Flowers of Scotland Chapter X. The Path through the Cornfields
THE children are
sitting under a lime tree, spelling out the time of day on a
dandelion. By the way, they call it dentelion—dent-de-lion —a relic,
it is said, of the old friendship between the French and the Scots,
just as the sorrel at Craigmillar left by Mary’s vanished hand
recalls a still closer tie.
Concerning that, of
course, they know nothing, and care less.
“One, two, three,
The puffs are very
gentle, because they have to get a good deal out of it.
“Five, six, seven,
After this they
scarcely breathe lest they scatter too many at once.
“Nine, ten, eleven.”
Quite a circle clings
round the edge, needing a good strong blow from a little distance to
clear the disc. The ruddiest and likeliest of the band is chosen for
the final effort, and succeeds in clearing away all but two.
“Ten minutes past
twelve,” they reckon.
It is really a
quarter past, which is wonderfully near for such a primitive
timekeeper, quite as near as most modern watches come.
Thus warned of the
flight of the slower winged hours, and the quicker beat of the flock
of smaller minutes, the children jump to their feet, and with a
rattle of cans make off for the farm.
The purple thistle is
fading. To the few perfect heads the foggies cling with a helpless
indecision which fears to trust itself away, lest they take other
than a bee-line home. It is with thistles as with school games; they
have their season. That for cheeses and foggies has gone by.
The marsh thistle
still raises itself out of the ditch, until its crimson heads,
brighter than ever, are quite on a level with those of the children.
cousins of the thistles, the purple roadside centaureas—ironweeds as
they are called, from the hard packing of their heads—are in flower.
Of little use, and less ornament, they have no interest for the
needle-eyed but eminently practical naturalists. No one who has put
a centaurea in his mouth will try it again. In the main, the glory
has departed. The blues and whites of summer have given place to the
darker hues—red and purple—not many reds, only purples.
Harebells—a .relic of
the blues—tremble on autumn airs, so light as scarce to fan the
children’s hot cheeks. Some ring their chimes down the ditch side to
the dark meadow butterflies.
One tall tuft is
chiming its graceful bells to a great painted lady on the path. The
children approach the bells and catch sight of the butterfly.
Flowers are cast away. Cans, whose descent is made noisier by
rattling coppers, roll into the ditch, and the chase begins. Most of
the fun is with the butterfly, which enters on the game with the
With arm in readiness
for action, the children pull one foot after the other. Suddenly
they drop the ribbonless hat. Bit by bit they lift the broken brim
to peep under. Slowly they realise that the covered spot is
“There it is!”
And they are off in
After a merry curve
over the field, the butterfly comes into view, and lights on the
selfsame spot. The tactics are repeated a little more wildly this
time. The painted lady embarks on a second frolicsome course, to
return in the same tantalising way as before. And so on, until the
children are fain to gather up flowers and cans and pursue their
The rowans are
reddening, and the elderberries blackening. The woodbine is still
shedding fragrance from an arch of fantastic flowers. The haws, with
which the hedge abounds, are just showing a touch of colour on one
side. Hips have taken the place of the dog-roses.
The big thistle is at
its tallest, and sends out on all sides giant arms, bearing great
pink heads. A crowd of thrushes are busy on the beam tree. A smaller
band of children are equally busy on .the unripe haws.
This is all they see
until they are coming back. And then they catch sight of their elder
sisters sauntering up the way as if to meet them, but really on an
errand of their own. At great risk of falling, and to the sound of
jolting milk, they strive who will touch first.
Tall in comparison
with the little ones these sisters are. Some 'fair, some dark;
neither more nor less fresh and pleasant-looking than country
maidens usually are.
“See! see!” say the
breathless runners, holding out what they have gathered.
There are nodding
harebells, and a sprig of crimson herb robert, and a little scarlet
poor man’s weather-glass, got on the field side, and a whole shower
of star-like stitch worts, and a bit of sweet briar for scent; and
just a little morsel of woodbine which grew outside the gate, “and
didn’t belong to the farmer, you know: did it?”
The children have
only half satisfied their elementary consciences about the woodbine,
and coaxingly appeal for the approval of their elders.
“Is that all?” say
the sisters discouragingly. “Look what we have come for.”
They lift the little
ones above the level of the tall corn, and there over the forest of
yellowing grain is paradise; at sight of which the withered and
despised collections of the morning are dropped to the ground.
“You see what it is
to be big,” say the maidens. And then the whole band begin to walk
along the edge of the corn, the children waiting in faith below, the
maidens watching above for some of those glorious things to come
A long stretch of the
tallest, whose unbound hair, as it drops from her shoulders, is of
the same .hue as the yellow grain with which it mingles, secures the
first prize. This turns out to be a large flower of a pink hue, a
member of the graceful group of the campions. The familiar name is
corncockle; but whether these girls have one of their own for it, as
they have for most things, I could not catch. But, name or no name,
they all agree that it is fair as any flower of the garden; and
there is some competition among the younger members to carry it.
A rush, and a ripple
of maiden voices, tell of another flower in sight. It is a little
farther afield. What with the competition and the impetus of the
race, the winner- steps or is pushed just a foot or so among the
grain, leaving a little gap of- bent stalks and drooping heads.
