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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe World For Sale - Introduction
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The World For Sale - Introduction Post by :mpruben Category :Long Stories Author :Gilbert Parker Date :May 2012 Read :1186

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The World For Sale - Introduction

'The World for Sale' is a tale of the primitive and lonely West and North, but the primitiveness and loneliness is not like that to be found in 'Pierre and His People'. Pierre's wanderings took place in a period when civilization had made but scant marks upon the broad bosom of the prairie land, and towns and villages were few and far scattered. The Lebanon and Manitou of this story had no existence in the time of Pierre, except that where Manitou stands there was a Hudson's Bay Company's post at which Indians, half-breeds, and chance settlers occasionally gathered for trade and exchange-furs, groceries, clothing, blankets, tobacco, and other things; and in the long winters the post was as isolated as an oasis in the Sahara.

That old life was lonely and primitive, but it had its compensating balance of bright sun, wild animal life, and an air as vivid and virile as ever stirred the veins of man. Sometimes the still, bright cold was broken by a terrific storm, which ravaged, smothered, and entombed the stray traveller in ravines of death. That was in winter; but in summer, what had been called, fifty years ago, an alkali desert was an everlasting stretch of untilled soil, with unsown crops, and here and there herds of buffalo, which were stalked by alert Red Indians, half-breeds, and white pioneer hunters.

The stories in 'Pierre and His People' were true to the life of that time; the incidents in 'The World for Sale', and the whole narrative, are true to the life of a very few years ago. Railways have pierced and opened up lonely regions of the Sagalae, and there are two thriving towns where, in the days of Pierre, only stood a Hudson's Bay Company's post with its store. Now, as far as eye can see, vast fields of grain greet the eye, and houses and barns speckle the greenish brown or Tuscan yellow of the crop-covered lands, while towns like Lebanon and Manitou provide for the modern settler all the modern conveniences which science has given to civilized municipalities. Today the motor-car and the telephone are as common in such places as they are in a thriving town of the United Kingdom. After the first few days of settlement two things always appear--a school-house and a church. Probably there is no country in the world where elementary education commands the devotion and the cash of the people as in English Canada; that is why the towns of Lebanon and Manitou had from the first divergent views. Lebanon was English, progressive, and brazenly modern; Manitou was slow, reactionary, more or less indifferent to education, and strenuously Catholic, and was thus opposed to the militant Protestantism of Lebanon.

It was my idea to picture a situation in the big new West where destiny is being worked out in the making of a nation and the peopling of the wastes. I selected a very modern and unusual type of man as the central figure of my story. He was highly educated, well born, and carefully brought up. He possessed all the best elements of a young man in a new country--intelligent self-dependence, skill, daring, vision. He had an original turn of mind, and, as men are obliged to do in new countries, he looked far ahead. Yet he had to face what pioneers and reformers in old countries have to face, namely the disturbance of rooted interests. Certainly rooted interests in towns but a generation old cannot be extensive or remarkable, but if they are associated with habits and principles, they may be as deadly as those which test the qualities and wreck the careers of men in towns as old as London. The difference, however, between the old European town and the new Western town is that differences in the Western town are more likely to take physical form, as was the case in the life of Ingolby. In order to accentuate the primitive and yet highly civilized nature of the life I chose my heroine from a race and condition more unsettled and more primitive than that of Lebanon or Manitou at any time. I chose a heroine from the gipsy race, and to heighten the picture of the primitive life from which she had come I made her a convert to the settled life of civilization. I had known such a woman, older, but with the same characteristics, the same struggles, temptations, and suffering the same restriction of her life and movements by the prejudice in her veins--the prejudice of racial predilection.

Looking at the story now after its publication, I am inclined to think that the introduction of the gipsy element was too bold, yet I believe it was carefully worked out in construction, and was a legitimate, intellectual enterprise. The danger of it was that it might detract from the reality and vividness of the narrative as a picture of Western life. Most American critics of the book seem not to have been struck by this doubt which has occurred to me. They realize perhaps more faithfully than some of the English critics have done that these mad contrasts are by no means uncommon in the primitive and virile life of the West and North. Just as California in the old days, just as Ballaret in Australia drew the oddest people from every corner of the world, so Western towns, with new railways, brought strange conglomerations into the life. For instance, a town like Winnipeg has sections which represent the life of nearly every race of Europe, and towns like Lebanon and Manitou, with English and French characteristics controlling them mainly, are still as subject to outside racial influences as to inside racial antagonisms.

I believe The World for Sale shows as plainly as anything can show the vexed and conglomerate life of a Western town. It shows how racial characteristics may clash, disturb, and destroy, and yet how wisdom, tact, and lucky incident may overcome almost impossible situations. The antagonisms between Lebanon and Manitou were unwillingly and unjustly deepened by the very man who had set out to bring them together, as one of the ideals of his life, and as one of the factors of his success. Ingolby, who had everything to gain by careful going, almost wrecked his own life, and he injured the life of the two towns by impulsive acts.

