and girl together. "Many's the time I've raced wi' ye this way, Katie,"
he said affectionately.
"Ay, when I was a wee thing; an' ye always let go my hand at last, and
pretended I could outrin ye," laughed Katie, blissful tears filling her
What a happy day was this! Had it not been an inspiration to bring
Donald back to the old farm-house? Katie was sure it had. She was filled
with sweet reveries; and so silent on the way home that her merry
friends joked her unmercifully about her long walk inland with the
It was late in the night, or rather it was early the next morning, when
the "Heather Bell" reached her wharf.
"I'll go up with ye, Katie," said Donald. "It's not decent for ye to go
And when he bade her good-night he looked half-wistfully in her face,
and said: "But it's a lonely house for ye to come to, Katie, an' not a
soul but yourself in it." And he held her hand in his affectionately, as
a cousin might.
Katie's heart beat like a hammer in her bosom at these words, but she
answered gravely: "Yes, it was sorely lonely at first, an' I wearied
myself out to get them to give me Elspie to learn the business wi' me;
but I'm more used to it now."
"That is what I was thinkin'," said Donald, "that if the two o' ye were
here together, ye'd not be so lonely. Would she not like to come?"
"Ay, that would she," replied the unconscious Katie; "she pines to be
with me. I'm more her mother than the mother herself; but they'll never
"She's bonny," said Donald. I'd not seen her since she was little."
"She's as good as she is bonny," said Katie, warmly; and that was the
last word between Katie and Donald that night.
"As good as she is bonny." It rang in Donald's ears like a refrain of
heavenly music as he strode away. "As good as she is bonny;" and how
good must that be? She could not be as good as she was bonny, for she
was the bonniest lass that ever drew breath. Gray eyes and golden hair
and pink cheeks and pink heather all mingled in Donald's dreams that
night in fantastic and impossible combinations; and more than once he
waked in terror, with the sweat standing on his forehead from some
nightmare fancy of danger to the "Heather Bell" and to Elspie, both
being inextricably entangled together in his vision.
The visions did not fade with the day. They pursued Donald, and haunted
his down-sitting and his uprising. He tried to shake them off, drive
them away; for when he came to think the thing over soberly, he called
himself an old fool to be thus going daft about a child like Elspie.
"Barely twenty at the most, and me forty. She'd not look at an old
fellow like me, and maybe't would be like a sin if she did," said Donald
to himself over and over again. But it did no good. "As good as she is
bonny, bonny, bonny," rang in his ears, and the blue eyes and golden
hair and merry smile floated before his eyes. There was no help for it.
Since the world began there have been but two roads out of this sort of
mystic maze in which Donald now found himself lost, - but two roads, one
bright with joy, one dark with sorrow. And which road should it be
Donald's fate to travel must be for the child Elspie to say. After a few
days of bootless striving with himself, during which time he had spent
more hours with Katie than he had for a year before, - it was such a
comfort to him to see in her face the subtle likeness to Elspie, and to
hear her talk about plans of bringing her to Charlottetown for a visit
if nothing more, - after a few days of this, Captain Donald, one Saturday
afternoon, sailing past Orwell Head, suddenly ran into the inlet where
he had taken the picnic party, and, mooring the "Heather Bell" at Spruce
Wharf, announced to his astonished mate that he should lie by there till
It was a bold step of Captain Donald's. But he was not a man for
half-and-half ways in anything; and he had said grimly to himself that
this matter must be ended one way or the other, - either he would win the
child or lose her. He would know which. Girls had loved men twenty years
older than themselves, and girls might again.
The Sunday passed off better than his utmost hopes. Everybody except
Elspie was cordially glad to see him. Visitors were not so common at the
Orwell Head farm-houses that they could fail of welcome. The McCloud
boys were thankful to hear all that Donald had to tell, and with the old
father and mother he had always been a prime favorite. It had been a
sore disappointment to them, as year after year went by, to see that
there seemed no likelihood of his becoming Katie's husband. As the day
wore on, even Elspie relaxed a little from her indifferent attention to
him, and began to perceive that, spite of the odious freckles, he was,
as the girls had said, a handsome man.
Partly because of this, and partly from innate coquetry, she said, when
he was taking leave, "Ye'll not be comin' again for another year,
"Ye'll see, then!" laughed Donald, with a sudden wise impulse to refrain
from giving the reply which sprang to his lips, - "To-morrow, if ye'd ask
And from the same wise, strangely wise impulse he curbed his desire to
go again the next Sunday and the next. Not until three weeks had passed
did he go; and then Elspie was clearly and unmistakably glad to see him.
