THE freshness, for which I have panted all the day, dwells up here. The tail stream from the tarn, coming out of the mist, passes about fifty yards to the right. Though its motion, as it rushes down the slope and falls headlong into the frequent pools, is so boisterous, it awakens no longer the sensation of heat, but of coolness. The glare has gone out of the light. Mountain shadows fall across the glen, as the house shadows fell across Thrum's streets in the morning.
The contrast of this evening lounge on the hillside, compared with the involuntary siesta on the way up the glen, is great. How pleasant is the South Esk as it runs down the valley, with a margin of cool black shadow under its banks! How tempting the distant ripple of currents that scarce cooled the feet at midday!
Not far off is a moist patch. Round cushions of pale sphagnum are touched here and there with red by our native insect-eater. I find that the sundew. almost always chooses cushions of sphagnum, where they are to be found. It may be because these retain sufficient moisture in all states of the air; and also, that they offer a background against which it more easily catches the eye of its insect prey. There is scarcely any other white background over all its hillside or moorland haunts.
On the same marshy spot grows the cross-leaved heather, easily known by its pale downy look. From the shape of its very large flowers, it gets its familiar name of bell heather, though the so-called bells are almost closed at the mouth into little balloons.
This is-the earliest of the year's heather. Pale at first, the blossoms blush on the exposed side, where they are kissed by the sun into rose; after which they swiftly fade into an unsightly brown mass. As these three stages are very often present in the same cluster, one has sometimes to search a long time for a perfect sprig of rose-and-white.
Of sprawling and somewhat slovenly habit, it presents a frequent dishevelled washed-out appearance. Under the most favourable circumstances, like many another rose-and-white beauty, it looks better at a distance.
The hue of the opposite hill-slope, extending far and wide on either side, is not rose, but purple. This purple form is the next to flower, and seems to be the only one some people know. The sole talk we hear is of purple heather, as if all heather must be the same. Now, purple is not very common, and this is the only native species of that colour.
The association of purple with heather is a very natural one, and doubtless owes its origin to the fact that this species lends the delightful autumn glow to the hill-slopes, just at the very time when the tourist is on the alert and all the world is in the Highlands. Whereas the delicate rose of the bell heather appeals only to those who are as near as I am now, the mass and glow of the purple is caught from the glen, even by those who are many miles away.
He has enjoyed a rare privilege who has seen this heather darken under the passing cloud, and blush vividly out again when the shadow has passed over; or the richer, deeper effects as the crimson light of evening comes slant-wise across the purple, as it is doing now. The hue will rest upon the spirit, to fall on the page of the ledger or manuscript, months after, amid the dulness of short winter days and the fog of cities. Little wonder that the dream is of purple heather.
Why it should be called Erica cinerea, or grey heath, is not very obvious. In ordinary circumstances its appearance is not grey, but vivid green, supporting one tier or dividing several tiers of bright purple. It retains its glory through many summer and early autumn weeks, and then fades, without, like the rose, becoming ugly.
Widely spread as it is, this is not the commonest heather. A third species is within reach of my hand. Indeed I am reclining on some, half raised above the ground by its wiry springiness. The last to bloom, it is now fully out. The flowers are numerous - small, pink, and pretty. Though there is plenty of it on the far side, I cannot make out the colour at this distance.
It is very vigorous in its growth, and more of a shrub than any of the others; only, it is a lazy shrub. It trails. Were the stems stiff enough to stand upright, it would present the appearance of a dense thicket, through which pathways up the mountain-side would have to be cut. I disentangle one, and pull it out to its full height. Its stature is three feet.
Hence its common name - Ling, or Long.
Ling is the Highland heather.
Perhaps it is most widely and popularly known as the species amid which visitors wade knee-deep, and totally unconscious of fatigue, for many hours, in their eager search for white heather, contented, if, in the evening, they bring back ever so little.
It appears as the breezy title to one of William Black's freshest novels. In this way it may be distinguished from the purple in the heatherology of those who before were ignorant of its existence.
Pinks and kindred colours growing at any considerable height have a tendency to bleach into white. Looking over the face of the hill from where I lie, I can see several distinct shades, some much lighter than the rest. Near the sea the bleaching is still more pronounced. On coast moors I have gathered the line-leaved heather, with its larger flowers and more decided colour, from purple, through crimson and pink, to purest white. The reasons why ling yields a greater and more certain harvest are probably that it is nearer white, to begin with; and also that, so far as the hills are concerned, it grows, as we shall see directly, in more exposed situations.
It seems a somewhat strange whim that wishes pink heather to be white when there are so many white flowers about. It is the taste, less of a naturalist than a gardener. I understand that a prize has been offered for a blue rose. Were the ling white, there would be the same rush after pink or any other curiosity.