Liam never shed a tear after the British soldiers killed his mother and burned their cottage. When his uncle put him on a coffin ship, almost before the ashes of the cottage had gone cold, he silently watched the shores of Ireland disappear into the fog of Galway Bay. He was barely sixteen, when Mr. Westerly bought his indenture from the ship’s captain in New York, Christmas week of 1867.
During the ride to New York City's new Central Park, with its opulent homes, Mr. Westerly explained Liam’s duties as a servant. Liam only half listened to the stern voice as he memorized all the sights and sounds of the city. He smiled as they passed the busy rail yard, remembering his shipmate’s enthusiasm about coming to America to build the new railroad.
During the first week Liam work, Mr. Brown, the butler, took him aside and lectured him about the values of service and gratitude. One evening, Brown caught Liam eating scraps from the dinner plates in the kitchen and slapped his face. The real pain came when Brown said, “You are like all Irish, nothing but human garbage; less fit to live than a lame horse.”
No-one knew Liam could read or write and he never volunteered the information.
At night he read newspapers he took from the trash bin. In one, Mr. Greeley, the editor of the New York Times, wrote an editorial about the new railroad to the Pacific Ocean. Liam vowed he would be part of the great endeavor.
One spring day, James, the eldest son, ordered Liam to saddle his horse for a ride in Central Park. James stood at the door to the stall yelling, "Hurry up, you stupid Irish mutt. I haven't got all day to wait while you figure out where to put a bridle."
Liam dropped the saddle, looking James straight in the eye with defiance. His action drew a quick response. James flicked his horsewhip and leered, “You lazy Mick, pick it up!”
The whip cut deep into Liam’s cheek. Instinctively he touched his face and felt the blood. He looked at the blood on his hand and wiped it on his shirt. Rage and resentment not felt since his mother’s death, rushed over him. He grabbed the whip from James and beat him unconscious and bloody. When he was done, he looked down at the man on the ground with contempt.
Liam retrieved his meagre belongings and bolted from the house. He felt power and excitement but most of all - freedom, as he ran eight blocks to the rail yard. On the southbound track, he climbed into an empty boxcar just as the train began to move.
The afternoon sun felt good on his face as the train picked up speed and left the city behind. He stood in the door, the wind blowing his hair, and exclaimed, “Go west, young man.”
Author: MRELLAN HARAHAN (USA)