This was all Donald wanted. "I'll win her, the bonny thing!" he said to
himself. "An' I'll not be long, either."
And he was right. A girl would have been hard indeed that would not
have been touched by the beaming, tender face which Donald wore, now
that hope lighted it up. His masterful bearing, too, was a pleasure to
the spirited Elspie, who had no liking for milksops, and had sent off
more than one lover because he came crawling too humbly to her feet.
Elspie had none of the gentle, quiet blood which ran in Katie's veins.
She had even been called Firebrand in her younger, childish days, so hot
was her temper, so hasty her tongue. But the firm rule of the Scottish
household and the pressure of the stern Scotch Calvinism preached in
their kirk had brought her well under her own control.
"Eh, but the bonny lass has hersel' well in hand," thought the admiring
Donald more than once, as he saw her in some family discussion or
controversy keep silence, with flushing cheeks, when sharp words rose to
All this time Katie was plodding away at her millinery, inexpressibly
cheered by Donald's new friendliness. He came often to see her, and told
her with the greatest frankness of his visits at the farm. He would take
her some day, he said; the trouble was, he could never be sure
beforehand when it would answer for him to stop there. Katie sunned
herself in this new familiar intercourse, and the thought of Donald
running up to the old farm of a Sunday as if he were one of the brothers
going home. In the contentment of these thoughts she grew younger and
prettier, - began to look as she did at twenty. And Donald, gazing
scrutinizingly in her face one day, seeking, as he was always doing, for
stray glimpses of resemblance to Elspie, saw this change, and
impulsively told her of it.
"But ye're growin' young, Katie - d'ye know it? - young and bonny, my
And Katie listened to the words with such sweet joy she feared her face
would tell too much, and put up her hands to hide it, crying: "Ah, ye're
tryin' to make me silly, you Donald, with such flatterin'. We're gettin'
old, Donald, you an' me," she added, with a guilty little undercurrent
of thought in her mind. "D'ye mind that I was thirty last month?"
"Ay," replied Donald, gloomily, his face darkening, - "ay; I mind, by the
same token, I'm forty. It's no need ye have to be callin' yersel' old.
But I'm old, an' no mistake." The thought, as Katie had put it, had been
gall and wormwood to him. If Katie thought him old, what must he seem to
It was early in June that Elspie had had the spinning-bee to which Katie
had brought the unwelcome Donald. The summer sped past, but a faster
summer than any reckoned on the calendar of months and days was speeding
in Elspie's heart. Such great love as Donald's reaches and warms its
object as inevitably as the heat of a fire warms those near it. Early in
June the spinning-bee, and before the last flax was pulled, early in
September, Elspie knew that she was restless till Donald came, glad when
he was by her side, and strangely sorry when he went away. Still, she
was not ready to admit to herself that it was anything more than her
natural liking for any pleasant friend who broke in on the lonely
monotony of the farm life.
The final drying of the flax, which is an important crop on most of the
Prince Edward Island farms, is put off until autumn. After its first
drying in the fields where it grew, it is stored in bundles under cover
till all the other summer work is done, and autumn brings leisure. Then
the flax camp, as it is called, is built, - a big house of spruce boughs;
walls, flat roof, all of the green spruce boughs, thick enough to keep
out rain. This is usually in the heart of a spruce grove. Thither the
bundles of flax are carried and stacked in piles. In the centre of the
inclosure a slow fire is lighted, and above this on a frame of slats the
stalks of flax are laid for their last drying. It is a difficult and
dangerous process to keep the fire hot enough and not too hot, to shift
and turn and lift the flax at the right moment. Sometimes only a sudden
flinging of moist earth upon the fire saves it from blazing up into the
flax, and sometimes one careless second's oversight loses the
whole, - flax, spruce-bough house, all, in a light blaze, and gone in a
The McClouds' flax camp had been built in the edge of the spruce grove
where the picnickers had held their dance and merry-making on that June
day, memorable to Donald and Elspie and Katie. It was well filled with
flax, in the drying of which nobody was more interested than Elspie. She
had big schemes for spinning and weaving in the coming winter. A whole
piece of linen she had promised to Katie, and a piece for herself, and,
as Elspie thought it over, maybe a good many more pieces than one she
might require for herself before spring. Who knew?
It was October now, and many a Sunday evening had Elspie walked with
Donald alone down to Spruce Wharf, and lingered there watching the last
curl of steam from the "Heather Bell" as she rounded the point, bearing
Donald away. Elspie could not doubt why Donald came. Soon she would
wonder why he came and went so many times silent; that is, silent in
words, eloquent of eye and hand, - even the touch of his hand was like a
No one was defter and more successful in this handling of the flax over
the fire than Elspie. It had sometimes happened that she, with the help
of one brother, had dried the whole crop. It was not thought safe for
one person to work at it alone for fear of accident with the fire. But
it fell out on this October afternoon, a Saturday, that Elspie, feeling
sure of Donald's being on his way to spend the Sunday with her, had
walked down to the wharf to meet him. Seeing no signs of the boat, she
went back to the flax camp, lighted the fire, and began to spread the
flax on the slats. There was not much more left to be dried, - "not more
than three hours' work in all," she said to herself. "Eh, but I'd like
to have done with it before the Sabbath!" And she fell to work with a
will, so briskly to work that she did not realize how time was
flying, - did not, strangest of all, hear the letting off of steam when
the "Heather Bell" moored at the wharf; and she was still busily turning
and lifting and separating the stalks of flax, bending low over the
frame, heated, hurrying, her whole heart in her work, when Donald came
striding up the field from the wharf, - striding at his greatest pace,
for he was disturbed at not finding Elspie at the landing to meet him.
He turned his head toward the spruce grove, thinking vaguely of the June
picnic, and what had come of his walking away from the dance that
morning, when suddenly a great column of smoke and fire rolled up from
the grove, and in the same second came piercing shrieks in Elspie's
voice. The grove was only a few rods away, but it seemed to Donald an
eternity before he reached the spot, to see not only the spruce boughs
and flax on fire, but Elspie tossing up her arms like one crazed, her
gown all ablaze. The brave, foolish girl, at the first blazing of the
stalks on the slats, had darted into the corner of the house and
snatched an armful of the piled flax there to save it; but as she passed
the flaming centre the whole sheaf she carried had caught fire also, and
in a twinkling of an eye had blazed up around her head, and when she
dropped it, had blazed up again fiercer than ever around her feet.
With a groan Donald seized her. The flames leaped on him, too, as if to
wrestle with him; his brown beard crackled, his hair, but he fought
through it all. Throwing Elspie on the ground, he rolled her over and
over, crying aloud, "Oh, my darlin', if I break your sweet bones, it is
better than the fire!" And indeed it seemed as if it must break her
bones, so fiercely he rolled her over and over, tearing off his woollen
coat to smother the fire; beating it with his tartan cap, stamping it
with his knees and feet "Oh, my darlin'! make yourself easy. I'll save
ye! I'll save ye if I die for it," he cried.
And through the smoke and the fire and the terror Elspie answered back:
"I'll not leave ye, my Donald. We're gettin' it under." And with her own
scorched hands she pulled the coat-flaps down over the smouldering bits
of flax, and tore off her burning garments.
Not a coward thread in her whole body had little Elspie, and in less
time than the story could ever be told, all was over, and safely; and
there they sat on the ground, the two, locked in each other's
arms, - Donald's beard gone, and much of his hair; Elspie's pretty golden
hair also blackened, burned. It was the first thing Donald saw after he
made sure danger was past. Laying his hand on her head, he said, with a
half-sob, - he was hysterical now there was nothing more to be done: "Oh,
your bonny hair, my darlin'! It's all scorched away."
"It'll grow!" said Elspie, looking up in his eyes archly. Her head was
on his shoulder, and she nestled closer; then she burst into tears and
laughter together, crying: "Oh, Donald, it was for you I was callin'.
Did ye hear me? I said to myself when the fire took hold, 'O God, send
Donald to save me!'"
"An' he sent me, my darlin'," answered Donald. "Ye are my own darlin';
say it, Elspie, say it!" he continued. "Oh, ye bonny bairn, but I've
loved ye like death since the first day I set eyes on your bonny face!
Say ye're my darlin'!"
But he knew it without her saying a word; and the whispered "Yes,
Donald, I'm your darlin' if you want me," did not make him any surer.
There was a great outcrying and trembling of hearts at the farm-house
when Donald and Elspie appeared in this sorry plight of torn and burned
clothes, blackened faces, scorched and singed hair. But thankfulness
soon swept away all other emotions, - thankfulness and a great joy, too;
for Donald's second word was, turning to the old father: "An' it is my
own that I've saved; she's gien hersel' to me for all time, an' we'll
ask for your blessin' on us without any waitin'!" Tears filled the
mother's eyes. She thought of another daughter. A dire instinct smote
her of woe to Katie.
"Ay, Donald," she said, "it's a good day to us to see ye enter the
house as a son; but I never thought o' - " She stopped.
Donald's quick consciousness imagined part of what she had on her mind.
"No," he said, half sad in the midst of his joy, "o' course ye didn't;
an' I wonder at mysel'. It's like winter weddin' wi' spring, ye'll be
sayin'. But I'll keep young for her sake. Ye'll see she's no old man for
a husband. There's nothing in a' the world I'll not do for the bairn.
It's no light love I bear her."
"Ye'll be tellin' Katie on the morrow?" said the unconscious Elspie.
"Ay, ay," replied the equally unconscious Donald; "an' she'll be main
glad o' 't. It's a hundred times in the summer that she's been sayin'
how she longed to have you in the town wi' her. An' now ye're comin',
comin' soon, oh, my bonny. I'll make a good home for ye both. Katie's
the same's my own, too, for always."
The mother gazed earnestly at Donald. Could it be that he was so unaware
of Katie's heart? "Donald," she said suddenly, "I'll go down wi' ye if
ye'll take me. I've been wantin' to go. There's a many things I've to
do in the town."
It had suddenly occurred to her that she might thus save Katie the shock
of hearing the news first from Donald's lips.
It was well she did. When, with stammering lips and she hardly knew in
what words, she finally broke it to Katie that Donald had asked Elspie
to be his wife, and that Elspie loved him, and they would soon be
married, Katie stared into her face for a moment with wide, vacant eyes,
as if paralyzed by some vision of terror. Then, turning white, she
gasped out, "Mother!" No word more. None was necessary.
"Ay, my bairn, I know," said the mother, with a trembling voice; "an' I
came mysel' that no other should tell ye."
A long silence followed, broken only by an occasional shuddering sigh
from Katie; not a tear in her eyes, and her cheeks as scarlet as they
had been white a few moments before. The look on her face was
"Will it kill ye, bairn?" sobbed the mother at last. "Don't look so. It
must be borne, my bairn; it must be borne."
It was a shrill voice, unlike Katie's, which replied: "Ay, I'll bear
it; it must be borne. There's none knows it but you, mother," she added,
with a shade of relief in the tone.
"An' never will if ye're brave, bairn," answered the mother.
"It was the day of the picnic," cried Katie; "was't not? I remember he
said she was bonny."
"Ay, 'twas then," replied the mother, so sorely torn between her love
for the two daughters, between whom had fallen this terrible sword. "Ay,
it was then. He says she has not been out of his mind by the night or by
the day since it."
Katie shivered. "And it was I brought him," she said, with a tearless
sob bitterer than any loud weeping. "Ye'll be goin' back the night?" she
"I'll bide if ye want me," said the mother.
"I'm better alone, mother," said Katie, her voice for the first time
faltering. "I'll bear it. Never fear me, mother; but I'm best alone for
a bit. Ye'll give my warm love to Elspie, an' send her down here to me
to stay till she's married. I'll help her best if she's here. There'll
be much to be done. I'll do 't, mother; never fear me."
"Are ye countin' too much on yer strength, bairn?" asked the now weeping
mother. "I'd rather see ye give way like."
"No, no," cried Katie, impatiently. "Each one has his own way, mother;
let me have mine. I'll work for Donald and Elspie all I can. Ye know she
was always like my own bairn more than a sister. The quicker she comes
the better for me, mother. It'll be all over then. Eh, but she'll be a
bonny bride!" And at these words Katie's tears at last flowed.
"There, there, bairn! Have out the tears; they're healin' to grief,"
exclaimed her mother, folding her arms tight around her and drawing her
head down on her shoulder as she had done in her babyhood.
Katie was right. When she had Elspie by her side, and was busily at work
in helping on all the preparations for the wedding, the worst was over.
There was a strange blending of pang and pleasure in the work. Katie
wondered at herself; but it grew clearer and clearer to her each day
that since Donald could not be hers she was glad he was Elspie's. "If
he'd married a stranger it would ha' broke my heart far worse, far
worse," she said many a time to herself as she sat patiently stitching,
stitching, on Elspie's bridal clothes. "He's my own in a way, after a',
so long's he's my brother. There's nobody can rob me o' that." And the
sweet light of unselfish devotion beamed more and more in her
countenance, till even the mother that bore her was deceived, and said
in her heart that Katie could not have been so very much in love with
Donald after all.
There was one incident which for a few moments sorely tested Katie's
self-control. The spray of white heather blossom which she had worn to
the June picnic she had on the next day put back in her box of flowers
for sale, hoping that she might yet find a customer for it. The delicate
bells were not injured either in shape or color. It was a shame to lose
it for one day's wear, thought the thrifty Katie; and most surely she
herself would never wear it again. She could not even see it without a
flush of mortification as she recalled Donald's contempt for it. The
privileged Elspie, rummaging among all Katie's stores, old and new,
spied this white heather cluster one day, and snatching it up exclaimed:
"The very thing for my weddin' bonnet, Katie! I'll have it in. The bride
o' the master o' the 'Heather Bell' should be wed with the heather bloom
Katie's face flushed. "It's been worn, Elspie," she said; "I had it in a
bonnet o' my own. Don't ye remember I wore it to the picnic? an' then it
didna suit, an' I put it back in the box. It's not fit for ye. I've a
bunch o' lilies o' the valley, better."
"No; I'll have this," pursued Elspie. "It's as white's the driven snow,
an' not hurt at all. I'm sure Donald'll like it better than all the
other flowers i' the town."
"Indeed, then, he won't," said Katie, sharply; on which Elspie turned
upon her with a flashing eye, and said, -
"An' which 'll be knowin' best, do ye think? What is it ye mean?"
"Nothing," said Katie, meekly; "only he said, that day I'd the bonnet
on, it was no more than sticks, an' not like the true heather at all."
"All he knows, then! Ye'll see he'll not say it looks like sticks when
it's on the bonnet I'm goin' to church in," retorted Elspie, dancing to
the looking-glass, and holding the white heather bells high up against
her golden curls. "It's the only flower in all yer boxes I want, Katie,
and ye'll not grudge it to me, will ye, dear?" And the sparkling Elspie
threw herself on the floor by Katie, and flung her arms across her
knees, looking up into her face with a wilful, loving smile.
"No wonder Donald loves her so, - the bonny thing!" thought Katie. "God
knows I'd grudge ye nothing on earth, Elspie," she said, in a voice so
earnest that Elspie looked wonderingly at her.
"Is it a very dear flower, sister?" she said penitently. "Does it cost
too much money for Elspie?"
"No, bairn, it's not too dear," said Katie, herself again. "The lilies
were dearer. But ye'll have the heather an' welcome, if ye will; an' I
doubt not it'll look all right in Donald's eyes when he sees it this
It was indeed a good home that Donald made for his wife and her sister.
He was better to do in worldly goods than they had supposed. His long
years of seclusion from society had been years of thrift and prosperity.
No more milliner-work for Katie. Donald would not hear of it. So she was
driven to busy herself with the house, keeping from Elspie's willing and
eager hands all the harder tasks, and laying up stores of fine-spun
linen and wool for future use in the family. It was a marvel how content
Katie found herself as the winter flew by. The wedding had taken place
at Christmas, and the two sisters and Donald had gone together from the
church to Donald's new house, where, in a day or two, everything had
settled into peaceful grooves of simple, industrious habit, as if they
had been there all their lives.
Donald's happiness was of the deep and silent kind. Elspie did not
realize the extent of it. A freer-spoken, more demonstrative lover would
have found heartier response and more appreciation from her. But she was
a loyal, loving, contented little wife, and there could not have been
found in all Charlottetown a happier household, to the eye, than was
Donald's for the first three months after his marriage.
Then a cloud settled on it. For some inexplicable reason the blooming
Elspie, who had never had a day's illness in her life, drooped in the
first approach of the burden of motherhood. A strange presentiment also
seized her. After the first brief gladness at the thought of holding a
child of her own in her arms, she became overwhelmed with a melancholy
certainty of her own death.
"I'll never live to see it, Katie," she said again and again. "It'll be
your bairn, an' not mine. Ye'll never give it up, Katie? - promise me.