03 October 2023

One Woman's Boy's Own Adventure

Gold in Mosquito Creek
Dickson Reynolds [Helen Dickson Reyonds]
London: Museum Press, [1952]
192 pages

Strapping fifteen-year-old Randy Piers and younger brother Tom are preparing Old Pete the pack pony for a three-day fishing excursion to Mosquito Creek when up pops Lester Barnes. The Piers boys are none too pleased. A softie from New York City dolled up in a dude ranch outfit (here I'm paraphrasing Tom), Lester asks if he can come along. Good Canadians, Randy and Tom are far too polite to deny the visitor's request.

Lester's investor dad shells out dough for additional grub and the trio set out from Copperville. The town is a product of the author's imagination, but British Columbia's Mosquito Creek, is very real. And there is gold.

The fishing party is crossing a railway bridge when sounds the "wailing hoot of a train whistle." Old Pete is so spooked that all four of his legs fall between the ties. I was certain that one or more would be broken, which shows what little I know about pack ponies. Pete is just fine. I also learned that I don't know a lot about locomotives. This one manages to stop before reaching Pete, and the boys raise the pony with the aid of ropes and a blanket. Just how this is done isn't described in detail; after several readings, I'm still not sure exactly how it worked.

The trio manage to reach Mosquito Creek without further incidence, but once there Lester slips on a rock and is carried away by a fast moving current. Randy tries to save him, only to be swept away himself. Both are rescued by surprisingly spry old sourdough Jake Olsen. Once the boys are safe and on solid ground, he suggests they get out of their wet clothes.

Make nothing of that, Jake doesn't want them to catch cold.

The old man makes a living, of sorts, panning for gold in Mosquito Creek. Lester learns that Jake once sought fortune in the Klondike, leading to my favourite line of dialogue: 

"Oh boy! Were you up there?" Lester almost squealed with excitement. "Tell us some yarns, oh please!"

Jake shares a chilling story about a friend freezing to death, but nothing more. With winter a few months away, the old man is more focussed on building a cabin. He hires the Piers brothers to pan for gold while he gets to it. Lionel can't join in because he and his father are returning east to what I'm assuming is a Park Avenue penthouse. 

As the jacket illustration suggests, Gold in Mosquito Creek is a novel of adventure and danger. The railway bridge and slippery rock provide something of a template; if something can go wrong, it will go wrong. Randy fails to tie a tent flap, so wakes up to sleeping skunk. Jake fells trees to make his cabin, until a tree falls on him. Thoughts that a bear might eat their provisions are followed by a bear eating their provisions. At a Copperville picnic, Tom worries over keeping his new ice cream pants clean, only to have them stained by grape juice. Back at Mosquito Creek, he doesn't wear hiking boots, and so strains his ankle. Will the boys encounter another bear? You can bet on it.

Lurking in the background is a "tough-looking hombre" (here I'm quoting Tom), whom the Piers brothers first encounter in Copperville, just as they're beginning to work for Jake:

The swarthy man is a foreigner, but not a good one like Lester's wealthy investor dad. The reader is made aware of just how bad the earring-wearing man is by the fact that he's been tardy in paying a dentist's bill.

As it turns out, the swarthy foreigner is the leader of the Gold Ring Gang; a "saturnine" man serves as his number two. They've been moving about Copperville for some time. The third member of the gang was shot at the Bodega Hotel – reason unknown – and ends up sharing a hospital room with Jake (who almost lost a foot on account of that dang tree). This is how the bad men learn that the old sourdough has two or three thousand dollars worth of nuggets squirreled away at his camp.

It's at this point that Gold in Mosquito Creek shifts gears, revealing Dickson Reynolds as Helen Dickson Reynolds, author of He Will Return. The plot turns ridiculous, the dialogue laughable, and I felt I was finally getting my money's worth. 

The gang is successful in stealing Jake's gold. In doing so, one or more of their members tries to shoot Randy and Tom goes missing. It's assumed that the younger of the two Pierce boys has been kidnapped or killed. Their parents are not consulted when Copperville Constable Denny Day enlists young Randy to spy on the gang's hideout. Somehow he assumes the men won't recognize the boy they tried to kill. It's all bit of a disaster, as reflected on these two pages. The dialogue is worth the read:

cliquez pour agrandir

Everything in Gold in Mosquito Creek is fairly cut and dry. It's not a mystery novel, yet mysteries remain, the foremost being that an American criminals might cross the border, driving thousands of kilometres in a stolen car to a remote region of British Columbia. The Gold Ring Gang spend weeks in Copperville, taking rooms in the Bodega Hotel. The town's police know they are there and do nothing; not even when one of the gang is shot.

That's something, right? Someone shot in a small town

Maybe not.

All this for a haul of nuggets amounting to between two and three thousand dollars ($33,000 - $49,500 today).

Was that really worth it?

They tried to kill Randy.

I'll never understand the criminal mind.  

Object and Access: Gold in Mosquito Creek was first published in 1946 by Thomas Nelson & Sons, New York, NY. A bulky book bound in red boards, the Museum Press edition shares nothing in terms of design. The Nelson edition features a cover and six illustrations by American artist Grattan Condon. His rendition of the scene depicted on the British jacket is superior.

There has never been a Canadian edition.

My Museum Press copy was purchased earlier this year from a British bookseller. Price £2.50. Evidence suggests that it was a Christmas gift.

Library and Archives and seven of our academic libraries hold copies of the Museum and/or Nelson editions.

As I write, one Museum copy is being sold online. Price: £8.00.

The Nelson edition is nowhere in sight.

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