A tall young man sped swiftly up the wide stone steps leading to the doorway of a mansion in one of Chicago’s most fashionable avenues. After pushing the button sharply he jerked out his watch and guessed at the time by the dull red light from the panel in the door. Then he hastily brushed from the sleeve of his coat the telltale billiard chalk, whose presence reminded him that a general survey might be a wise precaution. He was rubbing a white streak from his trousers’ leg when the door flew open and the butler admitted him to the hallway. This personage relieved him of his hat, coat and stick and announced:
“Miss Vernon is w’itin’ for you, sir.”
“How the devil did I happen to let eight o’clock strike nine before I knew it?” muttered the visitor. He was at the drawing-room door as he concluded this self-addressed reproach, extending both hands toward the young woman who came from the fireplace to meet him.
“How late you are, Hugh,” she cried, half resentfully. He bent forward and kissed her.
“Late? It isn’t late, dear. I said I couldn’t come before eight, didn’t I? Well, it’s eight, isn’t it?”
“It’s nearly seventy minutes past eight, sir. I’ve been waiting and watching the hands on the clock for just sixty minutes.”
“I never saw such a perfect crank about keeping time as that grandfatherly clock of yours. It hasn’t skipped a second in two centuries, I’ll swear. You see, I was playing off the odd game with Tom Ditton.”
He dropped lazily into a big arm-chair, drove his hands into his pockets and stretched out his long legs toward the grate.
“You might have come at eight, Hugh, on this night if no other. You knew what important things we have to consider.” Miss Vernon, tall and graceful, stood before him with her back to the fire. She was exceedingly pretty, this girl whom Hugh had kissed.
“I’m awfully sorry, Grace; but you know how it is when a fellow’s in a close, hard game—especially with a blow-hard like Tom Ditton.”
“If I forgive you again, I’m afraid you’ll prove a begging husband.”
“Never! Deliver me from a begging husband. I shall assert all kinds of authority in my house, Miss Vernon, and you’ll be in a constant state of beggary yourself. You’ll have to beg me to get up in the morning, beg me to come home early every night, beg me to swear off divers things, beg me to go to church, beg me to buy new hats for you, beg me to eat things you cook, beg me to—”
“I suppose I shall even have to beg you to kiss me,” she cried.
“Not at all. That is one thing I’ll beg of you. Lean over here, do, and kiss me, please,” he said invitingly.
She placed a hand on each arm of the chair and leaned forward obediently. Their lips met in a smile.
“You lazy thing!” she exclaimed, her face slightly flushed. Then she seated herself on one of the big arms, resting her elbow on the back of the chair beside his head. For a few minutes both were silent, gazing at the bright coals before them, the smile remaining upon their lips. Hugh had been squinting between the toes of his shoes at a lonely black chunk in the grate for some time before he finally spoke reflectively.