By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, May 22, 1937.
“We ought to find some prospector,” stated Jimmie Frise, “and grubstake him.”
“What for?” I demanded.
“Grubstake him,” said Jimmie, “and send him forth to find us a gold mine.”
“What a chance,” I scoffed.
“I tell you,” cried Jim, “we’re derelict in our duty. What will our grandchildren think of us in years to come? When they know that we lived right in this great age of mineral exploration of Canada, and all we did was draw silly pictures and write sillier stories? What will they think of us?”
“Just what we think of our grandparents,” I suggested.
Think of all the great family fortunes in Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg and Vancouver,” Jim exclaimed. “What were they founded on? On lumber and water power and railroad building. To-day the same opportunity to found our families fortunes lies before us. Mines, my boy. Gold mines are being discovered every day. Platinum mines. Radium mines. And here we sit, twiddling our fingers.”
“Stick to our trade,” I counselled.
“It’s so easy to grubstake a prospector,” explained Jimmie. “And in all the greatest mines of the past, it was the grubstakers who made the dough, not the finders of the mine. For about fifty dollars each, we could grubstake some practical experienced prospector and send him to the newest gold areas and, who can say – maybe six months from now, you and I would be on easy street.”
“It sounds too easy,” I protested. “I’m suspicious of easy ways of doing anything.”
“Ah, don’t be a sap,” cried Jim. “It’s plain business. Here are prospectors just dying to go prospecting. And here are we, just dying to own a gold mine. We bring our resources together. We provide the dough. The prospector provides the knowledge and experience. Without each other we are all helpless. Together, we set forces in motion that might lead to fortune.”
“I could use $50 a lot of ways right now,” I demurred.
“Listen,” said Jim. “Look at it in a bigger way. Never mind about you making a couple of million dollars. Think of what you owe Canada. Shouldn’t you help explore and develop Canadian resources? Think of the new wealth it would turn loose. Think of the work it would give thousands of men, if we found a gold mine. Think of the little town that would spring up around our mine, full of happy little homes. You could be honorary mayor of it. You could be patron of the hockey team. You could …”
“Where would we find a prospector?” I protested. “Prospectors aren’t wandering around city streets. They’re all in the bush at this season of the year.”
“No,” said Jim. “There is a constant flow of prospectors to and from cities at all times of the year. The minute a prospector makes a find, he rushes to the city with his samples to show it to the big shots. We could easily find a prospector if we wanted one.”
“Well,” I agreed doubtfully, “if we happen to meet up with a prospector …”
A Picturesque Figure
So we proceeded to make a systematic tour of the brokers’ board rooms downtown during our lunch hours. Jimmie explained that birds of a feather flock together. We might meet one in the hotels, but the best place would be in brokers’ board rooms where the old-timers would be gathered to see how the market was. And the second noon hour, sure enough, in one of the largest mining brokers’ ticker room, we spotted a prospector sitting all alone in one of the chairs at the back of the room, eating a sandwich.
He was a picturesque figure. He was about sixty, with a short grizzled beard.
After a cautious scrutiny, Jim and I decided to walk boldly up and accost him.
“Look at the simple, eager, child-like expression of him,” I whispered to Jim. “He’s the real thing.”
Nobody was paying any attention to him as he sat there munching his sandwich. I thought to myself, how true to life, all these pallid city slickers with their fifty-cent bets on mining stocks, ignoring this nobleman of the north, this seeker, this finder.
“Been down long?” we asked casually, dropping into the chairs on either side of the old-timer.
He nearly choked on his sandwich he was so delighted to be spoken to.
“Jist out,” he gasped excitedly. “Been out a couple of weeks. And wish to hell I was back agin.”
“Did you bring down some samples?” we asked.
“No, sir,” he said, “I came out to git me a grubstake to go into that there new Golconda Lake area. I was in there thirty years ago. Know every foot of it. But all me old friends is gone. I can’t locate nobody to grubstake me. I’m right down to this.”
And he held up the crusts of his sandwich with a broad grin.
“Me,” he said. “Old Pete Milligrew that has been in on all the gold rushes from the Klondyke to Great Bear Lake. And I can’t find me a grubstake. I guess it’s my age.”