Silence falls on the group, and a timid glance is cast up and down
the road to see if any of the farm people have been looking. Then
the grain is straightened once more, so that no one could have told
that anything had happened.
This is a still
lovelier prize than the other. What blue in nature can compare with
the circle of florets round the pink disc of the field cyanea?
Concerning the proper
name of the plant, or rather the sole right to the name it sometimes
gets, there is a considerable difference of opinion. One day the
farmer, a shrewd man, whose keen eyes look out from beneath shaggy
brows, stopped me by this very field and pointed it out as the
“blawort” I was struck at the time, less with his knowledge than the
evident enthusiasm of one who had a sworn feud with the laburnums
and lime trees. Did not these field flowers equally bloom at the
expense of the grain!
And now the verdict
of these maidens, better than much discussion, is on the same side;
all of which goes to show that from our blues, our borages, our
bells, our forget-me-nots, this has been chosen out as pre-eminently
the bluewort. Perhaps it is better known to country people than the
others, or was in olden shearing days, when all Were abroad during
the bright autumn months.
The field is an
exception to every rule, and the hues of all the seasons at their
best mingle with the corn.
No excitement is
manifested as the somewhat washed-out lilac of the blue-cap is added
to the increasing collection. Not until a richer yellow flushes the
straw-coloured grain is there another merry stampede, moderated by
the remembrance of their recent transgression.
“Gowans! Gowans!” is
the cry. True, they call other flowers gowans as well; in the
country they have general names for similar things; but this is the
Golden they are!
Golden they look in the autumn sunshine and amid the paler shades!
Chrysanthemums! Flowers of gold! Golden rays! Golden disc, nearly
two inches across of rarest, richest gold! No need to hurry; there
are plenty for all. “Far too many,” says the farmer, relapsing into
bad humour. But what care these heedless minds, these children of
the senses, for questions of profit and loss!
Weeds are flowers in
their wrong place. Pity, then, that such glorious flowers should be
in their wrong place, and that war to the death should be waged
against them in the interests of modern cultivation. The fields of
Germany are brighter than those of Scotland. Those of the islands
and other outlying parts of the land are gardens in comparison with
the unbroken yellow of many of our fields.
They are not in the
wrong place, as far as the fitness of their surroundings goes.
Nowhere could they look so well as among the grain. It would almost
seem as if they were aware of this. For most of them refuse to
wander, seem nervous to approach even the margin of the field, and
are seldom surprised far away. If odd ones appear here and there, it
is only for a season; and, being annuals all of them, no progeny
seems to be left. Cornflowers appear in the wilds seldomer even than
cultivated plants, and are much more reluctant to settle there.
In the gardens to
which, because of their brightness, they are often transported
against their will by the injudicious, they have already lost half
of their charm for lack of environment. The gaiety with which they
laughed among the corn, or peeped through between the heads, or
rejoiced as they rose and fell on the billows of light and shadow,
and hailed one another over the field, is all gone. As well take one
of the village maidens and place her in a drawing-room.
Golden handfuls are
passed down to the children.
But the best is yet
to come—the cornflower par excellence, which makes the autumn fields
a joy and a memory.
Poppies! Poppies !
Not wayside poppies,
not shabby poppies, not washed - out poppies, but they of the
short-fruited kind—poppies with ample petals of intensest scarlet
dye; not nearly so common as many seem to think—absent from large
districts of the country where poppies abound—oftenest found,
perhaps, near the seaside, probably because of the poverty of the
found, are the true corn poppies. See them against the yellow, see
them in the sunshine, see them in the shadow, see them in the
ripples of light and shade, see them anyway, and say if ever you saw
anything so fair.
Poppies are distant
in their mood; it may be because their beauty is so evanescent that
a touch will dissipate it, their petals so fragile that a movement
will shed them. Hand grasps hand to prevent the yellow-haired maiden
falling forward among the yellow grain.
Satisfied at length,
they turn away and pass the clump of harebells chiming to the
selfsame painted lady. The butterfly rises to tempt another scamper;
but the young have grown wise by experience, and the maidens have
other thoughts, innocently vain, in their heads.
They sit down, big
and little, under the selfsame lime tree to portion out the spoil,
and to deck themselves with colours suited to each complexion.
“A poppy for you, and
a gowan for you.
And a little cloud
comes across the sun, and a shadow falls through the air, and a
gentle breeze chases over the field, and the heads of corn bend down
if to listen.
Attracted, it may be,
by the murmur, some outsiders of the great flocks of linnets and
greenfinches feeding on the grain come to the edge of the field, and
bend the stalks still further that they too may hear.
Meantime the children
have secured another dandelion.
One, two, three.
Without any act or
wish of theirs, the third blow clears the disc. So quick is the
passage of time in these early years ! The long shadows cast over
the straw colour by the lime trees might have told them that, had
they cared to look.
“It’s three o’clock;
what will mother say?”
Not that they fear;
for they know that the blame will fall on the elders.
Bright are the hats,
careless the minds, and innocent the spirits of these country
maidens as they pass homeward along the path between the cornfields.
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