It was an oppressively hot night towards the end of June, and the heavy still atmosphere surcharged with electricity was full of premonitions of storm. Here in London the glare and glitter of myriad lamps seemed to be crushed down by a lowering sky, in which the stars were almost hidden by great masses of sombre clouds. Every now and then a thin thread of lightning flashed ghost-like through the murky air and the low hoarse roll of the thunder which followed, seemed to warn mankind that Nature was in one of her angry moods. So hot, terribly hot, one could hardly breathe in the crowded streets, where throngs of people, well-dressed and otherwise principally otherwise were sweeping along intent on business and pleasure, paying no attention to the sultry heavens pressing so cruelly down upon the panting earth.
The signs and tokens of heaven were not for them, with their sordid souls longing for gold, or their empty stomachs yearning for bread, as they worked, danced, sang, and busied themselves with the material things of this life, the same to-day as their forefathers centuries ago on the eve of that Deluge they did not believe would ever come.
In a handsomely-furnished room, in a large house which stood in one of the fashionable streets off Piccadilly, sat two young men playing cards. The windows of the apartment were open on to a flower-decorated balcony, from whence one could see the people walking, and the cabs flashing past. The rhythmical beat of the horses' hoofs, the quick tread or weary dragging gait of passers-by, the subdued murmur of distant voices and the sultry air of the hot night, penetrated into the room, but the occupants were too busy with their game to pay any attention to outside disturbances. A handsome room it was, but evidently that of a bachelor, as in the picturesque confusion there was wanting that subtle touch of refinement and order which indicates the hand of woman. Curiously-patterned carpets of Turkish workmanship were scattered about on the polished floor and here and there stood small tables laden with photographs in chased silver frames, books, principally consisting of English and French novels, flowers and other things too numerous to mention. A pipe rack, fencing foils and boxing gloves over the mantelpiece, pictures of race-horses and pretty women on the walls, and plenty of plush-covered lounging-chairs placed in luxurious corners, with spirit-stand, glasses, pipes, cigarettes and tobacco jars, handy to anyone who sat down.