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The Luminaries / Ñâåòèëà (by Eleanor Catton, 2013) - àóäèîêíèãà íà àíãëèéñêîì

The Luminaries / Ñâåòèëà (by Eleanor Catton, 2013) - àóäèîêíèãà íà àíãëèéñêîì

The Luminaries / Ñâåòèëà (by Eleanor Catton, 2013) - àóäèîêíèãà íà àíãëèéñêîì

Îòëè÷íûé äåòåêòèâ, êîòîðûé óäîñòîèëñÿ Áóêåðîâñêîé ïðåìèè. Ìîëîäàÿ ïèñàòåëüíèöà ñ Íîâîé Çåëàíäèè ñòàëà àâòîðîì ýòîãî áåñòñåëëåðà, è ñàìîé ìîëîäîé ïèñàòåëüíèöåé, ïîëó÷èâøåé ýòó ïðåñòèæíóþ ïðåìèþ. Ðå÷ü ïîéäåò î äâåíàäöàòè íåñëó÷àéíûõ ëþäåé, êîòîðûå ñîáðàëèñü ðåøèòü ñëîæèâøóþñÿ ñèòóàöèþ, ê êîòîðîé îíè áûëè ïðè÷àñòíû. Äåéñòâèÿ ðàçâîðà÷èâàþòñÿ íà ïðîñòîðàõ Íîâîé Çåëàíäèè â ïåðèîä çîëîòîé ëèõîðàäêè. Ñàìûé áîãàòûé ìóæ÷èíà áåññëåäíî èñ÷åçàåò, à ïðîñòèòóòêà ñòàåò íà ïðàâåäíûé ïóòü. Êòî èìåííî ñòîèò çà âñåì ýòèì?

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The Luminaries / Ñâåòèëà (by Eleanor Catton, 2013) - àóäèîêíèãà íà àíãëèéñêîì
Ãîä âûïóñêà àóäèîêíèãè:
2013
Àâòîð:
Eleanor Catton
Èñïîëíèòåëü:
Mark Meadows
ßçûê:
àíãëèéñêèé
Æàíð:
ïðèêëþ÷åíèÿ, èñòîðè÷åñêèé äåòåêòèâ
Óðîâåíü ñëîæíîñòè:
Upper-intermediate
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29:24:13
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64 kbps

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(×òîáû ïåðåâîäèòü ñëîâà íà ðóññêèé ÿçûê è äîáàâëÿòü â ñëîâàðü äëÿ èçó÷åíèÿ, ùåëêàåì ìûøêîé íà íóæíîå ñëîâî).


The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton for Pop, who sees the stars and Jude, who hears their music NOTE TO THE READER The stellar and planetary positions in this book have been determined astronomically. This is to say that we acknowledge the celestial phenomenon known as precession, by which motion the vernal equinox, the astrological equivalent of the Greenwich meridian, has come to shift. The vernal equinox (autumnal in southern latitudes) formerly occurred while the Sun was in the constellation of Aries, the first sign. It now occurs while the Sun is in Pisces, the twelfth. Consequently, and as readers of this book will note, each zodiacal sign ‘occurs’ approximately one month later than popular information would have it. We mean no disrespect to popular information by this correction; we do observe, however, that the above error is held in defiance of the material fact of our nineteenth-century firmament; and we dare to conjecture, further, that such a conviction might be called Piscean in its quality—emblematic, indeed, of persons born during the Age of Pisces, an age of mirrors, tenacity, instinct, twinship, and hidden things. We are contented by this notion. It further affirms our faith in the vast and knowing influence of the infinite sky. CHARACTER CHART STELLAR: Te Rau Tauwhare, a greenstone hunter Charlie Frost, a banker Benjamin L?wenthal, a newspaperman Edgar Clinch, an hotelier Dick Mannering, a goldfields magnate Quee Long, a goldsmith Harald Nilssen, a commission merchant Joseph Pritchard, a chemist Thomas Balfour, a shipping agent Aubert Gascoigne, a justice’s clerk Sook Yongsheng, a hatter Cowell Devlin, a chaplain PLANETARY: Walter Moody Lydia (Wells) Carver, n?e Greenway Francis Carver Alistair Lauderback George Shepard Anna Wetherell Emery Staines TERRA FIRMA: Crosbie Wells RELATED HOUSE: The Wells Cottage (Arahura Valley) The Reserve Bank (Revell-street) The West Coast Times Office (Weld-street) The Gridiron Hotel (Revell-street) The Aurora Goldmine (Kaniere) ‘Chinatown Forge’ (Kaniere) Nilssen & Co. (Gibson Quay) The Opium Den (Kaniere) Godspeed (a barque, reg. Port Chalmers) Hokitika Courthouse (Magistrate’s Court) The Wayfarer’s Fortune (Revell-street) Hokitika Gaol (Seaview) RELATED INFLUENCE: Reason Desire Force Command Restriction Outermost (formerly Innermost) Innermost (formerly Outermost) (deceased) PART ONE A Sphere within a Sphere MERCURY IN SAGITTARIUS In which a stranger arrives in Hokitika; a secret council is disturbed; Walter Moody conceals his most recent memory; and Thomas Balfour begins to tell a story. The twelve men congregated in the smoking room of the Crown Hotel gave the impression of a party accidentally met. From the variety of their comportment and dress—frock coats, tailcoats, Norfolk jackets with buttons of horn, yellow moleskin, cambric, and twill—they might have been twelve strangers on a railway car, each bound for a separate quarter of a city that possessed fog and tides enough to divide them; indeed, the studied isolation of each man as he pored over his paper, or leaned forward to tap his ashes into the grate, or placed the splay of his hand upon the baize to take his shot at billiards, conspired to form the very type of bodily silence that occurs, late in the evening, on a public railway—deadened here not by the slur and clunk of the coaches, but by the fat clatter of the rain. Such was the perception of Mr. Walter Moody, from where he stood in the doorway with his hand upon the frame. He was innocent of having disturbed any kind of private conference, for the speakers had ceased when they heard his tread in the passage; by the time he opened the door, each of the twelve men had resumed his occupation (rather haphazardly, on the part of the billiard players, for they had forgotten their places) with such a careful show of absorption that no one even glanced up when he stepped into the room. The strictness and uniformity with which the men ignored him might have aroused Mr. Moody’s interest, had he been himself in body and temperament. As it was, he was queasy and disturbed. He had known the voyage to West Canterbury would be fatal at worst, an endless rolling trough of white water and spume that ended on the shattered graveyard of the Hokitika bar, but he had not been prepared for the particular horrors of the journey, of which he was still incapable of speaking, even to himself. Moody was by nature impatient of any deficiencies in his own person—fear and illness both turned him inward—and it was for this reason that he very uncharacteristically failed to assess the tenor of the room he had just entered. Moody’s natural expression was one of readiness and attention. His grey eyes were large and unblinking, and his supple, boyish mouth was usually poised in an expression of polite concern. His hair inclined to a tight curl; it had fallen in ringlets to his shoulders in his youth, but now he wore it close against his skull, parted on the side and combed flat with a sweet-smelling pomade that darkened its golden hue to an oily brown. His brow and cheeks were square, his nose straight, and his complexion smooth. He was not quite eight-and-twenty, still swift and exact in his motions, and possessed of the kind of roguish, unsullied vigour that conveys neither gullibility nor guile. He presented himself in the manner of a discreet and quick-minded butler, and as a consequence was often drawn into the confidence of the least voluble of men, or invited to broker relations between people he had only lately met. He had, in short, an appearance that betrayed very little about his own character, and an appearance that others were immediately inclined to trust. Moody was not unaware of the advantage his inscrutable grace afforded him. Like most excessively beautiful persons, he had studied his own reflection minutely and, in a way, knew himself from the outside best; he was always in some chamber of his mind perceiving himself from the exterior. He had passed a great many hours in the alcove of his private dressing room, where the mirror tripled his image into profile, half-profile, and square: Van Dyck’s Charles, though a good deal more striking. It was a private practice, and one he would likely have denied—for how roundly self-examination is condemned, by the moral prophets of our age! As if the self had no relation to the self, and one only looked in mirrors to have one’s arrogance confirmed; as if the act of self-regarding was not as subtle, fraught and ever-changing as any bond between twin souls. In his fascination Moody sought less to praise his own beauty than to master it. Certainly whenever he caught his own reflection, in a window box, or in a pane of glass after nightfall, he felt a thrill of satisfaction—but as an engineer might feel, chancing upon a mechanism of his own devising and finding it splendid, flashing, properly oiled and performing exactly as he had predicted it should. He could see his own self now, poised in the doorway of the smoking room, and he knew that the figure he cut was one of perfect composure. He was near trembling with fatigue; he was carrying a leaden weight of terror in his gut; he felt shadowed, even dogged; he was filled with dread. He surveyed the room with an air of polite detachment and respect. It had the appearance of a place rebuilt from memory after a great passage of time, when much has been forgotten (andirons, drapes, a proper mantel to surround the hearth) but small details persist: a picture of the late Prince Consort, for example, cut from a magazine and affixed with shoe tacks to the wall that faced the yard; the seam down the middle of the billiard table, which had been sawn in two on the Sydney docks to better survive the crossing; the stack of old broadsheets upon the secretary, the pages thinned and blurry from the touch of many hands. The view through the two small windows that flanked the hearth was over the hotel’s rear yard, a marshy allotment littered with crates and rusting drums, separated from the neighbouring plots only by patches of scrub and low fern, and, to the north, by a row of laying hutches, the doors of which were chained against thieves. Beyond this vague periphery, one could see sagging laundry lines running back and forth behind the houses one block to the east, latticed stacks of raw timber, pigpens, piles of scrap and sheet iron, broken cradles and flumes—everything abandoned, or in some relative state of disrepair. The clock had struck that late hour of twilight when all colours seem suddenly to lose their richness, and it was raining hard; through the cockled glass the yard was bleached and fading. Inside, the spirit lamps had not yet succeeded the sea-coloured light of the dying day, and seemed by virtue of their paleness to accent the general cheerlessness of the room’s decor. For a man accustomed to his club in Edinburgh, where all was lit in hues of red and gold, and the studded couches gleamed with a fatness that reflected the girth of the gentlemen upon them; where, upon entering, one was given a soft jacket that smelled pleasantly of anise, or of peppermint, and thereafter the merest twitch of one’s finger towards the bell-rope was enough to summon a bottle of claret on a silver tray, the prospect was a crude one. But Moody was not a man for whom offending standards were cause enough to sulk: the rough simplicity of the place only made him draw back internally, as a rich man will step swiftly to the side, and turn glassy, when confronted with a beggar in the street. The mild look upon his face did not waver as he cast his gaze about, but inwardly, each new detail—the mound of dirty wax beneath this candle, the rime of dust around that glass—caused him to retreat still further into himself, and steel his body all the more rigidly against the scene. This recoil, though unconsciously performed, owed less to the common prejudices of high fortune—in fact Moody was only modestly rich, and often gave coins to paupers, though (it must be owned) never without a small rush of pleasure for his own largesse—than to the personal disequilibrium over which the man was currently, and invisibly, struggling to prevail. This was a gold town, after all, new-built between jungle and surf at the southernmost edge of the civilised world, and he had not expected luxury. The truth was that not six hours ago, aboard the barque that had conveyed him from Port Chalmers to the wild shard of the Coast, Moody had witnessed an event so extraordinary and affecting that it called all other realities into doubt. The scene was still with him—as if a door had chinked open, in the corner of his mind, to show a band of greying light, and he could not now wish the darkness back again. It was costing him a great deal of effort to keep that door from opening further. In this fragile condition, any unorthodoxy or inconvenience was personally affronting. He felt as if the whole dismal scene before him was an aggregate echo of the trials he had so lately sustained, and he recoiled from it in order to prevent his own mind from following this connexion, and returning to the past. Disdain was useful. It gave him a fixed sense of proportion, a rightfulness to which he could appeal, and feel secure. He called the room luckless, and meagre, and dreary—and with his inner mind thus fortified against the furnishings, he turned to the twelve inhabitants. An inverted pantheon, he thought, and again felt a little steadier, for having indulged the conceit. The men were bronzed and weathered in the manner of all frontiersmen, their lips chapped white, their carriage expressive of privation and loss. Two of their number were Chinese, dressed identically in cloth shoes and grey cotton shifts; behind them stood a Maori native, his face tattooed in whorls of greenish-blue. Of the others, Moody could not guess the origin. He did not yet understand how the diggings could age a man in a matter of months; casting his gaze around the room, he reckoned himself the youngest man in attendance, when in fact several were his juniors and his peers. The glow of youth was quite washed from them. They would be crabbed forever, restless, snatching, grey in body, coughing dust into the brown lines of their palms. Moody thought them coarse, even quaint; he thought them men of little influence; he did not wonder why they were so silent. He wanted a brandy, and a place to sit and close his eyes. He stood in the doorway a moment after entering, waiting to be received, but when nobody made any gesture of welcome or dismissal he took another step forward and pulled the door softly closed behind him. He made a vague bow in the direction of the window, and another in the direction of the hearth, to suffice as a wholesale introduction of himself, then moved to the side table and engaged himself in mixing a drink from the decanters set out for that purpose. He chose a cigar and cut it; placing it between his teeth, he turned back to the room, and scanned the faces once again. Nobody seemed remotely affected by his presence. This suited him. He seated himself in the only available armchair, lit his cigar, and settled back with the private sigh of a man who feels his daily comforts are, for once, very much deserved. His contentment was short-lived. No sooner had he stretched out his legs and crossed his ankles (the salt on his trousers had dried, most provokingly, in tides of white) than the man on his immediate right leaned forward in his chair, prodded the air with the stump of his own cigar, and said, ‘Look here—you’ve business, here at the Crown?’ This was rather abruptly phrased, but Moody’s expression did not register as much. He bowed his head politely and explained that he had indeed secured a room upstairs, having arrived in town that very evening. ‘Just off the boat, you mean?’ Moody bowed again and affirmed that this was precisely his meaning. So that the man would not think him short, he added that he was come from Port Chalmers, with the intention of trying his hand at digging for gold. ‘That’s good,’ the man said. ‘That’s good. New finds up the beach—she’s ripe with it. Black sands: that’s the cry you’ll be hearing; black sands up Charleston way; that’s north of here, of course—Charleston. Though you’ll still make pay in the gorge. You got a mate, or come over solo?’ ‘Just me alone,’ Moody said. ‘No affiliations!’ the man said. ‘Well,’ Moody said, surprised again at his phrasing, ‘I intend to make my own fortune, that’s all.’ ‘No affiliations,’ the man repeated. ‘And no business; you’ve no business, here at the Crown?’ This was impertinent—to demand the same information twice—but the man seemed genial, even distracted, and he was strumming with his fingers at the lapel of his vest. Perhaps, Moody thought, he had simply not been clear enough. He said, ‘My business at this hotel is only to rest. In the next few days I will make inquiries around the diggings—which rivers are yielding, which valleys are dry—and acquaint myself with the digger’s life, as it were. I intend to stay here at the Crown for one week, and after that, to make my passage inland.’ ‘You’ve not dug before, then.’ ‘No, sir.’ ‘Never seen the colour?’ ‘Only at the jeweller’s—on a watch, or on a buckle; never pure.’ ‘But you’ve dreamed it, pure! You’ve dreamed it—kneeling in the water, sifting the metal from the grit!’ ‘I suppose … well no, I haven’t, exactly,’ Moody said. The expansive style of this man’s speech was rather peculiar to him: for all the man’s apparent distraction, he spoke eagerly, and with an energy that was almost importunate. Moody looked around, hoping to exchange a sympathetic glance with one of the others, but he failed to catch anybody’s eye. He coughed, adding, ‘I suppose I’ve dreamed of what comes afterwards—that is, what the gold might lead to, what it might become.’ The man seemed pleased by this answer. ‘Reverse alchemy, is what I like to call it,’ he said, ‘the whole business, I mean—prospecting. Reverse alchemy. Do you see—the transformation—not into gold, but out of it—’ ‘It is a fine conceit, sir,’—reflecting only much later that this notion chimed very nearly with his own recent fancy of a pantheon reversed. ‘And your inquiries,’ the man said, nodding vigorously, ‘your inquiries—you’ll be asking around, I suppose—what shovels, what cradles—and maps and things.’ ‘Yes, precisely. I mean to do it right.’ The man threw himself back into his armchair, evidently very amused. ‘One week’s board at the Crown Hotel—just to ask your questions!’ He gave a little shout of laughter. ‘And then you’ll spend two weeks in the mud, to earn it back!’ Moody recrossed his ankles. He was not in the right disposition to return the other man’s energy, but he was too rigidly bred to consider being impolite. He might have simply apologised for his discomfiture, and admitted some kind of general malaise—the man seemed sympathetic enough, with his strumming fingers, and his rising gurgle of a laugh—but Moody was not in the habit of speaking candidly to strangers, and still less of confessing illness to another man. He shook himself internally and said, in a brighter tone of voice, ‘And you, sir? You are well established here, I think?’ ‘Oh, yes,’ replied the other. ‘Balfour Shipping, you’ll have seen us, right past the stockyards, prime location—Wharf-street, you know. Balfour, that’s me. Thomas is my Christian name. You’ll need one of those on the diggings: no man goes by Mister in the gorge.’ ‘Then I must practise using mine,’ Moody said. ‘It is Walter. Walter Moody.’ ‘Yes, and they’ll call you anything but Walter too,’ Balfour said, striking his knee. ‘“Scottish Walt”, maybe. “Two-Hand Walt”, maybe. “Wally Nugget”. Ha!’ ‘That name I shall have to earn.’ Balfour laughed. ‘No earning about it,’ he said. ‘Big as a lady’s pistol, some of the ones I’ve seen. Big as a lady’s—but, I’m telling you, not half as hard to put your hands on.’ Thomas Balfour was around fifty in age, compact and robust in body. His hair was quite grey, combed backward from his forehead, and long about the ears. He wore a spade-beard, and was given to stroking it downward with the cup of his hand when he was amused—he did this now, in pleasure at his own joke. His prosperity sat easily with him, Moody thought, recognising in the man that relaxed sense of entitlement that comes when a lifelong optimism has been ratified by success. He was in shirtsleeves; his cravat, though of silk, and finely wrought, was spotted with gravy and coming loose at the neck. Moody placed him as a libertarian—harmless, renegade in spirit, and cheerful in his effusions. ‘I am in your debt, sir,’ he said. ‘This is the first of many customs of which I will be entirely ignorant, I am sure. I would have certainly made the error of using a surname in the gorge.’ It was true that his mental conception of the New Zealand diggings was extremely imprecise, informed chiefly by sketches of the California goldfields—log cabins, flat-bottomed valleys, wagons in the dust—and a dim sense (he did not know from where) that the colony was somehow the shadow of the British Isles, the unformed, savage obverse of the Empire’s seat and heart. He had been surprised, upon rounding the heads of the Otago peninsula some two weeks prior, to see mansions on the hill, quays, streets, and plotted gardens—and he was surprised, now, to observe a well-dressed gentleman passing his lucifers to a Chinaman, and then leaning across him to retrieve his glass. Moody was a Cambridge fellow, born in Edinburgh to a modest fortune and a household staff of three. The social circles in which he had tended to move, at Trinity, and then at Inner Temple in his more recent years, had not at all the rigid aspect of the peerage, where one’s history and context differed from the next man only in degree; nevertheless, his education had made him insular, for it had taught him that the proper way to understand any social system was to view it from above. With his college chums (dressed in capes, and drunk on Rhenish wine) he would defend the merging of the classes with all the agony and vitality of the young, but he was always startled whenever he encountered it in practice. He did not yet know that a goldfield was a place of muck and hazard, where every fellow was foreign to the next man, and foreign to the soil; where a grocer’s cradle might be thick with colour, and a lawyer’s cradle might run dry; where there were no divisions. Moody was some twenty years Balfour’s junior, and so he spoke with deference, but he was conscious that Balfour was a man of lower standing than himself, and he was conscious also of the strange miscellany of persons around him, whose estates and origins he had not the means to guess. His politeness therefore had a slightly wooden quality, as a man who does not often speak with children lacks any measure for what is appropriate, and so holds himself apart, and is rigid, however much he wishes to be kind. Thomas Balfour felt this condescension, and was delighted. He had a playful distaste for men who spoke, as he phrased it, ‘much too well’, and he loved to provoke them—not to anger, which bored him, but to vulgarity. He regarded Moody’s stiffness as if it were a fashionable collar, made in some aristocratic style, that was unbearably confining to the wearer—he saw all conventions of polite society in this way, as useless ornamentations—and it amused him, that the man’s refinement caused him to be so ill at ease. Balfour was indeed a man of humble standing, as Moody had guessed. His father had worked in a saddlery in Kent, and he might have taken up that mantle, if a fire had not claimed both father and stable in his eleventh year—but he was a restless boy, with frayed cuffs and an impatience that belied the dreamy, half-focused expression he habitually wore, and the dogged work would not have suited him. In any case, a horse could not keep pace with a railway car, as he was fond of saying, and the trade had not weathered the rush of changing times. Balfour liked very much to feel that he was at the vanguard of an era. When he spoke of the past, it was as if each decade prior to the present year was an ill-made candle that had been burned and spent. He felt no nostalgia for the stuff of his boyhood life—the dark liquor of the tanning vats, the rack of hides, the calfskin pouch where his father stored his needles and his awl—and rarely recalled it, except to draw a comparison with newer industries. Ore: that was where the money lay. Coalmines, steelworks, and gold. He began in glass. After several years as an apprentice he founded a glassworks of his own, a modest factory he later sold for a share in a coalmine, which in due course was expanded to a network of shaft mines, and sold to investors in London for a grand sum. He did not marry. On his thirtieth birthday he bought a one-way ticket on a clipper ship bound for Veracruz, the first leg of a nine-month journey that would take him overland to the Californian goldfields. The lustre of the digger’s life soon paled for him, but the ceaseless rush and hope of the fields did not; with his first dust he bought shares in a bank, built three hotels in four years, and prospered. When California dried he sold up and sailed for Victoria—a new strike, a new uncharted land—and thence, hearing once again the call that carried across the ocean like a faery pipe on a rare breeze, to New Zealand. During his sixteen years on the raw fields Thomas Balfour had met a great many men like Walter Moody, and it was a credit to his temperament that he had retained, over these years, a deep affection and regard for the virgin state of men yet untested by experience, yet untried. Balfour was sympathetic to ambition, and unorthodox, as a self-made man, in his generosity of spirit. Enterprise pleased him; desire pleased him. He was disposed to like Moody simply for the reason that the other man had undertaken a pursuit about which he evidently knew very little, and from which he must expect a great return. On this particular night, however, Balfour was not without agenda. Moody’s entrance had been something of a surprise to the twelve assembled men, who had taken considerable precautions to ensure that they would not be disturbed. The front parlour of the Crown Hotel was closed that night for a private function, and a boy had been posted under the awning to watch the street, lest any man had set his mind on drinking there—which was unlikely, for the Crown smoking room was not generally celebrated for its society or its charm, and indeed was very often empty, even on the weekend nights when the diggers flooded back from the hills in droves to spend their dust on liquor at the shanties in the town. The boy on duty was Mannering’s, and had in his possession a stout bundle of gallery tickets to give away for free. The performance—Sensations from the Orient!—was a new act, and guaranteed to please, and there were cases of champagne ready in the opera-house foyer, courtesy of Mannering himself, in honour of opening night. With these diversions in place, and believing that no boat would risk a landing in the murky evening of such an inclement day (the projected arrivals in the shipping pages of the West Coast Times were, by that hour, all accounted for), the assembled party had not thought to make provision for an accidental stranger who might have already checked in to the hotel some half-hour before nightfall, and so was already inside the building when Mannering’s boy took up his post under the dripping porch facing the street. Walter Moody, despite his reassuring countenance, and despite the courteous detachment with which he held himself, was nevertheless still an intruder. The men were at a loss to know how to persuade him to leave, without making it clear that he had intruded, and thus exposing the subversive nature of their assembly. Thomas Balfour had assumed the task of vetting him only by the accident of their proximity, next to the fire—a happy conjunction, this, for Balfour was tenacious, for all his bluster and rhapsody, and well accustomed to turning a scene to his own gain. ‘Yes, well,’ he said now, ‘one learns the customs soon enough, and everyone has to start where you are standing—as an apprentice, I mean; knowing nothing at all. What sowed the seed, then, if you don’t object to my asking? That’s a private interest of mine—what brings a fellow down here, you know, to the ends of the earth—what sparks a man.’ Moody took a pull on his cigar before answering. ‘My object was a complicated one,’ he said. ‘A matter of family disputation, painful to relate, which accounts for my having made the crossing solo.’ ‘Oh, but in that you are not alone,’ Balfour said cheerfully. ‘Every boy here is on the run from something—you can be sure of it!’ ‘Indeed,’ said Moody, thinking this a rather alarming prospect. ‘Everyone’s from somewhere else,’ Balfour went on. ‘Yes: that’s the very heart of it. We’re all from somewhere else. And as for family: you’ll find brothers and fathers enough, in the gorge.’ ‘You are kind to offer comfort.’ Balfour was grinning broadly now. ‘There’s a phrase,’ he said, waving his cigar with such emphasis that he scattered feathers of ash all over his vest. ‘Comfort—! If this counts as comfort, then you’re a very Puritan, my boy.’ Moody could not produce an appropriate response to this remark, so he bowed again—and then, as if to repudiate all puritanical implication, he drank deeply from his glass. Outside, a gust of wind interrupted the steady lash of the rain, throwing a sheet of water against the western windows. Balfour examined the end of his cigar, still chuckling; Moody placed his own between his lips, turned his face away, and drew lightly upon it. Just then one of the eleven silent men got to his feet, folding his newspaper into quarters as he did so, and crossed to the secretary in order to exchange the paper for another. He was wearing a collarless black coat and a white necktie—a clergyman’s dress, Moody realised, with some surprise. That was strange. Why should a cleric elect to get his news in the smoking room of a common hotel, late on a Saturday night? And why should he keep such silent company, in doing so? Moody watched as the reverend man shuffled through the pile of broadsheets, rejecting several editions of the Colonist in favour of a Grey River Argus, which he plucked out with a murmur of pleasure, holding it away from his body and tilting it, with appreciation, towards the light. Then again, Moody thought, reasoning with himself, perhaps it was not so strange: the night was very wet, and the halls and taverns of the town were likely very crowded. Perhaps the clergyman had been obliged, for some reason, to seek temporary refuge from the rain. ‘So you had a quarrel,’ Balfour said presently, as if Moody had promised him a rousing tale, and had then forgotten to begin it. ‘I was party to a quarrel,’ Moody corrected him. ‘That is, the dispute was not of my own making.’ ‘With your father, I suppose.’ ‘It is painful to relate, sir.’ Moody glanced at the other man, meaning to silence him with a stern look, but Balfour responded by leaning further forward, encouraged by the gravity of Moody’s expression to believe the story all the more worth his hearing. ‘Oh, come!’ he said. ‘Ease your burden.’ ‘It is not a burden to be eased, Mr. Balfour.’ ‘My friend, I have never heard of such a thing.’ ‘Pardon me to change the subject—’ ‘But you have roused me! You have roused my attention!’ Balfour was grinning at him. ‘I beg to refuse you,’ Moody said. He was trying to speak quietly, to protect their conversation from the rest of the room. ‘I beg to reserve my privacy. My motive is purely that I do not wish to make a poor impression upon you.’ ‘But you’re the wronged man, you said—the dispute, not of your making.’ ‘That is correct.’ ‘Well, now! One needn’t be private about that!’ Balfour cried. ‘Do I not speak truly? One needn’t be private about another fellow’s wrong! One needn’t feel ashamed of another fellow’s—deeds, you know!’ He was being very loud. ‘You describe personal shame,’ Moody said in a low voice. ‘I refer to the shame that is brought upon a family. I do not wish to sully my father’s name; it is my name also.’ ‘Your father! But what have I told you already? You’ll find fathers enough, I said, down in the gorge! That’s no turn of phrase—it’s custom, and necessity—it’s the way that things are done! Let me tell you what counts for shame on the diggings. Cry a false field—that’s worthy. Dispute the pegging on a claim—that’s worthy. Rob a man, cheat a man, kill a man—that’s worthy. But family shame! Tell that to the bellmen, to cry up and down the Hokitika-road—they’ll think it news! What’s family shame, without a family?’ Balfour concluded this exhortation with a smart rap of his empty glass upon the arm of his chair. He beamed at Moody, and lifted his open palm, as if to say that his point had been so persuasively phrased as to need no further amendment, but he would like some kind of approbation all the same. Moody gave another automatic jerk of his head and replied, in a tone that betrayed the exhaustion of his nerves for the first time, ‘You speak persuasively, sir.’ Balfour, still beaming, waved the compliment aside. ‘Persuasion’s tricks and cleverness. I’m speaking plain.’ ‘I thank you for it.’ ‘Yes, yes,’ Balfour said agreeably. He seemed to be enjoying himself very much. ‘But now you must tell me about your family quarrel, Mr. Moody, so that I may judge if your name is sullied, in the end.’ ‘Forgive me,’ Moody murmured. He glanced about, perceiving that the clergyman had returned to his seat, and was now absorbed in his paper. The man next to him—a florid type, with an imperial moustache and gingery hair—appeared to have fallen asleep. Thomas Balfour was not to be deterred. ‘Liberty and security!’ he cried, waving his arm again. ‘Is that not what it comes down to? You see, I know the argument already! I know the form of it! Liberty over security, security over liberty … provision from the father, freedom for the son. Of course the father might be too controlling—that can happen—and the son might be wasteful … prodigal … but it’s the same quarrel, every time. Lovers too,’ he added, when Moody did not interject. ‘It’s the same for lovers, too: at bottom, always, the same dispute.’ But Moody was not listening. He had forgotten, for a moment, the creeping ash of his cigar, and the warm brandy pooling in the bottom of his glass. He had forgotten that he was here, in a hotel smoking room, in a town not five years built, at the end of the world. His mind had slipped, and returned to it: the bloody cravat, the clutching silver hand, the name, gasped out of the darkness, again and again, Magdalena, Magdalena, Magdalena. The scene came back to him all in a snatch, unbidden, like a shadow passing coldly over the face of the sun. Moody had sailed from Port Chalmers aboard the barque Godspeed, a stout little craft with a smartly raked bow and a figurehead of painted oak—an eagle, after St. John. On a map the journey took the shape of a hairpin: the barque set off northward, traversed the narrow strait between two seas, and then turned south again, to the diggings. Moody’s ticket afforded him a narrow space below decks, but the hold was so foul-smelling and close that he was compelled to spend most of the voyage topside, hunched below the gunwales with his leather case clasped wetly to his chest and his collar turned up against the spray. Crouched as he was with his back to the view, he saw very little of the coastline—the yellow plains of the East, which gave way by subtle incline to greener heights, and then the mountains, blue with distance, above them; further north, the verdant fjords, hushed by still water; in the West, the braided streams that tarnished when they met the beaches, and carved fissures in the sand. When the Godspeed rounded the northern spit and began her passage southward, the weatherglass began to fall. Had Moody not been so ill and wretched he might have felt afraid, and made his vows: drowning, the boys on the docks had told him, was the West Coast disease, and whether he could call himself a lucky man was a question that would be settled long before he reached the goldfields, and long before he first knelt down to touch the edge of his dish to the stones. There were as many lost as landed. The master of his vessel—Captain Carver was his name—had seen so many lubbers washed to their deaths from his station on the quarterdeck that the whole ship might properly be called a graveside—this last spoken with a hushed solemnity, and wide eyes. The storm was borne on greenish winds. It began as a coppery taste in the back of one’s mouth, a metallic ache that amplified as the clouds darkened and advanced, and when it struck, it was with the flat hand of a senseless fury. The seething deck, the strange whip of light and shadows cast by the sails that snapped and strained above it, the palpable fear of the sailors as they fought to hold the barque on her course—it was the stuff of nightmare, and Moody had the nightmarish sense, as the vessel drew closer and closer to the goldfields, that she had somehow willed the infernal storm upon her self. Walter Moody was not superstitious, though he derived great enjoyment from the superstitions of others, and he was not easily deceived by impression, though he took great care in designing his own. This owed less to his intelligence, however, than to his experience—which, prior to his departure for New Zealand, could be termed neither broad nor varied in its character. In his life so far he had known only the kind of doubt that is calculated and secure. He had known only suspicion, cynicism, probability—never the fearful unravelling that comes when one ceases to trust in one’s own trusting power; never the dread panic that follows this unravelling; never the dull void that follows last of all. Of these latter classes of uncertainty he had remained, until recently at least, happily unconscious. His imagination did not naturally stray to the fanciful, and he rarely theorised except with a practical purpose in mind. His own mortality held only an intellectual fascination for him, a dry lustre; and, having no religion, he did not believe in ghosts. The full account of what transpired during this last leg of the voyage is Moody’s own, and must be left to him. We think it sufficient to say, at this juncture, that there were eight passengers aboard the Godspeed when she pulled out of the harbour at Dunedin, and by the time the barque landed on the Coast, there were nine. The ninth was not a baby, born in transit; nor was he a stowaway; nor did the ship’s lookout spot him adrift in the water, clinging to some scrap of wreckage, and give the shout to draw him in. But to say this is to rob Walter Moody of his own tale—and unfairly, for he was still unable to recall the apparition wholly to his own mind, much less to form a narrative for the pleasures of a third. In Hokitika it had been raining for two weeks without reprieve. Moody’s first glimpse of the township was of a shifting smear that advanced and retreated as the mist blew back and forth. There was only a narrow corridor of flat land between the coastline and the sudden alps, battered by the endless surf that turned to smoke on the sand; it seemed still flatter and more contained by virtue of the cloud that sheared the mountains low on their flanks and formed a grey ceiling over the huddled roofs of the town. The port was located to the south, tucked into the crooked mouth of a river, rich in gold, which became a lather where it met the salt edge of the sea. Here at the coast it was brown and barren, but upriver the water was cool and white, and said to gleam. The river mouth itself was calm, a lakelet thick with masts and the fat stacks of steamers waiting for a clearer day; they knew better than to risk the bar that lay concealed beneath the water and shifted with each tide. The enormous number of vessels that had foundered on the bar were scattered as unhappy testament to the hazard below. There were thirty-some wrecks in total, and several were very new. Their splintered hulks wrought a strange barricade that seemed, dismally, to fortify the township against the open sea. The barque’s captain dared not bring the ship to port until the weather improved, and instead signalled for a lighter to convey the passengers over the rolling breakers to the sand. The lighter was crewed by six—grim Charons to a man, who stared and did not speak as the passengers were lowered by chair down the heaving flank of the Godspeed. It was awful to crouch in the tiny boat and look up through the impossible rigging of the ship above—she cast a dark shadow as she rolled, and when at last the line was struck and they pulled away into open water, Moody felt the lightness on his skin. The other passengers were merry. They exclaimed about the weather, and how splendid it had been to come through a storm. They wondered about each shipwreck that they passed, sounding out the names; they spoke of the fields, and the fortunes they would find there. Their cheer was hateful. A woman pressed a phial of sal volatile into the bone of Moody’s hip—‘Take it quiet, so the others don’t come wanting’—but he pushed her hand away. She had not seen what he had seen. The downpour seemed to intensify as the lighter neared the shore. The spray from the breakers brought such a great quantity of seawater over the gunwales that Moody was obliged to assist the crew in bailing the boat, using a leather pail thrust wordlessly upon him by a man who was missing every tooth except his rearmost molars. Moody did not even have the spirit to flinch. They were carried over the bar and into the calm of the river mouth on a white-capped wave. He did not shut his eyes. When the lighter reached her mooring he was the first out of the boat, drenched to the skin and so giddy he stumbled on the ladder, causing the boat to lurch wildly away from him. Like a man pursued he staggered, half-limping, down the wharf to solid ground. When he turned back, he could only just distinguish the fragile lighter bucking against her mooring at the end of the wharf. The barque herself had long since vanished into the mist, which hung in plates of clouded glass, obscuring the wrecked ships, the steamers in the roadstead, and the open sea beyond. Moody reeled on his feet. He was dimly aware of the crew handing bags and valises out of the boat, the other passengers running about, the porters and stevedores shouting their instructions through the rain. The scene was veiled to him, the figures gauzed—as if the journey, and everything pertaining to it, had been claimed already by the grey fog of his uncertain mind; as if his memory, recoiling upon itself, had met its obverse, the power of forgetting, and had conjured the mist and driving rain as a kind of cloth, spectral, to screen him from the shapes of his own recent past. Moody did not linger. He turned and hurried up the beach, past the slaughterhouses, the latrines, the breakwind huts along the sandy lip of the shore, the tents that sagged under the greying weight of two weeks’ rain. His head was down, his case clutched tightly against him, and he saw none of it: not the stockyards, not the high gables of the warehouses, not the mullioned windows of the offices along Wharf-street, behind which shapeless bodies moved through lighted rooms. Moody struggled on, shin-deep in slurry, and when the sham front of the Crown Hotel rose up before him he dashed towards it and threw down his case to wrench with both hands at the door. The Crown was an establishment of the serviceable, unadorned sort, recommended only by its proximity to the quay. If this feature was an expedience, however, it could hardly be called a virtue: here, so close to the stockyards, the bloody smell of slaughter intermingled with the sour, briny smell of the sea, putting one in mind, perpetually, of an untended icebox in which an uncured joint has spoiled. For this reason Moody might have disdained the place offhand, resolving instead to venture northward up Revell-street to where the fronts of the hotels broadened, brightened in colour, acquired porticoes, and communicated, with their high windows and their delicate fretwork, all those reassurances of wealth and comfort to which he was accustomed, as a man of means … but Moody had left all discerning faculties in the pitching belly of the barque Godspeed. He wanted only shelter, and solitude. The calm of the empty foyer, once he had closed the door behind him, muting the sound of the rain, had an immediate and physical effect upon him. We have noted that Moody derived considerable personal benefit from his appearance, and that this was a fact of which he was wholly sensible: he was not about to make his first acquaintance in an unfamiliar town looking like a haunted man. He struck the water from his hat, ran a hand through his hair, stamped his feet to stop his knees from shaking, and worked his mouth in a vigorous way, as if testing its elasticity. He performed these motions swiftly and without embarrassment. By the time the maid appeared, he had arranged his face into its habitual expression of benign indifference, and was examining the dovetailed join at the corner of the front desk. The maid was a dull-seeming girl with colourless hair and teeth as yellow as her skin. She recited the terms of board and lodging, relieved Moody of ten shillings (these she dropped with a sullen clatter into a locked drawer beneath the desk), and wearily led him upstairs. He was conscious of the trail of rainwater he left behind him, and the sizeable puddle he had created on the foyer floor, and pressed a sixpence upon her; she took it pityingly and made to leave, but then at once seemed to wish she had been kinder. She flushed, and after a moment’s pause, suggested that he might like a supper tray brought up from the kitchens—‘To dry out your insides,’ she said, and pulled back her lips in a yellow smile. The Crown Hotel was lately built, and still retained the dusty, honeyed trace of fresh-planed lumber, the walls still beading gems of sap along each groove, the hearths still clean of ash and staining. Moody’s room was furnished very approximately, as in a pantomime where a large and lavish household is conjured by a single chair. The bolster was thin upon the mattress, and padded with what felt like twists of muslin; the blankets were slightly too large, so that their edges pooled on the floor, giving the bed a rather shrunken aspect, huddled as it was beneath the rough slope of the eave. The bareness lent the place a spectral, unfinished quality that might have been disquieting, had the prospect through the buckled glass been of a different street and a different age, but to Moody the emptiness was like a balm. He stowed his sodden case on the whatnot beside his bed, wrung and dried his clothes as best he could, drank off a pot of tea, ate four slices of dark-grained bread with ham, and, after peering through the window to the impenetrable wash of the street, resolved to defer his business in town until the morning. The maid had left yesterday’s newspaper beneath the teapot—how thin it was, for a sixpenny broadsheet! Moody smiled as he took it up. He had a fondness for cheap news, and was amused to see that the town’s Most Alluring Dancer also advertised her services as the town’s Most Discreet Accoucheuse. A whole column of the paper was devoted to missing prospectors (If this should reach the eyes of EMERY STAINES, or any who know of his whereabouts …) and an entire page to Barmaids Wanted. Moody read the document twice over, including the shipping notices, the advertisements for lodging and small fare, and several very dull campaign speeches, printed in full. He found that he was disappointed: the West Coast Times read like a parish gazette. But what had he expected? That a goldfield would be an exotic phantasm, made of glitter and promise? That the diggers would be notorious and sly—every man a murderer, every man a thief? Moody folded the paper slowly. His line of thinking had returned him to the Godspeed, and to the bloody casket in her hold, and his heart began to pound again. ‘That’s enough,’ he said aloud, and immediately felt foolish. He stood and tossed the folded paper aside. In any case, he thought, the daylight was fading, and he disliked reading in the dusk. Quitting his room, he returned downstairs. He found the maid sequestered in the alcove beneath the stairs, scrubbing at a pair of riding boots with blacking, and inquired of her if there was a parlour in which he might spend the evening. His voyage had wrought considerable strain in him, and he was in sore need of a glass of brandy and a quiet place to rest his eyes. The maid was more obliging now—her sixpences must be few and far between, Moody thought, which could be useful later, if he needed her. She explained that the parlour of the Crown had been reserved that night for a private party—‘The Catholic Friendlies,’ she clarified, grinning again—but she might conduct him instead, if he wished it, to the smoking room. Moody returned to the present with a jolt, and saw that Thomas Balfour was still looking at him, with an expression of intrigued expectation upon his face. ‘I beg your pardon,’ Moody said, in confusion. ‘I believe I must have drifted off into my own thoughts—for a moment—’ ‘What were you thinking of?’ said Balfour. What had he been thinking of? Only the cravat, the silver hand, that name, gasped out of the darkness. The scene was like a small world, Moody thought, possessed of its own dimensions. Any amount of ordinary time could pass, when his mind was straying there. There was this large world of rolling time and shifting spaces, and that small, stilled world of horror and unease; they fit inside each other, a sphere within a sphere. How strange, that Balfour had been watching him; that real time had been passing—revolving around him, all the while— ‘I wasn’t thinking of anything in particular,’ he said. ‘I have endured a difficult journey, that is all, and I am very tired.’ Behind him one of the billiard players made a shot: a doubled crack, a velvet plop, a ripple of appreciation from the other players. The clergyman shook out his paper noisily; another man coughed; another struck the dust from his shirtsleeve, and shifted in his chair. ‘I was asking about your quarrel,’ Balfour said. ‘The quarrel—’ Moody began, and then stopped. He suddenly felt too exhausted even to speak. ‘The dispute,’ prompted Balfour. ‘Between you and your father.’ ‘I am sorry,’ Moody said. ‘The particulars are delicate.’ ‘A matter of money! Do I hit upon it?’ ‘Forgive me: you do not.’ Moody ran his hand over his face. ‘Not of money! Then—a matter of love! You are in love … but your father will not approve the girl of your choosing …’ ‘No, sir,’ Moody said. ‘I am not in love.’ ‘A great shame,’ Balfour said. ‘Well! I conclude: you are already married!’ ‘I am unmarried.’ ‘You are a young widower, perhaps!’ ‘I have never been married, sir.’ Balfour burst out laughing and threw up both his hands, to signal that he considered Moody’s reticence cheerfully exasperating, and quite absurd. While he was laughing Moody raised himself up on his wrists and swivelled to look over the high back of his armchair at the room behind him. He had the intention of drawing others into their conversation somehow, and perhaps thus diverting the other man from his purpose. But nobody looked up to meet his gaze; they seemed, Moody thought, to be actively avoiding him. This was odd. But his posture was awkward and he was being rude, and so he reluctantly resumed his former position and crossed his legs again. ‘I do not mean to disappoint you,’ he said, when Balfour’s laughter subsided. ‘Disappoint—no!’ Balfour cried. ‘No, no. You will have your secrets!’ ‘You mistake me,’ Moody said. ‘My aim is not concealment. The subject is personally distressing to me, that is all.’ ‘Oh,’ Balfour said, ‘but it is always so, Mr. Moody, when one is young—to be distressed by one’s own history, you know—wishing to keep it back—and never to share it—I mean, with other men.’ ‘That is a wise observation.’ ‘Wise! And nothing else?’ ‘I do not understand you, Mr. Balfour.’ ‘You are determined to thwart my curiosity!’ ‘I confess I am a little startled by it.’ ‘This is a gold town, sir!’ Balfour said. ‘One must be sure of his fellows—one must trust in his fellows—indeed!’ This was still more odd. For the first time—perhaps because of his growing frustration, which served to focus his attention more squarely upon the scene at hand—Moody felt his interest begin to stir. The strange silence of the room was hardly testament to the kind of fraternity where all was shared and made easy … and moreover, Balfour had offered very little with respect to his own character and reputation in the town, by which intelligence Moody might be made to feel more assured of him! His gaze slid sideways, to the fat man closest to the hearth, whose closed eyelids were trembling with the effort of pretended sleep, and then to the blond-haired man behind him, who was passing his billiard cue from one hand to the other, but seemed to have lost all interest in the game. Something was afoot: of this he was suddenly certain. Balfour was performing a role, on behalf of the others: taking his measure, Moody thought. But for what purpose? There was a system behind this battery of questions, a design that was neatly obscured by the excess of Balfour’s manner, his prodigious sympathy and charm. The other men were listening, however casually they turned the pages of their papers, or pretended to doze. With this realisation the room seemed suddenly to clarify, as when a chance scatter of stars resolves into a constellation before the eye. Balfour no longer seemed cheery and effusive, as Moody had first believed him to be; instead he seemed overwrought, strained; even desperate. Moody wondered now whether indulging the man might serve better purpose than denying him. Walter Moody was much experienced in the art of confidences. He knew that by confessing, one earned the subtle right to become confessor to the other, in his turn. A secret deserves a secret, and a tale deserves a tale; the gentle expectation of a response in kind was a pressure he knew how to apply. He would learn more by appearing to confide in Balfour than by openly suspecting him, simply because if he placed his trust in the other man, freely and without reservation, then Balfour would be obliged to confer his own trust in exchange. There was no reason why he could not relate his family story—however vexing it might be to recall it—in order to purchase the other man’s trust. What had happened aboard the Godspeed, he had no intention of divulging, of course; but in this he did not need to dissimulate, for that was not the story that Thomas Balfour had requested to hear. Having reflected upon this, Moody changed his tack. ‘I see that I must win your confidence yet,’ he said. ‘I have nothing to hide, sir. I will relate my tale.’ Balfour flung himself back into his armchair with great satisfaction. ‘You call it a tale!’ he said, beaming again. ‘Then I am surprised, Mr. Moody, that it concerns neither love nor money!’ ‘Only their absence, I am afraid,’ Moody said. ‘Absence—yes,’ Balfour said, still smiling. He gestured for Moody to continue. ‘I must first acquaint you with the particulars of my family history,’ Moody said, and then lapsed into silence for a moment, his eyes narrowed, his mouth pursed. The armchair in which he was sitting faced the hearth, and so nearly half of the men in the room were behind him, sitting or standing at their various sham pursuits. In the several seconds’ grace he had secured for himself by appearing to collect his thoughts, Moody let his gaze wander to his left and right, to make note of the listeners sitting closest to them, around the fire. Nearest the hearth sat the fat man who was feigning sleep. He was by far the most ostentatiously dressed in the room: a massive watch chain, thick as his own fat finger, was slung across his chest, between the pocket of his velvet vest and the breast of his cambric shirt, and affixed to the chain at intervals were knuckle-sized lumps of gold. The man next to him, on Balfour’s other side, was partly obscured by the wing of his armchair, so that all Moody could see of him was the glint of his forehead and the shiny tip of his nose. His coat was made of herringbone, a thick woollen weave that was much too hot for his proximity to the fire, and his perspiration betrayed the posture of apparent ease with which he had arranged himself in the chair. He had no cigar; he was turning a silver cigarette case over and over in his hands. On Moody’s left was another wingback armchair, pulled so close to his own that he could hear the nasal whistle of his neighbour’s breath. This man was dark-haired, slim in build, and so tall that he appeared folded in two, sitting with his knees together and the soles of his shoes planted flat upon the floor. He was reading a newspaper, and in general, he was doing a much better job of pretended indifference than the others, but even so his eyes were somewhat glassy, as if they were not quite focused upon the type, and he had not turned a page in some time. ‘I am the younger son of two,’ Moody began at last. ‘My brother, Frederick, is five years my senior. Our mother died near the end of my school years—I returned home only for a short time, to bury her—and shortly thereafter my father married again. His second wife was unknown to me then. She was—she is—a quiet, delicate woman, one who frighted easily, and was often ill. In her delicacy she is very unlike my father, who is coarse in his manner and much inclined to drink. ‘The match was poor; I believe both parties regretted the marriage as a mistake, and I am sorry to report my father treated his new wife very badly. Three years ago he disappeared, leaving her, in Edinburgh, without provision to live. She might have become a pauper, or worse, such was the sudden destitution in which she found herself. She appealed to me—by letter, I mean; I was abroad—and I returned home at once. I became her protector, in a modest sense. I made arrangements on her behalf, which she accepted, though somewhat bitterly, for the shape of her fortunes was much changed.’ Moody gave an awkward dry cough. ‘I secured for her a small living—employment, you understand. I then travelled to London, with the purpose of finding my father. There I exhausted all possible methods of locating him, and spent a great deal of money in the process. Finally I began to see about turning my education into an income of a kind, for I knew that I could no longer rely on my inheritance as surety, and my credit in the city had become very poor. ‘My elder brother knew nothing of our stepmother’s abandonment: he had left to seek his fortune on the Otago goldfields, some few weeks before my father disappeared. He was inclined to fits of whimsy of this kind—an adventurous spirit, I suppose you might call him, though we were never close with one another after childhood, and I confess I do not know him well. Months passed, and even years; he did not return, and nor did he send any news at all. My letters to him went unanswered. Indeed I still do not know if they ever reached his hands. At length I too booked my passage on a ship bound for New Zealand, my intention being to inform my brother of the changes in our family’s position, and—if he was alive, of course—perhaps to join him on the diggings for a time. My own fortune was gone, the interest on my perpetuity was long since exhausted, and I was in a great deal of debt. While in London I had studied at the Inner Temple. I suppose I might have stayed on, and waited to be called to the Bar … but I have no real love for the law. I could not stomach it. I sailed for New Zealand instead. ‘When I landed at Dunedin, not two weeks ago, I learned that Otago’s gold had been all but eclipsed by new findings here on the Coast. I hesitated, not knowing where to venture first, and was rewarded for my hesitation in the most unexpected way: I met my father.’ Balfour made a murmur, but did not interrupt. He was staring into the fire, his mouth pursed judiciously around his cigar and his hand loose around the base of his glass. The eleven others were equally still. The billiard game must have been abandoned, for Moody could no longer hear the click of the balls behind him. There was a sprung quality to the silence, as if the listeners were waiting for him to reveal something very particular … or fearing that he might. ‘Our reunion was not a happy one,’ Moody continued. He was speaking loudly, above the drumming of the rain; loudly enough for every man in the room to hear him, but not so loudly as to make it seem as if he was aware of their attention. ‘He was drunk, and extremely angry that I had discovered him. I learned that he had become extraordinarily rich, and that he was married again, to a woman who doubtless was innocent of his history, or indeed of the fact that he was legally bound to another wife. I was, I am sorry to admit, unsurprised. My relations with my father have never been warm, and this was not the first time I had caught him in questionable circumstances … though never in a situation of this criminal magnitude, I should hasten to say. ‘My real amazement came when I inquired after my brother, and learned that he had been my father’s agent from the outset: they had orchestrated the abandonment together, and had journeyed south as partners. I did not wait to encounter Frederick too—I could not bear it, to see them both together—and made to leave. My father became aggressive, and attempted to detain me. I escaped, and made the immediate plan to journey here. I had money enough to return to London directly, if I wished, but my grief was of a kind that—’ Moody paused, and made a helpless gesture with his fingers. ‘I don’t know,’ he said at last. ‘I believed the hard labour of the diggings might do me well, for a time. And I do not want to be a lawyer.’ There was a silence. Moody shook his head and sat forward in his chair. ‘It is an unhappy story,’ he said, more briskly. ‘I am ashamed of my blood, Mr. Balfour, but I mean not to dwell upon it. I mean to make new.’ ‘Unhappy, indeed!’ Balfour cried, plucking his cigar from his mouth at last, and waving it about. ‘I am sorry for you, Mr. Moody, and commend you, both. But yours is the way of the goldfields, is it not? Reinvention! Dare I say—revolution! That a man might make new—might make himself anew—truly, now!’ ‘These are words of encouragement,’ Moody said. ‘Your father—his name is also Moody, I presume.’ ‘It is,’ Moody said. ‘His Christian name is Adrian; perhaps you have heard of him?’ ‘I have not,’ Balfour said, and then, perceiving that the other was disappointed, he added, ‘—which means very little, of course. I’m in the shipping line of business, as I told you; these days I don’t rub shoulders with the men on the field. I was in Dunedin. I was in Dunedin for three years, near about. But if your pa made his luck on the diggings, he’d have been inland. Up in the high country. He might have been anywhere—Tuapeka, Clyde—anywhere at all. But—listen—as to the here and now, Mr. Moody. You’re not afraid that he will follow you?’ ‘No,’ Moody said, simply. ‘I took pains to create the impression that I departed immediately for England, the day I left him. Upon the docks I found a man seeking passage to Liverpool. I explained my circumstances to him, and after a short negotiation we swapped papers with one another. He gave my name to the ticket master, and I his. Should my father inquire at the customhouse, the officers there will be able to show him proof that I have left these islands already, and am returning home.’ ‘But perhaps your father—and your brother—will come to the Coast of their own accord. For the diggings.’ ‘That I cannot predict,’ Moody agreed. ‘But from what I understood of their current situation, they had made gold enough in Otago.’ ‘Gold enough!’ Balfour seemed about to laugh again. Moody shrugged. ‘Well,’ he said coldly, ‘I shall prepare myself for the possibility of their arrival, of course. But I do not expect it.’ ‘No—of course, of course,’ Balfour said, patting Moody’s sleeve with his big hand. ‘Let us now talk of more hopeful things. Tell me, what do you intend to do with your pile, once you have amassed a decent sum? Back to Scotland, is it, to spend your fortune there?’ ‘So I hope,’ Moody said. ‘I have heard that a man might make a competence in four months or less, which would take me away from here before the worst months of winter. Is that a probable expectation, in your mind?’ ‘Quite probable,’ Balfour said, smiling at the coals, ‘quite probable, indeed—yes, one might expect it. No mates in town, then? Folk to meet you on the quay, join up—lads from home?’ ‘None, sir,’ Moody told him, for the third time that evening. ‘I travelled here alone, and, as I have said to you already, I intend to make my own fortune, without the help of other men.’ ‘Oh, yes,’ said Balfour, ‘making your own—well, going after it, in the modern way. But a digger’s mate is like his shadow—that’s another thing to know—his shadow, or his wife—’ At this remark there was a ripple of amusement around the room: not open laughter, merely a quiet expulsion of breath, issued from several quarters at once. Moody glanced around him. He had sensed a slackening in the air, a collective relief, at the conclusion of his narrative. The men had been afraid of something, he thought, and his story had given them reason to put their fear aside. He wondered for the first time whether their trepidation was connected in some way to the horror he had witnessed aboard the Godspeed. The thought was strangely unpleasant. He did not want to believe that his private memory might be explicable to another man, and still less, that another man might share it. (Suffering, he thought later, could rob a man of his empathy, could turn him selfish, could make him depreciate all other sufferers. This realisation, when it came, surprised him.) Balfour was grinning. ‘Ay—his shadow, or his wife,’ he repeated, nodding appreciatively at Moody, as though the jest had been Moody’s, rather than his own. He stroked his beard several times with the cup of his hand, and laughed a little. For he was indeed relieved. Lost inheritance, falseness in marriage, a highborn woman put to work—these betrayals belonged to a different world entirely, Balfour thought; a world of drawing rooms, and calling cards, and gowns. It was charming to him, that such changes in fortune might be counted as tragedies—that the young man might confess them, with the stern, controlled embarrassment of a man who had been taught to believe, from the moment of his birth, that his estate would never change. To speak of that here—at the vanguard of the civilised world! Hokitika was growing faster than San Francisco, the papers said, and out of nothing … out of the ancient rotting life of the jungle … out of the tidal marshes and the shifting gullies and the fog … out of sly waters, rich in ore. Here the men were not self-made; they were self-making, as they squatted in the dirt to wash it clean. Balfour touched his lapel. Moody’s story was pathetic, and had aroused in him an indulgent, fatherly feeling—for Balfour liked very much to be reminded that he himself was modern (entrepreneurial, unencumbered by connexion) while other men still foundered in the trappings of an outworn age. This, of course, was a verdict that said less about the prisoner than about the judge. Balfour’s will was too strong to admit philosophy, unless it was of the soundest empirical sort; his liberality could make no sense of despair, which was to him as a fathomless shaft, possessed of depth but not of breadth, stifled in its isolation, navigable only by touch, and starved of any kind of curiosity. He had no real fascination with the soul, and saw it only as a pretext for the greater, livelier mysteries of humour and adventure; of the soul’s dark nights, he had no opinion. He often said that the only inner void to which he paid any kind of notice was appetite, and although he laughed when he said it, and seemed very well pleased, it was true that his sympathy rarely extended to situations where sympathy was expected to extend. He was indulgent towards the open spaces of other men’s futures, but he was impatient with the shuttered quarters of their pasts. ‘In any case,’ he went on, ‘mark this as your second piece of advice, Mr. Moody: find yourself a friend. Plenty of parties about that’d be glad for an extra pair of hands. That’s the way, you know—find a mate, then form a party. Never known a man to make it solo. You kitted with a costume, and a swag?’ ‘I’m afraid I am at the mercy of the weather on that count,’ Moody said. ‘My trunk is still aboard ship; the weather was too inclement to risk crossing the bar tonight, and I was told to expect my belongings at the customhouse to-morrow afternoon. I myself was conveyed by lighter—a small crew rowed out, very bravely, to fetch the passengers in.’ ‘Oh, yes,’ Balfour said, more soberly. ‘We’ve seen three wrecks in the past month alone, coming over the bar. It’s a frightful business. There’s a penny to be made in it, mind. When the ships are coming in people don’t pay too much attention. But when they’re going out—when they’re going out, there’s gold aboard.’ ‘I am told that the landing here at Hokitika is notoriously treacherous.’ ‘Notoriously—oh yes. And there’s nothing to be done about it, if a vessel’s on the long side of a hundred feet. She might blow off a full head of steam and it’s not enough to force her over. Capital firework show, with the flares shooting up all around. But then—it’s not just the steamers. Not just the big ones. It’s any man’s game on the Hokitika Bar, Walter. That sand will ground a schooner on the wrong tide.’ ‘I well believe it,’ Moody said. ‘Our vessel was a barque—none too large, agile, hardy enough to weather the most dreadful of storms—and yet the captain wouldn’t risk her. He elected to drop anchor in the roadstead, and wait for the morning.’ ‘The Waterloo, that her name? She’s a regular, in and out from Chalmers.’ ‘A private charter, as a matter of fact,’ Moody said. ‘Name of Godspeed.’ He might have pulled a pistol from his pocket, such was the shock that name produced. Moody looked around (his expression was still mild) and saw that the attention of the room was now openly fixed upon him. Several of the men put down their papers; those who had been dozing opened their eyes; and one of the billiard players advanced a step towards him, into the light of the lamp. Balfour, too, had flinched at the mention of the barque’s name, but his grey eyes held Moody’s gaze coolly. ‘Indeed,’ he said, seeming in an instant to shed all the effusion and bluster that had characterised his manner up until that point. ‘I confess to you the name of that craft is not unknown to me, Mr. Moody—not unknown—but I should like to confirm the captain’s name also, if you have no objection.’ Moody was searching his face for a very particular quality—one that, if he had been pressed, he would have been embarrassed to name aloud. He was trying to see if Balfour seemed haunted. He was sure that if the other man’s mind leaped to imagine, or to remember, the kind of preternatural horror that Moody himself had encountered aboard the Godspeed, then its effect would be only too visible. But Balfour merely looked wary, as when a man hears of the return of one of his creditors, and begins in his mind to tally his excuses, and methods of escape—he did not look tormented, or afraid. Moody was certain that anyone who had witnessed what he had would bear the mark of it. And yet Balfour was changed—there was a new shrewdness to the other man’s aspect, a new sharpness to his gaze. Moody felt energised by the alteration. He realised, with a surge of excitement, that he had underestimated him. ‘I believe the captain’s name was Carver,’ he said slowly, ‘Francis Carver, if I remember rightly; a man of considerable strength, with a brooding look, and a white scar upon his cheek—does that description match your man?’ ‘It does.’ Balfour was scanning Moody’s face, in turn. ‘I am very curious to know how you and Mr. Carver came to be acquainted,’ he said after a moment. ‘If you would indulge the intrusion, of course.’ ‘Forgive me: we are not acquainted,’ Moody said. ‘That is, I am sure he would not recognise me if he saw me again.’ He was resolved, in accordance with his strategy, to field Balfour’s questions politely and without reservation: it would give him licence later to demand some answers of his own. Moody had no small genius for the art of diplomacy. As a child he had known instinctively that it was always better to tell a partial truth with a willing aspect than to tell a perfect truth in a defensive way. The appearance of co-operation was worth a great deal, if only because it forced a reciprocity, fair met with fair. He did not look about him again, but instead kept his eyes wide and his face open, and directed his speech wholly to Balfour, as if the eleven staring men on his periphery did not trouble him in the least. ‘In that case,’ Balfour was saying, ‘I shall hazard to guess that you purchased your ticket from the ship’s mate.’ ‘Paid him into his own pocket, sir.’ ‘You had a private arrangement with the man?’ ‘The scheme had been devised by the crew, with the master’s consent,’ Moody replied. ‘An easy enough way to turn an extra shilling, I suppose. There were no berths of any kind—one was allotted a place below decks, and instructed to stay sharp and keep out of the way. The situation was not at all ideal, of course, but my circumstances compelled my immediate departure from Dunedin, as you know, and Godspeed was the only scheduled departure on the day I wished to leave. I did not know the mate prior to our transaction, nor any of the other passengers, nor any of the crew.’ ‘How many passengers came in under this arrangement?’ Moody met Balfour’s gaze levelly. ‘Eight,’ he said, and put his mouth on his cigar. Balfour was quick to pounce upon this. ‘That’s you and seven others? Eight in sum?’ Moody declined to answer the question directly. ‘The passenger list will be published in Monday’s paper; of course you may examine it yourself,’ he said, with a slightly incredulous expression, as though to imply that Balfour’s need for clarification was not only unnecessary, but unbecoming. He added, ‘My real name, of course, will not appear there. I travelled under the name Philip de Lacy, this being the name of the man whose papers I purchased in Dunedin. Walter Moody, as the authorities have it, is currently somewhere in the South Pacific—bearing eastward, I expect, towards the Horn.’ Balfour’s expression was still cool. ‘Please allow me to inquire one thing further,’ he said. ‘I should like to know—merely—whether you have cause to think well or ill of him. Mr. Carver, I mean.’ ‘I am not sure that I can answer you fairly,’ Moody said. ‘I have on my authority only suspicion and report. I believe that the man was under some duress to leave Dunedin, for he was anxious to weigh anchor despite predictions of a coming storm, but I am entirely ignorant of the business that compelled his haste. I did not formally meet him, and saw him only from a distance during the voyage, and then only rarely, for he kept to his cabin much of the time. So you see my opinion is not worth very much. And yet—’ ‘And yet …’ Balfour prompted, when Moody did not go on. He waited. ‘To be frank with you, sir,’ Moody said, turning squarely to face the other man, ‘I discovered certain particulars concerning the ship’s cargo, while aboard, that made me doubt her errand was an honest one. If I am certain of one thing, it is this: I wish never to make an enemy of Mr. Carver, if that event is in my power to avoid.’ The dark-haired man on Moody’s left had stiffened. ‘Found something in cargo, you said?’ he interposed, leaning forward. Aha! Moody thought, and then: now is the time to press my advantage. He turned to address the new speaker. ‘Please forgive me if I neglect to elaborate,’ he said. ‘I mean no disrespect to you, sir, but we are strangers to one another; or rather, you are a stranger to me, for my conversation with Mr. Balfour tonight has reached more ears than his alone. In this I am disadvantaged, not unto myself, as I have represented myself truthfully, but unto you, for you have made my acquaintance without introduction, and heard my piece without invitation or reply. I have nothing to conceal, concerning this or any journey I have made, but I confess,’ (he turned back to Balfour) ‘it rankles to be questioned so relentlessly by an interrogator who divulges nothing of his own design.’ This was rather more aggressively worded than was Moody’s habit in speech, but he had spoken calmly and with dignity, and he knew that he was in the right. He did not blink; he stared at Balfour and waited, his mild eyes wide, for the other man’s response. Balfour’s gaze flickered sideways to the dark-haired man who had made the interruption, and then back to meet Moody’s own. He exhaled. He rose from his chair, tossed the stump of his cigar into the fire, and held out his hand. ‘Your glass needs refilling, Mr. Moody,’ he said quietly. ‘Please be so kind as to allow me.’ He went to the sideboard in silence, followed by the dark-haired man, who, when he had unfurled himself to his full height, almost grazed the low ceiling of the room. He leaned close to Balfour and began to mutter something urgently in his ear. Balfour nodded and muttered something back. It must have been an instruction, for the tall man then moved to the billiard table, beckoned the blond-haired man to approach him, and conveyed a whispered message to him. The blond-haired man began nodding, vigorously and at once. Watching them, Moody felt his habitual quickness return. The brandy had roused him; he was warmed and dried; and nothing caused his spirits to lift more surely than the promise of a tale. It often happens that when a soul under duress is required to attend to a separate difficulty, one that does not concern him in the least, then this second problem works upon the first as a kind of salve. Moody felt this now. For the first time since he had disembarked from the lighter he found that he was able to think upon his recent misadventure clearly. In the context of this new secret, his private memory was somehow freed. He could recall the scene that haunted him—the dead man rising, his bloody throat, his cry—and find it fabular, sensational; still horrific, but somehow much more explicably so. The story had gained a kind of value: he could turn it into profit, by exchange. He watched the whispered message pass from man to man. He could not distinguish any proper nouns—the jumble of unfamiliar accents made that impossible—but it was evident that the matter under discussion was one that concerned every man in the room. He forced his mind to evaluate the situation carefully and rationally. Inattention had led him to err in judgment once already that evening; he would not err again. Some kind of heist was in the offing, he guessed, or maybe they were forming an alliance against another man. Mr. Carver, perhaps. They numbered twelve, which put Moody in mind of a jury … but the presence of the Chinese men and the Maori native made that impossible. Had he interrupted a secret council of a kind? But what kind of council could possibly comprise such a diverse range of race, income, and estate? Needless to say that Walter Moody’s countenance did not betray the subject of his thoughts. He had calibrated his expression precisely between grave bafflement and apology, as if to communicate that he was very sensible of the trouble he was causing, but he had no idea what that trouble might be, and as to how he should proceed, he was willing to take anyone’s direction but his own. Outside, the wind changed direction, sending a damp gust down the chimney, so that the embers swelled scarlet and for a brief moment Moody could smell the salt of the sea. The movement in the hearth seemed to rouse the fat man nearest the fire. He levered himself from his armchair with a grunt of effort and shuffled off to join the others at the sideboard. When he had gone, Moody found himself alone before the fire with the man in the herringbone suit; the latter now leaned forward and spoke. ‘I should like to introduce myself, if you have no objection,’ he said, snapping open his silver cigarette case for the first time, and selecting a cigarette. He spoke with an accent identifiably French, and a manner that was clipped and courteous. ‘My name is Aubert Gascoigne. I hope that you will forgive that I know your name already.’ ‘Well, as it happens,’ Moody said, with a little jolt of surprise, ‘I believe I also know yours.’ ‘Then we are well met,’ said Aubert Gascoigne. He had been fishing for his matches; he paused now with his hand in his breast pocket, like a rakish colonel posing for a sketch. ‘But I am intrigued. How is it that you know me, Mr. Moody?’ ‘I read your address this evening, in Friday’s edition of the West Coast Times—am I right? If I remember correctly, you penned an opinion on behalf of the Magistrate’s Court.’ Gascoigne smiled, and pulled out his matches. ‘Now I understand. I am yesterday’s news.’ He shook out a match, placed the side of his boot against his knee, and struck his light upon the sole. ‘Forgive me,’ Moody began, fearing that he had offended, but Gascoigne shook his head. ‘I am not insulted,’ he said when his cigarette was lit. ‘So. You arrive as a stranger in an unfamiliar town, and what is your first move? You find a day-old paper and read the courthouse bulletin. You learn the names of the lawbreakers, on the one hand, and the law enforcers, on the other. This is quite a strategy.’ ‘There was no method in it,’ Moody said modestly. Gascoigne’s name had appeared on the third page of the paper, beneath a short sermon, perhaps the length of a paragraph, on the iniquity of crime. The address was preceded by a list of all the arrests that had been made that month. (He could not recall any of those names, and in truth had only remembered Gascoigne’s because his former Latin master had been Gascoyen—the familiarity had drawn his eye.) ‘Perhaps not,’ Gascoigne returned, ‘but it has brought you to the very heart of our disquiet nonetheless: a subject that has been on every man’s lips for a fortnight.’ Moody frowned. ‘Petty criminals?’ ‘One in particular.’ ‘Shall I guess?’ Moody asked lightly, when the other did not go on. Gascoigne shrugged. ‘It doesn’t matter. I am referring to the whore.’ Moody raised his eyebrows. He tried to recall the catalogue of arrests to his mind—yes, perhaps one of the listed names had been a woman’s. He wondered what every man in Hokitika had to say about a whore’s arrest. It took him a moment to find the words to form an appropriate answer, and to his surprise, Gascoigne laughed. ‘I am teasing you,’ he said. ‘You must not let me tease you. Her crime was not listed, of course, but if you read with a little imagination you will see it. Anna Wetherell is the name she gives.’ ‘I am not sure I know how to read with imagination.’ Gascoigne laughed again, expelling a sharp breath of smoke. ‘But you are a barrister, are you not?’ ‘By training only,’ Moody said stiffly. ‘I have not yet been called to the Bar.’ ‘Well, here: there is always an overtone in the magistrate’s address,’ Gascoigne explained. ‘Gentlemen of Westland—there is your first clue. Crimes of shame and degradation—there is your second.’ ‘I see,’ Moody said, though he did not. His gaze flickered over Gascoigne’s shoulder: the fat man had moved to the pair of Chinese men, and was scribbling something on the flyleaf of his pocketbook for them to read. ‘Perhaps the woman was wrongly indicted? Perhaps that is what captured everyone’s attention?’ ‘Oh, she wasn’t gaoled for whoring,’ Gascoigne said. ‘The sergeants don’t care a straw about that! As long as a man is discreet enough, they are quite content to look the other way.’ Moody waited. There was an unsettling quality to the way that Gascoigne spoke: it was both guarded and confiding at once. Moody felt that he could not trust him. The clerk was perhaps in his middle thirties. His pale hair had begun to silver above his ears, and he wore a pale moustache, brushed sideways from a central part. His herringbone suit was tailored closely to his body. ‘Why,’ Gascoigne added after a moment, ‘the sergeant himself made a proposition of her, directly after the committal!’ ‘The committal?’ Moody echoed, feeling foolish. He wished that the other man would speak a little less cryptically, and at greater length. He had a cultivated air (he made Thomas Balfour seem as blunt as a doorstop) but it was a cultivation somehow mourned. He spoke as a disappointed man, for whom perfection existed only as something remembered—and then regretted, because it was lost. ‘She was tried for trying to take her own life,’ Gascoigne said. ‘There’s a symmetry in that, do you not think? Tried for trying.’ Moody thought it inappropriate to agree, and in any case he did not care to pursue that line of thinking. He said, to change the subject, ‘And the master of my vessel—Mr. Carver? He is connected to this woman somehow, I presume?’ ‘Oh yes, Carver’s connected,’ Gascoigne said. He looked at the cigarette in his hand, seemed suddenly disgusted with it, and threw it into the fire. ‘He killed his own child.’ Moody drew back in horror. ‘I beg your pardon?’ ‘They can’t prove it, of course,’ Gascoigne said darkly. ‘But the man’s a brute. You are quite right to want to avoid him.’ Moody stared at him, again at a loss for how to reply. ‘Every man has his currency,’ Gascoigne added after a moment. ‘Perhaps it’s gold; perhaps it’s women. Anna Wetherell, you see, was both.’ At this point the fat man returned, with his glass refreshed; he sat down, looked first to Gascoigne and then to Moody, and seemed to recognise, obscurely, a social obligation to introduce himself. He leaned forward and thrust out his hand. ‘Name’s Dick Mannering.’ ‘It’s a pleasure,’ Moody said, in a rather automatic tone. He felt disoriented. He wished Gascoigne had not been interrupted quite at that moment, so he could have pressed him further on the subject of the whore. It was indelicate to attempt to revive the subject now; in any case Gascoigne had retreated back into his armchair, and his face had closed. He began turning his cigarette case over again in his hands. ‘Prince of Wales Opera House, that’s me,’ Mannering added, as he sat back. ‘Capital,’ said Moody. ‘Only show in town.’ Mannering rapped the arm of his chair with his knuckles, casting about for a way to proceed. Moody glanced at Gascoigne, but the clerk was staring sourly into his lap. It was clear that the fat man’s reappearance had severely displeased him; it was also clear that he saw no reason to conceal his displeasure from its object—whose face, Moody saw with embarrassment, had turned a very dark shade of red. ‘I could not help but admire your watch chain, earlier,’ Moody said at last, addressing Mannering. ‘Is it Hokitika gold?’ ‘Nice piece, isn’t it?’ Mannering said, without looking down at his chest, or lifting his fingers to touch the admired item. He rapped the arms of his chair a second time. ‘Clutha nuggets, in actual fact. I was at Kawarau, Dunstan, then Clutha.’ ‘I confess I’m not familiar with the names,’ Moody said. ‘I assume they’re Otago fields?’ Mannering assented that they were, and began to expound on the subject of company mining and the value of the dredge. ‘You’re all diggers here?’ Moody said when he was done, moving his fingertips in a little circle in the air, to indicate that he meant the room at large. ‘Not one—excepting the Chinamen, of course,’ Mannering said. ‘Camp followers is the term, though most of us started off in the gorge. Most gold on a goldfield’s found where? At the hotels. At the shanties. Mates spend the stuff as soon as they find it. Tell you what: you might do better to open a business than to head to the hills. Get yourself a licence, start selling grog.’ ‘That must be wise advice, if you have acted upon it yourself,’ Moody said. Mannering settled back into his chair, seeming very contented with the compliment. Yes, he had quit the fields, and now paid other men to work his claims for a percentage of the yield; he was from Sussex; Hokitika was a fine place, but there were fewer girls than was proper in a town of such a size; he loved all kinds of harmony; he had modelled his opera house upon the Adelphi at the West End; he felt that the old song-and-supper could not be beat; he could not abide public houses, and small beer made him ill; the floods at Dunstan had been dreadful—dreadful; the Hokitika rain was hard to bear; he would say again that there was nothing nicer than a four-part harmony—the voices like threads in a piece of silk. ‘Splendid,’ Moody murmured. Gascoigne had made no movement at all during this soliloquy, save for the compulsive rhythm of his long, pale hands, as he turned the silver object over in his lap; Mannering, for his part, had not registered the clerk’s presence at all, and in fact had directed his speech at a spot some three feet above Moody’s head, as if Moody’s presence did not really concern him either. At length the whispered drama that was taking place on their periphery began to approach a kind of resolution, and the fat man’s patter subsided. The dark-haired man returned, sitting down in his former position on Moody’s left; Balfour came after him, carrying two sizeable measures of brandy. He passed one of the glasses to Moody, waved his hand at the latter’s thanks, and sat down. ‘I owe an explanation,’ he said, ‘for the rudeness with which I was questioning you just now, Mr. Moody—you needn’t demur, it’s quite true. The truth is—the truth is—well, the truth, sir, deserves a tale, and that’s as short as I can make it.’ ‘If you would be so kind as to enter our confidence,’ Gascoigne added, from Balfour’s other side, in a rather nasty show of false politeness. The dark-haired man sat forward in his chair suddenly and added, ‘Does any man present wish to voice his reservations?’ Moody looked around him, blinking, but nobody spoke. Balfour nodded; he waited a moment more, as if to append his own courtesy to that of the other, and then resumed. ‘Let me tell you at once,’ he said to Moody, ‘that a man has been murdered. That blackguard of yours—Carver, I mean; I shan’t call him Captain—he is the murderer, though I’ll be d—ned if I could tell you how or why. I just know it, as sure as I see that glass in your hand. Now: if you’d do me the honour of hearing a piece of that villain’s history, then you might … well, you might be willing to help us, placed as you are.’ ‘Excuse me, sir,’ Moody said. At the mention of murder his heart had begun to beat very fast: perhaps this had something to do with the phantom aboard the Godspeed, after all. ‘How am I placed?’ ‘With your trunk still aboard the barque, is what he means,’ the dark-haired man said. ‘And your appointment at the customhouse to-morrow afternoon.’ Balfour looked faintly annoyed; he waved his hand. ‘Let us talk of that in a moment,’ he said. ‘I entreat you, first, to hear the story out.’ ‘Certainly I will listen,’ Moody returned, with the slightest emphasis on the last word, as though to caution the other man against expecting, or demanding, anything more. He thought he saw a smirk pass over Gascoigne’s pale face, but in the next moment the man’s features had soured again. ‘Of course—of course,’ Balfour said, taking the point. He put down his brandy glass, laced his knuckles together, and cracked them smartly. ‘Well, then. I shall endeavour to acquaint you, Mr. Moody, with the cause of our assembly.’ JUPITER IN SAGITTARIUS In which the merits of asylum are discussed; a family name comes into question; Alistair Lauderback is discomfited; and the shipping agent tells a lie. Balfour’s narrative, made somewhat circuitous by interruption, and generally encumbered by the lyrical style of that man’s speech, became severely muddled in the telling, and several hours passed before Moody finally understood with clarity the order of events that had precipitated the secret council in the hotel smoking room. The interruptions were too tiresome, and Balfour’s approach too digressive, to deserve a full and faithful record in the men’s own words. We shall here excise their imperfections, and impose a regimental order upon the impatient chronicle of the shipping agent’s roving mind; we shall apply our own mortar to the cracks and chinks of earthly recollection, and resurrect as new the edifice that, in solitary memory, exists only as a ruin. We begin, as Balfour himself began, with an encounter that had taken place in Hokitika that very morning. Prior to the dawn of the West Coast rush—when Hokitika was no more than a brown mouth open to the ocean, and the gold on her beaches shone quiet and unseen—Thomas Balfour lived in the province of Otago, and conducted his business from a small shingle-roofed building on the Dunedin harbour front, under a calico banner that bore the legend Balfour & Harnett, Shipping Agents. (Mr. Harnett had since abandoned the joint venture, of which he had owned only a one-third share: he was now enjoying a colonial retirement in Auckland, far from the Otago frost, and the fog that pooled white in the valleys in the chilly hours before the dawn.) The firm’s advantageous location—they were squared with the central wharf, and enjoyed a view towards the distant heads of the harbour—brought distinguished custom, and among their many clients was the erstwhile Superintendent of Canterbury, a spade-handed giant of a man whose reputation was one of conviction, expansion, and zeal. Alistair Lauderback—this was the statesman’s name—had enjoyed a sense of constant acceleration over the course of his career. He was born in London, and had trained as a lawyer before making the voyage to New Zealand in the year of 1851—setting sail with two goals: firstly, to make his fortune, and secondly, to double it. His ambition was well suited to a political life, and especially to the political life of a young country. Lauderback rose, and rose quickly. In legal circles he was much admired as a man who could set his mind to a task, and not rest until he had seen the project through; on the strength of this fine character, he was rewarded with a place on the Canterbury Provincial Council, and invited to run for the Superintendency, to which post he was elected by a landslide majority vote. Five years after his first landing in New Zealand, the network of his connexion reached as far as the Stafford ministry, and the Premier himself; by the time he first knocked upon Thomas Balfour’s door, wearing a fresh kowhai flower in his buttonhole and a standing collar whose flared points (Balfour noticed) had been starched by a woman’s hand, he could no longer be called a pioneer. He smacked of permanence: of the kind of influence that lasts. In his countenance and bearing Lauderback was less handsome than imposing. His beard, large and blunt like Balfour’s own, protruded almost horizontally from his jaw, giving his face a regal aspect; beneath his brow, his dark eyes glittered. He was very tall, and his body tapered, which made him seem even taller still. He spoke loudly, declaring his ambitions and opinions with a frankness that might be called hubristic (if one was sceptical) or dauntless (if one was not). His hearing was slightly defective, and for this reason he tended to bow his head, and stoop slightly, when he was listening—creating the impression, so useful in politics, that his attentions were always gravely and providentially bestowed. In their first meeting Lauderback impressed Balfour with the energy and confidence with which he spoke. His enthusiasms, as he announced to Balfour, did not pertain wholly to the political sphere. He was also a ship owner, having cherished, since boyhood, a passionate love for the sea. He possessed four ships in total: two clipper ships, a schooner, and a barque. Two of the crafts required masters. Hitherto he had leased them on charter, but the personal risk of such a venture was high, and he desired to lease the ships instead to an established shipping firm that could afford a reasonable rate of insurance. He listed the names of the ships in rote order, as a man lists his children: the clippers Virtue and Corona Australis; the schooner Lady of the Ballroom; and the barque Godspeed. As it happened, Balfour & Harnett was sorely in need of a clipper ship at that time, of the very dimensions and capabilities that Lauderback described. Balfour had no use for the other ship on offer, the barque Godspeed, as that craft was too small for his purposes—but the Virtue, pending inspection and trial, would make the monthly passage between Port Chalmers and Port Phillip very comfortably. Yes, he told Lauderback, he would find a master for the Virtue. He would purchase insurance at a fair premium, and lease the ship on a yearly term. Lauderback was Balfour’s contemporary in age, and yet from that first meeting the latter deferred to him almost as a son to a father—showing a touch of vanity, perhaps, for the aspects of Lauderback’s person Balfour most admired were the same aspects he cultivated in his own. Something of a friendship formed between the two (a friendship that was rather too admiring on Balfour’s part ever to develop into intimacy) and for the next two years the Virtue ran unimpeded between Dunedin and Melbourne. The insurance clause, for all it had been painstakingly crafted, was never consulted again. In January 1865 Robert Harnett declared his intention to retire, sold his shares to his partner, and moved north to milder climes. Balfour, with a typical absence of sentiment, relinquished the harbour-front lot immediately. Otago’s boom was past its prime, he knew. The valleys were rutted; the rivers would soon be dry. He sailed to the Coast, purchased a bare patch of land near the mouth of the Hokitika River, strung up his tent, and began to build a warehouse. Balfour & Harnett became Balfour Shipping, Balfour bought an embroidered vest and a derby hat, and around him the town of Hokitika began to rise. When the barque Godspeed pulled into the Hokitika roadstead some months later, Balfour recalled the name, and identified the ship as belonging to Alistair Lauderback. As a gesture of politeness he introduced himself to the ship’s master, Francis Carver, and thereafter enjoyed a cordial relationship with the man, formed on the nominal bond of their mutual connexion—though privately Balfour thought Mr. Carver rather thuggish, and had pegged him for a crook. He held this opinion without bitterness. Balfour was not awed by force of will—unless it was of the sort that Lauderback displayed: charismatic, even charmed—and he could not love a villain. The rumours that dogged Mr. Carver at his heels did not intimidate him, and nor did they strike a chord of boyish admiration in his heart. Carver simply did not interest him, and he wasted no energy in his dismissal. In late 1865 Balfour read in the paper that Alistair Lauderback was set to run for the Westland seat in Parliament, and some weeks after that Balfour received a letter from the man himself, requesting the shipping agent’s collaboration once again. In his campaign to win the Westland province, Lauderback wrote, he wished to appear as a Westland man. He entreated Balfour to secure lodgings for him in central Hokitika, to furnish the rooms appropriately, and to facilitate the shipment of a trunk of personal effects—law-books and papers and so forth—that would be of crucial importance to him over the course of his campaign. Each item of business was described in the expansive, flourishing script that Balfour associated, in his mind, with a man who could afford to waste his ink on curlicues. (The thought made him smile: he liked to forgive Lauderback his many extravagances.) Lauderback himself would not arrive by ship. Instead he would make his passage overland, crossing the mountains on horseback to arrive triumphal at the heel of the Arahura Valley. He would make his entrance not as a pampered statesman travelling in comfort in a first-class berth, but as a man of the people, saddle-sore, muddied, and stained with the sweat of his own brow. Balfour made these arrangements as he was instructed. He secured for Lauderback a suite of rooms overlooking the Hokitika beachfront, and registered his name at all the clubs that advertised craps and American bowls. He put in an order at the general store for pears, washed-rind cheese, and candied Jamaica ginger; he solicited a barber; he rented a private box at the opera house for the months of February and March. He informed the editor of the West Coast Times that Lauderback would be making the journey from Canterbury via the alpine pass, and suggested that a sympathetic mention of this brave endeavour would recommend the newspaper most favourably to Lauderback’s future administration, should he win the Westland seat, as he was likely to do. Balfour then dispatched a message to Port Chalmers, instructing the master of the Virtue to collect Lauderback’s trunk, once it had been sent down from Lyttelton, and convey it to Hokitika on the clipper ship’s next circuit to the Coast. Once all this was done, he bought a demijohn of stout from the Gridiron Hotel, put up his heels, and quaffed it, reflecting as he did so that he might have liked politics—the speeches, the campaigning; yes, he might have liked it very well indeed. But as it happened Alistair Lauderback’s arrival in Hokitika was not accompanied by the burst of fanfare that the politician had envisaged, when he first set down his plans in his letter to Balfour. His expedition across the Alps indeed captured the attention of the diggers on the Coast, and his name indeed featured very prominently in every gazette and newspaper in town—but not at all for the reasons that he had intended. The story recorded by the duty sergeant, and published the next morning in the West Coast Times, was this. Some two hours’ ride from their final destination, Lauderback and his company of aides had happened to pass the dwelling of a hermit. It had been hours since their last refreshment, and night was falling; they stopped, intending to request a flask of water and (if the dwelling’s owner would oblige them) a hot meal. They knocked on the door of the hut and received no answer, but by the lamplight and the smoke issuing from the chimney it was evident that someone was inside. The door was not latched; Lauderback entered. He found the dwelling’s owner slumped dead at his kitchen table—so freshly dead, he later told the sergeant, that the kettle was still boiling on the range, and had not yet run dry. The hermit appeared to have died of drink. One hand was still curled around the base of a bottle of spirits, near empty on the table before him, and the room smelled very strongly of liquor. Lauderback admitted that the three men did then refresh themselves with tea and damper on the hermit’s stove before journeying on. They did not stop for longer than a half hour, on account of the dead man’s presence in the room—though his head was resting on his arms, which was a mercy, and his eyes were closed. On the outskirts of Hokitika their company was further delayed. As they advanced upon the township they came upon a woman, utterly insensate and soaking wet, lying in the middle of the thoroughfare. She was alive, but only barely. Lauderback guessed that she had been drugged, but he could not elicit any kind of intelligence from her beyond a moan. He dispatched his aides to find a duty sergeant, lifted her body out of the mud, and, while he waited for his aides to return, reflected that his electoral campaign was off to a rather morbid start. The first three introductions he would make, in town, would be with the magistrate, the coroner, and the editor of the West Coast Times. In the two weeks following this ill-starred arrival, Hokitika did not pay the impending elections much mind: it seemed that the death of a hermit and the fate of a whore (this, as Lauderback soon discovered, was the profession of the woman in the road) were subjects with which an electoral candidacy could not be expected to compete. Lauderback’s passage over the mountains was only very briefly mentioned in the West Coast Times, though two columns were devoted to his description of the dead man, Crosbie Wells. Lauderback was unperturbed by this. He was anticipating the parliamentary elections with the same relaxed self-possession with which he awaited all acts of providence, and all rewards. He had determined that he would win; therefore, he would win. On the morning of Walter Moody’s arrival in Hokitika—the morning we take up Balfour’s tale—the shipping agent was sitting with his old acquaintance in the dining room of the Palace Hotel in Revell-street, talking about rigs. Lauderback was wearing a woollen suit of the lightest fawn, a hue that took moisture badly. The rain on his shoulders had not yet dried, so that it appeared as if he was wearing epaulettes; his lapels had turned dark and furry. But Lauderback was not the kind of man for whom a sartorial imperfection could lessen the impact of his bearing—in fact, the very opposite was true: the damp suit only made the man look finer. His hands had been scrubbed that morning with real soap; his hair was oiled; his leather gaiters shone like polished brass; in his buttonhole he had placed a native sprig of some sort, a pale, bunched flower whose name Balfour did not know. His recent journey across the Southern Alps had left a ruddy bloom of health in his cheeks. In sum, he looked very well indeed. Balfour gazed at his friend across the table, only half-listening as the statesman, talking animatedly, made his case in defence of the ship-of-the-line—holding up his two palms as main and mizzen, and making use of the salt cellar as the fore. It was an argument that Balfour would ordinarily find engrossing, but the expression on the shipping agent’s face was anxious and detached. He was tapping the base of his glass against the table, and shifting in his seat, and, every few minutes, reaching up to pull hard on his nose. For he knew that with all this talk of ships, their conversation would turn, before long, to the subject of the Virtue, and to the cargo that she had been charged to carry to the Coast. The crate containing Alistair Lauderback’s trunk had arrived in Hokitika on the morning of the 12th of January, two days before Lauderback himself. Balfour saw that the shipment was cleared, and gave instructions for the crate to be transferred from the quay into his warehouse. To the best of his knowledge, these instructions were obeyed. But by an unhappy twist of fate (so much unhappier, that Lauderback stood so high in Balfour’s esteem), the shipping crate then vanished altogether. Balfour, upon discovering the crate was missing, was horrified. He applied himself to the project of its recovery—walking up and down the quay, inquiring at every door, and registering queries with every stevedore, porter, mariner, and customs officer—but his effort was to no avail. The crate was gone. Lauderback had not yet spent two nights together in the suite of rooms on the upper floor of the Palace Hotel. He had spent the past fortnight making his introductions at camps and settlements up and down the Coast, a preliminary tour of duty from which he had only been released that very morning. Thus preoccupied, and believing the Virtue to be still in transit from Dunedin, he had not yet asked after his shipment—but Balfour knew that the question was coming, and once it did, he would have to tell the other man the truth. He swallowed a mouthful of wine. On the table between them lay the remains of their ‘elevenses’, a term Lauderback used to refer to any meal or dish taken at an irregular hour, whether morning or night. He had eaten his fill, and had pressed Balfour to do likewise, but the shipping agent had repeatedly declined the invitation—he was not hungry, most especially for pickled onions and lamb’s fry, two dishes whose smell never failed to curl his tongue. As a compromise to his host, out of whose pocket he was dining, he had drunk an entire pitcher of wine, and a mug of beer besides—Dutch courage, he might have called it, but the spirits had done little to conquer his trepidation, and now he was feeling very sick. ‘Just one more piece of liver,’ said Lauderback. ‘Excellent stuff,’ Balfour mumbled. ‘Excellent—but I’m quite satisfied—my constitution—quite satisfied, thank you.’ ‘It’s Canterbury lamb,’ said Lauderback. ‘Canterbury—yes—very fine.’ ‘Caviar of the highlands, Tom.’ ‘Quite satisfied, thank you.’ Lauderback looked down at the liver a moment. ‘I might have driven a flock myself,’ he said, changing the subject. ‘Up and over the pass. Five pounds a head, ten pounds a head—why, I’d have made a fortune, selling up. You might have told me that every piece of meat in this town is salt or smoked: I’d have brought a month of dinners with me. With a pair of dogs I might have done it very easily.’ ‘Nothing easy about it,’ said Balfour. ‘Made myself a killing,’ said Lauderback. ‘Saving every sheep that breaks its neck in the rapids,’ said Balfour, ‘and every one that’s lost, and every one that won’t be driven. And all the miserable hours you’d spend counting them—rounding them up—chasing them down. I wouldn’t fancy it.’ ‘No profit without risk,’ returned the politician, ‘and the journey was miserable enough; I might at least have made some money at the end of it. Heaven knows it might have improved my welcome.’ ‘Cows, perhaps,’ said Balfour. ‘A herd of cows behaves itself.’ ‘Still going begging,’ said Lauderback, pushing the plate of liver towards Balfour. ‘Couldn’t do it,’ said Balfour. ‘Couldn’t possibly.’ ‘You take the rest of it then, Jock, old man,’ said Lauderback, turning to his aide. (He addressed his two attendants by their Christian names, for the reason that they shared the surname Smith. There was an amusing asymmetry to their Christian names: one was Jock, the other, Augustus.) ‘Stop your mouth with an onion, and we shall not have to hear any more tripe about your blessed brigantines—eh, Tom? Stop his mouth?’ And, smiling, he bent his head back towards Balfour. Balfour pulled again at his nose. This was very like Lauderback, he thought; he encouraged agreement on the most trivial of points; he angled for consensus when a consensus was not due—and before one knew it, one was on his side, and campaigning. ‘Yes—an onion,’ he said, and then, to get the conversation away from ships, ‘Mention in the Times yesterday about your girl in the road.’ ‘Hardly my girl!’ Lauderback said. ‘And it was hardly a mention, for that matter.’ ‘The author had a fair bit of nerve,’ Balfour went on. ‘Making out as if all the town deserved a reprimand on the girl’s account—as if every fellow was at fault.’ ‘Who’s to credit his opinion?’ Lauderback waved his hand dismissively. ‘A two-bit clerk from the petty courts, airing his peeves!’ (The clerk to whom Lauderback so ungenerously alluded was of course Aubert Gascoigne, whose short sermon in the West Coast Times would also capture Walter Moody’s attention, some ten hours later.) Balfour shook his head. ‘Making out as if it was our error—collectively. As if we all should have known better.’ ‘A two-bit clerk,’ Lauderback said again. ‘Spends his days writing cheques in another man’s name. Full of opinions that no one wants to hear.’ ‘All the same—’ ‘All the same, nothing. It was a trifling mention, and a poor argument; there’s no need to dwell on it.’ Lauderback rapped his knuckles on the table, as a judge raps his gavel to show that his patience has been spent; Balfour, desperate to prevent a revival of their previous topic of conversation, spoke again before the politician had a chance. He said, ‘But have you seen her?’ Lauderback frowned. ‘Who—the girl in the road? The whore? No: not since that evening. Though I did hear that she revived. You think I ought to have paid a call upon her. That’s why you asked.’ ‘No, no,’ said Balfour. ‘A man of my station cannot afford—’ ‘Oh, no; you can’t afford—of course—’ ‘Which brings us back to the sermon, I suppose,’ Lauderback said, in a newly reflective tone. ‘That was the clerk’s precise point. Until certain measures are in place—almshouses and so forth, convents—then who’s accountable in a situation like that? Who’s responsible for a girl like her—someone who has no one—in a place like this?’ This was intended as a rhetorical question, but Balfour, to keep the conversation moving, answered it. ‘No one’s accountable,’ he said. ‘No one!’ Lauderback looked surprised. ‘Where’s the Christian spirit in you?’ ‘Anna tried to take her life—to end her life, you know! No one’s accountable for that except herself.’ ‘You call her Anna!’ Lauderback said reprovingly. ‘You are on first-name terms with the girl; I’d say you have a share of responsibility in caring for her!’ ‘First-name terms didn’t light her pipe.’ ‘You would shut your door to her—because she is an inebriate?’ ‘I’m not shutting any doors. If I’d found her in the thoroughfare I’d have done just as you did. Exactly as you did.’ ‘Saved her life?’ ‘Turned her in!’ Lauderback waved this correction aside. ‘But then what?’ he said. ‘A night in the gaol-house—and then what? Who’s there to protect her, when she lights her pipe all over again?’ ‘No one can protect a soul against themselves—against their own hand, you know!’ Balfour was vexed. He did not enjoy discussions of this kind; really, he thought, it was only marginally better than the relative merits of ship-rigged and square. (But then Lauderback had been a poor conversationalist this fortnight past: despotic in tone, by turns evasive and demanding. Balfour had chalked it up to nerves.) ‘Spiritual comfort, that’s what he means—spiritual protection,’ put in Jock Smith, meaning to be helpful, but Lauderback silenced him with the flat of his hand. ‘Forget suicide—that’s a separate argument, and a morbid one,’ he said. ‘Who’s there to give her a chance, Thomas? That’s my question. Who’s there to give that sorry girl one clean shot at a different kind of a life?’ Balfour shrugged. ‘Some folk are dealt a bad hand. But you can’t rely on another person’s conscience to live the life you want to live. You make do with what you’re given; you struggle on.’ In which remark the shipping agent showed his uncharitable bias, the obstinacy that hung as a weighted counterpoint beneath the lively indulgence of his outward air—for, like most enterprising souls, he held his freedoms very chary, and desired that all others would do the same. Lauderback sat back and appraised Balfour down the length of his nose. ‘She’s a whore,’ he said. ‘That’s what you’re saying, isn’t it? She’s just a whore.’ ‘Don’t mistake me: I’ve got nothing against whores,’ Balfour said. ‘But I don’t like almshouses, and I don’t like convents. They’re dreary places.’ ‘You are provoking me, surely!’ Lauderback said. ‘Welfare is the very proof of civilisation—it is its finest proof, indeed! If we are to civilise this place—if we are to build roads and bridges—if we are to lay a foundation for the future in this country—’ ‘Then we may as well give our road builders something to warm their beds at night,’ Balfour finished for him. ‘It’s hard work, shovelling stones.’ Jock and Augustus laughed at this, but Lauderback did not smile. ‘A whore is a moral affliction, Thomas; you must call a thing by its name,’ he said. ‘You must insist upon a standard, if you stand at a frontier!’ (This last was a direct quote from his most recent electoral address.) ‘A whore is a moral affliction. That’s the end of it. A bad drain for good wealth.’ ‘And your remedy,’ Balfour returned, ‘is a good drain for good wealth, but it’s a drain all the same, and money’s money. Leave off the almshouses, and let’s not go turning any of our girls into nuns. That would be a d—ned shame, when they are so outnumbered as it is.’ Lauderback snorted. ‘Outnumbered and outfoxed, I see,’ he said. ‘Responsibility for whores!’ said Balfour. He shook his head. ‘They’ll have a seat in Parliament next.’ Augustus Smith made a rude joke in response to this, and they all laughed. When their laughter had subsided Lauderback said, ‘Let’s not talk in this vein any longer. We have discussed that day from all corners and all sides—it makes me tired.’ He indicated with a circular sweep of his hand that he wished to return to their previous conversation. ‘With respect to the ship rig. My argument is simply that how one conceives of the advantages depends entirely on where one stands. Jock holds his perspective as a former able seaman; I hold mine as a ship owner and a gentleman. In my mind, I see the sail-plan; in his, he sees tar and oakum, and the breeze.’ Jock Smith responded to this jibe conventionally, but with good cheer, and the argument was revived. Thomas Balfour’s irritation was revived just as quickly. He felt that he had spoken wittily on the subject of asylum—Lauderback had praised his rejoinder!—and he wished to persist with that topic of conversation, in order that he might seize the opportunity to do so again. He did not have anything witty to say about the ship rig, and its advantages—and neither, he thought sulkily, did Jock, nor Augustus, nor Lauderback himself. But it was Lauderback’s custom to begin and end conversations at whim, changing the subject simply because he had tired of a certain issue, or because his authority had been trumped by another man’s. Thrice already that morning the politician had protested the introduction of a new theme, returning always to his imperious patter about ships. Every time Balfour began to speak of local news, the politician declared himself sick to death of useless brooding about the hermit and the whore—when in fact, Balfour thought with annoyance, they hadn’t discussed either event in any real detail, and certainly not from all corners and all sides. This internal expression of feeling followed a pattern, though an unacknowledged one. Balfour’s admiration of Lauderback was so vaulting that he preferred to deprecate himself than to criticise Lauderback, even privately, when the two men disagreed—but deprecation always waits to be disputed, and, if the disputation does not come, becomes petulance. Over the past fortnight Balfour had kept his silence on the subject of Lauderback’s encounter with the dead man, Crosbie Wells, though the circumstances of the hermit’s death held a considerable amount of curiosity for him; he had not discussed Anna Wetherell, the whore in the road, at all. He had acted according to Lauderback’s wishes, and had waited for his own to be acknowledged in turn—an event that required a degree more solicitude than Lauderback possessed, and so had yet to come to pass. But Balfour could not see this deficiency in the man he so admired; instead he waited, became quietly impatient, and began to sulk. (We shall add, in conciliatory tones, that his sulking was of a very superficial sort: at a single kind word from Lauderback, his good humour would be restored.) Balfour pushed his chair a little further away from the table, wishing in a childish way to make his boredom obvious to his host, and cast his gaze over the room. The dining room was nearly empty, owing to the uncommon hour of their meal, and through the serving-hatch Balfour could see that the cook had taken off his apron and was sitting with both elbows on the table, playing at solitaire. Before the hearth sat a large-eared boy who was sucking on a stick of jerky. He had evidently been posted there to keep an eye upon the clothes-irons, which were warming in a rack above the coals, for every half-minute or so he wet his finger and held it close to the trestle to test the heat. At the table nearest theirs sat a clergyman—a freckled fellow, none too handsome, with a snub nose and a droop to his lower lip, like a simple child’s. He had taken his breakfast alone; he was now drinking coffee and reading a pamphlet—no doubt rehearsing the sermon he would deliver the following day, Balfour thought, for he nodded slowly as he read, as a man keeping tempo with a silent address. The large-eared boy wet his finger again, and held it close; the clergyman turned a page; the cook squared a playing card with the edge of the chopping block. Balfour fiddled with his fork. Finally Lauderback paused in his diatribe to take a draught of wine, and Balfour seized his chance to interject. ‘Speaking of barques,’ he said (they had been speaking of brigantines), ‘I’ve seen your Godspeed over the bar a fair few times, this past year. She’s yours, isn’t she—Godspeed?’ But to his surprise, this remark was met with silence. Lauderback only bowed his head, as if Balfour had put to him an issue of the gravest philosophical import, and he desired to meditate alone upon the question. ‘Hell of an outfit, she is,’ Balfour added. ‘Marvellous.’ The aides exchanged a glance. ‘Surely that brings home our point, Mr. L,’ said Augustus Smith finally, breaking the spell. ‘Even a barque handles better than a brigantine; she does it with half the crew and half the fuss. He can’t deny that.’ ‘Yes,’ Lauderback said, rousing himself. He turned to Jock. ‘You can’t deny that.’ Jock was chewing; he grinned through his mouthful. ‘I will deny it. Give me half the weight in rigging over half the crew—there’s your fuss. I’d take speed over handling any day.’ ‘How about a compromise?’ said Augustus. ‘Barquentine.’ Jock shook his head. ‘I’ll say it again: three masts is one too many.’ ‘More speed than a barque, though.’ Augustus touched Lauderback’s elbow. ‘What about your Flight of Fancy? She was fore-and-aft rigged on the mainmast, was she not?’ Balfour had not intuited the aides’ objective—to divert the conversation away from the subject he had introduced—and he thought that perhaps the politician had not heard him correctly. He raised his voice and tried again. ‘Your Godspeed—as I say. She’s a regular, these parts. Hell of an outfit. I’ve seen her over the bar a fair few times. Seems to me she’s got both speed and handling. My word, she’s a marvellous craft.’ Alistair Lauderback sighed. He threw his head back and squinted up at the rafters, and a foolish smile trembled on his lips—the smile of a man who is unused to embarrassment, Balfour realised later. (He had never, before that morning, heard Lauderback confess a weakness of any kind.) At last Lauderback said, still squinting upward, ‘That barque is no longer in my possession.’ His voice was strained, as though his smile had made it thinner. ‘That so!’ Balfour said, surprised. ‘Made a swap, did you—something bigger?’ ‘No: I sold her, outright.’ ‘For gold?’ Lauderback paused, and then said, ‘Yes.’ ‘That so!’ Balfour said again. ‘Just like that—you sold her. Who’s buying?’ ‘Her master.’ ‘Hoo,’ said Balfour, exhaling cheerfully. ‘Can’t envy you there. We have heard some stories about that man around here.’ Lauderback did not reply. Still smiling, he studied the exposed beams of the ceiling, the cracks between the floorboards of the rooms above. ‘Yes,’ Balfour repeated, sitting back, and tucking his thumbs beneath his lapels. ‘We have heard some stories around here. Francis Carver! Not a man I’d care to cross, all right.’ Lauderback looked down in surprise. ‘Carver?’ he said, frowning. ‘You mean Wells.’ ‘Master of the Godspeed?’ ‘Yes—unless he sold it on.’ ‘Burly fellow—dark brows, dark hair, broken nose?’ ‘That’s right,’ said Lauderback. ‘Francis Wells.’ ‘Well, I don’t mean to contradict you flat,’ Balfour said, blinking, ‘but that man’s name is Carver. Perhaps you’re confusing him with the old fellow who—’ ‘No,’ Lauderback said. ‘The hermit—’ ‘No.’ ‘Who died—the man you came across, two weeks ago,’ Balfour said, persisting. ‘The dead man. His name was Wells, you know. Crosbie Wells.’ ‘No,’ Lauderback said, for the third time. He raised his voice slightly. ‘I am not mistaking the name. Wells was the name on the papers, when I signed the barque across. It was always Wells.’ They looked at each other. ‘Can’t understand it,’ Balfour said at last. ‘Only I do hope you didn’t get stiffed. Strange coincidence, isn’t it—Frank Wells, Crosbie Wells.’ Lauderback hesitated. ‘Not quite a coincidence,’ he said carefully. ‘They were brothers, I thought.’ Balfour gave a shout of laughter. ‘Crosbie Wells and Frank Carver, brothers? Can’t imagine anything more unlikely. Only by marriage, surely!’ Lauderback’s foolish smile returned. He began stabbing with his finger at a crumb. ‘But who told you that?’ Balfour added, when the other did not speak. ‘I don’t know,’ said Lauderback. ‘Carver mentioned something—when he signed the papers?’ ‘Maybe that was it.’ ‘Well! If you say so … but to look at them, I’d never have believed it,’ Balfour said. ‘One so tall and striking, the other such a wastrel—such a runt—!’ Lauderback quivered; his hand made a compulsive movement on the table, as if to reach and grasp. ‘Crosbie Wells was a wastrel?’ Balfour waved his hand. ‘You saw him dead.’ ‘But only dead—never living,’ said Lauderback. ‘Strange thing: you can’t tell what a fellow really looks like, you know, without animation. Without his soul.’ ‘Oh,’ Balfour said. He contemplated that idea. ‘A dead man looks created,’ Lauderback continued. ‘As a sculpture looks created. It makes you marvel at the work of the design; makes you think of the designer. The skin is smooth. Fine. Like wax, like marble—but not like either: it doesn’t hold the light, as a wax figure does, and it doesn’t reflect it, like stone. Has a matte finish, as a painter would say. No shine.’ Suddenly Lauderback seemed very embarrassed. He rounded off by demanding, rather rudely, ‘Have you ever seen a man fresh dead?’ Balfour tried to make light of it (‘Dangerous question to ask—on a goldfield—’) but the politician was waiting for an answer, and at length he had to concede that he had not. ‘Shouldn’t have said “seen”,’ Lauderback added, to himself. ‘Should have said “bore witness”.’ Augustus Smith said, ‘Jock put his hand on the fellow’s neck—didn’t you, Jock?’ ‘Ay,’ said Jock. ‘When we first came in,’ said Augustus. ‘Meant to rouse him,’ said Jock. ‘Didn’t know that he had already passed. He might have been sleeping. But here’s the thing: his collar was damp. With sweat, you see—it hadn’t yet dried on him. We figured he couldn’t have been more than half an hour dead.’ He would have said more, but Lauderback made a sharp movement with his chin, to silence him. ‘Can’t figure it out,’ Balfour said. ‘Signed his name Wells!’ ‘We must be thinking of different men,’ said Lauderback. ‘Carver has a scar on his cheek, right here. White in colour. Shaped like—like a sickle.’ Lauderback pursed his lips, then shook his head. ‘I don’t recall a scar.’ ‘But he was dark-haired? Thick-set? Brutish, you might say?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Can’t figure it out,’ Balfour said again. ‘Why would a man change his name? And brothers! Frank Carver—and Crosbie Wells!’ Lauderback’s mouth was working beneath his moustache, as if he was chewing on his lip. In quite a different voice he said, ‘You knew him?’ ‘Crosbie Wells? Not a bit,’ said Balfour. He settled back in his chair, pleased to be asked a direct question. ‘He was building a sawmill, way out in the Arahura—well, you saw the cottage; you’ve been there. He’d done his shipping through me—equipment and so forth—so I knew him to look at him. Rest his soul. Had a Maori fellow for a mate. They were in on the mill together.’ ‘Did he strike you—as a kind of a man?’ ‘As what kind of a man?’ ‘Any kind.’ Lauderback’s hand twitched again. Flushing, he amended his question: ‘I mean to say: how did he strike you?’ ‘No complaints,’ Balfour said. ‘Kept his business to his business, you know. From his talk I’d call him London-born.’ He paused, and then leaned forward conspiratorially. ‘Course, they’re saying all sorts about him, now that he’s gone.’ Again Lauderback did not respond. He was being very strange, Balfour thought; the man was tongue-tied, even red-faced. It was as if he wanted Balfour both to answer some very specific question and to cease talking altogether. The two aides seemed to have lost interest—Jock was pushing a piece of liver around his plate, and Augustus’s head was turned away; he was watching the rain beat at the window. Out of the corner of his eye, Balfour considered them. The two men were as satellites to Lauderback. They slept on bolsters in his room, accompanied him everywhere, and seemed at all times to speak and act in plural, as if they shared a single identity between them, as well as a name. Until that morning Balfour had thought them pleasant chaps, convivial and quick-witted; he had thought their devotion to Lauderback a fine thing, though their constant presence had occasionally worn his nerves rather thin. But now? He looked from one to the other, and realised that he wasn’t sure. Lauderback had hardly spoken a word to Balfour about the final chapter of his journey over the Alps, two weeks prior. Most of what Balfour knew about the night of his arrival had come from the West Coast Times, which had published an abridged version of the account Lauderback had given, in writing, to the law. Lauderback was not suspected of having played any part in the deaths, one attempted, the other actual: the coroner’s report removed any doubt that Crosbie Wells had died of purely natural causes, and the physician was able to prove that the opium by which Anna Wetherell had nearly perished was her own. But Balfour wondered, now, whether the paper’s account had been the truth. He watched Jock Smith push his piece of liver back and forth. It was very strange that Lauderback seemed, all of a sudden, so intensely curious about the living character of Crosbie Wells; it was even stranger to think that Crosbie Wells, who had been mild, and common, and lacking in any kind of influence, should enjoy a familial connexion—or any kind of connexion!—to the notorious Francis Carver. Balfour could not believe it. And then there was the matter of the whore in the road. Was that event just a coincidence, or did it connect somehow to Crosbie Wells’s untimely passing? Why had Lauderback been so reluctant to speak of either encounter—reluctant, that is, until now? He said, partly to rekindle the conversation, and partly to keep his imagination from drifting to make unfounded accusations of his friend, ‘So you sold the barque to Carver—only you thought his name was Wells—and he told you, by the bye, that he had a brother Crosbie, squirrelled away.’ ‘I can’t remember now,’ Lauderback said. ‘It was nearly a year ago. Long gone.’ ‘But then you come across the same man’s brother—fresh dead—a year later!’ Balfour said. ‘On the other side of the Alps, no less … in a place you’ve never set foot before! There’s queer odds on that, wouldn’t you say?’ Lauderback said, rather loftily, ‘Only a weak mind puts faith in coincidence’—for it was his habit, when under pressure, to assume a condescending air. Balfour ignored this maxim. ‘Alias Carver?’ he mused. ‘Or alias Wells?’ But he was watching the politician as he spoke. ‘Shall I fill us another pitcher, Mr. L?’ said Augustus Smith. Lauderback rapped the table. ‘Yes: fill us another. Good.’ ‘Godspeed weighed anchor around two weeks back,’ said Balfour. ‘She goes back and forth from Canton, does she not—tea-trading? So I expect we won’t be seeing Carver around these parts for a while.’ ‘Let’s drop the subject,’ Lauderback said. ‘I made a mistake with the names. I must have made a mistake with the names. It doesn’t signify.’ ‘Hang tight,’ said Balfour. A new thought had struck him. ‘What?’ said Lauderback. ‘It might signify. Given that the sale of his estate has been appealed. It might signify to the widow, if Crosbie Wells had a brother tucked away.’ Lauderback was smiling again, tremulously. ‘The widow?’ ‘Ay,’ Balfour said darkly, and was about to go on, but Lauderback said, all in a rush, ‘There was no sign of a wife at the cottage—no sign at all. To all appearances he—the fellow—lived alone.’ ‘Indeed,’ Balfour said. Again he was about to elaborate, but Lauderback interrupted: ‘You said that it might signify—news about a brother. But a man’s money always goes to his wife, unless his will says otherwise. That’s the law! I don’t see how a brother could signify. I don’t see it.’ He bent his head towards his guest. ‘There is no will,’ Balfour said. ‘That’s the problem. Crosbie Wells never made one. No one knew if he had any family at all. They didn’t even know where to send a letter, when he passed—they only had his name, you see, not a home address, not even a birth certificate, nothing. So his land and cottage are returned to the Crown … and the Crown has the right to sell it on, of course, so it goes on the market and it sells the very next day. Nothing stays long on the market around here, I can tell you. But then, with the ink still drying on that sale, a wife turns up! No one knew a scrap about a wife before that day—only she’s got the marriage papers—and she signs herself Lydia Wells.’ Lauderback’s eyes bulged. Now, at last, Thomas Balfour had his complete attention. ‘Lydia Wells?’ he said, almost in a whisper. Augustus Smith looked at Jock, and then away. ‘This was on Thursday,’ Balfour said, nodding. ‘The Court can’t fault her papers—they’ve sent away to Dunedin, of course, just to verify. But something’s off. The way she pops up so quickly, wanting to get her hands on the estate—when Crosbie never spoke of her. And another thing is fishy: this lady is a d—n class act. How Crosbie Wells managed to get himself married to a lady like that—hoo!—is a mystery that I for one would pay to know the answer to.’ ‘You’ve seen her—Lydia—here? She’s here?’ The name was familiar in his mouth: so he knew her, Balfour thought; and he must have known the dead man, too. ‘Ay,’ he said aloud, careful not to let any trace of his suspicion show. ‘Coming off the packet steamer, Thursday. Dressed up to the nines, she was; swarming down the ladder like a regular salt. Dress in a knot over her shoulder, drawers gathered up in her hand. All the hoops and buckles on display. I’m blowed if I know how Crosbie Wells landed a piece like her—I’m blowed.’ Lauderback was still looking shocked. ‘Lydia Wells, wife of Crosbie Wells.’ ‘Ay—so her story goes.’ Balfour studied his acquaintance, and then suddenly put down his glass and leaned forward. ‘Look here, Mr. Lauderback,’ he said, placing his palm upon the table between them. ‘Seems you’re holding on to something that’s preventing you from talking plain. Why don’t you share it?’ This request, so simply made, unlocked a dam in Alistair Lauderback’s heart. As is the case for so many governing men, who are accustomed to constant service of the highest quality, and who rarely find themselves alone, Lauderback tended to think of his attendants in utilitarian terms. Certainly Balfour was a nice enough chap—shrewd in his business, cheerfully intemperate, and ready with a laugh—but his value as a man was equal to the value of the role he filled: in Lauderback’s mind, he was replaceable. What lay beyond his most immediately visible qualities, the politician had never troubled himself to learn. It is always a starkly private moment when a governor first apprehends his subject as a man—perhaps not as an equal, but at least as a being, irreducible, possessed of frailties, enthusiasms, a real past, and an uncertain future. Alistair Lauderback felt that starkness now, and was ashamed. He saw that Balfour had offered friendship, and he had taken only assistance; that Balfour had offered kindness, and he had taken only the benefit of use. He turned to his aides. ‘Fellows,’ he said, ‘I want to talk to Balfour man to man. Go on and leave us for a spell.’ Augustus and Jock rose from the table (Balfour observed with a flash of competitive triumph, unusual for him, that they both looked very put out) and left the dining room without a word. When they had gone, Lauderback exhaled deeply. He poured himself another measure of wine, but instead of taking a draught he held the glass between the heels of his hands, and stared at it. ‘Do you miss England, Tom?’ he said. ‘England?’ Balfour raised his eyebrows. ‘Haven’t set foot in sunny England since—well. Since before my hair was grey!’ ‘Of course,’ Lauderback said apologetically. ‘You were in California. I had forgotten.’ He fell silent, chastising himself. ‘Round here, everybody’s always talking about home,’ said Balfour. ‘Can’t help but think that the pleasure’s in the missing.’ ‘Yes,’ said Lauderback, very quietly. ‘Just so.’ ‘Why,’ Balfour went on, encouraged by the other man’s assent, ‘most boys keep one foot on the boat, you know. Head back as soon as they’ve made their dust. What do they do? Buy a life, find a sweetheart, settle down—and then what do they dream about? What do they wish for? They dream about the diggings! Back when they could hold the colour in their hands! When all they did here was talk about home. Their mothers. Yorkshire puddings. Proper bacon. All of that.’ He tapped the base of his glass upon the table. ‘England—that’s the old country. You miss the old country. Of course you do. But you don’t go back.’ While he was waiting for the politician to begin speaking, he looked around him. It was well after ten o’clock in the morning, and the dinner crowd had not yet begun to trickle in—which they would presently, for it was Saturday, and a Saturday following a week of rain. The boy at the hearth had gone, taking the rack of hot irons with him; the cook had put away his playing cards, and was hacking at a bone; the scrubbing boys had surfaced from their quarters and were stacking plates and making noise. The clergyman at the table next to theirs was still sitting at his coffee, which had long since cooled. His gaze was focused on the print of the pamphlet he held in his hand and his mouth was pursed in concentration. It was clear that he was not paying his neighbours the slightest attention—but even so, Balfour brought his chair a little closer to Lauderback’s, so that the politician would not have to speak so loud. ‘Lydia Wells,’ Lauderback began, ‘is the mistress of an establishment in Dunedin whose name I should like only to say once, if you don’t mind. The place is called the House of Many Wishes. Stupid name, really. I suppose you’ve heard of it.’ Balfour nodded, but only slightly, so as to imply neither total familiarity nor total ignorance. The establishment to which Lauderback referred was a gambling house of the most decadent order, famous for its high stakes and its dancing girls. ‘Lydia was—a fond acquaintance of mine at that establishment,’ Lauderback continued. ‘There was no money involved. No money changed hands at all—you must understand that. Understand it because it’s the truth.’ He tried to glare at Balfour, but the shipping agent’s eyes were lowered. ‘Anyway,’ he said after a moment. ‘Whenever I was in Dunedin I would pay a call on her.’ He waited, challenging the other man to speak, but Balfour remained silent. After a moment he continued. ‘Now, when I first came to your offices, Tom, you’ll recall that Godspeed was in need of a master. You didn’t want her, and in the months after that I had a fair bit of trouble finding a man I could count on to take up the contract. She was anchored in Dunedin then. Lady needed caulking, and I was out of pocket for repairs on Virtue, as you might remember. All sorts of bills to pay. In the end I made a snap decision, and leased Godspeed privately to a chap named Raxworthy who wanted to set up a run between Australia and the Otago fields. He was a Navy man. Retired, of course. He’d commanded a corvette in the Crimean War—up in the Baltic—and he had a Victoria Cross to show for it. He’d been everywhere. Used to say that if he’d been trailing a rope behind him, he could have tied a knot right around the world. He’d been discharged from the navy on account of gout—bad enough to get his long-term leave, which was due to him anyhow, but not quite bad enough to make him want to swallow the anchor altogether. Godspeed suited him—he’s an old-fashioned type, you know, and she’s an old-fashioned girl. ‘I went back to Akaroa after that, and didn’t hear from Raxworthy for a spell. But I was back and forth down the island fairly frequently, and the next time I called in at Dunedin, I found myself in a bit of trouble. There was a husband. Lydia had a husband. He’d come home while I was gone.’ Balfour narrowed his eyes. ‘Crosbie Wells?’ Lauderback shook his head. ‘Not him. This man was the brute you know as Carver. To me he was Wells. Francis Wells.’ Balfour nodded slowly. ‘But now the very same woman’s saying she’s the wife of Crosbie Wells,’ he said. ‘Somebody’s lying somewhere.’ ‘In any case—’ ‘Either lying about a marriage,’ Balfour said, ‘or lying about a name.’ ‘In any case,’ Lauderback said with annoyance, ‘that doesn’t matter—not just yet. You have to hear it in the proper order. Back then, I didn’t even know Lydia was married. When she was at the gambling house she used her maiden name, you see—Lydia Greenway, she was; I never knew her as Lydia Wells. Of course, once the husband showed up I saw that I was in the wrong. I tried to back right off. Tried to settle things the proper way. But the chap had me in a bit of a corner. I’d just taken up the Superintendency; I was a Councilman. I was recently married myself. I had my reputation to think about.’ Balfour nodded. ‘He played the cuckold. Tried to make a few pounds extra on the side.’ Lauderback’s mouth twisted. ‘It wasn’t that simple.’ ‘Oh—the trick’s an old standard,’ Balfour said, trying to commiserate. ‘Plays right into the heart of every man’s fear, of course—and then the blackmail is almost a relief, when it comes. Pay up, and you’ll never hear from me again, all of that. Most often the girl’s involved. I suppose he told you that she was expecting.’ Lauderback shook his head. ‘No.’ He resumed staring at the vessel in his hand. ‘He was much cleverer than that. He didn’t ask for any money—or for anything at all. At least not right away. He told me that he was a murderer.’ The carriage clock on the mantel struck a quarter till the hour. The clergyman at the table next to theirs looked up, patted his thigh, and retrieved his pocket watch from his trouser pocket, in order to synchronise the hands. He wound the key, twitched the dial, wiped the face of the watch with his napkin, and replaced it in his pocket. He then turned back to his pamphlet, cupped his hands around his eyes to narrow his field of focus, and resumed reading. ‘He was very controlled when he said it,’ said Lauderback. ‘Polite, even. Told me there was a fellow on his tail, a mate of the man he’d killed. He didn’t tell me whom he’d murdered, or why—just that it was on account of a murder that he was being pursued.’ ‘Didn’t give you any names?’ ‘No,’ said Lauderback. ‘None at all.’ Balfour frowned. ‘Where do you figure in all that? I hear that as another man’s quarrel. Or another man’s boast. But in either case, nothing to do with you.’ Lauderback drew closer. ‘Here’s the heart of it,’ he said. ‘He told me I’d been marked as his mate. As his associate. When this avenger caught up with him, and came to take his life … well, after that, the man would come for me.’ ‘You’d been marked?’ Balfour said. ‘Marked how?’ Lauderback shrugged and sat back. ‘I don’t know exactly. Of course I’d been at the gambling house a fair bit—and I’d been out and about with Lydia, here and there. I might have been spied upon.’ ‘Spying’s one thing,’ said Balfour. ‘But how could a man be marked without his knowing? Marked—like a tattoo—without his knowing! Come—this is only half a tale, Mr. Lauderback! Where’s the meat of it?’ Lauderback looked embarrassed. ‘Well,’ he said. ‘Have you heard of a twinkle?’ ‘A what?’ ‘A twinkle. It’s a piece of glass, or a jewel, or a scrap of a mirror, that’s inserted into the end of a cigar. One can still smoke quite easily around it, and when the cigar’s in the mouth, like so, you can’t see it at all. Gamblers use them. The gambler’s smoking while he plays; he takes the cigar from his mouth, like this, and holds the thing in his hand in such a way that the twinkle shows him a reflection of another player’s cards. Or he uses it to show his partner his own hand, if he’s playing doubles. It’s a type of cheat.’ Balfour held an imaginary cigar in his hand, splaying his first two knuckles, and extended his arm across the table. ‘Now,’ he said, ‘that seems like a d—ned inefficient way to cheat. So many ways it could fail! What if you were holding your cards close, now? What if you kept them flat on the table? Look: if I reached my arm across the table, like so … you’d pull your cards back, wouldn’t you? Go on—you’d shrink away!’ ‘Never mind the details,’ said Lauderback. ‘The point is—’ ‘And a fool of a risk,’ said Balfour. ‘How’s a man to make an excuse for a tiny mirror stuck into the end of his cigar?’ ‘The point is,’ said Lauderback. ‘Never mind the details. The point is that Wells—Carver, I mean—said that he had a twinkle on me.’ Balfour was still flexing his wrist and cocking his elbow, squinting at the invisible cigar in his hand. He stopped now, and closed his fist. ‘Meaning,’ he said, ‘some way to read your cards.’ ‘But I don’t know what it was,’ said Lauderback. ‘I still don’t. It’s driven me mad.’ He reached for the pitcher of wine. Balfour was wearing a sceptical expression. What kind of leverage was this? A vague mention of revenge, no proper names, no context, and some rubbish about a gambler’s cheat? This was not enough to merit blackmail. Plainly, Lauderback was still concealing something. He nodded to indicate that Lauderback should fill his glass. Lauderback set the pitcher back on the table and resumed. ‘Before he left,’ he said, ‘he asked for one thing, and one thing only. Raxworthy was short a hand on the Godspeed—it had been advertised in the papers, and Wells had heard about it.’ ‘Carver.’ ‘Yes: Carver had heard about it. He asked me if I’d put in a word for him. He was going down to the quay in the morning to apply. Asked me the favour man to man.’ ‘You did as he asked?’ ‘I did,’ Lauderback said heavily. ‘There’s another twinkle on you, maybe,’ said Balfour. ‘What do you mean?’ ‘Another connexion, now—the ship—between you both.’ Lauderback thought about that for a moment, seeming very dejected. ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘But what could I have done? He had me tied up.’ Balfour felt a sudden rush of sympathy for the other man, and regretted his previous ill humour. ‘Ay,’ he said, more gently. ‘He had you tied.’ ‘After that,’ Lauderback went on, ‘nothing happened. Absolutely nothing. I went back to Canterbury. I waited. I thought about that d—ned twinkle until my heart near gave out. I confess I rather hoped that Carver would be killed—that the thug would catch him, so I would know the fellow’s name before he came for me. I read the Otago Witness every day, hoping to see the blackguard’s name among the dead, may God forgive me. But nothing happened. ‘Nearly a year later—this is almost a year ago, maybe February, March last year—I get a letter in the mail. It’s an annual receipt from Danforth Shipping, and it’s filled out in my name.’ ‘Danforth? Jem Danforth?’ ‘The same,’ said Lauderback. ‘I’ve never shipped with Danforth—not for personals—but I know him, of course; he rents part of Godspeed’s hold for cargo.’ ‘And Virtue too, on occasion.’ ‘Yes—on occasion, Virtue too. All right: so I examine the receipt. I see that there’s a recurring shipment on Godspeed’s trans-Tasman route under the name of Lauderback. My name. Again and again, on the westbound voyage across the Tasman—each voyage, there it is, shipper Danforth, carrier Godspeed, master James Raxworthy, one shipment of personals, standard size, paid in full by Alistair Lauderback. Me. I tell you, my blood went cold. My name, written so neatly; that column of figures, going down. ‘The amount due was zero pounds. Nothing outstanding. Each month the account had been paid in cash, as the record showed. Someone had engineered this whole business in my name, and paid good money for it, to boot. I had a quick look over my own finances: I wasn’t missing any money, and certainly nothing to the tune of eighty, ninety pounds in shipping fees. I’d have noticed a slow leak of that kind, wherever it was coming from. No. Something was cooking. ‘As soon as I could, I left for Dunedin, to see about the affair myself. This was—April, I suppose. May, maybe. Some time in the early autumn. When I reached Dunedin I hardly even stepped ashore. I made straight for Godspeed. She was at anchor, and rafted up to the wharf, with the gangway down; I boarded, seeing no one at all. I was intending to speak to Raxworthy, of course—but he was nowhere about. In the fo’c’sle, I found Wells.’ ‘Carver.’ ‘Carver, I mean. Yes. He was alone. Holding a policeman’s whistle in one hand, a pistol in the other. Tells me he can blow the whistle any time. The harbour master’s office is fifty yards from where we’re standing and the hatch is open wide. I keep quiet. He tells me there’s a shipping crate in Godspeed’s hold with my name on it, and a paper trail that connects my name to that shipment every month for the last year. Everything legal, everything logged. In the eyes of the law, I’ve been paying for this shipment for a year, back and forth from Melbourne, back and forth, back and forth, and nothing I can say will disprove that fact. All right, so what’s inside it, I ask. Women’s fashions, he says. Dresses. A pile of gowns. ‘Why dresses, I ask. He gives me a smile—horrible—and says, why Mr. Lauderback, you’ve been sending for the latest fashions in Melbourne every month for a year! You’ve been keeping your lovely mistress Lydia Wells in good nick, you have, and it’s all on the books, to boot. Every time that trunk arrives in Melbourne, it’s shipped in to a dressmaker’s on Bourke-street—the very best, you understand—and every time it leaves, it’s packed full of the finest threads that can be had for money, this face of the globe. You, Mr. Lauderback, are a very generous man.’ Lauderback’s voice had become sour. ‘But how is it that this shipping case came to be registered in my name, I ask him, and he has a good laugh at that. He tells me that every rat in Dunedin knows Lydia Wells, and what she does to make her bread. All she had to do is tell old Jem Danforth I was keeping her in bells and ribbons, but please could he keep her name out of it, out of respect for my poor old wife! The fellow believed her. Logged the shipment in my name. She paid in cash, saying the cash was mine—and nobody mentioned a word to me. Thinking they were being discreet, you realise: thinking they were doing me a d—ned good turn, by not letting their Christian judgment show. ‘But this isn’t the half of it. Women’s fashions are not the bloody half of it. This time, he says, there’s something else in the trunk besides gowns. I ask him what. A fortune, he says, stolen, and all of it pure. Stolen from whom, I ask. Stolen from yours truly, he answers, and by my own wife, Lydia Wells—and then he laughs, because of course that’s part of the lie: they’re in on it together, the two of them. Well, what’s he doing with a fair fortune in pure, I ask him, and he tells me that he has a claim up Dunstan way. Was it declared, I say, and he says no. Undeclared means untaxed, which means this shipment is in breach of duty—or at least, it will be, if Godspeed sails on schedule with the next day’s tide. ‘Now, there in the fo’c’sle Carver lets me think about all that for a moment. I’m thinking about what it looks like from above. It looks like I’ve been going behind the husband’s back for a good long while, to court his wife as my mistress. There’s proof of that. It looks like I’ve stolen a fair fortune from the man, and I mean now to ship the gold offshore. It looks like I’ve engineered the whole business to bankrupt and ruin him, both. That’s adultery and theft and even conspiracy right off. But the real clincher is that the gold’s undeclared. I’m facing charges for breach of customs, evading duty, illegal trafficking, all of that. I’m looking at a lifetime in gaol—and I don’t have a lifetime left, Thomas. I don’t have a lifetime left. So I ask him what he wants, and finally he shows his cards. He wants the ship.’ ‘Is he an able seaman at this point?’ ‘Yes. He works under Raxworthy and he wants Raxworthy gone. He’s figured it all out: how I’m going to sack Raxworthy that very night, how I’m going to cancel the contract on the crew, and sign the ship over to him free and clear. This is an insult, you understand. I laugh. I say no. But he’s got that God-d—ned whistle, and he pretends to make a move to call the harbour master in.’ ‘Did you ask to see the gold in the case?’ said Balfour. ‘How did you know he wasn’t bluffing?’ ‘Of course I asked to see it,’ said Lauderback. ‘We did all that. Oh, he had laid his foundations with care—I have to credit him for that! There were five dresses in the trunk. Each of them last season’s fashions, in keeping with his story; ready for the dressmaker’s in Melbourne, you see. But hear this! The gold wasn’t just lying free in the case, beneath the gowns. It had been sewn into the very seams of the dresses. By Lydia herself, no doubt: she was a dab hand with a needle and thread. You wouldn’t have guessed at all, until you lifted them out, and felt the weight of them. But a customs officer might not have troubled himself to do that, you see—unless he was tipped off, and knew where to look. When you opened the case, even when you rummaged around, it was just woman’s fashions, nothing else. Yes: it was a very clever plan.’ ‘Let me get my head around this,’ Balfour said. ‘If the ship had sailed on schedule …’ ‘Then Carver would have come across the trunk in the hold, acting as though he’d never seen it before. He would have brought it up to Raxworthy, feigning outrage and distress and what have you. They were his wife’s dresses, after all—and my name was on the papers. He would have demanded to bring the law to my door, on account of the theft, the adultery, the breach of customs, all of it. Godspeed would never have left the harbour; she’d have been turned around before she reached the heads. Then the law would have come for me—and clapped me in arms.’ ‘But surely … if that happened, and the law was called in … you might have just blamed it all on Lydia Wells,’ Balfour said. ‘Surely she would have been gaoled—’ ‘Oh yes, she certainly would have been,’ Lauderback replied, cutting him off. ‘But I was not going to risk my own freedom merely to have the satisfaction that she would get her comeuppance too! The two of them would certainly have sided against me, if the whole confounded business came to trial, and that would have bought her a great deal of sympathy—for seeing the light, you see; for repenting; for standing by her lawful husband, and all that rot.’ ‘If he really was her lawful husband,’ Balfour pointed out. ‘Now it seems that Crosbie Wells—’ ‘Yes, yes,’ Lauderback snapped. ‘But I didn’t know that then, did I? Don’t tell me what I ought to have done, and how I ought to have done it. I can’t bear that. A game plays how a game plays.’ ‘Well,’ said Balfour, sitting back, ‘I’m blowed.’ ‘He wore me down,’ said Lauderback. He spread his hands in a gesture of defeat. ‘I signed her over.’ Balfour thought for a moment. ‘Where was Raxworthy that night?’ ‘At the d—ned gambling house,’ Lauderback said. ‘Having an evening of his life, no doubt, with Lydia Wells at his elbow, blowing on his dice!’ ‘Was he in on the secret?’ ‘I don’t think so,’ Lauderback said, shaking his head. ‘He had shore leave that night—there was a naval occasion, an official event of some kind. Nothing untoward. And I never got a funny feeling, afterwards.’ ‘What’s he doing now?’ ‘Raxworthy? Helming the bloody Spirit of the Thames, and bored as a tiger in a carriage car. The man can’t stand steam. He’s furious with me.’ ‘Does he know?’ Lauderback looked angry. ‘I’m a public figure,’ he said. ‘If anybody knew about this, you’d know. I’d be sunk. Does he know? Of course he doesn’t know!’ He had become suddenly impatient with his own story, Balfour saw. The narration of the events had only rekindled his shame at having been made a fool. ‘But the sale of the ship,’ Balfour said after a moment. ‘That’s public knowledge—printed in the papers.’ Lauderback swore. ‘Oh yes,’ he said. ‘According to the paper, I sold that d—ned ship for a very reasonable price indeed, and all in pure. Of course I never saw a penny of it. The gold stayed in that d—ned trunk, and when Godspeed made her voyage to Melbourne the next day, the trunk was collected on the other side—as it had been every month for the past year. And then it disappeared, of course. I couldn’t do a thing about it, without bringing down all hell around my ears. God only knows where that gold is now. And he’s got the ship, to boot.’ Lauderback toyed angrily with the cruet stand. ‘What was the true value of the gold in the trunk—to your eye?’ ‘I’m no prospector,’ Lauderback said, ‘but by the weight of the gowns I’d estimate it was a couple of thousand, at least.’ ‘And you never saw that gold again.’ ‘No.’ ‘Or heard tell of it.’ ‘No.’ ‘Did you ever see the girl again—Lydia Wells?’ Lauderback laughed harshly. ‘Lydia Wells is no girl,’ he said. ‘I don’t know what she is—but she’s not a girl, Thomas. She’s not a girl.’ But he had not answered Balfour’s question. ‘You know she’s here—in Hokitika,’ Balfour reminded him. ‘So you mentioned,’ said Lauderback grimly, and would not say more. What a strange, unbroken beast is adulation! How unpredictably it rears its head, and tears against the bridle of its own making! Balfour’s worship of the other man—that which had so easily become petulance—now became, in rising flood, disdain. To have lost so much—and over a mistress! Over another man’s wife! Disdain, for all its censorious pretension, is an emotion that can afford a certain clarity. Thomas Balfour watched his friend drain his glass and snap his fingers for another round, and was scornful—and then his scorn gave way to mistrust, and his mistrust to perspicacity. There were elements of Lauderback’s story that still did not fit together. What of the timely death of Crosbie Wells? Lauderback had yet to address that coincidence—just as he had yet to explain why he believed that Carver and Wells had been, of all things, brothers! What of Lydia Wells, who had swept into Hokitika to claim her rightful inheritance, arriving so promptly after his death that the harbour master asked, half in jest, if the Hokitika Post Office had installed a telegraph? Balfour knew without a doubt that he had not been told the whole truth; what he did not know, however, was the reason for this concealment. Whom was Lauderback protecting? Himself merely? Or someone else? Lauderback’s eyes had sharpened. He leaned forward and stabbed the table with his index finger. ‘You know,’ he said, ‘I’ve just had a thought. About Carver. If his name really is Carver, then the sale of the ship is void. You can’t sign a deed in another man’s name.’ Balfour made no reply. He was distracted by his new appraisal of the other man, and the critical distance that had opened as a sudden gulf of doubt between them. ‘And even if his name is really Wells,’ Lauderback added, brightening further, ‘even if that’s true, Lydia can’t be married to two men at once, can she? It’s as you said: either lying about a marriage, or lying about a name!’ A boy brought a fresh pitcher of wine. Balfour picked it up to refill their glasses. ‘Unless,’ he said as he poured, ‘it wasn’t both at once. She might have divorced the one, and married his brother.’ He used the word ‘brother’ carefully, but Lauderback, who had become excited by this new possibility, did not notice. ‘Even in that case,’ he said, ‘if Carver’s name is really Carver, then his signature is a false one, and the sale of the ship is void. I tell you, Thomas: either way we’ve got him. Either way. We’ve caught Carver in his own lie.’ His relief had made him reckless. Balfour said, ‘So—you’re out to catch him, now?’ Lauderback’s eyes were shining. ‘I shall expose him,’ he said. ‘I shall expose Francis Carver, and take Godspeed back again.’ ‘What about the avenger?’ Balfour said. ‘Who?’ ‘The fellow who was after Carver. The one who has a twinkle on you.’ ‘Never heard a peep,’ said Lauderback. ‘I expect he made all of that up.’ ‘You mean he didn’t kill a man?’ said Balfour, lightly. ‘You mean he’s not a murderer?’ ‘He’s a blackguard, is what he is,’ Lauderback said. He pounded the table. ‘A blackguard and a liar! And a thief! But I shall catch him on it. I shall make him pay.’ ‘What about the elections?’ Balfour said. ‘What about Caroline?’ (This was the name of Lauderback’s wife.) ‘I don’t need to risk all that,’ Lauderback said scornfully. ‘I can do it privately. Catch him on the contract. Blackmail him—as he did me. Give him a taste of his own medicine.’ Balfour stroked his beard, watching him. ‘Well, now.’ ‘Carver will have destroyed his own copy of the bill of sale, most likely, if it’s proof of a lie … I suppose I’ll have to get my copy notarised, to be safe.’ ‘Well, now,’ Balfour said again. ‘Perhaps we ought to steady up.’ But Lauderback had sat forward in excitement. ‘There’s no need—I can begin right away!’ he exclaimed. ‘I know exactly where the contract is. It’s packed in my trunk, in that shipping crate you’re taking care of for me.’ Balfour felt his guts clench. His face flooded red. He opened his mouth to reply—and then, in cowardice, closed it. ‘Has the Virtue been and gone already?’ Lauderback said. ‘You were expecting her last week, I think.’ There was a roaring in Balfour’s ears. He ought to have come clean about the disappearance as soon as the two men were left alone. Stupid, he shouted internally, stupid! But could he not simply tell Lauderback the truth? It had been no man’s fault that the shipping crate had disappeared—it had been an accident, a blunder of paperwork most likely—and it would show up, sooner or later, in some unlikely situation … a little battered externally perhaps, but none the worse for wear. Surely Lauderback would understand that! If he was calm and honest in making his confession—if he admitted fault—But then Balfour’s heart gave a judder. There must be a correlation between the trunk in Lauderback’s story—the one packed with women’s dresses, that had made the trans-Tasman crossing every month for a year—and the trunk containing Lauderback’s effects, the fraudulent contract among them, that had so recently vanished from the Hokitika quay. There must be, when Balfour had never before mislaid a shipping crate, nor had one stolen, not in all his years in the business! His heart began to pound. Francis Carver had blackmailed the politician once before; perhaps he had done so for a second time! Perhaps Carver had stolen the shipping crate! The man was familiar on the Hokitika docks, after all … Lauderback was casting his eye over the table, looking for a cold morsel; he had not noticed the change in Balfour’s demeanour, as the latter turned over this new possibility in his mind. ‘Has she been through—the Virtue?’ he repeated, without impatience. ‘No,’ said Balfour. The room seemed to constrict around the lie. ‘Not here yet?’ said Lauderback. He found a waxy onion on the plate Jock Smith had left behind and popped it into his mouth. ‘So I beat my own clipper ship—and on horseback! I wasn’t expecting that! Nothing went belly-up at sea, I hope?’ His good humour was quite restored; he was even giddy. Such a tonic for the spirit is the promise of revenge! ‘No,’ Balfour said again. ‘She’s still in transit, you said?’ Balfour paused a fraction of a second, then he said, ‘Ay—still in transit. That’s right.’ ‘Coming West from Dunedin, is she? Or up and through the Strait?’ Balfour was sweating. He watched the movement of Lauderback’s jaw as the other man chewed. In the end he chose the more protracted route. ‘Up and through.’ ‘Oh well,’ Lauderback said, swallowing. ‘These things can’t be helped, I suppose. Not in the shipping business. But you’ll let me know the moment it gets here—won’t you?’ ‘Ay—of course. Yes. I will.’ ‘I shall look forward to it,’ said Lauderback. He hesitated. ‘I say—Tom—there’s another thing. You must understand that what I’ve told you this morning—’ ‘Strictest confidence,’ Balfour blurted out. ‘Won’t tell a soul.’ ‘With my campaign at the point of—’ ‘No need for that.’ Balfour shook his head. ‘No need to say it. Mum’s the word.’ ‘Good man.’ Lauderback pushed his chair back and slapped his knees with both hands. ‘Now,’ he said. ‘Poor Jock, and poor Augustus. I have been unutterably rude.’ ‘Yes—poor Jock, poor Augustus, yes,’ said Balfour, motioning with his hand that Lauderback was free to leave—but Lauderback, humming now through his teeth, was already reaching for his coat. Thomas Balfour’s heart was beating very fast. He was unused to the awful compression that comes after a lie, when it dawns upon the liar that the lie he has uttered is one to which he is now bound; that he must now keep lying, and compound smaller lies upon the first, and be shuttered in lonely contemplation of his own mistake. Balfour would wear his falsehood as a fetter, until the shipping crate was found. He needed to do it quickly—and without Lauderback’s knowledge, let alone his help. ‘Mr. Lauderback,’ he said, ‘I think you ought to go and play the politician for a while. Go shake some hands, you know. Throw the dice. Play some bowls. Spend a night at the theatre. Leave all this aside.’ ‘What about you?’ ‘I’ll go down the wharf and ask a round of questions. What Carver’s up to, where he’s gone.’ A shadow of alarm passed over Lauderback’s face. ‘Thought you said he’d gone to Canton. Isn’t that what you said? Tea-trading?’ ‘But we ought to make sure,’ Balfour said. ‘We ought to be ready.’ He was thinking about the missing shipping crate, and the new possibility that Francis Carver might have stolen it. (But what need had Carver of avenging himself twice upon Alistair Lauderback—when the first blackmail had come off without a hitch?) ‘Discreetly,’ said Lauderback. ‘Discreetly—when you ask your questions.’ ‘Nothing to it,’ said Balfour. ‘The fellows know me down on Gibson Quay, and you remember I’ve done a fair patch of shipping with Godspeed. Anyway: better me than you.’ ‘Yes—better,’ said Lauderback. ‘Yes. All right. You do that, then.’ He nodded. In fact this was the very kind of delegation to which Alistair Lauderback was accustomed, as a man of means. It was not strange to him that Balfour should devote his Saturday to straightening out another man’s affairs. He did not pause to wonder whether Balfour could be risking his own reputation, by associating himself with a story of cuckoldry, blackmail, murder, and revenge, and nor did he spare a thought for how Balfour might be recompensed. He felt only relief. An invisible order had been restored: the same kind of order that ensured his boiled egg was ready every morning, and the dishes cleared away. He plumped the knot of his necktie with his fingers, and rose from the table as a man refreshed. Lightly Balfour said, ‘And you ought to steer clear of Lydia Wells, I think. Just because—’ ‘Of course, of course, of course,’ said Lauderback. He picked up his gloves with his left hand, and reached to shake Balfour’s hand with his right. ‘We’ll get the bastard, won’t we?’ Suddenly Balfour realised that Lauderback knew exactly the nature of the twinkle by which Frank Carver had him tied. He could not have explained how he arrived at this sudden realisation—but all at once, he knew. ‘Yes,’ he said, shaking Lauderback’s hand very firmly. ‘We’ll get the bastard, by and bye.’ MARS IN SAGITTARIUS In which Cowell Devlin makes a poor first impression; Te Rau Tauwhare offers information at a price; Charlie Frost is suspicious; and we learn the crime of which Francis Carver was convicted, years ago. When a restless spirit is commissioned, under influence, to solve a riddle for another man, his energies are, at first, readily and faithfully applied. But Thomas Balfour’s energies tended to span a very short duration, if the project to which he was assigned was not a project of his own devising. His imagination gave way to impatience, and his optimism to an extravagant breed of neglect. He seized an idea only to discard it immediately, if only for the reason that it was no longer novel to him; he started in all directions at once. This was not at all the mark of a fickle temper, but rather, of a temper that is accustomed to enthusiasm of the most genuine and curious sort, and so will accept no form of counterfeit—but it was, nevertheless, something of an impediment to progress. Balfour was ready to rise from the table and quit the Palace Hotel when suddenly it struck him that it would be a great shame to leave a pitcher of perfectly good wine half-filled. He poured the last of it into his glass and was raising it to his lips—and then he saw, over the rim of the glass, that the clergyman at the nearby table had put aside his tract and folded his hands. He was looking at Balfour intently. Like a child caught thieving, Balfour put down the glass. ‘Reverend,’ he said. (It was, on reflection, rather early in the day to be drunk.) ‘Good morning,’ returned the reverend man, and from his accent Balfour knew at once that he was Irish; he relaxed, and allowed himself to be rude. He picked up his glass again, and drank deeply. The clergyman said, ‘Your friend is a lucky man, I think.’ What an unfortunate face he had—caught in a perennial boyhood, with that bunched mouth, that pouting bottom lip, those teeth like nubbins. One envisaged him in shorts and gaiters, munching on a slab of bread-and-dripping, carrying a parcel of books that had been buckled together with an old belt of his father’s, slapping it against his leg as he ate. But he was thirty, perhaps forty in age. Balfour narrowed his eyes. ‘Don’t recall we were speaking for your benefit.’ The man inclined his head, as if conceding a point. ‘No, indeed,’ he said. ‘And to the benefit of no other man either, I should hope.’ ‘Meaning what, precisely?’ ‘Merely that no man ought to profit from overhearing bad news. Least of all a member of the clergy.’ ‘Bad news, you call it? Thought you just said he was lucky.’ ‘Lucky to have you,’ the clergyman said, and Balfour blushed. ‘You know,’ he said angrily, ‘it doesn’t count as a confession, just because it sounds like a secret, and you heard it on the sly.’ ‘You are quite right to make that distinction,’ the clergyman said, still in pleasant tones. ‘But I did not overhear you by design.’ ‘As to your design—as to what’s intentioned and what’s not. Who’s to know it?’ ‘You were talking very loud.’ ‘Who’s to know your design, I meant?’ ‘With respect to my intentions, I’m afraid you’ll have to trust in my word—or in my cassock, if my word is not enough.’ ‘Trust what in your word and your cassock? Trust what enough?’ ‘Trust that I did not mean to eavesdrop,’ said the clergyman patiently. ‘Trust that I can keep a secret, when I’m asked.’ ‘Well,’ Balfour said, ‘you’ve been asked. I’m asking. And you ought to leave off mentioning luck and bad news. That’s your opinion—that’s not what you heard.’ ‘You’re right. I do apologise.’ ‘Unsolicited, you know. And not appreciated.’ ‘I do apologise. I shall be silent.’ Balfour waved his finger. ‘But you should leave off because I’ve asked you—not because of the confessing rule. Because it wasn’t a confession.’ ‘No indeed: we agree on that.’ He added, in a different voice, ‘In any case, confession is a Catholic practice.’ ‘But you’re Catholic.’ All of a sudden Balfour was feeling very drunk. ‘Free Methodist,’ the reverend man corrected, without offence; but he added, as a gentle reprimand, ‘You can’t tell a great deal about a man from his accent, you know.’ ‘It’s Irish,’ said Balfour, stupidly. ‘My father hails from the county Tyrone. Before I came here, I was in Dunedin; before that, I was in New York.’ ‘New York—now there’s a place!’ The reverend shook his head. ‘Everywhere is a place,’ he said. Balfour faltered. After this admonishment, he felt that he could not pursue the subject of New York—but he could not think of anything else to speak about, beyond the subject he had already forbidden the reverend man to pursue. He sat a moment, scowling; then he said, ‘You’re stopping here?’ ‘At this hotel?’ ‘Ay.’ ‘No: in fact my tent is flooded, and I’m taking my breakfast out of the rain,’ the clergyman said. He spread his hand to indicate the detritus of the meal before him, long since cold. ‘You see I have taken rather a long time of it, to make the shelter last.’ ‘You don’t have a church to go to?’ This was a rather rude question, and one to which Balfour already knew the answer, for there were only three churches in Hokitika at that time. But he was feeling somehow thwarted by the man, in a way that he could not quite identify, and he wished to regain the upper hand—not by shaming him, exactly; but by cutting him down to size. The clergyman only smiled, showing his tiny teeth. ‘Not yet,’ he said. ‘Never heard of a Free Methodist. I suppose it’s one of the new ones.’ ‘A new practice, a new polity,’ said the man. He smiled again. ‘But an old doctrine, of course.’ Balfour thought him rather smug. ‘I suppose you’ve come on a mission,’ he said. ‘To turn the heathens.’ ‘I notice that you make a great many suppositions,’ said the clergyman. ‘You have not yet asked a question without presuming to answer it as well.’ But Thomas Balfour did not take kindly to this kind of observation: he would not be instructed on the formation of his thought. He pushed his chair back from the table, indicating that he intended to take his leave. ‘To answer you,’ the clergyman went on, as Balfour reached for his coat, ‘I am to be the chaplain of the new gaol-house at Seaview. But until it is built’—he picked up his pamphlet, and slapped it in an explanatory fashion against the palm of his other hand—‘I’m a student of theology, that’s all.’ ‘Theology!’ said Balfour. He pushed his arms into the sleeves of his coat. ‘You ought to be reading stiffer stuff than that, you know. Hell of a parish you’re walking into.’ ‘God’s people, even so.’ Balfour nodded vaguely and made to leave. Suddenly a new thought struck him. ‘If you called it bad news,’ he said. ‘I’m going to wager that you were listening for a good long while.’ ‘Yes,’ said the chaplain humbly. ‘I was. It was a name that caught my attention.’ ‘Carver?’ ‘No: Wells. Crosbie Wells.’ Balfour narrowed his eyes. ‘What’s Crosbie Wells to you?’ The chaplain hesitated. The truthful answer was that he did not know Crosbie Wells at all—and yet in the fortnight since that man’s death, he had done little else but think of him, and ponder the circumstances of his death. He conceded after a pause that he had had the solemn honour of digging Wells’s grave, and performing the last rites over his coffin, as it was lowered into the ground—an explanation that did not satisfy Thomas Balfour. The shipping agent was still regarding his new acquaintance with an expression of patent mistrust; his eyes narrowed still further when the chaplain (who ordinarily bore up very well under doubtful scrutiny) suddenly winced, and dropped his gaze. The chaplain’s name—as Walter Moody would discover some nine hours later—was Cowell Devlin. He had arrived in Hokitika upon the clipper ship Virtue, which was leased and operated by Balfour Shipping, and which had conveyed, along with sundry passengers, timber, iron, fasteners, many tins of paint, assorted dry goods, several crates of livestock, and a great quantity of calico, the now-vanished shipping crate containing Alistair Lauderback’s trunk, and inside that, the copy of the contract under which the barque Godspeed had been sold. The Virtue had reached Hokitika two days before Alistair Lauderback himself; the Reverend Cowell Devlin had first arrived in Hokitika, therefore, two days before the death of Crosbie Wells. Immediately upon landing, he had reported to the Police Camp, where the gaol’s governor, George Shepard, wasted little time in putting him to work. Devlin’s official duties would not begin until the completion of the new Hokitika gaol-house, high on the terrace of Seaview; in the meantime, however, Devlin might make himself useful around the Police Camp, and help with the daily management of the temporary gaol, which was, at that time, the residence of two women and nineteen men. Devlin was to teach each one of them to fear their Maker, and to instil in their wayward hearts a proper respect for the iron cladding of the law—or so the gaoler phrased it. (Devlin would soon discover that he and Shepard differed very radically in their pedagogic sensibilities.) Having taken a brief tour of the Police Camp and praised the style of its management, Devlin inquired whether he might take his lodging in the gaol-house each night, so as to sleep among the felons, and share their bread. The gaoler received this proposition with distaste. He did not exactly reject Devlin’s inquiry, but he paused, licked his lip with a pale, dry tongue, and then suggested that Devlin might do better to take up residence in one of Hokitika’s many hotels. Shepard went on to warn the chaplain that his Irish accent might invite demonstrations of partisanship from Englishmen, and the expectation of a Catholic sensibility from his fellow Irish; he advised him, finally, to be discerning when choosing his company, and still more discerning when choosing his words—and with this pronouncement, he welcomed Devlin to Hokitika, and promptly bid him good morning. But Cowell Devlin did not have funds enough to support several months’ lodging in a hotel, and it was not his habit, furthermore, to indulge another man’s pessimism about partisan displays. He did not take Shepard’s advice, and he did not heed his warning. He purchased a standard-issue miner’s tent, strung it up some fifty yards from the Hokitika beachfront, and weighted the calico pockets with stones. Then he made his way back to Revell-street, bought a mug of small beer at the most crowded hotel he could find, and began to introduce himself, to Englishmen and Irishmen alike. Cowell Devlin was, to all intents and purposes, a self-made man—but because this epithet is rarely used to describe members of the holy orders, we ought to clarify its usage here. The cleric spent the present moment in a state of constant visualisation, conjuring in his mind the untroubled future self he had determined that he would one day become. His theology, too, followed this pattern: he was a hopeful believer, and to his many disciples he spoke of a utopian future, a world without want. When he spoke, he freely interchanged the language of auspice with the language of dreams: there was no conflict, in Cowell Devlin’s mind, between reality as he wished to perceive it, and reality as it was otherwise perceived. Such an inclination might, in the context of another man’s temperament, be called ambition, but Devlin’s self-image was impregnable, even mythic, and he had long ago determined that he was not an ambitious man. As might be expected, he was given to bouts of very purposeful ignorance, and tended to pass over the harsher truths of human nature in favour of those that could be romanticised by whimsy and imagination. With respect to these latter articles, Devlin was an adept. He was an excellent storyteller, and therefore, an effective clergyman. His faith, like his self-image, was complete, equable, and almost clairvoyant in its expression—attributes that, as Balfour had already observed, occasionally made him seem rather smug. At eleven o’clock on the night of the 14th of January—the night that Alistair Lauderback arrived in Hokitika—Cowell Devlin was sitting cross-legged on the floor of the Hokitika gaol-house, speaking with the inmates about Paul. Sometime around sundown it had begun to rain, and the chaplain had decided to stay late, in the hope that the downpour was only a temporary one—for he was new to Hokitika, and did not yet understand the dogged persistence of the weather on the Coast. The governor was at work in his private study, and his wife abed. The prisoners were mostly awake. They had listened to Devlin’s sermon at first politely and then with real interest; they were now, at the chaplain’s encouragement, offering testimonies and philosophies of their own. Devlin was wondering whether he ought to retire for the night and venture out into the rain when there came a shout from the courtyard, and a thump against the door. This roused the gaoler, who emerged from his study with a linen cap upon his head and a rifle in his hand, a combination that ought to have been amusing, but was not. Devlin rose also, and followed Shepard to the door. They peered into the rain—and saw, just past the circle of light that was thrown by the gaoler’s lantern, the duty sergeant Ellis Drake. He had a woman in his arms. Shepard opened the door wider and invited the sergeant to step inside. Drake was a greasy, nasal fellow of limited intelligence; hearing his name, one was put in mind not of the naval hero but of the common duck, a species he closely resembled. He conveyed his captive into the gaol-house by the vulgar method of the fireman’s hold, and deposited her with little ceremony upon the floor. He then reported, nasally, that the whore had either committed a crime against society or a crime against God; she had been found in a posture of such abject insentience that a distinction between gross intoxication and wilful harm could not be made, but he hoped (tipping his hat) that some hours in the gaol-house might serve to clarify the matter. He nudged her senseless body with the tip of his boot, as if to reiterate his point, and added that the instrument of her crime was likely opium. The whore was enslaved to the drug, and had often been seen in public while under its effects. Governor Shepard gazed down at Anna Wetherell, and watched her hands curl and clasp at nothing. Devlin, not wanting to act out of turn, awaited the gaoler’s decision, though he wanted very much to kneel and touch the woman, and check her body for signs of harm: he was greatly saddened by the notion of suicide, and considered it the most dreadful assault upon the soul that any body could possibly make. The three men looked down at the whore, and for a moment no one spoke. Then Drake confided that if he had to make a definitive indictment, he was of the belief that she had attempted the more atrocious crime; the gaoler had better wait for her to come around, however, so as to ask the girl himself. Shepard collected Miss Wetherell’s body as he was bid, propped her up against the wall, and shackled her. He ensured that she could breathe and was performing that function tolerably; he then looked at his pocket watch, and commented upon the lateness of the hour. Devlin took his cue, and donned his hat and coat—though as he left the gaol he cast a yearning look over his shoulder. He wished that the girl had been arranged more comfortably. But the gaoler was bidding him good night, and in the next moment the door had been shut and locked behind him. When Devlin returned to the Police Camp early the next morning Anna Wetherell was still unconscious; her head had lolled sideways, and her mouth was slightly agape. There was a bluish-purple bruise upon her temple, and her cheekbone was painfully swollen: had she fallen, or had she been struck? Devlin had no time to investigate, however, or to press the gaoler for more information on the circumstances of the girl’s arrest: it transpired that a man had died during the night, and Devlin was requested to accompany the physician to the Arahura Valley to assist in the collection of the dead man’s remains—and perhaps also to say a prayer or two over his body. The dead man’s name, Shepard informed him, was Crosbie Wells. On Shepard’s information he had died peacefully, of age, infirmity, and drink; there was no reason, at this stage, to suspect homicide. In life, Shepard went on, Wells had been a hermit. He would be remembered neither as a good nor as a wicked man, for his acquaintances had been few, and no family had survived him. The chaplain and the physician drove northward up the beach, and turned inland once they reached the mouth of the Arahura River. Crosbie Wells’s cottage, situated some three or four miles upriver, was of simple construction—a timber box beneath a sloping roof of sheet iron—though Crosbie Wells had afforded himself the handsome luxury of a glass window, set into the north side of the house. The cottage was plainly visible from the Christchurch road, for it was elevated some twenty feet above the riverbank, and was surrounded by a cleared plot of land. All in all, the dwelling made for a very lonely picture—and all the more so, after the man’s corpse had been wrapped in blankets and carried from the room. Every surface was tacky and furred with dust. The bolster was stained yellow, the pillow sprayed with mould. A side of bacon, hanging from a rafter, was cracked and greasy-dry. Empty demijohns of liquor were ranged around the room’s perimeter. The bottle on the dead man’s table was likewise empty, signifying that the hermit’s last action had been to drain his vessel, rest his head on his hands, and sleep. The place had an animal smell—the smell of loneliness, Devlin thought, with sympathy. He knelt before the range and pulled out the ash drawer—intending to build a fire in the stove, in order to burn off the dead-seeming odour of the room—and saw a piece of paper, trapped between the grating and the bottom of the drawer. It appeared as if someone (Wells, presumably) had attempted to burn the document, but had closed the door of the range before the paper caught; the document had only caught fire along one edge before it dropped between the slats of the firebox to the drawer below, and was only very slightly charred. Devlin plucked it out and brushed it clean of ash. It was still legible. On this 11th day of October 1865 a sum of two thousand pounds is to be given to MISS ANNA WETHERELL, formerly of New South Wales, by MR. EMERY STAINES, formerly of New South Wales, as witnessed by MR. CROSBIE WELLS, presiding. Next to Wells’s name there was a shaky signature, but next to the other man’s name, only a space. Devlin raised his eyebrows. The deed was therefore invalid, for the witness had signed before the principal, and the principal had not signed at all. Devlin recalled the name Anna Wetherell: this was the whore who had been admitted to the gaol-house late the previous night, drugged with opium. He halted a moment, frowning, and then suddenly folded the deed in half and thrust it between the buttons of his shirt, against his skin. He continued building the fire. Presently the physician came back inside (he had been feeding the horses) and the two men sat and shared a cup of tea, looking out the plate-glass window over the river, and to the clouded mountains beyond. Outside, the horses champed at their nosebags, and stamped their feet; on the tray of the cart, the blanket covering Wells’s body gained a film of beaded silver, from the rain. Cowell Devlin could not quite justify his impulse to conceal the deed of gift from the physician, Dr. Gillies. Perhaps, he thought, he had been impelled by the atmosphere of quiet in the dead man’s house. Perhaps he had meant the act of suppression as a gesture of respect. Perhaps his curiosity had been aroused by the name Anna Wetherell—the attempted suicide, found unconscious in the Christchurch-road—and he had concealed the paper out of an obscure wish to protect her. The chaplain mused over these various possibilities as he drank his tea. He did not speak to the physician, who was likewise silent. When they were done they washed their cups, covered the fire, closed the door, and clambered back upon the cart, to convey their sorry freight back to the Police Camp in Hokitika, where a post-mortem was to be conducted upon the dead man’s remains. It was characteristic of Cowell Devlin that he would not attach a precise motivation to an action of questionable integrity, and that he chose, instead, to indulge a kind of dreamy confusion about his motivations as a whole. It was characteristic, too, that he saw no real obligation to confess this action—either then, or in the fortnight that followed, for it was not until the night of the 27th of January, two weeks later, that he showed this purloined deed of gift to anyone. Devlin believed himself to be a virtuous man, and his self-conception remained, in the face of all contradiction, impregnable. Whenever he behaved badly, or questionably, he simply jettisoned the memory, and turned his mind to something else. On the way back to Hokitika he held the deed flat against his chest with the palm of his hand. He spoke only to remark upon the power of the breakers, as the surf furled white against the shore beside them. The physician did not speak at all. After they returned to the Police Camp, and had carried Crosbie Wells’s body inside, Devlin did half-heartedly consider sharing the deed with Governor Shepard, but he was distracted by a new commotion, and the opportunity expired. Anna Wetherell, it turned out, was beginning to revive. Her eyes fluttered behind their lids, and her tongue shifted in her mouth; she made a murmuring noise. Her fever appeared to have broken, for there was a spray of beaded perspiration on her brow and nose, and the orange silk of her dress had turned brownish at her collar and beneath her arms. Devlin dropped to his knees before her. He clasped her hands in his—they were soft, and chill to the touch—and called to Shepard’s wife for water. When at last the girl woke, it was as if from a death. Her head reared back, and her eye rolled forward; she made a rasping noise. She seemed to register where she was, but the after-effects of opium had left her ravaged; evidently, she did not possess the energy even to express surprise. She drew her hands weakly away from Devlin’s grasp, and he retreated. He noticed that her hands moved at once to encircle her corset—as though her belly had been punctured, he thought, and she was trying to staunch the wound. He spoke, but she did not respond, and presently she closed her eyes again, and drifted back to sleep. An altercation broke out in another quarter of the gaol-house, and Devlin was called over to officiate; this duty, and others pertaining to his station, claimed his attention for the remainder of the afternoon. At the end of the day the justice’s clerk arrived from the courthouse to collect bail from any miscreant who could raise the necessary sum. At the sound of this newcomer’s voice, Miss Wetherell lifted her dark head, made damp by fever, and beckoned. (The clerk was another new face in town, slim and very dapper; Gascoigne was his name.) The whore extracted several coins from between the sorry bones of her corset, and pressed them one by one into the clerk’s open palm. She was shivering a great deal, and wore a look of great humiliation. The bail was recorded as met, and Governor Shepard was then obligated to release her, which he did promptly. Devlin did not attend her hearing at the Magistrate’s Court the next day, for he had been charged with the task of digging a grave for the hermit, Crosbie Wells. He heard later that she had declined to plead, and had paid the fine that was levied against her without argument. The day after the burial, a four-thousand-pound fortune was discovered in Crosbie Wells’s cottage—exactly twice the sum named in the partially burned deed of gift, which Devlin had since stowed between the pages of his Bible, between the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New. Still Devlin did not confess; still he did not show the deed to anyone. He told himself that once Anna Wetherell was stronger—once the episode of her near-suicide was safely behind her—he would show the piece of paper to her; for the moment, however, he judged it prudent to keep the information to himself. Now, in the dining room of the Palace Hotel, Devlin reached out and placed his hand over the battered cover of his Bible, which was unmarked except for a small Canterbury cross, stamped into the leather in gold. The movement was protective: although he did not yet know that the enclosed deed, pressed, apocryphal, between Malachi and Matthew, was to be of great importance to Thomas Balfour, as it would be to sundry other men, still he felt the need to keep it close to him. He knew that the deed—receipt of a gift that was never given, codicil to a will that was never made—was valuable somehow, and he was loath to part with it until he knew what its exact value truly was. ‘Grave-digging,’ said Balfour, taking his derby hat from its hook and running his fingers around the brim. ‘That’s something you’ll need to read up on.’ ‘I do not know of any tracts on the subject,’ Devlin said. ‘For your new parish,’ said Balfour, ignoring him. ‘There’s a gallows going in.’ He put his hat on, pushed it back off his forehead with his thumb, and turned to leave. At the door he lingered. ‘I don’t know your name, Reverend,’ he said. ‘And I don’t know yours,’ Devlin returned. There was a silence—and then Balfour burst out laughing, tipped his hat to show his pleasure, and strode from the room. Saturday in Hokitika was a day of bustle and appointment. The diggers flooded back to the township in droves, swelling the total population to some four thousand, and filling the dosshouses and hotels along Revell-street to riotous capacity. The clerks at the Magistrate’s Court were overrun with petty claims and mining rights, the brokers with pledges, the merchants with orders from the rich men, and petitions for extended credit from the poor. Gibson Quay was a hive of industry; it seemed that with every hour that passed, a new timber frame was hammered into place, a new door was hung, and a new store unfurled its banner to billow and crack in the Tasman wind. Every spoke on the great wheel of luck was visible on a Saturday—there were men rising, risen, just falling, fallen, and at rest—and that night every digger would either drink his sorrow, or his joy. Today, however, the heavy rain had discouraged all but the most urgent traffic in the streets, and Hokitika did not throng with its usual crowd. The few bedraggled men Balfour passed were hunched under the awnings of hotels, cupping their hands to keep their cigarettes alight. Even the horses had an air of grim surrender. They stood muzzled by the wet cones of their nosebags, unmoving in the torn muck of the road, and as he strode by they showed not even a flicker in the half-lidded slack of their eyes. As Balfour turned into Revell-street he met with such a lash of wind and rain that he was obliged to clamp his hat to his head with his hand. According to Saxby’s Weather Warnings, that dubious oracle published daily in the West Coast Times, the deluge would let up within a day or three—for Saxby was expansive in his predictions, and allowed himself a generous margin of error on either side of his guess. In truth the specifics of his column changed but rarely: downpour was as much a part of the Hokitika constitution as frost and sunburn had been in Otago, and red dust in the Victorian hills. Balfour quickened his pace, pulling his coat tighter around his body with his free hand. There were a dozen-odd men upon the covered veranda of the Reserve Bank, pocketed in groups of three and four. The windows behind them were fogged pearl-grey. Balfour scanned the faces, squinting through the rain, but saw nobody he recognised. A ragged plume of smoke directed his gaze downward, to a figure sitting alone: a Maori man was squatting under the eave with his back against a piling. He was smoking a cigar. His face was tattooed in a way that reminded Balfour of the wind patterns on a map. Two large swirls gave fullness to his cheeks, and spokes radiated upward from his brows to join his hairline. A pair of deep whorls on either side of his nostrils lent an almost prideful definition to his nose. His lips had been coloured blue. He was wearing serge trousers and an open-necked twill shirt, unbuttoned to the sternum; flat against the brown skin of his chest hung an enormous green pendant, shaped like an adze. He had almost finished his cigar, and as Balfour approached, he threw the butt into the thoroughfare, where it rolled down the camber of the road and then came to rest, still reeking, against the wet edge of the grass. ‘You’re that Maori fellow,’ said Balfour. ‘Crosbie Wells’s mate.’ The man moved his eyes to Balfour’s, but did not speak. ‘Give us your name again? Your name.’ ‘Ko Te Rau Tauwhare toku ingoa.’ ‘Crikey,’ Balfour said. ‘Give us just the name part.’ He held his palms close together, to signify a small amount. ‘Just the name.’ ‘Te Rau Tauwhare.’ ‘Can’t say that either,’ Balfour said. He shook his head. ‘Well—what do your friends call you, then—your white-man friends? What did Crosbie call you?’ ‘Te Rau.’ ‘Not much better, is it?’ Balfour said. ‘I’d be a fool to try, wouldn’t I? How about I call you Ted? That’s a good British name for you. Short for Theodore or Edward—you can choose. Edward’s a nice name.’ Tauwhare did not respond. ‘I’m Thomas,’ Balfour said, placing his hand on his heart. ‘And you’re Ted.’ He leaned over and patted Tauwhare on the crown of his head. The man flinched, and Balfour, in surprise, quickly snatched back his hand and took a step backwards. Feeling foolish, he stuck out his leg and shoved both hands into the pockets of his vest. ‘Tamati,’ said Tauwhare. ‘Come again?’ ‘In my tongue, your name is Tamati.’ ‘Oh,’ Balfour said, very relieved. He took his hands out of his pockets, clapped them together, and then folded his arms. ‘You’ve got a bit of English—good!’ ‘I have a great many English words,’ said Tauwhare. ‘I am told I speak your language very well.’ ‘Crosbie teach you a bit of English, Ted?’ ‘I taught him,’ said Tauwhare. ‘I taught him korero Maori! You say Thomas—I say Tamati. You say Crosbie—I say korero mai!’ He grinned, showing teeth that were very white and very square. Evidently he had made a joke of some kind, and so Balfour smiled back. ‘Never had a head for languages,’ he said, pulling his coat tighter across his body. ‘If it’s not English, it’s Spanish—that’s what my old dad always said. Listen, though, Ted: I’m sorry about your mate. I’m sorry about Crosbie Wells.’ Tauwhare’s expression became sober at once. ‘Hei maumaharatanga,’ he said. ‘Yes, well,’ Balfour said, wishing that the other man would stop talking in his own tongue, ‘it was a d—n shame, is what it was. And now all this kerfuffle—all this bother, about the fortune and so forth—and his wife.’ He peered expectantly at Tauwhare, through the rain. ‘He pounamu kakano rua,’ said Te Rau Tauwhare. With his first two fingers he touched the pendant that hung around his neck. Perhaps it was a talisman of some kind, Balfour thought: they all had them, the Maori fellows. Tauwhare’s was almost the size of his hand, and polished to a shine; it was made of a dark green stone, clouded with bands of a lighter green, and was fitted to a braid that ran around Tauwhare’s neck, so that the narrow end of the adze sat high in the notch of his collarbone. ‘Say,’ Balfour said, opting for a shot in the dark, ‘Say, where were you when it happened, Ted? Where were you when Crosbie died?’ (Perhaps the Maori fellow could start him on his way; perhaps he knew something. It wouldn’t do to ask too many questions about the town, of course, for fear of attracting suspicion, but a Maori man was a much safer bet than most: his acquaintance was, most likely, very limited.) Te Rau Tauwhare turned his dark eyes on Balfour, and considered him. ‘Do you understand the question?’ Balfour said. ‘I understand the question,’ Tauwhare said. He understood that Balfour was asking about the death of Crosbie Wells, and yet had not been present at his funeral—that shameful excuse for a funeral, Tauwhare thought, with a flash of anger and disgust. He understood that Balfour had made only the most superficial show of sympathy, and had not even removed his hat. He understood that Balfour was looking to make a profit in some way, for he had a greedy look, in the way that men often did when they saw a chance to receive something and give nothing in return. Yes, Tauwhare thought: he understood the question. Te Rau Tauwhare was not quite thirty years of age. He was handsomely muscular, and carried himself with assurance and the tightly wound energy of youth; though not openly prideful, he never showed that he was impressed or intimidated by any other man. He possessed a deeply private arrogance, a bedrock of self-certainty that needed neither proof nor explication—for although he had a warrior’s reputation, and an honourable standing within his tribe, his self-conception had not been shaped by his achievements. He simply knew that his beauty and his strength were without compare; he simply knew that he was better than most other men. This estimation did make Tauwhare anxious, however: he felt that it pointed to a spiritual dearth. He knew that any self-reflexive certainty was the hallmark of shallowness, and that valuation was no index of true worth—and yet he could not shake his certainty about himself. This worried him. He worried that he was only an ornament, a shell without meat, a hollow clam; he worried that his own self-estimation was a vain one. He therefore apprenticed himself to the spiritual life. He quested after the wisdom of his ancestors, so as to teach himself to doubt himself. As a monk seeks to transcend the lesser functions of his body, so did Te Rau Tauwhare seek to transcend this lesser function of his will—but a man cannot master his will without the expression of it. Tauwhare could never strike a balance between surrendering to his impulses, and fighting them. The iwi to which Tauwhare belonged was Poutini Ngai Tahu, a people who had once commanded the entire western coast of the South Island, from the steep-sided fjords in the south to the palms and stony beaches in the far north. Six years ago the Crown had purchased this extensive tract of land for a sum of three hundred pounds—reserving for Poutini Ngai Tahu only the Arahura River, sections of its banks, and a small parcel of land at Mawhera, the mouth of the river Grey. The negotiations had at the time struck Poutini Ngai Tahu as unfair; now, six years later, they knew the purchase to be patent theft. The thousands and thousands of diggers who had since flocked to the Coast in pursuit of gold had each purchased a prospector’s licence at a pound apiece, and land at a price of ten shillings per acre. That profit alone was considerable—but that was to say nothing of the value of the gold itself, hidden in the rivers and mingled in the sands, whose aggregate value was so colossal it had not yet been given a figure. Every time he thought about the wealth his people ought to have commanded, Tauwhare felt a swell of anger in his chest—an anger so bitter and tormented that it manifested as pain. Thus it was to the Crown, and not to Poutini Ngai Tahu, that Crosbie Wells had paid his fifty pounds, when he purchased a hundred rolling acres at the eastern end of the Arahura Valley—an acreage that was thick with totara, a finely grained wood that answered well to a knife, and did not weather under salt or storm. Wells was pleased with his purchase. His two great loves were hard work and hard work’s reward—whisky, when he could get it, and gin when he could not. He built himself a one-roomed cottage overlooking the river, cleared a space for a garden, and began to build a timber mill. Te Rau Tauwhare travelled up the Arahura Valley relatively frequently, for the reason that he was a hunter of pounamu, and the Arahura River was filled with that treasure: smooth, milky-grey stones that, when split, showed a glassy green interior, harder than steel. He was a competent carver, even, some said, an excellent one, but it was in sourcing the stone from the riverbed that he was truly and uniquely skilled. Pounamu was as dull and ordinary on the exterior as it was bright and iridescent within; Tauwhare, with his practised eye, did not need to scratch or split the stones at the riverbank, but carried them back to Mawhera untouched, so that they could be blessed and broken in the ceremonial way. The acreage purchased by Crosbie Wells banked on to Poutini Ngai Tahu land—or, as we should properly say, banked onto the portion of land to which Poutini Ngai Tahu had been so recently confined. In any event, it was not long before Te Rau Tauwhare encountered Crosbie Wells—having been attracted by the sound of Wells’s axe, ringing through the valley as he split kindling for his fire. Their acquaintance began cordially, and became frequent; over time Tauwhare began to call in at Crosbie Wells’s cottage each time he was near. Wells, it turned out, was an enthusiastic pupil of Maori life and lore—and so Tauwhare’s visits became a tradition. Te Rau Tauwhare loved any chance to enlighten other men upon those qualities that best defined him, and never more than when his audience flattered those aspects of his person about which he cherished a deeply private doubt: namely, his mauri, his spirit, his religion, and his depth. Crosbie Wells, over the coming months, questioned Tauwhare relentlessly about his beliefs, as a man, and as a Maori man, and as a Maori man of Ngai Tahu allegiance. He confessed that Tauwhare was the first non-European with whom he had ever spoken; his curiosity, so expressed, had all the qualities of thirst. Tauwhare, it must be said, did not learn a great deal about Crosbie Wells during this time; the latter seldom spoke about his own past, and it was not Tauwhare’s habit to ask a great many questions. He considered Crosbie Wells a kindred spirit, however, and often told him so—for, like all fundamentally confident persons, Tauwhare was very happy to compare himself to others, intending all such comparisons as compliments of the most heartfelt kind. On the morning after Crosbie Wells’s death Tauwhare arrived at his cottage with a gift of food, as was their custom—he supplied the meat, and Wells the spirits, an arrangement that satisfied both men. In the clear space before Wells’s cottage he met a cart, departing. Holding the reins was the Hokitika physician, Dr. Gillies; beside him sat the gaol-house chaplain, Cowell Devlin. Tauwhare did not know either of these men, but when his gaze moved to the cart, he saw a familiar pair of boots, and, beneath a folded blanket, a familiar form. Tauwhare gave a cry, and dropped his gift upon the ground in shock; the chaplain, taking pity on him, suggested that he might accompany his friend’s body back to Hokitika, where it was to be prepared for burial, and thereafter, interred. There was no room for Tauwhare on the driver’s seat, but if he wished it, he could sit on the rear tongue of the cart, so long as he remembered to keep his feet out of the way. The hoteliers and shopkeepers stood in the doorways along Revell-street as the cart rattled into Hokitika and turned down the main road. Some trotted forward for a better view, peering up at Te Rau Tauwhare—who stared back, blank-faced, limp. One of his hands was loosely gripping Wells’s ankle. The man’s body rolled and juddered with each lurch of the cart. When they reached the Police Camp Tauwhare did not move. He sat waiting, still holding Wells’s ankle, while the other men conferred. The Hokitika cooper had agreed to knock together a pine coffin, ready for the funeral, and to fashion a rounded wooden headstone on which he would paint Crosbie Wells’s name and the two dates that bounded his life. (Nobody was sure of the actual year of his birth, but the year 1809 had been inked upon the flyleaf of his Bible: this was a plausible birth date, for it would place Crosbie Wells at fifty-seven years of age, and it was this date that the cooper would inscribe on the dead man’s wooden headstone.) Until these two orders were completed, however, and until the grave was dug, the gaol’s governor had directed Crosbie Wells to be laid out on the floor of his private study at the Police Camp, with a muslin bed sheet between his body and the ground. When the body was arranged with his hands folded across his chest, the gaoler ushered everyone from the room and pulled the door closed, causing the hallway to shiver. The interior walls of the gaoler’s house were made of patterned calico that had been stretched tight and tacked to the building’s frame, and when the timber creaked in the wind, or was disturbed by a heavy footfall or the sudden slam of a door, the walls all quivered and rippled, like the surface of a pool—so that, watching them tremble, one could not help but call to mind that two-inch space between the doubled cloth, that dead space around the framing, full of dust, and patterned by the moving shadows of the bodies in the room beyond. Someone has to stay with him, Tauwhare insisted. Wells could not be left alone, lying on the floor, without even a flame burning in the room, with no one to watch over him, touch him, pray over him, pray for him, or sing. Tauwhare tried to explain the principles of the tangi—but they weren’t principles, they were rites, too sacred for explanation, too sacred even to defend: they were simply the way things ought to be done, must be done. A spirit has not fully departed until the body is interred, he said. There are songs, and prayers … The gaoler reprimanded him, calling him a heathen. Tauwhare became angry. Somebody has to stay with him until the burial, he said. I will stay with him until the burial. Crosbie Wells was my friend and my brother. Crosbie Wells, the gaoler returned, was a white man, and unless a passing shadow has deceived me, certainly no brother of yours. The funeral will be on Tuesday morning; if you want to make yourself useful, you can lend a hand to the digging of his grave. But Tauwhare stayed. He kept vigil on the porch, and then in the garden, and then in the alley between the gaoler’s cottage and the Camp—and from each station he was chased away. At last the gaoler emerged from the gaol-house with a long-handled pistol in his hand. He would shoot Tauwhare if he saw him within fifty yards of the Camp at any hour before the moment Crosbie Wells’s body was lowered into the ground, so help him God, he said. So Tauwhare backed up fifty paces, counting the steps, and sat down against the wooden fa?ade of the Grey and Buller Bank. From this distance he watched over his old friend’s body, and spoke beloved words for him, on the final night before his spirit sailed away. ‘When Crosbie died,’ said Tauwhare, ‘I was in the Arahura.’ ‘You were in the valley?’ said Balfour. ‘You were there when he died?’ ‘I was setting a trap for kereru,’ said Tauwhare. ‘Do you know kereru?’ ‘Some kind of bird, is it?’ ‘Yes—very tasty. Good for stewing.’ ‘All right.’ Balfour’s derby hat had begun to drip. He took it off and banged it against his leg. Already his suit had darkened from grey to a sodden charcoal. His shirt had become translucent, showing through it the pink of his skin. ‘I set the trap before nightfall, to catch the birds in the morning,’ Tauwhare said. ‘From the ridge you can see Crosbie’s house—from above. That night four men went in.’ ‘Four?’ said Balfour, replacing his hat. ‘You don’t mean three—one man on a black stallion, very tall; two other men with him, shorter, both on bay mares? That’s Alistair Lauderback—and Jock, and Augustus. The men who found his body, you know—who alerted the police.’ ‘I saw three men on horseback, yes,’ said Tauwhare, nodding slowly. ‘But before they arrived, I saw one man on foot.’ ‘One man alone—well! You’re all right, aren’t you, Ted?’ said Balfour, suddenly very excited. ‘Yes—by golly, you’re all right!’ ‘I was not alarmed,’ Tauwhare continued, ‘because I did not know that Crosbie Wells died that night. I did not know he was dead until the morning.’ ‘One man—entering the cottage, alone!’ said Balfour. He began to pace. ‘And before Lauderback! Before Lauderback arrives!’ ‘Do you wish to know his name?’ Balfour wheeled on his foot. ‘You know who it was?’ He was almost shouting. ‘Yes, good Lord! Tell me!’ ‘We will trade,’ said Tauwhare immediately. ‘I will set my price; you will counter. One pound.’ ‘Trade?’ said Balfour. ‘One pound,’ said Tauwhare. ‘Hang tight,’ said Balfour. ‘You saw a man go into Wells’s cottage on the day of his death—the very day of his death, two weeks ago? You really saw somebody do that? And you know—without a shadow of a doubt—who that man was?’ ‘I know the name,’ said Tauwhare. ‘I know the man. No cheating.’ ‘No cheating,’ agreed Balfour. ‘But before I pay—I want to make sure that you do really know him, you see. I want to make sure you’re not taking me for a ride. Big man, was it? Very dark hair?’ Tauwhare folded his arms. ‘Fair play,’ he said. ‘No cheating.’ ‘Of course it’s fair play,’ said Balfour. ‘Of course it is.’ ‘We will trade. I have set my price at one pound. Now you counter.’ ‘Heavy—was he heavy? Thick-set? I’m just making sure, you see. I’m making sure you’re on the level. Then I’ll start trading. You might be cheating me.’ ‘One pound,’ said Tauwhare stubbornly. ‘It was Francis Carver, wasn’t it, Ted? Isn’t that right? It was Francis Carver—the sea captain? Captain Carver?’ Balfour was guessing—but it was a good guess. A wounded look passed over Tauwhare’s face, and he exhaled audibly. ‘I said no cheating,’ he said, in a tone of reproof. ‘I wasn’t cheating, Ted,’ said Balfour. ‘I just knew it already, you see. I’d only forgotten. Of course Carver made a trip up to Crosbie Wells’s cottage that day. That was him, wasn’t it—Captain Carver, the man you saw? You can tell me—it’s not a secret, because I already know.’ He searched the man’s face, making sure. Tauwhare’s jaw was rigidly set. Under his breath he muttered, ‘Ki te tuohu koe, me maunga teitei.’ ‘Well, Ted, you’ve done me a d—ned good turn here, and I won’t forget it,’ said Balfour. By now he was thoroughly saturated. ‘And you know—if I ever need something done, I’ll come to you, won’t I? And you’ll get your coin some other way.’ Tauwhare lifted his chin. ‘You need Maori,’ he said. He did not phrase it as a question. ‘You need Maori, you come to me. I do not do odd jobs. But you need language, and I will teach you many things.’ He did not mention that his skill was as a carver. He had never sold pounamu. He would not sell pounamu. For one could not put a price upon a treasure, just as one could not purchase mana, and one could not make a bargain with a god. Gold was not a treasure—this Tauwhare knew. Gold was like all capital in that it had no memory: its drift was always onward, away from the past. ‘All right—but you’ll shake, won’t you?’ Balfour seized Tauwhare’s dry hand in his wet one, and shook it vigorously. ‘There’s a good man, Ted—there’s a good man.’ But Tauwhare was still looking severely displeased, and he withdrew his hand from Balfour’s grip as soon as he was able. Balfour felt a twinge of regret. It would not do to make an enemy of the fellow—not with so much of this business yet unsolved, he thought. There was a chance that Tauwhare’s testimony might have to be called upon at a later time; there was a chance that he knew something about the relations, whatever they were, between Crosbie Wells and Francis Carver—or between those two men and Lauderback, come to think of it. Yes: it would be useful, to keep the man appeased. Balfour reached into his pocket. Surely he had something small, some token. They were fond of tokens. His fingers found a shilling and a sixpence. He pulled the sixpence out. ‘Here,’ he said. ‘You can have this, if you tell me some Maori. Just like you taught Crosbie Wells. Eh, Ted? Then we’ll have done business, just as you wanted to. All right? Then we’ll be friends. Then you won’t be able to complain.’ He pressed the silver piece into the other man’s palm. Tauwhare looked at it. ‘Now, tell me,’ said Balfour, rubbing his hands together. ‘What does … what does Hokitika mean? Hokitika. Just the one word, that’s all I’m after. And I’d call that a tidy price, by the bye—a sixpence, for a single word! I’d call that a song!’ Te Rau Tauwhare sighed. Hokitika. He knew the sense of it, but could not translate. This happened so often between the languages, English and Maori: the words of one tongue never found their exact equivalent in the other, just as there was no white man’s herb that one might perfectly exchange for puha, and no white man’s bread that exactly called to mind rewena pararoa: however close the flavour, there was always something approximated, something imagined, or something lost. Crosbie Wells had understood this. Te Rau Tauwhare taught him korero Maori without using any English at all: they used their fingers to point, and their faces to mimic, and when Te Rau said things that Crosbie Wells did not understand, he let the sounds wash over him, like prayers, until their meanings clarified, and he could see inside the word. ‘Hokitika,’ said Balfour. He wiped the rain from his face. ‘Come on, mate.’ At last Tauwhare lifted his finger and described a circle in the air. When his fingertip returned to the place from which he had begun, he jabbed his finger, sharply, to mark the place of return. But one cannot mark a place upon a circle, he thought: to mark a place upon a circle is to break it, so that it is not a circle any longer. ‘Understand it like this,’ he said, regretting that he had to speak the words in English, and approximate the noun. ‘Around. And then back again, beginning.’ The Reserve Bank was always very crowded on a Saturday at noon. Diggers stood about with their hands full of gold; the Libra-scales rattled up and down as the ore was measured and recorded; the junior bankers ran back and forth from the archives, checking claim papers, marking tax payments, and receiving fees. Along the wall that faced the street were four barred cubicles where the bankers sat; above them hung a gilt-framed chalkboard, upon which was written that week’s yield in ore, with subtotals for each district, and a grand total for the Hokitika region as a whole. Whenever a sum of raw gold was banked or bought, the chalked numbers were erased and then totalled anew—typically to a murmur of appreciation from the men in the room, and occasionally, if the total was a remarkable one, to a round of applause. When Balfour entered the bank the attention of the crowd was focused not upon this chalkboard but upon the long table opposite, where the gold buyers, identifiable by the bright copper satchels that they wore upon their belts, inspected the raw ore for purchase. The buyer’s work was slow. He weighed each nugget in his hand, scratched and tested the metal for impurities, and examined it through a jeweller’s loupe. If the ore had been sifted, he filtered it through sieves of matting to check the flakes had not been cut with grit or gravel, and sometimes shook glistering handfuls over plates of mercury, to ensure that the metals bonded as they should. Once he declared the stuff pure and fit to be valued, the digger in question shuffled forward, and was asked to state his name. The Libra-scales were then calibrated until the arm hung parallel with the desk—and then the buyer poured the digger’s pile of gold into the left-hand tray. To the right-hand tray the buyer added cylinder weights, one by one, until finally the scales lurched, and the tray bearing the man’s fortune shuddered, and swung free. That morning there was only one buyer present: a slick-haired magnate, wearing a pale green hunting jacket and a yellow tie—a gaudy combination, and one that might have served to mark him rather too obviously as a moneyed man, had he been doing business alone and unprotected. But the Hokitika gold escort was on hand. This small army, a uniformed infantry of ten men, presided over every sale and purchase of the colour. Later they would oversee the bullion’s transfer into an armoured van, and ensure that it was safely conveyed offshore. They stood behind the buyer, and flanked the desk at which he sat—each man armed with a .577 Snider-Enfield rifle, a massive, gleaming piece of the most modern design. It took a cartridge as long as a man’s index finger, and could blow a fellow’s head to bloody dust. Balfour had admired the Snider-Enfield when the model was first shipped in, but seeing ten armed men in this enclosed space gave him an anxious premonition. The room was so crowded he doubted any one guard could find the room to raise his weapon to his shoulder, let alone discharge a round. He shouldered his way through the diggers to the bankers’ cubicles. Most of the men in the room were present as spectators only, and so parted to admit him; it was in very little time at all, therefore, that Balfour found himself at a barred cubicle, facing a young man in a striped vest and a neatly pinned cravat. ‘Good morning.’ ‘I’m wanting to know if a man named Francis Carver has ever taken out a miner’s right in New Zealand,’ Balfour said. He removed his hat and slicked back his wet hair, an action without a perceptible benefit, for the palm of his hand was very wet also. ‘Francis Carver—Captain Carver?’ ‘That’s the man,’ said Balfour. ‘I am obliged to ask who you are, and why you are requesting this information.’ The banker spoke without affect, and in a mild tone of voice. ‘The man owns a ship, and I’m in the shipping trade,’ Balfour said smoothly, replacing his hat. ‘Tom Balfour’s my name. I’m looking to set up a side venture of a kind—tea-trading, back and forth from Canton. Just canvassing the idea at this point. I want to find out a bit more about Carver before I make any offers of business. Where his money’s spread. Whether he’s ever been bankrupted. That kind of thing.’ ‘Surely you could just ask Mr. Carver yourself,’ replied the banker, speaking in the same inoffensive tone, so that the remark did not come off as rude, but, merely, as pleasantly offhand. He might have been passing a broken wagon in the street, and observing, quite affably, that there was a very simple way to mend the axle. Balfour explained that Carver was at sea, and could not be contacted. The banker seemed unsatisfied with this explanation. He considered Balfour, and put his finger against his lower lip. Evidently, however, he could not conjure a further objection that might give him reason to decline to pursue Balfour’s request. He nodded, pulled his ledger towards him, and wrote a note in a thin, precise script. He then blotted his page (a little unnecessarily, Balfour thought, for the ledger remained open) and dried the nib of his pen with a square of soft leather. ‘Wait here, please,’ he said. He disappeared through a low doorway, beyond which lay an antechamber of some kind, and soon returned carrying a large folder, bound in leather and marked on its spine with the letter C. Balfour drummed his fingers as the banker untied the clasp upon the folder and opened it. He scrutinised the young man through the bars of the grille. What a contrast this young man posed to the Maori in the street! They were rough contemporaries in age, but where Tauwhare had been muscled, tense, and proud, this fellow was languid, even catlike: he moved with a kind of casual luxury, as though he saw no need to spend his strength on swiftness, and nor did he see any reason to conserve it. He was lean in body. His hair was brown in hue, long, and curly at the tips; he wore it tied in a ribbon at the nape of his neck, in the fashion of a whaler. His face was broad and his eyes spaced widely; his lips were full, his teeth very crooked, and his nose rather large. These features conspired to form an expression that was both honest and nonchalant—and nonchalance is a form of elegance, when it demands much, and declines to reveal its source. Balfour considered him a very elegant young man. ‘Here,’ the banker said at last, pointing. ‘You see—Carswell, here, and then Cassidy. Your man’s not here.’ ‘So Francis Carver doesn’t own a miner’s right.’ ‘Not in Canterbury, no.’ He shut the folder with a soft thud. ‘What about an Otago certificate?’ ‘I’m afraid you will have to go to Dunedin for that.’ This was a dead end. In Lauderback’s story the gold in the crate had hailed (allegedly, of course) from Dunstan, which was an Otago field. ‘You don’t keep records of Otago men?’ Balfour asked, disappointed. ‘No.’ ‘What if he came in on Otago papers? Would there be a record at the customhouse—from when he first arrived?’ ‘Not at the customhouse,’ said the banker, ‘but if he made any dust, he’d have to have it counted and weighed before he left. He’s not allowed to transfer it to another province, or out of the country, without declaring it first. So he’d come here. We’d ask to take a look at the miner’s right. Then we’d make a record in this book that he was working under Otago papers, but on a Hokitika claim. There’s nothing in this book; therefore, as I said just now, we can safely assume he hasn’t prospected anywhere hereabouts. As for whether he’s prospected in Otago, I’ve no idea.’ The banker spoke with the controlled alarm of a bureaucrat who is requested to explain some mundane feature of the bureaucracy of which he is a functioning part: controlled, because an official is always comforted by proof of his own expertise, and alarmed, because the necessity for explanation seemed, in some obscure way, to undermine the system which had afforded him that expertise in the first place. ‘All right,’ said Balfour. ‘Now, there’s one more thing. I need to know whether Carver has owned shares in any mining company, or if he took out shares on a private claim.’ A flicker of doubt disturbed the banker’s mild expression. For the briefest moment, he said nothing, and again it seemed as if he were trying to think of a reason to decline Balfour’s request, to declare it unorthodox, or to press to know the reason why. He looked at Balfour with a gaze that was no less piercing for its mildness—and Balfour, who was always made uncomfortable by scrutiny, scowled very darkly. But, as before, the banker applied himself to the task demanded of his office. He wrote another note upon his ledger, blotted it, and then politely excused himself to pursue this new request. When he returned with the shares records, however, he looked openly uneasy. ‘Francis Carver has speculated in this area,’ he said. ‘You wouldn’t call it a portfolio: it’s only one claim. Looks like a private agreement. Carver takes home a return to the tune of fifty percent of the mine’s net profit every quarter.’ ‘Fifty percent!’ Balfour said. ‘And only one claim—that’s confidence for you! When did he buy?’ ‘Our records show the date as July 1865.’ ‘That far back!’ Balfour said. (Six months ago! But that was after the sale of the Godspeed—was it not?) ‘Which claim is it? Who’s owning?’ ‘The mine is called the Aurora,’ said the banker, enunciating very carefully. ‘It is owned and operated by—’ ‘Emery Staines,’ Balfour finished for him, nodding his head. ‘Yes, I know the place—up Kaniere way. Why, that’s capital news. Staines is a great friend of mine. I’ll go and talk to the man myself. Thank you very much, Mr.—?’ ‘Frost.’ ‘Thank you very much, Mr. Frost. You’ve been extraordinarily helpful.’ But the banker was looking at Balfour with a strange expression on his face. ‘Mr. Balfour,’ he said. ‘Perhaps you haven’t heard.’ ‘Something about Staines?’ ‘Yes.’ Balfour stiffened. ‘He’s dead?’ ‘No,’ said Frost. ‘He vanished.’ ‘What? When?’ ‘Two weeks ago.’ Balfour’s eyes went wide. ‘I am sorry to be the one to break the news—if you are his great friend.’ Balfour did not notice the barb of emphasis in the banker’s remark. ‘Vanished—two weeks back!’ he said. ‘And no one’s talking? Why haven’t I heard about it?’ ‘I assure you that many men have been talking,’ said Frost. ‘A notice has been published in the Missing Persons column every day this week.’ ‘I never read the personals,’ said Balfour. (But of course: he had been with Lauderback, this fortnight past, facilitating introductions up and down the Coast; he had not been frequenting the Corinthian, as he habitually did in the evenings, to share a mug of beer with the other camp followers while they exchanged the local news.) ‘Perhaps he found a strike,’ he said now. ‘That could be it. Perhaps Staines found a paying seam, up in the bush somewhere, and he’s keeping it quiet—until he’s staked the ground.’ ‘Perhaps,’ the banker said courteously, and would not say more. Balfour chewed his lip. ‘Vanished!’ he said. ‘I can’t understand it!’ ‘I rather wonder whether this news will be of import to your partner,’ said Frost, smoothing the open page of his ledger with his palm. ‘Who’s my partner?’ Balfour said, with some alarm—thinking that the banker was referring to Alistair Lauderback, whose name he had been careful not to use. ‘Why—Mr. Carver,’ Frost said, blinking. ‘Your prospective partner in business—as you have just informed me, sir. Mr. Carver has a joint investment with Mr. Staines. So if Mr. Staines is dead …’ He trailed off with a shrug. Balfour narrowed his eyes. The banker seemed to be implying, however vaguely, that Carver was in some way responsible for Emery Staines’s disappearance … an implication for which he surely did not have any proof. His attitude was very clear, and yet he had not really expressed an opinion of any kind, upon which he might be faulted. The tone of his voice implied that he did not like Carver, even though his words expressed sympathy for the man’s possible loss. Balfour, feeling the cowardice of this equivocation, almost became angry—but then he remembered that he was shamming. He was not going into business with Carver, and need not take his part in an argument against him. But then young Frost smothered a smile, and Balfour saw, with a sudden rush of indignation, that, in fact, the younger man was mocking him. Frost had not believed his false story for a moment! He knew that Balfour was not going into business with Carver; he knew that this falsehood had been fabricated to mask some other purpose—and then he added the insult of diminishment to the injury of exposure, by finding Balfour amusing! It rankled Balfour to be second-guessed, but it rankled him still more to be ridiculed, especially by a man whose days were spent in a three-foot-square cubicle, signing cheques in another man’s name. (This last was Lauderback’s phrase, half-remembered from earlier that morning; it came to Balfour’s mind as his own.) Suddenly angry, he leaned forward and curled his hands around the bars of the grille. ‘All right,’ he said quietly. ‘You listen. I’m no more going into business with Carver than you are. I think the man’s a thug and a crook and all the rest of it. I’m up against him, d—n it. I’ve got to get a twinkle on him: something I can use.’ ‘What is a twinkle?’ the banker asked. ‘It’s stupid—never mind it,’ Balfour snapped. ‘The point is that I’m looking to round him up. Give him over to the law. I think he skimmed a fair fortune out of some other fellow’s claim. Thousands. But it’s only a hunch, and I need hard evidence. I need a place to start. All right? That investment story I gave you just now was a bunch of guff. Cock and bull.’ He glared at the banker through the bars of the grille. ‘What?’ he said after a moment. ‘What, then?’ ‘Nothing at all,’ said Frost. He squared the papers on his desk, and gave a cryptic, tight-lipped smile. ‘Your business is your own. I wish you only luck, Mr. Balfour.’ The news about Emery Staines had rattled Balfour severely. Shipping crates and blackmail was one thing, he thought, but a person disappearing was quite another. That was a sombre business. Emery Staines was a good digger, and much too young to die. Outside the courthouse Balfour stood and breathed heavily for a moment. The small crowd outside the bank had dispersed to their luncheon, and the Maori man was gone. The rain had thinned to a persistent drizzle. Balfour cast his eye up and down the street, somewhat at a loss for where next to go. He felt excessively dejected. Vanished, he thought. But one did not simply vanish! The boy could only have been murdered. There was no other explanation for it—if he had not been seen for two weeks. Emery Staines was easily the richest man south of the black sands. He owned more than a dozen claims, several of which had shafts that descended to depths of thirty feet, at least. Balfour, who admired Staines exceedingly, would have guessed his age at three-or four-and-twenty—not so young as to be unworthy of his luck, and not so old as to suggest that he might have acquired it by some less than honest means. In fact such a suggestion had never crossed Balfour’s mind. Staines had been gifted with a thoroughly good-natured beauty, the kind that is earnest and hopeful without ever declaring itself to be so; in temper he was affable, optimistic, and delightfully quick. Even to think him dead was hateful. To think him murdered was worse. Just then the Wesleyan chapel bell struck half past twelve, releasing a flurry of birds: they burst out of the makeshift belfry and scattered, dark against the sky. Balfour turned his face to the sound, feeling as he did so a sudden ache in his temple. His senses were turning from dull to sharp—the effect of the spirits he had consumed that morning—and the responsibilities of his situation had begun to weigh heavy upon him. He no longer felt inclined to ask questions on Lauderback’s behalf. He wrapped his coat around his body, turned on his heel, and began walking towards the Hokitika spit—a place that was, for him, a habitual refuge. It was his pleasure to stand on the sand in foul weather, clutch his coat across his body, and look out past the clustered masts of the ships at anchor, swaying en masse, impelled variously by the river’s rushing current, the surf, and the wind—the howling Tasman wind, that stripped the bark from the trees at the beachfront, and bent the scrub to crippled forms. Balfour enjoyed the fierce indifference of a storm. He liked lonely places, because he never really felt alone. As he slithered down the muddy bank to the quay, the wind suddenly dropped. Smiling, Balfour peered into the mist. The rain had stolen all chance of a reflection from the wide mouth of the river, and the water was as grey and opaque as a pewter plate. The bucking masts had slowed their motion when the wind died away; Balfour watched them, calmed by their weighty roll, back and forth, back and forth. He waited until they were almost still before moving on. The quay curved around the mouth of the river to meet the spit, a narrow finger of sand that was battered on one side by the white surf of the open ocean, and lapped on the other by the confused wash of the river, its waters mingled now with salt, and stripped of gold. Here, on the calm side of the spit, a short wharf projected from the quay. Balfour stepped down onto it, landing with a flat sole, and the structure shuddered beneath his weight. Two stevedores, quite as sodden as he was, were sitting on the wharf some twenty feet away; they started at the jolt, and turned. ‘All right, chaps,’ said Balfour. ‘All right, Tom.’ One was carrying a brass-capped boathook; he had been using it to swipe at the gulls, which were diving for their supper on the rocks below, and now he resumed this idle purpose. The other was keeping score. Balfour strolled up behind them, and for a time nobody spoke. They watched the moored vessels pitch back and forth, and squinted out, through the rain. ‘You know what the trouble is?’ Balfour said presently. ‘Down here, any man can make himself over. Make himself new. What’s an alias, anyway? What’s in a name? Pick it up as you pick up a nugget. Call this one Wells—this one Carver—’ One of the stevedores glanced around. ‘You got a quarrel with Francis Carver?’ ‘No, no.’ Balfour shook his head. ‘Quarrel with a man called Wells?’ Balfour sighed. ‘No—there hasn’t been a quarrel,’ he said. ‘I’m wanting to find out a thing or two, that’s all. But quiet—on the sly.’ The gull returned; the stevedore swiped again, and missed. ‘Foul-hooked through his wing, nearly,’ said the second man. ‘That’s five.’ Balfour saw that they had dropped a square of biscuit on the gravel below. The stevedore who had spoken first nodded his head at Balfour and said, ‘Are you wanting to chase up Carver, or chase up the other one?’ ‘Neither,’ Balfour said. ‘Never mind. Never mind. I’ve got no quarrel with Francis Carver—you remember that.’ ‘I’ll remember,’ said the stevedore, and then, ‘I say, though: if you’re wanting dirt—and on the sly—you ought to ask the gaoler.’ Balfour was watching the gull circle closer. ‘The gaoler? Shepard? Why?’ ‘Why? Because Carver did time under Shepard,’ said the stevedore. ‘On Cockatoo Island, for all of ten years. Carver dug the dry dock there—convict labour—with Shepard looking on. If you’re wanting dirt on Carver, I’d make a bet that Gov. Shepard is the man to dig it up.’ ‘At Cockatoo?’ Balfour said with interest. ‘I didn’t know Shepard was a sergeant at Cockatoo.’ ‘He was. And then the very year after Carver gets his leave, Shepard gets a transfer to New Zealand—and follows him! How’s that for bad luck?’ ‘The worst,’ agreed his fellow. ‘How do you know this?’ Balfour said. The stevedore was addressing his mate. ‘That’s a face I’d never want to see again—my gaoler, day in and day out, for ten years—and then, as soon as I’m free—’ ‘How do you know this?’ Balfour persisted. ‘I apprenticed on the dockyards there,’ the stevedore said. ‘Hey, now—that’s a corker!’ For he had struck the gull across the back with his stick. ‘You don’t happen to know what Carver was booked for—do you, lad?’ ‘Trafficking,’ the stevedore said immediately. ‘Trafficking what?’ ‘Opium.’ ‘What—into China? Or out?’ ‘Couldn’t tell you.’ ‘Who booked him, though? Not the Crown.’ The stevedore thought about this, and then shrugged. ‘I don’t really know,’ he said. ‘I thought it was something to do with opium. But maybe that was just something I heard.’ Presently Balfour bid them both goodbye, and moved on along the spit. As soon as he was well alone, he planted his feet apart, thrust his hands into his pockets, and looked out over the white roar of the ocean—past the screw jacks and greased rollers, past the wooden lighthouse at the spit’s far end, past the dark hulks of the ships that had foundered on the bar. ‘See, now!’ he muttered to himself. ‘That’s something—that’s something, all right! Carver must be the man’s real name! He can’t be using an alias—not in Hokitika, under the gaoler’s own nose—when he served time beneath the man, in a penitentiary!’ Balfour slicked his moustache with his finger and thumb. ‘Here’s the rub, though. What in heaven’s name provoked him to make the claim—with proof in writing, to boot—that his name was Francis Wells?’ SATURN IN LIBRA In which Joseph Pritchard outlines his theory of conspiracy; George Shepard makes a calculated offer; and Harald Nilssen agrees, in a tone of remonstration, to pay a call upon Ah Quee. It was at this point that Balfour’s role as narrator was usurped—a transferral that was marked, on the shipping agent’s part, by the lighting of a new cigar, the filling of a fresh glass, and an enthusiastic ‘Now, correct me if I’m wrong, boys!’ This exhortation was apparently directed at two persons: Joseph Pritchard, the dark-haired man on Moody’s left, whose stifled intensity of silence was matched, as Moody soon discovered, by the stifled intensity of his unhurried speech, and another man whose physical presence we have not yet had cause to remark. This second man had been playing at billiards when Moody first made his entrance; Balfour now introduced him, with an admiring thrust of his cigar, as Harald Nilssen, born in Oslo, late of Bath, undefeated master of the three-card brag, and a d—ned fine shot—to which Nilssen added, springing forward to augment his own commendation, that he carried a muzzle-loading Enfield musket, the British Empire’s finest, and the only firearm he had ever deigned to touch. These two men were more than willing to take Balfour’s exhortation at face value—Nilssen for reasons of vanity, for he could not bear to be the leading role in a sensational tale, and not the leading actor, too; and Pritchard for reasons of precision. We shall therefore leave Thomas Balfour standing on the wharf with his hands in his pockets, squinting into the rain. We shall turn our gaze some two hundred yards to the north, and alight at the Auction Yards on Gibson Quay—where, behind the rostrum, an unpainted door leading to a private office bears the legend Nilssen & Co., Commission Merchants. In deference to the harmony of the turning spheres of time we shall resume our tale exactly at the moment Balfour left off—in Hokitika, on Saturday, the 27th of January, at five minutes before one in the afternoon. At midday on a Saturday Harald Nilssen could usually be found in his office, sitting before a stack of contracts, wills, and bills of lading, patting his breast every ten minutes or so to check again the silver pocket watch that would release him to his luncheon—which he took with medical regularity each day at the Nonpareil. Nilssen recommended this routine to any who would listen, believing very stoutly in the curative properties of dark gravy, pastry, and ale; he did much recommendation, in fact, and often made an example of his own customs for the profit of other, less visionary men. He derived an especial pleasure from argument, so long as it was of the preposterous, hypothetical variety, and so loved to fashion absurd theories of abstraction from the small but dedicated circle of his own tastes. This attitude was affectionately reinforced by his friends, who thought him vivacious and amusing, and scorned by his detractors, who thought him affected and self-absorbed—but these latter voices were subdued in Nilssen’s ears, and he spent no effort to better make them out. Harald Nilssen was famous in Hokitika for the high style of his dress. That afternoon he was wearing a knee-length frock coat with silk-faced lapels of a charcoal hue, a dark red vest, a grey bow tie, and cashmere striped morning trousers. His silk hat, which was hanging on a hatstand behind his desk, was of the same charcoal hue as his coat; beneath it was propped a silver-tipped stick with a curved handle. To complete this costume (for so he perceived of his daily dress: as a costume that could be completed, to effect) he smoked a pipe, a fat calabash with a bitten-down stem—though his affection for the instrument had less to do with the pleasures of the habit than for the opportunity for emphasis it provided. He often held it in his teeth unlit, and spoke out of the corner of his mouth like a comic player delivering an aside—a comparison which suited him, for if Nilssen was vain of the impressions he created, it was because he knew that he created them very well. Today, however, the mahogany bowl was warm, and he was pulling on the stem with considerable agitation. The hour of his luncheon was past, but he was not thinking of his stomach, and nor of the ruddy-cheeked barmaid at the Nonpareil, who called him Harry and always saved the choicest edges of the piecrust for his plate. He was frowning down at a yellow bill upon his desktop, and he was not alone. At length he pulled his pipe from his teeth and lifted his eyes to meet the gaze of the man sitting opposite him. He said, in a low voice, ‘I’ve done no wrong. I’ve done nothing below the law.’ He spoke with only a very slight Norwegian accent: thirty years in Bath had made him all but British in his inflexions. ‘It’s who stands to profit,’ said Joseph Pritchard. ‘That’s what a justice will be looking for. Seems you made a very tidy profit by this man’s death.’ ‘By the legal sale of his estate! Which I took on after he was already in the ground!’ ‘In the ground—but warm, I think.’ ‘Crosbie Wells drank himself to death,’ said Nilssen. ‘There was no cause for an inquest, nothing untoward. He was a drunk and a hermit, and when I received these papers I believed his estate would be small. I had no idea about the ’bounder.’ ‘You’re saying this was just a lucky piece of business.’ ‘I’m saying I’ve done nothing below the law.’ ‘But someone has,’ Pritchard said. ‘Someone is behind this. Who knew about the ’bounder? Who waited till Crosbie Wells was six feet deep, then sold off his land so quiet and so quick, without ever going to auction—who put the papers in? And who planted my laudanum under his cot?’ ‘You say planted—’ ‘It was planted,’ Pritchard said. ‘I’ll take my oath on that. I never sold that man a dram. I know my faces, Harald. I never sold a single dram to Crosbie Wells.’ ‘Well then, there you are! You can prove that! Show your records, and receipts—’ ‘We have to look beyond our own part in this design!’ Pritchard said. When he spoke vehemently he did not raise his voice, but lowered it. ‘We’re associated. Trace it back far enough, and you’ll find an author. It’s all of a piece.’ ‘Do you suggest this was planned—in advance?’ Pritchard shrugged. ‘Looks like murder to me,’ he said. ‘Conspiracy to murder,’ Nilssen corrected him. ‘What’s the difference?’ ‘The difference is in the charge. It would be conspiracy to murder—we’d be convicted for the intention, not for the act itself. Crosbie wasn’t killed by another man’s hand, you know.’ ‘So we’ve been told,’ Pritchard said. ‘Do you trust the coroner, Mr. Nilssen? Or will you take a spade in your own hands, and bring the hermit’s body up?’ ‘Don’t be ghastly.’ ‘I’ll tell you this: you’d find more than one corpse in the hole.’ ‘Don’t, I said!’ ‘Emery Staines,’ Pritchard said, relentlessly. ‘What the devil happened to him, if he wasn’t killed? You think he turned to vapour?’ ‘Of course not.’ ‘Wells died, Staines vanished. All in a matter of hours. Wells is buried two days later … and what better place to hide a body, than in another man’s grave?’ Joseph Pritchard always sought the hidden motive, the underlying truth; conspiracy enthralled him. He formed convictions as other men formed dependencies—a belief for him was as a thirst—and he fed his own convictions with all the erotic fervour of the willingly confirmed. This rapture extended to his self-regard. Whenever the subterranean waters of his mind were disturbed, he plunged inward, and struggled downward—kicking strongly, purposefully, as if he wished to touch the mineral depths of his own dark fantasies; as if he wished to drown. Nilssen said, ‘That’s useless speculation.’ ‘Buried together,’ said Pritchard. He sat back. ‘I’d bet my life.’ ‘What does it matter what you guess—what you wager?’ Nilssen burst out. ‘You didn’t kill him. You didn’t murder anybody. It’s on another man’s head.’ ‘But somebody certainly wants to make it seem as if I did. And somebody’s certainly made you look like a d—ned fool, for chasing a herring that turned out to be red!’ ‘You’re talking appearances.’ ‘Juries care about appearances.’ ‘Come,’ said Nilssen, somewhat weakly. ‘You can’t really think that a jury—’ ‘—Will be necessary? Don’t be an ass. Emery Staines is Hokitika royalty. Strange as that sounds. Folk who couldn’t pick the Commissioner from a line-up of drunks know Staines’s name. There’s no doubt there’ll be an inquest. If he fell down the stairs and broke his neck with a dozen men to witness, there would be an inquest. All it’s going to take is one shred of evidence to connect him to the Crosbie Wells affair—his body, probably, whenever they find it—and bang, you’re implicated. You’re a co-conspirator. You’re on trial. And then what are you going to say to defend yourself?’ ‘That I’m not—that we didn’t—conspire—’ But uselessness overcame him, and he did not go on. Pritchard did not interrupt the silence. He stared intently at his host and waited. At length Nilssen resumed, struggling to keep his voice calm and practical: ‘We mustn’t keep anything back. We must go to the justice ourselves—’ ‘And risk the charge?’ Pritchard’s voice became lower still. ‘We don’t know half the players, man! If Staines was murdered—look, even if you don’t believe the rest of what I’m saying, you must admit that it’s a d—ned coincidence he disappeared when he did. If he was murdered—and let’s say he was—well, somebody in town has got to know about it.’ Nilssen tried to be haughty. ‘I for one am not going to stand about and wait with a noose around my neck—’ ‘I am not proposing that we stand about and wait.’ The commission merchant sagged a little. ‘What then?’ Pritchard grinned. ‘You say there’s a noose—well, all right. Follow the rope.’ ‘Back to the banker, you mean?’ ‘Charlie Frost? Maybe.’ Nilssen looked sceptical. ‘Charlie’s no double-crosser. He was as surprised as anyone when the ’bounder turned up.’ ‘Surprised, that’s easy to fake. And what about the fellow who purchased the land? Clinch—of the Gridiron Hotel. He must have been tipped off somehow.’ Nilssen shook his head. ‘I can’t believe it.’ ‘Perhaps you ought to try.’ ‘Anyway,’ Nilssen said, frowning, ‘Clinch doesn’t stand to gain a penny, now that the widow’s made her claim. She’s the one you should be worried about.’ But Pritchard did not have an opinion about the widow. ‘Clinch doesn’t stand to gain a penny—from Crosbie Wells, maybe,’ he said. ‘But think on this. Staines leases the Gridiron to Clinch, doesn’t he?’ ‘What are you driving at?’ ‘Only that a fellow’s never sorry when his creditor is dead.’ Nilssen turned red. ‘Clinch wouldn’t take another man’s life. None of them would. Charlie Frost? Come off it, Jo! The man’s a mouse.’ ‘You can’t tell from looking at a man what he’s capable of doing. And you certainly can’t tell what he’s done.’ ‘This kind of speculation—’ Nilssen began, but he did not know what form his protestation was to take, and he again fell silent. Nilssen did not know the vanished prospector, Emery Staines, at all well—though if asked, he would have declared the opposite, for Nilssen tended to profess intimacy whenever it flattered him to do so, and Staines was very much the kind of man with whom Nilssen would have liked to forge an intimate acquaintance. Nilssen loved to be dazzled, and never was he more dazzled than by the selfhood of a man he very much admired. Emery Staines, being possessed of both youth and conviction, was naturally an enviable type. Calling him to mind now, Nilssen had to agree with Pritchard that it was exceedingly unlikely that Staines had departed Hokitika in secret, of his own volition, in the middle of the night. His claims required constant maintenance and supervision, and there were more than fifty men in his employment—why, his absence would be costing more than pennies, Nilssen thought, and the debt would be mounting every day. No: Pritchard was right. Staines had either been kidnapped, or—far more likely—he had been killed, and his body had been very effectively concealed. The current information held that Emery Staines had last been seen around sundown on the 14th of January, walking south down Revell-street in the direction of his house. What happened after that, nobody knew. His barber came calling at eight the next morning, and found his door unlocked; he reported that the bed was rumpled, as if recently slept in, but the fire was cold. All valuables were present and untouched. Emery Staines had no enemies, as far as Nilssen was aware. His disposition was bright and very open, and he had the rare gift of managing to act both generously and humbly at once. He was very rich, but there were many rich men in Hokitika, and most of them were a good deal more unpleasant than he. It was unusual that he was young, of course, and that might be a cause for envy in an older, more disappointed man—but envy was rather a weak motive for murder, Nilssen thought, if indeed the young man had been killed. ‘What would drive any man to quarrel with Staines?’ Nilssen said aloud. ‘That boy radiates luck—the Midas touch, he has.’ ‘Luck is not a virtue.’ ‘Killed for his money, then—?’ ‘Let’s put Staines aside for the moment.’ Pritchard leaned forward. ‘You took home a fair cut of Crosbie Wells’s fortune.’ ‘Yes—I told you, ten per cent,’ Nilssen said, turning back to the yellow bill of sale on the desk before him. ‘Commission on the sale of his effects, you know; but now that the will’s been disputed, the payment’s void. I shall have to pay it all back again. The property ought not to have been sold.’ He touched the edge of the bill with his finger. He had signed the document, and its copy, at this very desk two weeks prior—and how his heart had sunk as he had penned his name. In Hokitika the sale of effects on a deceased estate was never a profitable venture, but his business was not prospering, and he was desperate. How shameful it was (he had thought), to have travelled half the girth of the globe only to see his fortunes fall so far—only to scrabble for scraps beneath the tables of richer, luckier men. The name on the bill—Crosbie Wells—had meant nothing to him. From what he knew Wells was just a loner, a wretched twist of a man who drank himself into a stupor every night and dreamed of nothing. Nilssen signed his name in bitterness, in exhaustion. He was going to have to rent a horse, sacrifice a day of work, ride out—where?—to the forsaken Arahura, and pick over this dead man’s effects as a vagrant trawls through a gutter, looking for food. And then, wedged into the flour canister, the powder box, the meat safe, the bellows, the cracked basin of an old commode—and all of it glistering, heavy, and soft. His commission had come in at just over four hundred pounds; for the first time in his life, he was flush. He might have packed up and sailed to Sydney; he might have returned home; he might have begun anew; he might have married. But he had no time to enjoy it. The day his commission was finally cleared was the very day of Mrs. Wells’s arrival; within hours, the sale of the estate had been appealed, the inheritance disputed, and the fortune seized by the bank. If the appeal was granted—as it certainly would be—Nilssen would be obliged to pay his commission back again, in full. Four hundred pounds! It was more money than he earned in a year. He ran his finger down the edge of the bill, and felt a lonely stab of outrage. He wished, as he had wished many times in the last week, that he could be given someone to blame. But Pritchard was shaking his head: he wasn’t interested in the dead man’s will, nor in the legal implications of its contest. ‘Never mind all that, for the moment,’ he said. ‘Think back to the cottage. You saw the pile with your own eyes?’ ‘I was the one to discover it.’ Nilssen spoke with a touch of pride. He relaxed a little at the memory. ‘Oh—if you’d seen it—I might have turned it into leaf and covered a whole billiard table, legs and all. Heavy as anything. And how it shone.’ Pritchard didn’t smile. ‘You said that it wasn’t dust and it wasn’t nugget. Do I have that right?’ Nilssen sighed. ‘Yes, that’s right: it had all been pressed into squares.’ ‘Retorted,’ Pritchard said, nodding, ‘—which takes equipment, and skill. So who was the smith? Not Wells himself.’ Nilssen paused. This was a point that had not crossed his mind. The way that Pritchard was setting forth his argument—confidently, arrogantly—was unpleasant to him, but he had to concede that the chemist had made several connexions already that he himself had missed. He sucked on his pipe. Nilssen had no great knowledge of the workings of a goldfield. He had only attempted to prospect for the colour once, and found it miserable work—lugging pails of water to and from the river to sluice the stones, slapping at the sandflies that crept up his jacket until he was mad enough to dance. Afterwards his back ached and his fingers stung and his feet stayed spongy and swollen for days. The pinch of grit he had taken home, knotted into the corner of his kerchief, was taxed and taxed and then weighed to the smallest fraction of an ounce—yielding, at last, five dirty shillings, an impossible disappointment, barely enough to cover the rental of his horse to and from the gorge. Nilssen did not try his luck again. He was by natural faculty and self-styling a Renaissance man, accustomed to showing immediate promise in whatever field to which he applied himself; if he did not master a trick on his first attempt, he gave up the trade. (He was not without humour about this practice: he often recounted his abortive episode in the Hokitika gorge, exaggerating the discomforts he had sustained in light-hearted deprecation of his own constitutional delicacy—but this was an interpretation that was reserved for him alone, and he became embarrassed if another man took on this same perspective, so to speak, or agreed with him.) The theory that Joseph Pritchard had put to him was logical enough, up to a point. Somebody—more than one person, perhaps—must have known about the fortune hidden on Crosbie Wells’s estate. The fortune was too large, and the sale of his property too furtive and too swift, to deny that probability altogether. Furthermore, the phial of laudanum that had been discovered in close proximity to the man’s dead body suggested that somebody—perhaps the same somebody—had been present in the cottage either just prior to or just after the hermit’s death, presumably with some intention of harm. The phial was Pritchard’s, purchased from his emporium and bearing a label signed in his hand: its bearer must therefore have been a Hokitika man, travelling northward, not a stranger, travelling south. This ruled out the dignitaries who had first discovered Crosbie’s body, and had brought the news of his death to the town. Privately Nilssen did believe that Pritchard was right to hold the purchaser of the estate, Edgar Clinch, in suspicion—and the banker, Frost, as well. He did not suspect them of having a part in Emery Staines’s murder, as Pritchard evidently did, but it seemed to him that Clinch must have acted on a tip of some kind, to buy Crosbie Wells’s cottage and land so hastily—and whatever that tip might have been, Charlie Frost must know about it. Nilssen could also accept that his own involvement, however innocently undertaken, must look decidedly fishy to an impartial outsider: he had been the one to discover the fortune, after all; he had recorded the glass phial of laudanum in his ledger along with everything else (he had been compiling a list of effects to be sold); and he stood to gain four hundred pounds out of the transaction. Beyond these admissions, however (which, after all, were only admissions of doubt and probable impression), Nilssen was uncertain. Pritchard had reasoned that the disappearance of Emery Staines could not be coincidental, which was supposition; he had argued that the man had been murdered, which was guesswork; he had suggested that his body had been buried in Wells’s own grave, which was presumption; and he had proposed that the legal debacle over Wells’s estate had been planned in advance as a kind of eclipse, a decoy—this last, Nilssen thought, was downright fantasy. Pritchard could not account for the phial of laudanum; he could not produce a motivation, or a plausible suspect … and yet the commission merchant could not discount the man’s convictions altogether, however much he disliked the manner in which they were expressed. Nilssen did not share the chemist’s rapt intoxication with the plumbing of the deep: the quest for truth did not possess him as it did his guest. Pritchard became very strange when speaking of his passions, the elixirs that he brewed and tasted under the low ceiling of his laboratory, the resins and powders that he bought and sold in clouded jars. There was something cold and hard about the man, Nilssen thought—diverting his own ill feeling, as he often did, into a principle of aesthetic distaste. At last, and with the air of vexation that always passed over him whenever another man’s argument showed a deficiency in his own, Nilssen took his pipe from his mouth and said, ‘Well—perhaps Wells had a contact down at the Reserve. Killarney—or a Company man—’ ‘No.’ Pritchard struck the desk with splayed fingers; he had been waiting for Nilssen to guess wrongly, and he had his counter-argument prepared. ‘This is a Chinaman’s work. I’d bet any money. The joss at Kawarau was always full of fellows without a permit—they shared the miner’s rights between them. No man can tell two of them apart, you see, and one name’s as good as another, when it comes from a foreign tongue. It’s all outside jobs in Chinatown. If this was a Company affair it would look—’ ‘Cleaner?’ Nilssen sounded hopeful. ‘The opposite. When a fellow has to cover his prints—when he has to use the tradesman’s entrance, instead of coming in through the foyer as he’s known to do—that’s when he has to start making provisions, sacrifices. Do you see? A man on the inside has to contend with the pawns—with all the pieces of the system. But a man on the outside can deal with the Devil direct.’ It was expressions of this kind that Nilssen particularly disliked. He dropped his gaze again to the bill of sale. ‘Chinatown Forge,’ Pritchard said. ‘You mark my guess. One fellow does all the furnace work. His name is Quee.’ ‘You’ll speak to him?’ said Nilssen, looking up. ‘Actually,’ said the chemist, ‘I was hoping that you would. I’m in a spot of bother with the Orientals at the moment.’ ‘Dare I ask why?’ ‘Oh—bad business is all. Trade secrets. Opium,’ Pritchard said. He turned his hand over and then let it fall into his lap. Nilssen frowned. ‘You ship your opium from China?’ ‘Good Lord, no,’ Pritchard said. ‘From Bengal.’ He hesitated a moment. ‘It’s more of a personal dispute. On account of the whore who nearly died.’ ‘Anna,’ Nilssen said. ‘Anna Wetherell.’ Pritchard scowled: he had not wanted to use her name. He turned his head away and watched the raindrops swell and gather under the lip of the sash window. In the brief pause before he resumed speaking, Nilssen was startled by the thought that perhaps the chemist loved her: Anna Wetherell, the whore. He tested the possibility in his mind, enjoying it. The girl was uncommonly striking—she moved with a weary, murderous languor, like a disaffected swan—but she was rather more volatile in her tempers than Nilssen liked in a girl, and her beauty (in fact Nilssen would not call her beautiful; he reserved that word for virgins and angelic forms) was too knowing for his taste. She was also an opium eater, a habit that showed in her features as a constant blur, and in her manner as a fathomless exhaustion—this compulsion was unbecoming enough, and now she was a would-be suicide, besides. Yes, Nilssen thought: she was just the kind of girl for whom Pritchard would fall. They would meet in darkness; their encounters would be feverish and doomed. Here the commission merchant missed his mark. Nilssen’s guesses were always of the self-confirming sort: he tended to favour whichever proofs best pleased his sense of principle, and equally, to hold fast to whichever principles best lent themselves to proof. He talked often of virtue, and so gave the impression of a most encouraging and optimistic temper, but his faith in virtue was indentured to a less adaptable master than optimism. The benefit of the doubt, to take the common phrase, was a haphazard gift, and Nilssen was too proud of his intellect to surrender the power of hypothesis. In his mind a protective glaze had been applied to the crystal forms of high abstraction: he loved to regard them, and to wonder at their shine, but he had never thought to take them down from their carved and oaken mantel, so to speak, and feel them, supple in his hands. He had concluded that Pritchard was in love simply because it was pleasant to deliberate the point, examine the specimen, and then return to the beliefs he had possessed all along: that Pritchard was a queer fish; that Anna was a lost cause; and that one ought never undertake to love a whore. ‘Yes, well,’ Pritchard was saying, ‘they’re furious about it, you know. The yellow chap who operates the den at Kaniere—Ah Sook is his name—he went to Tom Balfour, after the whore took ill—very upset, you understand. He told Tom he wanted to look over my shipping records, check the last case that had come in on my account.’ ‘Why not just come to you direct?’ Nilssen asked. Pritchard shrugged. ‘Thought I was up to something, I suppose,’ he said. ‘He thought you poisoned her—on purpose?’ ‘Yes.’ Pritchard looked away again. ‘Well, and what did Tom say?’ Nilssen said, to prompt him. ‘He showed Ah Sook my records. Proved I’m clean.’ ‘Your record’s clean?’ ‘Yes,’ Pritchard said shortly. Nilssen saw that he had caused his guest offence, and felt an ugly flash of pleasure. He was beginning to resent the implication that they would be equally implicated as conspirators, if (or when) the possible murder of Emery Staines came to light: it seemed to him that Pritchard was considerably more embroiled in this mess than he was. Nilssen had nothing to do with opium, and wanted nothing to do with it. The drug was a poison, a scourge, and it made a fool of men. ‘Listen,’ Pritchard said, placing his finger on the desktop, ‘you need to get this Quee chap to talk with you. I’d do it myself if I could—I’ve tried the den, but Sook won’t have a bar of me. Quee’s all right. He’s decent. Ask him about the pile—whether it’s his gold, and if it is, why it turned up on Wells’s estate. You can go this afternoon.’ It rankled Nilssen to be ordered about in this way. ‘I don’t see why you can’t talk to Quee yourself, if your beef is with the other fellow.’ ‘I’m under the hammer. Call it laying low.’ Nilssen called it something rather different in his mind. Aloud he said, ‘What on earth would induce a johnny chink to speak to me?’—taking refuge, finally, in petulance. He pushed the yellow bill away from him. ‘At least you’re neutral,’ Pritchard said. ‘You’ve given none of them cause to judge you one way or another—have you?’ ‘The celestials?’ Nilssen sucked on his pipe; the leaf was almost ash. ‘No.’ ‘You say it with an Ah in front—Ah Quee. It’s their way of saying Mister.’ Pritchard paused a moment, regarding the other man, and then he added, ‘Think of it this way. If we are being framed, then perhaps he is, too.’ As he was speaking, there came a knock at the door: it was the clerk, bearing the message that George Shepard was in the outer office and waiting to be received. ‘George Shepard—the gaoler?’ Nilssen said, with some trepidation, and a swift glance at Pritchard. ‘Did he say why?’ ‘Matter of profit, he said, mutual gains,’ the clerk replied. ‘Shall I fetch him in?’ ‘I’ll take my leave,’ Pritchard said, standing immediately. ‘So you’ll find him—the fellow Quee? Say you will.’ ‘All the way to Kaniere?’ Nilssen said, remembering his luncheon, and the barmaid at the Nonpareil. ‘It’s only an hour’s walk,’ Pritchard said. ‘But make sure you get the right fellow: the one you’re after is a shortish chap, very thin, clean-shaven; you’ll know his cottage by the chimney that issues from the forge. I’ll wait your message,’—and he was gone. Nilssen’s office seemed much too small to accommodate the massive, rigid bow that George Shepard made upon his entrance. The commission merchant felt himself shrink back a little in his chair, and to compensate for this he leaped up, thrust out his hand, and cried, ‘Mr. Shepard—yes, yes, please. I haven’t yet had the pleasure of receiving your business, sir—but I do hope that I can be of service—in the nearest future—if I may. Do sit down.’ ‘I know you, of course,’ Shepard replied, taking the chair that was offered him. Seeing that Nilssen’s pipe was lit, he reached in his pocket for his own. Nilssen passed his tobacco pouch and lucifers across the desk, and there was a short pause as Shepard filled and tamped his bowl and struck a match. His pipe was shallow, made of briar, with a smart collar of amber set between the bit and the stem. He puffed several times until he was satisfied the leaf was lit, and then sat back in his chair with a calculated glance first to his left and then to his right, as if he wished to square himself with the planes of the room. ‘By reputation,’ he added, being the kind of man who always finished an utterance once he had set his thought in motion. He breathed out a mouthful. ‘That fellow just leaving,’ he said. ‘His name again?’ ‘Jo Pritchard is his name, sir—Joseph. Runs the drug hall on Collingwood-street.’ ‘Of course.’ Shepard paused, forming his business in his mind. The pale light of the day, falling slantwise across Nilssen’s desk, froze the eddies of pipe-smoke that hung about his head—fixing each coiling thread upon the air, as mineral quartz preserves a twisting vein of gold, and proffers it. Nilssen waited. He was thinking: if I am convicted, then this man will be my gaoler. George Shepard’s appointment as governor of the Hokitika Gaol had been met with little opposition from the men who lived and dug within the bounds of his jurisdiction. Shepard was a cold, formidable character, slow moving in a way that seemed constantly to emphasise the breadth of his shoulders and the weight of his arms; when he walked, it was with long, deliberate strides, and when he spoke (which was seldom) he intoned in a rich and august bass. His manner was humourless and not at all likeable, but severity counted as a virtue for a man of his profession, and it was to his credit, the voters agreed, that no charge of bias or prejudice had ever been laid at his door. If Shepard was the subject of idle rumour, it was of the conjectural sort, and nearly always concerned his private relations with his wife. Their marriage was to all appearances conducted in absolute silence, with a grim determination on his part, and a fearful inhibition on hers. The woman referred to her own self as Mrs. George, and this only in a whisper; she wore the bewildered, panicked aspect of a tortured animal, who sees a cage where there is none, and cowers at every sudden thing. Mrs. George rarely ventured beyond the gaol-house door except, on rare occasions of civic display, to trip red-faced down Revell-street in Governor Shepard’s wake. They had been at Hokitika four months before anyone discovered that she did in fact possess a Christian name—Margaret—though to speak it in her presence was an assault so dreadful that her only recourse was to flee. ‘I come to you on business, Mr. Nilssen,’ Shepard began. He held the bowl of his pipe in his fist against his breast as he spoke. ‘Our present gaol-house is little better than a corral—a holding pen. There is scant light, and insufficient air. To ventilate, we prop open the door upon a chain, and I sit beyond the doorway with my rifle on my knees. It is untenable. We haven’t the resources to cope with—more experienced criminals. More sophisticated crimes. A murder, say.’ ‘No—yes, yes,’ Nilssen said. ‘Of course.’ There was a pause, and then Shepard continued. ‘If you will forgive my pessimism,’ he said, ‘I believe that Hokitika is about to meet a darker time. This town is at a threshold. Digger law is still the creed of the hills, and here—why, we are but a backwater of Canterbury still, but soon we will be the jewel in her crown. Westland will split, and Hokitika will prosper; but as she rises, she will have to reconcile herself.’ ‘Reconcile—?’ ‘The savage and the civil,’ Shepard said. ‘You allude to the natives—the Maori tribes?’ Nilssen spoke with a touch of eagerness; he cherished a romantic passion for what he called ‘the tribal life’. When the Maori canoes came strong and flashing through the Buller Gorge—he had seen them from a distance—he was quelled in awe. The warriors seemed terrible to him, their women unknowable, their customs fearsome and primitive. His transfixion was closer to dread than to reverence, but it was a dread to which he sought to return. In fact Nilssen had been first spurred to make his voyage to New Zealand by a chance encounter with an able seaman at a roadside inn near Southampton, who was boasting (rather improbably, as it turned out) of his own encounters with the primitive peoples of the South Seas. The sailor was a Dutchman, and wore his jacket cut short above his hips. He had traded iron nails for cocoa-nuts; he had permitted island women to place their hands upon the white skin of his chest; he had once made a present of a knot to an island boy. (‘What kind of knot?’ Nilssen begged, coming forward; it was a Turk’s Head; Nilssen did not know it, and the seaman sketched the looping floral shape upon the air.) But Shepard shook his head at Nilssen’s interjection. ‘I do not use “savage” in the native sense,’ he said. ‘I allude to the land itself. Prospecting is an ugly business: it makes a man start thinking like a thief. And here the conditions are foul enough to make the diggers still more desperate.’ ‘But the diggings can be made civil.’ ‘Perhaps—after the rivers are spent. After the prospectors give way to dams and dredges and company mines—when the forests are felled—perhaps then.’ ‘You do not have faith in the power of the law?’ Nilssen said, frowning. ‘Westland is soon to have a seat in Parliament, you know.’ ‘I see that I am not making myself clear,’ Shepard said. ‘Will you allow me to begin again?’ ‘By all means.’ The gaoler began immediately, without altering his posture or his tone. ‘When two codes of justice are available at once,’ he said, ‘a man will always use the one to inveigh against the other. Consider a man who thinks it just and right to bring a complaint to the Magistrate’s Court against his own whore—expecting both the exercise of the law, and his exemption from it. He is refused, and perhaps he is even charged for consorting with the girl; now he blames the law and the girl both. The law cannot answer for his digger’s sense of what is due, and so he takes the law upon himself, and throttles her. In former days he would have solved his quarrel with his fists, at once—that was digger’s law. Perhaps the whore would perish, or survive, but either way his action was his own. But now—now he feels his very right to demand justice has been threatened, and that is what he acts upon. He is doubly angry, and his rage is doubly spent. I am seeing examples of this kind every day.’ Shepard sat back, and replaced his pipe in his mouth. His manner was composed, but his pale eyes were fixed very intently upon his host. Nilssen never refused an opportunity to provoke a hypothetical. ‘Yes, but—to follow your argument,’ he said, ‘surely you are not suggesting a preference for digger’s law?’ ‘Digger’s law is philistine and base,’ Governor Shepard said calmly. ‘We are not savages; we are civilised men. I do not consider the law to be deficient; I mean to point out, merely, what happens when the savage meets the civil. Four months ago the men and women in my gaol-house were drunks and petty thieves. Now I see drunks and petty thieves who feel indignant, and entitled, and speak righteously, as if they have been unjustly tried. And they are angry.’ ‘But—again—to conclude,’ Nilssen said. ‘After the whore is throttled, after the digger’s rage is spent. Surely the civil law then returns to condemn this man? Surely he’s punished justly—in the end?’ ‘Not if his fellows rally round him, to preserve his digger’s rights,’ Shepard replied. ‘No man holds to any code as strong as he does when his code’s affronted, Mr. Nilssen, and there’s nothing more brutal than a gang of angry men. I’ve been a gaoler sixteen years.’ Nilssen sat back in his chair. ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘I take your point; it’s this twilight that’s the danger, between the old world and the new.’ ‘We must do away with the old,’ Shepard said. ‘I will not suffer whores, and I will not suffer those who frequent them.’ Shepard’s autobiography (a document which, if ever penned, would be rigid, admonishing, and frugal) did not possess that necessary chapter wherein the young hero sows his oats and strays; since his marriage, his imagination had conjured nothing beyond the squarish figure of Mrs. George, whose measures were so familiar, and so regular, that he might have set his pocket watch by the rhythm of her days. He had always been irreproachable in his conduct, and as a consequence, his capacity for empathy was small. Anna Wetherell’s profession did not fascinate him in the least, and he had no boyhood memories of tenderness or embarrassment to soften him towards the subtleties of her trade; when he looked at her, he saw only a catalogue of indiscretions, a volatile intelligence, and a severe want of promise. That a whore might attempt to take her own life did not strike him as a remarkable thing, nor a very sad one; in this particular case, he might even call a termination merciful. Miss Wetherell lived by the will of the dragon, after all, a drug that played steward to an imbecile king, and she would guard that throne with jealous eyes forever. It is fair to say that, of the seven virtues, Governor Shepard inclined towards the cardinal four. He was well apprised of the Christian doctrine of forgiveness, but only as a creed to be studied, and obeyed. We do not mean to diminish his religion by remarking that forgiveness is a thing that one must first be obliged to ask for in order to know how to give, and Governor Shepard had never in his life met any imperative to ask. He had prayed for Miss Wetherell’s soul, as he did for all the men and women in his keeping, but his prayers were expressions of duty rather than of hope. He believed the soul to inhabit the body, and consequently, that the body’s desecration was an assault upon the soul: a common whore, when judged by this substantive theology, fared ill indeed, and Anna Wetherell was malnourished, mistreated, and as wretched a picture as any he had seen. He did not wish her damned, but he believed, privately, that her salvation was impossible. Miss Wetherell’s spiritual fate, and the method by which she had sought to determine it forever, did not interest him; her corporeal merits did not interest him either. In this Shepard was set apart from the majority of men in Hokitika, who (as Gascoigne was to remark to Moody some seven hours later) had been talking of little else for a fortnight. When they exhausted the former subject, they fell back upon the latter, an arrangement that kept them in conversation for a great while. Nilssen’s pipe had gone out. He rapped the bowl against his desktop to empty the ash and then began to refill it. ‘I believe Alistair Lauderback means to make a change,’ he said, unlacing the strings of his tobacco pouch with his free hand. ‘If he is elected, of course.’ Shepard did not answer at once. ‘You’ve been following the campaigns?’ Nilssen, busy with his pouch, did not notice the other man’s hesitation. When the gaoler had first entered Nilssen had been fearful of himself, even guarded, but he rarely dwelled long in a state of embarrassment. Shepard’s theory of law had roused his intelligence, and gratified it, and he again felt master of his faculties. The absorbing rituals that attended the filling of his pipe—the worn thinness of the leather strings, the dry spice of the tobacco—had restored a kind of order to his senses. He replied, without looking up, ‘Yes indeed. Reading the speeches every day, and with keen attention. Lauderback is here now—in Hokitika—is he not?’ ‘He is,’ Shepard said. ‘He will take the seat, I think,’ said Nilssen, rubbing a pinch of tobacco between his fingers. ‘The Lyttelton Times is backing his play.’ ‘You value him?’ ‘Tunnels and railways,’ Nilssen said, ‘that’s his game, isn’t it? Progress, civilisation, all of that. Strikes me that your thinking squares quite nicely with Lauderback’s campaign.’ He struck a match. Shepard made to reply, then hesitated. ‘I don’t make a habit of speaking my politics in another man’s office unless I’m invited to do so, Mr. Nilssen.’ ‘Oh—please,’ said Nilssen politely, shaking out the match. ‘But with your leave,’ nodding his great pale head, ‘I will say this. I too think that Lauderback will take the seat—Parliament and the Super both. He has a great force of personality on his side, and of course his connexion to the Bar and to the Provincial Council speak highly of his character and skill.’ ‘And this is a re-election for him, of course,’ interrupted Nilssen, who very often made a habit of speaking politics in other men’s offices, and forgot for a moment that he had granted the other man licence to speak his own mind. ‘He’s familiar.’ ‘He is familiar—to his own circle,’ Shepard said. ‘His loyalty is to Canterbury, and his tunnels and railways—to take your phrase—are the Lyttelton tunnel and the projected railway between Christchurch and Dunedin. As Superintendent he will reapportion whatever funds are not already tied into this tunnel and this railway—as he must, of course, to make good the promises of his campaign.’ ‘You may be right about the Super,’ Nilssen said, ‘but as an M.P.? He will represent Westland—’ ‘Lauderback is a Westland man in electorate only,’ Shepard said. ‘I do not fault him on it—he has my vote, Mr. Nilssen—but he does not know the digger’s life.’ Nilssen looked as if he meant to interrupt again, so Shepard pressed on, raising his voice a little. ‘I arrive now at the business that compelled this interview. I have the Commissioner’s endorsement to begin work upon a new gaol-house, away from the Police Camp, on the terrace north of town. You recall it was a company of convicts who first cleared the Hokitika-road? I intend to do the same thing here: I shall use my own convict labour to build the prison at Seaview.’ This notion appealed to Nilssen’s sense of retribution, and he smiled. ‘However, as you have already remarked,’ Shepard continued, ‘Alistair Lauderback’s focus is on transport: in his address to the Council he has argued in favour of using convict labour to build and maintain the Christchurch road. The route over the Alps is still treacherous—unfit for a horseman, much less for a coach.’ ‘The Superintendent has the final word on the matter?’ Nilssen asked. ‘Are your convicts not yours to employ?’ ‘Alas,’ Shepard said. ‘They are only mine to keep.’ The clerk entered, bearing coffee on a wooden tray. He was in a state of considerable excitement, for it was not often that Nilssen had visitors, and never visitors of such enigmatic repute as Pritchard (who was famous for his opium) and Shepard (who was famous for his wife). The clerk had arranged the coffee pot and saucers on the tray with particular attention, and he carried it high with his elbows cocked and his back held very straight. Nilssen nodded approvingly: it was not their custom for the clerk to wait on his employer, but Nilssen was pleased at the effect it must be creating in the mind of his guest. The clerk set the tray upon the sideboard and began to pour. He was hoping that the men would resume their conversation while he was still in the room, and so tried to pour slowly, feeling a pang of regret at the floating grains of chicory that he had added to the coffee grounds for reasons of economy, and now, with their ugly film of grit, seemed to admonish his pretensions. Behind him Shepard said, ‘By the bye, Mr. Nilssen: what do you know about Emery Staines?’ There was a pause. ‘I know that he is missing,’ Nilssen responded. ‘Missing, yes,’ said Shepard. ‘He hasn’t been seen for almost a fortnight. Very strange.’ ‘I do not know him well,’ Nilssen said. ‘Don’t you?’ said Shepard. ‘He is an acquaintance—but not a friend.’ ‘Ah.’ Nilssen seemed about to cough; then he burst out, ‘Are you quite finished, Albert?’ The clerk set down the coffee pot. ‘Shall I leave the tray, sir?’ ‘Yes, yes—then go, for God’s sake,’ Nilssen said. He lurched for the cup as it was handed him, causing a small tide of coffee to slop into the saucer, and set it down before him with a clatter. The clerk brought a second cup to Shepard, who made no move to touch it, and pointed to the desk before him without a word. ‘I shall say it plain,’ Shepard said, when the disappointed clerk had shut the door behind him. ‘I mean to begin work on the gaol-house at once, before the elections, so that when Lauderback takes office the work is already well underway. I am aware that this may seem to others as if I seek to actively thwart the success of his campaign. I come to you to solicit both your business and your discretion.’ ‘What do you need?’ Nilssen said cautiously. ‘Materials to build, and perhaps ten or twenty able bodies to begin digging the foundation,’ Shepard said, reaching into his breast for the plans. ‘I can offer you commission at your standard rate. The site has been purchased already, and approved. Here is the architect’s design.’ ‘This is the original? Or a copy?’ Nilssen took the papers from Shepard’s massive hand and unfolded them. ‘The original. There is no copy,’ Shepard said. ‘I keep these documents on my person always, of course.’ ‘Of course,’ Nilssen agreed, reaching for his spectacles. ‘The reason I have come to you,’ Shepard continued, ‘and not to Cochran, or Morrison, or another competitor whose business—forgive me—is faring rather better than yours at present, owes only in part to your reputation as an efficient man.’ Nilssen looked up. ‘Permit me to speak frankly,’ Shepard said. ‘The matter is indelicate, I know; I will try and be as delicate as I can. It has come to my attention that you took home a commission to the value of many hundreds of pounds, upon closing the estate of Mr. Crosbie Wells.’ Nilssen started, but Shepard held up his hand to silence him. ‘Do not implicate yourself by speaking before you have heard what I have to say,’ he said. ‘I will tell you exactly what I know. The man’s body came through the Police Camp before his burial; given that he had no family or friends to speak of, we conducted the wake at the Camp itself. I had the solemn honour of viewing his body, and of being present while the physician checked his vital organs for signs of harm. Dr. Gillies concluded the cause of death was drink; I, with my slender knowledge of the subject, could only agree with his ruling. Dr. Gillies was careful in his examination of the contents of the dead man’s stomach and intestines, however, which contained not only food and spirits, but traces of laudanum—though not enough, I should add, to warrant undue suspicion. I do not believe that Crosbie Wells was poisoned, except by drink. ‘Now: even before the wake was over, Wells’s land and mill were sold. The land, as you know, was reclaimed by the bank, and was then purchased almost immediately by a Mr. Edgar Clinch; while the transaction was perfectly legal, it is nevertheless curious how swiftly the property changed hands. I understand that you were then called upon to clear the cottage and sell on the dead man’s effects, for a fee that would be set against their total value; you accepted this employment, and promptly discovered a great deal of hoarded gold (where was it hidden, in the flour canister?) to the aggregate value of four thousand pounds. A “homeward bounder”, to use the local phrase. Now, Mr. Nilssen, you ought have then been able to walk away with your percentage, which was by now a very handsome cut; the whole enterprise was thwarted, however, when Mr. Wells’s widow landed on the beach, and declared herself. She was one week too late to attend his burial, but not at all too late to contest the sale of his estate, and any transactions that had taken place as a consequence of that sale. ‘As I have said, I do not believe that Crosbie Wells was poisoned,’ Shepard said. ‘But I also do not believe that the hoarded gold belonged to him, much less to his widow. The apparition of the widow Wells is a curiosity in a tale already rather too curious for my taste.’ He paused. ‘Have I said anything so far that you know or guess to be untrue? You can decline to answer that if you wish.’ ‘You mean to blackmail me?’ Nilssen managed. ‘Not at all,’ Shepard said. ‘But you must agree this smacks of plotting.’ ‘Yes. I do.’ ‘I am not a detective,’ Shepard said, ‘and profess no inclination towards that field. I care very little about how much you know. But I must have my new gaol-house, and I see an opportunity for both of us to gain.’ ‘Speak it, sir.’ ‘The widow Wells has made her appeal, to contest the sale of her late husband’s effects,’ Shepard said. ‘The appeal will take months to action, of course, as legal matters do, and in the meantime the money will be held in escrow by the bank. In the end, I expect that the sale will be revoked, and if no greater plot is exposed, the widow will claim the ’bounder as her own. Incidentally, I have enjoyed several conversations with Crosbie Wells these past few months, and he certainly never spoke of being married—not to me, nor to any other man I’ve spoken to.’ Nilssen had a vision of a cat tapping a small rodent back and forth with the flat of its paw, its claws in sheath. He was not guilty—he had done no wrong—and yet he felt guilty; he felt implicated, as though he had performed a terrible misdeed while sleeping, and had woken to find his bolster smeared with blood. He felt certain that any moment now the gaoler would expose him—but for what crime, he did not yet know. What was the word Pritchard had used? Associated. Yes—he felt that acutely. When he was a small boy Nilssen had stolen a precious button from his cousin’s treasure chest. It was a cuff button from a military jacket, brass in colour, and engraved with the lithe body of a fox, running forward with its jaws parted and its ears cocked back. The button was domed, and greyer on one side than on the other, as if the wearer had tended to caress its edge with his finger, and over time had worn the shine away. Cousin Magnus had rickets and a bandy-legged gait: he would die soon, so he did not have to share his toys. But Nilssen’s longing for the button became so great that one night when Magnus was sleeping he crept in, unlatched the chest, and stole it; he walked about the darkened nursery for a while, fingering the thing, testing its weight, running his finger over the body of the fox, feeling the brass take on the warmth of his hand—until something overcame him, not remorse exactly, but a dawning fatigue, an emptiness, and he returned the button to the place where he had found it. Cousin Magnus never knew. Nobody knew. But for months and years and even decades afterwards, long after Cousin Magnus was dead, that theft was as a splinter in his heart. He saw the moonlit nursery every time he spoke his cousin’s name; he blushed at nothing; he sometimes pinched himself, or uttered an oath, at the memory. For although a man is judged by his actions, by what he has said and done, a man judges himself by what he is willing to do, by what he might have said, or might have done—a judgment that is necessarily hampered, not only by the scope and limits of his imagination, but by the ever-changing measure of his doubt and self-esteem. ‘I estimate that it will be at least April before the sale is successfully repealed,’ Shepard was saying, with the same perfect gravity. ‘In the meantime—immediately, in fact—I propose that you invest the entire sum of your commission into the building of my gaol-house.’ Nilssen raised his eyebrows in surprise. ‘But the money is not mine,’ he said, for the second time that afternoon. ‘It has already been revoked de jure, if not de facto. Once the widow’s appeal has been granted, and the sale of the estate declared void, I shall have to pay my commission back in full.’ ‘The Council can sponsor your loan, with interest,’ Shepard said. ‘The gaol is publicly funded, after all; by the time your commission is recalled, I will be able to draw down funds from the Reserve, and repay you. We shall have a contract drawn up; you may name your terms. Your investment will be secure.’ ‘If you have public funding,’ Nilssen said, ‘then why propose this to me at all? What need do you have of these four hundred pounds?’ ‘Yours is ready money, and will be privately invested,’ Shepard said. ‘My Council funding has been approved, but not paid out; if I wait for the sum to be apportioned, and deposited into the gaol’s account, I will be waiting for thirty bankers to push my contract across thirty desks, and back again. It will be March, or April, and the elections will be past.’ ‘And Lauderback will have his convicts,’ Nilssen said. ‘Yes, and he will have siphoned off a great deal more of the district’s budget, besides.’ ‘Very well,’ Nilssen said. ‘Let us suppose that I agree to this, and you get your gaol-house. You said that both of us would stand to gain.’ ‘Well, yes,’ Shepard said, blinking. ‘You will have employment, Mr. Nilssen. You will get your standard commission on the labour, and the iron, and the timber, and the nails, and every small thing. Legal profit—that is how you stand to gain.’ Nilssen could not fault this (certainly, it had been many weeks since he had contracted work that promised this degree of yield), but Shepard’s method of proposition was making him very uncomfortable. The gaoler had used the word murder, and called that crime ‘sophisticated’; he had waited until Albert was present as a witness to ask about Emery Staines; and when he narrated the story of the Wells affair, he had made a great show of preventing Nilssen’s interruption, lest the commission merchant implicate himself by speaking too much or too soon—thereby assuming that he could implicate himself in some way. Shepard was treating his host as a guilty man. Nilssen said, ‘And what if I refuse your offer—what then?’ Shepard pulled his lips back in a rare smile, the effect of which was rather gruesome. ‘You are determined to see this offer as a blackmail,’ he said. ‘I cannot imagine why that might be so.’ Nilssen could not hold the gaoler’s gaze for long. ‘I will grant you the loan, and offer my services on commission,’ he said at last. His voice was low. He pulled the architect’s plans towards him. ‘Please be so good as to wait a moment,’ he added, ‘while I make a record of the materials you require.’ Shepard inclined his head, and at last picked up the cup of coffee that was cooling on the desktop before him. He took up the saucer with great care; in his great hand the china seemed impossibly fragile, as if he might close his fist and with a single motion crush the vessel to a dust. He drained the cup and returned it to the exact position it had formerly occupied upon Nilssen’s desk. He then replaced his pipe in his mouth, folded his hands, and waited. The irregular scratch of Nilssen’s pen was the only sound between them. ‘I shall draw you down a cheque on Monday morning,’ Nilssen said at last, as he penned the final sum. ‘We can advertise for tender in Monday’s paper—I’ll send a note to L?wenthal direct. I shall recommend that the labourers meet here, in the Auction Yards, at ten sharp, to be signed—that will give the men a chance to read the paper and spread the word. By Monday noon, weather permitting, we can begin work on the land.’ Shepard’s eyes had narrowed. ‘You said L?wenthal? Ben L?wenthal—the Jew?’ ‘Yes,’ Nilssen said, blinking. ‘We can’t advertise without the paper. You could do it by flyer and gazette if you wanted—but everybody reads the Times.’ ‘I hope that we are understood that the investment of your commission is strictly a private matter.’ ‘We are understood, sir.’ There was a pause. ‘On my oath,’ Nilssen added, and then immediately regretted the phrase. ‘Perhaps we ought to insert a clause into our contract to that tune,’ Shepard said lightly. ‘For peace of mind.’ ‘You can trust my discretion,’ Nilssen said, blushing again. ‘I truly hope I can,’ said Shepard. He stood, and extended his hand. Nilssen rose also, and they shook hands. ‘Mr. Shepard,’ Nilssen said suddenly, as Shepard made to depart. ‘The way you were speaking before—about the savage and the civil, the old world and the new.’ Shepard regarded him impassively. ‘Yes.’ ‘I’m curious to hear how that line of thinking applies to all of this—the estate, the ’bounder, the widow Wells.’ Shepard took a long time to answer. ‘A homeward bounder is a chance for total reinvention, Mr. Nilssen,’ he said at last. ‘Find a nugget, and a man can buy his own life. That kind of promise isn’t offered in the civil world.’ Nilssen sat alone in his office for a long time after Shepard left, turning the gaoler’s proposition over and over in his mind. A feeling of doubt was seeding in his breast. He felt that he had missed a connexion somewhere—as if he had come across a knotted handkerchief, balled in the watch-pocket of an old vest, and could not for the life of him recall what the knot was supposed to prompt him to remember—what errand, what responsibility; where he’d been, even, when he tied the corners, and tucked the thing away against his heart. He drummed his fingers; he toyed with his lapel. The rain beat against the window. The grey shadows in the room changed places, as the sun sank behind the cloud. Suddenly he got up, went to the door, and opened it a fraction. ‘Albert!’ he called, through the chink. ‘Yes, sir,’ Albert called back, from the outer office. ‘Crosbie Wells—the man who died.’ ‘Sir.’ ‘Who found his body? Remind me.’ ‘A company of men, sir,’ Albert replied. ‘You recall the story?’ ‘It was in the papers—I can find it for you, if you like.’ ‘Just tell me what you remember.’ ‘The party stopped in to refresh themselves, and found Mr. Wells fresh dead—that’s my understanding. Sitting at his kitchen table, the papers had it.’ ‘Give us the name?’—But he already knew. He rested his head against the doorframe, and felt sick. ‘That fellow in contest for the Westland seat,’ said Albert. ‘The Canterbury man. You met him last week at the Star. Alistair Lauderback’s his name.’ Some ten minutes later Nilssen appeared in the doorway of the outer office, snapping out his top hat with such a tremendous crack that the clerk leaped out of his chair. He was holding his stick in a rather brutish fashion, gripping it halfway down its shaft, as if he meant to wield it as a cudgel. His face was very pale. ‘Shall I direct any callers to the Nonpareil?’ Albert called after him, as the commission merchant made for the door. ‘No—leave me be. Tell them to wait. Tell them to come back Monday,’ Nilssen snapped, without turning. He quitted the gatehouse and strode off down the quay, but when he reached his accustomed pie-house on the corner he did not stop. He drew his coat tighter across his body and turned inland, towards Kaniere, and the goldfields. MIDNIGHT DAWNS IN SCORPIO In which the chemist goes in search of opium; we meet Anna Wetherell at last; Pritchard becomes impatient; and two shots are fired. Joseph Pritchard, upon quitting Nilssen’s offices, had not returned immediately to his laboratory on Collingwood-street. He had made his way instead to the Gridiron, one of the sixty or seventy hotels that lined Revell-street along its most crowded and lively stretch. This establishment (which, with its canary trim and false shutters, showed a gay frontage even in the rain) was the habitual residence of Miss Anna Wetherell, and although it was not the latter’s custom to entertain callers at this hour of the day, it was not Pritchard’s custom to conduct his business according to any schedule but his own. He stamped up the steps and hauled open the door without so much as a nod to the diggers on the veranda, who were sitting in a row with their boots upon the rail, alternately whittling, cleaning their nails, and spitting tobacco into the mud. They looked at him with some amusement as he passed darkly into the foyer, remarking, once the door had thudded shut behind him, that there was a man very much determined to get to the bottom of something. Pritchard had not encountered Anna in many weeks. He had heard about her attempted suicide only third-hand, via Dick Mannering, who in turn had relayed the intelligence of Ah Sook, the Chinese man who managed the opium den at Kaniere. Anna frequently plied her trade at Kaniere Chinatown, and for that reason was known colloquially as Chinaman’s Ann—a designation that harmed her popularity in some circles, and greatly accented it in others. Pritchard belonged to neither camp—he held little interest in the private lives of other men—so he was neither titillated nor repulsed to learn that the whore was a particular favourite of Ah Sook’s, and that her near-death, as Mannering reported to Pritchard later, had driven the man almost to hysteria. (Mannering did not speak Cantonese, but he knew a handful of written characters, including metal, want, and die—enough to conduct a pictographic colloquy with the aid of his pocketbook, an object that was by now so heavily marked and foxed with use that he was able to perform very sophisticated rhetorical allusions simply by leafing back through the pages and pointing with his fingers to an old quarrel, an old settlement, an old sale.) It irritated Pritchard that Anna had not contacted him herself. He was a chemist, after all, and, south of the Grey River at least, the sole supplier of opium to the West Coast dens: concerning a matter of overdose, he was an expert. She ought to have called on him, to solicit his advice. Pritchard did not believe that Anna had tried to end her life: he could not believe it. He was sure that she had been forced to take the drug against her will; either that, or the stuff had been altered with the intention of causing her harm. He had tried to recall the remainder of the lump from the Chinese den, in order to examine it for traces of poison, but Ah Sook was much too furious to indulge this request, having articulated (again via Mannering) his vehement resolve never to conduct business with the chemist again. Pritchard was indifferent to the threat—he had plenty of custom in Hokitika, and the sale of opium made up only a very small percentage of his revenue—but his professional curiosity about the event had not yet been satisfied. He needed, now, to question the girl himself. The hotel’s proprietor was not present when Pritchard entered the foyer of the Gridiron Hotel, and the space had an empty, rattling feel. Once Pritchard’s eyes became accustomed to the gloom he saw Clinch’s valet, who was leaning against the desk reading an old copy of the Leader, simultaneously mouthing the words and tracing them with his fingertip as he followed each line of print. There was a greasy patch on the countertop where the motion of his finger had polished the wood to a shine. He looked up and gave the chemist a nod as he passed. Pritchard flicked a shilling at him, which the other caught neatly and slapped onto the back of his hand—‘Came up tails,’ the boy called out, as Pritchard began to ascend the stairs, and Pritchard gave a snort of laughter. He could be brutal, when his spirits were aggrieved, and he was feeling brutal now. The hallway was quiet, but he put his ear against Anna Wetherell’s door and listened for a moment before he knocked. Harald Nilssen had guessed rightly that Pritchard’s relations with Anna Wetherell were rather more tormented than his own, but he was mistaken to conclude that the chemist was in love with her. In fact Pritchard’s taste in women was thoroughly orthodox, even juvenile. He would sooner be inclined to fall for a dairymaid than for a whore—however dull the maid, and however striking the whore. He valued purity and simplicity, plain dress, a soft voice, a tractable will, and a small ambition—which is to say, contrast. His ideal woman would perfectly contrast him: she would be knowable where he was unknowable, composed where he was not. She would be a kind of anchor from above and without; she would be a shaft of light, a comfort, a benediction. Anna Wetherell, with all her excess and intoxication, was too like him. He did not hate her for that, exactly—but he pitied her. In general Pritchard was close-mouthed on the subject of the fairer sex. He did not enjoy speaking about women with other men, a practice which, in his estimation, was always clownish and braying. He kept his silence, and as a consequence his fellows believed him very well accomplished, and women, when they regarded him, believed him enigmatic and profound. He was not unhandsome, and his trade was a good one: he might have been considered a very eligible bachelor, had he worked a little less, and ventured into society a little more. But Pritchard loathed large groups of mixed company, where every man is required to act as a kind of envoy for his sex, and presents his own advantages playfully, under the scrutiny of the room. Large crowds made him stifled and irritable. He preferred close company, and kept few friends—to whom he was fiercely loyal, as he was loyal to Anna, in his own way. The intimacy that he felt when he was with her owed chiefly to the fact that a man is never obliged to discuss his whores with other men: a whore is a private matter, a meal to be eaten alone. It was this aloneness that he sought in Anna. She was a solitude for him; and when he was with her, he kept her at a distance. Pritchard had truly loved only once in his life—but it had been sixteen years since Mary Menzies became Mary Firkin, and moved to Georgia to pursue a life of cotton and red earth and (so Pritchard had imagined) an expansive slowness, made of wealth and cloudless skies. Whether she had perished—whether Mr. Firkin, too, was living still—whether she had children, born or lost—whether she had aged well, or aged badly—he did not know. She was Mary Menzies in his mind. When he had last seen her she had been twenty-five, dressed simply in sprigged muslin with her hair gathered in ringlets at her temples, her wrists and fingers unadorned; they were sitting in the window box, saying goodbye. ‘Joseph,’ she had said (he inscribed it in his pocketbook later, to remember it for all of time), ‘Joseph, I don’t believe you have ever been at peace with good. It is well you never made love to me. You will remember me fondly now. It would not have been so, otherwise.’ He heard quick steps on the other side of the door. ‘Oh, it’s you,’ was Anna’s only greeting. She was disappointed: she must have been expecting someone else. Pritchard stepped inside without speaking, and closed the door behind him. Anna moved into the quartered patch of light beneath the window. She was dressed in mourning, but by the old-fashioned style of the gown (the bell-shaped skirt, the pointed waist) and the faded hue of the cloth, Pritchard guessed it had not been tailored for her new: it must have been a gift, or, more likely, something salvaged. He saw that the hem had been let out: two inches of darker black showed as a stripe against the floor. It was a strange thing to behold a whore in mourning—rather like seeing a dandified cleric, or a child with a moustache; it gave one a sense of confusion, Pritchard thought. It struck him that he had rarely seen Anna except by lamplight, or by the moon. Her complexion was translucent, even blue, and tended to a deep purple beneath her eyes—as if she had been painted in watercolour, on a paper that was not stiff enough to hold the moisture, so the colours ran. Her countenance was, as Pritchard’s mother might have said, made up of angles. Her brow was very straight and her chin was pointed. Her nose was narrow, even geometric: a sculptor might render it in four strokes, with one slice on either side, one down the bridge, and one tuck beneath. She was thin-lipped, and though her eyes were naturally large, she tended to peer upon the world suspiciously, and so rarely employed them to seductive effect. Her cheeks were hollow, and her jawbone was visible, as the rim of a drum is visible, tight beneath the stretched membrane of the skin. The previous year she had been with child, a state that had warmed the wax of her cheeks, and made plump the wretched bones of her arms—and Prichard had liked her: the round belly, the swollen breasts, hidden beneath yards of lawn and tulle, fabrics which softened her, made her buoyant. But sometime after the spring equinox, when the evenings were becoming longer, and the days brighter, and the sun hung low and scarlet over the Tasman Sea for hours before slipping, finally, into the red wash of the sea, the baby perished. Its body had since been wrapped in calico and buried in a shallow grave upon the terrace at Seaview. Pritchard had not spoken to Anna about the baby’s death. He did not frequent her rooms with any kind of regularity, and he did not ask her questions when he was there. But he had wept, privately, when he heard the news. There were so few children in Hokitika—perhaps three or four. One looked forward to seeing them as to hearing a familiar accent of speech, or a beloved ship on the horizon, that put one in mind of home. He waited for her to speak first. ‘You can’t stay,’ she said. ‘I’ve an appointment.’ ‘I won’t keep you. I wanted to ask after your health.’ ‘Oh,’ she burst out, ‘I am sick of the question—sick of it!’ He was surprised by the violence of her answer. ‘I haven’t visited you in a while.’ ‘No.’ ‘But I saw you in the thoroughfare—just after the New Year.’ ‘It’s a small town.’ He moved closer. ‘You smell like the sea.’ ‘I don’t. I haven’t been sea-bathing in weeks.’ ‘Something stormy, then. As when a body comes in from the snow, and carries in the cold.’ ‘What are you doing?’ ‘What am I doing?’ ‘By speaking in that way—poetical.’ ‘Poetical?’ (Pritchard had the bad habit, when conversing with women, of answering a question with another question. Mary Menzies had complained of it once, long ago.) ‘Sentimental. Fanciful. I don’t know. It doesn’t matter.’ Anna plucked at her cuff. ‘I have recovered my health,’ she added. ‘And you can save your next question for yourself. I didn’t mean any kind of unnatural harm. I meant to take a pipe same as always, and then I fell asleep, and then the next thing I remember, I was in gaol.’ Pritchard placed his hat upon the armoire. ‘And since then, you’ve been hounded.’ ‘To death.’ ‘Poor you.’ ‘Sympathy is worse.’ ‘Well, then,’ Pritchard said, ‘I shan’t give you any. I’ll be cruel to you instead.’ ‘I don’t care.’ It seemed to him that she spoke with pity and blankness, which angered him; he considered showing it, but then he reminded himself that he was on an errand. ‘Who’s the client?’ he said instead, to taunt her. She had gone to the window, and half-turned in surprise. ‘What?’ ‘You said you’ve an appointment. Who is it?’ ‘There’s no client. I’m going with a lady to look at hats.’ He snorted. ‘I’ve heard of a whore’s honour, you know. You don’t have to lie.’ She studied him from what seemed like a great distance—as if he were only a mark on the horizon for her, a distant speck, receding. And then she said, slowly, as if speaking to a child, ‘Of course—you didn’t know. I’m done with whoring for a time.’ He raised his eyebrows, and then, to cover his surprise, laughed at her. ‘Honest woman, are you now? Hats and window boxes, is it? Gloves in the street?’ ‘Just while I mourn.’ He felt that this answer—stated simply and quietly—made him look foolish for having laughed, and a knot of frustration began to gather in his chest. ‘What’s Dick got to say about that?’ he said, referring to Anna’s employer, Mr. Mannering. Anna turned away. ‘He’s not happy,’ she said. ‘I should imagine not!’ ‘I don’t want to talk about that with you, Jo.’ He bristled. ‘What’s your meaning?’ ‘I don’t have a meaning. Not a special one. I’m just tired of thinking about him.’ ‘Has he been a beast to you?’ ‘No,’ Anna said. ‘Not really.’ Pritchard knew about whores. The mincing types who pretended shock and spoke in high-pitched voices full of air; the buxom, helpful types who wore draped-elbow sleeves in any season, and called one ‘lad’; the drunkards, greedy and whining, with chipped red knuckles and watery eyes—and then there was the category to which Anna belonged, the unknowable types, by turns limpid and flashing, whose carriage bespoke an exquisite misery, a wretchedness so perfect and so absolute that it manifested as dignity, as calm. Anna Wetherell was more than a dark horse; she was darkness itself, the cloak of it. She was a silent oracle, Pritchard thought, knowing not wisdom, but wickedness—for whatever vicious things one might have done, or said, or witnessed, she was sure to have witnessed worse. ‘Why didn’t you come to me?’ he said at last, wanting to accuse her of something. ‘When?’ ‘When you took ill.’ ‘I was in gaol.’ ‘But after that.’ ‘What good would that have done?’ ‘It might have saved you a good deal of trouble,’ he said curtly. ‘I could have proven that opium was poisoned, if you’d let me testify.’ ‘You knew it was poisoned?’ ‘I’m guessing. How else, Ann? Unless—’ Anna moved away from him again, to the bedhead this time, and wrapped her fingers around the iron knob. As she moved he smelled her again—the sea. The intensity of the sensation startled him. He had to check the urge to step towards her, to follow her, and breathe her in. He smelled salt, and iron, and the heavy, metallic taste of foul weather … low cloud, he thought, and rain. And not just the sea: a ship. That tarred ropy smell, the dusty damp of bleached teak, oiled sailcloth, candle wax. His mouth began to water. ‘Poisoned,’ Anna said, peering at him. ‘By whom?’ (Perhaps it was a sensory memory—merely a chance echo, the kind that suddenly flooded one’s body, and then vanished just as swiftly. He put it from his mind.) ‘The possibility must have occurred to you,’ he said, frowning. ‘I suppose. I don’t remember anything.’ ‘Anything at all?’ ‘Only sitting down with the pipe. Heating the pin. After that, nothing.’ ‘I believed you weren’t a suicide—that you didn’t mean harm. I believed that.’ ‘Oh well,’ Anna said, ‘but it does occur to one, now and again.’ ‘Of course—now and again,’ Pritchard said, too quickly. He felt bested, and took a half step backward. ‘I don’t know a thing about poison,’ she said. ‘If I could examine the rest of the lump I could tell you whether or not the stuff had been cut with something else,’ Pritchard said. ‘That’s why I came. I want to know if I can buy some of it back from you to take a look at. Ah Sook won’t give me the time of day.’ She narrowed her eyes. ‘You want to examine it—or swap it out?’ ‘What’s that supposed to mean?’ ‘You might be covering your tracks.’ Pritchard flushed with indignation. ‘What tracks?’ She said nothing, so he said again, ‘What tracks?’ ‘Ah Sook thinks you poisoned it,’ Anna said at last, peering at him. ‘Does he? Bloody roundabout way of doing it, if I wanted to see you dead.’ ‘What if you wanted to see him dead?’ ‘And lose his business?’ Pritchard’s voice became low. ‘Look here: I don’t claim a brotherly feeling or anything of that sort, but I’ve got no quarrel with Oriental folk. Do you hear? I’ve got no reason to wish any one of them harm. None at all.’ ‘His claim tent was slashed again. Last month. All his medicines got spoiled.’ ‘What—you think that was me?’ ‘No, I don’t.’ ‘Then what’s the story?’ Pritchard said. ‘Give it up, Ann. What?’ ‘He thinks you’re running a racket.’ ‘Poisoning chinks?’ Pritchard snorted. ‘Yes,’ Anna said. ‘And it’s not as stupid as all that, you know.’ ‘Is that right! Come around to his perspective, have you?’ ‘I didn’t say that,’ she said. ‘It’s not me who thinks—’ ‘You think me a cross old man,’ Pritchard said. ‘I know it. I am a cross old man, Anna. But I’m not a murderer.’ The whore’s conviction disappeared as swiftly as it had come to animate her. She shrank back again, stepping sideways towards the window, and her hand moved to the tatted lace of her collar. She began to pluck at it. Prichard felt soothed. He recognised the gesture: not as her own, but as a motion that belonged to a girl, any girl. ‘Well, anyway,’ he said, trying to make amends. ‘Anyway.’ ‘You’re not so very old,’ she said. He wanted to touch her. ‘And then this laudanum business—the Crosbie Wells debacle,’ he said. ‘My mind’s been full of that.’ ‘What laudanum business?’ ‘Phial of laudanum, found underneath the hermit’s bed. It’s mine.’ ‘Corked or uncorked?’ ‘Corked. But only half full.’ She looked interested. ‘Yours—does that mean belonging to you personal, or just bought from your place?’ ‘Bought,’ said Pritchard. ‘And not by Crosbie. I never sold that man a dram.’ Anna placed her hand against her cheek, thinking. ‘That’s strange.’ ‘Old Crosbie Wells,’ said Pritchard, trying to be jolly. ‘Nobody ever paid the man a scrap of thought when he was living—and now this.’ ‘Crosbie—’ Anna began, but then all at once, she was crying. Pritchard made no move to advance towards her, to open his arms, to offer comfort. He watched her fish in her sleeve for a handkerchief and waited, his hands locked behind his back. She was not crying for Crosbie Wells. She hadn’t even known the man. She was crying for herself. Of course, Pritchard thought, it must have been unpleasant, to have been tried for attempted suicide at the petty courts, and hounded by all manner of men, and discussed in the Times as a curiosity, and spoken about over breakfasts, and between rounds at billiards, as if one’s soul were a common property, a cause. He watched as she blew her nose, fumbling with her thin fingers to tuck the handkerchief away. This was not exhaustion merely: this was a grief of a different kind. She seemed not so much harassed as halved. ‘Never mind,’ Anna said at last, when she had regained control. ‘Never mind me.’ ‘If I could just take a look at a piece of it,’ Pritchard said. ‘What?’ ‘The resin. I’ll buy it back from you. I’m not going to swap it out—you can give me just a piece, you know; you don’t have to give up the whole lump.’ She shook her head, and in the sharpness of the movement Pritchard caught what was different about her. He strode forward, covering the space between them in three quick strides, and grabbed her sleeve. ‘Where is it?’ he said. ‘Where’s the tar?’ She pulled free of him. ‘I ate it,’ she said. ‘I ate the last of it last night, if you must know.’ ‘You didn’t—you couldn’t have!’ Pritchard followed her, and turned her by the shoulders so she faced him. He placed the pad of his thumb on her chin and tilted her head back, to better see her eyes. ‘You’re lying,’ he said. ‘You’re dry.’ ‘I ate it,’ Anna repeated. She shook herself free. ‘Did you give it back to Sook? Did he take it back?’ ‘I ate it. Same as ever.’ ‘Come off it, Ann. Don’t be a liar.’ ‘I’m not a liar.’ ‘You ate a lump of poisoned tar and your eyes are clear as dawn?’ She narrowed her eyes. ‘Who’s to say it was poisoned?’ ‘Even if it wasn’t—’ ‘You know that it was poisoned? You’re sure?’ ‘I don’t know a d—ned thing about this d—ned business, and I don’t like your tone,’ Pritchard snapped. ‘I just want a piece of it back so I can look at it, for heaven’s sake!’ She was roused again. ‘And who poisoned it, Jo? Who tried to kill me? What’s your guess?’ Pritchard waved his arm. ‘Ah Sook, maybe.’ ‘Accuse the man who’s accusing you?’ She laughed. ‘That’s a guilty man’s game!’ ‘I’m trying to help you!’ Pritchard said furiously. ‘I’m trying to help!’ ‘There’s nothing to help!’ Anna cried. ‘No one to help! For the last time: there was no suicide, Joseph, and no—bloody—poison!’ ‘Then explain to me why you ended up half-dead in the middle of the Christchurch-road!’ ‘I can’t explain it!’ For the first time that day Pritchard saw real emotion on her face: fear, fury. ‘You took a pipe that night—same as usual?’ ‘And every day since I made bail.’ ‘Today?’ ‘No. I ate the last of it last night. I told you.’ ‘What time last night?’ ‘Late. Midnight, maybe.’ Pritchard wanted to spit. ‘Don’t call me a fool. I’ve seen you when you’re under, and I’ve seen you coming up. Right now you’re sober as a nun.’ Her face crumpled. ‘If you don’t believe me, go away.’ ‘I won’t. I won’t go.’ ‘D—n you, Jo Pritchard!’ ‘D—n you.’ She burst into tears again. Pritchard turned away. Where would she keep it? He strode to the armoire, opened it, and began rifling through the contents. Her empty dresses, hanging from the rail. Her petticoats. Her bloomers, most of them tattered and stained. Handkerchiefs, shawls, stays, stockings; her button boots. There was nothing. He moved to the dresser, where a spirit lamp sat upon a cracked china plate—this would be her opium lamp—and beside it, a wadded pair of gloves, a comb, a pincushion, an opened package of soap, sundry jars of cream and powder. These items he picked up and then replaced, roughly; he meant to turn the whole room over. ‘What are you doing?’ Anna said. ‘You’re hiding it—only you won’t tell me why!’ ‘Those are my things.’ He laughed. ‘Keepsakes, are they? Precious mementos? Antiques?’ He wrenched the drawer from her dresser, and upended it over the floor. A cascade of trinkets rattled out. Coins, wooden spools of thread, ribbons, covered buttons, a pair of dressmaker’s shears. Three rolling champagne corks. A man’s shaving brush—she must have stolen that from somewhere. Matches, stays. The ticket from her passage to New Zealand. Wads of cloth. A silver-backed looking glass. Pritchard raked the pile. There was Anna’s pipe—and there ought to be a little box to match it, or perhaps a little pouch, inside of which her resin would be folded in a square of waxed paper, like toffee purchased from a store. He cursed. ‘You’re a beast,’ Anna said. ‘You’re detestable.’ He ignored her, and picked up the pipe. It was of Chinese making, fashioned from bamboo, and about as long as Pritchard’s forearm. The bowl of the pipe sat some three inches away from its end; it protruded like a doorknob, and was fixed to the wood by means of a metal saddle. Pritchard weighed the thing in his hands, holding it as a flautist holds a flute. He sniffed it. There was a dark residue around the rim of the bowl—so someone had partaken of the pipe, and recently. ‘Happy?’ she said. ‘Watch your lip. Where’s the needle?’ ‘There.’ She pointed at a square of cloth among the sorry detritus on the floor, through which was pushed a long hatpin, stained black at the tip. Pritchard sniffed this also. He then inserted the hatpin into the aperture of the bowl and rolled the tip about. ‘You’re going to break it.’ ‘Be doing you a favour, then.’ (Pritchard deplored Anna’s craving for the drug—but why? He himself had taken opium many times. He had taken it in Kaniere, in fact, with Ah Sook, in the tiny hut that Sook had hung with Oriental fabrics, to still the air so that his precious lamps would not flicker in a draught.) At last Pritchard tossed the pipe aside—but carelessly, so that the bowl struck the floorboards, and rang out. ‘Beast,’ Anna said again. ‘I’m a beast, am I?’ He lunged for her, not really intending to hurt her, but merely to grab her by the shoulders and shake her, until she told him the truth. But he was clumsy, and she wrenched away, and for the third time that afternoon, Pritchard’s nostrils were filled with the rich, briny smell of the ocean—and, impossibly, the metallic taste of cold—as if a wind had slapped him in the face, as if a sail had snapped above him, as if a storm was in the air. He faltered. ‘Get back,’ she said. She was holding her hands before her face, her fingers half-curled into fists. ‘I mean it, Joseph. I won’t be called a liar. Get back and get out.’ ‘I’ll call you a liar if you d—ned well lie.’ ‘Get back.’ ‘Tell me where you’ve hidden it.’ ‘Get back!’ ‘Not until you tell me where it is!’ he shouted. ‘Tell me, you useless bloody whore!’ He lunged for her again, in desperation; he saw her eyes flash, and in the next moment she had reached into her breast and withdrawn a muff pistol, the single-loading kind. It was a slip of a piece, hardly longer than Pritchard’s finger, but from a distance of two paces it could shatter his chest. Instinctively he put up his hands. The piece was facing backward, with the muzzle pointing up towards her chin, and Anna had to spin the piece to fit it into her hand—but she was frantic, and in that moment three things happened at once. Pritchard stepped backwards, and stumbled on the edge of the rattan rug; behind him, the door burst open, and someone gave a cry; and Anna half-turned at the noise, started forwards, and shot herself in the breast. The report from the small gun was hollow, even unremarkable—like the cracking of a topsail far above a deck. It seemed an echo of itself, as if the real shot had fired somewhere much further away, and this noise was just a copy. Stupidly Pritchard wheeled about, turning his back on Anna, to confront the figure at the door. His mind felt full of fog; he registered, in some distant way, that the man who had just entered was Aubert Gascoigne, the new clerk at the Magistrate’s Court. Pritchard did not know Gascoigne at all well. Some three weeks ago the clerk had come to his laboratory, seeking to fill a prescription for a bowel complaint—absurdly, Pritchard thought of that now. He wondered whether his tincture had helped the other man as he had promised it would. For the briefest second, nobody moved … or perhaps no time passed at all. Then Gascoigne roared an oath, started forward, and fell upon the body of the whore. He wrenched her head back and the pistol clattered to the side—but the white of her neck was unscarred—there was no blood—and she was breathing. Her hands flew to her throat. ‘You fool—you fool!’ Gascoigne shouted. There was a sob in his voice. He grabbed her tatted collar with both hands and ripped it open. ‘Blank cartridge, was it? Wax pellet, was it? Thought you’d give us all another scare? What the devil do you think you’re playing at?’ Anna’s hand was moving over her breast, her fingers touching and tapping in confusion. Her eyes were wide. Pritchard said, ‘A blank?’ He leaned down and picked up the pistol. The barrel was hot, and the smell of gunpowder was in the air. But he could see no spent casing, and no hole anywhere. The wall behind Anna was plastered and smooth, just as it had been a second ago. The two men looked about—at the walls, at the floor, at Anna. The whore looked down at her breast. Pritchard held the pistol out, letting it dangle foolishly from his index finger, and Gascoigne took it up. Deftly he snapped open the barrel and peered into the breech. Then he turned on Anna. ‘Who loaded this piece?’ he demanded. ‘I did it myself,’ Anna said, bewildered. ‘I can show you the spares.’ ‘Show me. Show me the spares.’ She clambered up, and went to the whatnot beside the bed; after a moment she returned with a tin box in which seven cartridges were rolling on a scrap of brown paper. Gascoigne touched them with his finger. Then he passed the pistol to the whore. ‘Do it just as you did. The very same.’ Anna nodded dumbly. She pivoted the barrel sideways and fitted a cartridge into the breech. She then snapped the barrel back correctly, cocked the piece, and handed the loaded pistol back to him. She looked terrified, Pritchard thought—dumbfounded, mechanical. Gascoigne took the pistol from her, stepped back several paces, levelled the piece, and fired at the headboard of her bed. The report sounded just as it had before—this time Pritchard heard a murmur of alarm from the floor below, and rapid footsteps—and they all looked to the spot where he had fired. A perfect hole, darkened slightly at its edges by the heat, pierced the centre of her pillow; a puff of feathered dust had risen up from the stuffing, and as they watched, floated down in a film of gauze. Gascoigne moved forward, and tossed the pillow aside. With his fingers he felt around the headboard of the bed, just as Anna had felt around her neck for injury, and after a moment he gave a grunt of satisfaction. ‘It’s there?’ Pritchard said. ‘Hardly made a scratch,’ Gascoigne said, testing the depth of the hole with the end of his finger. ‘Those muff pistols, they’re not worth much.’ ‘But where—’ Pritchard was at a loss. His tongue felt thick in his mouth. ‘What happened to the first?’ said Gascoigne, echoing him. They all stared at the second cartridge, the visible cartridge, misshapen in his hand. Then Gascoigne looked at Anna, and Anna at Gascoigne—and it seemed to Pritchard that a look of understanding passed between them. What a wretched thing it was, to behold one’s whore exchanging glances with another man! Pritchard wanted to despise her, but he could not: he felt dulled, even bewildered. There was a ringing in his ears. Anna turned to him. ‘Will you go downstairs?’ she said. ‘Tell Edgar I was playing with the gun, or cleaning it, and it went off by accident.’ ‘He isn’t at the desk,’ Pritchard said. ‘Tell the valet, then. Just make it known. I don’t want anybody coming up; I don’t want any fuss. Please do it.’ ‘All right. I will,’ Pritchard said. ‘And then—’ ‘And then you should go.’ Anna was firm. ‘I want what I came for.’ He spoke quietly, glancing sideways at Gascoigne—but the other man’s eyes were discreetly lowered. ‘I can’t help you, Joseph. I don’t have what you want. Please go.’ He looked into her eyes again. They were green, with a thick rind of darkness around the edge of the iris, and flecks of pebbled grey clustered around the pupil in rays. It had been months since he had seen the colour in her eyes, since he had seen her pupil as a point, a grain, and not as a blurred disc of blackness, dulled with sleep. She was sober—of this he had no doubt at all. So she was a liar, and maybe even a thief; so she was deceiving him. And her appointment, the man Gascoigne. There was another secret. Another lie. Going with a lady, to look at hats—! But Pritchard found that he could not renew his anger. He felt ashamed. He felt as though it had been he who had intruded, as though it had been he who had disturbed an intimate scene in the whore’s own chambers, between Anna and Gascoigne. The shame Pritchard felt was of a very crude and childish sort: it came upon him as a rush of bitter feeling, swelling in his throat. At last he turned on his heel and made to leave. In the doorway he reached back for the handle, to pull the door shut behind him—but he did it slowly, and watched them through the narrowing crack. Gascoigne began moving just before the door was quite closed. He spun towards Anna and opened his arms for an embrace, and Anna fell into him, her pale cheek rising to fit into the curve of his neck. Gascoigne wrapped his arms strongly about her waist, and Anna’s body went limp; he lifted her, so that her toes trailed on the floor; she was clasped against him; he lowered his head and pressed his cheek against her hair. His jaw was clenched; his eyes were open; he breathed fiercely through his nose. Pritchard, with his eye at the door, was overcome with loneliness. He felt that he had never loved, and that no soul had ever loved him. He shut the door as softly as he could, and padded down the stairs. ‘May I interject to ask a question?’ ‘Yes, of course.’ ‘Can you show me exactly how Miss Wetherell was holding the pistol?’ ‘Certainly. Like this—with the heel of her hand right here. I was standing at an angle to her, about where Mr. Mannering is sitting now, in relation to me, and her body was half-turned, like this.’ ‘And if the gun had fired as expected, what kind of injury would Miss Wetherell likely have sustained?’ ‘If she was lucky, a flesh wound in the shoulder. If she was unlucky—well, perhaps a little lower. Her heart, maybe. The left side … The truly curious thing, of course, is even if the cartridge was a blank, she still should have been impacted by the empty casing, or burnt by the powder, or seared at the very least. We couldn’t make heads or tails of it.’ ‘Thank you. I’m sorry to interrupt.’ ‘Is there something you can share with us, Mr. Moody?’ ‘Presently I will—when I have heard the rest of the story.’ ‘I must say, sir—you’re looking awfully queer.’ ‘I’m quite well. Please continue.’ It was still early in the afternoon when Pritchard returned to his drug hall on Collingwood-street, but he felt that it ought to be much later—that night ought to be falling, to make sense of the exhaustion that he felt. He entered by way of the shop, and spent a foolish moment straightening the razor-strops with the corners of the shelves, and tidying the bottles so that they stood shoulder-to-shoulder against the lip of the display cabinet—but suddenly he could not bear himself. He set a card in the shop window informing callers to return on Monday, locked the door, and retired to his laboratory. There were several orders set out upon his desk, to be made up, but he gazed down at the forms almost without seeing them. He took off his jacket and hung it on the hook beside the range. He tied his apron about his waist by habit. Then he stood and gazed at nothing. Mary Menzies’s words had fixed him—they were his prophecy, his curse. ‘You have never been at peace with good’—he remembered them; he wrote them down; and by doing so he made sure her words came true. He became the man whom she rejected because she rejected him, because she left. And now he was thirty-eight, and he had never been in love, and other men had mistresses, and other men had wives. With his long finger Pritchard touched the shaft of a prescription bottle on the desk before him. She was nineteen. She was Mary Menzies in his mind. A phrase of his father’s returned to him: you give a dog a bad name, and that dog is bad for life. (‘Remember that, Joseph,’—with one hand on Pritchard’s shoulder, and the other clasping a newborn puppy against his chest; the next day, Pritchard dubbed the young thing Cromwell, and his father nodded once.) Recalling the words, Pritchard thought: is that what I have done, to my own self, to my own fate? Am I the dog in my father’s maxim, badly named? But it was not a question. He sat down and placed his hands, palm downward, on the laboratory bench. His thoughts drifted back to Anna. By her own account, she had not intended to commit suicide at all—a claim that Pritchard believed was an honest one. Anna’s life was miserable, but she had her pleasures, and she was not a violent type. Pritchard felt that he knew her. He could not imagine that she would try to take her life. And yet—what had she said? It does occur to one, now and again. Yes, Pritchard thought heavily. Now and again, it does. Anna was a seasoned opium eater. She took the drug nearly every day, and was well accustomed to its effects upon her body and her mind. Pritchard had never known her to lose consciousness so completely that she could not be revived for over twelve hours. He doubted that such a circumstance could have come about by accident. Well, if she truly had not intended to end her life—as she attested—then that left only two options: either she had been drugged by somebody else, used for some nefarious purpose, and then abandoned in the Christchurch-road, or (Pritchard gave a slow nod) she was bluffing. Yes. She had lied about the resin; she could easily be lying about the overdose, too. But for what purpose? Whom was she protecting? And to what end? The Hokitika physician had confirmed that Anna had indeed partaken of a great deal of opium on the night of the 14th of January: his testament to this effect had been published in the West Coast Times on the day after Anna’s trial. Could Anna have managed to fool the physician, or to persuade him somehow to give a false diagnosis? Pritchard considered this. She had been in the gaol-house for over twelve hours, over which time she would have been prodded and poked by all manner of men, and witnessed by dozens of others, besides. She could hardly have fooled them all. True unconsciousness cannot be faked, Pritchard thought. Even a whore was not as good an actress as that. All right: perhaps the drug had been poisoned after all. Pritchard turned his hands over, and studied the whorls on the pads of his fingers, each hand the mirror image of the other. When he pressed his fingertips together, they made a perfect doubled reflection, as when a man touches his forehead to a glass. He leaned forward to look at the whorls. He himself had certainly not altered the drug in any way, and he did not really suspect the Chinese man, Sook, of having done so either. Sook was fond of Anna. No, it was impossible that Sook might have sought to cause Anna harm. Well, that meant the drug must have been poisoned either before Pritchard bought it wholesale, or after Anna purchased her smaller portion from Ah Sook, to imbibe at home. Pritchard’s source for opiates of all kinds was a man named Francis Carver. He considered Carver now. The man was a former convict, and had a poor reputation as a consequence; to Pritchard, however, he had always been courteous and fair, and Pritchard had no reason to think that Carver might wish him—or his business—any kind of active harm. As to whether Carver bore ill-will towards the Chinese, Pritchard had no idea—but he did not sell direct to the Chinese. He sold to Pritchard, and Pritchard alone. Pritchard had first met Carver at a gambling house on Revell-street, some seven months ago. Pritchard was a keen gambler, and had been refreshing himself between games of craps, tallying his losses in his mind, when a scar-faced man sat down beside him. Pritchard inquired, as a pleasantry, whether the man was fond of cards, and what had brought him to Hokitika; soon they fell to talking. When in due course Pritchard named his own profession, Carver’s expression sharpened. Putting down his drink, he explained that he had a long-standing connexion with a former East Indiaman who controlled an opium poppy plantation in Bengal. If Pritchard was in need of opium, Carver could guarantee a product of unrivalled quality and limitless supply. At that time Pritchard had no stock of opium at all, save for some weak tinctures of laudanum he had purchased from a quack; without hesitation, therefore, he thanked Carver, shook his hand, and agreed to return the following morning to draw up the terms of their trade. Since then Carver had supplied him with a total of three pounds of opium. He would not supply Pritchard with more than one pound at a time, for the reason (as he very frankly explained) that he liked to keep a very tight hold on his own supply, in order to prevent Pritchard from selling the drug wholesale to other sellers, and making an intermediary profit that way. (In selling opium to Ah Sook, Pritchard was of course doing exactly this—but Carver remained unaware of this auxiliary arrangement, for he was seldom in Hokitika, and Pritchard had not troubled himself to confess it.) The resin came wrapped in paper, pressed into a tin box not unlike a caddy for storing tea. Pritchard picked up a clout from the laboratory bench and began to clean the dirt from beneath his fingernails—noticing, as he did so, that they were getting rather long. Would Carver really have dared to poison the drug before he sold it wholesale to a drug emporium? Pritchard might have powdered the resin and turned it into laudanum; he might have sold it piecemeal to any number of clients; he might have used the drug himself. It was true that Carver had an unpleasant history with Anna; he had harmed her badly once before. But even if he wished to kill her by overdose, there was no guarantee that a portion of the poisoned opium would end up in Anna’s hands. Pritchard rolled a ball of dirt between his fingers. No: it was absurd to think that any man would devise a plot that comprised so many uncertainties. Carver might be a brute, but he was not a fool. Having rejected that theory, the chemist now considered the second option: that the drug had been poisoned after Anna Wetherell was given a piece of it by Ah Sook to take at home. Perhaps someone had stolen into her rooms at the Gridiron, and poisoned it there. But again—why? Why bother to poison the opium at all? Why not kill the whore by more conventional means—by strangulation, or smothering, or battery? Defeated, Pritchard turned his mind instead to the things he knew by instinct to be true. He knew that Anna Wetherell had not told the whole truth about the events of the 14th of January. He knew that someone had partaken of the drug recently from the pipe she had hidden in her room. He knew that she had ceased to take opium herself; by her eyes and her motions, he could not doubt that she was as dry as a bone. These certainties, in Pritchard’s eyes, could only point to one conclusion. ‘Hang it all,’ he whispered. ‘She’s lying—and on another man’s behalf.’ So the afternoon wore on. In time Pritchard picked up his unfinished orders, and, for want of a more diverting occupation, began to work. He was not aware of the passing of the hours until a gentle knock at the laboratory door returned him to the present. He turned—noting, with a dim surprise, that the light had become very thin, and dusk was approaching—and saw Albert, Nilssen’s junior clerk, hovering in the doorway with his breath caught in his chest and an abashed look upon his face. He was carrying a note. ‘Oh—something from Nilssen,’ Pritchard said, coming forward. He had quite forgotten his conversation with Nilssen earlier that afternoon, and the request he had made of him—to find the goldsmith Quee, and to question him regarding the retorted gold that had been discovered on Crosbie Wells’s estate. He had forgotten about Crosbie Wells entirely—and his fortune, and his widow, and the vanished Mr. Staines. How silently the world revolved, when one was brooding, and alone. Pritchard was fishing in his apron for a sixpence—but Albert, blushing furiously, stammered, ‘No, sir—’ and held up his palms, to show that the honour of having made the delivery was quite sufficient to sustain him. In fact Albert was sure he had never had so exciting an afternoon in all his life. His employer, upon returning from Kaniere Chinatown some half hour previous, had been in such a state of agitation that he had almost torn the door from its hinges. He had penned the note that Albert was carrying now with all the passion of a symphonic composer in collusion with his muse. He had sealed it badly, dropped wax upon himself, cursed, and then thrust the folded, lumpy sheet at Albert, saying hoarsely, ‘Pritchard—to Pritchard—quick as you can.’ In the privacy of the chemist’s receiving room, just before he entered the laboratory, Albert had pinched the edges of the letter together to make the folded paper form a kind of tube, and by squinting down its length he had made out several words that seemed to him to smack of the gravest piracy. It thrilled him that his employer was up to no good. ‘Very well, then—thanks,’ Pritchard said, taking the letter. ‘Did he say a reply was needed?’ The boy said, ‘There’s not to be a reply, sir. But he said to stay and watch you burn it, after you’d read it through.’ Pritchard gave a snort of laughter. This was so like Nilssen: first he sulked, and then he complained of the messiness of it all, and then he dallied, and then he tried to remove all the burden of responsibility from himself—but as soon as he became a participant, as soon as he felt crucial, and impressive, then everything became a pantomime, a cloak-and-dagger show; he gloried in it. Pritchard walked away a few paces (the boy looked disappointed), tore the seal with his fingers, and flattened the paper upon his laboratory desk. The letter read: Jo— Called on Quee, as per your request. You were right about the gold—his work—though he swears he has no notion how the stuff ended up with Wells. The whore’s mixed up in it all—perhaps you knew that already—though we can’t quite get to the bottom of it—the author, to use your phrase. Seems every man is implicated as we are—peripherally. Too much to set down here. I proposed a council. Orientals too. We meet in the back room of the CROWN, at SUNSET. Will ensure our council not disturbed. Tell no one—not even if you trust them & they are connected & may one day stand beside us as Accused. Be so good as to destroy this— H. N. MOON IN TAURUS, WAXING In which Charlie Frost forms a hunch; Dick Mannering buckles on his holsters; and we venture upriver to the Kaniere claims. Thomas Balfour’s inquiry at the Reserve Bank of New Zealand that morning had piqued the banker’s curiosity on several fronts, and as soon as the former had left the building, Mr. Frost immediately resolved to do some inquiring of his own. He was still holding in his hand the shares profile of the Aurora goldmine, owned and operated by the vanished prospector, Emery Staines. Aurora, Frost thought, tapping the document with his lean finger. Aurora. He knew that he had seen that name recently—but where? After a moment he laid the document aside, clambered down from his stool, and padded to the cabinet opposite his cubicle, where a row of leather spines were marked with the words ‘Returns by Quarter’. He selected the third and fourth quarters of the previous year, and returned to his desk to examine the goldmine’s records. Charlie Frost was a man of scant reputation, for such a thing is only ever claimed, and Frost was a quiet soul, modest in his dress, mild in his features, and disinclined, whatever the provocation, to disturb the peace. When he spoke, it was slowly and with care. He rarely laughed openly, and although his posture was languid and easy, he always seemed alert, as if perpetually mindful of some rule of etiquette that other men no longer observed. He did not like to declare his preferences or to hold forth in speech; in fact he was reluctant, when in conversation, to assert an agenda of any kind. This was not at all to say that Frost lacked agenda, or that his preferences were few; in fact, the many rituals of his private life were regulated in the extreme, and his ambitions were tremendously particular. Rather, Frost had learned the value of appearing to be unassuming. He knew the latent power of obscurity (powerful, because it aroused curiosity in others) and he was capable of great strategy in wielding it—but he took extreme care to keep this talent hidden. The impression that strangers invariably formed, upon first meeting him, was that he was a man of reaction rather than of action, who was managed in business, seduced in love, and steadfastly docile in all his pleasures. Frost was but four-and-twenty years of age, and New Zealand-born. His father had been a high-level official in the now defunct New Zealand Company, who, upon disembarking at the mouth of the Hutt River and finding a wealth of flat land to be divided and sold, had promptly sent home for a wife. Frost was not proud of the fact of his birth, for it was a rare citizenship for a white man to hold, and he felt that it was shaming. He told no stories about his childhood, spent in the marshy flat of the Hutt Valley, reading and re-reading his father’s thumbed copy of Paradise Lost, the only book besides the Bible that the family possessed. (By the age of eight, Frost could recite every speech of God’s, the Son’s, and Adam’s—but never Satan’s, whom he found pugnacious, and never Eve’s, whom he thought feeble, and a bore.) It was not an unhappy childhood, but Frost was unhappy when he recalled it. When he spoke about England, it was as though he missed that place very dearly, and could not wait to return. With the dissolution of the New Zealand Company, Mr. Frost senior was all but bankrupted, and cast into disrepute. He turned to his only son for aid. Charlie Frost secured scribal work in Wellington, and soon was offered a place at a bank in the Lambton quarter, a position that earned him enough to keep his parents in health and relative comfort. When gold was discovered in Otago, Frost transferred to a bank at Lawrence, promising to send the larger portion of his wages home, each month, by private mail—a promise he had never broken. He had not once returned home to the Hutt Valley, however, and did not plan to. Charlie Frost tended to conceive of all his relationships in terms of profit and return, and he did not spare a thought for others once he considered that his duty had been served. Now, in Hokitika (for he had followed the rush from Lawrence to the Coast), he did not think at all about his parents, except when he was writing to them each month. This was a difficult task, for his father’s letters were abrupt and mortified, and his mother’s, full of a dismayed silence—sentiments that grieved Charlie Frost, but only briefly. After his replies had been written and dispatched, he shredded their letters into spills for lighting his cigars, cutting the pages lengthwise so as to occlude their import absolutely; the spills he burned, with great indifference. Frost thumbed through the returns folder until he found the section that pertained to Kaniere and the Hokitika gorge. The records were listed alphabetically, with the Aurora as the second, beneath a claim that had been named, rather optimistically for the West Coast, the All Seasons. Frost leaned in close to the page to read the figures, and in the next moment, he gave a murmur of surprise. In the month following its initial purchase, the Aurora claim had performed splendidly, pulling in almost a hundred pounds; come August, however, the claim’s profits had dropped off radically, until—Frost raised his eyebrows—virtually coming to a halt. The sum total of the Aurora’s profits over the last quarter was only twelve pounds. One pound weekly! That was very odd, for a mine of Aurora’s depth and promise. One pound weekly—why, that would be barely enough to cover the overheads, Frost thought. He bent closer over the book. The record showed that the Aurora was worked by one man only. The name was a Chinese one, so the labour would be cheap … but even so, Frost thought, the digger would still have to be paid a daily wage. Charlie Frost was frowning. According to the shares profile, Emery Staines had first taken over the Aurora goldmine in the late autumn of the previous year. It appeared that, some weeks after this purchase, Staines had sold fifty-percent shares to the notorious Francis Carver; however, immediately following that transaction—as this record showed—the claim had run suddenly dry. Either Aurora had become, all of a sudden, a duffer claim—worth virtually nothing—or someone was doing a very good job of making it seem that way. Frost shut the folder and stood for a moment, thinking. His gaze wandered over the crowd: the diggers in their slouch hats, the investors, the escort in their braided epaulettes. Suddenly he remembered where he had seen that name before. He put up a card in his cubicle to indicate that the window was closed. ‘You off for the day?’ a colleague asked. ‘I suppose I could be,’ said Frost, blinking. ‘I hadn’t thought that I might; I had intended to return after my lunch hour.’ ‘We’ll be closed by two, and there’s no more buying today, once this lot is done,’ the other banker said. He stretched his back, and slapped his belly with both hands. ‘May as well see you Monday, Charlie.’ ‘Well!’ Frost murmured, gazing into the crown of his hat, as though suddenly perplexed to see it in his hand. ‘That’s very kind of you. Thank you very much.’ Dick Mannering was alone in his office when Frost knocked upon the door. At his knock, Mannering’s collie-dog burst from beneath the desk in an explosion of joyful energy; she leaped upon Frost, her tail thumping the floor, her red mouth open. ‘Charlie Frost! You’re a man I didn’t expect to see,’ Mannering exclaimed, pushing his chair back from the desk. ‘Come in, come in—and close the door. I have the feeling that whatever it is you’re about to tell me, it’s not for everyone to hear.’ ‘Down, girl,’ said Frost to the dog, gripping her muzzle, looking into her eyes, mussing her ears—and, satisfied, she dropped back onto all fours, and trotted back to her master, where she turned, sank down, put her nose upon her paws, and watched Frost from beneath her brows, sorrowfully. He closed the door as he was bid. ‘How are you, Dick?’ ‘How am I?’ Mannering spread his hands. ‘I’m curious, Charlie. Do you know that? I’m a very curious man, these days. About a whole raft of things. You know Staines hasn’t shown up—not anywhere. We even tried Holly in the gorge, though she’s not much of a bloodhound. Gave her a handkerchief to sniff at, and off she went—but then back again, with nothing. Yes, I’m a very curious man. I do hope you’ve brought a bit of news—or a bit of scandal, if news cannot be had. My word—what a fortnight it’s been! Take off your coat—yes—oh, don’t worry about the rain. It’s only water—and heaven knows we ought to be used to the stuff by now.’ Despite this encouragement Frost was careful to hang up his coat so that it did not touch Mannering’s, and to ensure that it would not drip upon Mannering’s overshoes, which were laid out beneath the coat-rack, each fitted with a shoe tree, and shined a handsome black. Then he plucked off his hat, somewhat gingerly. ‘It’s a pig of a day,’ he said. ‘Sit down, sit down,’ said Mannering. ‘You’ll have a brandy?’ ‘I will, if you will,’ said Frost, this being his policy in all expressions of appetite and thirst. He sat down, placing the palms of his hands upon his knees, and looked about him. Mannering’s office was located above the foyer of the Prince of Wales Opera House, and boasted a handsome view out over the theatre’s striped awning to Revell-street, and beyond it to the open ocean, visible between the fronts of the facing houses as a band of bluish-grey, occasionally of green, and today, through the rain, as a whitish yellow—the water having taken on the colour of the sky. The room had been designed as a testament to the wealth of its owner; for Mannering, in addition to managing the opera house, received income as a whoremonger, a card sharp, a shareholder, and a goldfields magnate. In all these professions he possessed a wonderful knack for profit, most especially the kind that can be made off the back of the trespasses of other men: this the room’s furnishings made abundantly clear. The walls of his office were papered, and the cabinets oiled; there was a thick Turkish rug upon the floor; a ceramic bust, fashioned in the Roman style, served as a scowling bookend; under the window a specimen box displayed three black butterflies, each the size of a child’s outspread hand. Behind Mannering’s desk hung a sublime watercolour landscape, framed in gold: it showed a high cliff, slanting beams of sunlight, silhouetted foliage of a purplish hue, and, in the hazy distance, the pale wash of a rainbow, curving out of a cloud. Charlie Frost thought it a very fine piece of art, and one that commended Mannering’s taste most favourably. He was always pleased when he thought up a reason to pay a call upon the older man, so that he might sit in this very chair, and gaze up at it, and imagine that he was somewhere very grand and far away. ‘Yes: what a fortnight it’s been,’ Mannering was saying. ‘And now my best whore has gone off and declared herself in mourning! Bloody pain in the neck, I’m telling you. Beginning to think she might be cracked. That’s a blow. When it’s your best whore. That’s a blow. You know she was there with Emery, the night he disappeared.’ ‘Miss Wetherell—and Mr. Staines?’ Frost had curled his hands around the scrolled arms of his chair, and was tracing the groove of the carving with the tips of his fingers. Beauty, for Charlie Frost, was more or less synonymous with refinement. The ideal woman, in his mind, was one devoted to the project of her own enhancement, who was accomplished in the female arts of embroidery, piano-playing, pressing leaves, and the like; who sang sweetly, read quietly, and demurred to all opinion; who was a charming and priceless collectible; who loved, above all things, to be loved. Anna Wetherell had none of these qualities, but to admit that Anna did not at all resemble the fantastic shape of Frost’s phantasmic ideal is not at all to say that the banker did not care for her, or that he did not take his satisfaction like the rest. Imagining Anna and Staines together now, he felt a twinge of discomfort—almost of distaste. ‘Oh, yes,’ said Mannering, plucking the crystal plug from the neck of the decanter, and swirling the liquid about. ‘He bought her for the whole night, and b—er the constable, or whoever might come knocking! At his own house, too! No slag hotels for him! He was most particular: it had to be her, he said, not Kate, not Lizzie; it had to be Anna. And then the next morning she’s half dead and he’s nowhere to be found. It’s done my head in, Charlie. Of course she’s no help. She says she can’t remember a d—n thing before the moment she woke up in gaol—and by the stupid look on her face I’m inclined to believe her. She’s my best whore, Charlie—but devil take that drug of hers; devil take it for his own. You’ll have a cigar?’ Frost accepted a cigar from the box, and Mannering bent to hold a paper spill to the coals—but the spill was too short, and flared too quickly, and Mannering burned his fingers. He dropped the paper into the grate with an oath. He was obliged to fashion another spill out of a twist of blotting paper, and it was several moments before both their cigars were lit. ‘But that’s not to say a word of the troubles you’ve been going through,’ Mannering added, as he sat down. Frost looked pained. ‘My troubles—as you call them—are under control,’ he said. ‘I should say they are not,’ said Mannering. ‘What with the widow arriving Thursday—and now the whole town’s talking! I’ll tell you what it looks like from where I’m standing. It looks an awful lot like you knew that gold was planted in the hermit’s cottage, and once he died, you made d—ned sure the sale went through just as fast as could be.’ ‘That’s not the truth of it,’ said the banker. ‘It looks like you’re in it together, Charlie,’ Mannering went on. ‘You and Clinch: you look like partners, to the hilt. They’ll bring in a judge, you know. They’ll send someone from the High Court. This kind of thing doesn’t just blow over. We’ll all be drawn into it—where we were on the night of the fourteenth of January, all of that. We’d better get our stories straight before that happens. I’m not accusing you. I’m describing it from where I stand.’ There was often a touch of the sovereign address about Mannering’s speech, for his self-perception was an unshakeable one, authoritarian and absolute. He could not view the world but from the perspective of commanding it, and he loved to declaim. In this he was the radical opposite of his guest—a difference that, in Mannering’s case, caused him some irritation, for although he preferred deferential company, he was made peevish by those whom he considered unworthy of his attention. He was very generous to Charlie Frost, always sharing liquor and cigars with the young man, and gifting him gallery tickets to all the latest entertainment, but occasionally he found Frost’s quiet reserve grating. Mannering tended to cast his followers into roles, labelling them as one labels a man by his profession, terming him ‘the doctor’ or ‘the corporal’; his labels, internally made and never voiced aloud, described other men purely by way of their relation to him—which was how he saw everyone whom he encountered: as reflections of, or detractions from, his own authentic self. Mannering, as has been already observed, was a very fat man. In his twenties he had been stout, and in his thirties, quite pot-bellied; by the time he reached his forties, his torso had acquired an almost spherical proportion, and he was obliged, to his private dismay, to request assistance in both mounting and dismounting his horse. Rather than admit that his girth had become an impediment to daily activity, Mannering blamed gout, a condition with which he had never been afflicted, but one that he felt had a soundly aristocratic ring. He very much liked to be mistaken for an aristocrat, an assumption that happened very often, for he had mutton-chop whiskers and a fair complexion, and he favoured expensive dress. That day his necktie was fastened with a gold stickpin, and his vest (the buttons of which were rather palpably strained) sported notched lapels. ‘We’re not in anything together,’ said Frost. ‘I’m sure I don’t know what you mean.’ Mannering shook his head. ‘I can see you’re in a bind, Charlie—I can see it! You and Clinch both. If it comes to trial—it may come to trial, you know—then you’ll have to explain why the sale of the cottage was put through so quickly. That will be the crucial point—the point on which you’ll have to agree. I’m not suggesting perjury. I’m just saying your stories will have to square. What are you after—help? Do you need an alibi?’ ‘An alibi?’ said Frost. ‘Whatever for?’ ‘Come,’ said Mannering, with a paternal wag of his finger. ‘Don’t tell me you weren’t up to something. Just look at how fast the sale went through!’ Frost sipped at his brandy. ‘We ought not to discuss it in such a casual manner. Not when there are other men involved.’ (This was another of his policies: always to appear reluctant to divulge.) ‘Hang other men,’ Mannering exclaimed. ‘Hang “ought” and “ought not”! What’s the story? Give it up!’ ‘I’ll tell you; but there was nothing criminal about it,’ Frost said—not without enjoyment, for he rather liked declaring that he was not at all to blame. ‘The transaction was perfectly legal, and perfectly sound.’ ‘How do you explain it, then?’ ‘Explain what?’ ‘How it all happened!’ ‘It’s perfectly explicable,’ Frost said calmly. ‘When Crosbie Wells died, Ben L?wenthal heard about it nearly straight away, because he went over to interview that political chap the very instant he got into town—so as to run a special in the paper the next morning. And the political chap—Lauderback’s his name; Alistair Lauderback—well, he had just come from Wells’s cottage; he was the one to find the fellow dead. Naturally he told L?wenthal all about it.’ ‘Crafty Jew,’ said Mannering, with some relish. ‘Always in the right place at the right time, aren’t they?’ ‘I suppose,’ Frost replied—for he did not wish to register an opinion one way or another. ‘But as I was saying: L?wenthal found out about Wells’s death before anybody. Before the coroner even arrived at the cottage.’ ‘But he didn’t think to buy it up,’ said Mannering. ‘The land.’ ‘No; but he knew that Clinch was on the lookout to make an investment, and so he did him a good turn, and let him in on the news—that the Wells estate would soon be up for sale, I mean. Clinch came to me the next morning with his deposit, ready to buy. And that’s all there is to it.’ ‘Oh no it isn’t,’ said Mannering. ‘I assure you it is,’ said Frost. ‘I can read between the lines, Charlie,’ said Mannering. ‘“Did him a good turn”? From the goodness of his charitable heart, eh? Not him—not L?wenthal! That’s a tip-off, and it’s a tip-off about a great bloody pile. They’re in on it together—L?wenthal and Clinch. I’ll bet my hat.’ ‘If they are,’ said Frost, shrugging, ‘I’m sure that I don’t know about it. All that I’m telling you is that the sale of the cottage was perfectly legal.’ ‘Legal, the banker tells me! But you still haven’t answered my question. Why did it have to happen so bloody quickly?’ Frost was unruffled. ‘Simply because there was no paperwork in the way. Crosbie Wells had nothing: no debt, no insurance, nothing to resolve. No papers.’ ‘No papers?’ ‘Not in his cottage. Not a birth certificate, not a ticket, not a licence. Nothing.’ Mannering rolled his cigar in his fingers. ‘No papers,’ he said again. ‘What do you make of that?’ ‘I don’t know. Perhaps he lost them.’ ‘How do you lose your papers, though?’ ‘I don’t know,’ Frost said again. He did not like to be pressed to share his views. ‘Perhaps someone burned them. Got rid of them.’ Frost frowned slightly. ‘Who?’ ‘That political fellow,’ said Mannering. ‘Lauderback. He was the first upon the scene. Maybe he’s mixed up in this business somehow. Maybe he told L?wenthal about the fortune hidden in the cottage. Maybe he saw the fortune—and told L?wenthal about it—and then L?wenthal told Clinch! But that’s foolish,’ he added, rebutting his own hypothesis. ‘There’s nothing in that for him, is there? And nothing for the Jew. Unless everyone’s getting a cut, somewhere along the line …’ ‘Nobody got a cut,’ said Frost. ‘The fortune’s being held in escrow at the bank. Nobody can touch it. At least not until the business with the widow gets straightened out.’ ‘Oh yes—the widow,’ said Mannering, with relish. ‘There’s a turn of events for you! What do you make of her? She’s an acquaintance of mine, you know—an acquaintance. Greenway, that’s her maiden name. I never knew her as Mrs. Wells—the mistress Greenway, she was to me. How do you like her, Charlie?’ Frost shrugged. ‘She’s got paperwork on her side,’ he said. ‘If the marriage certificate turns out to be legal then the sale will be revoked, and the fortune will be hers. That’s in the hands of the bureaucrats now.’ ‘But how do you like her, I said?’ Frost looked annoyed. ‘She cuts a fine figure,’ he said. ‘I think her very handsome.’ He stuck his cigar in the side of his mouth, and bit down upon it, lending to his expression the shadow of a wince. ‘She’s handsome all right,’ said Mannering happily. ‘Oh, she’s handsome all right! Plays a man like a pianoforte, and what a repertoire—indeed! I suppose that’s what happened to poor old Crosbie Wells: he got played, like all the rest of them.’ ‘I cannot make sense of their union at all,’ Frost admitted. ‘What could an old man like Crosbie Wells have to offer—well, even a plain woman, let alone a handsome one? I cannot make sense of her attraction; though of course I can well imagine his.’ ‘You are forgetting his fortune,’ Mannering said, wagging his finger. ‘The strongest aphrodisiac of all! Surely she married old Crosbie for his money. And then he hoarded it up, and she had nothing to do but wait for him to die. What else could explain it? When she popped up so soon after his death—like she’d been planning it, you know. Oh, Lydia Wells is a canny soul! She keeps her eyes on the pennies and her fingers on the pounds. She wouldn’t sign her name except to profit.’ Frost did not respond at once, for Mannering’s response had cued him to remember the reason for his visit, and he wished to collect his thoughts before he announced his business; after a moment, however, Mannering gave a bark of laughter, and thumped his fist upon the desk. ‘There it is!’ he exclaimed, with much delight. ‘I knew it! I knew you were in a fix one way or another—and I knew I’d smoke you out! What is it, then? What’s your crime? What’s the rub? You’ve given it away, Charlie; it’s written all over you. It’s something to do with that fortune, isn’t it? Something about Crosbie Wells.’ Frost sipped his brandy. He had committed no crime, exactly—and yet there was a rub, and it did have to do with the fortune, and it did concern Crosbie Wells. His gaze slid over Mannering’s shoulder to the window, and he paused a moment, in contemplation of the view, deciding how best to phrase the matter. After the fortune discovered in Wells’s cottage had been valued by the bank, Edgar Clinch had made Frost a very fine present, to acknowledge his role in facilitating the sale: a banknote made out to the sum of thirty pounds. The receipt of this banknote had a sudden and intoxicating effect upon Charlie Frost, whose income was devoted, in the main, to the upkeep of parents he never saw, and did not love. In a frenzy of excitement, unprecedented in his worldly experience, Frost determined to spend the entire sum of money, and at once. He would not inform his parents of the windfall, and he would spend every last penny on himself. He changed the note into thirty shining sovereigns, and with these he purchased a silk vest, a case of whisky, a set of leather-bound histories, a ruby lapel-pin, a box of fine imported candies, and a set of monogrammed handkerchiefs, his initials picked out against a rose. Lydia Wells had arrived in Hokitika some days after this prodigal fit. Immediately upon her arrival she visited the Reserve Bank, announcing her intentions to revoke the sale of her late husband’s cottage and effects. If this revocation proved successful, Frost would be obliged, he knew, to recover those thirty pounds in turn. He could not sell the vest back again, except as worn goods; the books and the lapel-pin he could pawn, but only at a fraction of their worth; he had opened the case of whisky; the candies were gone; and what fool would want to buy a handkerchief embroidered with another man’s name? All in all he would be lucky to recover even half of the amount that he had spent. He would be forced to go to one of Hokitika’s many usurers, and beg for credit; he would bear his debt for months, perhaps even for years; and worst of all, he would even have to confess the whole affair to his parents. The prospect made him sick. But he had not come to Mannering to confess his humiliations. ‘I am not in a fix,’ he replied curtly, turning his gaze back to his host, ‘but it is my guess that someone else very well might be. You see: I do not believe that fortune belonged to Crosbie Wells at all. I believe that it was stolen.’ He leaned over to tap the ash of his cigar, and saw that the end had gone out. ‘Well—from whom?’ Mannering demanded. ‘That is precisely what I wish to speak with you about,’ the young banker said. There were lucifers in his vest pocket; he transferred his cigar to his right hand, to retrieve them. ‘I had a notion just now, this afternoon, and I wanted to run it by you. It’s about Emery Staines.’ ‘Oh—no doubt he’s wrapped up in it all,’ Mannering said, throwing himself back into his chair. (Frost set about lighting his cigar a second time.) ‘Disappearing that very same day! No doubt he’s connected. I don’t hold out much hope for our friend Emery, I’m telling you that. We have a saying on the fields: it’s unlucky to be lucky for long. Have you heard that one? Well, Emery Staines was the luckiest man I’m ever likely to know. He went from rags to riches, that boy, and all without a helping hand from any quarter. I’m wagering that he was murdered, Charlie. Murdered in the river—or on the beach—and his body washed away. No man likes to see a boy make his fortune. Not before he’s thirty. And especially not when that fortune’s clean. I’m wagering whoever killed him was twenty years his senior, on the inside. At least twenty years. How about that for a bet?’ ‘Forgive me,’ Frost said, and shook his head very slightly. ‘Oh yes,’ Mannering said, disappointed. ‘You don’t place your money, do you? You’re one of those sensible types. Never toss a coin except to lay it in your purse.’ Frost did not reply to this, having been put in mind, uncomfortably, of the thirty pounds he had recently squandered in such a profligate way; after a moment Mannering cried, ‘But don’t leave me waiting!’—feeling embarrassed, for his last remark had come out rather more as an insult than he had intended it to seem. ‘Give it up! What’s your notion?’ Charlie Frost explained what he had discovered that morning: that Frank Carver owned a half-share in the Aurora goldmine, and that he and Emery Staines were, to all intents and purposes, partners. ‘Yes—I suppose I knew something about that,’ Mannering said, vaguely. ‘That’s a long story, though, and Staines’s own business. Why do you mention it?’ ‘Because the Aurora claim is connected to the Crosbie Wells debacle.’ Mannering frowned. ‘How so?’ ‘I’ll tell you.’ ‘Do.’ Frost puffed on his cigar a moment. ‘The Wells fortune came through the bank,’ he said at last. ‘Came through me.’ ‘Yes?’ Dick Mannering could not bear to let another man hold the stage for long, and tended to interrupt frequently, most often to encourage his interlocutor to reach his own conclusion as quickly and concisely as he could. Frost, however, was not to be hurried. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘here’s the curious thing. The gold had already been smelted, and not by a Company man. It had been done privately, by the looks of things.’ ‘Smelted—already!’ said Mannering. ‘I didn’t hear about that.’ ‘No; you wouldn’t have,’ said Frost. ‘Every piece of gold that comes over our counter has to be retorted, even if the process has been done before. It’s to prevent any makeweights from slipping through, and to ensure a uniform quality. So Killarney did it all over again. He smelted Wells’s colour before it was valued, and by the time anybody saw it, it had been poured into bars and stamped with the Reserve seal. Nobody outside the bank could have known that it had been retorted once before—save for the man who hid it in the first place, of course. Oh, and the commission merchant, who found it in the cottage, and brought it to the bank.’ ‘Who was that—Cochran?’ ‘Harald Nilssen. Of Nilssen & Co.’ Mannering frowned. ‘Why not Cochran?’ Frost paused to draw on his cigar. ‘I don’t know,’ he said at last. ‘What’s Clinch doing, dragging another body into the affair?’ said Mannering. ‘Surely he might have cleared the place himself. What’s he doing, dragging Harald Nilssen into the mix?’ ‘I’m telling you: Clinch never dreamed there’d be anything of value in the cottage,’ Frost said. ‘He was flabbergasted when the fortune turned up.’ ‘Flabbergasted, was he?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘That your word, or his?’ ‘His.’ ‘Flabbergasted,’ Mannering said again. Frost continued. ‘Well, it worked out famously for Nilssen. He was set to take home ten percent of the value of the goods in the cottage. Lucky day for him. He walked home with four hundred pounds!’ Mannering still wore a sceptical expression. ‘Well, go on,’ he said. ‘Smelted. The gold had been smelted, you were saying.’ ‘So I had a look at it,’ said Frost. ‘We always write a short description of the ore—whether it’s in flakes or whatnot—before it’s smelted down. The practice is no different when the gold’s been smelted already: we’re still obliged to make a record of what the stuff looked like when it came in. For reasons of—’ (Frost paused; he had been going to say ‘security’, but this did not exactly make sense) ‘—prudence,’ he finished, rather lamely. ‘Anyway, I examined the squares before Killarney put them in the crucible, and I saw that at the bottom of each square the smelter—whoever he was—had inscribed a word.’ He paused. ‘Well, what was it?’ said Mannering. ‘Aurora,’ said Frost. ‘Aurora.’ ‘That’s right.’ All of a sudden Mannering was looking very alert. ‘But then these squares—all of them—were retorted again,’ he said. ‘Pressed into bullion, by your man at the bank.’ Frost nodded. ‘And then locked up in the vault, that very same day—once the commission merchant had taken his cut, and the estate taxes had been paid.’ ‘So there’s no evidence of that name,’ Mannering said. ‘Do I have that right? That name is gone. That name has been smelted away.’ ‘Gone, yes,’ said Frost. ‘But I made a note of it, of course; it was officially recorded. Written down in my book, as I told you.’ Mannering set down his glass. ‘All right, Charlie. How much to make that one page disappear—or your whole book, for that matter? How much for a little carelessness on your part? A touch of water, or a touch of fire?’ Frost was surprised. ‘I don’t understand,’ he said. ‘Just answer the question. Could you make that one page disappear?’ ‘I could,’ Frost said, ‘but I wasn’t the only one to notice that inscription, you know. Killarney saw it. Mayhew did too. One of the buyers saw it; Jack Harmon, I think it was. He’s off in Greymouth now. Any one of them might have mentioned it to any number of others. It was quite remarkable, of course—that inscription. Not something a man would easily forget.’ ‘D—n,’ said Mannering. He struck the desk with his fist. ‘D—n, d—n, d—n.’ ‘But I don’t understand,’ Frost said again. ‘What’s this all about?’ ‘What’s the matter with you, Charlie?’ Mannering burst out suddenly. ‘Why—it’s taken you two bloody weeks to front up to me about this! What have you been doing—sitting on your fingers? What?’ Frost drew back. ‘I came to see you today because I thought this information might help recover Mr. Staines,’ he said, with dignity. ‘Given that this money very plainly belongs to him, and not to Crosbie Wells!’ ‘Rot. You might have done that two weeks ago. Or any day since.’ ‘But I only made the connexion to Staines this morning! How was I to know about the Aurora? I don’t keep a tally of every man’s bankroll, and every man’s claim. I had no reason—’ ‘You got a cut,’ Mannering interrupted. He levelled a finger at Frost. ‘You got a cut of that pile.’ Frost flushed. ‘That’s hardly pertinent.’ ‘Did you or did you not get a cut of Crosbie Wells’s fortune?’ ‘Well—unofficially—’ Mannering swore. ‘And you were just sitting tight, weren’t you?’ he said. He sat back, and with a disgusted flick of his wrist, threw the end of his cigar into the fire. ‘Until the widow showed up, and you got backed in a corner. And now you’re showing your cards—and making it look like charity! Well, I’ll be d—ned, Charlie. I’ll be God-d—ned.’ Frost had a wounded look. ‘No,’ he said. ‘That’s not the reason. I only put the pieces together this morning. Truly I did. Tom Balfour came by the bank with this cock-and-bull story about Francis Carver, and asked me to look up his shares profile, and I found out—’ ‘What?’ ‘—that Carver had taken out shares against Aurora, soon after Mr. Staines purchased it. I didn’t know about that before this morning.’ ‘What’s that about Tom Balfour?’ ‘And when Mr. Balfour left I looked up the Aurora’s records, and I noticed that Aurora’s profits started to fall away right around the time that Carver took out his shares, and that’s when I remembered about the name in the smelting, and put it all together. Truly.’ Mannering raised his voice. ‘What’s Tom Balfour wanting with Francis Carver?’ ‘He’s wanting to bring him to the law,’ Frost said. ‘On what account?’ ‘He said that Carver lifted a fortune from another man’s claim, or something to that tune. But he was cagey about it, and he began with a lie.’ ‘Hm,’ said the magnate. ‘I brought the matter to you directly,’ Frost went on, still hoping for praise. ‘I left the bank early, to come to you directly. As soon as I put all the pieces together.’ ‘All the pieces!’ Mannering exclaimed. ‘You haven’t got all the pieces, Charlie. You don’t know what half the pieces look like.’ Frost was offended. ‘What does that mean?’ But Mannering did not reply. ‘Johnny Quee,’ he said. ‘Johnny bloody Quee.’ He stood up so suddenly that the chair fell away behind him and struck the wall; the collie-dog leaped to her feet, overjoyed, and began to pant. ‘Who?’ said Charlie Frost, before he remembered: Quee was the name of the digger who worked the Aurora. His name had been written on the record at the bank. ‘My Chinese problem—and now yours too, I’m afraid,’ said Mannering, darkly. ‘Are you with me, Charlie, or against me?’ Frost looked down at his cigar. ‘With you, of course. I don’t see why you have to ask questions like that.’ Mannering went to the back of the room. He opened a cabinet to reveal two carbines, sundry pistols, and an enormous belt that sported two buckskin holsters and a leather fringe. He began buckling this rather absurd accessory about his ample waist. ‘You ought to be armed—or are you already?’ Frost coloured slightly. He leaned forward and crushed out his cigar—taking his time about it, stabbing the blunt end three times against the dish, and then again, grinding the ash to a fine black dust. Mannering stamped his foot. ‘Hi there! Are you armed, or are you not?’ ‘I am not,’ said Frost, dropping the cigar butt at last. ‘To be perfectly honest with you, Dick, I have never fired a gun.’ ‘Nothing to it,’ said Mannering. ‘Easy as breathing.’ He returned to the cabinet, selecting two smart percussion revolvers from the rack. Frost was watching him. ‘I should be a very poor second,’ he said presently, trying to keep his voice calm, ‘if I do not know the subject of your quarrel, and I do not have the means to end it.’ ‘Never mind—never mind,’ said Mannering, inspecting his revolvers. ‘I was going to say I’ve got a Colt Army you could use, but now that I think of it … it takes a bloody age to load, and you don’t want to bother with shot and powder. Not in this rain. Not if you haven’t done it before. We’ll make do. We’ll make do.’ Frost looked at Mannering’s belt. ‘Outrageous, isn’t it?’ said Mannering, without smiling. He thrust the revolvers into his holsters, crossed the room to the coat-rack, and detached his greatcoat from its wooden hanger. ‘Don’t worry; see, when I put my coat on, and button it up, nobody will be any the wiser. I tell you, my blood is boiling, Charlie. That rotten chink! My blood is boiling.’ ‘I have no idea why,’ said Frost. ‘He knows why,’ said Mannering. ‘Stop a moment,’ said Frost. ‘Just let me—just tell me this. What is it exactly that you’re planning?’ ‘We’re going to give a Chinaman a scare,’ said the magnate, thrusting his arms into his coat. ‘What kind of a scare?’ said Frost—who had registered the plural pronoun with trepidation. ‘And on what score?’ ‘This Chinaman works the Aurora,’ said Mannering. ‘This is his work, Charlie: the smelting you’re talking about.’ ‘But what’s your grievance with him?’ ‘Less of a grievance; more of a grudge.’ ‘Oh!’ said Frost suddenly. ‘You don’t suppose that he killed Mr. Staines?’ Mannering made a noise of impatience that sounded almost like a groan. He removed Frost’s coat from the rack, and tossed it to him; the latter caught it, but made no move to put it on. ‘Let’s go,’ said Mannering. ‘Time’s wasting.’ ‘For heaven’s sake,’ the other burst out, ‘you might do me the courtesy of a plain speech. I’ll need to have my story straight, if we’re going to go storming in to bloody Chinatown!’ (Frost regretted this phrasing as soon as he spoke—for he did not want to storm into Chinatown under any conditions—with his story straight or otherwise.) ‘There isn’t time,’ said Mannering. ‘I’ll tell you on the way. Put your coat on.’ ‘No,’ said Charlie Frost—finding, to his surprise, that he could muster a delicate firmness, and hold his ground. ‘You’re not in a rush; you’re only excited. Tell me now.’ Mannering dithered, his hat in his hands. ‘This Chinese fellow worked for me,’ he said at last. ‘He dug the Aurora, before I sold it on to Staines.’ Frost blinked. ‘The Aurora was yours?’ ‘And when Staines bought it,’ Mannering said, nodding, ‘the chink stayed on, and kept on digging. He’s on a contract, you see. Johnny Quee is his name.’ ‘I didn’t know the Aurora had been yours.’ ‘Half the land between here and the Grey has belonged to me at one stage or another,’ said Mannering, throwing out his chest a little. ‘But anyway. Before Staines came along, Quee and I had a bit of a quarrel. No: not exactly a quarrel. I have my way of doing things, that’s all, and the chinks have theirs. Here’s what happened. Every week I took the total of Quee’s yield—after it had been counted, of course—and I fed it back into the claim.’ ‘You what?’ ‘I fed it back into the claim.’ ‘You were salting your own land!’ said Frost, with a shocked expression. Charlie Frost was no great observer of human nature, and as a consequence, felt betrayed by others very frequently. The air of cryptic strategy with which he most often spoke was not manufactured, though he was entirely sensible of its effects; it came, rather, out of a fundamental blindness to all experience exterior to his own. Frost did not know how to listen to himself as if he were somebody else; he did not know how to see the world from another man’s eyes; he did not know how to contemplate another man’s nature, except to compare it, either enviously or pitiably, to his own. He was a private hedonist, perennially wrapped in the cocoon of his own senses, mindful, always, of the things he already possessed, and the things he had yet to gain; his subjectivity was comprehensive, and complete. He was never forthright, and never declared his private motivations in a public sphere, and for this he was usually perceived to be a highly objective thinker, possessed of an impartial, equable mind. But this was not the case. The shock that he now expressed was not a show of indignation, and nor was it even disapproving in any real way: he was simply baffled, having failed to perceive Mannering as anything other than a man of enviable income and pitiable health, whose cigars were always of the finest quality, and whose decanter never seemed to run dry. Mannering shrugged. ‘I’m not the first man to want to make a profit, and I won’t be the last,’ he said. ‘For shame,’ said Frost. But shame, for Mannering, was an emotion that attended only failure; he could not be made to feel compunction if he had not, in his own estimation, failed. He went on. ‘All right—so you’ve got an opinion about it. Here’s how it happened, though. The actual claim was useless. Little better than a tailing pile. After I bought it I buried maybe twenty pounds’ worth of pure ore in the gravel, scattering it all about, then directed Quee to begin his digging. Quee finds it all right. At the end of the week he goes to have it weighed at the camp station like all the other fellows. This is before the gold escort, you remember. Back when the bankers had their stations along the river, and the buyers worked alone. So when my claim comes up, and my gold is weighed, the bankers ask me if I want to bank it right there. I say no, not yet; I’ll take it back, pure. My story goes that I’m keeping it back for a private buyer who’s going to export it altogether, as a lump sum. Or some such tale; I don’t remember now. Well, after the stuff is weighed, and the value recorded, I gather it all back up again, wait for the cover of darkness, creep back to the claim, and shake it out a second time, over the gravel.’ ‘I can’t believe you,’ said Frost. ‘Believe it or not, as you please,’ said Mannering. ‘Due credit to the Chinaman, of course: this happened maybe four or five times, and each week he came back with the exact same pile, more or less. He found it all, no matter how much I messed up the gravel, no matter how deep the grit settled, no matter the weather or what have you. Worked like a Trojan. That’s one thing I’ll say for the Chinese: when it comes to pure old-fashioned work, you can’t fault them.’ ‘But you never told him what you were doing.’ Mannering was shocked. ‘Of course not,’ he said. ‘Confess my sins? Of course I didn’t! Anyway. To all appearances, it looked like the Aurora was pulling twenty pounds a week. Nobody knew it was the same twenty pounds, over and over! She just looked like a good, steady claim.’ Mannering had begun his tale in a posture of some exasperation, but his natural affinity for storytelling could not long be held in check, and it was enjoyable to him, to recount a proof of his own ingenuity. He relaxed into his narrative, thumping the brim of his stovepipe hat against his leg. ‘But then Quee started to catch on,’ he said. ‘Must have been watching, or maybe he just figured me out. So what does he do? Cunning fox! He starts retorting the dust each week in a little crucible of his own. Then he brings it to the camp station already smelted, and done up in these one-pound blocks, about so big. There’s no throwing that back among the stones! ‘No matter, I thought. I had plenty of other claims for sale, and the other ones were pulling good dust. I could shuffle it around. So I started banking Quee’s squares as returns against the Dream of England claim, and every week, I’d salt the Aurora just as before, only I’d use Dream of England dust, not Aurora dust—do you see? Aurora had been pulling twenty pounds a week until then; she had to maintain that same yield, or it would look like her profits had started to fall away—and I wouldn’t get my profit, when I sold. ‘But then Quee got wise to that,’ Mannering went on, raising his voice in a final cadence, ‘and the bloody devil starts carving the name of the plot—Aurora—into his little squares. I can’t bank that against the Dream of England without raising a few eyebrows, can I? Would you believe it? The cheek of him!’ ‘I don’t believe it,’ said Frost, who was still feeling very much betrayed. ‘Well, there it is, anyway,’ said Mannering. ‘That’s the story. That’s when Emery arrived.’ ‘And?’ ‘And what?’ ‘Well—what happened?’ ‘You know what happened. I sold him the Aurora.’ ‘But the claim was a duffer, you said!’ ‘Yes,’ said Mannering. ‘You sold him a duffer claim!’ ‘Yes.’ ‘But he’s your friend,’ said Charlie Frost, and even as he spoke the words he regretted them. How pathetic it sounded—to reprimand a man like Mannering about friendship! Mannering was in the august high noon of his life. He was prosperous, and well dressed, and he owned the largest and most handsome building on Revell-street. There were gold nuggets hanging from his watch chain. He ate meat at every meal. He had known a hundred women—maybe even a thousand—maybe more. What did he care about friends? Frost found that he was blushing. Mannering studied the younger man for a moment, and then said, ‘Here’s the heart of it, Charlie. A four thousand-pound fortune—smelted, and every square of it stamped with the word Aurora—has turned up in a dead man’s house. We don’t know why, and we don’t know how, but we do know who, and that “who” is my old friend Quee in Kaniere. All right? This is why we have to go to Chinatown. So as to ask him a question or two.’ Frost felt that Mannering was still concealing something from him. ‘But the fortune itself,’ he said. ‘How do you account for it? If Aurora is a duffer, then where did all of that gold come from? And if Aurora’s not a duffer, then who’s cooking the books to make her appear as if she’s worth nothing at all?’ The magnate put his hat on. ‘All I know,’ he said, running his finger and thumb around the brim and back again, ‘is that I’ve got a score to settle. No man makes a fool of Dick Mannering more than once, and the way I see it, this johnny chink has had a jolly good try. Come along. Or are you turning yellow on me?’ No man likes to be called a coward—and least of all, a man who is feeling downright cowardly. In a cold voice Frost said, ‘I’m not yellow in the least.’ ‘Good,’ said Mannering. ‘No hard feelings, then. Come along.’ Frost thrust his arms into his coat. ‘I only hope it doesn’t come to blows,’ he said. ‘We’ll see about that,’ said Mannering. ‘We’ll see about that. Come on, Holly—come on, girl! Giddyap! We’ve got business in the Hokitika gorge!’ As Frost and Mannering stepped out of the Prince of Wales Opera House, tugging down their hats against the rain, Thomas Balfour was turning into Weld-street, some three blocks to the south. Balfour had spent the last hour and a half at the Deutsches Gasthaus on Camp-street, where a pile of sauerkraut, sausage, and brown gravy, a seat before an open fire, and a period of uninterrupted contemplation had helped to refocus his mind upon Alistair Lauderback’s affairs. He quit the Gasthaus refreshed, and made immediately for the office of the West Coast Times. The shutters were drawn inside the box window, and the front door closed. Balfour tried the handle: it was locked. Curious, he stamped around to the rear of the building, to the small apartment where Benjamin L?wenthal, the paper’s editor lived. He listened for a moment at the door, and, hearing nothing, cautiously turned the doorknob. The door opened easily, and Balfour found himself face to face with L?wenthal himself, who was sitting at his table with his hands in his lap—quite as if he had been waiting for Balfour to startle him out of a trance. He stood up, in haste. ‘Tom,’ he said. ‘What is it? Is something wrong? Why didn’t you knock?’ The table at which he had been seated was properly a laboratory desk, the surface of which was pocked and worn, and mottled with spilled ink and chemicals; today, however, it had been swept clean of the detritus of L?wenthal’s trade, and covered with an embroidered cloth. In the centre was a little plate upon which a fat candle was burning. ‘Oh,’ Balfour said. ‘Sorry, Ben. Hello, there. Sorry. Sorry. Didn’t mean to disturb your—I mean, I didn’t mean to disturb you.’ ‘But you are most welcome!’ said L?wenthal, perceiving that Balfour was not bearing ill tidings after all, but had simply dropped in for a chat. ‘Come in, out of the rain.’ ‘Didn’t mean to break your—’ ‘You haven’t broken anything. Come in, come in—close the door!’ ‘It’s not business, exactly,’ Balfour said, by way of apology, knowing that L?wenthal’s holy day was a day of rest. ‘It’s not work, exactly. I just wanted to talk with you about something.’ ‘It is never work, talking with you,’ L?wenthal replied generously, and then, for the fourth time, ‘But you must come in.’ At last Balfour stepped inside and closed the door. L?wenthal resumed his seat and folded his hands together. He said, ‘I have long thought that, for the Jew, the newspaper business is the perfect occupation. No edition on Sunday, you see—and so the timing of the Shabbat is perfect. I have pity for my Christian competitors. They must spend their Sunday setting type, and spreading ink, ready for Monday; they cannot rest. When you came up the path just now, that was the subject of my thinking. Yes, hang up your coat. Do sit down.’ ‘I’m a Church of England man, myself,’ said Balfour—who, like many men of that religion, was made very uncomfortable by icons of faith. He eyed L?wenthal’s candle with some wariness, quite as if his host had laid out a hairshirt or a metal cilice. ‘What is on your mind, Tom?’ Benjamin L?wenthal was not at all displeased that his weekly observances had been interrupted, for his religion was of a very confident variety, and it was not in his nature to be self-doubting. He often broke his Shabbat vows in small ways, and did not chastise himself for it—for he was sensible of the difference between duty that is dreaded, and duty that comes from love; he believed in the acuity of his own perception, and felt that whenever he broke the rules, he broke them for reasons that were right. He was also (it must be admitted) rather restless, after two hours of unmitigated prayer—for L?wenthal was an energetic spirit, and could not be without external stimulation for long. ‘Listen,’ Balfour said now, placing his fingertips on the table between them. ‘I’ve just heard about Emery Staines.’ ‘Ah!’ said L?wenthal, surprised. ‘Only just now? Your head has been buried in the sand, perhaps!’ ‘I’ve been busy,’ said Balfour, eyeing the candle a second time—for ever since he was a boy he had not been able to sit before a candle without wanting to touch it, to sweep his index finger through the flame until it blackened, to mould the soft edges where the wax was warm, to dip his fingertip into the pool of molten heat and then withdraw it, swiftly, so that the tallow formed a yellow cap over the pad of his finger which blanched and constricted as it cooled. ‘Too busy for the news?’ said L?wenthal, teasing him. ‘I’ve got a fellow in town. A political fellow.’ ‘Oh yes: the honourable Lauderback,’ said L?wenthal. He sat back in his chair. ‘Well, I hope that he is reading my paper, even if you are not! He has featured in the pages enough.’ ‘Yes—featured,’ said Balfour. ‘But listen, Ben: I wanted to ask you a question. I stopped in at the bank this morning, and I heard someone’s been putting up notices in the paper. On Mr. Staines’s behalf—begging his return. Am I allowed to ask who placed them?’ ‘Certainly,’ L?wenthal said. ‘A notice is a public affair—and in any case, she left a box number at the bottom of the advertisement, as you might have seen; you only have to go to the post office, and look at the boxes, and you will see her name.’ ‘“She”?’ ‘Yes, you’ll be surprised by this,’ said L?wenthal. ‘It was one of our ladies of the night! Will you guess which one?’ ‘Lizzie? Irish Lizzie?’ ‘Anna Wetherell.’ ‘Anna?’ said Balfour. ‘Yes!’ said L?wenthal, now smiling broadly—for he had an insider’s sensibility, and enjoyed himself the most when he was permitted to occupy that role. ‘You wouldn’t have guessed that, would you? She came to me not two days after Mr. Staines first disappeared. I tried to persuade her to wait until more time had passed—it seemed wasteful to advertise for a man’s return when he was only two days’ gone. He might have merely walked into the gorge, I said, or ridden up the beach to the Grey. He might be back to-morrow! So I told her. But she was adamant. She told me he had not departed; he had vanished. She was very clear on that. She used those very words.’ ‘Vanished,’ echoed Balfour. ‘The poor girl had been tried at the Courts that very morning,’ L?wenthal said. ‘What rotten luck she has had, this year past. She’s a dear girl, Tom—very dear.’ Balfour frowned: he did not like to be told that Anna Wetherell was a dear girl. ‘Can’t imagine it,’ he said aloud, and shook his head. ‘Can’t imagine it—the two of them. They’re as chalk and cheese.’ ‘Chalk and cheese,’ echoed L?wenthal. He took pleasure in foreign idioms. ‘Who is the chalk? Staines, I suppose—because of his quarrying!’ Balfour did not seem to have heard him. ‘Did Anna give you any indication as to why she was asking after Staines? I mean—why—’ ‘She was attempting to make contact with him, of course,’ L?wenthal said. ‘But that is not your question, I think.’ ‘I just meant—’ But Balfour did not go on. L?wenthal was smiling. ‘It is hardly a wonder, Tom! If that fellow showed her the smallest ounce of affection—well.’ ‘What?’ The editor made a clucking noise. ‘Well, you must admit it: next to Mr. Staines, you and I are very grey indeed.’ Balfour scowled. What was a bit of greyness? Grey hair dignified a man. ‘Here’s another question,’ he said, changing the subject. ‘What do you know about a man named Francis Carver?’ L?wenthal raised his eyebrows. ‘Not a great deal,’ he said. ‘I’ve heard stories, of course. One is always hearing stories about men of his type.’ ‘Yes,’ said Balfour. ‘What do I know about Carver?’ L?wenthal mused, turning the question over in his mind. ‘Well, I know that he’s got roots in Hong Kong. His father was a financier of some kind—something to do with merchant trading. But he and his father must have parted ways, because he is not associated with a parent firm any longer. He is a lone agent, is he not? A trader. Perhaps he and his father parted ways after he was convicted.’ ‘But what do you make of him?’ Balfour pressed. ‘I suppose that my impression of him is not an altogether good one. He is a rich man’s son first and a convict second, but it might just as well be the other way аbout: I believe he shows the worst of both worlds. He’s a thug, but he’s conniving. Or, to put it another way, his life is lavish, but it’s base.’ (This character summation was a quintessential one for Benjamin L?wenthal, who, in his thinking, tended always to position himself as the elucidating third party between opposing forces. In his evaluations of other men, L?wenthal first identified an essential disparity in their person, and then explained how the poles of this disparity could only be synthesised in theory, and by L?wenthal himself. He was fated to see the inherent duality in all things—even in his own appraisal of the duality of all things—and was obliged, as a consequence, to adopt a strict personal code of categorical imperatives, as a protective measure against what he perceived to be a world of discrepancy and flux. This personal code was phlegmatic, reflexive, and highly principled; it was the only fixed seat from which he could regard these never-ending dualities, and he depended upon it wholly. He tended to be relaxed in his daily schedule, humorous in his religion, and flexible in his business—but upon his imperatives, he could not be mistaken, and he would not yield.) ‘Carver got me in a touch of hot water recently,’ he went on. ‘Around a fortnight ago, he left his mooring off-schedule—and in the middle of the night. Well, it was a Sunday, and so the shipping news had been published already, in Saturday’s edition. But because Godspeed wasn’t scheduled to leave that day, and because she left well after sundown, somehow her departure wasn’t recorded in the customhouse log. Well, nobody told me anything about it, and so her departure was never recorded in the paper either. Quite as if the ship never left her mooring! The Harbourmaster was very upset about it.’ ‘Last Sunday?’ said Balfour. ‘That’s the day Lauderback arrived.’ ‘I suppose it was. The fourteenth.’ ‘But Carver was in the Arahura Valley that very same night!’ L?wenthal looked up sharply. ‘Who told you that?’ ‘A Maori fellow. Tay something, his name is. Youngish chap; wears a big green pendant. I spoke with him in the street this morning.’ ‘What is his authority?’ Balfour explained that Te Rau Tauwhare and Crosbie Wells had been great friends, and that Tauwhare had observed Francis Carver entering the cottage on the day of the hermit’s death. As to whether Carver had been present in the cottage before or after Wells’s death, Balfour did not know, but Tauwhare had assured him that Carver’s arrival had occurred before Lauderback’s—and Lauderback, by his own testimony, had arrived at the cottage not long after the event of the hermit’s death, for when he entered the man’s kettle had been boiling on the range, and had not yet run dry. It stood to reason, therefore, that Francis Carver had been present in the cottage before Crosbie Wells passed away, and perhaps (Balfour realised with a chill) had even witnessed his death. L?wenthal stroked his moustache. ‘This is very interesting news,’ he said. ‘Godspeed sailed late that evening, well after sundown. So Carver must have come straight back to Hokitika from the Arahura Valley, made his way directly for the ship, and weighed anchor, all before the dawn. That is a very hasty departure, I think.’ ‘Rum to my eye,’ said Balfour. He was thinking about his vanished shipping crate. ‘And when one considers that Staines disappeared around the very same time—’ ‘And Anna,’ said Balfour, cutting across him. ‘That was the night of her collapse—because Lauderback found her, you remember, in the road.’ ‘Ah,’ said L?wenthal. ‘Another coincidence.’ ‘You might say only a weak mind puts faith in coincidence,’ said Balfour, ‘but I say—I say—a string of coincidences cannot be a coincidence. A string of them!’ ‘No indeed,’ said L?wenthal, distantly. Presently Balfour said, ‘But young Staines. That’s a perfect shame, that is. There’s no use being soft about it, Ben—he’s been murdered, surely. A man doesn’t vanish. A poor man, maybe. But not a man of means.’ ‘Mm,’ said L?wenthal—who was not thinking about Staines. ‘I wonder what Carver was doing with Wells in the Arahura. And what he was running away from, for that matter. Or running towards.’ The editor thought a moment more, and then exclaimed, ‘I say: Lauderback’s not mixed up with Carver, is he?’ Balfour expelled a long breath. ‘Well, that’s the real question,’ he said, with a show of great reluctance. ‘But I’d be breaking Lauderback’s confidence if I told you. I’d be breaking my word.’ He looked again at the wick of the candle, hoping that his friend would prompt him to continue. Unhappily for Balfour, however, L?wenthal’s moral code did not accept the kind of violation that Balfour was proposing he indulge. After studying Balfour dispassionately for a moment, he sat back in his chair, and changed the subject. ‘Do you know,’ he said, speaking in a brisker tone, ‘you are not the first man to come by my office and ask me about that notice in the paper—the one about Emery Staines.’ Balfour looked up, both disappointed and surprised. ‘Why—who else?’ ‘A man came by in the middle of the week. Wednesday. Or perhaps it was Tuesday. Irish. A clergyman by profession—but not a Catholic; he was a Methodist, I think. He’s to be the chaplain of the new gaol.’ ‘Free Methodist,’ Balfour said. ‘I met him this morning. Strange looking. Very unfortunate teeth. What was his interest on account of?’ ‘But I can’t remember his name,’ L?wenthal murmured, tapping his lip. ‘Why was he interested in Staines?’ Balfour asked again—for he did not know the chaplain’s name, and could not offer it. L?wenthal folded his hands together again, on the tabletop. ‘Well, it was rather odd,’ he said. ‘Apparently he went along with the coroner to Crosbie Wells’s cottage, to collect the man’s remains.’ ‘Yes—and then buried him,’ said Balfour, nodding. ‘Dug the grave.’ ‘Devlin,’ said L?wenthal, striking the table. ‘That’s his name: Devlin. But I haven’t got the first name. Give me another moment.’ ‘But anyway,’ said Balfour. ‘As I was asking. What’s he got to do with Staines?’ ‘I don’t exactly know,’ L?wenthal admitted. ‘From our brief conversation I gathered that he needed to speak to Mr. Staines very urgently—either about the death of Crosbie Wells, or about something related to the death of Crosbie Wells. But I can’t tell you any more than that. I didn’t ask.’ ‘It’s a shame you didn’t,’ said Balfour. ‘That’s a loose end, that is.’ ‘Why, Tom,’ said L?wenthal, with a sudden smile, ‘you are sounding like a detective!’ Balfour flushed. ‘I’m not really,’ he said. ‘I’m only trying to figure something out.’ ‘Figure something out—for your friend Lauderback, who has sworn you to silence!’ Balfour remembered that the clergyman had also overheard Lauderback’s story, that same morning, and this thought prompted a stirring of alarm: there was a real loose end, he thought. Really, Lauderback ought to have been more cautious, in speaking of such private matters in a public place! ‘Well,’ he said, bristling, ‘isn’t it odd? This chap—Devlin—’ ‘Cowell Devlin,’ said L?wenthal. ‘That’s his name: I knew it would come to me. Cowell Devlin. Yes: unfortunate teeth.’ ‘Whoever he is, I’ve never seen him before,’ Balfour said. ‘Why’s he so concerned about Emery Staines—out of nowhere? Doesn’t it strike you as odd?’ ‘Oh, very odd,’ L?wenthal said, still smiling. ‘Very odd. But you’re getting hot under your collar, Tom.’ Balfour had indeed become very flushed. ‘It’s Lauderback,’ he began, but L?wenthal shook his head. ‘No, no: I won’t make you break your confidence,’ he said. ‘I was only teasing you. Let’s change the subject. I won’t ask.’ But Thomas Balfour was wishing very much that L?wenthal would ask. He was very ready to betray Alistair Lauderback’s confidence, and he had rather hoped that by pretending that he could not possibly divulge the politician’s secret, he could tempt L?wenthal to beg him to do exactly that. But evidently L?wenthal did not play this kind of game. (Perhaps he did not wish to, or perhaps he did not know that he might.) Balfour felt stifled. He wished that, at the outset, he had sat down and told the tale of Lauderback’s blackmail and proposed revenge, frankly and in full. Now he would have to leave without really having learned anything—for he could hardly offer to narrate the story now, after the editor had assured him he did not need to know it! We will interject to observe that this was a regrettable censorship; for if Balfour had recounted Lauderback’s tale in full, the events of the 27th of January might have played out rather differently for him—and for a number of other men. Prompted by certain particulars of Lauderback’s story, L?wenthal would have remembered an event that he had not had reason to remember for many months: a memory that would have been of great assistance to Balfour’s investigations of Carver, helping to explain, in part at least, that man’s mysterious assumption of the surname Wells. As it happened, however, Balfour did not narrate Lauderback’s tale, and L?wenthal’s memory was not jogged, and presently Balfour, rising from the spattered table, had no choice but to thank his friend and bid him goodbye—feeling, as L?wenthal also did, that their conversation had been something of a disappointment, having served only to raise his hopes, and then frustrate them. L?wenthal returned to the quiet contemplation of his faith, and Balfour to the slush of Revell-street, where the bells were ringing half past three; the day rolled on. But onward also rolls the outer sphere—the boundless present, which contains the bounded past. This story is being narrated, with much allusion and repeated emphasis, to Walter Moody—and Benjamin L?wenthal, who is also present in the smoking room of the Crown Hotel, is hearing parts of the tale for the very first time. Suddenly he is put in mind of an event that occurred some eight months prior. When Thomas Balfour pauses to drink, as he is doing now, L?wenthal steps forward, around the billiard table, and raises his hand to indicate that he wishes to interject. Balfour invites him to do so, and L?wenthal begins to narrate the memory that has so recently returned to him, speaking with the hushed gravity of one conveying very important news. Here is his account. One morning in the month of June, 1865, a dark-haired man with a scar on his cheek entered L?wenthal’s small office on Weld-street and asked for a notice to be placed in the West Coast Times. L?wenthal agreed, took out his pen, and asked the man what he wished to advertise. The man replied that he had lost a shipping crate that contained items of great personal value. He would pay a sum of twenty pounds if the crate were to be returned to him—or fifty, if the crate were to be returned to him unopened. He did not say what was inside the crate, beyond the fact that its personal value was considerable; he spoke gruffly, and used very plain words. When L?wenthal asked his name, he did not answer. Instead he pulled a birth certificate from his pocket and laid it on the desk. L?wenthal copied down the name—Mr. Crosbie Francis Wells—and inquired, finally, where the man would like responders to be directed, if indeed his lost shipping crate was found. The man named an address on Gibson Quay. L?wenthal recorded this, filled out a receipt, collected his fee, and then bid the man good morning. One might well ask (and indeed, Moody did ask) how L?wenthal could be so certain of the precise details of this event, given that the memory had only just returned to him, nearly eight months later, and he had not had any opportunity to verify its particulars. How could L?wenthal be sure, firstly, that the man who placed this advertisement did indeed have a scar upon his cheek; secondly, that this event had taken place in June of the previous year, and thirdly, that the name upon the birth certificate was, without a shadow of a doubt, Crosbie Francis Wells? L?wenthal’s reply was courteous, but rather lengthy. He explained to Moody that the West Coast Times had been founded in May of 1865, roughly one month after L?wenthal’s first landing in New Zealand. At first printing, the newspaper’s print run was a mere twenty copies, one each for Hokitika’s eighteen hotels, one for the newly appointed magistrate, and one for L?wenthal himself. (Within a month, and following the purchase of a steam-powered press, L?wenthal’s print run had expanded to two hundred; now, in January 1866, he was printing nearly a thousand copies of every edition, and he had hired a staff of two.) In order to advertise to his subscribers that the Times had been Hokitika’s very first daily gazette, L?wenthal set the first edition of the paper behind glass and hung it in his front office. He therefore remembered the exact date of the newspaper’s establishment (the 29th day of May, 1865), for he saw this framed edition every morning. The man in question, L?wenthal explained, had certainly arrived at some point in June, for L?wenthal’s steam-powered press had been delivered on the first day of July, and he distinctly remembered processing the scarred man’s advertisement on his old hand-powered machine. How was it that his memory was so distinct upon this point? Well, upon setting the type, L?wenthal had discovered that two inches square (the standard size for a column advertisement, and the size for which the scarred man had paid) was not enough to contain the message: the advertisement was one word too long to fit in the column space available. Unless L?wenthal shuffled around his repeat notices and changed the format of the paper altogether, he would be forced to create what typographers call a ‘widow’: that is, the final word of the advertisement (which was ‘Wells’) would be marooned at the top of the third column, producing an undesirable and even confusing effect in the reader’s mind. By the time L?wenthal discovered this, the scarred man had long since left his office, and L?wenthal was disinclined to venture out into the streets to find him. Instead he looked for a word to remove, finally deciding to excise the man’s middle name, Francis. This omission would prevent the creation of a ‘widow’, and the format of his column would not be spoiled. The West Coast Times was published early the following morning, and well before noon, the scarred man returned. He insisted—though he did not give a reason—that it was of the utmost importance that his middle name was included. He resented very much that L?wenthal had altered his advertisement without his knowledge, and expressed his displeasure with the same plainspoken gruffness with which he had first entreated the editor’s assistance. L?wenthal, apologising profusely, printed the notice again—and five times after that, for the man had paid for a week’s worth of advertising, and L?wenthal thought it prudent, under the circumstances, to offer him a seventh printing for free. Therefore, as L?wenthal explained to Moody, he was certain both of the date of the event, and of the man’s full name, Crosbie Francis Wells. The event stood out in his mind: it is always his first mistake that an entrepreneur remembers, looking back upon the origins of his enterprise, and the displeasure of a patron is not easily forgotten, when one takes one’s business to heart. This only left the question of the man’s description—for how could L?wenthal be sure that the man in question did in fact possess a scar upon his cheek, as the ex-convict known as Francis Carver certainly did, and as the hermit known as Crosbie Wells certainly did not? Upon this final point, L?wenthal conceded that he could not be sure. Perhaps in remembering the event he had overlaid a different memory of a scar-faced man. But he wished to add that his powers of recollection were typically strong, and he could picture this man very vividly in his mind; he remembered that the man had been holding a top hat, and that he had pressed it between his palms as he spoke, as if he meant to compress the thing to a single sheet of felt. This detail, surely, could not be false! L?wenthal declared that he would be willing to wager a decent sum of money that the man he remembered had indeed possessed a scar, shaped like a sickle, upon his cheek—and that he had possessed, also, a birth certificate that bore the name Crosbie Francis Wells. L?wenthal did concede, however, that he had never known the hermit, Crosbie Wells, in life, and had no way to imagine his features, because no image or sketch of the dead man had survived him. This new information, as one can well imagine, gave rise to a veritable cacophony of interjection and supposition in the smoking room of the Crown Hotel, and the narrative did not resume for some time. But we shall leave them in the present, and bear onward, in the past. The ferry service that ran between Kaniere and the mouth of the Hokitika River had not been interrupted by the inclement weather, though their custom had slowed; the ferrymen, with no one to escort and no chores outstanding, were sitting about in the open warehouse adjacent to the quay, smoking cigarettes and playing at whist. They looked none too happy to abandon their game and venture out into the rain, and named a fare that reflected this displeasure. Mannering agreed to the sum at once, however, and the ferrymen were obliged to put away their cards, stub out their cigarettes, and set about carrying the boat down the ramp to the water. Kaniere was only some four miles upriver, a distance that would be covered in no time at all on the return journey, when the oarsmen no longer had to pull against the current; the journey inland, however, could easily take up to an hour, depending on the river’s motion, the wind, and the pull of the tide. Diggers travelling back and forth between Kaniere and Hokitika usually covered that distance by coach, or on foot, but the coach had been and gone already, and the weather disinclined them to walk. Mannering paid the fare, and presently he and Frost were sitting in the stern of a painted dinghy (in fact it was a lifeboat, salvaged from a wreck) with the collie-dog Holly between them. The stroke-side oarsmen pushed off from the bank with the blades of their oars, and pulled strongly; soon the craft was on her way upstream. Sitting with their backs against the stern, Frost and Mannering found themselves face-to-face with the oarsmen, rather like a pair of outsized, well-dressed coxswains; the distance between them closed each time the oarsmen leaned forward to take another stroke. The two men therefore did not speak about the business they were about to perform, for to do so would have been to invite the oarsmen into their confidence. Instead Mannering kept up a steady flow of chatter about the weather, the Americas, soil, glass, breakfast, sluice mining, native timbers, the Baltic naval theatre, and life upon the fields. Frost, who was prone to seasickness, did not move at all, except to reach up periodically and wipe away the drips that formed beneath the brim of his hat. He responded to Mannering’s chatter only with clenched noises of agreement. In truth Frost was feeling very frightened—and progressively more frightened, as each stroke carried the craft closer and closer to the gorge. What in all heaven had come over him—in saying that he was not yellow, when he was as yellow as a man could be? He could easily have pretended that he was expected back at the bank! Now he was lurching around in three inches of brown water, shivering, unarmed, and unprepared—the ill-chosen second in another man’s duel—and for what? What was his quarrel with the Chinaman Quee? What was his grudge? He had never laid eyes upon the man in all his life! Frost reached up to wipe the brim of his hat. The Hokitika River threaded its way over gravel flats, the stones of which were uniformly round and worn. The banks of the river were fringed darkly with scrub, the foliage made still darker by the rain; the hills beyond them crawled with shifting cloud. One had the sense, peering up at them, that distance was measured in stages: the tall kahikatea, rising out of the scrub, were silhouetted green in the foreground, blue in the middle distance, and grey on the crest of the hills, where they merged with the colour of the mist. The Alps were shrouded, but on a fine day (as Mannering remarked) they would have been quite visible, as a sharp ridge of white against the sky. The craft bore on. They were passed by one canoe, travelling swiftly downriver, conveying a bearded surveyor and a pair of Maori guides—who lifted their hats, cheerfully enough, and Mannering did likewise. (Frost could not risk the motion.) After that, there was nothing; only the riverbanks, jolting by; the rain lashing at the water. The gulls that had followed them from the river mouth lost interest and fell back. Twenty minutes or so passed, and the craft turned a corner—and then, as a lamp suddenly illuminates a crowded room, there was noise and motion all around them. The canvas settlement of Kaniere was stationed as a midpoint between Hokitika and the inland claims. The land around the settlement was fairly flat, rutted by a veritable lattice of gullies and streams, all of them bearing stones and gravel down from the Alps, towards the sea; the sound of moving water was ever-present here, as a distant roar, a click, a rush, a patter. As one early surveyor had put it, on the Coast, wherever there was water, there was gold—and there was water all about, water dripping from the ferns, water beading on the branches, water making fat the mosses that hung from the trees, water filling one’s footsteps, welling up. To Frost’s eyes, the camp at Kaniere made for a very dismal picture. The diggers’ tents, terraced in crooked rows, bowed low under the weight of endless rain; several had collapsed altogether. Ropes ran back and forth between them, heavy with flags and wet laundry. Several of the tents had been bricked with a makeshift siding made of schist and clay, and were faring better; one enterprising party had thought to hang a second sheet in the trees above them, as an auxiliary fly. Nailed to the tree-trunks were painted signs advertising every kind of entertainment and drink. (A man needed no more than a canvas fly and a bottle to open a grog-shanty on the diggings, though he would suffer a fine, and even a gaoling, were he to be sprung by the law; most of the liquor sold in this way had been fermented in the camp. Charlie Frost had once tried the Kaniere rotgut, only to spit out his mouthful in disgust. The liquor was oily, acidic in taste, and thick with strings of matter; it had smelled, he thought, very like a photographic emulsion.) Frost marvelled that the rain had not driven the diggers indoors; their spirits, in fact, seemed quite undampened. They were clustered at the riverside, some of them panning, knee-deep in the water, others rattling their sluice boxes, still others cleaning their pots, bathing, soaping their laundry, plaiting rope, and darning on the shore. They all wore the digger’s habitual costume of moleskin, serge, and twill. Some of them sported sashes about their waists, dyed the brightest scarlet, in the piratical fashion of the time, and most wore slouch hats with the brims turned down. They shouted back and forth to one another as they worked, seeming to take no notice of the rain. Behind this shouting, one could hear the conventional hubbub of industry—the ringing chop of an axe, laughter, whistling. Blue smoke hung in the air and dispersed over the river in lazy gusts. The sound of an accordion drifted up from deep in the trees, and from somewhere further off came a roar of applause. ‘Quiet, isn’t it?’ said Mannering. ‘Even for a Saturday.’ Frost did not think that it was quiet. ‘Hardly a man out,’ said Mannering. Frost could see dozens of men—perhaps hundreds. The panorama before them was Charlie Frost’s very first impression of Kaniere—and indeed, his first impression of Hokitika’s environs at large, for in the seven months since he had crossed the Hokitika bar, he had never once ventured inland, nor once along the beachfront further than the high terrace of Seaview. Although he frequently bemoaned the smallness of his circumstances, he knew, in his innermost heart, that his spirit was not well suited to adventure; now, as he watched a man haul a branch onto a puny fire at the river’s edge, and deposit the thing bodily onto the dark bed of ashes, causing a whuff of smoke to engulf him, blackly, so that he began to cough in the terrible, lung-wracking way of a man not long for this world, Frost felt thoroughly justified in his conservatism. Kaniere, he told himself internally, was a wretched, God-forsaken place. The ferry pulled into the shallows, and the lifeboat’s keel ground on the stones. The forward oarsmen jumped out and dragged the boat clear of the water, so that Mannering and Frost could clamber out of the craft without wetting their boots—an unnecessary courtesy, for their boots were very wet already. The collie-dog leaped over the gunwale and flopped, belly-first, into the water. ‘My word,’ said Mannering, as he heaved himself onto the stones, and stretched his back. ‘I ought to have changed my trousers. Not a day for fine dress—eh, Charlie? Makes a fool out of a dandy. My word!’ He had perceived that Frost was out of sorts, and was trying to be cheerful. For although he felt that it would do Frost a great deal of good to bear witness to a bit of rough and tumble (Frost’s composure had a priggish quality that aggravated Mannering extremely) he wished to remain, all the same, in the boy’s good opinion. Mannering was competitive by nature, and among the many hypothetical trophies for which he competed daily was one engraved with the names of every one of his associates. Were he ever to be forced to choose between another man’s betterment and another man’s compliance, he would choose the latter, no matter the cost. He would not go soft upon Frost, who was soft enough already, and he would ensure that the boy knew his place, but he was not too proud to extend a hand of kindness—not least because kindness was so patently desired. But Frost did not respond. He was appalled to see an A-frame calico tent, barely big enough to fit three men lying side by side, sporting the hand-painted sign ‘Hotel’; he was appalled still further to see a digger unbutton his trousers and relieve himself, in full view of his fellows, onto the stones at the riverside. He recoiled—and then, to his alarm, heard laughter. A pair of diggers, sitting beneath a timber-framed awning not ten yards from the ferry landing, had been observing the lifeboat’s approach. They evidently found Frost’s horror very amusing; one of them tipped his hat, and the other gave a mock salute. ‘Come for a gander?’ ‘Naw, Bob—he’s come to do his laundry in the river. Only problem, he forgot to get his clothes dirty first!’ The men laughed again—and Frost, red-faced, turned away. It was true that his life had been circumscribed by the twin compasses of duty and habit; it was true that he had not travelled, and would not speculate; it was true that his coat had been brushed that morning, and his vest was clean. He was not ashamed of these things. But Frost had spent his childhood in a place without other children, and he did not understand teasing. If another man made fun at his expense, he did not know how to respond. His face became hot, and his throat became tight, and he could only smile, unnaturally. The oarsmen had lifted the lifeboat clear of the water. They agreed to transport the pair back to Hokitika in two hours’ time (two hours, Frost thought, with a sinking heart), and then drew lots to determine which man would remain with the boat. The unlucky man sat down, disappointed; the rest, rattling their coins, disappeared into the trees. The two men opposite were still laughing. ‘Ask him for a pinch of snuff,’ the first digger was saying to his mate. ‘Ask him how often he writes home—to Mayfair.’ ‘Ask him if he knows how to roll up his sleeves past his elbow.’ ‘Ask him about his father’s income. He’ll be pleased about that.’ It was desperately unfair, Frost thought—when he had never even been to Mayfair—when his father was a poor man—when he was the New Zealander! (But the appellation sounded foolish; one did not say ‘Englander’.) His own income was paltry when one considered the enormous portion of his wages that he diverted into his father’s pocket every month. As for the suit he was currently wearing—he had bought it with his own wage; he had brushed the coat himself, that morning! And he very frequently rolled his sleeves above his elbows. His cuffs were buttoned, as were the diggers’ own; he had purchased his shirt at the Hokitika outfitters, just as they had. Frost wanted to say all of this—but instead he knelt down and held out his hands, palm upward, for the collie-dog to lick. ‘Can we move?’ he said in an undertone to Mannering. ‘In a moment.’ Having replaced his purse in his inner pocket, Mannering was now fussing over the buttons of his great coat—for he could not decide whether to leave all but the bottom button undone, which would give him the best ease of access to his pistols, or all but the topmost button undone, which would do best to conceal his pistols from sight. Frost shot another nervous look around him—avoiding the gaze of the diggers beneath the awning. The track from the ferry landing forked away through the trees—one spoke bearing eastward, towards Lake Kaniere, and the other southeast, towards the Hokitika Gorge. Beyond the south bank of the river lay a rich patchwork of claims and mines that included, among others, the goldmine Aurora. Frost did not know any of this; in fact he could hardly have pointed north, had he been asked. He looked about for a sign that might direct them to Chinatown, but there was none. He could see no Chinese faces in the crowd. ‘That way,’ Mannering said, as if hearing his thoughts; he nodded his head to the east. ‘Upriver. None too far.’ Frost had caught the dog between his knees; he now began kneading her wet fur, more for his own reassurance than for the dog’s pleasure. ‘Ought we to agree on—on a plan of some kind?’ he ventured, squinting upward at the other man. ‘No need,’ said Mannering, buckling his belt a little higher. ‘No need for a plan?’ ‘Quee doesn’t have a pistol. I’ve got two. That’s the only plan I need.’ Frost was not entirely soothed by this. He freed Holly—she bounded away from him immediately—and stood up. ‘You’re not going to shoot an unarmed man?’ Mannering had decided upon the top button. ‘There,’ he said. ‘That’s best.’ He smoothed his coat over his body. ‘Did you not hear me?’ ‘I heard you,’ said Mannering. ‘Stop fretting, Charlie. You’ll only draw attention to yourself.’ ‘You might answer me, if you want to ease my fretting,’ Frost said, in a voice that was rather shrill. ‘Listen,’ Mannering said, turning to face him at last. ‘I’ve paid Chinamen to work my claims for the past five years, and if there’s one thing I can tell you, it’s this. They go after that smoke like a hatter for a whore, and no exceptions. By this time on a Saturday, every yellow man this side of the Alps will be laid out limp with the dragon in his eye. You could walk in to Chinatown and round up every one of them with one arm tied behind your back. All right? There’ll be no need for violence. There’ll be no need for any guns. They’re only for show. It’s all stacked to our advantage, Charlie. When a man’s full of opium it’s like he’s made of water. Remember that. He’s useless. He’s a child.’ SUN IN CAPRICORN In which Gascoigne recalls his first encounter with the whore; several seams are unpicked with a knife; exhaustion takes its toll; and Anna Wetherell makes a request. Perceiving Anna and Gascoigne through the chink in the doorway, Joseph Pritchard had seen only what he himself most craved—love, and honest sympathy. Pritchard was lonely, and like most lonely souls, he saw happy couples everywhere. In that moment—as Anna’s body folded against Gascoigne’s chest, and he wrapped his arms around her, and lifted her, and placed his cheek against her hair—Pritchard, his hand cupped limp around the cold knob of the door, would not have been consoled to know that Aubert Gascoigne and Anna Wetherell were merely, and very simply, friends. Loneliness cannot be reassured by proportion. Even friendship would have seemed to Pritchard a feast behind a pane of glass; even the smallest charity would have wet his lip, and left him wanting. Pritchard’s assumptions about Gascoigne had been formed on very limited acquaintance—on one conversation only, as a matter of fact. Judging from his haughty manner and the impeccable standard of his dress, Pritchard had supposed that Gascoigne occupied a position of some influence at the Magistrate’s Court, but in truth the clerk’s responsibilities there were very few. His chief duty lay in the collection of bail each day from the gaol-house at the Police Camp. Besides this task, his hours were spent recording fees, policing receipts for miner’s rights, fielding complaints, and on occasion, running errands on the Commissioner’s behalf. It was a lowly position, but Gascoigne was new in town; he was content to be employed, and confident that he would not take home a lackey’s wage for long. Gascoigne had been in Hokitika for less than a month when he first encountered Anna Wetherell lying shackled on George Shepard’s gaol-house floor. She was sitting with her back against the wall, and her hands in her lap. Her eyes were open, and shone with fever; her hair had come loose from its clasp and stuck damply to her cheek. Gascoigne knelt before her, and on impulse extended his hand. She gripped it and pulled him closer still, out of sight of the gaoler, who was sitting by the door with a rifle on his knees. She whispered, ‘I can make my bail—I can raise it—but you have to trust me. And you can’t tell him how.’ ‘Who?’ Gascoigne’s voice, too, had dropped to a whisper. She nodded towards Governor Shepard, without taking her eyes from his. Her grip tightened, and she guided his hand to her breast. He was startled; he almost snatched his hand away—but then he felt what she was guiding him to feel. Something was packed around her ribcage, beneath the cloth. It felt, Gascoigne thought, like chainmail—but he had never touched a piece of chainmail. ‘Gold,’ she whispered. ‘It’s gold. Up and down the corset-bones, and in the lining, and all the way about.’ Her dark eyes were searching his face, pleading with him. ‘Gold,’ she said. ‘I don’t know how it got there. It was there when I woke up—sewn in.’ Gascoigne frowned, trying to understand. ‘You wish to pay your bail with gold?’ ‘I can’t get it out,’ she whispered. ‘Not here. Not without a knife. It’s been sewn in.’ Their faces were almost touching; he could smell the sweet aftertaste of opium, like a plummy shadow on her breath. He murmured, ‘Is it yours?’ A desperate look flashed across her face. ‘What’s the difference? It’s money, isn’t it?’ Shepard’s voice rang out from the corner. ‘Does the whore detain you, Mr. Gascoigne?’ ‘Not at all,’ Gascoigne said. She released him and he straightened, taking a step away from her. He pulled his purse from his pocket as a way of feigning nonchalance, feigning purpose. He weighed the pouch in his hand. ‘You may remind Miss Wetherell that we do not take bail on promise,’ Shepard said. ‘Either she produces the money here and now, or she stays here until someone raises it for her.’ Gascoigne studied Anna. He had no reason to heed the woman’s request, or to believe that the hard plating he had felt around her corset was, as she claimed, gold. He knew that he ought to report her to the gaoler immediately, on the grounds that she had attempted to distract him from his duty. He ought to break apart her corset with the hunting knife he carried in his boot—for if she was carrying pure gold about her person, it surely did not belong to her. She was a whore. She had been detained for public intoxication. Her dress was filthy. She stank of opium, and there were purple shadows underneath her eyes. But Gascoigne surveyed her with compassion. His code was one of innate chivalry; he had a deep sympathy for people in desperate circumstances, and the wide-eyed anguish of her appeal had stirred both his compassion and his curiosity. Gascoigne believed that justice ought to be a synonym for mercy, not an alternative. He also believed that merciful action answered to instinct before it answered to any law. In a sudden rush of pity—for that emotion always came upon him as a flood—he was moved to meet the girl’s request, and to protect her. ‘Miss Wetherell,’ he said (he had not known her name before the gaoler used it), ‘your bail is set at one pound one shilling.’ He was holding his purse in his left hand, and his ledger in his right; now he made as if to transfer the ledger to the other hand, and, using the latter object as a shield, extracted two coins from his purse and tucked them against his palm. Then he transferred both purse and ledger to his right hand and held out his left, palm upward, with his thumb crossed across the palm. ‘Can you raise that sum from the money you have shown me in your corset?’ He spoke loudly and clearly, as if addressing a halfwit or a child. For a moment she didn’t understand. Then she nodded, reached her fingers down between the bones of her corset, and drew out nothing. She pressed her pinched fingers into Gascoigne’s hand; Gascoigne lifted his thumb, nodded, as if satisfied with the coins that had appeared there, and recorded the bail on the ledger. He dropped the coins audibly into his purse, and then moved on to the next prisoner. This act of kindness, so unorthodox in George Shepard’s gaol-house, was not a terribly unusual one for Gascoigne. It was his pleasure to strike up friendships within the servile classes, with children, with beggars, with animals, with plain women and forgotten men. His courtesies were always extended to those who did not expect courtesy: when he encountered a man whose station was beneath him, he was never rude. To the higher classes, however, he held himself apart. He was not ungracious, but his manner was jaded and wistful, even unimpressed—a practice that, though not a strategy in any real sense, tended to win him a great deal of respect, and earn him a place among the inheritors of land and fortune, quite as if he had set out to end up there. In this way Aubert Gascoigne, born out of wedlock to an English governess, raised in the attics of Parisian row-houses, clothed always in cast-offs, forever banished to the coal scuttle, by turns admonished and ignored, had risen, over time, to become a personage of limited but respectable means. He had escaped his past—and yet he could be called neither an ambitious man, nor an unduly lucky one. In his person Gascoigne showed a curious amalgam of classes, high and low. He had cultivated his mind with the same grave discipline with which he now maintained his toilette—which is to say, according to a method that was sophisticated, but somewhat out of date. He held the kind of passion for books and learning that only comes when one has pursued an education on one’s very own—but it was a passion that, because its origins were both private and virtuous, tended towards piety and scorn. His temperament was deeply nostalgic, not for his own past, but for past ages; he was cynical of the present, fearful of the future, and profoundly regretful of the world’s decay. As a whole, he put one in mind of a well-preserved old gentleman (in fact he was only thirty-four) in a period of comfortable, but perceptible, decline—a decline of which he was well aware, and which either amused him or turned him melancholy, depending on his moods. For Gascoigne was extraordinarily moody. The wave of compassion that had compelled him to lie on Anna’s behalf dissipated almost as soon as the whore was freed: it darkened to despair, a despair that his help might, after all, have been a vain one—misplaced, wrong, and worst of all, self-serving. Selfishness was Gascoigne’s deepest fear. He loathed all signs of it in himself, quite as a competitive man loathes all traces of weakness that might keep him from his selfish goal. This was a feature of his personality of which he was extraordinarily proud, however, and about which he loved to moralise; whenever the irrationality of all this became too evident to ignore, he would fall into a very selfish bout of irritation. Anna had followed him out of the gaol-house; in the street he suggested, almost brusquely, that she come to his quarters, so as to explain herself in private. Meekly she acquiesced, and they walked on together, through the rain. Gascoigne no longer pitied her. His compassion, quick to flare, had given way to worry and self-doubt—for she was a failed suicide, after all; and, as the gaoler had warned him as he signed the form for Anna’s release, probably insane. Now, two weeks later, in the Gridiron Hotel—with his arms about her, his hand splayed firmly in the hollow of her back, her forearms pressed against his chest, her breath dampening his collarbone—Gascoigne’s thoughts again turned to the possibility that perhaps she had tried, a second time, to end her life. But where was the bullet that ought to have lodged in her breastbone? Had she known that the gun would misfire in such a peculiar way, when she pointed the muzzle at her own throat, and pulled the hammer down? How could she have known it? ‘All men want their whores to be unhappy’—Anna herself had said that, the night she was released from gaol, after she followed him home to his quarters, and they took apart her gown at his kitchen table, with the rain beating down, and the paraffin lamp making soft the corners of the room. ‘All men want their whores to be unhappy’—and how had he responded? Something curt, most likely, something terse. And now she had shot herself, or tried to. Gascoigne held her for a long time after Pritchard closed the door, gripping her tight, inhaling the salty smell of her hair. The smell was a comfort: he had been many years at sea. And he had been married. Agathe Gascoigne—Agathe Prideaux, as he had known her first. Elfin, quick-witted, teasing, and consumptive—a fact he had known when he made his proposal, but which had somehow seemed immaterial, surmountable; more a proof of her delicacy than a promise of ill tidings to come. But her lungs would not heal. They had travelled south, in pursuit of the climate cure, and she had died on the open ocean, somewhere off the Indian coast—horrible, that he did not know exactly where. Horrible, how her body had bent when it had struck the surface of the water—that slapping sound. She had made him promise not to order a coffin, nor to have one approximated, should she die before they reached their port of call. If it happened, she said, it would happen in the mariners’ way: sewn into a hammock with a double-backed seam. And because the hammock was hers, that bloom of scarlet, darkened now to brown—he’d knelt and kissed it, macabre though that was. After that, Gascoigne kept sailing. He stopped only when his money ran dry. Anna was heavier than Agathe had been—more angular, more substantial; but then (he thought), perhaps the living always seem substantial to those whose thoughts are with the dead. He moved his hand across her back. With his fingers he traced the shape of her corset, the double seam of eyelets, laced with string. After leaving the gaol-house they had detoured past the Magistrate’s Court, so that Gascoigne could leave his bail purse in the deposit box there, and file the bail notices, ready for the morning. Anna watched him perform these tasks patiently and without curiosity: she seemed to accept that Gascoigne had done her a great favour, and she was content to obey him, and keep silent, in return. Out of habit she did not walk beside him in the street, but followed him at a distance of several yards—so that Gascoigne could claim not to know her, if they encountered an arm of the law. When they reached Gascoigne’s cottage (for he had a whole cottage to himself, though a small one; a one-roomed clapboard cabin, some hundred yards from the beach), Gascoigne directed Anna to wait beneath the awning of the porch while he split a log for kindling in the yard. He made short work of the log, feeling a little self-conscious with Anna’s dark eyes fixed upon him as he chopped. Before the heartwood could dampen in the rain, he gathered the splintered fragments in his arms and dashed back to the doorway, where Anna stood aside to let him pass. ‘It’s no palace,’ he said foolishly—though, by Hokitika standards, it was. Anna made no comment as she passed under the lintel and into the dim fug of the cottage. Gascoigne dropped the kindling on the hearth and reached back to close the door. He lit the paraffin lamp, set it on the table, and knelt to build a fire—intensely aware, as he did so, of Anna’s silent appraisal of the room. It was sparsely furnished. His one fine piece of furniture was a wingback armchair, upholstered in a thick fabric of pink and yellow stripes: this had been a present to himself, upon first taking possession of the place, and it stood pride of place in the centre of the room. Gascoigne wondered what assumptions she was forming, what picture was emerging from this scant constellation of his life. The narrow mattress, over which his blanket was folded thrice. The miniature of Agathe, hanging from a nail above the bedhead. The row of seashells along the window sill. The tin kettle on the range; his Bible, the pages mostly uncut except for Psalms and the epistles; the tartan biscuit tin, inside of which he kept his letters from his mother, his papers, and his pens. Beside his bed, the box of broken candles, the wax pieces held together by the string of their wicks. ‘You keep a clean house,’ was all she said. ‘I live alone.’ Gascoigne pointed with a stick to the trunk at the base of his bed. ‘Open that.’ She loosed the clasps, and heaved open the top. He directed her to a swatch of dark linen, which she lifted up, and Agathe’s dress slithered out over her knees—the black one, with the tatted collar, that he had so despised. (‘People will think me an ascetic,’ she had said cheerfully, ‘but black is a sober colour; one ought to have a sober dress.’ It was to hide the bloodstains, the fine spray that peppered her cuffs; he knew it, but did not say so. He agreed, aloud, that one ought to have a sober dress.) ‘Put it on,’ Gascoigne said, watching as Anna smoothed the fabric over her knee. Agathe had been shorter; the hem would have to be let down. Even then, the whore would show three inches of her ankle, and maybe even the last hoop of her crinoline. It would be awful—but beggars could not be choosers, Gascoigne thought, and Anna was a beggar tonight. He turned back to the fire and shovelled ash. It was the only dress of Agathe’s that Gascoigne still possessed. The others, packed in their camphor-smelling cedar case, had been lost when the steamer ran aground—the berths first looted, then flooded, when the steamer fell at last upon her side, and the surf closed in. For Gascoigne the loss was a blessing. He had Agathe’s miniature: that was all he wished to keep. He would pay her memory due respect, but he was a young man, and still hot-blooded, and he meant to begin again. By the time Anna had changed, the fire was lit. Gascoigne glanced sideways at the dress. It looked just as ill upon her as it had upon his late wife. Anna saw him looking. ‘Now I will be able to mourn,’ she said. ‘I never had a black dress before.’ Gascoigne did not ask her whom she was mourning, or how recent the death. He filled the kettle, and put it on the range. Aubert Gascoigne preferred to initiate conversation, rather than fall in with another person’s theme and tempo; he was content to be silent in company until he felt moved to speak. Anna Wetherell, with her whore’s intuition, seemed to recognise this aspect of Gascoigne’s character. She did not press him to converse, and she did not watch or shadow him as he went about the ordinary business of the evening: lighting candles, refilling his cigarette case, exchanging his muddy boots for indoor shoes. She gathered up the gold-lined dress and conveyed it across the room to spread on Gascoigne’s table. It was heavy. The gold had added perhaps five pounds to the weight of the fabric, Anna guessed: she tried to calculate the value. The Crown would buy pure colour at a rate of around three sovereigns per ounce—and there were sixteen ounces in a pound of weight—and this was five pounds of weight, at least. How much did that total? She tried to imagine a column of sums in her mind, but the figures swam. While Gascoigne banked the fire for the evening, and spooned tea leaves into a strainer, ready to steep, Anna examined her dress. Whoever had hidden the gold there evidently had experience with a needle and thread—either a woman or a sailor, she thought. They had sewn with care. The gold had been fitted up and down the bones of the corset, sewn into the flounces, and parcelled evenly around the hem—an extra weight she had not noticed earlier, for she often carried lead pellets around the bottom of her crinoline, to prevent the garment from blowing upward in the wind. Gascoigne had come up behind her. He took out his bowie knife, to cut the corset free—but he began too like a butcher, and Anna made a noise of distress. ‘Please,’ she said. ‘You don’t know how—please let me.’ He hesitated, and then passed her the knife, and stood back to watch. She worked slowly, wanting to preserve the form and shape of the dress: first she took out the hem, then worked her way upward, along each flounce, snicking the threads with the point of the knife, and shaking the gold out of the seams. When she reached the corset, she made a little slice beneath each stay, and then reached up with her fingers to loose the gold from where it had been stuffed, in panels, between the bones. It was these lumpy parcels that had so reminded Gascoigne of chainmail, in the gaol-house. The gold, shaken out of the folds, shone gloriously. Anna collected it in the centre of the table. She was careful not to let the dust scatter in the draught. Each time she added another handful of dust, or another nugget, she cupped her hands over the pile, as if to warm herself upon the shine. Gascoigne watched her. He was frowning. At last she was done, and the dress was emptied. ‘Here,’ she said, taking up a nugget roughly the size of the last joint of Gascoigne’s thumb. She pushed it across the table towards him. ‘One pound one shilling: I haven’t forgotten.’ ‘I will not touch this gold,’ said Gascoigne. ‘Plus payment for the mourning dress,’ Anna said, flushing. ‘I don’t need charity.’ ‘You might,’ said Gascoigne. He sat down on the edge of the bed and reached into his breast pocket for his cigarettes. He flipped open the silver case, plucked out a cigarette, and lit it with care; only after it was lit, and he had taken several lungfuls, did he turn to her, and say, ‘Who do you work for, Miss Wetherell?’ ‘You mean—who runs the girls? Mannering.’ ‘I do not know him.’ ‘You would if you saw him. He’s very fat. He owns the Prince of Wales.’ ‘I have seen a fat man.’ Gascoigne sucked on his cigarette. ‘Is he a fair employer?’ ‘He has a temper,’ Anna said, ‘but his terms are mostly fair.’ ‘Does he give you opium?’ ‘No.’ ‘Does he know you take it?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Who sells you the stuff?’ ‘Ah Sook,’ said Anna. ‘Who is that?’ ‘He’s just a chink. A hatter. He keeps the den at Kaniere.’ ‘A Chinese man who makes hats?’ ‘No,’ Anna said. ‘I was using local talk. A hatter is a man who digs alone.’ Gascoigne paused in his line of questioning to smoke. ‘This hatter,’ he said next. ‘He keeps an opium den—at Kaniere.’ ‘Yes.’ ‘And you go to him.’ She narrowed her eyes. ‘Yes.’ ‘Alone.’ He spoke the word accusingly. ‘Most often,’ Anna said, squinting at him. ‘Sometimes I buy a little extra, to take at home.’ ‘Where does he get it from? China, I suppose.’ She shook her head. ‘Jo Pritchard sells it to him. He’s the chemist. Has a drug hall on Collingwood-street.’ Gascoigne nodded. ‘I know Mr. Pritchard,’ he said. ‘Well then, I am curious: why should you bother with Chinamen, if you could buy the stuff from Mr. Pritchard direct?’ Anna lifted her chin a little—or perhaps she merely shivered; Gascoigne could not tell. ‘I don’t know,’ she said. ‘You don’t know,’ said Gascoigne. ‘No.’ ‘Kaniere is a long way to walk for a mouthful of smoke, I think.’ ‘I suppose.’ ‘And Mr. Pritchard’s emporium is—what—not ten minutes’ walk from the Gridiron. Still less if one walked at a pace.’ She shrugged. ‘Why do you go to Kaniere Chinatown, Miss Wetherell?’ Gascoigne spoke acidly; he felt that he knew the probable answer to the question, and wanted her to say the words aloud. Her face was stony. ‘Maybe I like it there.’ ‘Ah,’ he said. ‘Maybe you like it there.’ (For goodness’ sake! What had come over him? What did he care if the whore plied her trade with Chinamen or not? What did he care if she made the trip to Kaniere alone, or with an escort? She was a whore! He had met her for the first time that very evening! Gascoigne felt a rush of bewilderment, and then immediately, a stab of anger. He took refuge in his cigarette.) ‘Mannering,’ he said, when he had exhaled. ‘The fat man. Could you leave him?’ ‘Once I clear my debt.’ ‘How much do you owe?’ ‘A hundred pounds,’ said Anna. ‘Maybe a little over.’ The empty dress lay between them, like a flayed corpse. Gascoigne looked at the pile, at its glimmer; Anna, following his line of sight, looked too. ‘You will be tried at the courts, of course,’ Gascoigne said, gazing at the gold. ‘I was only tight in public,’ said Anna. ‘They’ll fine me, that’s all.’ ‘You will be tried,’ Gascoigne said. ‘For attempted suicide. The gaoler has confirmed it.’ She stared at him. ‘Attempted suicide?’ ‘Did you not try and take your life?’ ‘No!’ She leaped up. ‘Who’s saying that?’ ‘The duty sergeant who picked you up last night,’ said Gascoigne. ‘That’s absurd.’ ‘I’m afraid it has been recorded,’ said Gascoigne. ‘You will have to plead, one way or another.’ Anna said nothing for a moment. Then she burst out, ‘Every man wants his whore to be unhappy—every man!’ Gascoigne blew out a narrow jet of smoke. ‘Most whores are unhappy,’ he said. ‘Forgive me: I only state a simple truth.’ ‘How could they charge me for attempted suicide, without first asking me whether I—? How could they? Where’s the—’ ‘—Proof?’ Gascoigne studied her with pity. Anna’s recent brush with death showed plainly in her face and body. Her complexion was waxy, her hair limp and heavy with grease. She was snatching compulsively at the sleeves of her dress with her fingers; as the clerk appraised her, she gave a shiver that racked her body like a wave. ‘The gaoler fears that you are insane,’ he said. ‘I have never spoken one word to Gov. Shepard in all my months in Hokitika,’ said Anna. ‘We are perfect strangers.’ ‘He mentioned that you had recently lost a child.’ ‘Lost!’ said Anna, in a voice full of disgust. ‘Lost! That’s a sanitary word.’ ‘You would use a different one?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Your child was taken from you?’ A hard look came across Anna’s face. ‘Kicked from my womb,’ she said. ‘And by—by the child’s own father! But I suppose Gov. Shepard didn’t tell you that.’ Gascoigne was silent. He had not yet finished his cigarette, but he dropped it, crushed the ember with the heel of his shoe, and lit another. Anna sat down again. She placed her hands upon the fabric of her dress, laid out upon the table. She began to stroke it. Gascoigne looked at the rafters, and Anna at the gold. It was very unlike her to burst out in such a way. Anna’s nature was watchful and receptive rather than declamatory, and she rarely spoke about herself. Her profession demanded modesty of the strictest sort, paradoxical though that sounded. She was obliged to behave sweetly, and with sympathy, even when sympathy was not owing, and sweetness was not deserved. The men with whom she plied her trade were rarely curious about her. If they spoke at all, they spoke about other women—the sweethearts they had lost, the wives they had abandoned, their mothers, their sisters, their daughters, their wards. They sought these women when they looked at Anna, but only partly, for they also sought themselves: she was a reflected darkness, just as she was a borrowed light. Her wretchedness was, she knew, extremely reassuring. Anna reached out a finger to stroke one of the golden nuggets in the pile. She knew that she ought to thank Gascoigne in the conventional way, for paying her bail: he had taken a risk, in telling a falsehood to the gaoler, keeping her secret, and inviting her back to his home. She sensed that Gascoigne was expecting something. He was fidgeting strangely. His questions were abrupt and even rude—a sure sign that he was distracted by the hope of a reward—and when she spoke he glared at her, quickly, and then glanced away, as if her answers annoyed him very much. Anna picked up the nugget and rolled it around in her palm. Its surface was bubbled, even knot-holed, as if the metal had been partly melted in a forge. ‘It appears to me,’ Gascoigne said presently, ‘that someone was waiting for you to smoke that pipe last night. They waited until you were unconscious, and then sewed this gold into your dress.’ She frowned—not at Gascoigne, but at the lump in her hand. ‘Why?’ ‘I have no idea,’ the Frenchman said. ‘Who were you with last night, Miss Wetherell? And just how much was he willing to pay?’ ‘Listen, though,’ Anna said, ignoring the question. ‘You’re saying that someone took this dress off me, sewed in all this dust so carefully, and then laced me back up—filled with gold—only to leave me in the middle of the road?’ ‘It does sound improbable,’ Gascoigne agreed. He changed his tack. ‘Well then: answer me this. How long have you had that garment?’ ‘Since the spring,’ Anna said. ‘I bought it salvage, from a vendor on Tancred-street.’ ‘How many others do you own?’ ‘Five—no; four,’ said Anna. ‘But the others aren’t for whoring. This is my whoring gown—on account of its colour, you see. I had a separate frock for lying-in—but that was ruined, when—when the baby died.’ There was a moment of quiet between them. ‘Was it sewed in all at once?’ Gascoigne said presently. ‘Or over a period? I suppose there’s no way to tell.’ Anna did not respond. After a moment Gascoigne glanced up, and met her gaze. ‘Who were you with last night, Miss Wetherell?’ he asked again—and this time Anna could not ignore the question. ‘I was with a man named Staines,’ she said quietly. ‘I do not know this man,’ Gascoigne said. ‘He was with you at the opium den?’ ‘No!’ Anna said, sounding shocked. ‘I wasn’t at the den. I was at his house. In his—bed. I left in the night to take a pipe. That’s the last thing I remember.’ ‘You left his house?’ ‘Yes—and came back to the Gridiron, where I have my lodging,’ Anna said. ‘It was a strange night, and I was feeling odd. I wanted a pipe. I remember lighting it. The next thing I remember, I was in gaol, and there was daylight.’ She gave a shiver, and suddenly clutched her arms across her body. She spoke, Gascoigne thought, with an exhilarated fatigue, the kind that comes after the first blush of love, when the self has lost its mooring, and, half-drowning, succumbs to a fearful tide. But addiction was not love; it could not be love. Gascoigne could not romanticise the purple shadows underneath her eyes, her wasted limbs, the dreamy disorientation with which she spoke; but even so, he thought, it was uncanny that the opium’s ruin could mirror love’s raptures with such fidelity. ‘I see,’ he said aloud. ‘So you left the man sleeping?’ ‘Yes,’ said Anna. ‘He was asleep when I left—yes.’ ‘And you were wearing this dress.’ He pointed at the orange tatters between them. ‘It’s my work dress,’ Anna said. ‘It’s the one I always wear.’ ‘Always?’ ‘When I’m working,’ Anna said. Gascoigne did not reply, but narrowed his eyes very slightly, and pressed his lips together, to signify there was a question in his mind that he could not ask with decency. Anna sighed. She decided that she would not express her gratitude in the conventional way; she would repay the sum of her bail in coin, and in the morning. ‘Look,’ she said, ‘It’s just as I told you. We fell asleep, I woke up, I wanted a pipe, I left his house, I went home, I lit my pipe, and that’s the last thing I remember.’ ‘Did you notice anything strange about your own rooms when you returned? Anything that might show that someone had been there, for example?’ ‘No,’ Anna said. ‘The door was locked, same as always. I opened it with my key, I walked in, I closed the door, I sat down, I lit my pipe, and that’s the last thing I remember.’ It wearied her to recapitulate—and she would become still wearier in the days to come, once it transpired that Emery Staines had disappeared in the night, and had not been seen since, by anyone. Upon this point Anna Wetherell would be examined, and cross-examined, and scorned, and disbelieved; she would repeat her story until it ceased to be familiar, and she began to doubt herself. Gascoigne did not know Staines, having arrived in Hokitika himself only very recently, but watching Anna now, he felt suddenly intensely curious about the man. ‘Could Mr. Staines have wished you harm?’ he said. ‘No!’ she said at once. ‘Do you trust him?’ ‘Yes,’ Anna said quietly. ‘As much as—’ But she did not complete the comparison. ‘He is a lover?’ Gascoigne said, after a pause. Anna blushed. ‘He is the richest man in Hokitika,’ she said. ‘If you have not heard of him yet, you will presently. Emery Staines. He owns most things around town.’ Again Gascoigne’s gaze drifted to the gleaming pile of gold on the table—but pointedly this time: to the richest man in Hokitika, this would seem, surely, like a very small pile. ‘He is a lover?’ he repeated. ‘Or a client?’ Anna paused. ‘A client,’ she said at last, and in a smaller voice. Gascoigne inclined his head respectfully, as if Anna had just informed him that the man had passed away. She rushed on: ‘He’s a prospector. That’s how he made his wealth. But he hails from New South Wales, as I do. In fact we were on the same ship across the Tasman, when we first arrived: the Fortunate Wind.’ ‘I see,’ said Gascoigne. ‘Well, then. If he is rich, perhaps this gold is his.’ ‘No,’ Anna said, alarmed. ‘He wouldn’t.’ ‘He wouldn’t what? Wouldn’t lie to you?’ ‘Wouldn’t—’ ‘Wouldn’t use you as a beast of burden, to traffic this gold without your knowing?’ ‘Traffic it where?’ said Anna. ‘I’m not leaving. I’m not going anywhere.’ Gascoigne paused to drag upon his cigarette. Then he said, ‘You left his bed in the night—did you not?’ ‘I meant to return,’ Anna said. ‘And sleep it off.’ ‘You left without his knowledge, I think.’ ‘But I meant to return.’ ‘And despite the fact—perhaps—that he had contracted you to remain until the morning.’ ‘I’m telling you,’ Anna said, ‘I only meant to be gone a little while.’ ‘But then you lost consciousness,’ Gascoigne said. ‘Perhaps I fainted.’ ‘You don’t believe that.’ Anna chewed her lip. ‘Oh, it doesn’t make sense!’ she exclaimed after a moment. ‘The gold doesn’t make sense; the opium doesn’t make sense. Why would I end up there? Out cold, quite alone, and halfway to Arahura!’ ‘Surely much of what happens when you are under the effects of opium does not make sense.’ ‘Yes,’ she said. ‘Yes, all right.’ ‘But I would be happy to defer to you on that point,’ Gascoigne said, ‘having never touched the drug myself.’ The kettle began to whistle. Gascoigne stuck his cigarette in the corner of his mouth, wrapped his hand in a scrap of serge, and lifted it down from the range. As he poured the water over the tea leaves he said, ‘What about your chink? He touched the opium, did he not?’ Anna rubbed her face—as a tired infant rubs its face: clumsily. ‘I didn’t see Ah Sook last night,’ she said. ‘I told you, I took a pipe at home.’ ‘A pipe filled with his opium!’ Gascoigne set the kettle on a rack above the range. ‘Yes—I suppose,’ Anna said. ‘But you might just as well call it Joseph Pritchard’s.’ Gascoigne sat down again. ‘Mr. Staines must be wondering what has happened to you, seeing as you left his bed so abruptly in the night, and did not return. Though I notice he did not come to make your bail today—neither he nor your employer.’ He spoke loudly, meaning to rouse Anna out of her fatigue; when he set out the saucers, he set Anna’s down with a clatter, and pushed it across the table so it scraped. ‘That’s my business,’ Anna said. ‘I shall go and make my apologies, as soon as—’ ‘As soon as we are decided what to do with this pile,’ Gascoigne finished for her. ‘Yes: you ought to do that.’ Gascoigne’s mood had changed again: suddenly, he was extremely vexed. No clear explanation had yet presented itself to him as to why Anna’s dress had been filled with gold, or how she had ended up unconscious, or indeed whether these two events were connected in any way. He was vexed that he could not understand it—and so, to appease his own ill humour, he became scornful, an attitude that afforded him at least the semblance of control. ‘How much is this worth?’ said Anna now, moving to touch the pile again. ‘As an estimate, I mean. I don’t have an eye for such things.’ Gascoigne crushed the stub of his cigarette on his saucer. ‘I think the question you ought to be asking, my dear,’ he said, ‘is not how much; it is who, and why. Whose gold is that? Whose claim did it come from? And where was it bound?’ They agreed, that first night, to hide the pile away. They agreed that if anyone asked Anna why she had exchanged her habitual gown for this new, more sombre one, she would reply, quite honestly, that she had wished to enter a belated period of mourning for the death of her unborn child, and she had procured the garment from a trunk that had washed up on the Hokitika spit. All of this was true. If anyone asked to see the old gown, or inquired as to where it was stored, then Anna was to inform Gascoigne immediately—for that person no doubt had knowledge of the gold that had been hidden in her flounces, and would therefore know about the gold’s origin—and perhaps also its intended destination, wherever that was. With this strategy having been decided, Gascoigne then emptied his tartan biscuit tin, and together they swept the gold into it, wrapped the tin in a blanket, and placed the entire bundle in a flour sack that Gascoigne tied with string. He requested, until they had further intelligence, that the sack be stowed at his quarters, beneath his bed. At first Anna was doubtful, but he persuaded her that the pile would be safest with him: he never entertained visitors, his cabin was locked during the day, and nobody had the slightest reason to think that he was harbouring a pile—after all, he was new in town, and had neither enemies nor friends. The following fortnight seemed to pass in a blur. Anna returned to Staines’s house to find that he had vanished completely; days later, she learned about the death of Crosbie Wells, and discovered that that event had also taken place during the hours of her unconsciousness. Soon after that she heard that an enormous fortune, the origins of which had yet to be determined, had been discovered hidden on Crosbie Wells’s estate, which had since been purchased by the hotelier, Edgar Clinch—acting proprietor of the Gridiron Hotel, which was owned by Emery Staines, and the current residence of Anna herself. Gascoigne had not spoken with Anna directly about any of these events, for she refused to be drawn on the subject of Emery Staines, and had nothing at all to say about Crosbie Wells, save that she had never known him. Gascoigne sensed that she was grieving Staines’s disappearance, but he could not gauge whether she believed him to be alive or dead. In deference to her feelings Gascoigne dropped the subject altogether; when they spoke, they spoke of other things. From her high window on the upper floor of the Gridiron Hotel Anna watched the diggers struggle up and down Revell-street, through the rain. She kept to her room, and wore Agathe Gascoigne’s black dress every day. No man inquired about Anna’s change of costume; no man made any kind of intimation to suggest that he knew about the gold that had been hidden in her corset, now safely stowed under Gascoigne’s bed. The responsible party was reluctant, for whatever reason, to come forward and show his hand. On the day after Crosbie Wells’s burial, Anna was tried for attempted suicide at the petty court, as Gascoigne had predicted she would be. She refused to plead, and in the end was fined a sum of five pounds for her attempted felony—and then scolded roundly, for having wasted the Magistrate’s time. All this was running through Gascoigne’s mind as he stood in the Gridiron Hotel with Anna Wetherell clasped against his chest, tracing the eyelets of her corset, up her back. He had held Agathe in this way—exactly in this way, exactly so, with one hand splayed beneath her shoulder blade, the other cupping the ball of her shoulder, Agathe with her forearms against his chest, always—having raised her arms to shield herself at the moment of enclosure. How strange that he recalled her, now. One could know a thousand women, Gascoigne thought; one could take a different girl every night for years and years—but sooner or later, the new lovers would do little more than call to mind the old, and one would be forced to wander, lost, in that reflective maze of endless comparison, forever disappointed, forever turning back. Anna was still trembling from the shock of the misfire. Gascoigne waited until her breathing was steady—some three or four minutes after Pritchard’s tread retreated down the stairs—and then at last, when he felt her body regain some of its strength, he murmured, ‘What on earth got into you?’ But Anna only shook her head, burrowing against him. ‘Was it a blank? A false cartridge?’ She shook her head again. ‘Perhaps you and the chemist—perhaps you devised something together.’ That roused her; she pushed away from him with the heels of her hands, and said, in a voice full of disgust, ‘With Pritchard?’ It pleased Gascoigne to see her brighten, even in anger. ‘Well, then: what was he wanting you for?’ he said. Anna almost told him the truth—but felt a sudden shame. Gascoigne had been so kind to her, this past fortnight, and she could not bear to tell him where the opium had gone. Just yesterday he had expressed happiness that she had ended her enslavement to the pipe: he had marvelled at her strength, and praised the clearness of her eyes, and admired her. She had not had the heart to disabuse him then, and she did not now. ‘Old Jo Pritchard,’ she said, looking away. ‘He was lonely, that was all.’ Gascoigne pulled out his cigarette case, and found that he was trembling too. ‘Have you any brandy left?’ he said. ‘I would like to sit a moment, if you don’t mind. I need to gather myself.’ He laid the spent pistol carefully on the whatnot beside Anna’s bed. ‘Things keep happening to you,’ he said. ‘Things you can’t explain. Things nobody seems to be able to explain. I’m not sure …’ But he trailed off. Anna went to the armoire to fetch the brandy, and Gascoigne sat down upon the bed to light his cigarette—and just for a moment they were fixed in a tableau, the kind rendered on a plate, and sold at a fair as an historical impression: he with his wrists on his knees, his head bowed, his cigarette dangling from his knuckles—she with her hand on her hip, her weight upon one leg, pouring him a measure. But they were not lovers, and it was not their room. Gascoigne took another deep draught of his cigarette, and closed his eyes. Meaning to cheer him, Anna said, ‘I am very much looking forward to my surprise, Mr. Gascoigne.’ For she had not lied to Joseph Pritchard, when she informed him she had an appointment—going with a lady, to look at hats. Gascoigne had arranged a private consultation with a lady of fashion; apparently he had paid for the consultation himself, though he had insisted that the details of the arrangement, and the identity of the lady, remain a surprise. Anna had never been asked to wait for a surprise before, and the prospect had filled her with both elation and dread; she had thanked the Frenchman very prettily, however, for his consideration. When Gascoigne did not respond, Anna tried to press him further. ‘Is your woman downstairs, waiting?’ Gascoigne emerged from his reverie at last. He sighed. ‘No: I am to fetch you and bring you to her. She’s in the private parlour at the Wayfarer—but she can wait ten minutes; she has waited ten minutes already.’ He passed a hand over his face. ‘Your hats can wait.’ ‘What are you not sure of?’ ‘What?’ ‘You just said, “I’m not sure”, but you didn’t finish your sentence.’ They had adopted an easy tone with one another, this past fortnight, as so often happens after a shared ordeal—though Anna still called him Mr. Gascoigne, and never Aubert. Gascoigne had not pressed her to use the more informal designation, for he rather liked shows of propriety, and it flattered him to hear his family name pronounced. ‘I’m not sure what to make of it,’ Gascoigne said at last. He took the glass from her, but did not drink: all of a sudden, he felt extraordinarily sad. Aubert Gascoigne felt the pressure of anxiety rather more acutely than other men. When he was made anxious, as he had been by the inexplicable misfire of Anna’s pistol, he tended to give himself over to bursts of powerful emotion—shock, despair, anger, sorrow: emotions which he seized upon because they channelled his anxiety outward, and in a sense regulated the pressure that he felt within. He had earned a reputation for being strong and level-headed at a time of crisis—as he had been, that afternoon—but he tended to unravel after the crisis had been weathered or forestalled. He was still trembling, an agitated motion that had only started when he released the whore from their embrace. ‘There’s something I need to speak with you about,’ Anna said now. Gascoigne rolled his brandy around his glass. ‘Yes.’ Anna returned to the armoire and poured herself a measure also. ‘I’m late on my rent. I owe three months. Edgar gave me notice this morning.’ Abruptly she stopped speaking, turned, and peered at him. Gascoigne had been taking a draught of his cigarette; he paused at the end of the intake, his chest expanded, and made a gesture with his hands to ask how much. ‘It’s ten shillings a week, with meals, and a bath every Sunday,’ Anna said. (Gascoigne exhaled.) ‘Over three months—that’s—I don’t know … six pounds.’ ‘Three months,’ Gascoigne echoed. ‘I was set back by that fine,’ said Anna. ‘Five pounds, to the Magistrate. That was a month of wages for me. It cleaned me out.’ She waited. ‘Surely the whoremonger pays your rent,’ Gascoigne said. ‘No,’ Anna said. ‘He doesn’t. I report direct to Edgar.’ ‘Your landlord.’ ‘Yes: Edgar Clinch.’ ‘Clinch?’ Gascoigne looked up. ‘That’s the man who purchased Crosbie Wells’s estate.’ ‘His cottage,’ said Anna. ‘But he’s just come in on an enormous fortune! What does he care about six pounds?’ Anna shrugged. ‘He just said to raise it. At once.’ ‘Perhaps he fears what will happen at the courthouse,’ Gascoigne said. ‘Perhaps he fears he will have to give it all back again, once the appeal is granted.’ ‘He didn’t say why,’ Anna said. (She had not yet heard about the sudden arrival, on Thursday afternoon, of the widow Wells, and so did not know that the sale of Crosbie Wells’s estate was in danger of being revoked.) ‘But he’s not calling my bluff about it; he said he wasn’t.’ ‘You can’t—appease him somehow?’ Gascoigne said. ‘You can leave off the “somehow”,’ Anna said haughtily. ‘I’m in mourning. My child is dead and I’m in mourning. I won’t do that any more.’ ‘You could find another line of work.’ ‘There isn’t one. The only thing I can do is needlework, and there’s no call for it here. There aren’t enough women.’ ‘There’s mending,’ Gascoigne said. ‘Socks and buttons. Frayed collars. There’s always mending, in a camp.’ ‘Mending doesn’t pay,’ said Anna. She peered at him again—expectantly, Gascoigne thought, and this interpretation gave rise to a flash of anger. He took refuge in another draught. It was not his responsibility that she had no money. She had not walked the streets once in the two weeks since her night in gaol, and whoring was her income: it stood to reason that she was out of pocket. As for this mourning business! Nobody had forced her into it. She was hardly impaired by grief—the child was three months dead, for heaven’s sake. The frock was no real impediment either. She would make a shilling just as easily in Agathe’s black dress as in her habitual orange one—for she had loyal custom in the Hokitika township, and whores were all too few along the Coast. Anyway, Gascoigne thought, what did it matter? One could not tell colours in the dark. This burst of irritation was not for want of mercy. Gascoigne had known poverty, and since his youth he had been many times in debt. He would have helped Anna, and gladly, had she chosen to request his assistance in a different way. But like most extremely sensitive people, Gascoigne could not bear sensitivity in others: he required honesty and directness when he was asked a question—and he required it all the more desperately when he was vexed. He recognised that the whore was employing a strategy in order to get something. This strategy angered him because he could see it was a strategy—and also, because he knew exactly what Anna was about to ask for. He expelled a jet of smoke. ‘Edgar’s always been very kind to me,’ Anna continued, when it became evident that Gascoigne was not going to speak. ‘But lately he’s been in a temper. I don’t know what it is. I’ve tried pleading with him, but there’s nothing doing.’ She paused. ‘If I could only—’ ‘No.’ ‘Only the smallest bit—that’s all I’d need,’ said Anna. ‘Just one of the nuggets. I could tell him I found it in the creek, or on the road somewhere. Or I could tell him I’d been paid in pure—the diggers do that, sometimes. I could say it was from one of the foreign boys. I’m a good liar.’ Gascoigne shook his head. ‘You cannot touch that gold.’ ‘But for how long?’ Anna said. ‘For how long?’ ‘Until you find out who sewed it into your corset!’ Gascoigne snapped. ‘And not a moment before!’ ‘But what am I to do about my rent, in the meantime?’ Gascoigne looked hard at her. ‘Anna Wetherell,’ he said, ‘you are not my ward.’ This silenced her, though her eyes flashed in displeasure. She cast about for something to do, some mundane task with which to occupy herself. At last she knelt down to pick up her scattered trinkets, strewn by Pritchard on the floor—scooping them towards her angrily, and throwing them with some violence back into the empty dresser drawer. ‘You are right: I am not your ward,’ she said presently. ‘But I will counter that the pile is not your gold—to be kept, and restricted, as you please!’ ‘Nor does that gold belong to you, Miss Wetherell.’ ‘It was in my dress,’ she said. ‘It was on my person. I bore the risk.’ ‘You would risk far more, in spending it.’ ‘So what do I do?’ Anna cried. ‘Once a whore, always a whore? That’s the only option left me, I suppose!’ They glared at each other. I would give you a gold sovereign, Gascoigne was thinking, if you plied your trade with me. Aloud he said, ‘How long do you have?’ Anna wound a scrap of ribbon into a vicious ball before answering. ‘He didn’t say. He said I had to raise the money or get out.’ ‘Would you like me to talk to him?’ Gascoigne said—baiting her, because he knew this was not what she wanted at all. ‘And say what?’ Anna returned, throwing the balled ribbon into the drawer. ‘Beg him to spare me for another week—another month—another quarter? What’s the difference? I shall have to pay him sooner or later.’ ‘That,’ said Gascoigne in an icy tone, ‘is what characterises a debt, I’m afraid.’ ‘I wish that I had known you to be a creditor of this kind, two weeks ago,’ Anna said now, and in a waspish tone. ‘I should never have accepted your help, otherwise.’ ‘Perhaps your memory is faulty,’ Gascoigne said. ‘I will remind you that I gave help only because you asked for it.’ ‘This? This mouldy dress? This is “help”? I’d rather give you back the dress—and keep the gold!’ ‘I got you out of the gaol-house, Anna Wetherell, at great personal risk to myself—and that dress belonged to my late wife, in case you did not know it,’ Gascoigne said. He dropped his cigarette onto the floor and ground it to nothing with his heel. Anna was opening her mouth to make a retort, and so he said, loudly: ‘I’m afraid you are not in a fit state for my surprise.’ ‘I am perfectly fit, thank you.’ ‘A surprise,’ Gascoigne said, raising his voice still further, ‘that I organised for you for reasons of the purest charity and goodwill—’ ‘Mr. Gascoigne—’ ‘—for I felt that it might do you good, to get out and enjoy yourself a little,’ Gascoigne concluded. His face was very white. ‘I will inform my lady that your spirits are low, and that you won’t be seen.’ ‘My spirits aren’t low,’ Anna said. ‘I think that they are,’ said Gascoigne. He drained his glass, and then set it on the nightstand next to Anna’s pillow, the centre of which was still pierced by a single blackened hole. ‘I will leave you now. I am sorry that your gun did not fire in the way that you intended, and I am sorry that your lifestyle exceeds your means to pay for it. Thank you for the brandy.’ MEDIUM COELI / IMUM COELI In which Gascoigne raises the issue of Anna’s debt, and Edgar Clinch does not confide in him. As Gascoigne was crossing the foyer of the Gridiron Hotel, the door was wrenched open, and the hotelier, Mr. Edgar Clinch, entered at a pace. Gascoigne slowed in his step so that the two men would not have to pass too close to one another—an action that Clinch mistook for a different kind of hesitation. He stopped abruptly in the middle of the doorway, blocking Gascoigne’s exit. Behind him, the door thudded shut. ‘Can I help you?’ he said. ‘Thank you, no,’ Gascoigne said politely—and hovered a moment, waiting for Clinch to move from the doorway so that he might leave without having to brush shoulders with the other man. But the valet had been alerted by the slam of the door. ‘Oi—you!’ he called out to Gascoigne, coming forward from his cubicle beneath the stairs. ‘What was the story behind those pistol shots? Jo Pritchard came downstairs like death incarnate. Like he’d seen a ghost.’ ‘It was a mistake,’ said Gascoigne curtly. ‘Just a mistake.’ ‘Pistol shots?’ said Edgar Clinch—who had not moved from the doorway. Clinch was a tall man, forty-three years of age, with sandy-coloured hair and a harmless, pleasant look. He wore an imperial moustache, greased at the tips, a handsome accessory that had not silvered at the same rate as his hair—which was likewise greased, parted in the middle, and cut to the level of his earlobes. He had apple-shaped cheeks, a reddish nose, and a blunted profile. His eyes were set so deep in his face that they seemed to shut altogether when he smiled, which he did often, as the crowfoot lines around his eyes could testify. At present, however, he was frowning. ‘I was down here at the desk,’ said the valet. ‘This man, he was there—he saw it. He’d run up, on account of the shouting—the gun went off just after he walked in. After that there was another shot—a second. I’m about to go up, to investigate, but then Jo Pritchard comes down, and tells me not to worry. Tells me the whore was cleaning the piece, and it went off by accident—but that explanation only accounts for the first.’ Edgar Clinch slid his gaze back to Gascoigne. ‘The second shot was mine,’ Gascoigne said, speaking with ill-concealed annoyance; he did not like to be detained against his will. ‘I fired the piece experimentally, once I could see that the first shot had fouled.’ ‘What was the shouting on account of?’ asked the hotelier. ‘That situation is now resolved.’ ‘Jo Pritchard—laying into her?’ ‘Sounded like that from here,’ said the valet. Gascoigne shot the valet a poisonous look, and then turned back to Clinch. ‘There was no violence done to the whore,’ he said. ‘She is perfectly sound, and the situation is now resolved, as I have already told you.’ Clinch narrowed his eyes. ‘Strange how many guns go off while being cleaned,’ he said. ‘Strange how many whores get it into their heads to clean their guns, when there’s gentlemen about. Strange how many times that’s happened, in my hotel.’ ‘I’m afraid I can’t offer an opinion on that subject,’ Gascoigne said. ‘I think you can,’ said Edgar Clinch. He planted his feet a little wider apart, and folded his arms across his chest. Gascoigne sighed. He was in no mood for bullish displays of proprietorship. ‘What happened?’ Clinch said. ‘Did something happen to Anna?’ ‘I suggest you ask her yourself,’ Gascoigne said, ‘and save us both some time. You can do that very easily, you know: she’s right upstairs.’ ‘I don’t appreciate being made a fool in my own hotel.’ ‘I wasn’t aware that I was making you a fool.’ Clinch’s moustache twitched dangerously. ‘What’s your quarrel?’ ‘I’m not sure that I have one,’ said Gascoigne. ‘What’s yours?’ ‘Pritchard.’ He spat out the name. ‘You needn’t bring that to me,’ Gascoigne said. ‘Pritchard’s not my man.’ He felt trapped. It was useless pretending to reason with a man whose mind was already fixed, and Edgar Clinch, by the looks of things, was spoiling for a fight. ‘That’s a true fact,’ put in the valet, coming to Gascoigne’s rescue. He had also observed that his employer was out of sorts. The hotelier’s face was very red, and his trouser leg was twitching, as though he were bouncing his weight up and down upon his heel—a sure sign that he was angry. The valet explained, in soothing tones, that Gascoigne had only interrupted the argument between Pritchard and Anna; he had not been present for its origin. Clinch did not cut a terribly intimidating figure, even when poised in fighting stance, as he currently was: he seemed fretful rather than fearsome. His anger, though palpable, seemed to render him somehow powerless. He was occupied by his emotion; he was its servant, not its liege. Watching him, Gascoigne was put more in mind of a child preparing for a tantrum than a fighter preparing for a brawl—though of course the former was no less dangerous, when the provocation was the same. Clinch was still blocking the door. It was clear that he would not be rational—but perhaps, Gascoigne thought, he could be calmed. ‘What has Pritchard done to you, Mr. Clinch?’ he said—thinking that if he gave the man a chance to speak, his anger might run its course, and he might calm himself that way. Clinch’s reply was strangled and inarticulate. ‘To Anna!’ he cried. ‘Feeds her the very drug that’s killing her—sells it!’ This was hardly explanation enough: there must be more. To coax him, Gascoigne said, lightly, ‘Yes—but when a man’s a drunk, do you blame the publican?’ Clinch ignored this piece of rhetoric. ‘Joseph Pritchard,’ he said. ‘He’d feed it to her if he could, like a babe at suck; he’d do that. You agree with me, Mr. Gascoigne.’ ‘Ah—you know me!’ said Gascoigne, in a tone of relief, and then, ‘I do?’ ‘Your sermon in yesterday’s Times. A d—n fine sentiment, by the bye; a d—n fine piece,’ said Clinch. (Paying a compliment appeared to soothe him—but then his features darkened again.) ‘He might have done well to read it. Do you know where he gets it from? That filthy muck? The resin? Do you know? Francis Carver, that’s who!’ Gascoigne shrugged; the name meant nothing to him. ‘Francis bloody Carver, who kicked her—kicked her, beat her—and it was his baby! His baby in her belly! Killed his own spawn!’ Clinch was almost shouting—and Gascoigne was suddenly very interested. ‘What’s that you’re saying?’ he said, stepping forward. Anna had confided to him that her unborn baby had been killed by its own father—and now it appeared that this same man was connected to the opium by which she herself had nearly perished! But Clinch had rounded on his valet. ‘You,’ he said. ‘If Pritchard comes by again, and I’m not here, it’s you I’m counting on to turn him back. Do you hear me?’ He was very upset. ‘Who is Francis Carver?’ said Gascoigne. Clinch hawked and spat on the floor. ‘Piece of filth,’ he said. ‘Piece of murderous filth. Jo Pritchard—he’s just a reprobate. Carver—he’s the devil himself; he’s the one.’ ‘They are friends?’ ‘Not friends,’ said Clinch. ‘Not friends.’ He jabbed his finger at the valet. ‘Did you hear me? If Jo Pritchard sets foot on that staircase—the bottom stair—you’re out on your own!’ Evidently the hotelier no longer regarded Gascoigne as a threat—for he moved from the doorway, snatching his hat from his head; Gascoigne was now free to exit, as he pleased. He did not move, however; instead he waited for the hotelier to elaborate, which, after slicking his hair back with the palm of his hand, and hanging his hat upon the hatstand, he did. ‘Francis Carver’s a trafficker,’ he said. ‘Godspeed—that’s his ship; you might have seen her at anchor. A barque—three-masted.’ ‘What’s his connexion to Pritchard?’ ‘Opium, of course!’ said Edgar Clinch, with impatience. He evidently did not take well to being questioned; he frowned anew at Gascoigne, and it seemed that a new wave of suspicion came over him. ‘What were you doing in Anna’s room?’ Gascoigne said, in a tone of polite surprise, ‘I was not aware that Anna Wetherell is in your employ, Mr. Clinch.’ ‘She’s in my care,’ said Clinch. He slicked back his hair a second time. ‘She lodges here—it’s part of the arrangement—and I have a right to know her business, if it happens on my province, and there are pistols involved. You can go: you’ve got ten minutes’—this last to the valet, who scuttled off to the dining room, to take his lunch. Gascoigne took hold of his lapels. ‘I suppose you think she’s lucky, living here, with you to watch over her,’ he said. ‘You’re wrong,’ said Clinch. ‘I don’t think that.’ Gascoigne paused, surprised. Then he said, delicately, ‘Do you care for many girls like her?’ ‘Only three right now,’ Clinch said. ‘Dick—he’s got an eye for them. Only the class acts—and he doesn’t drop his standard; he holds to it. You want a shilling whore, you go down to Clap Alley, and see what you catch. There’s no spending your loose change with him. It’s pounds or nothing. Dick, he put you on to Anna?’ This must be Dick Mannering, Anna Wetherell’s employer. Gascoigne made a vague murmur instead of answering. He did not care to narrate the story of how he and Anna had come to meet. ‘Well, you ought to go to him, if you want a poke at one of the others,’ Clinch went on. ‘Kate, the plump one; Sal, with the curly hair; Lizzie, with the freckles. It’s no use asking me. I don’t do all of that—the bookings and whatnot. They just sleep here.’ He saw that his choice of verb had provoked some disbelief in the other, and so he added, ‘Sleep is what I mean, you know: I wasn’t mincing. I can’t have night-callers. I’d lose my licence. You want the whole night, you take it on your own head—in your own room.’ ‘This is a fine establishment,’ said Gascoigne politely, with a sweep of his hand. ‘It isn’t mine,’ said Clinch, with a scornful look. ‘I’m renting. Up and down the street—from Weld to Stafford, it’s all rented. This place belongs to a fellow named Staines.’ Gascoigne was surprised. ‘Emery Staines?’ ‘Odd,’ Clinch said. ‘Odd to be renting from a man who’s half my age. But that’s the modern way: all of us upended, each man for his own.’ It seemed to Gascoigne that there was a forced quality to the way that Clinch spoke: his phrases seemed borrowed, and he uttered them unnaturally. He was guarded in his tone, even anxious, and seemed to be protecting himself against Gascoigne’s poor opinion, impossible project though that was. He does not trust me, Gascoigne thought, and then, well, I do not trust him, either. ‘What will happen to this place if Mr. Staines doesn’t return, I wonder?’ he said aloud. ‘I’ll stay on,’ said Clinch. ‘I’ll buy it, maybe.’ He fumbled a moment with a drawer beneath the desk, and then said, ‘Listen: you’ll think me a bore for asking again—but what were you doing in Anna’s room?’ He looked almost pleading. ‘We exchanged some words about money,’ Gascoigne said. ‘She is out of pocket. But I believe you know that already.’ ‘Out of pocket!’ Clinch scoffed. ‘There’s a word! She has pockets enough, believe me.’ Was this a cryptic reference to the gold that had been sewn into Anna’s dress? Or simply a crass allusion to the girl’s profession? Gascoigne felt suddenly alert. ‘Why should I believe you—above Anna?’ he said. ‘By her account, she hasn’t a penny to her name—and yet you think it right, to demand six pounds of her, paid up at once!’ Clinch’s eyes widened. So Anna had confided in Gascoigne about the rent she owed. So she had complained about him—and bitterly, judging by the Frenchman’s hostile tone. The thought was hurtful. Clinch did not like the thought of Anna speaking about him to other men. Quietly he said, ‘That isn’t your business.’ ‘On the contrary,’ Gascoigne said. ‘Anna brought the matter to my attention. She begged me.’ ‘Why?’ said Clinch. ‘Why, though?’ ‘I imagine because she trusts me,’ Gascoigne said, with a touch of cruelty. ‘I meant, what’s the use in begging you?’ ‘So that I might help her,’ Gascoigne said. ‘But why you, though?’ Clinch said again. ‘What do you mean, why me?’ Clinch was almost shouting. ‘What’s Anna doing asking you?’ Gascoigne’s eyes flashed. ‘I suppose you are asking me to define the precise state of relations between us.’ ‘I don’t need to ask that,’ said Clinch, with a hoarse laugh. ‘I know the answer to that!’ Gascoigne felt a swell of fury. ‘You are impertinent, Mr. Clinch,’ he said. ‘Impertinent!’ said Clinch. ‘Who’s impertinent? The whore’s in mourning—that’s all—and you can’t deny it!’ ‘The fact that she is in mourning is the very reason why she cannot repay her present debts. And yet you persist in abusing her.’ ‘Abusing—!’ ‘I got the impression,’ Gascoigne said coldly, ‘that Anna is very much afraid of you’—which was not at all true. ‘She isn’t afraid of me,’ said the hotelier, looking shocked. ‘What do you care about six pounds? What do you care if Anna pays up to-morrow or next year? You’ve just landed yourself a homeward-bounder. You’ve got thousands of pounds in the bank! And here you are splitting hairs over a whore’s rental, like a Limehouse profiteer!’ Clinch bristled. ‘A debt’s a debt.’ ‘Rot,’ said Gascoigne. ‘A grudge is a grudge, more like.’ ‘What’s that supposed to mean?’ ‘I don’t yet know,’ said Gascoigne. ‘But I’m beginning to think, for Anna’s sake, that I ought to try and find out.’ Clinch turned red again. ‘You ought not to talk to me like that,’ he said. ‘You oughtn’t—in my own hotel!’ ‘You talk as if you were her keeper! Where were you this afternoon, when she was in danger?’ said Gascoigne—who was beginning to feel a little reckless. ‘And where were you when she turned up near-dead in the middle of the Christchurch-road?’ But this time Clinch did not cower beneath the accusation, as he had done before. Instead he seemed to harden. He looked back at Gascoigne with his jaw newly set. ‘I won’t be schooled about Anna,’ he said. ‘You don’t know what she is to me. I won’t be schooled.’ The two men stared at each other, as two fighting dogs across a pit—and then each expressed his recognition of the other, and conceded, tacitly, that he had met his match. For Gascoigne and Clinch were not so very dissimilar in temperament, and even in their differences, showed a harmony of sorts—with Gascoigne as the upper octave, the clearer, brighter sound, and Clinch as the bass-note, thrumming. Edgar Clinch had something of a circular nature. He was both solicitous and self-doubting—attributes that, because they opposed one another, tended to engender in him a state of constant, anxious flux. He provided for those whom he loved only to demand their fullest approbation for his care—a demand which, in turn, shamed him, for he was sensitive to the nuances of his own actions, and doubtful of their worth; consequently, he retracted the demand, doubled his provision, and began again, only to find that his need for approbation had doubled also. In this way he remained perpetually in motion, as a woman is perpetually in motion, harnessed to the rhythms of the moon. His relationship with Anna Wetherell had begun in just this way. When Anna had first arrived from Dunedin, Clinch had been all but overcome: she was the rarest and most troubled creature he had ever known, and he swore that he would not rest until she was beloved. He secured his best room for her, and pampered her in all the ways that he was able, but he became very hurt when she did not notice the efforts he had made—and when she did not notice his hurt, he became angry. His anger was both unsustainable and unsustaining; it did not nourish him, as men are sometimes nourished by their own rage. Instead the emotion only diminished him, leaving him all the emptier—and, therefore, all the more ready to love. When Anna first arrived in Hokitika she was with child, though her belly had not yet begun to wax, and her figure did not yet betray the secret of her condition. Clinch met her upon Gibson Quay, to which place she had been conveyed by lighter, the barque Godspeed having dropped its anchor some hundred yards or so offshore. The day was clear and bright with cold. The mouth of the river shone brilliantly; there was birdsong in the air. Even now Clinch felt that he could recollect every detail. He could see the wide halo of her bonnet, and the ends of her ribbons, flapping in the wind; he could see her ankle-boots, her buttoned gloves, her reticule. He could see the purple shimmer of her gown—which had been hired, as he later discovered, from the impresario Dick Mannering, to whom Anna would pay a daily rental until she could afford to make a purchase of her own. The garish colour did not suit her: it turned her complexion sallow, and drained the life from her eyes. Edgar Clinch thought her radiant. Beaming, he enclosed her thin hand in both of his own, and shook it vigorously. He welcomed her to Hokitika, offered her his elbow, and proposed a stroll, which she accepted. After directing the porters to have her trunk delivered to the Gridiron Hotel, Clinch threw out his chest and walked Anna Wetherell down Revell-street like a consort escorting a queen. At that time Edgar Clinch had been in Hokitika less than a month. He did not yet know Dick Mannering, though he had heard the latter’s name; he had met Anna’s boat that afternoon quite without prearrangement with either the magnate or the whore. (Mannering had been detained in Dunedin, and would not arrive in Hokitika until the following week; in any case, he preferred to travel by steamship than by sail.) On fine days Clinch often stood upon the spit and greeted the diggers as they disembarked onto the sand. He shook their hands, smiled, and invited each man to take his lodgings at the Gridiron Hotel—remarking, casually, that he could offer a handsomely discounted price, but only to those men who accepted it within the next half-hour. During the short walk from Gibson Quay Clinch became very aware of the delicate pressure of Anna’s hand upon his elbow; by the time they reached the Gridiron’s front door, he found that he all but depended on it. He begged to treat the young woman to luncheon in the dining room; she accepted, prompting in his breast a paroxysm of redemptive feeling, as a result of which he offered her his very best, and very largest, room. Anna paid for her lodging with a promissory note from Dick Mannering, which Clinch, in his sudden flood of generosity, accepted without question. By the time it dawned upon him that she must be a member of the old profession, his affections had been securely, and irrevocably, bestowed. When Mannering arrived in Hokitika one week later, he introduced himself to Clinch as Anna’s employer, and thereafter negotiated an agreement under which the whore would receive, in exchange for a weekly fee, the benefits of protection, discreet surveillance, two meals a day, and a weekly bath. This last item was an expensive luxury, and one that would be rescinded (as Mannering confidentially explained) once the girl was well established in the town. Over the first few weeks of her employment, however, it was necessary to pander to her sense of opulence, and to satisfy her tastes. Clinch was more than happy to fill the copper bathtub every Sunday, laborious though that duty was. He loved to glimpse Anna upon the landing, wet-haired and freshly clean; he loved to pass her in the dining room on Sunday evenings, and catch the milky scent of soap upon her skin. He loved to pour the spent bathwater, clouded with dirt, into the gutter at the edge of the road, and hope, as the white water seeped away, that Anna was looking down upon him from her window on the floor above. Clinch’s efforts in love were always of a mothering sort, for it is a feature of human nature to give what we most wish to receive, and it was a mother that Edgar Clinch most craved—his own having died in his infancy, and since then been resurrected as a goddess of shining virtue in his mind, a goddess whose face was as a blurred shape, seen through a window on a night of fog. There was an ill-fated aspect to all of his love’s labours, however, for they required of their object a delicacy of intuition that he himself did not possess. Edgar Clinch was a hopeless romantic, but in all the ordinary senses, he was an unsuccessful one: despite his daily ministrations, Anna Wetherell remained entirely ignorant of the fact that the hotelier loved her with the passion of a lonely and desperate heart. She was courteous to him, and kept her rooms in decent order, but she never solicited his company, and she restricted their conversation to the most trivial of themes. Needless to say, her indifference only warmed the coals of the man’s infatuation—and banked them higher, so that they burned longer, and with a redder light. When Mannering suggested, after a month, that the extravagance of Anna’s weekly bath ought to be discontinued, Clinch only ceased to itemise this service on Anna’s monthly bill. Every Sunday he set out the copper tub, and laid out the linens, and drew the water as before. It seemed, in those first few months, that nothing at all could dampen Clinch’s adoration for Anna. He was not repelled by the fact of her profession, though it did distress him to know that she was so frequently in danger of harm. When he learned that she was an opium eater, and took the drug nearly every day, he was likewise only grieved and fearful, rather than repulsed. (He reasoned that the drug was very fashionable, and that he himself took laudanum whenever he could not sleep; why, what was the difference, between opium that had been turned into a tincture, and opium that had been burned into a smoke?) The sorrier aspects of Anna’s life, far from driving Clinch away, only caused him sadness, and as a consequence he longed for her happiness all the more. When it became apparent that Anna was expecting another man’s child, however, Clinch’s sadness acquired an edge of alarm. He began to wonder whether he ought now to make his feelings known to her. Perhaps he should make an offer of marriage. Perhaps, when the babe was born, he might adopt the little thing as his own, and care for it; perhaps they could become a family, of a kind. Clinch was pondering this very question one midwinter afternoon when he heard a thud upon the hotel’s veranda, and a muted cry. He opened the sash window (he had been lighting the fires in the upstairs rooms) and peered down to see that Anna had stumbled on the short flight of stairs that led to the front door. As he watched, she lifted her arm, slowly, and began to cast about for the rail. Clinch descended the stairs, crossed the foyer, and opened the door to admit her—in which time Anna had hauled herself upright and crossed the veranda. When Clinch stepped out, Anna, who had been upon the point of reaching for the latch herself, fell against him, and, to stop herself from falling, she reached up and wrapped her heavy arms around his neck. She turned her face into his collar, so that her nose and mouth were pressed against the skin of his throat; she seemed to sag against him. Clinch gave a murmur of surprise—and then he was very still. He felt that if he spoke, or moved too quickly, the moment might be shattered, and the whore might flee. He looked out, over her shoulder. It was a pale, bright Sunday afternoon, and the street was quiet. No one could see them. No one was watching. Clinch cupped Anna’s waist between his palms, and breathed, and breathed again—and then, in one swift movement, he folded Anna against him, lifted her up, and crushed his mouth against her cheek. He stayed there for a long moment, his lips against her jaw. Then he hoisted her higher, retreated back into the foyer, shut the door with the edge of his foot, turned the key in the lock, and carried her upstairs. Anna’s bath had been set out in the room opposite the landing, and iron pots of water were waiting, covered, on the ledge beside the fire. Clinch, still with Anna in his arms, lowered himself down upon the sofa next to the bath. His heart was beating very fast. He drew back, to look at her. Her eyes were closed; her limbs were loose and syrupy. Many months had passed since Anna had returned the rented purple dress to Dick Mannering, having purchased, in place of it, several dresses that were better suited to her frame. Today, however, she was not wearing the bustled orange gown with which she habitually advertised her trade—for the whores in Hokitika wore bright colours when they were working, and muted tones when they were not. She was dressed, instead, in a cream-coloured muslin frock, the bust of which was cut in the style of a riding jacket, and buttoned to her throat. Around her shoulders she wore a blue three-cornered shawl. From these clues, and from the fact that she was all but insensible from the effects of opium, Edgar Clinch deduced that she had just been in Chinatown: when she travelled to that place, she travelled incognito, in her dull-coloured clothes. With shaking fingers Clinch eased the shawl from Anna’s shoulders and let it fall upon the floor. He then untied the bow at the back of her dress and loosed the strings of her corset, moving slowly and in stages. His fingers found her covered buttons, one by one, and unhooked the loops that secured them. She was compliant in his arms, and when he moved to ease the dress off her shoulders, she lifted her arms like a very small child. Next he detached her crinoline, and lifted her out of the uppermost hoop, so that the frame fell away, hitting the floor in a rattle of buckles and wood. He eased her down upon the sofa again—she was now undressed to her slip—and folded her shawl over her body. Then he stood, and began to fill the bath. She lay with her cheek against the back of her hand, her breast rising and falling with the fitful breath of sleep. When the water was ready Clinch returned to her, murmuring phrases of reassurance; he drew her slip over her head, gathered her naked body up, knelt, and lowered her into the tub. Anna made a cooing noise when her body touched the water, but she did not open her eyes. Clinch arranged her so that the copper lip of the tub sat snug against the nape of her neck, ensuring that she could not slither down, and drown herself. He smoothed her hair from her cheek, and ran his thumb around her jaw. He had wet his sleeves up to the shoulders, in lowering her into the water; now he stood back, and held his dripping sleeves apart from his body, and looked down at her. He felt very lonely and very contented at once. After a moment the hotelier knelt and picked up the muslin dress from the ground, meaning to shake it straight, and fold it over the back of the sofa. The dress was heavier than he would have imagined—why, it was only muslin and thread, now that the crinoline had been detached, and the bloomers and petticoats discarded! Why was the thing so very burdensome? He pinched the fabric, and as he did so, felt something strange beneath his hands. He turned the dress over—what was that, some kind of weight, spaced along the seam? It felt like a row of stones. He eased his finger beneath a thread and felt it snap, then wormed his finger and thumb into the tunnel of the hem. Perhaps it had been stuffed with something. He withdrew, to his astonishment, a pinch of pure gold. Anna was still sleeping, her cheek against the lip of the bath. Clinch, his heartbeat racing, felt along the seams of the gown, and up the flounces to the bust. There were ounces and ounces—perhaps pounds—concealed within the fabric. And all of it pure! What had Anna been doing in Chinatown, to return half-addled with opium, her dress stitched up with ore? She must be trafficking the stuff somewhere—smuggling it, by the looks of things. Taking it into Chinatown? That did not make sense. She must be taking it out. In exchange for opium, perhaps! Clinch’s mind was moving very fast. He recalled now that concealing gold in the lining of one’s clothing was a common method of evading duty at the customhouse, though it was a risky business, for if one were caught, one faced heavy fines, and even time in gaol. But Anna herself was not a digger—she was a woman, for heaven’s sake!—and the gold could not be hers. Someone must have trusted Anna enough to hide this gold in her clothing. And Anna must have trusted that man enough to bear the risk on his behalf. Then it came to him: Mannering. Dick Mannering owned nearly every Chinaman in Kaniere; they all worked his claims, in exchange for a salary of a kind. Mannering was also Anna’s employer. Why, of course! Mannering was known to be a dirty dealer—what whoremonger was not? And had he not declared, over and over, that Anna Wetherell was the very best of whores? Clinch turned back to Anna, and was startled to see that her eyes were open, and she was staring at him. ‘How’s the water?’ he said stupidly, shaking out the fold of the dress so that the pinch of gold in his fingers was concealed. She hummed her pleasure—but she shifted her knee for the sake of modesty, and crossed her arms across her breasts. Her distended belly was a perfect sphere, buoyed high in the cloudy water like an apple in a pail. ‘Did you walk back—all the way from Kaniere?’ Clinch asked. Surely she had not just walked four miles—not when she could hardly hold her head up! Not when she could hardly stand! She hummed again, breaking the tone in two pieces, to indicate a negative. ‘How then?’ Clinch said. ‘Dick was passing through,’ she mumbled. The words were like treacle in her mouth. Clinch stepped closer. ‘Dick Mannering—passing through Chinatown?’ ‘Mm.’ She closed her eyes again. ‘Gave you a lift, did he?’ But Anna did not answer. She had passed back into sleep. Her head lolled back against the lip of the tub, and her crossed arms fell away from her bosom, struck the surface of the water, sank, and rose again. Clinch was still holding the pinch of gold in his fingers. Carefully he laid the dress over the back of the chair and then dropped the pinch of gold into his pocket, rubbing his thumb and forefinger together to release the flakes, as if he were salting a stew. ‘I’ll leave you to your bath,’ he said, and withdrew from the room. But instead of returning downstairs he walked swiftly across the hallway, to Anna’s quarters, and fitted his master key easily into her lock. He entered her room and strode across to the armoire, where she kept her clothes. Anna had five dresses, all of them purchased salvage, from a cargo steamer that had been wrecked upon the bar. Clinch turned to the whoring dress first. With swiftly tapping fingers he moved along every seam, and felt inside the bustle. Like the muslin, this too was veritably stuffed with gold! He turned to the next—and the next—and the next; each dress was the same. Why, Clinch thought, doing some calculation in his head, between these five dresses, Anna Wetherell was hoarding a veritable fortune. He sat down upon her bed. Anna never wore the orange dress in Chinatown—Clinch knew that with certainty—and yet that gown was packed with gold, just like the others. So this was not just an agreement with the Orientals, as he had first believed! This was an operation that went beyond the bounds of Chinatown. Beyond the bounds of Hokitika, perhaps. Someone, Clinch thought, was preparing a heist of the first degree. He considered the alternatives. Could Mannering be using Anna as a mule, to traffic ore out of the gorge without her knowledge? Why, Clinch thought, that task would be easy enough: one only needed to feed her a pipe of opium, and wait for her to drift into sleep, and thereafter the gold could be sewn into her dress, one pinch at a time. Perhaps … but no: it was absurd to think that Mannering would court such a colossal risk without the security of the whore’s own discretion. She was bearing hundreds of pounds on her person, for heaven’s sake—perhaps thousands. She must know about it. Mannering was not a fool when it came to money. He would never place a fortune in the custody of a common whore without insurance. Anna must have provided him with some kind of security—some debt, Clinch thought, some obligation. But what could she possibly have to give, that might serve as a surety on a fortune in pure? Suddenly furious, Clinch punched the quilt with the heels of his hands. Mannering! The presumption of him—to engineer a deception of this kind, when Anna was living under Clinch’s roof, and supping at Clinch’s table! What if the duty sergeants had come calling—what if they had searched her room? Who would bear the responsibility then? Why, Clinch thought, he ought to have been given a cut of the profit, at the very least—he ought to have been told! And the Chinamen were in on the secret, no doubt. That was galling. Perhaps all of Hokitika knew. Clinch uttered an oath. Dick Mannering, he thought sourly, could be d—ned in hell. He heard splashing in the room next door—Anna must have roused herself—and wondered, quickly, whether he ought to confiscate the dresses from the wardrobe. He could hold them as ransom against Mannering, perhaps. He could wait until Anna had regained her senses, and question her about the matter. He could force a confession—an apology. But his courage failed him. Edgar Clinch was always stymied by ill feeling; his grievances, though acutely felt, rarely developed beyond their unvoiced expression in his mind. With a heavy heart, he left Anna’s room, returned downstairs, and unlocked the foyer door. ‘Please accept my sincere apologies,’ said Gascoigne. Clinch blinked. ‘What for?’ ‘For insinuating that you had anything other than Miss Wetherell’s very best interests at heart.’ ‘Oh,’ said Clinch. ‘Yes. Well, thanks.’ ‘Goodbye,’ said Gascoigne. Clinch received this farewell with disappointment. He had rather hoped that Gascoigne would stay a moment longer—at least until his valet returned from lunch—and talk the issue over. It always pained him to leave a conversation on a less than civil note, and in fact he did want to discuss the issue of Anna’s debt with Gascoigne, however hostile he had been at its first mention. He had not meant to lose his temper with Anna the previous afternoon. But she had lied to him—saying she had not a shilling to call her own, when there were hundreds, even thousands, sewn into the dresses in her wardrobe! The dresses were still there; he checked them periodically, to make sure that the ore had not been removed. Why should he foot the bill for her daily expenses, when she had access to such extraordinary wealth? Why should he be the one to soothe her troubles, when she was conspiring against him, and even telling falsehoods to his face? Months of silence had made him very bitter, and his bitterness had ripened, in an instant, into spite. He stepped forward, and even put out his hand, meaning to delay Gascoigne’s departure. He wanted to beg him not to leave; he wanted, suddenly, desperately, not to be alone. But what reason could he give, to persuade Gascoigne to stay? Stalling for time, he said, ‘Where are you off to?’ The question rankled Gascoigne. How dreary frontier living could be! Every man was asked to share his private business; it was not like Paris, or London, where one felt the luxury of strangeness on every corner; where one could really be alone. ‘I have an appointment,’ he said curtly. ‘Who’s your appointment? What’s it all about?’ Gascoigne sighed. It was so dull to be asked. Clinch was looking almost sulky—as if Gascoigne’s departure was vexing to him! Why, they had only met ten minutes before. ‘I’m going with a lady,’ he said, ‘to look at hats.’ TRUE NODE IN VIRGO In which Quee Long is interrupted thrice; Charlie Frost holds his ground; and Sook Yongsheng names a suspect, to everyone’s surprise. At the very moment that Gascoigne took his leave of Edgar Clinch, slamming the Gridiron’s front door rather discourteously behind him, Dick Mannering and Charlie Frost were disembarking from the ferry onto the stones at the riverbank at Kaniere. The commission merchant Harald Nilssen was also rapidly approaching that place on foot; he had just passed the wooden marker announcing he was one half-mile distant from the settlement, an encouragement that had induced him to increase his pace considerably, though he continued to swipe the wet grasses at the roadside with his stick. The object of all three men was, of course, to reach Kaniere Chinatown, and there demand an interview with the Chinese goldsmith Quee Long—who had just been startled, as presently he would be again, by the arrival of a very unexpected guest. ‘Chinatown’ was something of a misleading name for the small clutch of tents and stone cabins some few hundred yards upriver from the Kaniere claims, for although every man hailed from Canton, and most from Kwangchow, together they could hardly be said to comprise a township: ‘Chinatown’ was home, at that time, to only fifteen Chinese men. Of this small cluster, Quee Long’s dwelling was notable for its handsome chimney, made of fired clay. The brick oven from which this chimney issued had been constructed as a miniature forge, fitted with a cast-iron chamber beneath a raised clay shelf, and positioned in the centre of the dwelling’s only room; it was upon this clay shelf that Quee Long slept at night, warmed by the bricks that still held the heat of that day’s fire. When he was smelting his weekly yield in ore, he filled the firebox with charcoal, for although that fuel was costly, it burned hotter than coke; today, however, his crucible and bellows had been set aside, and the firebox was stacked with a lattice of slow-burning wood. Quee Long was a barrel-chested man of capable proportions and a practical strength. His eyes were rounded in their inner corners, but came to a point at his cheeks; the shape of his face was almost square. When he smiled, he revealed a very incomplete set of teeth: he had lost two incisors, as well as his foremost molars in his lower jaw. The gaps in his smile tended to put one in mind of a child whose milk teeth were falling away—a comparison that Quee Long might well have made himself, for he had a critical eye, a quick wit, and a flair for caustic deprecation, most especially when that deprecation was self-imposed. He painted a very feeble picture whenever he spoke about himself, a practice that was humorously meant, but that belied, nevertheless, an excessively vulnerable self-conception. For Quee Long measured all his actions by a private standard of perfection, and laboured in service of this standard: as a consequence he was never really satisfied with any of his efforts, or with their results, and tended, in general, towards defeatism. These nuances of his character were lost upon the subjects of the British Crown, with whom Quee Long shared but eighty or a hundred words, but to his compatriots, he was renowned for his cynical humour, his melancholy spirit, and his dogged perseverance in the service of untouchable ideals. He had travelled to New Zealand under contract. In exchange for the cost of his return passage from Kwangchow, Quee Long agreed to surrender the majority percentage of his earnings on the goldfield to a corporate purse. Quee Long was made very poor by the conditions of his indenture, which were neither flexible nor charitable; but he remained a diligent worker nonetheless. His dream—an unlikely one, alas—was to return to Kwangchow with seven hundred and sixty-eight shillings in his pocket: upon this, he had decided, he would live out his days. (This particular sum had been chosen both for auspicious reasons—for, when spoken in Cantonese, it sounded like the phrase ‘perennial fortune’; and also for reasons of partiality—for Quee Long worked best when he could envision the fulfilment of a goal.) Quee Long’s father, Quee Zuang, had worked in Kwangchow as a city watchman. He had spent his working life marching up and down the city wall, supervising the opening and closing of doors, and ensuring that the porters’ rotation was executed correctly. It was an important occupation, if a routine one, and as a boy Quee Long had been not unduly proud of his father’s station. In the trade wars of recent years, however, the relative prestige of Quee Zuang’s position had paled. When Kwangchow was stormed in 1841, the city looked to its fortifications—only to despair. British soldiers swarmed the forts in numbers that far exceeded the forces of the Qing, and the Chinese defences were overrun. The British took the city, and Quee Zuang, along with hundreds of his fellows, was captured—to be released on the condition that Kwangchow agreed to open her port to trade. The natural shame that Quee Long felt for his city’s repeated surrender (for Kwangchow would be captured by British soldiers no less than four times in the coming score of years) was amplified a hundredfold by the shame he felt on his father’s behalf. Quee Zuang was all but broken by the ignominy he suffered. The old man died soon after the conclusion of the second war; by the time of his death, he had faced down the barrel of a British rifle three times. Quee Long did not like to imagine what his father might think, were he to look upon him now. Quee Zuang had given his honour and his life in defending China from Britain’s unreasonable demands—and now, not eight years after his death, Quee Long was here, in New Zealand, profiting from the very circumstance that his father—and his country—had attempted, vainly, to forestall. He was sleeping on foreign soil, digging for gold (for gold, not silver), and conceding the bigger portion of his daily earnings to a British-owned firm, the governing ranks of which he would never be entitled to join. His discomfort, when he tallied up these betrayals, was characterised less by filial shame than by a pervasive kind of disenfranchisement. Looking back upon the long crisis of his own life (for so he perceived it, as if his selfhood was balanced, always, upon the point of choice—but what choice, he did not know, for this ambivalence was without a real beginning, and without a perceptible end) Quee Long felt only disassociated: from his own work, from his father’s wishes, from the circumstances under which his country, and his family, had been shamed. He felt that he did not know how to feel. But there was one point upon which Quee Long remained loyal to his father’s shade. He would not take opium, and would not suffer it to be taken in his presence, or by the ones he loved. The drug, for Quee Long, was a symbol, signifying the unforgivable depths of Western barbarism towards his civilisation, and the contempt with which the Chinese life was held, in the face of the lifeless Western goals of profit and greed. Opium was China’s warning. It was the shadow-side of Western expansion—its dark complement, as a yin to a yang. Quee Long often said that a man with no memory was a man with no foresight—to which he added, humorously, that he had quoted this maxim many times before, and he was determined to keep quoting it, without alteration. Any Chinese man who took a pipe in his hands was, in Quee Long’s estimation, both a traitor and a fool. Whenever he passed the opium den at Kaniere, he turned his head, and spat upon the ground. It will come as some surprise, then, when we identify the man with whom Quee Long was currently talking as none other than Sook Yongsheng—the man who operated the opium den at Kaniere, and who had sold Anna Wetherell the lump of opium by which she had so nearly perished, two weeks prior to the present day. (Quee Long’s forbidding code did not extend to Anna Wetherell, who often visited him after she had taken her pipe at the Kaniere den, when her body had become limp and supple with the drug, and she could not speak above a moan. But Quee Long never saw the instruments of her addiction, though he profited greatly from its effects; had she ever produced the drug in his presence, he would have knocked it from her hand. So he told himself, at least. Beneath this vague assertion ran another, more inarticulate belief: that a cosmic justice, in the case of Anna’s pitiful addiction, had somehow been served.) Sook Yongsheng and Quee Long were not friends. When the former had knocked upon Quee Long’s door earlier that afternoon, begging his compatriot’s help and hospitality, the latter had received him with no small sense of trepidation. The two men, as far as Quee Long knew, shared only three things in common: a birthplace, a language, and a fondness for a Western whore. Quee Long guessed that it was concerning this third article of connexion that Sook Yongsheng desired to speak, for Anna Wetherell had been a topic of much speculation and opinion in recent days; he was further surprised, therefore, when his guest announced that his information pertained to two men: one named Francis Carver, the other, Crosbie Wells. Sook Yongsheng was perhaps ten years younger then Quee Long. His eyebrows were very faint, and sloped in such a way as to express gentle surprise. His eyes were large, his nose broad, and his lips finely formed in a Cupid’s bow. Though he spoke with much animation, he tended to keep his face very still when he was listening, and because of this habit he was often perceived to be wise. He too was clean-shaven, and also wore a pigtail—though in fact Sook Yongsheng harboured strong anti-Manchu sentiments, and cared little for the empire of the Qing; his hairstyle was not a token of affiliation, but one of habit, carried over from the days of his youth. He was wearing, again like his host, a grey cotton shift and simple trousers, over which he had belted a black woollen coat. Quee Long had never heard of either Francis Carver or Crosbie Wells, but he nodded gravely, stood aside, and welcomed the other man into his home, insisting that Sook Yongsheng seat himself in pride of place nearest the fire. He set out the choicest selection of food that he could offer, filled a pot of water for tea, and apologised for the poverty of his offerings. The opium dealer waited in silence until his host had completed these tasks. He then bowed deeply, praised Ah Quee’s excellent generosity, and tasted each one of the dishes that had been set before him, commending every one. With these formalities discharged, Sook Yongsheng began to explain the real purpose of his visit—speaking, as he always did, in a style that was vital, poetically exaggerated, and accented by proverbs, the meaning of which was always beautiful, but not always particularly clear. He began speaking, for example, by observing that upon a big tree there are always dead branches; that the best soldiers are never warlike; and that even good firewood can ruin a stove—sentiments which, because they came in very quick succession, and lacked any kind of stabilising context, rather bewildered Quee Long. The latter, impelled to exercise his wit, retaliated with the rather acidic observation that a steelyard always goes with the weights—implying, with the aid of yet another proverb, that his guest had not begun speaking with consistency. We shall therefore intervene, and render Sook Yongsheng’s story in a way that is accurate to the events he wished to disclose, rather than to the style of his narration. Ah Sook rarely ventured into Hokitika proper. He kept, in the main, to his hut in Kaniere, which was fitted like a salon, with sofa-beds against every wall, and cushions strewn about, and fabrics pinned up to conserve and subdue the heavy smoke that coiled up from the pipes, the chafing dishes, the spirit lamps, the stove. The opium den had an air of stout impregnability about it, an impression compounded by the warm fug of its close atmosphere, and this was a comfort upon which Ah Sook had come to depend. Over the course of the past fortnight, however, he had made the journey to the river mouth no less than five times. Upon the morning of the 14th of January (some twelve hours prior to Anna Wetherell’s near-death), Ah Sook had received word from Joseph Pritchard that a long-awaited shipment of opium had just been delivered to his drug emporium, and was available for purchase. Ah Sook’s own supplies of the drug were very low. He donned his hat, and made for Hokitika at once. At Pritchard’s emporium he purchased a half-pound block of resin and paid for it in pure. In the street, with the paper-wrapped block stowed safely in the bottom of his satchel, he felt a rush of summery possibility, the likes of which a Hokitika morning rarely produced in him. The sun was shining, and the Tasman wind lent a briny sharpness to the air. The crowds in the street seemed very gay, and as he stepped across the gutter, a passing digger tipped his hat, and smiled at him. Emboldened by this incidental gesture, Ah Sook resolved to delay his return to Kaniere. He would spend an hour or so browsing the salvage crates on Tancred-street, as a special present to himself. After that, he thought, he might even purchase a joint of meat from the butcher’s, and take it home to make a soup. But on the corner of Tancred-street he came up short: his festive mood dissolved at once. Standing at the far end of the street was a man whom Ah Sook had not seen in over a decade, and whom Ah Sook had believed, prior to that moment, he would never see again. His old acquaintance was very much changed since their last encounter. His proud face was much disfigured, and a decade in gaol had lent a muscled bulk to his chest and arms. His posture was familiar, however: he was standing with his shoulders slightly rounded, and the backs of his hands against his hips, as in the days of old. (How strange, Ah Sook thought later, that one’s gestures remain the same, even as the body changes, weathers, and gives itself over to age—as though the gestures were the real vessel, the vase to the body’s flower. For it was Francis Carver through and through, to stand with his hips cocked slightly forward, and his shoulders hunched—a posture that would have been slovenly in another man. But Carver’s presence, grave, dark, and imposing, was such that he could afford to neglect those rules of carriage that other men were obliged, by virtue of their very mediocrity, to observe.) Carver half-turned to cast his gaze down the street, and Ah Sook leaped sideways, out of view. He leaned against the rough pine of the grocery store wall and waited there a moment until the beating of his heart had slowed. The full account of Sook Yongsheng’s history with Francis Carver was not yet known to Quee Long, but Ah Sook did not recount the full particulars of the story at this time. He explained to his host only that Francis Carver was a murderer, and that he, Sook Yongsheng, had sworn to take Carver’s life as an act of vengeance. He gave this information almost carelessly, as though it were altogether commonplace to swear vengeance upon one’s foes; in truth, however, the source of this carelessness was pain, for he did not like to dwell upon the unhappy details of his private past. Ah Quee, sensing that this was not the time to interrupt, only nodded—but he stored the pertinent facts away, resolving to remember them. Ah Sook continued his tale. He remained for several seconds with his forehead pressed against the rough cladding of the grocery store wall. When his breathing was steady, he edged back to the corner of the building to look at Carver again—for to look at last upon the face that one has conjured in one’s most vengeful dreams is a pleasure of the most rare and passionate sort, and Ah Sook had conjured Carver’s image in his sleep for nigh on fifteen years. His hatred of the man needed no renewal, but he felt, upon perceiving Carver now, a surge of sudden fury, unfamiliar, uncontrolled: he had never hated the man more than he did at that instant. If he had a pistol he would have shot him at once, and in the back. Carver was speaking to a young Maori man, though from their respective postures Ah Sook guessed they were not familiar: they were standing slightly apart from one another, as affiliates rather than as friends. He could not quite hear their conversation, but from its rapidly staccato nature he guessed that they were bartering; the Maori man was gesticulating very firmly, and kept shaking his head. At length it seemed that a fixed price had been agreed, and Carver, taking out his purse, counted several coins into the Maori man’s open hand. He had evidently purchased information of some kind, for now the Maori man began to speak at length, and with exaggerated motions. Carver repeated back the information, to fix it in his mind. The Maori man nodded his assent, and spoke a little more. Presently they shook hands and parted ways, the Maori man eastward, towards the mountains, and Carver westward, towards the mouth of the river, and the quays. Ah Sook considered pursuing Carver at a safe distance, but decided against it: he did not wish to force a reunion with the man until he was prepared for such an event. At present he was unarmed, and he guessed that Carver had at least a knife about his person, and possibly also a firearm of some kind: it would be folly to accost him when at a disadvantage. Instead Ah Sook set off in pursuit of the Maori man—who was on his way back to the Arahura Valley to build a bird trap, having purchased from the Hokitika Dry Goods several yards of strong fishing line, and a small loaf of hardtack to crumble into bait. Ah Sook caught up with him in the next block, and caught his sleeve. He begged to know the import of the man’s conversation with Carver, and produced a coin to show that he would pay for the information if necessary. Te Rau Tauwhare looked at him inscrutably for a moment, and then shrugged, took the coin, and gave his explanation. Many months prior to the present day, Tauwhare said, Francis Carver had offered him a monetary reward for any news of a man named Crosbie Wells. Soon after this offer was made, Carver returned to Dunedin, and Tauwhare to Greymouth; the two men did not cross paths again. But as chance would have it, Tauwhare did then meet the very man for whom Carver was searching, and Crosbie Wells had since become his very good friend. Mr. Wells, Tauwhare added, lived in the Arahura Valley; he was a former prospector, and had given his life over, more recently, to the project of building a mill. (Tauwhare spoke slowly, and with much gesticulation; he was evidently well used to communicating with his hands and his expressions, and paused after every clause to make sure that he was accurately understood. Ah Sook found that he could understand his meaning very clearly, though English was neither man’s native tongue. He whispered the names to himself: Arahura Valley, Te Rau Tauwhare, Crosbie Wells.) Tauwhare explained that he had not seen Carver again until that very morning—the morning of the 14th of January. He had spied Carver upon the Hokitika waterfront less than half an hour before, and, remembering the offer the captain had made many months ago, he saw an opportunity to make an easy profit. He approached Carver and announced that he could offer news of Crosbie Wells at a price, if Carver’s offer was still valid—which, evidently, it was. They agreed upon the fee (two shillings) and once the coins were in his hand, Tauwhare told the other man where Crosbie Wells was living. Ah Sook, in what he had understood of Tauwhare’s narrative, had discovered nothing that was of immediate use to him; however, he thanked the man very courteously for his information, and bid him goodbye. He then returned to Kaniere—where he found Anna Wetherell sitting in a patch of sunshine beyond his front door, waiting for him. Feeling suddenly tender towards her (any reminder of the troubles of his past life tended to furnish Ah Sook with a wealth of redemptive feeling about his present) he made her a present of a fresh half-ounce, cut from the new block of resin that he had purchased from Pritchard that morning. She wrapped the gift in a square of cheesecloth, and stuck it into the band of her hat. Ah Sook then lit his lamp, and they lay down together, waking only when the air began to cool with the coming of the dusk, whereupon Anna took her leave of him, and Ah Sook turned his mind to supper. The goldsmith Ah Quee, to whom this was being narrated at a great pace, found that his impression of his guest was rapidly changing. Ah Quee had never cherished a very great regard for Ah Sook, who was clothed always in the conjured shadows of his reeking smoke, who shunned the company of other men, who squandered his meagre profits at the gambling house, where he rolled his dice in silence, and spat with little grace upon the floor. Perceiving Ah Sook now, however, Ah Quee felt that he had been mistaken, to repudiate the hatter’s character so completely. The man who sat before him now seemed—what? Virtuous? Principled? The words were not quite right. His speech was ardent, and there was a sweetness to this ardour, almost a na?vety. Ah Quee realised, to his surprise, that he did not at all dislike him. He was flattered that Ah Sook had sought his company—and his confidence—that afternoon, and this pleasure disposed him to be sympathetic; what was more, he had not yet guessed the purpose of the other man’s visit, and therefore was very much enthralled in his tale. He had forgotten, for the moment, his disapproval of the other man’s trade, and the sickly smell of the smoke, which he had brought with him, on his clothing, in his hair. Ah Sook had paused to eat a mouthful of curd. He praised the dish a second time, and then resumed his tale. On the night of the 14th of January, directly following Francis Carver’s rendezvous with Crosbie Wells, Godspeed weighed anchor—a fact about which Ah Sook would remain ignorant for some days. He remained in Kaniere, where he was occupied with planning the logistics of his impending crime. He had a keen sense of ceremony, and he desired very much that Carver’s death should happen in the proper way; however, he did not possess a pistol, and to his knowledge nor did any one of his compatriots. He would have to purchase one, discreetly, and learn to use it on his own. He had just spent the sum total of his dust upon the opium he had purchased from Pritchard’s emporium, and he had no more money at his disposal. Ought he to ask one of his fellows for a loan? He was pondering this problem when there came another unexpected tiding from Hokitika: Anna Wetherell had tried, and failed, to end her life. Ah Sook was very distressed by this intelligence—though he found, upon reflection, that he did not believe it to be true. He decided instead that Pritchard’s latest shipment of opium must have been poisoned. Anna’s constitution was well accustomed to the drug, and a fraction of an ounce was hardly enough to cause her to lose consciousness for many hours, such that she could not be revived. Ah Sook returned to Hokitika the following morning and requested an immediate interview with Pritchard’s shipping agent, Thomas Balfour. It so happened that this morning (the 16th of January) was the very morning that Balfour discovered that the shipping crate containing Alistair Lauderback’s personal effects had disappeared from the Hokitika waterfront; as a consequence of this, the shipping agent was curt, and very much distracted. Yes, Balfour Shipping had Pritchard’s contract; Balfour had little to do with the cargo itself, however. Perhaps Ah Sook might do better to contact Pritchard’s supplier, who was a rather brutish-seeming man, thick-set, with a scarred cheek and a gruff nature. His name was Francis Carver. Was Ah Sook at all acquainted with this man? Ah Sook controlled his shock as best he could. He asked how long Carver and Pritchard had been partners in business. Balfour replied that he did not know, but since Carver had been an infrequent face in Hokitika since the spring of the previous year, he imagined that the two men had conducted their relationship for at least that long. It was strange, Balfour went on, that Ah Sook had never encountered Carver, if they were known to one another! (For such was very obvious, from the expression on Ah Sook’s face.) But perhaps not that strange, seeing as Carver so seldom ventured inland, and Ah Sook so seldom ventured into town. Was Carver known to him from his years in Canton? Yes? Well, in that case, it was certainly a shame that they had missed each other! Yes, missed each other: Mr. Carver had recently set sail. Two days ago, in fact. What a pity! For the man had most likely sailed for Canton, in which case he was not likely to return to Hokitika for some time. Ah Sook had reached this point in his narrative when the kettle began to boil. Ah Quee lifted it down from the range and poured the water over their tea, to steep. Ah Sook paused, watching the tea leaves float to the bottom of his bowl and gather there. After a long moment, he resumed. Taking Balfour’s supposition—that Carver had left Hokitika for Canton, and would not return for some months—as the truth, Ah Sook again returned to Kaniere to ponder his next move. He knew from the Maori man, Tauwhare, that Francis Carver had been seeking news of a man named Crosbie Wells just prior to his departure. Perhaps he could contact this Crosbie Wells himself, and question him. He remembered, from his brief conversation with Tauwhare, that Wells lived in the Arahura Valley, some few miles upriver from the coast. He journeyed there, and discovered, to his even greater disappointment, that the cottage was empty: the hermit was dead. In the week that followed, Ah Sook followed the story of the Wells fortune very closely—believing, not unreasonably, that the hermit’s death was in some way related to Carver’s departure. This project had consumed him for nigh on eight days—until that very morning, in fact, the 27th of January, when he had made two discoveries that had surprised him very much indeed. Ah Sook was just about to announce the reason for his visit when a pistol-crack rent the air—he started in shock—and there came shouting from the clearing beyond Ah Quee’s door. ‘Come out of there, you rotten chink! You come out of there and stand up like a man!’ Ah Sook’s eyes found Ah Quee’s. Who? he asked silently, and Ah Quee pinched his mouth to indicate distaste: Mannering. But his eyes were fearful. In the next moment the hessian curtain was wrenched aside, and Mannering filled the doorway. He had his pistol in his hand. ‘Sitting around the forge, are you—scheming, are you? Both of you in it together? I’d have thought better of you, Johnny Sook! To dirty yourself in muck such as this! Yellow peril—by God!’ He strode into the cabin—rather less threateningly than he would have liked, for the stud was very low, and he was obliged to stoop—and caught Ah Quee around his body with one strong arm. He placed the muzzle of his Smith & Wesson against the man’s temple, and at once Ah Quee became very still. ‘All right,’ Mannering said. ‘I’m listening. What’s your business with Crosbie Wells?’ For a moment Ah Quee did not move at all. Then he shook his head—minutely, for he was conscious of the muzzle’s pressure against his skull. He did not know a man named Crosbie Wells, beyond what Ah Sook had just narrated to him, which was simply that the man had been a hermit, had lived in the Arahura Valley, and had recently died. Behind Mannering a white-faced Charlie Frost slipped into the room—and then, moments later, the collie-dog Holly bounded in behind him. Her coat was very wet. She trotted the perimeter of the small room, panting gloriously, and uttered several hoarse barks that nobody bothered to hush. ‘Well then,’ Mannering said, when Ah Quee did not respond, ‘I’ll ask it the other way around, shall I? Tell me this, Johnny Quee. What was Crosbie Wells doing with four thousand pounds of Aurora gold?’ Ah Quee made a noise of confusion. Aurora gold? he thought. There was no Aurora gold! Aurora was a duffer claim. Mannering, of all people, knew that! ‘Stuffed into the flour canister,’ Mannering snarled. ‘Wedged into the bellows. Inside the teapot. In the meat safe. Do you understand me? Four thousand pounds’ worth of pure!’ Ah Quee was frowning: his understanding of English was very limited, but he knew ‘gold’, and he knew ‘Aurora’, and he knew ‘thousand’, and it was very plain to him that Mannering wished to recover something that was lost. He must be referring to the gold from Anna’s dresses, Ah Quee thought—the gold that he had come upon, one afternoon, lifting a flounce of her skirt and finding it heavy, mineral, weighted with stones; the gold that he had siphoned, week by week, taking out the threads, a seam at a time, while she lay sleeping atop the brick bed of this very range, the waxing half-sphere of her pregnancy rising and falling with every breath, murmuring only when the snick of his needle touched her skin. He had smelted that metal, over the weeks and months following his discovery, and he had stamped each square with the name of the claim to which he was indentured—the Aurora—before taking it to the camp station at Kaniere … ‘Four thousand pounds!’ Mannering shouted. (Holly began to bark.) ‘The Aurora is a bloody duffer—she’s a bloody tailing pile! I know that! Staines knows that! Aurora’s dry and always has been. You tell me the truth. Did you strike it rich on the Aurora? Did you find a seam? Did you find a seam and retort the gold and hide it at Crosbie Wells’s cottage? Tell me, d—n you! Quiet, Holly! Quiet!’ It was the Aurora mine to which Ah Quee was exclusively indentured; his contract would not allow him to make a profit, except from ore lifted from that plot of land. After smelting the gold from Anna’s dresses, and inscribing each smelted block with the word Aurora, he had delivered the ore to the camp station to be banked and weighed. When the Aurora’s quarterly return was published in the first week of January, however, Ah Quee had discovered, to his shock, that the gold had not been banked against the claim at all. Somebody had stolen it from the camp station vault. Mannering shoved the gun harder into Ah Quee’s temple, and again instructed him to speak, uttering several profanities too vulgar to set down here. Ah Quee wet his lips. He did not have enough English to articulate a full confession; he cast about for the few English words he knew. ‘Unlucky,’ he said at last. ‘Very unlucky.’ ‘D—ned right you’re unlucky,’ Mannering shouted. ‘And you’re about to become unluckier still.’ He struck Ah Quee’s cheek with the butt of his revolver, and then shoved the muzzle into his temple again, pushing the man’s head painfully to the side. ‘You had better start thinking about your luck, Johnny Quee. You had better start thinking about how to turn your luck around. I will shoot you. I will put a hole in your head, with two men to witness. I will.’ But Charlie Frost had become very agitated, and it was he who spoke. ‘You stop that,’ he said. ‘Hush up, Charlie.’ ‘I won’t hush up,’ Frost said. ‘You put down that gun.’ ‘Not for Africa.’ ‘You’re confusing him!’ ‘Rot.’ ‘You are!’ ‘I’m speaking the only language he can understand.’ ‘You’ve got your pocketbook!’ This was very true. After a moment, as if in concession, Mannering took the revolver away from Ah Quee’s temple. But he did not return the weapon to its holster. He paused a moment, weighing the piece in his hand, and then he raised it again, and levelled it—not at Ah Quee, but at Ah Sook, who, of the two men, had the better English. With the muzzle pointed directly at Ah Sook’s face, Mannering said, ‘I want to know whether the Aurora turned up a bonanza, and I want the truth. Ask him.’ Ah Sook relayed Mannering’s question to Ah Quee in Cantonese, who responded at length. The goldsmith recounted the full history of the Aurora goldmine, salted by Mannering, since purchased by Staines; he explained the reason why he had first chosen to retort his weekly earnings, and later, to inscribe the blocks with the name of the mine to which he was indentured; he assured Ah Sook that the Aurora, to the best of his knowledge, was worth nothing at all—having barely turned up pay dirt for six months. Mannering shifted from foot to foot, scowling. All the while Holly was circling the room, her mouth in a grin, her wide tail thumping. Charlie Frost put his hand down for her to lick. ‘No nugget,’ Ah Sook translated, when Ah Quee was done. ‘No bonanza. Ah Quee say Aurora is duffer claim.’ ‘Then he’s a God-d—ned liar,’ Mannering said. ‘Dick!’ said Frost. ‘You said yourself that the Aurora’s a duffer!’ ‘Of course it is!’ shouted Mannering. ‘So where in hell did all that gold come from—all of it smelted by this filthy heathen—and in this very room? Is he in league with Crosbie Wells? Ask him!’ He shook his pistol at Ah Sook, who said, after confirming the answer with Ah Quee, ‘He not know Crosbie Wells.’ Ah Sook could easily have shared his own intelligence with Mannering—the intelligence that had brought him to Ah Quee’s hut that very afternoon, seeking the other man’s advice—but he did not approve of Mannering’s interrogative technique, and he felt that the magnate did not deserve a helpful answer. ‘What about Staines, then?’ said Mannering to Ah Sook. His fury was acquiring a desperate edge. ‘What about Emery Staines? Aha: you know that name, don’t you, Johnny Quee—of course you do! Go on: where is he?’ This question was relayed from Ah Sook to Ah Quee, as before. ‘He not know,’ said Ah Sook again, when Ah Quee was done. Mannering exploded with annoyance. ‘He not know? He not know? He not know a lot of things, Johnny Sook, wouldn’t you say?’ ‘He won’t answer if you ask him like that!’ Frost cried. ‘You hush, Charlie.’ ‘I won’t hush!’ ‘This isn’t your business, d—n it. You’re getting in the way.’ ‘It’ll be my business if any blood gets spilled,’ Frost said. ‘Put down your gun.’ But Mannering only thrust it once again at Ah Sook. ‘Well?’ he snarled. ‘And you can wipe that stupid look off your face, or I’ll wipe it off for you. I’m asking you, now—not him, not Johnny Quee. I’m asking you, Sook. What do you know about Staines?’ Ah Quee’s eyes were moving back and forth between them. ‘Mr. Staines very nice man,’ said Ah Sook pleasantly. ‘Nice man, is he? Care to say where the nice man might have disappeared to?’ ‘He leave,’ said Ah Sook. ‘Did he, now?’ Mannering said. ‘Just upped his sticks, did he? Left all his claims behind? Walked out on everyone he knows?’ ‘Yes,’ said Ah Sook. ‘It was in the paper.’ ‘Tell me why,’ said Mannering. ‘Why would he do that?’ ‘I not know,’ said Ah Sook. ‘You are playing a very stupid hand—both of you,’ said Mannering. ‘I’ll ask you one last time, and I’ll spell it out slowly, so you understand. A very large fortune has recently come into play. Hidden in a dead man’s house. All of it—every last flake of it—had been smelted and stamped with the word Aurora. That’s the signature of my old friend Quee here and if he denies it he can rot in hell. Now, what I want to know is this. Did that gold really come from the Aurora, or did it not? You ask him that. Yes or no.’ Ah Sook put this question to Ah Quee, who decided, given the gravity of the circumstances, to respond with the truth. Yes, he had found a bonanza, and no, it had not come from the Aurora, though when he smelted the gold he had stamped it with the goldmine’s name, in order to ensure that the profits, at least in part, would return to him. He explained that, strange as it sounded, he had found the gold on Anna Wetherell’s person, sewn into the seams of her gown. He had first discovered it nearly six months ago, and had deduced, after some thought, that Anna must be trafficking the metal on behalf of someone else. He knew that Anna Wetherell was Mannering’s girl; he also knew that Mannering had falsified his own financial records before. It was reasonable to conclude, therefore, that Mannering was using Anna Wetherell as a method of transporting gold out of the gorge, in order to evade duty at the bank. ‘What’s he saying?’ said Mannering. ‘What’s his answer?’ ‘He’s telling a frightfully long story,’ said Frost. He was—and it was Ah Sook’s turn to be enthralled. Anna Wetherell had been concealing a bonanza? Anna, whom Mannering would not permit to carry even a purse upon her person, for fear of thieves? He could not believe it! Ah Quee continued. He could not forget his earlier grievance with Dick Mannering, for it was explicitly by Mannering’s hand that he was now forced to remain indentured to a duffer claim. Here was a chance both to get his revenge, and earn his freedom. Ah Quee began inviting Anna Wetherell back to his hut each week, always when she was addled with opium, for upon leaving Ah Sook’s hut she was always very sleepy and stupid; most often she fell asleep within moments after her arrival, lulled by the heat of Ah Quee’s stove. This suited Ah Quee. Once Anna was arranged comfortably upon the brick bed of his stove, he took her dress apart with a needle and thread. He replaced the tiny nuggets around her hem with leaden makeweights, so that she would not notice the sudden lightness of the fabric when she woke; if she stirred in her sleep, he held a cup of strong liquor to her lips, and encouraged her to drink it down. Ah Quee tried to describe how the gold had been hidden in the flounces of Anna’s gowns, but with Mannering’s arm still around his body, he could not supplement his description with gestures, and therefore turned to metaphor in order to describe how the metal had been sewn into her corset and around her bustle—‘like a suit of armour,’ he said, and Ah Sook, who was always pleased by poetic expressions, smiled. Anna had four dresses in all, Ah Quee said, each containing, in his estimation, roughly a thousand pounds’ worth of pure ore. Ah Quee worked until each dress was empty, smelting every last flake of the dust into his signature blocks, and inscribing each one with the name of the claim to which he was bound—quite as though he had come upon it honestly, and legally, in the gravel pit of the Aurora. For a time, he added, he was very happy: once his surety had been repaid, he could return to Kwangchow at last, and as a wealthy man. ‘Well?’ Mannering said to Ah Sook, stamping his foot with impatience. ‘What’s the story? What’s he saying?’ But Ah Sook had forgotten his role as translator. He was gazing at Ah Quee in wonderment. The story was incredible to him! Thousands of pounds … Anna had been concealing thousands of pounds about her person, for months! That was a fortune large enough to retire a dozen men, if not more, in luxury. Anna might have purchased the entire beachfront with that kind of sum … and even then, she would have money to spare! But where was that fortune now? In the next moment Ah Sook understood. ‘Sei qin,’ he breathed. So the fortune that Ah Quee had lifted from Anna’s dresses had ended up, by some caprice or misdirection, in the possession of the hermit, Crosbie Wells. But what was this misdirection in aid of—and who was to blame? ‘Speak English!’ Mannering shouted. ‘Speak English, d—n you!’ Suddenly very excited, Ah Sook asked Ah Quee how the fortune might have come to end up hidden in Wells’s cottage. Ah Quee replied, bitterly, that he did not know. He had never heard the name Crosbie Wells before that afternoon. As far as he knew, the last person to touch the retorted fortune was the Aurora’s current owner, Emery Staines—and Staines, of course, was nowhere to be found. Ah Quee explained that it was Staines who took the Aurora’s returns from the camp station to the Reserve Bank at the end of every month—a duty that had plainly not been carried out. ‘All I’m hearing is noise and nonsense,’ said Mannering. ‘If you don’t tell me what it’s all about, Johnny Sook—I’m telling you—’ ‘They’ve finished talking,’ said Frost. ‘Just wait.’ Ah Sook was frowning. Did Emery Staines really steal from his own vault, only to stash the smelted fortune in a hermit’s cottage, twelve miles away? Where was the method in that? Why would Staines steal his own fortune, only to gift it to another man? ‘I’ll give you the count of five,’ Mannering said. His face was purple. ‘Five!’ Ah Sook looked at Mannering at last, and sighed. ‘Four!’ ‘I tell you,’ Ah Sook said, holding up his palms. But what a lot there was to tell … and how few words he possessed, to contain the explanation! He thought for a moment, trying to remember the English word for ‘armour’, in order to preserve the poetic metaphor that Ah Quee had used. At last he cleared his throat, and said, ‘Bonanza not from Aurora. Anna wear secret armoury, made of gold. Quee Long find secret gold armoury that Anna wear. Quee Long try to bank armoury gold as Aurora gold. Then Staines thief from Quee Long.’ Dick Mannering, naturally enough, misunderstood this. ‘So the bonanza wasn’t from anywhere in the Aurora,’ he repeated. ‘Emery made a strike somewhere—but he kept it secret—until Quee here discovered it. Then Quee tried to bank Emery’s gold against the Aurora, so Mr. Staines took it back.’ That was confounding! Ah Sook began talking rapidly to Ah Quee in Cantonese—which Mannering, evidently, interpreted as a sign of assent. ‘Where is Mr. Staines now?’ he demanded. ‘Stop with your other questions. Ask him that. Where is Mr. Staines now?’ Obediently Ah Sook broke off, and relayed the question. This time Ah Quee responded in a tone of patent distress. He said that he had not spoken with Emery Staines since December, but he was very desirous to see him again, for it had not been until the Aurora’s quarterly return was published in early January that he had realised that he had been cheated. The fortune he had found in Anna’s dresses had not been banked against the Aurora as he had intended it to be, and Ah Quee was certain that Mr. Staines was responsible for this error. By the time he figured this out, however, Mr. Staines had disappeared. As to where he might have disappeared to, Ah Quee had no idea. Ah Sook turned back to Mannering, and said, for the second time, ‘He not know.’ ‘Did you hear that, Dick?’ said Charlie Frost, from the corner. ‘He doesn’t know.’ Mannering ignored him. He kept his revolver levelled at Ah Sook’s face, and said, ‘You tell him that unless he plays fair with me, I’m going to kill you.’ He twitched the gun, to emphasise his point. ‘You tell him that: either Johnny Quee talks, or Johnny Sook dies. Tell him that. Tell him now.’ Ah Sook dutifully relayed this threat to Ah Quee, who made no answer. There was a pause, in which every man seemed to be expecting one of the others to speak—and then suddenly Mannering made a lightning motion with his right hand, knocked Ah Quee forward, grabbed a fistful of his pigtail, and jerked his head violently back. His pistol was still pointed at Ah Sook. Ah Quee did not make a sound, but his eyes filled instantly with tears. ‘Nobody misses a Chinaman,’ Mannering said to Ah Sook. ‘In Hokitika least of all. How would your friend here explain it to the Commissioner, I wonder? “Unlucky,” he’d say. “Sook die—valley unlucky.” And what would the Commissioner say?’ Mannering gave a vicious wrench to Ah Quee’s pigtail. ‘He’d say—“Johnny Sook? He’s the hatter with the smoke, is he not? Laid out most afternoons with the dragon in his eye? Selling poisoned tar to chinks and useless whores? He’s dead? Well, then! Why in heaven would you assume I care?”’ This venom was unprecedented, as Mannering and Ah Sook had always been on equable terms; but if Ah Sook was angry, or insulted, he did not show it. He gazed back at Mannering with a glassy expression, and did not blink or break his gaze. Ah Quee, whose neck was still bent backwards, so that the muscles of his throat showed against his skin, was likewise still. ‘Not poison,’ Ah Sook said after a moment. ‘I not poison Anna.’ ‘I’ll tell you this,’ Mannering said. ‘You poison Anna every day.’ ‘Dick,’ Frost said desperately. ‘This is hardly on point—’ ‘On point?’ Mannering shouted. He aimed his revolver about a foot away from Ah Sook’s head and fired. There was a clap—Ah Sook cried out in shock, and flung up his arm—and then a pattering noise, as the powdered rubble ran away from the hole. ‘Here’s on point,’ Mannering shouted. ‘Anna Wetherell is laid out flat at this man’s filthy joint’ (he pointed the revolver at Ah Sook) ‘six days out of seven. This man’ (he gave Ah Quee’s scalp a furious wrench) ‘calls Staines a thief. He apparently uncovered some secret that has something to do with gold, and something to do with a bonanza. I know for a fact that Anna Wetherell was with Emery Staines the night he disappeared—which was also the night, by the way, that a bonanza showed up in a very peculiar location, and Anna lost her bloody mind! D—n it, Charlie, don’t tell me to talk on point!’ In the next moment all four men spoke at once. Ah Quee said, ‘Li goh sih hai ngh wiuh—’ Frost said, ‘If you’re so sure about the Aurora—’ Ah Sook said, ‘Ngor moh zou chor yeh—’ Mannering said, ‘Somebody gave that gold to Crosbie Wells!’ And then from behind Charlie Frost came another voice: ‘What in all heaven is going on?’ It was the commission merchant, Harald Nilssen. He ducked under the low lintel of the hut and looked around him, astonished. The collie-dog leaped upon him, sniffing at the hem of his jacket and his cuffs. Nilssen reached down and caught her behind the ears. ‘What is going on?’ he repeated. ‘For heaven’s sake, Dick—I could hear your voice from fifty paces! The celestials are all staring out of their windows!’ Mannering tightened his grip on Ah Quee’s pigtail. ‘Harald Nilssen,’ he cried. ‘Witness to the prosecution! You’re just the man to lend a hand.’ ‘Quiet down,’ Nilssen said, lowering Holly to the floor and placing his hand upon her head, to calm her. ‘Quiet! You’ll bring in the sergeant in another moment. What are you doing?’ ‘You went to Crosbie’s cottage,’ Mannering continued, without lowering his voice. ‘You saw that the gold had been retorted—did you not? This yellow devil’s playing us for fools!’ ‘Yes,’ Nilssen said. Somewhat absurdly, he was attempting to brush the rain from his coat. ‘I saw that the gold had been retorted. That, in fact, is the reason why I’m here. But you might have asked me quietly. You’ve an audience, you know!’ ‘See?’ Mannering was saying to Ah Quee. ‘Here’s another man, come to make you talk! Here’s another man to hold a pistol to your head!’ ‘Excuse me,’ Nilssen said. ‘I did not come to hold a pistol to anybody’s head. And I wouldn’t mind asking again what it is that you are doing. It looks ugly, whatever it is.’ ‘He won’t hear any kind of reason,’ said Frost, who was anxious not to be implicated in this ugliness. ‘Let a man speak for himself!’ Nilssen snapped. ‘What’s going on?’ We shall omit Mannering’s answer to this question, which was both inaccurate and inflammatory; we shall omit, also, the ensuing discussion, during which Mannering and Nilssen discovered that their purpose in journeying to Chinatown was one and the same, and Frost, who could intuit quite plainly that the commission merchant was holding him in some suspicion over the sale of the Wells estate, maintained a rather sullen silence. The clarifications took some time, and it was nearly ten minutes later that the conversation turned, at last, to the goldsmith Ah Quee, who was still being held by the nape of his neck in a posture of much discomfort and indignity. Mannering suggested that his pigtail be cut off altogether, in order to impress upon the man the urgency of the matter at hand; he tugged at Ah Quee’s head as he said it, taking evident pleasure in the motion, as if weighing a spoil. Nilssen’s code of ethics did not permit humiliation, however, just as his code of aesthetics did not permit ugliness; again he made his disapproval known, prompting a quarrel with Mannering that delayed Ah Quee’s release still further, and excited Holly to the point of riotous and irrepressible joy. Finally Charlie Frost, who had been hitherto very successfully ignored, suggested that perhaps the Chinese men had simply not understood Mannering’s line of questioning. He proposed instead that the questions be put to Ah Sook again, and this time in writing: that way, he said, they could be sure that nothing had been lost in the act of translation. Nilssen saw the sense in this idea, and approved of it. Mannering was disappointed—but he was in the minority, and presently he was forced to agree. He released Ah Quee, returned his revolver to its holster, and retrieved his pocketbook from his vest, in order to compose a question in Chinese script. Mannering’s pocketbook was an artefact about which he was not unreasonably proud. The pages of the book had been laid out rather like an alphabet primer, with the Chinese characters written beneath their English meanings; Mannering had devised an index by which the characters could be placed together, to form longer words. There was no phonetic translation, and for this reason the pocketbook occasionally caused more confusion than it allayed, but on the whole it was an ingenious and helpful conversational tool. Mannering set the tip of his tongue in the corner of his mouth, as he always did when he was reading or writing, and began thumbing through the book. But before Mannering found his question, Ah Sook answered it. The hatter stood up from where he had been seated, next to the forge—the hut seemed very small indeed, once he too was standing—and cleared his throat. ‘I know secret of Crosbie Wells,’ he said. This was what he had discovered in Kaniere that very morning; this was what he had come to Ah Quee’s dwelling to discuss. ‘What?’ Mannering said. ‘What?’ ‘He was in Dunstan,’ Ah Sook said. ‘Otago field.’ Mannering collapsed in disappointment. ‘What’s the use of that?’ he snapped. ‘What’s secret about that? Crosbie Wells—in Dunstan! When was Dunstan? Two years ago—three years ago! Why—I was in Dunstan! All of Hokitika was in Dunstan!’ Nilssen said to Mannering, ‘You didn’t encounter Wells there—did you?’ ‘No,’ said Mannering. ‘Never knew him. I knew his wife, though. From Dunedin days.’ Nilssen looked surprised. ‘You knew his wife? The widow?’ ‘Yes,’ Mannering said shortly, not caring to elaborate. He turned a page. ‘But never Crosbie. They were estranged. Now hush up, all of you: I can’t hear myself think without a patch of quiet.’ ‘Dunstan,’ said Walter Moody. He was stroking his chin with his finger and thumb. ‘It’s an Otago field.’ ‘Central Otago.’ ‘Past its prime now, Dunstan. It’s all company dredges these days. But she was a shiner in her time.’ ‘That is the second time this particular goldfield has been referenced this evening,’ Moody said. ‘Am I right?’ ‘You are quite right, Mr. Moody.’ ‘Steady on. How is he quite right?’ ‘The gold that was used to blackmail Mr. Lauderback hailed from a Dunstan field. Lauderback said so.’ ‘Lauderback said so: precisely,’ Moody said. He nodded. ‘I am wondering whether I trust Mr. Lauderback’s intentions, in referencing the name of that goldfield so casually to Mr. Balfour this morning.’ ‘What do you mean by that, Mr. Moody?’ ‘Don’t you trust him—Lauderback, I mean?’ ‘It would be most irrational if I mistrusted Mr. Lauderback,’ Moody said, ‘seeing as I have never met the man in my life. I am very conscious of the fact that the pertinent facts of this tale are being relayed to me second-hand—and, in some cases, third-hand. Take the mention of the Dunstan goldfield, for example. Francis Carver apparently mentioned the name of that field to Mr. Lauderback, who in turn narrated that encounter to Mr. Balfour, who in turn relayed that conversation to me, tonight! You will all agree that I would be a fool to take Mr. Balfour’s words to be true.’ But Moody had misjudged his audience, in questioning so sensitive a subject as the truth. There was an explosion of indignation around the room. ‘What—you don’t trust a man to tell his own story?’ ‘This is all as true as I can make it, Mr. Moody!’ ‘What else can he tell you, except what he was told?’ Moody was taken aback. ‘I do not believe that any part of your story has been altered or withheld,’ he replied, more carefully this time. He looked from face to face. ‘I only wished to remark that one should never take another man’s truth for one’s own.’ ‘Why not?’ This question came from several quarters at once. Moody paused a moment, thinking. ‘In a court of law,’ he said at last, ‘a witness takes his oath to speak the truth: his own truth, that is. He agrees to two parameters. His testimony must be the whole truth, and his testimony must be nothing but the truth. Only the second of these parameters is a true limit. The first, of course, is largely a matter of discretion. When we say the whole truth we mean, more precisely, all the facts and impressions that are pertinent to the matter at hand. All that is impertinent is not only immaterial; it is, in many cases, deliberately misleading. Gentlemen,’ (though this collective address sat oddly, considering the mixed company in the room) ‘I contend that there are no whole truths, there are only pertinent truths—and pertinence, you must agree, is always a matter of perspective. I do not believe that any one of you has perjured himself in any way tonight. I trust that you have given me the truth, and nothing but the truth. But your perspectives are very many, and you will forgive me if I do not take your tale for something whole.’ There was a silence at this, and Moody saw that he had offended. ‘Of course,’ he added, more quietly, ‘I speak importunately; for you have not yet finished your story.’ He looked from man to man. ‘I ought not to have interrupted. I repeat that I meant no slight to anyone. Please: go on.’ Charlie Frost was looking at Ah Sook curiously. ‘Why did you say that, Mr. Sook?’ he said. ‘Why did you say that you knew a secret about Crosbie Wells?’ Ah Sook turned his gaze on Frost and appraised him. ‘Crosbie Wells strike big in Dunstan,’ he said. ‘Many very big nugget. Very lucky man.’ Nilssen turned. ‘Crosbie Wells made a strike?’ Mannering had also looked up. ‘What?’ he said. ‘A strike? How much?’ ‘In Dunstan,’ Sook Yongsheng said again, still gazing at Frost. ‘Very lucky man. Big bonanza. Very rich.’ Nilssen stepped forward—which rather annoyed Frost, for he had been the one to introduce this new line of questioning, after all. But Nilssen and Mannering both seemed to have forgotten that Frost was there. ‘How long ago?’ Nilssen demanded. ‘When?’ ‘Two.’ Ah Sook held up two fingers. ‘Two years ago!’ said Mannering. ‘How much? How much colour?’ said Nilssen. ‘Many thousand.’ ‘How much—four?’ Nilssen held up four fingers. ‘Four thousand?’ Ah Sook shrugged; he did not know. ‘How do you know this, Mr. Sook?’ said Frost. ‘How do you know that Mr. Wells struck a ’bounder at Dunstan?’ ‘I ask escort,’ said Ah Sook. ‘Didn’t trust the bank!’ said Mannering. ‘What do you think of that, Charlie? Didn’t trust the bank!’ ‘Which escort—Gilligan’s? Or Gracewood and Spears?’ said Nilssen. ‘Gracewood and Spears.’ ‘So Crosbie Wells made a strike at Dunstan, and then hired Gracewood and Spears to ship the bonanza from the field?’ said Frost. ‘Yes,’ said Ah Sook. ‘Very good.’ ‘Then Wells was sitting on a fortune—all along!’ said Nilssen, shaking his head. ‘The money was his very own! None of us believed it.’ Mannering pointed at Ah Quee. ‘What about him?’ he said. ‘He knew about this?’ ‘No,’ said Ah Sook. Mannering exploded with irritation. ‘Then why in hell does any of it matter? This is his work, remember—his work, in Crosbie’s cottage! Smelted by Johnny Quee’s own hand!’ ‘Perhaps Crosbie Wells was in league with him,’ said Frost. ‘Was that it?’ said Nilssen. He pointed at Ah Quee, and said, ‘Was he in league with Crosbie Wells?’ ‘He not know Crosbie Wells,’ said Ah Sook. ‘Oh, for the love of Christ,’ said Mannering. Harald Nilssen was looking from one Chinese face to the other—searchingly, as if their countenances might betray some evidence of their collusion. Nilssen was very suspicious of Chinese men, having never known one personally; his were the kind of beliefs that did not depend upon empirical fact, and indeed, were often flatly disproved by it, though no disproof was ever enough to change his mind. He had decided, long ago, that Chinese men were duplicitous, and so they would be, whatever disproof he might encounter. Gazing at Ah Quee now, Nilssen recalled the theory of conspiracy that Joseph Pritchard had put to him earlier that afternoon: ‘If we are being framed, then perhaps he is, too.’ ‘Someone else is behind this,’ he said. ‘There’s someone else involved.’ ‘Yes,’ said Ah Sook. ‘Who?’ said Nilssen, eagerly. ‘You won’t get a grain of sense out of him,’ said Mannering. ‘It’s not worth your breath, I’m telling you.’ But the hatter did reply, and his answer surprised every man in the room. ‘Te Rau Tauwhare,’ he said. VENUS IN CAPRICORN In which the widow shares her philosophy of fortune; Gascoigne’s hopes are dashed; and we learn something new about Crosbie Wells. Upon quitting the Gridiron, Aubert Gascoigne had crossed directly to the Wayfarer Hotel—so identified by a painted sign which hung on two short chains from a protruding spar. The sign boasted no words at all, but showed, instead, the painted silhouette of a man walking, his chin held high, his elbows cocked, and a Dick Whittington bundle on his shoulder. From the jaunty cut of the silhouette, it would not be unreasonable to assume that this was a male-only lodging house; indeed, the establishment as a whole seemed to suggest a marked absence of the feminine, as communicated by the brass spittoon on the veranda, the lean-to privy in the alley, and the deficiency of drapes. But in fact these were the tokens of thrift rather than of regulation: the Wayfarer Hotel did not discriminate between the sexes, having made a firm policy of asking no questions of its lodgers, promising them nothing, and charging them only the very smallest of tariffs for their nightly board. Under these conditions, one was naturally prepared to put up with a very great deal—or so Mrs. Lydia Wells, current resident, had reasoned, having no small genius for thrift. Lydia Wells always seemed to arrange herself in postures of luxury, so that she might be startled out of them, laughing, when someone approached. In the parlour of the Wayfarer Hotel Gascoigne discovered her stretched out on the sofa with her slipper dangling free from her toe, one arm flung wide, and her head thrown back against a pillow; she was clasping a pocket-sized novel in her other hand, quite as if the book were an accessory to a faint. Her rouged cheeks and titillated aspect had been manufactured in the moments prior to Gascoigne’s entrance, though the latter did not know it. They suggested to him, as was the woman’s intention, that the narrative in which she had been engrossed was a very licentious one. When Gascoigne rapped upon the doorframe (as a courtesy only, for the door was open) Lydia Wells roused herself, opened her eyes wide, and gave a tinkling laugh. She closed the book with a snap—but then tossed it onto the ottoman, so that its cover and title were in the man’s full view. Gascoigne bowed. Rising from the bow, he let his gaze linger upon her, relishing the sight—for Lydia Wells was a woman of ample beauty, and a pleasure to behold. She was perhaps forty years of age, though she might have been a mature-seeming thirty, or a youthful fifty; the precise figure she would not disclose. She had entered that indeterminate period of middle age that always seems to call attention to its own indeterminacy, for when Lydia was girlish, that girlishness was made all the more visible by the fact of her age, and when she was wise, her wisdom was all the more impressive for having been produced in one so young. There was a vixen-like quality to her features: her eyes slanted slightly and her nose curved upward in a way that called to mind some alert and inquisitive creature. Her lips were full; her teeth, when she showed them, were delicately shaped, and spaced evenly. Her hair was a bright copper, that colour called ‘red’ by men and ‘auburn’ by women, that darkens with movement, like a flame. Currently it was pulled back into a chignon made of braids, an elaborate contour that covered both the nape and the crown of Lydia’s head. She was wearing a striped gown made of grey silk—a sombre hue, and yet it could not quite be called a mourning dress, just as Lydia’s expression could neither be called the expression of a woman, nor really, the expression of a girl. The dress sported a high buttoned collar, a ruffled bustle, and puffed leg-o’-mutton sleeves, ballooning shapes which served to accent Lydia’s ample bosom, and diminish her waist. At the ends of these enormous sleeves, her hands—clasped together now, to convey her rapture at the sight of Gascoigne standing in the doorway—seemed very small and very fragile, like the hands of a doll. ‘Monsieur Gascoigne,’ she said, relishing the name, drawing it out. ‘But you are alone!’ ‘I convey regrets,’ Gascoigne said. ‘You convey regrets—and cause them, deeply.’ Lydia looked him up and down. ‘Let me guess: a headache?’ Gascoigne shook his head, and recounted as briefly as he was able the tale of Anna’s gun misfiring in her hand. He told the truth. Lydia made noises of alarm, and pressed him with questions, which he answered thoroughly, but with a deep exhaustion that showed as a tremor in his throat. At last she took pity on him, and offered him a chair and a drink, both of which he accepted readily, and with relief. ‘I only have gin, I’m afraid,’ she said. ‘Gin-and-water will do fine.’ Gascoigne sat down in the armchair nearest the sofa. ‘It’s putrid stuff,’ said Lydia, with relish. ‘You’ll have to grin and bear it. I ought to have brought a case of something with me from Dunedin—foolish, in hindsight. I’ve not yet found a dram of decent liquor in this town.’ ‘Anna keeps a bottle of Spanish brandy in her room.’ ‘Spanish?’ Lydia looked interested. ‘Jerez de la Frontera,’ said Gascoigne. ‘Andalusia.’ ‘I am sure that I would adore Spanish brandy,’ said Lydia Wells. ‘I wonder how she came by the bottle.’ ‘I am sorry that she could not be here to tell you herself,’ Gascoigne said, rather automatically—but as Lydia eased her foot back into her slipper, lifting her skirts to show the stockinged plumpness of her calves, Gascoigne reflected that he was not, in fact, particularly sorry. ‘Yes: we would have had the most delicious time together,’ said Lydia. ‘But the expedition is easily postponed, and I love to look forward to an outing. Unless you would like to come shopping in Anna’s place? Perhaps you cherish a passion for women’s hats!’ ‘I could feign a passion,’ said Gascoigne, and Lydia laughed again. ‘Passion,’ she said, in a low voice, ‘is not to be feigned.’ She rose from the sofa and went to the sideboard, where a plain bottle and three glasses were set out on a wooden tray. ‘I’m not surprised, you know,’ she added, turning two of the glasses right side up, and leaving the third upended. ‘You mean—about the pistol? You’re not surprised she tried to take her life again?’ ‘Oh heavens, no—not that.’ Lydia paused, the bottle in her hand. ‘I am not surprised to see you here alone.’ Gascoigne flushed. ‘I did as you asked,’ he said. ‘I did not give your name; I told her it was a surprise. Going with a woman to look at hats, I said. She was pleased by the idea. She would have come. It was only this business with the pistol. She was shaken by it—and she wasn’t in a fit state, afterwards.’ He felt that he was gabbling. What a fine woman she was—the widow Wells! How smartly the ruffled bustle curved away from her! ‘You have been ever so kind to humour my silliness,’ said Lydia Wells, soothing him. ‘I tell you: when a woman approaches my age, she likes to play the fairy godmother, once in a while. She likes to wave her wand about, and make magic, for the betterment of younger girls. No, no—I knew that you had not spoiled my surprise. I simply had a premonition that Anna would not come. I have premonitions, Aubert.’ She brought Gascoigne his glass, carrying with her the sharp-and-cloudy scent of fresh-cut lemons—for she had bleached her skin and nails with lemon juice that morning. ‘I did not break your confidence, as I swore I would not,’ Gascoigne repeated. He wanted, for some obscure reason, her continued approbation. ‘Of course,’ Lydia agreed. ‘Of course! You wouldn’t have!’ ‘But I am sure that if she had known that it was you—’ ‘She would have rallied—in a heartbeat!’ ‘She would have rallied.’ (This conviction, rather weakly echoed, was formed on Lydia’s assurance, repeatedly made, that she and Anna had once been the best of friends. It was on the strength of this assurance that Gascoigne had agreed to engineer Lydia’s ‘surprise’, whereby the two women would reunite, and renew their intimacy at once—an offer that was an atypical one for Gascoigne. It was rare for him to perform tasks for others that they might just as well have done themselves, and social manoeuvring of any kind generally made him uncomfortable: he preferred to be manoeuvred than to move. But Gascoigne was, as will now be fairly evident, somewhat in love with Lydia Wells—a foolishness that was powerful enough to drive him not only to act against his inclinations, but also, to alter them.) ‘Poor Anna Wetherell,’ said Lydia Wells. ‘That girl is the very picture of ill luck.’ ‘Governor Shepard thinks that she has lost her mind.’ ‘Gov. Shepard!’ said Lydia Wells, and laughed gaily. ‘Well, on that subject he is a veritable expert. Perhaps he’s right.’ Gascoigne had no real opinion about Governor Shepard, whom he did not really know, or his lunatic wife, whom he did not know at all. His thoughts turned back to Anna. He was already regretting the sharp tone he had taken with her just now, in her room at the Gridiron Hotel. Gascoigne could never stay vexed for long: even the shortest of intermissions was always sufficient to engender self-reproach. ‘Poor Anna,’ he agreed aloud. ‘You are right: she is a wretched picture. She cannot make rent, and her landlord is to cast her out. But she will not violate her code of mourning by returning to the streets. She will not disrespect the memory of her poor late child—and so, you see, she is in a bind. A wretched picture.’ Gascoigne spoke with admiration and pity. Lydia leaped up. ‘Oh, but she must come live with me—she must!’ she cried, speaking as if she had been impressing this notion upon Gascoigne for some time, instead of having only just proposed it. ‘She can sleep in my bed, as a sister—perhaps she has a sister, somewhere far away; perhaps she misses her. Oh, Aubert, she must. Do be the one to beg her.’ ‘Would she want it, do you think?’ ‘Poor Anna adores me,’ Lydia said firmly. ‘We are the closest of friends. We are as two doves—or we were, at least, in Dunedin last year. But time and distance is nothing in the face of true affinity: we shall find each other once again. We must arrange it. You must make her come.’ ‘Your generosity is most admirable—but also, perhaps, excessive,’ said Gascoigne, smiling indulgently at her. ‘You know Anna’s trade. She would bring that trade with her, you know, if only by way of her sullied reputation. Besides, she has no money.’ ‘Oh, tosh: there’s always money to be made, upon a goldfield,’ said Lydia Wells. ‘She can work for me. I long for a maid. For a companion, as the ladies say. In three weeks the diggers will forget she’d ever been a whore! You won’t change my mind, Aubert—you won’t! I can be very mulish, when I have set my mind on something, and I have set my mind on this.’ ‘Well.’ Gascoigne looked down at his glass, feeling weary. ‘Shall I walk back across the thoroughfare—to ask her?’ She purred. ‘You shall do nothing unless you perfectly desire it. I will go myself. I’ll go tonight.’ ‘But then there will be no surprise,’ said Gascoigne. ‘You were so looking forward to your surprise.’ Lydia pressed his sleeve. ‘No,’ she said firmly. ‘The poor dear has been surprised enough. It’s high time she was given reason to relax; high time she was cared for. I shall take her under my wing. I shall spoil her!’ ‘Are you this good to all your charges?’ Gascoigne said, smiling. ‘I have a vision of you: the lady with the lamp, moving from bedside to bedside, ministering kindness—’ ‘It is well you spoke that word,’ Lydia said. ‘Kindness?’ ‘No: vision. Oh, Aubert, I am bursting with news.’ ‘News about the estate?’ Gascoigne said. ‘So soon!’ Gascoigne did not rightly understand the state of relations between Lydia Wells and her late husband, Crosbie. It was strange to him that the two had lived so many hundreds of miles apart—Lydia in Dunedin, and Crosbie in the depths of the Arahura Valley, a place that Lydia Wells never once visited, until now, nearly two weeks after the event of her husband’s death. It was only for very superficial reasons of propriety that Gascoigne had not questioned Lydia directly about her marriage—for he was curious, and Lydia did not appear to be grieving in any visible sense. She became vague and foolish whenever Crosbie’s name was mentioned. But Lydia was shaking her head. ‘No, no, no,’ she said. ‘Nothing to do with that! You must ask me what I have been doing since I saw you last—what I have been doing this very morning, in fact. I have been aching for you to ask. I cannot believe that you haven’t asked.’ ‘Tell me, do.’ Lydia sat erect, and opened her grey eyes very wide, so that they sparkled. ‘I have bought an hotel,’ she said. ‘An hotel!’ Gascoigne said, marvelling. ‘Which hotel?’ ‘This one.’ ‘This—?’ ‘You think me capricious!’ She clapped her hands together. ‘I think you enterprising, and brave, and very beautiful,’ said Gascoigne. ‘And a thousand other things. Tell me why you have bought this whole hotel.’ ‘I intend to convert the place!’ Lydia said. ‘You know I am a worldly woman: I owned a business in Dunedin for almost ten years, and in Sydney before that. I am quite the entrepreneur, Aubert! You have not yet seen me in my element. You will think me very enterprising, when you do.’ Gascoigne looked about him. ‘What conversions will you make?’ ‘We come at last to my “vision”,’ Lydia said. She leaned forward. ‘Did you see the s?ance advertised in this morning’s paper—with the date and location yet to be confirmed?’ ‘Oh, come—no!’ Lydia raised her eyebrows. ‘Oh come no what?’ ‘Table-turning and spirits?’ Gascoigne smiled. ‘A s?ance is an amusing foolishness—but it is not a business! You ought not to try to profit from a parlour trick! Folk get very angry when they suppose they are being cheated out of honest pay. And besides,’ he added, ‘the Church is disapproving.’ ‘You speak as if the art were not an art! As if the whole business were nothing more than a swindle,’ said Lydia Wells—who was made very bored by the disapproval of the Church. ‘The realm of the paranormal is not a trick, Aubert. The ether is not a cheat.’ ‘Now, come,’ Gascoigne said again. ‘This is entertainment you’re speaking of, not prophecy: let’s not go talking about realms.’ ‘So you are a cynic!’ She pretended to be disappointed. ‘I would never have picked that—disillusioned, maybe; disbelieving, maybe; but tender underneath.’ ‘If I am a cynic, I am a discerning cynic,’ Gascoigne said loftily. ‘I have been to several s?ances, Mrs. Wells; if I dismiss them as foolish superstition, I do not do it out of hand.’ She hesitated—and then her plump hand shot out, and pressed his sleeve. ‘But I am being uncourteous: the subject is of some fascination to you,’ Gascoigne said, remembering himself. ‘It’s not that.’ She stroked the fabric of his cuff a moment, and then withdrew her hand just as quickly. ‘You are not to call me Mrs. Wells—not for very much longer.’ Gascoigne bowed his head. ‘You wish to be addressed now by your maiden name?’ he asked, thinking privately that if this was true, it was a very improper wish indeed. ‘No, no.’ Lydia bit her lip, and then leaned in close and whispered, ‘I am to be married.’ ‘Married?’ ‘Yes—as soon as I dare; but it is a secret.’ ‘A secret—from me?’ ‘From everyone.’ ‘I am not to know the name of your beloved?’ ‘No: not you, nor anyone. It is my clandestine love affair,’ Lydia said. She giggled. ‘Look at me—like a girl of thirteen years, preparing to elope! I dare not even wear his ring—though it is a fine one: a Dunstan ruby, set in a band of Dunstan gold.’ ‘I suppose I ought to offer my congratulations,’ Gascoigne said—cordially enough, but with a new reservation, for his hopes had been somewhat dashed by this news. He felt that a shaft of possibility had closed: a light had been extinguished; a door had slammed. Virtually since he first laid eyes upon the woman, Gascoigne had fantasised that Lydia Wells might one day become his lover. He had conjured her in his cottage, had seen her shaking out her russet locks at his bedside, had watched her stoking his range in the morning, wrapped in a flannel robe; he had imagined the heady days of their early courtship, the construction of the house that they would share together, the passing years. Gascoigne dreamed all of this without shame or embarrassment, and even without conscious awareness that his mind was straying so. It had seemed, simply, natural: she was a widow, and he was a widower. They were both strangers in an unfamiliar town, and they had struck up a cordial acquaintance. It was not so very unlikely, that they might fall in love. But now that he knew that Lydia Wells was betrothed, Gascoigne was forced to relinquish his fantasy—and to relinquish his fantasy, he had to acknowledge it, and see it for the foolishness it was. At first he felt sorry for himself, but as soon as he turned his mind upon this sorrow, he found that its shallowness amused him. ‘I am happiness itself,’ the widow said. Gascoigne smiled. ‘What am I to call you, then, if I cannot call you Mrs. Wells?’ ‘Oh, Aubert,’ said the widow. ‘We are the very best of friends. You do not have to ask. Of course, you must call me Lydia.’ (We will briefly interject with the correction that Aubert Gascoigne and Lydia Wells were not at all the very best of friends: in fact, they had known each other only three days. Gascoigne had first encountered the widow on Thursday afternoon, when the latter arrived at the Magistrate’s Court to inquire after her late husband’s fortune—a fortune that had already been found, and banked, by other men. Gascoigne filed Mrs. Wells’s request to have the sale of the cottage revoked, and over the course of this transaction, the pair fell to talking. The widow returned to the courthouse again on Friday morning, and Gascoigne, emboldened by the evident interest with which she appeared to regard him, begged to escort her to luncheon. She accepted this invitation with a coquettish astonishment, and Gascoigne, holding her parasol, accompanied her across the thoroughfare to Maxwell’s dining hall, where he ordered two plates of barley soup, the whitest bread on offer, and a small carafe of dry sherry—and then seated her in pride of place, next to the window. It quickly transpired that Lydia Wells and Aubert Gascoigne had much to talk about, and much in common. Mrs. Wells was very curious to learn all that had happened since her late husband’s passing, a subject that naturally led Gascoigne to Anna Wetherell, and her strange brush with death in the Kaniere-road. Lydia Wells was further astonished by this—for, as she explained, Anna Wetherell was known to her. The girl had stayed some weeks at her lodging house in Dunedin, before she struck out to make her living on the Hokitika fields the previous year, and over this period the pair had become very close. It was at this point in the conversation that Lydia devised her ‘surprise’. Directly after their luncheon was cleared away, she dispatched Gascoigne to the Gridiron, where he informed Anna Wetherell that she was to be treated to a mystery shopping expedition the following afternoon, at two o’clock.) ‘If you have a fianc?—and a new enterprise,’ said Gascoigne now, ‘then perhaps I am right to hope that your sojourn in Hokitika will not be a short one?’ ‘One is always right to hope,’ said Lydia Wells—who had a fine store of rhetorical set pieces just like this one, and liked to pause dramatically after uttering them. ‘Am I right to guess that your investment was made with the help of your fianc?? Perhaps he is a magnate of some kind!’ But the widow laughed. ‘Aubert,’ she said, ‘you will not draw me out!’ ‘I rather thought you expected me to try.’ ‘Yes—but only to try,’ the widow said. ‘Not to succeed!’ ‘I fancy that is a feminine motif,’ Gascoigne said dryly. ‘Perhaps,’ the widow returned, with a little laugh. ‘But we are a discriminating sex—and I fancy that you would not have it any other way.’ What followed was a rather saccharine exchange of compliments, a game in which both the widow and the widower found themselves extremely well matched. Rather than transcribe this sentimental interchange, we will choose to talk above it, and instead describe in better detail what otherwise might be mistaken for a profound weakness in character on the Frenchman’s part. Gascoigne was enraptured by Lydia Wells, and much admiring of the refined flamboyance of that woman’s speech and manner—but he had not put his faith in her. He had not betrayed Anna Wetherell’s confidence, and in his narration of the latter’s story to Lydia, he had made no mention of the gold that had been discovered in Anna’s orange dress the previous week, which was now wrapped in a flour sack and stowed beneath his bed. Gascoigne had also described the events of the 14th of January as if he believed that Anna had, indeed, attempted to take her life—sensing that, until a better explanation could be reached, it was prudent not to call attention to the evening’s many mysteries. He knew very well that Anna had no notion of where on earth those midnight hours had gone—or, to phrase the matter a different way, of who on earth had stolen them—and he did not wish to place her in any kind of danger. Gascoigne therefore adhered to the ‘official’ story, which was that Anna was a would-be suicide, found insensate and wretched on the side of the road. He had adopted this perspective when discussing the event with other men, and it required no great effort to maintain it here. That Gascoigne was enraptured by Lydia Wells, and not instantly suspicious of her many caprices, is a point we cannot so easily defend. We do observe that the attraction had been formed before he even knew Lydia’s reason for inquiring at the Courthouse; it had been formed, in fact, before the widow even spoke her name. But now Gascoigne knew that Lydia bore a very mysterious relation to her late husband; now he knew that the mysterious fortune that had been discovered in the dead man’s cottage was currently in dispute. He knew that he ought not to trust her—and he knew that when he was with her, a pure and liquid adoration filled the chambers of his heart. Reason is no match for desire: when desire is purely and powerfully felt, it becomes a kind of reason of its own. Lydia’s was a rare and old-world glamour—and Gascoigne knew it, just as if the fact had been logically proved. He knew that her sleekly feline features had been lifted, intact, from an older, better age. He knew that the shape of her wrist and ankle were without compare, and that her voice— But our point has already been made; we ought to return to the scene at hand. Gascoigne had set down his glass. ‘I think,’ he was saying, ‘that it is well you are to be married. You are far too charming to be a widow.’ ‘But perhaps,’ said Lydia Wells, ‘perhaps I am far too charming to be another man’s wife?’ ‘Not at all,’ Gascoigne returned. ‘You are exactly as charming as another man’s wife ought to be: it is only thanks to the likes of you that men get married at all. You make the idea of marriage seem very tolerable.’ ‘Aubert,’ she said. ‘You flatterer.’ ‘I should like to flatter you further, by inviting you to speak upon the subject of your expertise, that I so inadvertently depreciated just now,’ the Frenchman said. ‘Come, Lydia: tell me about spirits, and about the forces of the ether, and I shall try my very best to be na?ve and hopeful, and not sceptical in the slightest.’ How very lovely she was, with the muted light of the afternoon falling over her shoulder like a veil! How gorgeously the shadow filled that notch beneath her lip! ‘Firstly,’ said Lydia Wells, drawing herself up, ‘you are mistaken to think that common folk will not pay to have their fortunes told. Men get very superstitious when the stakes are high, and a goldfield is a place of great risk and great reward. Diggers will always pay good money for a tip—why, the word “fortune” is on their lips almost every day! They’ll try their luck at anything, if they think it might give them an edge upon the field. What is a speculator, anyway, but a gypsy wearing different clothes?’ Gascoigne laughed. ‘I doubt many speculators would appreciate that comparison,’ he said, ‘but, yes, I take your point, Miss Lydia: men are always happy to pay for advice. But will they trust in the efficacy of your advice—the practical efficacy, I mean? I fear it will be an extraordinary pressure—for you will have to bear up beneath the burden of proof! How will you ensure you won’t lead any one of them astray?’ ‘What a terrifically dreary question,’ said Lydia Wells. ‘You doubt my affinity to my subject, I suppose.’ Gascoigne did; but he chose to dissemble for the sake of politeness. ‘I don’t doubt it,’ he said, ‘but I am ignorant of it. I am intrigued.’ ‘I have owned a gambling house for a decade,’ the widow said. ‘My gambling wheel has stopped upon the jackpot only once in all that time, and that was because the pin jammed in the pivot, on account of grit. I had the wheel weighted in such a way that the prize nearest the jackpot always fell against the arrow. As a secondary precaution, the pegs on either side of the number were greased. The arrow always slid past, at the final moment—but so barely, and so tantalisingly, that the men could not help but clamber up and throw down their shillings for another spin.’ ‘Why, Miss Lydia,’ said Gascoigne, ‘that is devilishly unfair!’ ‘Not at all,’ said Lydia. ‘Of course it is!’ said Gascoigne. ‘It’s cheating!’ ‘Answer me this,’ said Lydia Wells. ‘Do you call a grocer a cheat, for placing the choicest apples at the back of the cart, so the blemished fruits will get chosen first?’ ‘It hardly compares,’ said Gascoigne. ‘Tosh: it compares perfectly,’ said the widow. ‘The grocer is making sure of his income: for if he placed the choicest apples in front, the blemished fruits would not be bought until they had gone over to mould, and they would have to be discarded. He ensures a steady income for himself by encouraging each one of his customers to settle for a piece of fruit that is slightly—ever so slightly—defective. I must also make sure of my income, if I am to remain in business, and I do it in exactly this same way. When a gambler goes home with only a small reward—say five pounds—and a sense that he came within a hair’s breadth of a perfectly enormous fortune, it is as if he has gone home with a blemished apple. He has a modest reward, a pleasant memory of a very fine evening, and the sense of having just fallen short of something absolutely extraordinary. He’s happy—more or less. And so am I.’ Gascoigne laughed again. ‘But gambling is a vice,’ he said. ‘A blemished apple is not a vice. Forgive me: I do not mean to be dreary, but it seems that your example—like your gambling wheel—is heavily weighted to favour your own position.’ ‘Of course gambling is a vice,’ said the widow scornfully. ‘Of course it’s a terrible sin and a scourge and it ruins men and all the rest of it. What do I care about that? Try telling a grocer that you do not care for apples! No matter, he’ll tell you—there are plenty of others who like them just fine!’ Gascoigne saluted her in the military style. ‘I am persuaded of your ability to persuade,’ he said. ‘You are a force to be reckoned with, Miss Lydia! I pity that poor fellow who won that jackpot—who had to come to you afterwards, and demand his winnings.’ ‘Oh, yes … But I never paid out,’ said Lydia Wells. Gascoigne was incredulous. ‘You defaulted—on your own jackpot?’ She tossed her head. ‘Who’s defaulting?’ she said. ‘I only gave him a second option. I told him that he could have the one hundred pounds in pure, or he could have me. Not as a whore,’ she said, seeing the look on Gascoigne’s face. ‘As a wife, silly. That was Crosbie. He made his choice. And you know which way he chose!’ Gascoigne’s mouth had fallen open. ‘Crosbie Wells.’ ‘Yes,’ said the widow. ‘We were married before the night was over. What, Aubert? I certainly didn’t have one hundred pounds to give away. I never dreamed the wheel would ever come to rest upon the bonanza—I had weighted it so that would never happen! I could hardly have made good. I would have ruined myself altogether. I would have been bankrupted. You cannot be shocked!’ ‘I confess I am, a little,’ Gascoigne said—though his shock was of a most admiring kind. ‘Why—were you at all acquainted with the man?’ ‘Of course not,’ said Lydia Wells. ‘What modern notions you have.’ Gascoigne blushed. ‘I did not mean that,’ he said, and then, rushing on, ‘Of course, if you were preventing your own financial ruin, as you say …’ ‘We were terribly ill suited, of course, and within the month we could not stand the sight of one another. It was to be expected. Yes: it was the best that either of us could have expected, given the circumstances.’ Gascoigne was wondering why the pair had not arranged a divorce, but he could not ask this question without offending the widow’s propriety, and merely nodded. ‘You see I am very modern about that,’ Lydia added. ‘You must agree with my circumspection on that score—to insist upon a separation, above a divorce! You have been married, Mr. Gascoigne.’ He noticed the coquettish use of his family name, and smiled at her. ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘But let us not talk of the past; let us talk of the present, and the future, and all that lies ahead. Tell me about the conversions you will make to this hotel.’ Lydia was pleased to be given the stage. She leaped to her feet, and, clasping her hands together in the pose of a chorister, stepped forward around the ottoman. Turning on her heel, she cast her gaze around the parlour—at the mullioned window; the thinly plastered walls; the threadbare Union Jack, no doubt salvaged from a wreck, which was tacked vertically to the wall that faced the window. ‘I will change the name, of course,’ she said. ‘It will no longer be the Wayfarer: it will be the Wayfarer’s Fortune.’ ‘There’s a music in that.’ This satisfied her. She took a few steps away from the sofa, and spread her arms. ‘I will have drapes—I cannot abide a room without drapes—and fainting-couches, in the modern style. In the drawing room there will be a cubicle with saloon doors, rather like a confessional—very like a confessional. The front parlour will be a waiting room of sorts. The s?ances I will conduct here, of course. Oh, I have every kind of idea. I will read fortunes, and draw up cosmic birth-charts, and play out the patterns of the Tarot. Upstairs … but what is this? You are still sceptical, Aubert!’ ‘I am no longer a sceptic! I have recanted,’ said Gascoigne, reaching out to clasp her hand—a movement that was spurred partly because he was trying to smother a smile. (He was a sceptic, through and through, and he could not hear her roll the r of Tarot without wanting to burst with laughter.) Squeezing her hand, he added, ‘I should very much like to be rewarded for recanting.’ ‘In this matter I am the expert, and you are the layman,’ said Lydia Wells. ‘You ought to remember that—no matter your poor opinion of realms.’ Her arm was extended between them limply, as a lady extends her rings to be kissed, and Gascoigne repressed the urge to snatch it up, and kiss it. ‘You are right,’ he said, squeezing her hand again. ‘You are quite right.’ He released her, and she moved away to the mantel. ‘I will reward you with a fact,’ she said, ‘but on the condition that you must take me very seriously—quite as seriously as you would take any other man.’ ‘Of course,’ Gascoigne murmured, becoming solemn. He sat back. ‘Here it is,’ said Lydia Wells. ‘Next month will be a month without a moon.’ ‘Dear me!’ said Gascoigne. ‘It will never wax completely full, is what I mean. February is a short month. There will be a full moon just prior to the first, and another just after the twenty-eighth—and so, no full moon in February.’ Gascoigne smiled at her. ‘And does it fall so—every year?’ ‘Not at all,’ said Lydia. ‘The phenomenon is very rare.’ She ran her finger along the plaster moulding. ‘Rare implies a value, does it not? Or a danger—?’ ‘It happens only once every score of years,’ Lydia continued, straightening the carriage clock. ‘And what does it prophesy, Miss Lydia—a month without a moon?’ Lydia Wells turned to him, and placed her hands upon her hips. ‘If you give me a shilling,’ she said, ‘I’ll tell you.’ Gascoigne laughed. ‘Not yet,’ he said. ‘I don’t yet have proof of your expertise. I shall have to test you before I part with any money, or anything else that belongs to this realm. The cloud will be down tonight—but I will check the Monday papers, and look up the tides.’ The widow gazed at him, impenetrably. ‘I’m not mistaken,’ she said. ‘I’ve an almanac, and I am very skilled at reading it. The moon is waxing now, above the cloud. It will be full by Monday night, and on Tuesday it will begin to wane. Next month will be a month without a moon.’ CONJUNCTIONS In which poor impressions are restored; the invitations multiply; and the past rolls forward to touch the present hour. The Reverend Cowell Devlin had remained in the dining room of the Palace Hotel until the middle hours of the afternoon, whereupon he began to feel thick-headed and slow, and his reading ceased to be profitable. Judging himself to be in need of fresh air, he drained his coffee, stowed his pamphlets, paid his bill, turned his collar up against the rain, and set off along the beachfront, heading north. The afternoon sun was bright above the cloud, lending to the scene a silvery glow that leached the sea of colour and picked out points of white light in the sand. The very raindrops seemed to shimmer in the air; the wind, blowing chill from the ocean, carried with it a pleasant, rusty smell. All this did much to dispel Devlin’s torpor, and in very little time at all he was red-cheeked and smiling, his wide-brimmed hat clamped tight to his head with the palm of his hand. He decided to make the most of his perambulation, and return to Hokitika via the high terrace of Seaview: the site of the future Hokitika Gaol, and Devlin’s own future residence. Upon gaining the crest of the hill he turned, panting slightly, and was surprised to see that he was being pursued. A young man, clad only in a twill shirt and trousers, both of which were plastered wetly to his body, was ascending the track to the terrace at a great pace. The man’s head was down, and he was not immediately identifiable; it was not until he came within twenty yards of Devlin that the latter recognised him. Why, he thought, it was the man from the Arahura Valley: the Maori man, friend of the late Crosbie Wells. Cowell Devlin had not trained as a missionary, and had not journeyed to New Zealand for that purpose. It had been quite to his surprise when he discovered that the New Testament had been translated into Maori some twenty years prior to his arrival; he was even more astonished to learn that the translation was available for public purchase at the stationer’s on George-street in Dunedin, at a very reasonable price. Turning the pages of the translated document, Devlin had wondered how the holy message had been simplified, and at what cost. The unfamiliar words in their truncated alphabet seemed infantile to him, composed of repeating syllables and babble—unrecognisable, like the nonsense of a child. But in the next moment Devlin chastised himself; for what was his own Bible, but a translation of another kind? He ought not to be so hasty, or so prideful. In penance for his unvoiced doubt he took out his pocketbook and made a careful note of some key verses from the Maori text. He aroha te Atua. E Aroha ana tatou ki a ia, no te ea ko ia kua matua aroha ki a tatou. Ko Ahau te huarahi, te pono, te ora. Hone 14:6, he wrote, and then, marvelling, from the epistles of Paora. The translator had even changed the names. The Maori man looked up; seeing Devlin standing on the ridge above him, he stopped, and from a distance of several yards they regarded each other, saying nothing. A sudden gust of wind flattened the tussock around where Devlin stood, blowing his hair back from his temples. ‘Good afternoon,’ he called. ‘Good afternoon,’ returned the other, squinting slightly. ‘I see that we are neither of us deterred by a spot of foul weather!’ ‘Yes.’ ‘The view is rather compromised; that’s the only shame,’ Devlin added, throwing out his arm to include the shrouded vista before them. ‘It seems that we might be anywhere on earth, when the clouds come down—do you not think? I fancy that when they clear again, we shall find ourselves in an altogether different place!’ The terrace of Seaview, aptly named, had a singular prospect of the ocean, which, from this height, was a featureless expanse, a fat band of uniform colour, with the sky a lighter shade of the same. The shoreline was not visible from the terrace, owing to the steepness of the cliff below—the edge gave out abruptly into a scree of loose stones and clay—and the blankness of this vista, trisected into earth, water, air, with no trees to interrupt the level, and no contour to soften the shape of the land, alarmed one’s senses to the point that one was soon compelled to turn one’s back upon the ocean altogether, and to face the eastern mountains instead—which were obscured, today, by a shifting curtain of white cloud. Below the terrace, the clustered roofs of Hokitika gave way to the wide brown plain of the Hokitika River and the grey curve of the spit; beyond the river, the coastline bore away southward, blurring with haze and distance until it was swallowed absolutely by the mist. ‘It is a good vantage,’ said the Maori man. ‘It most certainly is; though I must say that I have yet to come across a view I did not like, in this country.’ Devlin descended several steps, thrusting out his hand. ‘Here: my name is Cowell Devlin. I’m afraid I don’t remember yours.’ ‘Te Rau Tauwhare.’ ‘Te Rau Tauwhare,’ Devlin repeated solemnly. ‘How do you do.’ Tauwhare was not familiar with this idiom, and paused to puzzle over it; while he was doing so, Devlin went on. ‘You were a very good friend of Crosbie Wells, I remember.’ ‘His only friend,’ Tauwhare corrected. ‘Ah: but even to have one good friend, a man should count himself lucky.’ Tauwhare did not respond to this at once. After a moment he said, ‘I taught him korero Maori.’ Devlin nodded. ‘You shared your language. You shared the stories of your people. It is a fine friendship that is built from that kind of stone.’ ‘Yes.’ ‘You called Crosbie Wells your brother,’ Devlin went on. ‘I remember it: you spoke the very word, that night at the Police Camp—the night before his body was interred.’ ‘It is a figure of speech.’ ‘Yes, it is—but the sentiment behind it is very fine. Why did you say it, if not to say, simply, that you cared for the man, and loved him, as you would love your own? “Brother” is another word for love, I think. The love we choose to give—and gladly.’ Tauwhare thought about this, and then said, ‘Some brothers you cannot choose.’ ‘Ah,’ said Devlin. ‘No indeed. We cannot choose our blood, can we? We cannot choose our families. Yes: you draw a nice distinction there. Very nice.’ ‘And within a family,’ Tauwhare went on, encouraged by this praise, ‘two brothers can be very different men.’ Devlin laughed. ‘Right again,’ he said. ‘Brothers can be very unalike. I had only sisters, you know. Four sisters—and all of them older. They made quite a pet of me.’ He paused, meaning to give Tauwhare the opportunity to volunteer information about his own family, but Tauwhare only repeated his observation about brothers a second time, seeming well pleased with his own perspicacity. ‘I wonder, Te Rau, if I might ask you something about Crosbie Wells,’ said Devlin suddenly. For he had not forgotten the story that he had overheard, that morning, in the dining room of the Palace Hotel. The politician Alistair Lauderback had been convinced, for some mysterious reason, that the late Crosbie Wells and the blackmailer Francis Carver had been brothers, despite the fact that they did not appear to share a name; why Lauderback believed this, however, he had refused to say. Perhaps Tauwhare, as Wells’s great friend, knew something about it. Tauwhare was frowning. ‘Do not ask me about the fortune,’ he said. ‘I know nothing of the fortune. I have been questioned already, by the Magistrate, and by the police, and by the keeper of the gaol. I do not want to give my answers another time.’ ‘Oh no—I’m not interested in the fortune,’ Devlin said. ‘I wanted to ask you about a man named Carver. Francis Carver.’ Tauwhare stiffened. ‘Why?’ ‘I heard that he was an old acquaintance of Mr. Wells’s. Apparently there’s some unfinished business between the two of them. Something—criminal.’ Tauwhare said nothing. His eyes were narrowed. ‘Do you know anything about it?’ Devlin said. When, on the morning of the 14th of January, Te Rau Tauwhare had told Francis Carver, for a price of two shillings, where Crosbie Wells was living, he had not felt as though he were placing his friend in any kind of danger. The offer itself was not unusual, and nor was the manner of its expression. Men often offered rewards for news of fellows who had been lost upon the goldfields: not only brothers, but fathers, uncles, sons, debtors, partners, and mates. There was the missing persons page in the newspaper, of course, but not every digger could read, and still fewer had the time or the inclination to keep abreast of the daily news. It was cheaper, and sometimes more efficient, to offer a reward by word of mouth instead. Tauwhare collected his two shillings quite happily; when, later that same evening, he saw Carver approach Wells’s cottage, knock, and enter, it did not occur to him to be suspicious. He decided that he would sleep the night on the ridge beside his snares, so that Carver and Wells might conduct their reunion in private. He assumed that Carver was an old associate from Wells’s years in Dunedin, and did not speculate beyond this assumption. The following morning, however, Wells was found dead; on the day of his funeral, a phial of laudanum was discovered under his cot; some days after that, it was revealed that Carver’s ship, the Godspeed, had departed on the night of the 14th of January, off schedule, and under the cover of darkness. Tauwhare was horrified. All evidence seemed to point to the fact that Francis Carver had played a part in the hermit’s death—and if this was true, then it was Te Rau Tauwhare who had equipped him with the means to do so, by telling him explicitly where Wells could be found! Still more horrible: he had received payment for his betrayal. Tauwhare’s sense of self-mastery, integral to his self-conception, did not permit unwitting action. The knowledge that he had betrayed his friend for money was deeply shaming to him, and this shame manifested as a disgusted outrage that was directed both inward and outward at once. He spent the days following Wells’s burial in a very black humour, grinding his teeth, pulling on his forelock, and cursing Francis Carver with every step. Devlin’s inquiry prompted a renewal of this ill humour. Tauwhare’s eyes flashed, and his chin lifted. ‘If there is unfinished business between them,’ he said angrily, ‘it is finished now.’ ‘Of course,’ Devlin said, raising his palms to pacify the other man’s temper, ‘but here: I heard a rumour somewhere that they were brothers. Crosbie Wells and Carver. It might only be a figure of speech, as you put it, but I wanted to make sure.’ Tauwhare was bewildered by this; to cover his bewilderment, he scowled at the chaplain very darkly. ‘Do you know anything about it?’ ‘No,’ Tauwhare said, spitting out the word. ‘Wells never mentioned a man named Carver to you?’ ‘No.’ Devlin, perceiving that Tauwhare’s mood had soured, decided to try a different approach. ‘How did Crosbie Wells get on, then—learning Maori?’ ‘Not as good as my English,’ said Tauwhare. ‘That I do not doubt! Your English is extremely good.’ Tauwhare lifted his chin. ‘I have travelled with surveyors. I have led many men over the mountains.’ Devlin smiled. ‘Do you know,’ he said, ‘I believe I feel a touch of the kindred spirit in you, Te Rau. I think that we are not so very different, you and I—sharing our stories, sharing our language, finding brothers in other men. I think that we are not so very different at all.’ Here Devlin spoke whimsically rather than perceptively. His years as a clergyman had taught him that it was prudent always to begin upon a point of connexion, or to forge one, if a connexion did not yet exist. This practice was not dishonest exactly, but it was true that, if pressed, Devlin would not have been able to describe this apparent similarity in any great detail, before devolving into generality. ‘I am not a man of God,’ said Tauwhare, frowning. ‘And yet there is much of God in you,’ Devlin replied. ‘I believe you must have an instinct for prayer, Te Rau—to have come here today. To pay respects at your dear friend’s grave—to pray over him, indeed.’ Tauwhare shook his head. ‘I don’t pray for Crosbie. I remember him.’ ‘That’s all right,’ Devlin said. ‘That’s fine. Remembering is a very good place to start.’ Smiling slightly, he pressed the pads of his fingers together, and then tilted both hands downward—his clerical pose. ‘Prayers often begin as memories. When we remember those whom we have loved, and miss them, naturally we hope for their safety and their happiness, wherever they might be. That hope turns into a wish, and whenever a wish is voiced, even silently, even without words, it becomes a supplication. Perhaps we don’t know to whom we’re speaking; perhaps we ask before we truly know who’s listening, or before we even believe that listener exists. But I judge it a very fine beginning, to make a practice of remembering those people we have loved. When we remember others fondly, we wish them health and happiness and all good things. These are the prayers of a Christian man. The Christian man looks outward, Te Rau; he loves others first, himself second. This is why the Christian man has many brothers. Alike and unalike. For none of us are so dissimilar—would you not agree?—when perceived from a collective point of view.’ (We do perceive, from the advantage of this collective point of view, that Te Rau Tauwhare and Cowell Devlin are indeed very similar in a great many ways; the most pertinent of these, however, are to go both unobserved and unremarked. Neither man possesses curiosity enough to disturb the other’s prideful equanimity, nor truly to draw him out: they are to stand forever proximal, one the act of his own self-expression, the other, the proof of it.) ‘A prayer needn’t always be a supplication, of course,’ Devlin added. ‘Some prayers are expressions of gladness; some are expressions of thanks. But there is hope in all good feeling, Te Rau, even in feelings that remember the past. The prayerful man, the good man, is always hopeful; he is always an optimist. A man is made hopeful by his prayers.’ Tauwhare, who had received this sermon doubtfully, only nodded. ‘These are wise words,’ he added, feeling pity for his interlocutor. In general Tauwhare’s conception of prayer was restricted to the most ritualised and oratorical sort. The ordered obeisance of the whaikorero produced in him, as did all rituals of speech and ceremony, a feeling of centrality and calm, the likes of which he could not manufacture alone, and nor did he wish to. The sensation was quite distinct from the love he felt for his family, which he experienced as a private leaping in his breast, and distinct, too, from the pride he felt in himself, which he felt as a pressurised excitement, an elated certainty that no man would ever match him, and no man would ever dare to try. It ran deeper than the natural goodness that he felt, watching his mother shuck mussels and pile the slippery meat into a wide-mouthed flax basket on the shore, and knowing, as he watched her, that his love was good, and wholly pure; it ran deeper than the virtuous exhaustion he felt after a day stacking the rua kumara, or hauling timber, or plaiting harakeke until the ends of his fingers were pricked and raw. Te Rau Tauwhare was a man for whom the act of love was the true religion, and the altar of this religion was one in place of which no idols could be made. ‘Shall we go to the grave together?’ Devlin said. The wooden headstone that marked Crosbie Wells’s grave had surrendered already to the coastal climate. Two weeks following the hermit’s death, the wooden plaque was already swollen, the face already spotted with a rime of black mould. The indentation of the cooper’s engraving had softened, and the thin accent of paint had faded from white to a murky yellow-grey, giving the impression, not altogether dispelled by the stated year of his death, that the man had been deceased for a very long time. The plot was yet unseeded by lichen or grass, and, despite the rain, had a barren look—not of earth recently turned, but of earth that had settled, and would not be turned again. The favoured epitaphs here were chiefly beatitudes from Matthew, or oft-quoted verses from the Psalms. Injunctions to sleep and be at peace did not reassure, however, as they might have done in some hedged and cobbled parish, ten thousand miles away. It was in the company of the lost and the drowned that Crosbie Wells lay at his eternal rest, for there were yet only a handful of headstones in the plot at Seaview, and most of them were memorials erected in honour of vessels that had been wrecked, or lost at sea: the Glasgow, the City of Dunedin, the New Zealand—as though entire cities, entire nations, had been bound for the Coast, only to run aground, or sink, or disappear. On the hermit’s right was a memorial to the brigantine Oak, the first ship to founder at the mouth of the Hokitika River, a fact engraved with forbidding premonition upon the greenish stone; on Wells’s left was a wooden headstone barely larger than a plaque, which bore no name at all, only a verse, unattributed: MY TIMES ARE IN YOUR HAND. None too far from the cemetery was the site of George Shepard’s future gaol-house, the foundations of which had been paced and measured out already, the dimensions marked in white lead paint upon the soil. It was the first time that Tauwhare had ventured to Seaview since Wells’s interment, a ceremony that had taken place before a small and perfunctory audience, and despite very heavy rain. In these aspects, and in the general speed with which the conventional blessings were dispatched, Wells’s funeral had seemed to embody every kind of inconvenience, and every kind of dreariness. Needless to say Te Rau Tauwhare had not been invited to contribute to the proceedings; in fact George Shepard had specifically enjoined him, with an ominous wag of his large-knuckled finger, to keep silent during all but the chaplain’s ‘Amen’—a chorus to which Tauwhare did not, in the event, add his voice, for Devlin’s benediction was quite swallowed in the downpour. He was permitted to assist in lowering Wells’s coffin down into the mud of the hole, however, and in depositing thirty, forty, fifty shovelfuls of wet earth after it. He should have liked to do this alone, for the party made short work of filling the hole, and it seemed to Tauwhare that everything was over far too soon. The men, pulling their collars up about their ears, buttoned their coats, took up their earth-spattered tools, and trooped single-file back down the muddy switchback to the warmth and light of Hokitika proper, where they shucked their greatcoats, and wiped their faces dry, and changed their sodden boots for indoor shoes. Tauwhare came silently upon the grave of his friend, Devlin following, his hands folded, his expression peaceful. Tauwhare halted some five or six feet from the wooden headstone, and looked upon the plot as though upon a deathbed from a chamber doorway—as though fearing to step, bodily, into the room. Tauwhare had never seen Crosbie Wells beyond the Arahura Valley. He had certainly never seen him here, upon this forsaken terrace, ravaged by the sky. Had the man not said countless times that it was in the solitary Arahura that he wished to end his days? It was senseless that he should have been laid to rest here, among men who were not his brethren, upon soil he had not worked, and did not love—while his dear old cottage stood empty and abandoned, some dozen miles away! It was that soil that ought to have claimed him. It was that earth that ought to have turned his death to fertile life. It was in the Arahura, Tauwhare thought, that he ought to have been buried, in the end. At the edge of the clearing, perhaps … or by the plot of his tiny garden … or on the north-facing side of the cottage, in a patch of sun. Te Rau Tauwhare came closer—into the phantom chamber, to the foot of the phantom bed. A wave of guilt overcame him. Ought he to confess to the chaplain after all—that he, Tauwhare, had led Crosbie to his death? Yes: he would make his confession; and Devlin would pray for him, as though for a Christian man. Tauwhare squatted down upon his haunches, placed a careful palm over the wet earth that covered Crosbie’s heart, and held it there. ‘Weeping may endure for the night, but joy cometh in the morning,’ Devlin said. ‘Whatu ngarongaro he tangata, toitu he whenua.’ ‘May the Lord keep him; may the Lord keep us, as we pray for him.’ Tauwhare’s palm had made an indentation in the soil; seeing this, he lifted his hand a little, and with his fingertips, smoothed the print away.

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