Treasures of Aromatic Literature- from "By moorland and sea" ... By Francis Arnold Knight

Treasures of Aromatic Literature- from "By moorland and sea" ... By Francis Arnold Knight

It was a pleasant fancy of the poet that, as Winter vanished, the fair young form of Spring took shape in the lighted foliage of the thickets. It is almost more than a mere fancy that we can hear, in the strange sounds stirring on the dry leaves of the Old Year, the rustle of her stealthy tread, that we can trace her footprints in the pale primrose blooms, and own, in the perfume of the violet, the subtle fragrance of her breath. So stands she now, her dim figure faintly outlined in the green of opening leaves, her light draperies tossing in the wind, and seems to pause doubtfully, as if watching with mistrustful eye the white shape of Winter sullenly retiring. For even yet there linger on the hills white lines of snowdrift piled along upland walls and hedges, and in the trenches of old camps, as if the powers of the rude weather had been driven to the mountains, and behind these long white breastworks were fighting to the last. Still they steal down into the lowlands after nightfall, bruising with their icy fingers the chilled leaves and shrinking flowers. Still in the day-time they smite us with stinging scourges of hail. What wonder that the buds are slow to open on the elm, that no crimson tassels are hanging on the brown boughs of the larch! Among these trees, where.the ground is more sheltered from the weather, the sweet influences of the spring are shown more clearly. The young leaves of honeysuckle have already tinged with green the vistas of the wood, lending to bare boughs the charm of their bright young beauty. Shining leaves of wood-sanicle brighten the sombre colour of the grass, and early orchises spread wide upon the ground their spotted blades.

Round the grassy slope below the old manor-house is a fringe of noble beech-trees. Even by daylight their leafy crowns hide altogether the great nests of the rookery. To-night no sound betrays the city in the air. For once the clamour of the dark-coated citizens is hushed. The noisy daws, in their nests in the caverns of the old ash-tree by the house, are silent. On the skirts of the wood no life seems stirring, save for a few white moths that float along the hedgerow, and a bat that flutters past on soundless wings. The foliage overhead is black against the sky; but the moonlight that whitens the stems of the huge trees shows them as the pillars in some vast cathedral, while for incense there is the sweet breath of woodruff, the fragrance of all growing things.

IN the crowded streets of the city, in its breathless courts and dingy attics, summer days are a weariness to the flesh. But, in the country, the heat is tempered by the fresh green foliage, by the wind that stirs with pleasant sound the restless leaves, and that brings with it the mingled odours of flowers and leafbuds. Along the dustiest highway the wild roses breathe their tender perfume, and the summer air is sweetened with the scent of wandering woodbine. A gracious season—the noonday of the year. We revel in its warmth and beauty, its colour, and its fragrance.

It is no rich pasture-land that is parted by these wandering streams. The dry ditches are filled to overflowing with spearwort and ragged robin, with spikes of marsh orchis and white oxeye daisies. By the straggling hedgerow stand tall leaves of flags sharply drawn against the shadows, and on the dark their yellow petals shine like gold. No ruthless blade cuts down the rank herbage that revels in this illdrained, peaty soil. But even more gorgeous than this is the sheet of mingled colours that in the next meadow, quivering in the warm sunshine, lies waiting for the scythe. A hundred flowers blend there their sweet perfumes. Each waft of air that stirs across the scented meadows is heavy with the incense of the marsh plants that have grown tall and strong in the hot thunder weather. Over all the valley hang
'the odours blown
From unseen meadows newly mown;
The traveller owns the grateful sense
Of sweetness near, he knows not whence,
And pausing, takes with forehead bare
The benediction of the air.'

Of all swift touches on the keys of memory, there is none that wakens in the soul so vividly thoughts of the country, of its sights and sounds, of sunny days and summer air, as the sweet incense of the newmown hay. A strain of music, a verse of some old rhyme, the very perfume of a flower, may take our spirits captive even in the city's throng, may shut out for a moment
'The incessant din Of daylight and its toil and strife,'
and call up, like the ring of the magician, far other scenes and sounds.

Who is there that has not felt the subtle charm that underlies the mere scent of a handful of cowslips that has found its way into the grimy haunts of traffic? It is a charm that lingers even
'When life's a sober story,
And care a comrade true.'
It is a s pell that in the heart of many a weary worker by the river of Babylon has had power to call up a vision of long-lost delight; there is in it a touch of magic that renews the memory of country sights and sounds— of the long grass of the meadow, the happy shouts of children, the sweet breath of cattle, the song of the skylark floating far up against the wide blue heaven; sights and sounds familiar in the old days, the days that are no more. And in the mere colour of the drooping bluebells, torn from their cool woodland setting, and crowded in the dusty marketplace,
'Like the odour of brine from the ocean,
Comes the thought of other years.'

