees in the earth.
“I don’t need a tree to –” He stopped.
“Jess, love,” Cassie said, “would you go and find the watering can, please?”
“OK.” Jess went off into the kitchen.
“Cassie, what are you doing?” Andrew asked quietly.
“Putting down roots, I suppose. Literally, in this case. And I just thought, well, it was spur of the moment really. I just thought – a tree, in memory of our little boy. Something beautiful.”
Andrew shook his head.
“And we can watch it grow tall and strong?” There was a catch in his voice. “Better to plant a weeping willow! I’ll see you later.”
He left the house heading for the sea, and left Cassie watering the rowan tree with her tears.