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Fiction Historical

They Shall Inherit the Earth

by (author) Morley Callaghan

afterword by Ray Ellenwood

McClelland & Stewart
Initial publish date
Jan 2009
Historical, Family Life, Classics
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Jan 2009
    List Price
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Jun 1992
    List Price

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First published in 1935, this novel is a penetrating study of a father and son caught in the moral and economic undertow of the Great Depression. The action hinges upon a sudden mischance in which accident and intention tragically coincide. Swept along by the inexorable logic of events, Callaghan’s protagonists are forced to re-examine the nature of individual conscience and responsibility. In their personal struggle is expressed the mood of the age, its cynicism and anger, its desperate idealism, and its agonized longing for redemption.

About the authors

Morley Callaghan was the author of fifteen novels, including A Time for Judas, It's Never Over, The Loved and the Lost, and Such Is My Beloved. He was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature and received a host of honours in Canada, including the Governor General's Award for Fiction.

Morley Callaghan's profile page

Ray Ellenwood, professor emeritus and senior scholar at York University in Toronto, is an award-winning translator and author. He writes and publishes extensively about the Automatistes.

Ray Ellenwood's profile page

Excerpt: They Shall Inherit the Earth (by (author) Morley Callaghan; afterword by Ray Ellenwood)

In the early summer evening Andrew Aikenhead, of the firm of Hillquist and Aikenhead, had gone out seeking his son. He had crossed slowly through the traffic with an eager expression on his upturned florid face. He was there on the sidewalk in the crowd, in the way of the passing people, looking up at the rooming house where his son lived, and he was full of delight, as though he had at last taken a necessary step that would bring joy again into his life.

He went into the house, and when he stood in the hall and saw by the names on the wall that his son was on the third floor, he began to climb the red-carpeted stairs, puffing and sighing at every fifth step. On the second floor, where the light was brighter, he saw a small, neat man with such delicate features and such fair wavy hair parted in the middle that he looked like a pretty boy, except that his blue eyes were redrimmed and shrewd, and this man was tiptoeing along the hall carrying a basket of fruit in both hands. The light overhead shone on the blue grapes, the yellow pears and the glossy peaches as he stooped and placed the basket of fruit on the carpet by the door of a room.

“Could you tell me where Michael Aikenhead lives?” Andrew Aikenhead asked.

“Mike Aikenhead,” the man said, straightening up and looking embarrassed. “Sure, I can tell you. Go on upstairs. The last room on the right at the back. He’s in there.” Andrew Aikenhead went on climbing the stairs again, while the fairhaired young man looked doubtfully at the basket of fruit he had placed like an offering outside that door.

In the little hall at the top, where there were only two doors, Andrew Aikenhead coughed, and then he began to clear his throat like a man who is about to make an important speech and offers a few preliminary sounds as a friendly gesture. Then he stood still, looking at the brown-painted door while his heart fluttered strangely and there was a yearning in him that his son might remember and know his voice that had sounded so loud. And when he rapped and his son’s voice called carelessly, “Come in,” he was full of gladness; and as he opened the door he thought, “That’s a good omen. Things will go well.”

His son, Michael, was sitting at a desk with his feet curled around the legs of the chair, and because the light on the desk was one of those lamps that students use which throw the rays of light in a pyramid shape full upon the desk, the father could not quite see the face in the shadow. The long fingers of one of his son’s big hands crossed quickly through the light and spread through his hair, and then he got up awkwardly. He was a big dark fellow, and he came across the room slowly, his hand stretched out to his smiling father. “Hello, I hardly knew you. I mean I was surprised to see you,” he said.

“Didn’t you hear me cough in the hall, Michael?”

“No, I was reading.”

“I knew you’d be surprised. I guess you didn’t expect me at all,” the father said, and then he sat down on the bed, for he was out of breath from climbing the stairs, and he looked around the room while he rested. It was one of those attic rooms with sloping ceilings. There was only a bed, an old golden-oak dresser, a heavy desk with one end of it piled high with books, the long window, with a radiator under it, and a worn green carpet on the floor. At one end of the room was a little alcove that could be used as a kitchenette, for there was a gas stove there and a kettle and a coffee pot. And when Andrew Aikenhead saw how poor his son was and that he lived in this plain room, he sighed, and he was deeply embarrassed and he could not look up, even though he knew his son preferred this poverty to the comfort of his father’s house.

Michael was a graduate civil engineer who was waiting for some development in the industrial life of the city that would give him work. He had left his father’s house when he started at the university. He hadn’t been able to get along with his father the last ten years. The hostility between them had begun at the time of the father’s second marriage; it had begun on the day when he had brought his second wife to the house, and day after day it grew, with the father helpless and wondering, until it was time for Michael to go to the university, and then he had said he would live alone and be independent and support himself. At the university he had waited on tables, he had pressed trousers and taken out ashes, and he had sold magazines around the country in the summer.

Andrew Aikenhead remembered all this as he smiled humbly and looked at his son who was standing there holding his body tense, ready to retreat. He saw how calm his son’s face was and he felt the firmness in him, and then he began to fear timidly that Michael would not need him now at all. He wanted to say, “You don’t need me now, Michael, but don’t be hostile. I could hardly bear it when you left us. I never really knew why you disliked me. I never really knew till this day. Many men marry the second time. Their sons go on living with them.” But his head drooped and a hurt expression came into his eyes that made him look lost and helpless in that attic room, for the more he remembered the more he longed to make one sincere and friendly remark that would break the silence that was embarrassing both of them. “This place isn’t very comfortable to have a chat in, is it?” he said.

“I’ll go out and have a drink with you, if you want to,” Michael said.

“Have a drink with me?”

“Sure. There’s a place around the corner.”

“That’s splendid,” he said, and he picked up his hat quickly, for the simple words of the speech he had planned to use for this occasion would not come to him, and his face was reddening. They were just going out when they heard some one knocking, and when Michael opened the door his father saw a fair girl with big candid blue eyes and thick yellow hair in a long bob and a round high-cheek-boned face. She was wearing a light-blue knitted sweater that was tight at her waist. When she smiled at Michael, his father thought it was the warmest and friendliest smile he had ever seen. She was carrying the basket of fruit the little fair man had placed outside her door.

Other titles by Morley Callaghan

Other titles by Ray Ellenwood