And stronger even than their deepening green there grows that
'mist of bluebells on the slope and down the dell'
Scattered through the tangle of the glade, wading knee-deep in the cool green sea, wander the children of the village, laden not with bunches merely, but whole armfuls of their scented spoil; while along every loitering pathway through the woodland are strewn the flowers that have fallen from hot and tiny fingers.
The resinous fragrance of the larches, too, part of the very spirit of the woods, calls up, by an unconscious touch to the magic lamp of memory, a vision of the Northern pine-forest, with its intense and awesome silence, the fiery sky, the sunlit midnight.
So, too, in the delicate perfume of a primrose lives the soft air of an April morning, before the sun was on the fields, while the dew lay heavy on the grass— in days that are no more,
'when we were young, and life was fresh and sweet.'

How many a time in the still summer midnight, when the fires are down and the smoke-cloud broods no longer over the city, there steals into the very heart of London the strange, sweet scent of hay! How many a time has some sad-eyed toiler in this great Babylon felt the spell of it, and paused a moment, dreaming of old days, while across his fancy swept the vision of the long-forgotten scene—an early morning:
'the light of sunrise
Is on the eastern hills,
And the gleam of her golden arrows
The sky with glory fills.'
Across the wet grass of the meadow moves the line of mowers, the light of dawn upon their sunburned faces. With the ' swish, swish' of falling swaths they clear, with measured steps, their way across the field. The clink of their whetted scythe-blades sounds as sweet in the pleasant morning air as the matin song of the lark, poised so far up in the clear heaven that the unrisen sun is bright upon his quivering wings, or as the soft notes of the swallows floating idly round the gables of the barn.

AFTER the hot, white highway, with its dust and glare, it is relief unspeakable to turn aside through a gate that opens on the road, and to follow the path that winds downward through the meadows to the stream and the cool glade below. The valley seems filled to the very brim with noble trees: stately beeches and great oaks spreading out their arms far over the green wilderness; larches straight and tall, springing straight up, a hundred feet or more, to meet the sunlight. About their feet runs a wild impenetrable tangle of briar and hazel and woodbine, brightened here and there with graceful blue campanulas. There is no scent to-day about these beautiful flowers. But in the twilight, when the dew is heavy on the grass, when the sweet resinous odour of the larches lingers in the air, then these great bells are full of delicate perfume.

It is a pleasant path by which you make your way up stream, now along a strip of sand, now over a pile of warm-coloured sandstone, worn smooth by the spates of many winters, now through a jungle of sweet mountain fern and fragrant bog-myrtle, now over a broad expanse of soft, wet peat-moss, brown and green and red. You reach at length a more spacious hollow, a wide basin that the stream has carved out of the hill, as it boiled in flood-time round the huge boulders that lie strewn across its bed. All round rises a fringe of tall bracken, meeting the blue sky, shutting out the world. The rough banks are all hung with green tongues of fern. In the crannies of the moss-covered rock, tufts of ling and pale blue harebells bloom. The rubbish that the winter floods have stranded among the stones in mid stream is bright with hawkweed, with spikes of golden-rod, and tall blue scabious. Other streamlets find their way through the wall of bracken, mere threads of peatstained water, stealing silently down to join the brook. On either side of them lie thick beds of moss, like lustrous velvet, here rich dark-green touched with pale pearl gray, now deepening into sober brown, and now kindling into fiery red. Here a patch of sundew spreads wide its glistening leaves. There a group of dainty bog pimpernels peep shyly out among the rushes, and one late lingering asphodel, most beautiful of marsh plants, still bears untarnished its exquisite, soft, golden stars.

After a long tramp among the hills you pitch your tent, on a summer's evening, in some quiet nook as far as may be from all sight or sound of traffic. Perhaps it is on the edge of a wood, in whose cool depths the pheasant crows, and among whose swaying greenness sounds at intervals the ringdove's pleasant call. One by one the gray rabbits steal softly out and frolic all along the border of the cover. The smoke of the camp-fire seems quite in keeping with the scent of the woodbine, and the sweet incense of Virginia in perfect harmony with the fragrance of the hay. In the peace of the still summer night you wake to hear the busy rush of the brook, to listen to the musical voices of the wandering owls. What more refreshing than the sweet air of dawn, when the shadows of the great elms lie far along the dewy slopes, when the few singers of the summer woodland are astir, and life begins to waken among the buildings of the farm?

ON the northern slope of Exmoor, among cornlands whose rich red melts every spring-time into tenderest tones of green, with white walls and old brown gables showing here and there among green elms and blossoming orchards, there stands a little hamlet, in the eyes of one of its few tenants 'the sweetest village in the world.' He would be hard to please who should think otherwise while sitting, on some bright day of early summer, on the lawn of the old manor - house, under a noble bay - tree ■ covered on every twig with creamy blossoms, whose faint scent is all but lost in the sweet breath of apple blooms from the great orchard near, and in the lavish perfume of the lilac that lends its rare fragrance to the summer air. It is the last house in the hamlet. It stands, as it has stood for centuries, high up under a green belt of woodland that fringes all the moor. Above the dark ranks of firs, the green clouds of feathery larches that crown the lower spurs show the vast brown expanse that farther on grows into the great mass of Dunkery. It is a beautiful spot.