Praise for Zachary's Gold:
"Both interesting and fun … This slice of BC history will be of particular interest to readers who have been to the places that feature in Zachary's storyeven if they've travelled there by car or train, rather than on foot or bystern wheeler." —Geist
"A precious nugget." —Quesnel Cariboo Observer
Praise for Zachary's Gold:
|Publisher:||Heritage Group Distribution|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 7.40(h) x 1.00(d)|
Read an Excerpt
Zachary’s Horses: Chapter One
WITH PARTICULAR CARE AND CONCENTRATION, I was able, during the first half-dozen years of my life in the little colonial capitol city of Victoria, to live the life of an exemplary citizen. Any shortcomings of my social character were minimal and discreet, and with good reason, for I was still, and always would be, a fugitive from the hangman, never able to prove my innocence. So the altercation in which I was involved on that morning in the late spring of 1870 was brief and inconspicuous.
The day had begun at a horrifically early hour when we had come down to the docks to see Uncle Boon, with his family and servants, off on their trip to the mainland of British Columbia, where they would pass a week visiting friends (and possibly some of Boon’s dubious business associates) before returning briefly to Victoria and from thence back to San Francisco. Six of us had accompanied the Boon entourage from the Celestial Hotelmyself and my wife, our son Ross, already a bundle of energy well before the sun was up, my wife’s father, White Lee, and then the boot boy and the front door girl. Once we were sure the luggage was aboard, the two servants returned home while the rest of us passed a tedious two hours until the steamer finally hissed and shuffled out towards the open sea.
White Lee, for some reason, hurried up the hill while Sue and I took the slope at a more leisurely pace. I was feeling that it would be a relief to be done with relatives living with us for a while, after ten days of their company. I spoke my thought to my wife, who answered in a critical, somewhat offended tone.
“Shame on you, my husband! They have been only pleasurable company all the time. Uncle Boon likes you very much. You told me yourself that you like him.”
“And I do. Yes I do.” (He was, in fact, my father-in-law’s uncle, but he was only a few years older than myself, and we got along well.) “It’s just that I’m not used to having extended family about the place every day. I feel a little bit tied to home, a bit crowded. And it makes my brain tired trying to decipher Boon’s English. They are all fine, wonderful people, but you know very well that there are limits to my social tendencies.”
“I often wonder, husband, why you chose to become a hotel owner if you find the company of other people so distasteful.”
It’s a fairly steep hill that leads from dockyards to hotel, so the fact that I was a bit breathless as I answered might have given my voice a rather romantic tone as I answered. “I purchased the half-share in the Celestial Hotel solely because I had fallen deeply in love with you and wished to be by your side forever.”
“Oh, really? You should shut your mouth, Lincoln Zachary. There is nonsense coming out of it.”
“And the price was right, of course?.?.?.”
“Half ownership of a wonderful hotel just for paying off our debts?.?.?.”
“And to become your husband, and the father of this wonderful boy?.?.?.” I was carrying Ross, fast asleep, over my shoulder. His moods shift rapidly.
“Ha! I know you very well, and I know nonsense when I hear it, and the two things are never far apart.”
That was the end of our conversation, but I knew that in spite of her brusque manner she was inwardly pleased that I had actually spoken the word “love” out loudso much so that she made no objection when I flopped Ross down on his bed, then slopped down to my room and stretched out on my own.
In perhaps five minutes, as I was dozing off, I realized that we had left the luggage cart down at the dock. I muttered a curse, first in English, then in Chinese, since it was one of the only phrases I knew in that language. When multilingual cursing failed to solve the problem, I sat up and laboriously pulled on my boots. I could have sent one of our staff to fetch it, but at that hour everyone was involved in greeting guests and making breakfasts, so I decided to go myself. I wasn’t all that tired, really, even after rising ridiculously early.
I was about halfway down the street when I first heard the shouting. It did not have the industrious tone of sailors and longshoremen calling to each other, so my curiosity was aroused. I could hear rough laughter mixed into it, while one voice contained no hint of humour at all. When I rounded the corner I was greeted by the sight of a man in clerical costume partway down the nearest wharf, standing at the edge and shouted down at some ruffians below him near the water’s edge. Their heads were about level with his feet, so it was a little too high for him to jump down, although he was threatening to do so if they did not stop what they were doing.
“Leave that man alone! Stop that!”
The situation, as I saw it, was that two of the scoundrels, one holding a bottle of liquor by the neck, were exercising their boots against the backside and ribs of a third, who was prone and helpless. While the first villain took a turn at kicking, the second laughed uproariously and showered abuse upon the clergyman. Like any port city, Victoria has its share of derelicts who have been washed ashore and are thence unable to find their way off the island and on to the next stage of their personal purgatory.
