Page:Life of John Boyle O'Reilly.djvu/107

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HIS LIFE, POEMS AND SPEECHES.

tues as of civilized vices; and the white convict, stripped of all social hypocrisies, revealing the worst traits of depraved humanity. Both were "naked and not ashamed." For the savages, so-called, he entertained a sincere and abiding admiration. "Why," he said, years afterwards, "I found that those creatures were men and women, just like the rest of us; the difference between those poor black boys and the men of the Somerset Club was only external. I have good friends among those Australian savages, to-day, that I would be as glad to meet as any man I know."

We know from his own "Moondyne," and other works, how tenderly and how charitably he regarded even the lowest of his convict associates. It would be worth much to a student of human nature could we know how they regarded him. How strange a sojourner in their logging-camps and prison cells must have been this young, handsome, daring, generous, kindly poet, who wore their convict's garb, toiled beside them with axe and shovel, and dreamed dreams, while they cursed their hard fate or obscenely mocked at their enemy, Mankind!

He soon won the respect of the officer under whose immediate charge he was, a man named Woodman, who, appreciating O'Reilly's ability, gladly availed himself of his help in making out his monthly reports and other clerical work. He also appointed him a "constable," as those prisoners were called, who, for good conduct, were detailed as aids to the officer in charge of each working party. The constable wears a red stripe on his sleeve, as a badge of his office; he is employed to carry dispatches from station to station, and is usually sent to conduct to prison any convict on the road-gang who may prove refractory or mutinous. The constables must not be confounded with the ticket-of-leave men. They were under no legal or moral parole; on the contrary, they were held to the strictest account, and punished more severely than ordinary criminals if they failed in their duties. O'Reilly had good reason to know this, as a slight involuntary breach of the rules once brought down upon him a most heartless