Little Bel's Supplement (Concluded)

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Little Bel's Supplement (Concluded)
Helen Hunt Jackson
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LITTLE BEL’S SUPPLEMENT. BY HELEN HUNT JACKSON. Concluded. When the time came she found out. If she had chosen the arrangement of her music with full knowledge of Sandy Bruce's preferences, and with the express determination to rouse him to a climax of enthusiasm, she could not have done better. When the end of the simple programme of recitations and exhibitions had been reached, she came forward to the edge of the platform—her cheeks were deep pink now, and her eyes shone with excitement—and said, turning to the trustees and spectators, We have finished now all we have to show for our year's work, and we will close our entertainment by singing, 'Scots wha hae wi' Wallace bled.' " “Ay, ay! that wi' we!" shouted Sandy Bruce, again leaping to his feet, and as the first of the grand chords of that grand old tune rang out full and loud under Little Bel's firm touch, he strode forward to the piano, and, with a kindly nod to her, struck in with the full force of his deep bass, like violoncello notes, gathering up all the others and fasing them into a pealing strain. It was electrifying. Everybody sang. Old voices that had not sung for a quarter of a century or more joined in. It was a furor Dalgetty swung his tartan cap; Sandy his hat; handkerchiefs were waved; staffs rang on the floor. The children, half frightened in spite of their pleasure, were quieter than their elders. "Eh, but it was good fun to see the old folks gone crazy for once," said Archie McLeod, in recounting the scene. "Now if they'd get that way oftener, they'll not be so hard down on us youngsters." At the conclusion of the song, the first thing Little Bel heard was Dalgetty's piping voice behind her: "And guineas it is, Miss McDonald. Ye've won it fair an’ square! Guineas it is!" "Eh?—what? Guineas? What is't you’re sayin'?" asked Sandy Bruce, his eyes steady glowing like coals, gazing at Little Bel. “The supplement, sir," answered Little Bel, lifting her eyes roguishly to his. "Mr. Dalgetty thought I was too young for the school, an’ he’d promise me no supplement till he saw if I’d be equal to ‘t.” This was the sly Bel's little revenge on Dalgetty, who begun confusedly to explain that it was not he any more than the other trustees, and he only wished that they had all been here to see, as he had seen, how finely the school had been managed; but nobody heard what he said, for above all the humming and buzzing and laughing there came up from the centre of the school-room a reiterated call of “Sirs! Trustees! Mr. Trustee! Board!” It was Archie McLeod, standing upon the backs of two seats, waving a white paper, and trying to make himself heard. The face of a man galloping for life and death, coming up at the last second with a reprieve for one about to be shot, could hardly be fuller of intense anxiety than was Archie's as he waved his paper and shouted. Liitle Bel gazed bewilderingly at him. This was not down on her programme of the exercises. What could it be? As soon as partial silence enabled him to speak, Archie proceeded to read a petition, setting forth to the respected Board of Trustees, that the undersigned boys and girls of Wissan Bridge school did hereby unanimously request that they might have no other teacher thin Miss McDonald, "as long as she lived.” This last clause had been the cause of bitter disputing between Archie and Sandy, Sandy insisting upon having it in, Archie insisting that it was absurd, because they would not go to school as long as Miss McDonald lived. "But there's the little ones, and the babies that'll he growin' up," retorted Sandy; “an' there'll never be another like her: I say, 'as long as she lives’;" and as long as she lives it was; and when Archie, with an unnecessary emphasis, delivered this closing clause of the petition, it was received with a roar of laughter from the platform, which made him flush angrily, and say, with a vicious punch in Sandy's ribs, “There; I told ye; it spelled it a'. They're fit to die over it; an' sma' blame to 'em, ye silly!" But he was re-assured when he heard Sandy Bruce's voice overtopping the tumult with "a very sensible request, my lad, an' I, for one, am o' yer way o' thinkin'." In which speech was a deeper significance than anybody at the time dreamed. In that hurly-burly and hilarious confusion no one had time to weigh words or note meanings; but there was some one who recalled it a few months later, when they