Page images

summer twilight listening to the nurses gossiping together in the nursery. Talking of their former places one said to the other, "Mr Wilson came up ilka nicht while the bairns were sleepin', to rub ointment on their een to mak' them see the fairies"! Something of the kind is wanted now to enable many of us to see and enjoy in our walks things whose chiefest charm lies not in size or rarity. There are wild gardens at our gates that for the many simply do not exist. No one takes a walk purposely to see and enjoy them; yet there they are, ever at hand, ever ready to enchant the eye that sees. These narrow gardens need no care-indeed care would destroy them. The gardener is never seen to sow a single seed there, though one sees a thousand unpaid labourers at work in them all summer, till frost sets in and snow hides them. The birds of the air know well their labour rights! The gardens that lie on the edges of the roads between two stone dikes are fascinating indeed! The farther north one travels, the richer and more varied is the flowery edging. The sight of these flowers in their brief bright season of delight is joyful enough to beguile the longest walks. Miles of road are never wearisome, even on that almost treeless north-east coast, with such an accompaniment of blooming flowerborders. Endless are the varieties of vetches. One-Vicia craccais the commonest of all, covered with lilac clusters. I have seen a long quarter of a mile of beech hedge on the Peterhead road literally netted over with lilac vetch. One would toil on a long way to feast the eye on such wealth of ethereal loveliness. A botanist,


however, would not look twice at my wayside gardens, for they contain, as a rule, nothing scarce or curious. They are charmful solely because of the silent jubilation, as it were, of these crowded flowers and green leafage of them down there at your feet as you pass. The magic of them is their boundless variety-not of species, but of individual growth and manner. It is the gaudium of them. joyful gauds indeed, with their fresh yellows and pure whites, their blues and their purples! All seem to be there at the same moment; nevertheless, week by week, one after another, each separate beauty takes the lead. Deep beds of Galium, yellow or white (ladies' bedstraw), give place to starry firmaments of the little stitchwort, luxuriant yellow balls of giant bird's-foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus), and spotted persicaria, delicately pink. Here and there, where green rushes betray some underthread of a little roadside runnel, is pale forget-menot, or a large-flowered yellow and brown-speckled mimulus, standing erect, looking what it is—a wanderer from the garden.1 Raggedrobin and rosy statice and hundred others, with ladies' mantle (Alchemilla), and too many far for naming, add variety and colour. Latest of all comes little quaint Euphrasia. And then, lasting long into the bad weather, there is sometimes seen the exquisite Galeopsis tetrahit (it bears no plain English name that I know). This belongs to the turnip-field over the dike-chancing now and again with the others in the road. It is like a glorified "archangel" or dead-nettle. But if an angel, then did its flowerchange surprise it suddenly, while

1 Now entirely naturalised as a wild-flower, it forgets it was ever otherwise.


yet the iris-light of Paradise had not faded from its wings. (A freak of fancy! must be tolerated, with the wonder of this small field-flower under our very eyes.) The colours are a lovely blending of primrose yellow with tenderest lilac. One other bright gem must not be unmentioned. Scotland's beloved little wild heart's ease grows everywhere, haunting the dullest roadside, the stoniest most barren spots. The velvet glow of its purple seldom dies away until extinguished in the snow. Autumn may come in with cold or wet, and go out in sleet or snow; the little flower that rejoiced us, freely blossoming all summer long, allures us still with its brilliant beauty. There is always just one more flower to be seen-and one more still as a surprise when all seems over and done; and then the very last is gone-and then comes yet another! and so on into dead winter. As summer slowly dies, the shining bloom of the roadside insensibly tones down into seeding. Black vetch-pods begin to cluster in the tangle, overtopped by spikes of red-brown sorrel. Carlododdies'1 stamened powdery heads are no no more they ceased their play ere August waned—and richly scented white clover disappears at last. But although we cannot ourselves tire of wild-flowers, and yet to talk of them too long is tedious, one word must be said for the loveliest of all. For what would our "narrow gardens" be without their bluebells? "The bluebells of Scotland" naturally know their place! and here are their clans assembled wheresoever there is foothold in crannies of the stony dikes. Or their airy bells wave suspended on delicate stalks all

through and through the grassy banks where the road dips down between, and Elrick burn flows across under the bridge. There are bluebells of every shade of that wan greyish love-tint we call blue. Now and then, to our joy, comes one pure white, ineffable in its perfect purity.

