Twelve men are hanging out in the smoking room at the Crown Hotel in Hokitika. They apparently were in the middle of something when a man named Walter Moody entered.
We learn a bit more about Moody and his background, including how he got to Hokitika. It seems that Moody has come to look for gold.
The men start chatting with Moody. In particular, a man called Balfour takes an interest in Moody's story about how he came there that night. We learn more about Balfour.
Along the way, we learn that this party of twelve was never meant to be disturbed; the men had actually taken precautions (including a lookout) to ensure they would be left alone. But since Moody was staying at the Inn, and had arrived before the lookout had been set up, he slipped through the net.
Also, we learn in drips and drabs that Moody's boat trip from Port Chalmers to Hokitika on the Godspeed was, er, eventful—he is having flashbacks of a "bloody cravat" and mentions seeing something horrific, though he doesn't come out with the full story right away …
Balfour tries to draw Moody out, pressing him to come out with the story of why he decided to come to Hokitika. Despite the fact that Moody has indicated it's private, Balfour keeps on pressing. Meanwhile, Moody thinks about his journey to Hokitika.
Eventually, Moody relents and comes out with a tale of family woe/drama. It seems his father, Adrian Moody, is kind of a rogue. After Moody's mama died, Moody's father remarried, but then treated his wife like crud. Then he disappeared.
Thinking that his brother (who was in New Zealand) was totally in the dark as to all of this, Walter sailed to New Zealand to find/tell him. But before he could find Frederick (that's his bro's name), he ran into his dad. Who had remarried again.
Walter learned that his bro and his pops had planned Adrian's disappearance/abandonment of his wife together. Adrian was not happy that Walter had found him and tried to keep him from leaving, but he escaped. He then decided to leave for Hokitika under a different name to prevent his father from following him. He explained that he didn't want to return to London to pursue his law career in the wake of all his discoveries, opting instead for the "hard labor" of gold digging.
After he's done telling his story, he notices that everyone in the room has relaxed now.
Balfour then proceeds to give Moody some advice on how to get into the groove of things in Hokitika.
Then the topic rolls back around to Moody's sea voyage to Hokitika, and he reveals that he came by the Godspeed. Suddenly, all the men in the room are back on edge and all ears.
Then Balfour asks Moody for more details—and specifically the captain's name. Moody replies that he believes the name was Carver. Balfour asks Moody for his opinion of the captain.
It seems that Carver was in a hurry to leave Dunedin—which is why they left despite the fact that there was a storm brewing. Moody didn't really ever meet Carver, but he admits that he "discovered certain particulars concerning the ship's cargo, while aboard, that made me doubt her errand was an honest one."
Then Moody finally decides to show his annoyance at being questioned so intently, and different pairings of the men confer in whispers about what they have just heard. Balfour goes to get Moody a drink.
While Balfour is doing that, a man named Aubert Gascoigne introduces himself to Moody. It turns out Moody has read an opinion piece he had written on behalf of the Magistrate's Court.
Although his piece had been on the "iniquity of crime" in general, Gascoigne starts talking in particular about someone named Anna Wetherell, who was arrested for trying to kill herself. Apparently, she's somehow related to Carver, though we don't yet know how. Gascoigne also claims that Carver killed his own child.
Then Dick Mannering comes over to introduce himself. He runs the Prince of Wales Opera House.
Meanwhile, the men surrounding Moody continue to whisper. Finally, Balfour and a dark-haired man return to sit with Moody. Balfour hands Moody a drink.
Gascoigne announces that they are planning to take Moody into their confidence, if Moody agrees. The dark-haired man asks the room if anyone has an objection.
Balfour then announces that there has been a murder, and that Carver is the murderer—he isn't sure how or why, but he's sure that Carver is the killer. Balfour is hoping to give Moody a history of Carver that will convince him to help the group out.
Moody wonders why he would be particularly helpful to the men in pursuing Carver, and Balfour reminds him that he has told them his trunk is still aboard the Godspeed, and he has an appointment at the customhouse the next day to retrieve it. Which would give him an opportunity to investigate the ship.
Then Balfour begins the story of how those twelve men came to be assembled there.