were bidden to a wedding at the house of John McDonald—a wedding at which Sandy Bruce was groom, and Little Bel the brightest, most winsome of brides. It was an odd way that Sandy went to work to win her; his ways had been odd all his life—so odd that it had long ago been accepted in the minds of the Charlottetown people that he would never find a woman to wed him; only now and then an unusually perspicacious person divined the reason of his bachelor-hood was not at all that women did not wish to wed him, spite of his odd ways, but that he himself found a woman exactly to his taste. True it was that Sandy Bruce, aged forty, had never yet desired any woman for his wife till he looked into the face of Little Bel in the Wissan Bridge school house. And equallv true was it that before the last strains of “Scots wha hae wi' Wallace bled” had died away on that memorable afternoon of her exhibition of her school, he had determined that his wife she should be. This was the way he took to win her. No one can deny that it was odd. There was some talk between him and his temporary colleague on the School Board, old Dalgetty, as they drove home together behind the Norwegian ponies, and the result of this conversation was that the next morning early— in fact, before Little Bel was dressed, so late had she been indulged, for once, in sleeping, after her hard labors in the exhibition the day before—the Norwegian ponies were jingling their bells at John McDonald's door; and John himself might have been seen with a seriously puzzled face, listening to words earnestly spoken by Sandy, as he shook off the snow and blanketed the ponies. As the talk progressed, John glanced op involuntarily at Little Bel's window. Could it be that he sighed? At any rate, there was no regret in his heart as be shook Sandy's hand warmly, and said, “Ye've my free consent to try; but I doubt she's not easy won. She's her head now, an' her ain way; but she's a good lass, an' a sweet one," “An’ I need no man to tell me that," said the dauntless Sandy, as he gave back the hearty hand-grip of his friend; “An’ she’ll never repent it, the longest day o’ her life, if she’ll hae me for her mon,” and he strode into the house bearing in his hands the five golden guineas which his friend Dalgetty had at his request, commissioned him to pay. “Into her own hand, mind ye, mon,” chuckled Dalgetty mischievously. “Ye’ll not be leavin’ it wi’ the mither.” To which sly satire Sandy’s only reply was a soft laugh and a nod of his head. As soon as Little Bell crossed the threshold of the room where Sandy Bruce stood waiting for her, she knew the errand on which he had come. It was written in his face. Neither could it be truthfully said to be a surprise to Little Bel, for she had not been woman had she failed to recognize on the previous day that the rugged Scotchman’s whole nature had gone out toward her in a sudden and overmastering attraction. Sandy looked at her keenly. “Eh, ye know’t a’ready,” he said-“the thing I came to say t’ ye;” and he paused, still eying her more like a judge than a lover. Little Bel turned scarlet. This was not her ideal of a wooer. “Know what, Mr. Bruce?” she said, resentfully. “How should I know what ye came to say!” “Tush, tush, lass! Dinna prevaricate,” Sandy began, his eyes gloating on her lovely confusion; “Dinna preteend-” but the sweet blue eyes were too much for him. Breaking down utterly, he tossed the guineas to one side on the table, and stretching out both hands toward Bel, he exclained. “Ye’re the sweetest thing the eyes o’ a man ever rested on, lass, an’ I’m goin’ to win ye if ye’ll let me;” and as Bell opened her mouth to speak, he laid one hand, quietly, as a mother might, across her lips, and continued: “Na, na! I’ll not let ye speak yet. I’m not a silly to look for ye to be ready to say yes at this quick askin’; but I’ll not let ye say me nay neither. Ye’ll not refuse me the onl y thing I’m askin’ the day, an’ that’s that ye’ll let me try to make ye love me. Ye’ll not say nay to that, lass. I’ll gie my life to it;” and now he waited for an answer. None came. Tears were in Bel’s eyes as she looked up in his face. Twice she opened her lips to speak, and twice her heart and the words failed her. The tears became drops and rolled down her cheeks. Sandy was dismayed. “Ye’re not afraid o’ me, ye sweet thing, are ye?” he gasped out. I’d not vex ye for the world. If ye bid me to go, I'd go. “No, I'm not afraid o' ye, Mr. Bruce," sobbed Bel. '' I don't know what it is that makes me so silly. I'm not afraid o' ye though. But I was for a few minutes yesterday,” she