A Man of No Property and Fewer Prospects
In 1892, it’s long odds for a man like Court Furor of Where Your Treasure Is.
He’s a gambler who isn’t helping his chances by driving a stolen cab into the City, London’s financial district, or aiding and abetting a fellow ruffian’s scheme of vengeance on a bank clerk after a card game gone bad. But he owes money to his gang boss, and his half-brother--the criminal in the cab. It’s a normal day in a life that has never been easy.
It began in The Old Nichol, one of London’s worst slums for most of the nineteenth century. This Hell on Earth, whose name some said was inspired by the Devil himself, "Old Nick," was situated in the East End’s Bethnal Green and part of Shoreditch. A quarter of its infants died before their first birthday. The rest of its inhabitants were lucky if they lived to be sixteen. All this was within walking distance of The Bank of England.
It's not that men of lower social rank could not rise in Great Britain. Many did. One example is Thomas Telford (1757-1834). Born to a Scottish shepherd., his father's death left the family impoverished. Telford was apprenticed to a stone mason, moved to Edinburgh where he fell in love with poetry and architecture, and worked for architect Sir William Chambers and designer Robert Adam. They brought Telford to London and introduced him to William Pulteney, one of the richest commoners in Britain. He took Telford to Shrewsbury, where Telford became Surveyor of Public Works. By the end of his life, his visionary civil engineering feats had transformed the nation. No one since Roman times had attempted structures of such scale, and much of it still stands.
Yet even if Court was a man of Telford's extraordinary talents or property, his life expectancy would only be around 44 years of age. There was no such thing as a vaccine for tuberculosis, typhoid, or small pox. Scarlet fever infected children of all social classes and often caused permanent heart damage. At 24, Court knows his life is half over. Since he isn't one of the laboring class, he can't go on strike. He can only hope his representative in the House of Commons will stand up for him because he doesn't have the vote. In 1892, only 40% of England’s men can cast their ballot. They won’t get the vote until some of the ladies do (if they're over 30 and meet the property requirements), and that’s only with the Representation of the People's Act (1918) at the end of the war to end all wars. In the meantime, a bloke from the Devil’s Own might as well gamble on the morning’s work, harebrained as his friends' plan seems.
His pockets and his stomach are empty. What’s he got to lose?
Court finds out when he meets Winifred de la Coeur. One look at her, and he’s faced with the highest stakes and the longest odds of his life.