The wild birds delight in these old stone walls or dikes, where no cover exists to screen them. They seem to be for ever hopping up on to the topmost stones of them, and darting across or dropping down into the field before one can get near enough to see them close. Especially tantalising in this way is the fieldfare, or "Hieland pyat' as it is popularly known in Aberdeenshire. A pair of them will pretend to be quite familiar-will perch just a step or two in advance, and then fly off, perching again a bit farther on. And this little game will be kept up till at last off they go, flying far afield. All the time one has been vainly longing for a good look at their handsome plumage. Chaffinches number most, of all the small common birds. They are everywhere. Easier to tame than sparrows, and without question more delightful, they flit close round one's feet, learn to fly in at the window for food, or follow one about the garden in their pretty confidence. As winter draws near they gather into families, and are seen in lonely places, a few together in the trees. Poor little chaffinches! may they have a good time wherever they betake themselves, and no cares to damp their saucy brisk insouciance. Yellow-hammers, who look at one a moment and are gone, are but few hereabouts, and are lustrous as gold in the sunshine. Fewer still are there of that

1 Plantago lanceolata.

slender, gracefullest of birds, the yellow wagtail. Rarely are they met by burn or road. Yet they are tame enough to run up and down all day long on the roof of a house, peeping in at the windows. Out in the stubble is a great blackness of rooks. Thousands are feeding, with one or two black awkward fellows sitting on a fence as sentries. Country - folk have Country-folk have a way of foretelling the weather by the rooks' movements. What the secret of it may be I know not. Half the world knows no more about their neighbours the rooks than the old Scotch farmer who, on the occasion of a village meeting, when the lecturer proposed to read a paper about rooks, remarked, "What can he have to say aboot the craw? It's juist a bird that eats 'taties." Nevertheless, both wise and wonderful are the ways of the "craw."

It is at dusk of an October evening that the "tuwhit storm" descends upon the land, settling down on some big field that is in grass or stubble. Then the ground is grey with an innumerable multitude of peewits, or plovers. With them comes a mixed lot of starlings or of smaller birds. It is the eve of migration, and the plovers move jerkily about and are very silent. It is an excited crowd, however, incessantly in motion. When the plovers rise, the noise of their wings is as the sound of many waters. They need hardly make such a fuss, though, for they do not mean to cross the sea. It is only a short trip into Berwickshire that they propose. But what of those other birds who boldly dare the seas? How many, or how few, will land safe on the other side? There is a remarkable description printed somewhere of night-watchers in a lighthouse seeing the white breasts of hundreds

of birds beating like a snowstorm against the windows of the lantern, and of how the morning light showed rock and sea around strewn thick with their dead. The passionate impulse that urges a migratory bird has been known to impel one that is caged to dash itself against the bars so soon as the fateful hour has struck. The subject has deeply engaged many minds. It does so still, and it remains one of the profoundest of Nature's mysteries.

Round by Money kebbock (corrupted from the ancient name Mony Cabbucks, or Many Roebucks), past "the highlands of St Machar," or New Machar, is to my thinking a pleasant tramp-all the pleasanter because unknown to any tourist's guide-book! Bushes of wild rose (we have none too many here), with broom and gorse and bracken, border all the way up to the heathery fallows or highlands. A steep line of road rises through land broken with wood and corn and turnips, passing within sight of an old walled graveyard, -the church was moved up to the village a long time ago, in the middle of a field, by the farm of Chapel of Elrick. No path leads up to it; it stands like an island in the fields, overgrown with sycamore and wych-elm. One can enter by the small unlocked iron gate, and give a passing glance within to the long melancholy grass that hides a few forgotten names and dates graven on flat gravestones. When the trees are bare, a grey and ghostly tomb surrounded with rusty iron rails, in the centre of the enclosure, can be seen from the road, above the wall. In gusty winter nights the glint of a light has been seen to rest upon the central tomb. This is only when a wild west wind sweeps the country; and then, they say,

the flame burns steady, unflickering. Half a mile up, towards the heathy wild, the road passes by a long low cottage, of the familiar bygone type, with wide chimney and wooden lum. A wilderness of weeds and flowers slopes down from the door. If we make our way through the tangle, and knock, and enter the little dark house-place, we shall most likely find its mistress—a bent old woman-sitting idly by her dull peat fire. The place is all smoke-embrowned, from the open chimney to the settle under the window-ledge, and shelves with the dusty row of discoloured old willow-pattern plates, and little jugs and bowls. The dark cavernous box-bed in the wall is brown, and very brown the big worn Bible resting on the little brown table. The very shadows are brown. The framed photograph of a brand-new Aberdeen steamer strikes the sole false note in the Rembrandt-like effect of the whole. The woman is too old and feeble to work any longer in the flowertangle at her door. Half unwilling, she will, perhaps, speak of her youngest boy, who died so long ago, and tell how he had cared for that little bit of garden; how he planted every plant in it, and how for his sake she loved every one of them the orange lilies and tall white Canterbury bells, the polyanthus and candytuft, columbine and snow-in-summer, and above all the blue cornflowers, which have bloomed and seeded and bloomed again for many a year, never letting go their hold of the soil. Such azure blue are these cornflowers! She don't mind if I gather one on taking leave. Could we but more easily get at them, how often in the life-story of cotters whose doors we pass by unthinking, might be found pathos as deep as any in printed books! Sometimes

we come to know something of it when for a moment the veil drifts aside.