added archly with a little glint of a roguish smile, which broke through the tears like an April and through rain, and turned Sandy’s head in the twinkling of an eye. “Ay, ay,” he said; “I minded it weel, an’ I said to myself then in that first night I had o’ yer face, that I’d not harm a hair o’ yer head. On, my little lass, would ye na gie me a kiss-just-one-to show you’re not afraid, and to gie me leave to try and win ye out o’ likin’ into lovin’?” he continued drawing closer and bending toward her. And then a wonderful thing happened. Little Bel, who although she was twenty years old, and had by no means been without her admirers, had never kissed any men but her father and brothers, put up her lips as confidently as a little child, to be kissed by this strange wooer, who wooed only for leave to woo. “And if he’d only known it, he might ha’ asked a’ he wanted then as well as later,” said Little Bel, honestly avowing the whole to her mother. “As soon as he put his hands on me the very heart in me said he was my hand for a’ my life. An’ there’s no shame in it that I can see. If a man may love that way in the lighting of an eye, why may not a girl do the same? There’s not one kind o’ heart I’ the breast of a man an’ another kind I’ the breast of a man an’ another kind I’ the breast of a woman, as ever I heard.” In which little Bel, in her innocence, was wiser than people wiser than she. And after this there is no need of telling more-only a picture of two which are perhaps worth sketching in a few words. One is the expression which was seen on Sandy Bruce’s face one day, not many weeks after his first interview with Little Bel, when in reply to his question, “An’ now, my own lass, what’ll ye have for your weddin’ gift of me? Tell me the thing ye want most I’ a’ the earth, an’ if it’s in my means ye shall have it the day ye gie me the thing I want most I’ a’ the earth.” “I’ve got it already, Sandy,” said Little Bel, taking his face in her hands and making a feint at kissing him, then withdrawing coquettishly. Wise, innocent Bel! Sandy understood. “Ay, my lass; but next to me. What’s the next thing ye’d have?” Bel hesitated. Even to her wooer’s generosity it might seem a daring request, the thing she craved. “Tell me, lass,” said Sandy, sternly. “I’ve mair money than ye think. There’s no lady in a’ Charlottetown can go finer than ye if ye’ve a mind.” “For shame, Sandy! Cried Bel. “An’ you think it’s was fine apparel I’d be askin’! It’s a-a” –the word refused to leave her tongue-“a piano, Sandy,” and she gazed anxiously at him. “I’ll never ask ye for another thing till the day o’ my death, Sandy, if ye’ll gie me that.” Sandy shouted in delight. For a brief space a fear had seized him- of which he now felt shame indeed- that his sweet lassie might be about to ask for jewels or rich attire, and it would sorely have hurt Sandy’s pride in her had this been so. “A piano!” he shouted. “An’ did ye not think I’d that already in my mind! O’ course, a piano, an’ every other instrument under the skies that ye’ll wish, my lass, ye shall have. The more music ye make, the gladder the house’ll be. Is there nothin’ else ye want, lass- nothin’?” “Nothing in all the world, Sandy, but you and a piano,” replied Little Bel. The other picture was on a New Year’s Day, just a twelvemonth from the day of Little Bel’s exhibition in the Wissan school house. It is a bright day; the sleighing is superb all over the island, and the Charlottetown streets are full gay sleighs and jingling bells: none so gay, however, as Sandy Bruce’s, and no bells so merry as the silver ones on the fierce little Norwegian ponies that curvet and prance, and are all their driver can hold. Rolled up in furs to her chin, how rosy and handsome looks Little Bel by her husband’s side, and how full of proud content is his face as he sees the people all turning to look, and to look, at her beauty! And who is this driving the Norwegian ponies? Who but Archie-Archie McLeod, who has followed his new teacher to her new home, and is to grow up, under Sandy Bruce’s teachings, into a sharp and successful man of the shipping business. And as they turn the corner they come near running into another fur-piled, swift-gliding sleigh, with a grizzled old head looking out of a tartan hood, and eyes like hawks’- Dalgetty himself; and as they pass, the head nods and the eyes laugh, and a sharp voice cries, “Guineas it is!” “Better than guineas!” answered back Mrs. Sandy Bruce, quick as a flash; and in the same second cries Archie, from the front seat, with a saucy laugh, “And as long as she lives, Mrs. Dalgetty!”