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On the following evening the cold and frowning aspect of the mansion in Carlton House Terrace underwent a sudden transformation. Lights gleamed from every window; the strip of garden which extended from the rear of the building to the Mall, was covered in by red and white awning, and the balcony where the millionaire master of the dwelling had, some few hours previously, sat talking with his distinguished legal friend, Sir Francis Vesey, was turned into a kind of lady’s bower, softly carpeted, adorned with palms and hothouse roses, and supplied with cushioned chairs for the voluptuous ease of such persons of opposite sexes as might find their way to this suggestive “flirtation” corner.
653 pages, with a reading time of ~10.0 hours (163,418 words), and first published in 1906. This DRM-Free edition published by epubBooks, 2016.
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London,–and a night in June. London, swart and grim, semi-shrouded in a warm close mist of mingled human breath and acrid vapour steaming up from the clammy crowded streets,–London, with a million twinkling lights gleaming sharp upon its native blackness, and looking, to a dreamer’s eye, like some gigantic Fortress, built line upon line and tower upon tower,–with huge ramparts raised about it frowningly as though in self-defence against Heaven. Around and above it the deep sky swept in a ring of sable blue, wherein thousands of stars were visible, encamped after the fashion of a mighty army, with sentinel planets taking their turns of duty in the watching of a rebellious world. A sulphureous wave of heat half asphyxiated the swarms of people who were hurrying to and fro in that restless undetermined way which is such a predominating feature of what is called a London “season,” and the general impression of the weather was, to one and all, conveyed in a sense of discomfort and oppression, with a vague struggling expectancy of approaching thunder. Few raised their eyes beyond the thick warm haze which hung low on the sooty chimney-pots, and trailed sleepily along in the arid, dusty parks. Those who by chance looked higher, saw that the skies above the city were divinely calm and clear, and that not a cloud betokened so much as the shadow of a storm.
The deep bell of Westminster chimed midnight, that hour of picturesque ghostly tradition, when simple village maids shudder at the thought of traversing a dark lane or passing a churchyard, and when country folks of old-fashioned habits and principles are respectably in bed and for the most part sleeping. But so far as the fashionable “West End” was concerned, it might have been midday. Everybody assuming to be Anybody, was in town. The rumble of carriages passing to and fro was incessant,–the swift whirr and warning hoot of coming and going motor vehicles, the hoarse cries of the newsboys, and the general insect-like drone and murmur of feverish human activity were as loud as at any busy time of the morning or the afternoon. There had been a Court at Buckingham Palace,–and a “special” performance at the Opera,–and on account of these two functions, entertainments were going on at almost every fashionable house in every fashionable quarter. The public restaurants were crammed with luxury-loving men and women,–men and women to whom the mere suggestion of a quiet dinner in their own homes would have acted as a menace of infinite boredom,–and these gilded and refined eating-houses were now beginning to shoot forth their bundles of well-dressed, well-fed folk into the many and various conveyances waiting to receive them. There was a good deal of needless shouting, and much banter between drivers and policemen. Now and again the melancholy whine of a beggar’s plea struck a discordant note through the smooth-toned compliments and farewells of hosts and their departing guests. No hint of pause or repose was offered in the ever-changing scene of uneasy and impetuous excitation of movement, save where, far up in the clear depths of space, the glittering star-battalions of a wronged and forgotten God held their steadfast watch and kept their hourly chronicle. London with its brilliant “season” seemed the only living fact worth recognising; London, with its flaring noisy streets, and its hot summer haze interposed like a grey veil between itself and the higher vision. Enough for most people it was to see the veil,–beyond it the view is always too vast and illimitable for the little vanities of ordinary mortal minds.