“Leave him alone! Don’t make me come down there with my stick!” He carried a walking stick that would not have frightened a cat.
Be it understood that I am no church man, nor was my father a church man. If his father was a church man, it was a family secret never revealed to me. Still it seems somehow inherently wrong that a pair of useless drunkards should be allowed to disregard and insult a man of God who confronts them in the name of justice. I was only a dozen strides away at the foot of the wharf, so without pausing I jumped down and ran at them, grabbing an oily plank about four feet long on the way. The fellow preparing to land another kick had his back to me and I brought the lumber down square on the top of his head. He dropped to his knees without a sound. I then turned to his companion and swung the plank like a broadsword at his midsection. He was surprisingly spry for a drunk, and I missed him completely.
“Watch it, guv’nor!” he shouted, backing quickly away. “Watch where you’re at with that thing! You almost hit the bottle!”
His friend was now on all fours like a dog, attempting to crawl away, but I clubbed his buttocks so hard that his face hit the dirt.
“That’s enough, friend! Good play, but that’s enough! That’s enough!” The minister was shouting at me now, as he ran down the wharf to where it was safe for him to jump. By the time he reached me, the pair of miscreants were hurrying along the path behind the warehouses, once again laughing. I was pleased to see that at least one of them was now moving with a limp. As the minister bent down to examine their fallen companion, or whatever he was, the battered fellow began to snore and it seemed to me that the expression on his face was vaguely content, although there was a bit of blood in front of his ear. As for the rest of him, it was hard to tell what was blood and what was mud on the fellow, who probably made his home in one gutter or another. “I think he’ll be all right,” my new friend said, shaking his head. “His breathing is steady. Foul but steady. Well done, by the way. Thank you for your work with the big stick. Avery Elliston.” He reached forward and we shook hands.
“Lincoln Zachary. And it was nothing, Reverend.”
“Please, Mr. Zacharynot Reverend. Call me Avery. Please not Reverend.” He fingered his dog-collar uncomfortably. “I wouldn’t be wearing this thing except that I have to be at a morning meeting in half an hour. And now this! I can’t believe how these sad people treat each other sometimes! What can we do with him?” He was gazing down at the sleeping drunkard with an expression that might have been sympathy and might have been disgust. I myself opted for the latter.
“Leave him here.” I suggested. “The other two won’t be back.”
“But he’s close to the water, and if the tide was to rise?.?.?.”
“The tide is on its way out.”
“Someone should be available to him if his injuries are worse than I’ve guessed. And there’s rain coming, I think.”
I was about to reply that in Victoria there was usually rain coming from one direction or the other, but instead told him that I was on my way to fetch the hotel luggage cart, and we could haul him somewhere in that.
So Avery Elliston waited with the injured man while I fetched the cart and brought it to the foot of the wharf. Then the two of us each grabbed a handful of his jacket collar and dragged him down to it. Avery held the cart steady while I lifted the man up and dumped him into it.
“Look, I think he’s coming around,” Avery said, and the fellow did flounder up into consciousnessjust long enough to lean sideways and vomit on my boots. He then returned to his stinking slumbers. My kind-hearted friend stared sadly at my feet and spoke soothingly. “It will all wash off.”
“Yes,” I admitted, then muttered, “but its memory will linger on forever.”
Avery insisted on pulling the cart up the hill, with only occasional assistance from myself. He wasn’t much older than meperhaps thirty-five years of agebut a clergyman’s costume has a way of making the best of them look older and a bit frail. He was still fussing about what to do with the derelict we had rescued.
“There’s a mission for these characters,” I suggested. “Somewhere over on Wharf Street, I think.”
“Of course. I put in a few hours each week there myself. It’s run by a close friend of mine.” He shook his head. “But there’s a very strict rule to the place. The man has to be sober when he arrives, and coming on his own initiative.”
“Well then, my hotel is only another block awaylook, you can see it thereand we can unload him in the wagon shed. I’ll check on him in a few hours and make sure he’s alive.”
“You actually own this hotel?”
“Oh yes. Not much of a hotel, mind you. The Celestial Hotel. Chinese, you understand. I married into the business.”
“A hotel and a Chinese wife!” Avery beamed. “How wonderfully intriguing!”
We dumped the drunkard onto a patch of loose straw, and rolled him onto his back, after which Avery once again told me he must leave for his meeting and did not. We chatted for ten or fifteen minutes. I smoked the last of a packet of little cigars that one of our guests had forgotten on a bedside table when he left. Avery seemed profoundly interested and pleased to hear of my unusual position in lifenot the most common reaction I receive from strangersand for my part, I thought he was about as amiable a fellow as I had met in quite some time.
