Page:Life of John Boyle O'Reilly.djvu/101

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65
HIS LIFE, POEMS AND SPEECHES.
even of failure, was dead; but another and stronger excitement took its place. A rumor went through the prison,—in the weirdly mysterious way in which rumors do go through a prison. However it came is a mystery, but there did come a rumor to the prison, even to the dark cells, of a ship sailing for Australia!

Australia! the ship! Another chance for the old dreams; and the wild thought was wilder than ever, and not half so stealthy. Down the corridor came the footsteps again. The keys rattled, doors opened, and in five minutes we had double irons on our arms, and were chained together by a bright, strong chain. We did not look into each other's faces; we had learned to know what the others were thinking of without speaking. We had a long ride to the railway station, in a villainous Dartmoor conveyance, and then a long ride in the railway cars to Portland. It was late at night when we arrived there, and got out of harness. The ceremony of receiving convicts from another prison is amusing and "racy of the soil." To give an idea of it, it is enough to say that every article of clothing which a prisoner wears must at once go back to the prison whence he came. It may be an hour, or two, or more, before a single article is drawn from the stores of the receiving prison,—during which time the felon is supremely primitive. To the prison officials this seems highly amusing; but to me, looking at it with the convict's eye and feelings, the point of the joke was rather obscure.

Next day we went to exercise, not to work. We joined a party of twenty of our countrymen, who had arrived in Portland one day before us. They had come from Ireland—had only been in prison for a few months. They had news for us. One of them, an old friend, told me he had left my brother in prison in Ireland, waiting trial as a Fenian.[1] Many others got news just as cheering. A week passed away. Then came the old routine,—old to us, but new and terrible to the men from Ireland,—double irons and chains. This time there were twenty men on each chain, the political prisoners separate from the criminals.

"Forward there!" and we dragged each other to the esplanade of the prison. It was a gala day,—a grand parade of the convicts. They were drawn up in line,—a horrible and insulting libel on an army,—and the governor, and the doctors of the prison and ship reviewed them. There were two or three lounging in the prison yard that day, who, I remember well, looked strangely out of place there. They had honest, bronzed faces and careless sailor's dress,—the mates and boatswain of the Hougoumont, who had come ashore to superintend the embarkation.

  1. This brother was William, the eldest of the family; he died ere John had made his escape.