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Wild 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, four.”

The puffs are very gentle, because they have to get a good deal out of it.

“Five, six, seven, eight.”

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.

These prickless 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 utmost zest.

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 deserted.

“There it is!”

And they are off in pursuit.

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 way.

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 within reach.

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 true one.

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 soil.

These, wherever 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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