The Hand of Douglas

by Annie Fellows Johnston

"Hurry, Mary Lee, it is nearly train time!" called Mrs. Marker, where she sat in a dingy little dining-room, pouring out a cup of coffee in nervous haste for her daughter's early breakfast. The brand-new hand-satchel on the lounge, packed for its first journey, was the only thing in the room undimmed by service. Even at this early hour the house felt hot and stuffy, for the August sun was fast warming the great Southern city to a heat that would be intolerable by noon.

"I wish you were going with Mary Lee, Henry," said Mrs. Marker, looking across the table at her husband as he seated himself. "You need the rest."

There was a weary stoop in the man's shoulders that told of years spent over a bookkeeper's desk, and his face was pale and worn. "Don't say that in Mary Lee's hearing," he answered. "It is the child's first real outing, and I would not have her pleasure marred by a single thought of my work or ill health."

It was the greatest disappointment of Henry Marker's life that he had not been able to give his daughter all that other fathers gave theirs. Both he and his wife had been gently reared, and it was through no fault of his that their property had been swept away just as he was launching into his profession. A place at a bookkeeper's desk had been the first thing that he had been able to obtain.

He felt Mary Lee's lack of advantages more than she did. With the exception of a few excursions into the country, she had lived all her seventeen years in this dingy little house on a side street. Her mother had been her only teacher, and the men and women found in the books of her father's library her only companions. Mary Lee was a sociable creature; she longed for the companionship of girls of her own age. To be a debutante, to have the seasons filled with a round of visiting and receiving, to meet brilliant people, and to number one's friends by the score—this to her simple little heart seemed the height of happiness.

Now for the first time in her life she was to have a taste of it. Miss Travis Dent had invited her to spend a month with her at Wicklett Springs, a fashionable summer resort, in a house full of interesting people, whose sayings and doings were already familiar to her through the society columns of the daily papers. She was to be Travis's guest. The rest of it, the railroad expenses, the new trunk and the new clothes which footed up to such an enormous sum in her eyes, were of her father's giving, and she promised herself a happiness in proportion to the sacrifice he had made to provide for her.

"Hurry, Mary Lee!" called her mother, again. At the second call there was a light rustle through the hall, and the bright face looking in at the door seemed to transform all its surroundings.

"I couldn't come any sooner, mother dear, for admiring myself in my new travelling-clothes. Oh, I'm such a fine peacock in all my fine feathers!" she said, pausing to give her father a quick hug before she took her place at the table. "Do tell me that I look like a real born-to-the-purple, tailor-made girl."

Her father looked at her critically from the crown of her simple travelling-hat to the tips of her little shoes, and there was an unmistakable gleam of pride in his eyes as he completed his survey. "Yes, you do," he said, slowly. "You would pass muster anywhere. I don't mean your clothes alone; but it is written all over you, so plainly that even a stranger must see at a glance, 'This is a real little lady!'"

A little later they were bidding each other good-bye on a parlour car in the Union Depot. Travis Dent had joined them.

"I could not send my little girl in better company," thought Mr. Marker, as he shook hands with the serene young woman who came forward to meet them, with a sweet unconsciousness of self in her greeting. There were depths in Travis Dent's grave, gray eyes that bespoke a strong, self-reliant character.

The train was beginning to move. Mary Lee waved a last good-bye and went back to Travis. Settling herself luxuriously in the big cushioned chair, she smiled across at her friend. "Isn't it lovely!" she exclaimed. "I want to begin a letter home this minute and tell them the good times have begun."

For ten summers the ancestral home of the Wickletts had been turned into a boarding-house, but apparently it ignored the change with the same high-born ease of manner that characterised its gentle old mistress. The hospitality it extended to its paying guests was the same with which it welcomed its many visitors in ante-bellum days. And Miss Philura Wicklett was the same. They were wonderfully alike, the aristocratic old mansion and Miss Philura. Indeed, one could scarcely think of her apart from her familiar background of tall, white pillars, as stately and dignified as herself. The old portraits looking down on the faces round the great polished table, saw familiar ones, for the same family types were repeated there year after year among the boarders that had been welcomed at Wicklett generations before. The long mirrors, reflecting dimly the young faces peering into them now, had flashed back the smiles of mothers and grandmothers of these girls many a time, when gay house parties thronged the old mansion.

