IN May the daisies troop on to the links, so that golfers have often to use a red ball, as after a fall of snow in December. In such a dainty favourite, however, as in the case of forward but bright children, much is tolerated that would be inexcusable in almost any other wild flower; so that I cannot recall a single instance of a golfer being out of temper, even after the loss of a second ball.
Enlarge a daisy many-fold; broaden its yellow disc to an inch in diameter, surrounding it with correspondingly great rays, and you get, at all events in appearance, a marguerite. The common idea of the relation between the two is that of big and little sister.
Happily, the marguerites do not invade the links. Instead of a carpet, we should then have a forest of white, scarce less lovely perhaps, but more troublesome. And the same toleration might not be extended to troops of the bigger sisters.
The marguerite is not without a history - has found its way into ecclesiastical legend, is even sacred to an apostle, all of which go to show that its attractions were recognised very long ago.
We learn that in the Church of Remi, at Rheims, there exists a coloured window of twelfth-century date. St. John and the Virgin appear at different sides of the cross. The outer edges of the aureoles encircling their heads are touched or rayed with marguerites. Each open flower turns to the central figure as to a sun.
That it was simply naturalised here, seems probable. In a sense, this is true of very many of our wild flowers; only some date further back than others. When the marguerite crossed the Channel, it were hard to fix. It has the colonist's liking for the nearness of houses; and, taking into account the unlimited powers of scattering in the order to which it belongs, is seldom found far astray. It is not a woodland plant; it seldom climbs very high; it abandons the wastes to the shabbier-looking scentless mayweed.
We ask- of a true native, that it belong to mountain, forest, swamp, sea-coast, or some modification of the four ; for of these, ancient Scotland, in the main, was made up. Now, the marguerite likes dry and sunny places, of which in rude times there were few. Since the soil is drier where the ground inclines, it seeks out sloping banks.
The slopes it mainly haunts are those of very recent formation. Nothing it likes better than a railway embankment, probably because of the greater dryness caused by the looseness of the soil, and the very sharpness of the double incline.
Scarcely are the navvies out of sight, than it arrives, along with or close on the trail of the earliest grasses. Once rooted, it loses no time in spreading. It careers on its unimpeded way, through cornfield, meadow, and marsh. Mile on mile of flat country, with few signs of man's abode, save the solitary farm, or clump of cotter houses, it crosses.
With a break, where the train descends to the level of the surrounding country, it reappears beyond. Thus, during the bright months of the year, it transforms what would otherwise be an eyesore into an elevated garden - a scene of great natural beauty. We forgive the railway embankment, when it is there, for the sake of the marguerite. No other device, especially on flat scenes, would serve as well.
It is not a daisy - not a thing of the sun. Scarce would it be too much to say that it is rather a thing of the twilight. It looks, with its great open eye - large enough to catch every ray - out on the luminous dark of the summer night. Those who go forth to see find it loveliest on the softly shaded atmosphere. One who has not looked then, does not know the marguerite.
Often in my summer wanderings have I approached the banks, long after sunset, near enough to catch the dimly veiled glory; nearer still, till I could make out the separate faces of the flowers, and find that not one was asleep. One night, in particular, comes back to my memory.
I had been far afield, fishing, where the stream ran between high banks of broom and whin, slackening towards the mill dam. The biggest fish lay just where the current broke in upon the still waters of the dam. The best time was just as the light became magic. For company I had white-throats and sedge warblers, marsh buntings and meadow pipits, agreeable, if only as a change from human chatter. The charm, rather than the fish, held me.
It was late when I tore myself away and started back over a rough country. I took as near a crow-line as the ripening grain fields would allow. Distant objects had drawn over them a tender veil of summer dark, too transparent for concealment.
The railway embankment was whiter than I remembered to have seen it. There, all seemed to be just awakening from the drowse of day. I approached till I could see the faint yellow discs with the great expanded petals. Had I been more tired than I was, I could not have passed by.
The bank wooed me. I lay down on the slope. The fair heads bent over to whisper to me. The light was magic. It was like spending an hour among the fairies. It has seemed so ever since - a dream of love, purer and rarer than human !
This fair flower passed through a season of neglect. It is not so very long, not much more than a decade, since the marguerite was taken notice of in Scotland. Years had it grown on the same banks, and in equal abundance ; but gatherers passed by on the other side. Nor would the plea for a place beside the others in their basket have been listened to.
It was known as the horse-gowan. "Horse" is used for all coarse overgrown things, where there is another and daintier of the same kind. The gowan was the daisy; and the horse-gowan was lit only to be cut down with the scythe, and, together with the national emblem - the thistle - presented to the jackass. It may be that some Maud Muller picked it out from amid the confusion of green stems at the haying-time ; but that was only her rustic taste. It may be that some strangers passing on horseback paused to look; but that was only at the pretty face.
