Fragrance in Literature-GEORGE EYRE-TODD




Books on or by George Eyre-Todd


"Sketch-book of the North"

BY
GEORGE EYRE-TODD

Less and less, as the narrow road rises through
the fir woods, grows the bit of blue loch seen
far behind under the branches, and the little
clachan in the warm hollow over the brow of
the hill is shut from the world on every side by
the deep and silent forests of fragrant pine.
Wayside flowers are seeding on the time-darkened
thatch of these sequestered dwellings. There,
with branches of narrow pods, the wallflower
clings ; and the spikes of the field-mustard ripen
beside the golden bullets of the ox-eyed daisy.


Three hundred years ago and more it all
happened, and the moss grows dark and velvety
now on the ruined bridge over which once rang
the hoofs of Queen Mary's steed ; but the grey
and broken walls, silent amid the warm summer
sunshine, recall these memories of the past.
There could be no sweeter spot to linger near.
Foamy branches of hawthorn in spring fill the
air here with their fragrance ; and in the wood-
land aisles lie fair beds of speedwell, blue as
miniature lakes. Under the dry, crumbling banks,
too, among tufts of delicate fern, are to be seen
the misty, purple-flowering nettle and the soft
green shoots of brier.

There was a
shower of rain in the early morning ; it has laid
the dust, and left the road firm and cool to the
tread. Everything is refreshed : wild rosebuds,
red and white, are everywhere opening after the
shower ; the yellow broom-blossom is softer and
brighter; the delicate forget-me-nots have a
lovelier blue ; and beyond, in the shady spaces
of the woods, the foxgloves raise their spires of
drooping bells. The rain, too, has brought out
afresh every wayside scent ; the new-cut clover
there in the meadow, the flowerless sweetbrier
and clambering yellow honeysuckle here in the
hedge, all fill the air with fragrance.

After the throbbing deck of the great
steamer, and the oily smell of engines and cook's
galley, it is pleasant to be bowling along a firm
road with the honey-scent of the heather in the
air, and — yes, it is quite certain — the fragrance of
peat smoke. For as the road turns inland the
village opens to view, a double line of dark blue
dwellings along the mountain foot.

For a lifetime a man has
been painfully toiling up the Alps of circum-
stance ; it may be he has gained the object of
his desire — the glittering ice-crystal on the peak
which long ago dazzled his upward-looking eyes ;
and now, toying with the walnuts and the wine,
someone says " I remember : " — lo ! the years are
forgotten ; the greybeard is back in the sunny
valley of his boyhood, wandering the field-paths
with chubby companions long since dust, and
filling his heart once more with the sweet scent
of hayricks, of the hedges in hawthorn-time. It
is not for nothing that rustic children day after
day, as they start for school, hear the low of the
farmyard kine coming in to the milking, and that
day after day, as they tread the long miles of
moorland path, they see the grouse whirr off to
the mountain, and the trout dart away from the
sunny shallows ; and it is not for nothing that
they spend long truant afternoons by ferny lanes
and harebell copses in the seasons of bird-nesting
and bramble-gathering. These make the fragrant
memories of after years ! And again and again,
in later life, to the man jaded with anxiety and
care, the old associations come back, laden with
pleasant regrets — a breath from the clover-fields
of youth.

How the wind sighs
in the naked hedges, with a louder whisper where
the thick-leaved holly-trees are set ! One is
tempted to linger under the soft shelter of the
wood, where the air is rich with the fragrance of
the undergrowth, and the stillness gives a feeling
of pleasant security by contrast with the roar
and sough of the storm in the tree-tops far above.

But look here. With true Highland hospitality,
preparations for tea have been surreptitiously
advanced, and the fresh, wholesome - looking
daughter of the house and her mother lift into
the middle of the earthen floor the table ready
caparisoned with cloth-of-snow, glittering cups
and knives, heaped sugar-bowl, and beaker of
rich yellow cream. A lissome flower of the
moors is this crofter maid. The oatmeal which
she has been baking is not more soft and fair
than the skin of the comely lass, and, as she
smiles reply in lifting the toasted oat-farles from
the flat iron " girdle " swung over the fire, it
needs no poet to notice that her eyes are bits
of summer sea and her mouth a damask bud.
The toasted farles of oat-cake from her hand
send forth an ambrosial smell which, with the
fragrance of the new-made tea, is irresistible to
hungry folk, and no pressing Highland exhorta-
tion is needed to set visitors of both sexes to
the attack of the viands.

The air grows less heavy as the road again
approaches the shore, and there comes up with
the murmur of the shingle the faint salt smell
of the sea. Away in front the bright blaze
streaming out in the darkness strikes from the
lighthouse tower at the outmost sea-edge, receiv-
ing its signal, like the bale-fires of old, from
the beacon on the opposite coast, and flashing
it on to the next point up channel.