People flocked from all over the country to drink the waters of the chalybeate springs near by, which the name of Wicklett made famous; but a new hotel had been built for the strangers. Only the first families, who claimed Miss Philura's friendship, knew the open sesame to her great front door. It was for this reason that there was much surprise and many exclamations of wonder, and a stir all round the luncheon table, when Miss Philura announced that she was expecting Miss Marker and Miss Dent to spend August with her. "Where are they from, Miss Philura?" asked Molly Glendenning, a tall brunette, who was the acknowledged belle of the springs that season.

"From your own city, my dear," was the placid answer. "They live somewhere on Bank Street, I believe."

"Why, I have never even heard of them," said Molly Glendenning, with a slight arching of her black eyebrows at mention of the street.



Miss Philura hesitated and coloured slightly. "I must acknowledge," she said, with some hesitation, "that I have departed from my usual custom, and it is only fair to you to inform you that they do not move in your set at home. Miss Dent's father was a painter by trade, but is now a wealthy contractor. She has had every advantage, is a college graduate, and has had her voice cultivated abroad. She will be quite an acquisition to us. Miss Marker is just a little schoolgirl, but well connected, I understand. Her mother was a Monroe. I knew her father when he was just beginning the study of law. He had a very brilliant career in prospect, apparently, but through some sad freak of fate lost his money and was obliged to abandon it. He is bookkeeper now for Bement & Ahlering."

A stony silence greeted Miss Philura's explanation, for a moment, and then several expostulatory voices asked in chorus, "Oh, Miss Philura! How could you consent to their coming? A common workingman's daughter! We don't want to know her, I'm sure!"

There was a touch of hauteur in Miss Philura's manner, that any one should question any act of hers. "As I stated before," she said, coldly, "I had the best of reasons. Surely, if I with my conservative ideas can endorse them, that ought to be enough. There are not two more ladylike girls in the South than Travis Dent and Mary Lee Marker. I hope you will find one another agreeable during the little time they will be here."

Miss Philura, somewhat deaf, did not hear the undertone passing round the table, as she turned her attention to the making of the salad dressing. "A sign-painter's daughter!" said Molly Glendenning, with a shrug of the shoulders. "Well, I for one do not care to know her. People educated above their station in life are apt to be presuming. It might make matters a trifle awkward next winter if she should attempt to push her acquaintance when we go back to town."

"It will be easy enough to ignore them," answered her cousin Cora, "and I shall do it with a vengeance. It is one thing to be nice and friendly with shopgirls and factory hands, and quite another to take up with the well-to-do middle class. Give them an inch and they'll take an ell every time. First thing you know they'll turn round and patronise you."

The subject was still under discussion when they rose from the table and followed Molly Glendenning out into the wide hall. "They'll not stay long!" she exclaimed when they were well out of Miss Philura's hearing; "I'll promise you that. They can push in here if they want to, but they'll have to learn Marmion's lesson—'The hand of Douglas is his own!'" She swept her pretty pink palm outward with a tragic gesture, as she ran lightly up the stairs, and the girls, laughing as they flocked after her, scattered to their rooms for their afternoon siesta.

It was in the heat and drowsiness of mid-afternoon that Travis and Mary Lee reached Wicklett, and stood looking down the long shady avenue leading to the house.

"Oh, Travis!" exclaimed Mary Lee, catching her breath with a gasp of admiration. "Isn't it beautiful and still? It seems as if we might be on enchanted ground, and that the palace of the Sleeping Beauty. I never dreamed that anything could be so lovely."

She nodded toward the velvety green terraces, with their marble urns of flowers, stretching one above another until they reached the stately white pillars of the old mansion, where two stone lions guarded the white steps. On the highest terrace a peacock stood motionless, his resplendent feathers spread to the sun. Here and there deserted hammocks swung under the trees, with books and magazines scattered invitingly underneath. Mary Lee turned aside from the path to look at the title of one in passing.

