But wherever it is, it can scarcely escape the attention of the least observant, or fail to awaken the enthusiasm of the least impressionable. Every schoolboy on the Saturday half-holiday visits its haunts for the nests of the rarest birds, and gathers handfuls to scatter on the way home. Every country maiden from the surrounding cotter houses pushes it among her locks.
"My little girl with the golden hair and the soft eyes, what do you like? "To be among the wood hyacinths."
Beyond the margin of the wood, the hyacinths flow over the bank among the brambles and trailing roses. The white-throat and rose linnet weave their nests among the scented twigs; and the yellow-hammer builds among the grasses, where the long pleasant days of sitting may be shaded by the bells.
A fortnight or so after the blue hyacinths have faded, - say about the end of June, when already every egg has been chipped, and the birds are busy feeding their second brood amid the thickening undergrowth, - a second flower of Scotland makes its appearance.
It is no longer vase-shaped, but bell-shaped; indeed, it is one of the true bells, with all its petals joined into one. If there is anything lovelier than a lily, it is a campanula, which is just another name for bell. And this is the most delicate of the graceful family to which it belongs.
Here everything is etherealised, only sufficient substance being used to indicate and preserve the form. If it were not prejudging the case, one might be disposed to pronounce it the most perfect in shape of all flowers, either wild or cultivated, in Scotland or elsewhere.
There is no stiffness about it, like the other ; no stout stem whereon to suspend heavy-textured blossoms. If ever bell were tremblingly hung, this one is. It vibrates to the slightest stirring of the air; and when is the air still in its exposed haunts? It seeks the open wastes, as pleasanter for the breathless days than the sheltered woodlands.
Not yet has it been decided how the name arose; and the spelling is left very much to individual imagination and taste. Where the choice is between two such names, equally poetic and suggestive, there is really no hurry. The pity would be to lose either of them.
If it is hair bell, the reference is to the exquisite poising of the blossom on the hair-like stem. If hare bell, still fresher associations with the moorland are conveyed. It must mean that the hare has its form where the flowers grow; and, on its passage to and fro, rings from the fairy bells - Their wandering chimes to vagrant butterflies.
The extreme delicacy lends not only grace, but safety as well. Whereas other moorland plants protect themselves from the unchecked storms, or the tread of animals, in various coarser ways, this has learned from nature the gentler art of conquering by knowing when to yield.
E'en the slight hare bell raised its head Elastic from her airy tread.
Scott meant this as a compliment to the grace of Helen Douglas; but half of it belongs to the flower. Clumsier feet by far than those of the Lady of the Lake may tread, and the stem will spring back again uninjured. The bell, so fragile seeming, has simply sunk among the soft grass or moss, and will shake itself into perfect form again as soon as the pressure has passed, and it is lifted into air.
I have seen a limb torn from the tough birch, or a moorland pine uprooted, but I never saw a hare bell crushed - beyond the power of rising and shaking out its creases again - by anything lighter than a cart-wheel; and not always by that.
This bell has no scent. No second inducement is needed to those vagrant butterflies. So far, it stands at a disadvantage with its rival. Growing singly or in clusters, and not in masses, it does not attract the eye from a distance, as a glow of colour. But it is almost everywhere, which the other is not. It fringes the edges of the cornfields, climbs the mountain-sides till it meets the lower alpines, where I have seen it white as the mountain hares of winter; and runs down to the coast till it is washed by the salt spray, where I have also seen it white: on either site, when bleached, it scarcely looks like itself.
Chiefly is it a moorland wildling, companion of the meadow pipit and the nesting plover. And in such moors Scotland abounds. From June onward, every golf-ball driven on St. Andrews links rings the wandering chimes to the blue seaside butterflies. Levelled for a moment, it swiftly rises again, and, ere the golfer passes, it is already trembling in the light breeze as if nothing had happened.
It is gathered by school children, in those delightful autumn weeks spent by the seaside or on inland moor. It blooms for a while along with the marguerite, to whose calm beauty it adds fairylike grace. And when the reign of marguerite is over, it fills the vases of aesthetic maidens, adding to, and borrowing the delicacy of the lighter grasses which tremble beside it. Thus it has all the claims of its tenderer loveliness, of its wider-spread, and its closer sympathy with the genius of the land to be recalled, whenever Scotland is named.
But why worry oneself between two such fair claimants? Why not, with honest Cassio, confess each to be more excellent than the other ? A queen may surely reign in Spain while another reigns in England, and the earth prove large enough for both. In like manner two fairy queens may reign at once, so long as one holds her court on the moor and the other in the woods. Why not pay devoirs to the hare bell in the open, and change our allegiance on passing beneath the branches. Two fairy queens can reign in different places at the same time, and all beauty is not gathered into one bell, any more than into one face.
But even this is not a full statement of the case. Both are not abroad on the earth, even in their different scenes, at the same time. Then what excuse is there for rivalry? Who wants a cessation in the reign of beauty, or even an interregnum?
Let us divide the kingdom between them, making the hyacinth queen for life. All the spring we shall feel at liberty to pay court to her, lying out among the trembling shadows, changing as the buds open into leaves. Until the shilfa's song begins to lose its early freshness, and the warblers lay awakens, we shall make the rocky den echo to our tuneful song, "The Blue Bells of Scotland."
And when at length the woods become faint with heat: then on the breezy moor, or near " the beached margent of the sea," where dance our ringlets to the whistling wind, to the wandering chimes of that other bell we shall finish our song,
"The Scottish Blue Bells."