The descriptions of life in the two towns are true, and the chief characters in the book are lifted out of the life as one has seen it. Men like Osterhaut and Jowett, Indians like Tekewani, doctors like Rockwell, priests like Monseigneur Fabre, ministers like Mr. Tripple, and ne'er-do-weels like Marchand may be found in many a town of the West and North. Naturally the book must lack in something of that magnetic picturesqueness and atmosphere which belongs to the people in the Province of Quebec. Western and Northern life has little of the settled charm which belongs to the old civilization of the French province. The only way to recapture that charm is to place Frenchmen in the West, and have them act and live--or try to act and live--as they do in old Quebec.

That is what I did with Pierre in my first book of fiction, Pierre and His People, but with the exception of Monseigneur Fabre there is no Frenchman in this book who fulfils, or could fulfil, the temperamental place which I have indicated. Men like Monseigneur Fabre have lived in the West, and worked and slaved like him, blest and beloved by all classes, creeds, and races. Father Lacombe was one of them. The part he played in the life of Western Canada will be written some day by one who understands how such men, celibate, and dedicated to religious life, may play a stupendous part in the development of civilization. Something of him is to be found in my description of Monseigneur Fabre.


NOTE

This book was begun in 1911 and finished in 1913, a year before war broke out. It was published serially in the year 1915 and the beginning of 1916. It must, therefore, go to the public on the basis of its merits alone, and as a picture of the peace-life of the great North West.


PRELUDE

Harvest-time was almost come, and the great new land was resting under coverlets of gold. From the rise above the town of Lebanon, there stretched out ungarnered wheat in the ear as far as sight could reach, and the place itself and the neighbouring town of Manitou on the other side of the Sagalac River were like islands washed by a topaz sea.

Standing upon the Rise, lost in the prospect, was an old, white-haired man in the cassock of a priest, with grey beard reaching nearly to the waist.

For long he surveyed the scene, and his eyes had a rapt look.

At last he spoke aloud:


"There shall be an heap of corn in the earth, high upon the hills; his fruit shall shake like Libanus, and shall be green in the city like grass upon the earth."


A smile came to his lips--a rare, benevolent smile. He had seen this expanse of teeming life when it was thought to be an alkali desert, fit only to be invaded by the Blackfeet and the Cree and the Blood Indians on a foray for food and furs. Here he had come fifty years before, and had gone West and North into the mountains in the Summer season, when the land was tremulous with light and vibrating to the hoofs of herds of buffalo as they stampeded from the hunters; and also in the Winter time, when frost was master and blizzard and drift its malignant servants.

Even yet his work was not done. In the town of Manitou he still said mass now and then, and heard the sorrows and sins of men and women, and gave them "ghostly comfort," while priests younger than himself took the burden of parish-work from his shoulders.

For a lifetime he had laboured among the Indians and the few whites and squaw-men and half-breeds, with neither settlement nor progress. Then, all at once, the railway; and people coming from all the world, and cities springing up! Now once more he was living the life of civilization, exchanging raw flesh of fish and animals and a meal of tallow or pemmican for the wheaten loaf; the Indian tepee for the warm house with the mansard roof; the crude mass beneath the trees for the refinements of a chancel and an altar covered with lace and white linen.

A flock of geese went honking over his head. His eyes smiled in memory of the countless times he had watched such flights, had seen thousands of wild ducks hurrying down a valley, had watched a family of herons stretching away to some lonely water-home. And then another sound greeted his ear. It was shrill, sharp and insistent. A great serpent was stealing out of the East and moving down upon Lebanon. It gave out puffs of smoke from its ungainly head. It shrieked in triumph as it came. It was the daily train from the East, arriving at the Sagalac River.

"These things must be," he said aloud as he looked. While he lost himself again in reminiscence, a young man came driving across the plains, passing beneath where he stood. The young man's face and figure suggested power. In his buggy was a fishing-rod.

His hat was pulled down over his eyes, but he was humming cheerfully to himself. When he saw the priest, he raised his hat respectfully, yet with an air of equality.

"Good day, Monseigneur" (this honour of the Church had come at last to the aged missionary), he said warmly. "Good day--good day!"

The priest raised his hat and murmured the name, "Ingolby." As the distance grew between them, he said sadly: "These are the men who change the West, who seize it, and divide it, and make it their own--


"'I will rejoice, and divide Sichem: and mete out the valley of Succoth.'


"Hush! Hush!" he said to himself in reproach. "These things must be. The country must be opened up. That is why I came--to bring the Truth before the trader."

Now another traveller came riding out of Lebanon towards him, galloping his horse up-hill and down. He also was young, but nothing about him suggested power, only self-indulgence. He, too, raised his hat, or rather swung it from his head in a devil-may-care way, and overdid his salutation. He did not speak. The priest's face was very grave, if not a little resentful. His salutation was reserved.

"The tyranny of gold," he murmured, "and without the mind or energy that created it. Felix was no name for him. Ingolby is a builder, perhaps a jerry-builder; but he builds."

He looked across the prairie towards the young man in the buggy.

"Sure, he is a builder. He has the Cortez eye. He sees far off, and plans big things. But Felix Marchand there--"

He stopped short.

"Such men must be, perhaps," he added. Then, after a moment, as he gazed round again upon the land of promise which he had loved so long, he murmured as one murmurs a prayer:


"Thou suferedst men to ride over our heads: we went through fire and water, and Thou broughtest us out into a wealthy place."

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