Page:Life of John Boyle O'Reilly.djvu/102

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

The review was over. The troops—Heaven forgive me!—formed in columns of chains, and marched to the steamer which was waiting to convey them to the transport. Our chain was in the extreme rear. Just as we reached the gangway to go on board, a woman's piercing shriek rose up from the crowd on the wharf; a young girl rushed wildly out, and threw herself, weeping and sobbing, on the breast of a man in our chain, poor Thomas Dunne. She was his sister. She had come from Dublin to see him before he sailed away. They would not let her see him in prison, so she had come there to see him in his chains. Oh! may God keep me from ever seeing another scene like that which we all stood still to gaze at; even the merciless officials for a moment hesitated to interfere. Poor Dunne could only stoop his head and kiss his sister—his arms were chained; and that loving, heart-broken girl, worn out by grief, clung to his arms and his chains, as they dragged her away; and when she saw him pushed rudely to the gangway, she raised her voice in a wild cry: "Oh, God! oh, God!" as if reproaching Him who willed such things to pass. From the steamer's deck we saw her still watching tirelessly, and we tried to say words of comfort to that brother—her brother and ours. He knew she was alone, and had no friends in wide England. Thank God, he is a free man now in a free country!

The steamer backed her paddles alongside the high ship and we went on board, the criminals having gone first. Our chains were knocked off on the soldier-lined decks, and we were ordered to go below. The sides of the main hatchway were composed of massive iron bars, and, as we went down, the prisoners within clutched the bars and looked eagerly through, hoping, perhaps, to see a familiar face. As I stood in that hatchway, looking at the wretches glaring out, I realized more than ever before the terrible truth that a convict ship is a floating hell. The forward hold was dark, save the yellow light of a few ship's lamps. There were 320 criminal convicts in there, and the sickening thought occurred to us, are our friends in there among them? There swelled up a hideous diapason from that crowd of wretches; the usual prison restraint was removed, and the reaction was at its fiercest pitch.

Such a din of diabolical sounds no man ever heard. We hesitated before entering the low-barred door to the hold, unwilling to plunge into the seething den. As we stood thus, a tall, gaunt man pushed his way through the criminal crowd to the door. He stood within, and, stretching out his arms, said: "Come, we are waiting for you." I did not know the face; I knew the voice. It was my old friend and comrade, Keating.

"We followed him through the crowd to a door leading amidships from the criminal part of the ship. This door was opened by another gaunt man within, and we entered. Then the door was closed and we