A magnificent day indeed it promises to be.
The wreathing night-mists have already risen
from the Bens, and the loch below gleams like
melted sapphire round sylvan island and far-set
promontory. Everywhere the mountains are clad
in purple, and from the moor-bloom spreading
its springy carpet underfoot rises a fragrance
that fills air and heart alike with delight.

The dark cool drawing-room is bright with
the light dresses of young girls, and musical with
the murmur of happy laughter, while the air that
just stirs the creamy gossamer of the curtains
brings in with it the fragrance of the dark
velvety wallflower still flowering outside in the
sunshine before the window.

The air grows fresher and sweeter in a
shower, a richer fragrance comes out in the woods,
and the true gloom and grandeur of the mountains
can only be seen when the grey rain-veils are
darkening and glittering among their glens. Even
into the house steals the reviving freshness of the
rain. The scent of the wet sweetbrier budding
in the garden hedge enters at the open window ;
from the larch-wood near, the grateful thrushes
can be heard sending forth more liquid trillings ;
and the daffodils, hung like yellow jewels along
the lawn, appear fairer and brighter amid the
shower. But better than wasting the day indoors
it is to sally forth, strong-booted and roughly
clad, breathe the freshness of the cool, new air,
and start, staff in hand, for the hills themselves.


And while one treads on the brown, fallen
needles of spruce and larch, the subtle forest
scents fill the heart with many pleasant memories.
Never are these forest scents richer than when
brought out by a shower, and it is curious how
vividly some faint perfume drifting on the air will
recall the happy scenes of other days, memories
that are themselves the pensive fragrance of old
age.

Presently, as he turns from the beaten high-
way into the snow-clad woods of the manor,
hearing the bell of the distant town steeple
behind him striking the hour, he gives an
encouraging word to his dog, and quickens his
steps a little. As he passes the humble window
of the gate-lodge, he pauses a moment — there
was a sound ; yes, it is audible again — a mother
crooning softly over her child ; and his eye
glistens as his ear catches the lullaby, old
bachelor as he is. From the chimney on the
low roof, too, there steals down among the trees
the savoury fragrance of the evening meal.

Wet and heavy the roads are, and there will
be more rain yet, for the pools in the ruts are
not clear. The slender larch on the edge of the
wood has put on a greener kirtle in the night,
and stands forward like a young bride glad amid
her tears. If a glint of sunshine came to kiss
her there, she would glitter with a hundred rain-
jewels. The still, heavy air is aromatic with the
scent of the pines. By the wayside the ripening
oats are bending their graceful heads after the
rain, like Danae, with their golden burden, while
the warrior hosts of the barley beyond hold their
spiky crests white and erect.

The winding lines of telegraph-poles that mark
the road can be seen stretching away for miles
among the hills. The sun has set now, and
night, falling earlier in the late autumn, is coming
down. It is the gloaming hour. Out of the
grass-field here by the roadside the trailing-footed
kine, with patient eyes and deep udders, are turn-
ing down the hill towards their byre. Their
satisfied breathing fills the air as they pass with
the warm sweet scent of clover.

Not another creature is to be seen on the upland
road ; only, now and again, the lonely cry of the
curlew can still be heard far off upon the moor.
The last field is passed, and the last shieling lies
behind in the valley. The air up here is full of the
honey-scent of the heather. The last belated bee,
however, hummed homewards half an hour ago.

Cool yet is the air of the corrie
as it comes from the waterfall, and all the
mountain-side is musical with the far-off call of
the grouse. Under the rich-leaved plane-trees
there is the hum of bees at the green hanging
blossoms, and from the meadows by the river
drift the bleatings of a thousand lambs. Appetite
comes here keen as a knife if one but stands a
moment on the sunny doorstep, and the morning
meal is enjoyed with a whole-hearted zest that
brooks no scantiness. Indeed, if there be heal-
ing power anywhere on earth for the wasted
body or the sorrowing soul, it is to be found
here among the hills. Who can long be sick
at heart with that glory of valley and sky about
him ? and who frail of step with his nostrils
full of the clover-scent and his tread on the
springing heather?

Here, above the
fields, the air is sweet with the scent of clover ;
the stillness is only broken by the faint pipe of
a yellowhammer sometimes in the depth of the
wood ; and the blue heavens shed their peace
upon the heart. Nothing but the faintest breath
of air is moving, just enough to stir gently the
deep grasses of the hayfield, and to touch cheek
and lip now and again with the soft warm sigh
of the sweetbrier in the hedge. Gleaming flies,
green and yellow, with gauzy wings, float like
jewels in the sunshine ; a shadow for a moment
touches the page as a stray rook drifts silently
overhead ; and on the edge of the great yellow
daisy that flames over there like a topaz among
the corn, a blue butterfly lazily opens and shuts
its wings.