"'Gray Days and Gold,'" she read aloud. "How can any one leave such a treasure on the grass? Surely, Travis, they must be all golden days here. I have never imagined anything so beautiful."

Miss Philura met them in the hall in a white wrapper, waving a huge palm-leaf fan. "I was up waiting for you," she said, cordially. "Every one else in the house is asleep. That is all one can do these hot afternoons."

"I shall soon follow everybody's example," said Travis, when they had been shown to their rooms and the trunks brought up.

"And I shall begin a long letter home," said Mary Lee, spreading out her writing material on an old claw-footed table, by the window overlooking the peacock.

All the trivial incidents of the trip had been stored away for this very purpose. They ceased to be trivial when recorded as Mary Lee's alert eyes had seen them, and with the colour her amusing descriptions lent. It was a letter that seemed to carry a breath of fresh air with it into the stuffy dining-room on Bank Street, where her mother first read it, and into the hot office where Henry Marker took it later to reread at his leisure. Just that one enthusiastic letter, bubbling over with a young girl's happiness, was enough to repay him for any sacrifice he had made to give her such pleasure, and the smile the letter awakened stayed on in his tired eyes all day.

A sound of voices broke out through the house long before Mary Lee had finished writing. There was much opening and shutting of doors, and calling of gay messages across the halls as the old mansion awoke to life. Long before she was dressed for dinner, Mary Lee saw a flutter of ribbons and white gowns under the trees as some of the girls strolled down to the springs through the lengthening shadows. Soon she and Travis would be strolling there, too.

Some one began playing on the piano in the drawing-room below, and a familiar air came floating up to her, clear and sweet. It thrilled her with a festive holiday feeling that seemed to give wings to her spirits. "Listen, Travis," she cried, running into the adjoining room, "to-morrow you'll be singing with them."

The music stopped, and the singer came out of the house and stood on the white steps below between the lions, still humming. It was Molly Glendenning, in her rose-coloured hat and dainty ruffled dress of palest pink organdy.

"Oh, isn't she beautiful!" exclaimed Mary Lee, peeping out between the curtains. "Look, Travis. What a picture she makes! 'Queen rose of the rosebud garden of girls,'" she quoted softly. "Oh, I know I shall love her," she declared, with all the intense enthusiasm of seventeen.

Four more pages were added to Mary Lee's letter that night. She described everybody whom they had met at dinner, from her Queen Rose, as she called Molly Glendenning, to the courtly old Confederate general at the end of the table. She had been so absorbed in the repartee and bright speeches round her that she had not noticed that she and Travis were not included in the conversation. But Travis had noticed. There were many callers that night after dinner; men who took the girls away singly, in groups, and in pairs, to some sort of an entertainment at the Inn near by. Travis and Mary Lee, sitting all alone on the porch in the moonlight, could hear the music of the band stealing across the lawn. There was a wistful little note in Mary Lee's voice as she exclaimed, "I wish that we had been here long enough to know everybody and go, too. Oh, Travis, it will be so nice when we're really acquainted and are a part of it all," and again her first enthusiasm manifested itself in her voice.

When the end of the week came, Mary Lee's lonely little heart still cried out at being kept "a stranger within the gates." It puzzled her that all her gentle advances should be politely ignored. Nobody seemed to hear either Travis or herself if they ventured a remark. Not an eyelid lifted in recognition if they joined a group on the porch or under the trees by the hammocks. But Travis did not seem to notice. She planned drives and excursions and long walks that kept them away from the house much of the time after the first two days, and Mary Lee was still more puzzled that Travis should be so blind. She wondered if she were not overly sensitive herself, and decided not to cloud Travis's evident enjoyment by a single whisper of her suspicions.