It is quite wonderful how rapidly the aesthetic element progresses when once it gets a start, or is affected when once it becomes fashionable. One is sometimes not unreasonably disposed to doubt the genuineness of the admiration, even when the thing admired deserves it all. The banks where it grew are invaded; and even its great abundance, so seldom the case, is not sufficient to make it vulgar.
Rich and poor meet when there is no need for search and no excuse for competition. Coarse hands pluck it and put it into the broken jug in the kitchen. Dainty hands pluck it and put it in the shapely vase in the drawing-room, with a few grasses to give lightness. What could be more exquisite? Where else could it be matched, were one to wander over all the summer fields? Perhaps an edging of dog-roses! No! they are better by themselves. "What a pretty name too!"
As if that had not been given by people with better eyes in their heads, when it was only the horse-gowan here. One wonders how the marguerite likes it.
"And what a perfect massing and combination of two simple colours!"
As if this, too, had not been found out ages ago.
There is a disposition to laugh at the long classic names given to flowers. This one is even exceptionally long. But it happens to have a meaning, which more than redeems its length - Chrysanthemum leucanthemum.
The former word simply means golden-flowered, the latter white-flowered. The two together say "the white and golden flowered." What could be simpler and more expressive than this? It is no more than a description of what one sees, such as a child might give - the white rays, the golden disc.
More refined than horse - gowans, more poetic than ox-eye daisy, it only yields in sweetness, though not in expressiveness, to marguerite.
The rage is, perhaps, not so great as it was; that is only what one expects of all such sudden fancies. The love of change is universal, and prevents one favourite reigning for many seasons with those who, without inherent tastes, affect what others admire. But nothing can ever again wholly close the senses against the unadorned loveliness of this flower. Many will continue to visit its haunts, and bring it back with them to purify and beautify their rooms.
The main association in my mind, between the poppy and the marguerite, is their common preference for a railway embankment. Sometimes they grow together. . The red mingles with the white in nature's own unstudied way, which never errs on the side of bad taste. Sometimes poppy and marguerite divide the space between them, and even choose different embankments, as if each wished its own share of admiration; so that one train may speed through poppy-land and another through marguerite-land. Not only does the poppy appear before the marguerite, but it lingers after; and then we get a reign of pure white, and another of pure red.
Poppies do not mass like marguerites. However many - and often they may be gathered in dozens without moving from the spot - they are scattered among, and separated by the grasses.
The wanderer in the summer twilight they do not lure from the same distance. They cannot send a signal so far. One must cross the paling before he knows that they are there, and then the charm begins to work. One must kneel among them to catch the dusky glow, and the shadows lurking within the crimson lids. They are no longer pale but dark - eyed beauties, with a witchery more subtle and all their own. They are said to lull mortals to sleep. Many at least have been known to go to sleep while they watched - I among the rest - and have suffered no evil fate, such as they would not be willing to dare again.
Unlike the marguerite, they rebel against being taken from their haunts. They will not be abducted and carried over field, fence, and burn, whether they will or no, and petted and enslaved in a vase. They break away at the crossing of the dyke, shake their petals free during the leap over the ditch, or the stumble on the boulder; and all that appears at the end is that which raised them from the ground. Of gipsy birth, and bred in the open, they pine within the walls.
There is no pleasanter feature in modern railway management than the encouragement given to good taste. This goes a little way to redeem the frequent vandalism which offended the aesthetic sense of Ruskin, and to soothe the irritation of those who would have the rarer haunts of nature, with their wild creatures and wild flowers, left undisturbed.
Stations, which were wont to be such ugly breaks, are now more or less bright with gardens. Nature has done the rest - has taken charge of the track, and changed raw piles of soil into flowery ways.
But there are limits in this direction. Nor, for the benefit of lazy tourists, should fresh scenes be needlessly invaded, in the hope that the eye will get accustomed to the outrage; and, in time, the unsightliness will be hidden away under the white and crimson robe of marguerite and poppy.
When the chrysanthemum leaves the railway embankment, it follows the dry compact turf in search of some natural slope to scatter down. It pauses on the edge of the fields to hail its golden-haired sister over the heads of ripening grain.
The poppy parts with its fair companion at the fence and takes another way. Turning aside from the turf, it crosses the dyke, or passes through the hedge among the corn. There, in the later weeks, we shall find the crimson glowing against the straw colour, and gaily floating on the shadow billows, along with the golden-haired sister of the chrysanthemum.