“Shouldn’t age be an advantage?” I asked.
“Well, shouldn’t it?” demanded Mr. Milligrew mightily. “I should say it is. Half these kids rushing in there don’t know copper pyrites from pick splinters and wouldn’t know a fault if they committed it themselves.”
“Maybe they think you couldn’t stand the hardships?” I parried.
“Hardships?” cried Mr. Milligrew. “Me? Why, if them soft, pampered engineers and pretty boys can live in their fancy heated shanties and fly around in their cabin airyplanes, I guess old Pete Milligrew can throw up a brush lean-to any time he likes.
“How old are you, Mr. Milligrew?” I asked
“I’m in my prime,” said Mr. Milligrew proudly, “rising and thrusting out his chest and bending his biceps.
“Mr. Milligrew,” said Jim, quietly, “how much is a grubstake?”
And the old gentleman sank weakly back into his chair and rubbed his whiskers.
“Two hundred dollars,” he said, out of the corner of his beard, “would see me safe into the heart of Golconda Lake area and set me up for four months.”
“Would a hundred be any good to you?” asked Jim. “My friend and I might be willing to set up $50 apiece”
“Make it $150 between you,” said Mr. Milligrew.
“What would we get out of it?” I inquired.
“A fifty-fifty split on all I stake,” said Mr. Milligrew “We draw up articles. I take half and you take half between you. I tell you I know every foot of that country. I was all over it thirty years back, before I knew as much as I know now. I must have walked right over some of them million dollar finds. But they only got the edge of them. They’ve missed the core. I know the core. I camped on it for two months. Nobody’s there yet. It’s in a swamp. I can walk straight to it.”
“Mr. Milligrew,” said Jim, “when can you start?”
“I’ll catch the 9.30 train to-night,” said Mr. Milligrew.
And before our lunch hour was up, we had visited a lawyer of Mr. Milligrew’s acquaintance in a little office in a skyscraper and had signed a brief legal document wherein and whereby and whereas Mr. Peter Milligrew, party of the first part, undertook to share one-half of all mining claims, leases, etc., with the parties of the second part in consideration of the sum of $150, that is, $75 each from Jim and me.
And instead of going back to work, we took and fed Mr. Milligrew at a restaurant where for two hours he recounted for us the most fascinating tales of the north, about mining and prospecting and wild animals and tough characters. And hardly had we got to know one another before it was supper time and we decided to stay right with him until train time.
We dined him again on steak and onions.
“I won’t be seeing steak and onions for some time,” smiled the rugged old man, as he spread his legs beneath the table and shoved the minor accessories of eating aside to make him room. “Did you ever hear tell of a character that used to be up in the Porcupine…”
“Ah, but them days are done,” sighed Mr. Milligrew, shoving his meat plate aside and hauling the pie before him. “It’s all engineers now. Pale young guys in spectacles riding around the sky in airyplanes and hauling complete outfits all over the north with tractors. They live in camps with Eyetalian cooks and Chinese valets, with radio and liberries and everything.”
“Perhaps it’s just as well,” I said.
Partners in Adventure
And presently we found it was only an hour to train time, so we helped carry Mr. Milligrew’s packsack and bundles down to the Union Station, where we stood with him while interested throngs eyed us, enviously, as we saw our prospector off to the great north in the search for gold. It was a nice feeling. We tried to look like mining promoters. We shook hands over and over again with Mr. Milligrew and wished him luck and slapped his back and hired him a redcap to carry his duffle.
“How strange,” Jim said as we went and got our car. “This morning, we were just a couple of dumb guys squatting at desks. To-night, we are partners in the adventure of the age. Gold. Gold.”
“No matter what he finds, Jim,” I said, “I am not going to let it make any immediate difference to me. I’m not going to buy any big palace of a home. I’m not going to try and be a swell. We’ve got our children to think of, and nothing ruins a family like sudden wealth.”
Thus we chatted, Jimmie of race horses and I of cabins in the wilds near famous trout streams such as the Nipigon; and we drove west towards home, passing along Dundas St.