After this the road goes on past "the most beautiful tree in all the world!" So says the eye, each time I look upon that tree. It is a willow-grand, immense, in both bulk and height. It is mirrored in the glassy farm-pond near, where cattle cool their feet, and drink, and shelter beneath the shadow of it when the sun is hot. Walk past a little way, then turn and look back, and gaze upon the tree rising up into the blue, in the glory of its countless silver! The grey of it is like an olive grove on the hillslopes of Esterel. The shimmering leaves as the light breeze lifts them are like the silvery turn of olive sprays when the south wind blows. One longs to sit down before the tree with an easel and a big canvas. Most hopeless of tasks! Words cannot paint the rhythm of its triad foliage; no painter's brush could give the glimmering grey of it.

Walking backwards is sorry work; so the many-yeared willow must be left behind as we walk on, the charm of its wandering sheen exchanged for richer green of woodland beech. It is in this direction that our old friend, the man with the little yellow dog, may oftenest be met. Robb is the man's name, and Jamie is the other. The man breaks stone for the roads, while the dog lies on his coat, guarding it. This man went beyond seas, and stayed abroad twelve years, and sore misliked the climate. Then the homing-hunger set in and prevailed, and back he came. There is no earning so much in a week here as he earned in a day out there. But what of that? It is bonnie Scotland, and it is Home! The man's companion is the exact copy of a tiny yellow fox-sharppointed ears, brush, and all; and it

is a pattern of faithful endurance. One day Robb was summoned in haste to a funeral at a distance. He left work and was off at once, forgetting Jamie, who lay guarding his red necktie in a neighbouring shallow sand-pit. After two nights' and two days' absence the man got home from the funeral, but no little dog met him at the door. For the first time he remembered he had never called Jamie to follow, that day, as he left work. Robb started for the sand-pit; and when the place was reached late in the afternoon, there lay the little yellow dog upon the handkerchief, still faithfully on guard. They believe he had never moved; and, dog-like, he bore no grudge.

"A country enclosed with stone walls" might in a way describe this part of Aberdeenshire, but it would convey no accurate idea of the picturesque old fences. The stones of them, laboriously gathered, as the land became cultivated, from surrounding waste or muir land, are rounded like boulders, relics of the age when glaciers slided over all this region, bringing down from the mountains moraine and river-rounded stones. Wherever the largest of them are hewn or blasted, they sparkle in the sun with mica. These dikes were built up long ago,-many of them so far back that moss, green as a tourmaline, girds them in thick velvety swathing; or leadcoloured lichens roughen the surface. Long lengths of wall are often dappled with gold - dust of that slowest yellow lichen which has been said to take a hundred years of growth before its increase shows. Delicately fronded ferns peep from holes and crannies, or vagrant crane's - bill or aromatic thyme smile out from between the boulders; and the styme or turf, lying deep upon the upper

parts, is often rich with all kinds of flowerets and fern. Dear to the secret heart of true sons and daughters of the North are these old stones of Scotland.

A grey moraine lying desolately amid ferns and moss, where for centuries the stones have lain on a fir-grown brae, gives the passerby strange thoughts of other times when the world was young-before the old road that cuts straight through was thought of. Sometimes, here and there, one comes across some huge block of granite built up in a dike-mute witness that somewhere not far off existed once a stone circle. In the midst of open fields, where a wide horizon extends all round, these ancients were not in former days uncommon. Latterly the few that still remain have been in a great degree protected. But it is not so very long since, that if the great stones interfered with the plough, they were recklessly broken up and used for the bigging of new farmhouses or for gate-posts; or one would be left standing for the cattle to rub against. Some way off there is a place marked on the county map "Standing Stones," and once we journeyed there, hoping to find at least some signs of a circle. Alas! the name is all that remains, with a few big stones built into the walls of a most modern farmhouse, and a pair of them set up at the farmyard gate. Miles away in another direction, on a high hill-moss above the wild east coast, other stones of antiquity, I suppose as great as these, are found. There was a length of dike built chiefly of round grindstones and rounded pudding-like anvil-stones (great pebbles of quartzite with picked hollows), which were used in the manufacture of flint arrow- and spear-heads, and knives, &c. The

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »