Little Bel's Supplement

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Little Bel's Supplement
Helen Hunt Jackson
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LITTLE BEL’S SUPPLEMENT. By Helen Hunt Jackson Continued. "We'll make it guineas, then, Miss Bel," cried Dr. Allen, enthusiastically, looking at his colleagues, who nodded their heads, and said laughing, “Yes, guineas it is." “And guineas it will be," retorted Little Bel, as with cheeks like peonies she left the room. "Egad but she's a fine spirit 'o her sin, an' as bonnie a face as I've seen since I remember," cried old Mr. Dalgetty, the senior member of the board and the one hardest to please. "I'd not mind bein' a pupil at Wissan Bridge school the comin' term myself," and he gave an old man's privileged chuckle as he looked at his colleagues. "But she's over-young for the work — over Young." "She'll do it." said Mr. Allan, confidently. "Ye need have no fear. My wife's had the training of the girl since she was little. She's got the best o' stuff in her training of the girl since she was little. She's got the best o' stuff in her. She'll do It." Mr. Allan's prediction was fulfilled. Bel did it. But she did it at the cost of harder work than even she had anticipated. If it had not been for her music she would never have pulled through with the boys of Wissan Bridge. By her music she tamed them. The young Marsayas himself never piped to a wilder set of creatures than the uncouth lads and young men that sit in wide-eyed, wide-mouthed astonishment listening to the first song their pretty young school-mistress sang for them. To have singing exercises part of the regular school routine was a new thing at Wissan Bridge. It took like wildfire: and when Little Bel, shrewd and diplomatic as a statesman, invited the two oldest and worst boys in the school to come Wednesday and Saturday afternoons to her boarding-place to practice singing with her to the accompaniment or the piano, so as to be able to help her lead the rest, her sovereignty was established. They were not conquered, they were converted— a far surer and more lasting process. Neither of them would, from that day out, have been guilty of an act, word or look to annoy her, any more than if they had been rival lovers suing for her hand. As Bel's good luck would have it-and Bel was born to good luck; there is no denying it—one of these boys had good tenor voice, the other a fine barytone; and both, in their rough way, been singers all their lives, arid were lovers of music. "That was more than half the battle, my mother, confessed Bel, when, at the end of the first term, she was at home for a few days, and was recounting her experiences. "Except for the singin', I'd never have got Archie McLeod under, nor Sandy Stairs either. I doubt they'd have been too many for me. But now they're like two more teachers to the fore. I'd leave the school-room to them for a day, an' not a lad'd dare stir in his seat without their leave. I call them my constables; an' I'm teaching them a small bit of chemistry out o' school hours, too, an' that’s a hold on them. They'll see me out safe: an' I'm thinking I'll owe them a bit part o’ the five guineas when I get it," she added reflectively. ''The minister says ye're sure of of it," replied her mother. “He says ye've the best school already in all his circuit. I don’t know how ever ye come to't so quick, child." And Isabella McDonald smiled wistfully, spite of all her pride in her clever bairn. "Ye see, then, what he'll say after the examination at New Year's," gleefully replied Bel, "if he thinks the school is so good now. It'll be twice as good then; an' such singin, as was never heard before in any school house on the island, I'll warrant me. I'm to have the piano over for the day to the school-house. Archie and Sandy 'il move it in a big wagon, to save me payin’ for the cartin’; an’ I’m to pay a half-pound for the use of it if it’s not hurt- a dear bargain, but she’d not let it go a shilling less. And, to be sure there is the risk to be counted. An' she knew I'd have it if it had been twice that; but I got it out of her for that price. She was to let me have all the school over twice a week for two months before to practice. So it's not too dear. Ye'll see what ye'll hear then." It had been Little Bel's good luck that she had succeeded in obtaining board in the only family in the village which had the distinction of owning a piano; and by paying a small extra, she had obtained the use of this piano for an hour each day—the best investment of Little Bel's life, as the sequel showed. It was a bitter winter on Prince Edward Island. By New Year’s time the roads were many of them well nigh impassable with snow. Fierce winds swept it to and fro, obliterating by noon tracks which had been clear in the morning; and nobody went abroad if he could help it. New Year's Day opened fiercest of all, with scurries of snow, lowering sky, and a wind that threatened to be a gale before night. But, for all that, the tying posts behind the Wissan Bridge school-house were crowded full of steaming horses under buffalo robes, which must stamp and paw and shiver, and endure the day as best they might, while the New Year's examination went on. Everybody had come. The fame of the singing of the Wissan Bridge school had spread far and near, and it had been whispered about that there has to be a "piece" sung which was finer than anything ever sung in the Charlottetown churches. The school-house was decorated with evergreens-pine and spruce. The New Year’s Day having fallen on a Monday, Little Bell had a clear working-day on the Saturday previous, and her faithful henchmen, Archie and Sandy, had been busy every evening for a week drawing the boughs on their sleds, and piling them up in the yard The teacher's desk had been removed, and in its place stood the shining red mahogany piano—a new and wonderful sight to many eyes there. All was ready, the room crowded full, and the Board of Trustees not yet arrived. There sat three big arm-chairs on the raised platform, empty—a depressing and perplexing sight to Little Bel, who, in her brief blue merino gown, with a knot of pink ribbon at her throat, and a roll or white paper (her schedule of exercises) in her hand, stood on the left hand of the piano, her eyes fixed expectantly on the doors. The minutes lengthened out into a quarter of an hour, half an hour. Anxiously Bel consulted with her father what should be done. “The roads are something fearful, child,” he replied; “we must make big allowance for that. They’re sure to be comin’, at least some one ‘o them. It was never known that they failed on the New Year’s examination, an’ it would seem a sore disrespect to begin without them here.” Before he had finished speaking there was heard the merry jingling of bells outside, dozens and dozens it seemed, and hilarious voices and laughter, and the snorting or overdriven horses, and the stamping of feet, and more voices and more laughter. Everybody looked in his neighbor's face. What sounds were these? Who ever heard a School Board arrive in such fashion as this? But it was the School Board-nothing less: a good deal more, however. Little Bel's heart sank within her as she saw the foremost figure entering the loom. What evil destiny had brought Sandy Bruce in the character of a visitor that day?—Sandy Bruce, retired school-teacher himself, superintendent of the hospital in Charlottetown, road-master, ship-owner, exciseman —Sandy Bruce, whose sharp and unexpected questions had been known to floor the best of scholars and upset the plans of the best of teachers. Yes, here he was, Sandy Bruce himself; and it was his fierce little Norwegian ponies, with their silver bells and fur collars, the ad-miration of all Charlottetown, that had made such a clatter and stamping outside, and were still keeping it up, for every timr they stirred the bells tinkled like a peal of chimes. And, woe, upon woe, behind him came, nut Bel’s friend and pastor, Mr. Allan, but the crusty old Dalgetty. whose doing it had been a year before, as Bel very well knew, that the five pound supplement had been only conditionally promised. Conflicting emotions turned Bel's face scarlet as she advanced to meet them: the most casual observer could not have failed to see that dismay predominated, and Sandy Bruce was no casual observer; nothing escaped his keen glance and keener intuition; and it was almost with a wicked tinkle in his little hazel eyes that he said, still shaking off the snow, stamping and puffing: "Eh, but ye were not looking for me, teacher! The minister was sent for to go to old Elspie Broadalbane, who's dyin' the morn; and I happened by as he was startin', an' he made me promise to come i' his place; an' I picked up my friend Dalgetty here a few miles back, wi' his horse flounderin' i' the drifts. Except for me, ye'd ha' had no Board at all here to-day, so I hope ye'll give me no bad welcome." As he spoke he was studying her face, where the color came and went like waves; not a thought in the girl's heart he did not read. "Poor little lassie!" he was thinking to himself. "She's shaking in her shoes with fear o' me. I'll not put her out. She's a dainty blossom of a girl. What's kept her from being trodden down by these Wissan Bridge racketers, I'd like to know?" But when he seated himself on the platform, and look his first look at the room, he was near starting with amazement. The Wissan Bridge "racketers," as he had mentally called them were not to be seen. Very well he knew many of them by sight, for his shipping business called him often to Wissan Bridge, and this was not the first time he had been inside, the school-house which had been so long the dread and terror of school boards and teachers alike. A puzzled frown gathered between Sandy Bruce’s eyebrows as he gazed. "What has happened to the youngsters, then?—have they all been converted i' this twelve month? he was thinking. And the fitting perplexed thought did not escape John McDonald, who was as quick a reader of faces as Sandy himself, and had been by no means free from anxiety for his Littte Bel when he saw the redoubtable visage of the exciseman appear in the doorway. “He’s takin' it in quick the way the bairn’s got them a' in hand," thought John. ''If only she can hold hersel' cool now?" No danger; Bel was not there to lose the battle by appearing to quail in the outset, however clearly she might, see herself outnumbered. And sympathetic and eager glances from her constables, Archie and Sandy, told her that they were all ready for the fray. These glances Sandy Bruce chanced to intercept, and they heightened his bewilderment. To Archie McLeod he was by no means a stranger, having had occasion more than once to deal with him, boy as he was, for complications with riotous misdoings. He had happened to know, also, that it was Archie McLeod who had been head and front of the last year's revolt in the school, the one boy that no teacher hitherto had been able to control. And here stood Archie McLeod, rising in his place, leader of the form, glancing down on the boys around him with the eye of a general watching the teacher’s eye, meanwhile, as a dog watches for his master’s signal. And the orderly yet alert and joyously eager expression of the whole school-it had so much the look of a miracle to Sandy Bruce’s eye that, not having been for years accustomed to the restraint of the technical official dignity of a school visitor, he was on the point of giving a loud whistle of astonishment. Luckily recollecting himself in lime, he smothered the whistle, and the "Whew! what's all this?" which had been on his tongue's end, in a vigorous and unnecessary blowing of his nose. And before that was over, and his eyes well wiped, there stood the whole school on their feet before him, and the room ringiog with such a chorus as was never heard in a Prince Edward Island school room before. This completed his bewilderment, and swallowed it up in delight. If Sandy Bruce had an overmastering passion in his ragged nature, it was for music. To the sound of the bagpipes he had often said he would march to death, and "not know it for dyin'." The drum and the fife could draw him as quickly now as when he was a boy, and sweet singing of a woman's voice was all the token he wanted of the certainly of heaven and the existence of angels. When Little Bel's clear, flute-like soprano notes rang oat, carrying along the fifty young voices she led, Sandy jumped up on his feet waving his hand, in a sudden heat of excitement, right and left, and looking swiftly all about him on the platform, he said, "It's not sittin' we'll take such welcome as this, my neighbors!" Each man and woman there, catching the quick contagion, rose, and it was a tumultuous crowd of glowing faces that pressed forward around the piano as the singing went on—fathers, mothers, rustics, all; and the children, pleased and astonished, sang better than ever; and when the chorus was ended, it was some minutes before all was quiet. Many things had been settled in that few minutes. Joho McDonald’s heart was at rest. "The music’ll carry a' before it, no matter if they do make a failure here an' there" he thought. " The bairn is a’ right." The mother's heart was at rest also. "She's done wonders wi' 'em— wonders. I doubt not but it'll go through as it begun. Her face is a picture to look on. Bless her!" Isabella was saying, behind her placid smile. "Eh, but she's won her guineas out o’' us," thought old Dalgetty, ungrudgingly; "and won 'em well." "I don't see why everybody is so afraid of Sandy Bruce," thought Little Bel. “He looks as kind and as pleased as my own father. I don't believe he'll ask any o’ his botherin' questions." What Sandy Bruce thought, it would be hard to tell; nearer the truth, probably, to say that his head was too much in a whirl to think any-thing. Certain it is that he did not ask any botherin' questions, but sat leaning forward on his stout oaken staff, held firmly between his knees, and did not move for the next hour, his eyes resting alternately on the school and on the young teacher, who, now that her fright was over, was conducting her entertainment with the composure and dignity of an experienced instructor. The exercises were simple— declamations, reading of selected compositions, examinations of the principal classes. At short intervals came songs to break the monotony. The first one after the opening us was “Banks and Braes of Bonnie Doon." At the first bars of this, Sandy Bruce could not keep silence, but broke into a low accompaniment in deep bass voice, untrained but sweet. "Ah," thought Little Bel; “what’ll he say to the last one, I wonder?” To be Continued.