Still it was not drives and excursions for which Mary Lee had longed. It was companionship and many friends she wanted, and it was hard to hide her disappointment when she wrote home, and to make her letters as buoyant and cheery as at first. One evening, after one of these expeditions, she left Travis on the porch and went up-stairs with a heavy heart to write the usual daily letter. She had heard the girls planning a musicale to be given the following night, and she had a sore, left-out feeling, because Travis had not been included. Sitting down by the lamp, she picked up the pen and wrote three words: "Dear, dear father!" Then she laid down her pen and leaned wearily back in the chair. Somehow there seemed so little to tell. Her door was open into the hall to admit the breeze, and she heard some one coming up the stairs. There were voices passing her door, and she recognised the first as Hester Tyler's. She was a young artist, lately arrived, who was a favourite with every one. "It's hardly fair, Molly," she was saying. "People who are sure of their own social position have no need to snub anybody. Miss Dent is certainly a lady, any one can see that, and if her voice is as good as Miss Philura says, she ought to be included in the programme."

"That might do for you, Hester,"—and Mary Lee recognised the voice of her Queen Rose,—"but you are too absorbed in your art to know anything about conventionalities. We society girls have to put up some sort of hedge. If people of that class want to push themselves in where they are not wanted, and Miss Philura lets them come, that's their affair. But, as I told the girls in the beginning:

"'The hand of Douglas is his own, and never shall in friendly grasp
The hand of such as—the mushroom aristocracy of Bank Street—clasp!'

"No sign-painter's daughter nor bookkeeper's daughter, whichever she may be, on the programme with me, thank you. If there is, I'll not sing. That's all there is about it."

"Molly Glendenning, you're a snob! The worst sort!" replied Hester, but she laughed as she said it, and in a moment they were out of hearing. Several minutes later they passed the door again on their way down-stairs.

Mary Lee sat staring at the paper before her with dazed, tear-blinded eyes, as bit by bit her innocent little air-castle crumbled into nothingness. Then her glance fell on the words she had written, and laying her face down on them she began to sob. "Dear old father," she whispered, brokenly. "I asked them for bread and they gave me a stone. And it's because you have to work. They despise you for that, you dear old daddykins, with your high ideals and knightly notions of honour. Oh, how can they be so snobbish and blind! I'll not stay another day under the same roof with such heartless people!"

Wiping her eyes, she went slowly down-stairs to look for Travis, but the porch and halls were deserted. Every one must have gone over to the Inn, she thought, as she heard the notes of the violins stealing out on the night air. Travis was nowhere to be found. At last Mary Lee wandered into the empty, dimly lighted drawing-room, and throwing herself face downward on a long velvet divan, gave way to the feelings she could no longer control. She had never been so miserable in all her life before. Great, choking sobs shook her convulsively.

"Why, my dear child! What is the matter?" asked a deep voice, suddenly, and Mary Lee started up to see the kind face of the old  general bending anxiously over her. "Are you ill? What is the mutter?" he repeated.



Mary Lee sat up, wiping her eyes with a little, wet ball of a handkerchief. "Nothing, thank you, sir," she said, politely, feeling all of a sudden that the wise old general would think her very silly, if he knew the cause of her crying. She tried to keep the sobs out of her answer, but the effort was a dismal failure, and the tears began to flow again.

"People often break their hearts over nothing," answered the general, courteously, but with a smile lurking under his white moustache. "It isn't wise to do it, and maybe I could convince you of the fact, if I knew what particular nothing is making you unhappy."

The general had often noticed the eager, attentive little face at the table, and had been attracted by its bright intelligence. Mary Lee blinked up with red, tear-swollen eyes into the fatherly old face with its crown of white hair, and recognised the stamp of the true knight in every aristocratic feature. With a sudden, instinctive feeling of confidence she cried out: "You are not like the rest. You would understand, and I must tell somebody."

It was a pitiful little tale that she poured out to her sympathetic listener, revealing a sweet, unspoiled nature as she laid bare her fond girlish hopes and longings, in a way that would have surprised her had she realised what she was doing. It gave him an insight into her home life, too, and when she had finished, he could appreciate what a cruel wound had been given her sensitive heart by the words which disparaged her father. For a minute after she stopped speaking, the general sat quite still. Then he said:

"Will you take the advice of an old man who has lived a long time and learned a great many lessons? Don't go home to-morrow, as it is your first impulse to do. Be brave and unselfish enough not to say anything to your friend that will mar her enjoyment." He broke off suddenly and sat musing a minute. "Do you know Browning's 'Saul'?" he asked, after a little pause. Mary Lee nodded, a gleam of pleasure lighting her eyes for an instant.