On the dyke-top here, the clover, with great
ball-blooms of rich pink, is growing beside the
purple-toothed vetch and the small yellow stars
of another unknown flower. In the hedge, among
the heavy-scented privet blossoms, are flowers of
pink wild-rose delicate as the bloom of a girl's
cheek, with full pouting buds red as lips that
would be kissed. White brier-roses there are,
too, as large as crown pieces ; and great velvety
humble-bees are busy botanising among their
stamens. The bees prefer the newly opened
ones, however, whose hearts are still a rich
golden yellow.

But here is our inn, a long-forgotten hostelrie,
where one can sit at noon in the shade by the
doorway with a book, and watch the ships far
out go by upon the firth, while the cool sea
glistens below, and all day long there is the
drowsy hum of bees about the yellow tassels
of the laburnums at the gable ends. A pleasant
spot it is even now in the darkness. The lilac-
trees in the garden are a-bloom, and the air is
sweet with their scent. A pleasant place, where
the comely hostess will welcome the tired
pedestrian, where his supper will taste the better
for the fresh night air from the open window,
and where, presently, he will fall asleep between
sheets that smell of the clover-field, to dream of
the firmly-grasped tiller, the snowy cloud of
sails overhead, and the rushing of the water
under the yacht's counter of the morrow.

The only spot in all the scene where silence
reigns not is on board the little boat herself;
and a continuous ripple of merry chat and
joyous laughter floats away astern with her
foam. From wild little islets passed by the
way come breaths of pinewood and of heather
in bloom, faint and delicious as the gales which
drifted leeward of old from homeward-bound
spice-argosies of the East. But the bright eyes
on board are an inspiration themselves, inde-
pendent of the sunshine and the pure and
scented air ; and the gladness of youth has
broken forth the contagion of happy and hope-
ful hearts. A sweet strain of melody floats
once and again from the bow, where the singing
throats are :
Speed, bonnie boat, like a bird on the wing !
the Skye Boat Song, a farewell to Prince
Charlie, that old-time idol of the Highland
hearts. A sad melody it is, amid its sweetness,
as are all the old Jacobite songs, with their
breathing of hopes that were never to be ful-
filled ; and somehow, strains like that come to
the ear with more real tenderness when sung
as to-day by clear young voices among their
native mountains.

The sun is shining brightly on the coral-clustered
rowan-tree outside, and the sky already is dazzling
blue. A gentle air, too, just stirs the muslin
curtain of the window left open overnight. With
it comes in the scent of honey and the hum of
bees at work in the garden below. No morn-
ing is this for laziness and a late breakfast. The
impulse to be abroad is born of the sunshine ;
and a few minutes serve, after a hurried toilet, to
snatch a towel, bound down stairs, and go tramp-
ing across the heather to the well-known pool.

Night has all but fallen, and though it is still
only dusk upon the open road outside, within the
avenue the gloaming is already deepening into
mirk, and under the shadows of the limes it will
soon be quite dark. A quiet spring night. When
the wheels of the doctor's carriage have retreated
in the distance, no sound is to be heard amid
the shadows but the twitter of a blackbird settling
itself again to roost in its perfumed dreaming-
place among the spruce branches, and the silvery
tinkle of a streamlet making its way at hand
through the ferny under-tangle of the wood. The
air is rich with the fresh sweetness of budding
life the breath of unseen primroses opening
their creamy petals upon dewy moss-banks in
the darkness. Born amid the stillness, new,
vague hopes stir within the heart ; everywhere
seems the delicious promise of the time of blossom
and leaf that is to be ; and the motionless night
itself seems conscious of the coming of desire.
It is a night to inspire a poet or a lover ; every
faint wood-scent, the cool touch of the night air
itself upon the cheek, bringing with it some
subtle suggestion, the more delightful that it
is undefined, setting the pulse of youth a-beating
with thoughts of a glad to-morrow.

Easily as thought the skates curl over the
keen ice. The air is clear, cold, and bracing,
with just a faint odour of the shore woods
upon it ; and curve after curve on the " outside
edge" adds, every moment, to the exhilarating
sense of power and the conscious poetry of
motion. It is a new and strange sensation,
this flight for miles over ice whose surface has
till now known no invasion. One feels as an
astronomer must, when exploring new depths of
Heaven

The day's work is over. It is the sacred hour,
and, far from " the stir and tumult of the street,"
in these still aisles, carpeted soft with fallen bud-
sheaths and grass, roofed with the fretted canopy
of branch and leaf, and hung with the fringed
banners of larch and birch, ascends to heaven
with the last notes of the woodland choristers
the sweet incense of a thousand flowers. Mossy
dykes run into the wood-depths here, and among
the tall feathery grasses under the trees there
are places purple with a mist of wild hyacinths.
A crimson shadow, too, lies here and there, where
the wood geranium throws its profusion ; and
pink and white sandflowers grow in the dry
ditch-sides. By the clear mossy roadside well,
and among the withered leaves in the glades, rise
the first green spires of the foxgloves ; a golden
haze betrays the beds of yellow crowfoot ; and in
some sequestered spots pale primroses are still
starring the rivulet banks.