The Blue Hand
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The Blue Hand
THAT afternoon Jim Steele went into Mr. Salter's office. "I'm going to tea now, sir," he said.
Mr. Salter glanced up at the solemn-faced clock that ticked audibly on the opposite wall.
"All right," he grumbled; "but you're a very punctual tea-drinker, Steele. What are you blushing about-is it a girl?"
"No, sir," said Jim rather loudly. "I sometimes meet a lady at tea, but-"
"Off you go," said the old man gruffly. "And give her my love."
Jim was grinning, but he was very red, too, when he went down the stairs into Marlborough Street. He hurried his pace because he was a little late, and breathed a sigh of relief as he turned into the quiet tea-shop to find that his table was as yet unoccupied.
As his tall, athletic figure strode through the room to the little recess overlooking Regent Street, which was reserved for privileged customers, many heads were turned, for Jim Steele was a splendid figure of British manhood, and the grey laughing eyes had played havoc in many a tender heart.
But he was one of those men whose very idealism forbade trifling. He had gone straight from a public school into the tragic theatre of conflict, and at an age when most young men were dancing attendance upon women, his soul was being seared by the red-hot irons of war.
He sat down at the table and the beaming waitress came forward to attend to his needs.
"Your young lady hasn't come yet, sir," she said.
It was the first time she had made such a reference to Eunice Weldon, and Jim stiffened.
"The young lady who has tea with me is not my 'young lady,'" he said a little coldly, and seeing that he had hurt the girl, he added with a gleam of mirth in those irresistible eyes, "she's your young lady, really."
"I'm sorry," said the waitress, scribbling on her order pad to hide her confusion. "I suppose you'll have the usual?"
"I'll have the usual," said Jim gravely, and then with a quick glance at the door he rose to meet the girl who had at that moment entered.
She was slim of build, straight as a plummet line from chin to toe; she carried herself with a dignity which was so natural that the men who haunt the pavement to leer and importune, stood on one side to let her pass, and then, after a glimpse of her face, cursed their own timidity. For it was a face Madonna-like in its purity. But a blue-eyed, cherry-lipped Madonna, vital and challenging. A bud of a girl breaking into the summer bloom of existence. In those sapphire eyes the beacon fires of life signalled her womanhood; they were at once a plea and a warning. Yet she carried the banners of childhood no less triumphantly. The sensitive mouth, the round, girlish chin, the satin white throat and clean, transparent skin, unmarked, unblemished, these were the gifts of youth which were carried forward to the account of her charm.
Her eyes met Jim's and she came forward with outstretched hand.
"I'm late," she said gaily. "We had a tiresome duchess at the studio who wanted to be taken in seventeen different poses-it is always the plain people who give the most trouble."
She sat down and stripped her gloves, with a smile at the waitress.
"The only chance that plain people have of looking beautiful is to be photographed beautifully," said Jim.
Eunice Weldon was working at a fashionable photographer's in Regent Street. Jim's meeting with her had been in the very room in which they were now sitting. The hangings at the window had accidentally caught fire, and Jim, in extinguishing them, had burnt his hand. It was Eunice Weldon who had dressed the injury.
A service rendered by a man to a woman may not lead very much farther to a better acquaintance. When a woman helps a man it is invariably the beginning of a friendship. Women are suspicious of the services which men give,