Tag Archives: short stories

Story Sunday: The Trial of Justice Nuttall

Inside Fort Yale’s only barbershop, Justice of the Peace Jacob Nuttall sat in a chair facing a rough-hewn wall while Walter Marvin applied a greasy mixture to his face.

“Those men I told you about, one of them came around yesterday demanding a shave. He said if I drew even a drop of blood with my razor then he’d shoot me!” Marvin held up his razor as if to emphasize the point.

“Did you remind him that British law applies here?”

“I didn’t say a word but I charged him double!”

“Have you heard anything more about Justice Defries of Hill’s Bar?”

“Nothing so far. Judge Defries is under the thumb of Scranton. Whenever Scranton wants something he just yanks on Defries’ nose ring and he comes,” Marvin shook his head.

Nuttall frowned. “How can this Andrew Scranton have so much influence? I fail to understand.”

Marvin smiled, “he’s been a politician for a long time. Some say he used to be a lawyer or a judge with high hopes until he got on the wrong side of the Vigilante Committee in San Francisco. His friends got him out of there and up here to Fort Yale.”

Barber Pole -people went to barbers not just for a haircut

Barber Pole -people went to barbers not just for a haircut

Nuttall turned his head and Marvin shaved the other side.

“It’s challenging enough to have these lawless miners around and now Scranton has to drag his party politics up here to our colony. Do you think he’s intent on this American manifest destiny?”

Marvin straightened up, “Scranton could round up some miners for a militia—back home I’m sure half of them already belong to one. The only lucky thing is Scranton has enemies here and that’s why he’s had to stick to his camp down the river. Yet he’s been trying to make friends with Mr. Drake; I saw them having a friendly meeting in Foster’s Saloon.”

Nuttall gave this some thought. He had assumed Drake to be a loyal British servant, but perhaps he should be wary of him. Drake was a fur trade company man and had close ties with the other forts along the Fraser River. It was possible that Scranton was gathering intelligence.

“Hmm. Very interesting. Dr. Kilburn has also cast some doubt on Scranton’s character.”

“That’s no surprise considering Kilburn is a Vigilante. If the Vigilante Committee had their way, Scranton would have hanged in California. It must irk Kilburn to see Scranton walk around Fort Yale as a free man. It bothers me too, come to think of it. Folks like me have only just seen their freedom and the politicians down there want to take it away again. That’s why I’m up here, happy to be freezing in the name of Queen Victoria!” Marvin laughed.

Nuttall handed a few coins to Marvin.

“If there is any trouble, keep me advised,” Nuttall said as he put on a military hat from an army he once belonged to and opened the door.

“There’ll be trouble alright, you can be sure of that. You have a good day, sir.”

Marvin pulled the door shut against a blast of frigid air. It was going to be a long cold winter he thought to himself as he stoked the fire in the corner.

Two weeks later, there was trouble just as Marvin had figured.


This is the second story featured in my book, Mayhem at Rock Creek & more Gold Rush Stories

Book of BC Gold Rush Short Stories just published

Gold Rush Short Stories

Mayhem at Rock Creek and more Gold Rush Stories

My new book of BC gold rush short stories has just been released on Amazon! Mayhem at Rock Creek & more Gold Rush Stories includes:

  • Trouble in Fort Yale
  • The Trial of Justice Nuttall
  • Rations in a Prosperous Land
  • Captain Hovie’s Messenger
  • The Molasses Letter
  • Disputed Claim
  • Justice Arrives in Lillooet
  • Mayhem at Rock Creek

Sweet Apple

Ah Jai – Barkerville, BC

This is a fictional story based on the life of Ah Jai, a gold miner and gambler who went by the nickname “Sweet Apple” because of his belief in the power of apples to keep him alive.  He had lost most of his vision and was known to play cards with his eyes shut.  He also sold lottery tickets. Ah Jai spent many years toiling for gold on Williams Creek near Barkerville, BC during the gold rush years. 

 

Mah Ying Chee was a miner in coal mine #4 when it blew up from coal dust.  He was supposed to be dead according to the supervisor because his lantern was amongst the 116 men and mules that didn’t return to the top after the explosion.

About half past midnight, Chee managed to crawl out, after everyone else had gone home and given up any hope for survivors.

Chee decided to keep walking; tired as he was he just wanted to escape.  He didn’t want to go back to the mine, even if it meant that his wife and family back home in China were short of money.  He would make it up for them somehow.

His friend had got a job as a cook at a road house in Beaver Pass, between Quesnel and Barkerville where the gold was.  “If you need money, try working for the CPR.  They have an office in Yale and you’ll probably get a job.”

Chee boarded a boat from Victoria to New Westminster and from there took a steamboat to Yale, crowded like sardines into bunks, six tiers high.  It was filthy and foul and Chee questioned whether he had done the right thing, following the herd of people up to Barkerville and what remained of the gold rush.

To say it was a relief to disembark the ship and breathe some fresh air was an understatement.  With its assortment of tents, shacks and wooden buildings of various heights, Yale itself was quite different from the planned company town he had come from.

It was the sort of town that could only exist at the edge of towering mountains, in a place where the steamboats wouldn’t travel any further.  Chee got off the boat and stretched his legs, looking for a place to eat.  He passed a motley group playing cards in front of a hotel with a false front.  There were false fronts everywhere.  There were also a lot of questionable characters and some hardened ones too.

After a few inquiries and directions, he found a shack that his friend had told him about and encountered the man they called ‘Sweet Apple.’  His real name was Ah Jai and he too had been a coal miner who had gone mostly blind from working in the dimly lit mines.

They exchanged stories for a while and then Jai gave Chee ten cents and asked him to buy some sweet apples.