“Forgive me for my presumption, Mr. Zachary, but I must ask you how you’ve been received by your new family. Is that an improper question?”
“Not at all. Everyone in my wife’s family seems to accept me gladly. Not the whole community, mind you. When I married Sue, I was made well aware that there were about a hundred Chinese bachelors for every eligible female. But the family was happy to have me. Do you think that unusual?”
Avery nodded, and laughed. “As much as there’s anything usual in any such matters. It’s something I’ve noted with the people my brother Jack and I have met on our travels. We’ve been travelling for a couple of years now, you seeSpain, America, South America, Mexico, California?.?.?.”
“You must love the open road then, or the open sea.”
At this he frowned thoughtfully. “Not completely, really. Not always. It wasn’t our own choice, you see. Things happened in England and our fatherwho must never be disobeyedrather expelled us from our native soil until he deemed us to be worthy?.?.?.?But I shouldn’t defame the man. He sends us more money than we deserve, and, well, I really shouldn’t be boring you with my family history, should I?” He suddenly blushed and apologized. Then, “I’m late for my meeting?.?.?.”
I didn’t want him to leave on that emotional note, so I interjected quickly. “Speaking of my new family, and again about overbearing elders, I’m just in the middle of a visit from my father-in-law’s Uncle Boon, who is not really the eldest, but he’s the wealthiest and strongest character in the clan. Runs some sort of mysterious business in San Francisco. Very likeable. I didn’t know what he originally thought of me, but he absolutely loves me now.”
“Ah! How good for you.”
“There’s a reason. You see we were all of us spending a sunny Sunday by the water at the bay last week and his soneight years oldslipped off a slimy rock into deep water. Over his depth, at any rate, and he doesn’t swim. Nor could anybody else in the group, as it turned out, so it was up to me to be the hero and I did my duty.”
“It didn’t feel heroic at all, mind you. We were in about seven feet of water and I got myself under himfully clothed, of courseso I could push him back onto the rock. He had a hard time of it, though. Slimy rock. He couldn’t get a grip. He would put his foot on my head and push upwith me going straight down into a muddy bottomthen lose his grip on the rock and flounder around until he could stand on my head again. This seemed to be repeated about a hundred times, until someone finally helped him out. A great deal of hugging and caressing the young heir to the family fortune, while I stood around on the sand, belching sea water like a drowned dog. I lost one of my best boots to the mud and the tide?.?.?.” I looked down at my current, vomit-soiled footwear. “It’s been a bad week for boots.” Avery was laughing now, as I hoped he would be. I added, “But at least my uncle Boon now considers me his absolute favourite.”
Finally, he did depart for his morning meeting. We agreed that we should get together again sometime, but of course that is a sentiment often expressed and rarely brought to fulfillment.
WHEN AT LAST I entered the hotel, I found that breakfast had come and gone, and the dining room was already cleared away and put in place. I prefer to eat in the kitchen anyway. The staff had disappeared to other duties, but I found a great mound of eggs still hot on a pan at the edge of the cookstove, as well as slabs of ham on a platter on the counter. I think that perhaps Cook had temporarily lost his sense of proportions after daily feeding the extra eight people that comprised my uncle’s travelling household. All this food was left over after serving my wife, son and father-in-law, three long-term residents, and one Scottish traveller. Seized by a sense of duty not to waste it, I took the pan and the platter over to the table and consumed as much as I could. My normal breakfast meal consists of noodle soup and coffee, but eggs and ham were fine for a change.
After eating so heavily, I felt it was only civilized to lie on my bed and meditate for a while. I stood at the top of the stairs, outside my room, and paused to appreciate for a moment the silence and lack of activity. Ross was outside with his governess, my wife and the downstairs girl had taken the cart of linens down to the laundry at the end of the block, and White Lee would be scribbling accounts in his own room. It was wonderfully serene. Perhaps my love for privacy and quiet was one of the reasons that the Celestial Hotel lost a considerable amount of money every month, although it was certainly not the only reason.
Boon and his family would be gone for a week. A weight was taken off my shoulders, and another had been loaded into my belly. I lay down on my bed and closed my eyes. As was unfortunately my habit of late, my first idle thoughts concerned the state of my finances. I had arrived in Victoria a half-dozen years previous, dragging with me so much Barkerville gold that I thought I would never see the end of it. Now, lo and behold, there was the end of itwell within sight. The end of my storied fortune was not exactly close, but I could now measure my finite wealthrather easily, in factand that disturbed me. It disturbed me for about ten minutes, then I fell asleep.