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If the earth were flat, New Zealand would have fallen off it a long time ago, it's that far from Ireland.
Can ever a man be more stricken and disoriented than a penniless immigrant, out of steerage, upon arrival in a land so far removed?
The canvas cots in the passenger hold of the tramp steamer Nova Scotia were stacked so tight a man could not roll over or even sleep on his side. Heat from the adjoining boiler room often drove him on deck in any weather to keep from fainting. After he forced down the slop fed him in a zoolike manner, he'd head for the railing, often as not.
When the hills behind Lyttelton came into view ninety-two days after departure from Derry, Liam Larkin dropped to his knees and thanked the first thirty or forty saints who came to mind.
He wobbled down the gangplank, one of God's forgotten miseries, where he presented himself, pale and trembling, to his sponsor, Squire Bert Hargrove. A lot of the lads landed skinny and shaken from the long voyage, but as Bert looked Liam over, he thought he'd bought himself a bad nag. At least Liam Larkin and Bert Hargrove shared enough of a basic language so they could understand one another . . . barely.
Certain he was in for three years of Caribbean-like slave labor, the anxiety ebbed from Liam into a state that resembled euphoria.
Liam shared a clean bunkhouse with a wooden floor and a heating stove with six other station hands. Three of them were paddies like himself, contracted for forty months' labor to pay off their passage. In actual fact, Liam was replacing one who was about to strike out on his own. So, by God, maybe it wasn't going to be totalslavery.
He knew he was going to be worked hard, but he had never known much more than hard work. Bert Hargrove was pleased. He'd bought himself a good horse.
Some of the changes dawned on Liam subtly while others crashed through. The vast and incredible difference was that this land was not fueled by anger . . . or fear . . . or hatred. Was this an actual place? he asked himself every night.
Take the scroggins. Indeed, the station house and the bunk house were fed from the very same kitchen and the food was served to the men by the three Hargrove daughters. And a man could eat all he could hold. Liam thought back. Maybe six times back in Ireland in his village of Ballyutogue he had left the table with his belly bulging. He ate here this way every single night. The cook knew fourteen ways to prepare mutton, which was a hell of a lot better than fourteen ways to cook potatoes. There were vegetables he had neither seen nor heard of.
Food was only one matter. In the beginning New Zealand reminded him of Ireland, it was that green and hilly, and likewise the weather was either dirty, going to be dirty, or had just been dirty.
The hills were grander than hills, they were wondrous white-haired old mountains. Where they sloped toward the sea, they plummeted as fjords so fearsome as to shock a man's breath away. Not only did this land run higher, it ran deeper with black earth.
New Zealanders were a stoic lot, not unlike the dour Ulstermen of County Donegal. Like the Ulstermen, loyalty here was to the Crown. Yet the tone of New Zealand patriotism was placid. Could it be such that he would never again have to hear the terrorizing rattle of the Lembeg drum and the hysterical rantings of the Orangemen and their preachers?
As with Ulster, New Zealand's union with Britain was the centerpiece of its existence. But how could two places, islands . . . green . . . with mountains and sea . . . be so different and share the same planet? There were no whipping posts here, no hanging tree, no agony of the oppressed, poor little sheep rustling, smuggling, and moonshining, and he never saw an eviction, not one, not once.
Even the native Maori had apparently been subdued rather easily and were left with their culture and their dignity. Or so it seemed.
Aye, New Zealand was Protestant country, but an absence of game and fishing wardens in the bountiful streams told the whole story.
Fortunately, there were enough families, runholders, and miners around of the True Faith to hold Mass twice a month in one of Methven's three public houses, otherwise padlocked on Sundays due to stringent "blue laws."
Their priest, Father Gionelli of Eye-tallion extract, wended his way up from Christchurch on the second and fourth Sundays of the month in a three-donkey train. His arrival seemed so Joseph-and-Mary-like.
Confessions were dispensed with first, but there wasn't too much to sin about in the mountain stations of the South Island, except for the drinking of the previous night, impure thoughts, and occasional fornication between man and sheep, a practice that never appealed to Liam.
With the Mass and sacraments finished, Father Gionelli read and wrote letters to and from home and transferred funds and consoled homesickness. His fractured English and their fractured English developed a melody all its own.
Liam Larkin was never truly homesick, only pained and angry over his dismissal from Ballyutogue and Ireland. He liked it here, to the utmost.
The pastures of New Zealand's South Island gave a wonderful soft feel under his Wellington boots--in comparison to the back-breaking rocks and fragile topsoil and constant torment of wind, laws, weather, and omnipresent loathing of the oppressors that afforded the Irish hill farmer his marginal existence and lifelong suffering.
Back in Ireland in Ballyutogue, high in the heather, Liam had dug alongside his daddy, Tomas Larkin, since he had been a chip of a lad, and when one carries seaweed up from the lough to make it into a crust of topsoil, he damned well better know what he is doing.
In the beginning Bert Hargrove thought Liam Larkin a dullard with a broad back. Given this kind of land in this kind of atmosphere, Liam Larkin, in his quiet manner, inched his way into acceptance as an extremely knowledgeable farmer and sheep man. His wise observations, keen suggestions for logical changes here and there, and the penchant for a long day's work caught the squire's eye.
At the end of the first season Liam was made assistant to the station foreman. Free at last from constraints, Liam blossomed, took on responsibility, organized and had no qualms in running a crew. Tilted shears invented by his brother Conor in the blacksmith forge speeded the wool cropping by ten percent.
Things never stand still, not even in paradise.
Bert Hargrove was the most successful Catholic runholder hereabouts and was blessed with two fine young sons. On the minus side of the ledger, he was burdened with three daughters. As the inheritors, the squire's sons would be adequate. Women, as they always do, presented the problems that caused him sleeplessness.
The Hargrove girls were a bovine lot, and endowed with the stout requirements for a future life as runholders' wives, they seemed to have excellent breeding possibilities. Bert's wife Edna made the mainstay of her life the future respectable and nearby placement of her daughters. She was bloody well determined that she would have a large family around her to comfort her during her declining years.
This was no simple matter. There were not enough eligible Catholic lads who fit into her scheme. By eligible, one would consider the inheritor of a station, an independent merchant of means, or perhaps a professional--a doctor or solicitor down in Christchurch. Beyond Christchurch was out of bounds.
The girls were off limits to the hands on the station. Edna Hargrove had the precision of a Prussian field marshal in her mind, knowing at every instant where each troop was. One pat on the rump and you were off the Hargrove Station, the debt for your passage auctioned to another runholder.Redemption. Copyright © by Leon Uris. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.