Chee wasn’t sure how or where he was going to find some apples but the money felt good in his hand anyway and he was hungry himself.  Still, a promise was a promise and he felt obliged to be kind to this eccentric man who had shared the same past.

After a while Chee returned empty handed just as Jai was settling down to eat a meal of ham and rice and a variety of vegetables he claimed he grew in his own yard.  Chee pulled up a crate and sat down to eat.  Between mouthfuls of dinner, Jai told Chee the secret to his success.

“Apples.  Sweet apples are what saved my life.  Do you want to hear a real story?” he asked.

Chee nodded, grateful to be eating a good meal at last.

“I came up here for the gold in 1865 but I found I made more money gambling.  I don’t see too well but I know when I have the four aces in my hand.  Plus, I sold lottery tickets.  I told myself, if you stay sober, then you have more money to send back home.  In a few years, I will set sail for China.”

“How did apples save your life?” Chee asked.

“I still have a claim up there near Williams Creek and I go up every year.  One thing I learned early on is that you never let anyone know how well or how poorly you are doing.  That’s why I always had lottery tickets.  That explains everything.  People are up here to get rich, nothing else.

“One day, I was halfway to Barkerville when I ran into four men from England and they were all very hungry.  Hallucinating.  Nothing that was coming out of their mouths made any sense.  They had money and I had food. So, they gave me money for my food.  It was enough money for me to buy my claim and pay off what I owed to the mining company.”

Chee was skeptical of the story but he didn’t doubt that Jai was a decent gambler.  Later that evening, after Chee had inquired about transportation out of Yale, he saw Jai sitting at a table down a laneway behind the hotel, dealing cards with quick, fluid movements.

There were only three ways to get to Cariboo at that time: Barnard’s Express which cost $75 one way, by bull team or walking.  Chee didn’t want to walk, but he didn’t have the money for the express.

Chee went to sleep on the wood slat floor of the shack and slept soundly until the morning and someone opened the door.

For a moment he was disoriented, but then Chee realized at once and in another moment, realized something was terribly wrong.

There lay Ah Jai, sprawled dead on the floor with a knife sticking in his back, between which lay a lottery ticket.

(to be continued)

The Transplant

1909

At the age of 18, Benjamin left Scotland with £300 and went to Ceylon to learn tea and rubber planting in the hills near Kandy at the Condera Estate. 

Benjamin was keen to learn the Tamil language and travelled to the cooler, northern part of Ceylon.  Upon his return to Kandy, he was given his own bungalow with several servants and two porters who transported all the supplies into that mountainous country, even a piano. Another time, the porters carried two terrier dogs sent by his parents from Scotland to be company for him.

He rode his horse around the terraced plantation and was in charge of 2000 labourers, supervising their work and health.  He also had a motorcycle for travelling longer distances.

The nearest tea planter, Arthur, was twenty miles away and he would ride that distance to play tennis.  Arthur was approaching sixty years old but he could reach the end of the court in a few strides.

In 1914, Benjamin heard of the threat of World War I, Benjamin prepared to return back to Scotland to enlist.  It was hard to think of leaving this beautiful place that had been his home for almost five years and he vowed to return.

He would make one last visit to Arthur for a game of tennis and he had brought with him his faithful companions, Ramsay and Firth, which Arthur had promised to take care of in Benjamin’s absence.

Benjamin was so preoccupied with thinking about this new war and what it would be like, he didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary as he eased his motorcycle to a stop near a shady tree.

The dogs were growing restless in their wagon so Benjamin took them out one by one and they bounded up the wide steps to the veranda as he walked up behind.  His dogs playful barking changed tone suddenly as they ambled along the veranda on their short legs. Arthur was well-loved by the dogs and it was unusual not for Arthur to welcome them.

There was no one there. Perhaps he was sick? Benjamin knocked on the front door and called the dogs back. There was no answer.

Where was Arthur?

Benjamin discovered the dogs around the side of the clay court and there was Arthur, dressed and ready to play, except that he was lying face down. Benjamin bent down and rolled him to his side. It was if he had died of shock.  Benjamin checked his pulse. It was too late.

It seemed odd that no one had noticed Arthur, a rather loud spoken fellow.  Where were his servants?

Benjamin called out but there was no answer.  He would have to summon help. Gathering up the two whimpering dogs, Benjamin rode his motorcycle back along the bumpy, dusty road back home.

Along the drive back he couldn’t help but see the pained expression on Arthur’s face and he wondered what had been the source of his death.

He passed on the message to one of the porters to give to the police who came and did their investigation, and Benjamin provided a brief statement.

No more was mentioned of the matter and weeks later, Benjamin arrived at Bombay after several days travel with Ramsay and Frith in tow. The ships were crowded with young men like him returning to the old country to enlist.

1919

Scarred emotionally and physically from the Great War, Benjamin was preparing to go back to Ceylon when his brother told him he was emigrating to a small farming community in Canada after seeing an advertisement in a London newspaper.

“Come and help me out for a short while,” his brother implored.

Benjamin and George bought some farmland and started planting fruit trees. Benjamin decided they needed help so they hired Norton who also transported water in barrels on a horse drawn stone boat.

As it turned out Norton had also spent some time in Ceylon and in the evenings when they would gather together for a meal, they would share stories, but Benjamin never mentioned anything about what had happened to his neighbour.

One evening in November, there was a bad storm that blew whitecaps across the lake and bent trees.  Benjamin could not believe his eyes, out in the water was a sailboat. Who would be out there in this weather?

He rubbed his eyes and wondered if he was seeing a mirage, but the shape was there.
The next day, Benjamin went down to the beach and discovered the remains of the sailboat, washed ashore.

There was no one on board that he could tell.  For an instant he felt as if he were back in Ceylon again, looking for Arthur.  Benjamin closed his eyes at the thoughts that he envisioned and walked back up the hill.