"Then you will remember these lines:

"'Round me the sheep
Fed in silence—above, the one eagle wheeled slow as in sleep;
And I lay in my hollow and mused on the world that might lie
'Neath his ken, though I saw but the strip 'twixt the hill and the sky.'

"Now these girls who have hurt you so cruelly, have done it solely through ignorance. They have never seen anything beyond their own little strip ''twixt the hill and the sky,' and they can only follow a leader like a flock of pretty sheep. It is true that they ought to have a broader horizon than the boundary of the little social circle in which they were born, but you must make allowances for them, my child. From their cradles they have been hedged round with conventionalities which have made them short-sighted. It is your privilege to rise above the petty social hollows of life. Learn to take an eagle view, my dear. What does the eagle care for the happenings down in the hollows?

"'With wing on the wind, and eye on the sun,
He swerves not a line, but bears onward—right on!'

That is a true American motto, learned from our national emblem.

"It is absolute foolishness for us to prate of old-world castes when it is a part of our national creed that any one among us may rise as high as the best of us, provided he can grow the wings wherewith to soar. That little speech which almost broke your heart is a part of our creed, too. 'The hand of Douglas is his own.' The American Douglas reserves the right to extend it, regardless of all arbitrary social lines, to any palm that has proved itself worthy, no matter how hard and toil-stained it may be. Only snobbishness refuses."

There was a long pause, while Mary Lee considered the old general's little sermon, and he watched her, with a kindly twinkle in his eyes.

"Are you strong enough to do that, child?" he asked, presently; "to rise to the eagle view of the situation, and stay on here regardless of the slights that have stung you, for your friend's sake? And your father's sake, too," he added. "It would grieve him sorely to know of your disappointment, as he would have to know it, if you went back before the appointed time."

Mary Lee looked up quickly. "I don't believe that you understand, after all," she cried. "I could rise above the snubbings. It is not that that hurts, but it is the disappointment. Oh, you don't know how I longed to be friends with those girls! They are so bright and attractive, and seem to have such good times together. It is the missing of all that I had hoped to find that hurts."

The wistfulness of the fair little face touched the general's gallant soul to the quick. "'Pon my word," he declared. "If you care as much as that for their friendship, you shall have it. I'll conduct a campaign into the enemy's quarters, and capture it for you, myself!"



And nobly the old general kept his promise. The night of the musicale Travis Dent was not on the programme, but she sang more than once, and each time, except the first, at the request of the most noted musical people among the guests. It was the general who led her to the piano, first saying that no programme was complete without his favourite ballad.

But Mary Lee saw, with a thrill of gratified pride in her friend's triumph, that it was not her voice alone which drew so many admirers round her, and kept them drifting back many times during the evening. It was the charm of Travis Dent's own gracious personality. Mary Lee had her share of the lions, too, that evening, for the general saw to that. He introduced them himself, and his deferential attentions to the two girls had the effect he intended. It argued that they were well worth the knowing.

"Didn't I tell you they were a flock of pretty sheep?" he asked, several days afterward. "Hasn't a change come over the spirit of your dream?"

"Yes, indeed," answered Mary Lee, gaily. "All thanks to you. And it seems so funny. All the girls have been talking so much about that Mr. Hendrick Lang, and exclaiming over his new novel. He has called on Travis twice since the musicale, and this afternoon he took us both out for a drive. When we came back Miss Glendenning asked us to walk down to the spring with her as cordially as if we had been old friends always."

"'The hand of Douglas!'" exclaimed the general, with a laugh. "Well, it's the way of the world to give it in that fashion, and I'm glad you've got what you wanted, at last."

"And to think," cried Mary Lee, "that Travis knew from the first they were trying to freeze us out. But she didn't care a bit. All those drives and excursions she planned were simply to keep me away from the house so that I should not notice it. She was going on perfectly serene and untroubled, herself."

"'With wing on the wind, and eye on the sun,'"

quoted the general, softly. "Ah, my little friend, Miss Travis has a broader outlook than the petty hollows. She has risen to the eagle's view."