Jim tramped on the brakes at the same instant I saw Mr. Milligrew, with his packsack on his back and his bundles under his arms, hurrying along the crowded night street.
“Blow the horn, Jim,” I cried. “Signal him.”
“No, no,” hissed Jim. “What’s he doing here? He must have got off the train at the West Toronto station.”
“The old crook,” I said.
“No, no,” warned Jim. “He may have forgotten something. A map or chart or something important. We’ll just follow along and think this thing out. We mustn’t accuse him or he might throw it all back in our faces.”
Mr. Milligrew hurried, heavy under his packsack, in his prospector’s garb, along the unheeding street and turned up a dark side street. After a moment, so did we, driving slow. He turned in at a house and we saw him admitted.
“Well,” said Jim, drawing up to the curb and turning off the engine.
“He got off at West Toronto station,” I said. “It’s only three blocks away.”
“He’s doubtless forgotten something,” said Jim. “Anyway, his ticket is still good. He can catch the morning train.”
We sat watching and waiting. Presently a car drove up and two men got out and entered the same house. A little while later, two more men walked up and entered, all busy and active.
“Let’s go and ask for him.” I demanded.
“Give him half an hour,” said Jim. If he doesn’t come out in half an hour, we’ll call.”
Three more men came and entered the same house.
“It must be a lodge meeting,” said I.
“All right,” said Jim, “the half hour is up.”
We rang the bell and a man answered the door.
“Is Mr. Milligrew here?” we asked.
“Old Pete?” said the man.
“Can we see him?” we inquired.
“Are you friends of his?” asked the man. “Are you in the game?”
“Yes, we’re partners of his.”
“Oh, step right in,” said the man. Fling your coats right there in the hallway.”
Nothing Else to Say
There were a dozen hats and coats hung. We followed the man upstairs and along another hall where we could hear a mumble and buzz of sound. He threw a door open and showed us in.
There was a large table with greet cloth tacked on it. Around the table, in the smoke-filled room, were gathered a dozen men of all ages and descriptions. At one end, a man with a green eye-shade sat on a high stool.
Mr. Milligrew was standing with back to us, bending over the table. He turned his head over his shoulder when we came in.
“Ah, gents, just one minute and I’ll be with you,” he said.
We stepped up. On the table before him were three twenty-five-cent pieces. Out in various parts of the table were other piles of bills and silver in front of the different men.
Mr. Milligrew was waving his right hand in the air.
He threw. Two dice bounced and rolled over the green cloth.
Mr. Milligrew shoved the three quarters away and turned to us.
“Now, gents,” he said, “just step outside here in the hall a minute.”
“Mr. Milligrew,” I said fiercely, when we got into the hall, “what does this mean?”
“Now, gents,” said Mr. Milligrew, “It looks to me as if I was being framed.”
“Framed?” we both yelled.
“Sssshh,” said Mr. Milligrew. “I been in the mining now for fifty years and I never saw anybody get anything out of it yet. Seeing what nice boys you are, feeding me and everything, I figured I could do better with your $150 than take it up and lose it in the bush. So I just come here to some old friends of mine and tried – honest I did try – to double your money. Or even better. I was figuring on walking in on you tomorrow and surprising you with your money doubled. One hundred and fifty dollars – each!”
“Mr. Milligrew, we could jail you!”
“Ah, don’t be hasty,” he said. I’ll get your money back. There’s lots of grubstakes floating around. Leave it to me. I’ve got your addresses. Right here on this paper, see?”
“Give us the railway ticket,” I demanded.
“I sold it to a friend of mine on the train,” said Mr. Milligrew. “He was going up prospecting.”
“Mr. Milligrew,” I said, but could think of nothing else to say.
So we left him and went down and let ourselves out,
“It’s a shame to leave the old boy broke,” said Jim.
“Broke?” I said. “He’s got a packsack and clothes and a prospector’s pick and new high boots…”
“He’ll have no trouble,” said Jim, getting another grubstake,”
Editor’s Notes: Grubstake means what it implies in the story, providing financial backing for a share of profits. It was a commonly used term in prospecting.
$50 in 1937 would equal $965 in 2022.