Royal Murdoch is Robert Harlow´s first novel, published in 1962 and reprinted now as part of a plan to bring all of the author´s nine novels together under one imprint and make them available to a new audience. When Royal Murdoch was first published it was called a strong debut work, and it began to build Harlow´s reputation as one of his country´s better story-tellers.
Royal Murdoch was a soldier from the Boer War and a restless pioneer by nature. He married Emma, a young and inexperienced Halifax woman, and brought her west in 1909 as far as the railroad would take them. Unceremoniously arriving at the confluence of the Linden and the Swifter Rivers, Royal decided that this was home, set up a tent with a hand-sawn floor and re-enforced with four-foot high log walls that were proof enough against the long and very cold winter. Gradually, he cleared twenty acres of land and built a cabin for him and Emma to live in.
During this time, Yvonne, a young aboriginal woman, ran away from her native village and, at the end of steel, she found a construction camp, which included the usual prostitutes who had followed the men as they moved west across the Rockies into British Columbia. Yvonne lived nearby in a shelter she built herself and she too entertained men from the camp. Soon she was pregnant.
Her son Roger was born and named for her father, Roger LaPointe - the name went back to the 1830s when a Voyageur stayed with Yvonne´s band, called now the Crest Indians, and fathered the first of four generations of Roger LaPointes. Yvonne needed help with her child, and this encouraged Emma Murdoch to make her biggest mistake since marrying Royal. She took on Yvonne as a servant, thinking it both a charitable act and help for herself in the never-ending drudgery of life beyond the edge of civilization. Royal, unsatisfied with Emma stiffly submitting to his sexual needs, began to visit with Yvonne. He built Emma the big house at the western side of his twenty acres and moved Yvonne into the cabin. Gradually he became Roger´s substitute father. Yvonne lived long enough to bring up Roger and then she died of tuberculosis.
Royal, meanwhile, living a settled life with Emma in the big house and Yvonne in the cabin, became the first mayor of the town he was credited with founding. He nearly ignored his children, Ruby and Jeremy, while he lived a public life and one that brought him both influence and some wealth.
Now Royal is 78 and dying of cancer. Propped up in a borrowed hospital bed overlooking his twenty acres, he is by turns cantankerous and painfully in need of nursing. Emma is old now too, and she has taken in a young convent bred Indian woman, Mary-Ann, to help her during Royal´s last days. When she senses that Royal´s end is near, Emma asks Ruby and Jeremy to come home and say goodbye to their father, and, at Royal´s request, she also invites Roger LaPointe. She hopes for reconciliation, relief from her sense of failure as both mother and wife.
With his two best friends, his doctor and his lawyer, Royal has embarked on one last entrepreneurial adventure. Together the three of them are drilling for oil on his lawyer´s acreage outside of Linden. Royal´s son Jeremy, see this as both a way into his father´s affections and additional money in his inheritance. Ruby, who grew up looking after Jeremy, and hating Roger because he was the only child Royal paid attention to, concentrates on trying to make new contact with her mother. Roger comes back, as he does every summer to sketch and paint in Yvonne´s cabin, finds out from Monica, the reporter on the Linden paper, that Royal is dying and he is welcome in Emma´s house.
The Murdochs are news now that Royal is dying, and Monica is curious about what is going on there. When a travelling circus and carny show comes to town Jeremy, who is a drinker, chooses that night to
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