Chapter 1: MIDSUMMER EVE, 1670, LONDON
The ramshackle warehouse was the wrong side of the river, the south side, where the buildings jostled for space and the little boats unloaded pocket-size cargos for scant profit. The wealth of London passed them by, sailing upstream to the half-built new Custom House, its cream stone façade set square on the fast-flowing river, as if it would tax every drop of the roiling dirty water. The greatest ships, towed by eager barges, glided past the little wharves, as if the quays were nothing but flotsam, sticks and cobbles, rotting as they stood. Twice a day even the tide deserted them, leaving banks of stinking mud, and piers of weedy ramps rising like old bones from the water.
This warehouse, and all the others leaning against it, like carelessly shelved books, shuddering along the bank towards the dark channel at the side, were hungry for the wealth that had sailed with the new king in the ship that had once been Oliver Cromwell’s, into the country that had once been free. These poor merchants, scraping a living from the river trade, heard all about the new king and his glorious court at Whitehall; but they gained nothing from his return. They saw him only once, as he sailed by, the royal pennants flying fore and aft, once and never again: not down here, on the south side of the river, on the east side of the town. This was never a place that people visited, it was a place that people left; not a place that ever saw a grand carriage or a fine horse. The returning king stayed west of the City, surrounded by aristocratic chancers and titled whores, all of them desperate for promiscuous pleasure, jerked back from despair by gamblers’ luck: not one of them earning their good fortune.