Judge Begbie was in his hotel room when he heard a clattering noise on the street below and Billy’s familiar shout to the horses as the stagecoach stopped in front of the hotel. Begbie parted the drapes to look out the window.
“I don’t believe it,” he muttered to himself. It was almost seven o’clock in the evening although it was deceptively bright outside, given the northern latitude of the gold rush town, Van Winkle.
Billy had just stepped down from his seat by the time Begbie made his way outside.
“I got delayed, your honour,” Billy said.
“There is no need to point out the obvious. See me tomorrow morning at breakfast.”
“Thank you, sir. The horses won’t forgive me unless I get them settled down. I could use a nose bag myself.”
Begbie patted him on the shoulder and then strode off in the direction of the Fairburn Hotel where his dinner guest was waiting for him.
Dud Moreland, land speculator and mining investor, shook Begbie’s hand and they settled down for dinner which consisted of venison, several glasses of wine, and sponge cake.
There were a few other tables occupied by other diners, but they were far enough away that conversation was possible without being overheard.
“Are you still living in that old HBC tent when you’re on the trail?”
Begbie stretched out his legs, “it’s a matter of necessity. There are only so many roadhouses and most of them are accommodating miners, not justices.”
Moreland nodded, “of course I was just thinking of while you are up here in the Cariboo, you would want a house of your own so you could have your own library and your valuables wouldn’t get damaged by the rain.”
“That is true, it was only yesterday that the stagecoach driver was delayed and as a result I didn’t have access to my seals. He only just arrived in town.” He declined to add that he had sent a messenger on a fruitless journey to get the Assistant Gold Commissioner, William Cox to affix the seal.
“Terrible! I’m sure your seals are in safe hands with Billy. What did you say these seals look like?”
“They’re brass or some similar kind of metal, why do you ask?” Begbie furrowed his eyebrows at the thought that his judgement hadn’t been made official.
Moreland clasped his hands together, “I’m quite sure they’ve arrived safe and sound.” He smiled.
“I have twenty acres in the Cottonwood District that I’ve been considering selling…”
John Robson, publisher of the British Columbian, sat at the nearby table and was so desperately trying to eavesdrop, he stopped chewing. He was certain that he heard Moreland mention the paltry fee of two bits1 per acre. Two bits! Absurd that land in such a coveted area would be selling so cheaply. And what was this business of the court seals?
After his dinner and while Begbie and Moreland had moved on to stronger spirits, Robson slipped out of the hotel and went to find Miles and Frederick, the two miners with whom he had interviewed earlier that day .
Stagecoach Driver Billy heard the sound of footsteps near the barn where he was resting after hanging up the reins and harness. He opened one eye and watched a man in a wrinkled suit come around the front of the stagecoach to where the boot was kept.
Billy approached the man from behind just as he put a hand on the leather straps which held the boot together.
“Get off!” Billy shouted.
The man started for a moment. “Mr. Billy. I’m Frederick Malone, the new assistant gold commissioner. Mr. Begbie requested his documents for the next case.”
Billy shook his head, “I can’t give them out. If Judge Begbie wants to give them to you, he’d have done so himself. I won’t do it.”
The man offered him some money, but Billy wouldn’t take it. It wasn’t that he didn’t have a need for money it was a matter that taking it would bring trouble eventually.
“You bring Judge Begbie around,” Billy said.
The man turned as if to walk away and then out of nowhere Billy felt a blow to his head from behind.
1 Two bits equalled twenty-five cents.