to practise singing with her to the accompaniment of 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 a
good tenor voice, the other a fine barytone; they had both in their
rough way been singers all their lives, and 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 thinkin' I'll
owe them a bit part o' the five guineas when I get it," she added
"The minister says ye're sure of it," replied her mother. "He says ye've
the best school a'ready 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'll 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 that for that price she was to let me have all the school
over twice a week, for two months before, to practise. So it's not too
dear. Ye'll see what ye'll hear then."
It had been part of 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 sum 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 wellnigh impassable with snow. Fierce winds
swept to and fro, obliterating tracks by noon 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 was 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 Bel had 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 their three big arm-chairs on the raised platform,
empty, - a depressing and perplexing sight to Little Bel, who, in her
short blue merino gown, with a knot of pink ribbon at her throat, and a
roll of 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 quarter of an hour, half an hour. Anxiously
Bel consulted with her father what should be done.
"The roads are something fearfu', 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 a merry jingling of
bells outside, dozens and dozens it seemed, and hilarious voices and
laughter, and the snorting of 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 sober 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 room. What
evil destiny had brought Sandy Bruce in the character of school 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
admiration of all Charlottetown, that had made such a clatter and
stamping outside, and were still keeping it up; for every time they
stirred the bells tinkled like a peal of chimes. And, woe upon woe,
behind him came, not 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
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
twinkle in his little hazel eyes that he said, still shaking off the
snow, stamping and puffing: "Eh, but ye were not lookin' for me,
teacher! The minister was sent for to go to old Elspie Breadalbane,
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
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 took his first look at
the rows of pupils in the centre of 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 convarted
i' this twelvemonth?" he was thinking. And the flitting perplexed
thought did not escape the observation of John McDonald, who was as
quick a reader of faces as Sandy himself, and had been by no means free
from anxiety for his little 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 the one to lose a 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 and dignity
of school visitors, of technical official, he was on the point of giving
a loud whistle of astonishment Luckily recollecting himself in time, 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 its feet before him, and the room ringing 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 rugged nature, it was for
music. To the sound of the bag-pipes 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 the sweet singing of a woman's
voice was all the token he wanted of the certainty of heaven and the
existence of angels.
When Little Bel's clear, flute-like soprano notes rang out, 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'es take such welcome as this, my neebors!" 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. John McDonald's heart
was at rest. "The music'll carry a' before it, no matter if they do make
a failure here 'n' 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's begun. Her face's 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 in too much of a whirl to think
anything. 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 first 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 chorus
was "Banks and Braes of Bonnie Doon." At the first bars of this Sandy
Bruce could not keep silence, but broke into a lone accompaniment in a
deep bass voice, untrained but sweet.
"Ah," thought Little Bel, "what'll he say to the last one, I wonder?"
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 exhibition 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 ha' 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 fusing them into a pealing strain, it was
electin'. 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, staves 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'd 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
"Eh, what? Guineas! What is 't ye'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 began 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.
It was Archie McLeod, standing up on the backs of two seats, waving a
white paper, and trying frantically 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.
Little 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 the Wissan Bridge School, did hereby
unanimously request that they might have no other teacher than Miss
McDonald, "as long as she lives."
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 be 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 spoiled it a'. They're fit to die over it;
an' sma' blame to 'em, ye silly!"
But he was reassured when he heard Sandy Bruce's voice overtopping the
tumult with: "A vary 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 were some 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
that the reason of his bachelorhood was not at all that women did not
wish to wed him, spite of his odd ways, but that he himself found no
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 equally true was it that before the last
strains of "Scots wha ha' 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 brisk
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 up involuntarily at Little Bel's
window. Could it be that he sighed? At any rate, there was no regret in
his heart as he 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 ha' me for her man." And he
strode into the house, bearing in his hand 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 nod of his head.
As soon as Little Bel 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
"Tush! tush, lass! do na prevaricate," Sandy began, his eyes gloating on
her lovely confusion; "do na 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
exclaimed, - "Ye're the sweetest thing the eyes o' a mon ever rested on,
lass, an' I'm goin' to win ye if ye'll let me." And as Bel 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 me yes at this quick askin'; but I'll
not let ye say me nay neither. Ye'll not refuse me the only 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 the cheeks. Sandy was
"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 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 sun 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 sight I had o' yer face, that I'd not harm a hair o' yer head. Oh,
my little lass, would ye gie me a kiss, - just one, to show ye're not
afraid, and to gie me leave to try to 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 yet kissed any man but her father and brothers, put up her rosy
lips, as confidingly as a little child, to be kissed by this strange
wooer, who wooed only for leave to woo.
"An' 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
man 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 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 or two
which are perhaps worth sketching in 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 from 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 maist i' the whole earth."
"I've got it a'ready, Sandy," said Little Bel, taking his face in her
hands, and making a feint of 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
"For shame, Sandy!" cried Bel. "An' you to think it was fine apparel I'd
be askin'! It's a - a" - the word refused to leave her tongue - "a - piano,