Page:Life of John Boyle O'Reilly.djvu/217

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179
HIS LIFE, POEMS AND SPEECHES

prisoner had been allowed to write exactly four words, or five, if we include the word "friend."

The following is the letter, with the prisoner's part of the composition italicized:

Woking Prison, England, November 29, 1877.

Dear Friend. I was transferred from Dartmoor on the 26th inst., and am now in this prison; I am in worse health, and if I do not forfeit the privilege I shall be allowed to write a longer letter afterward, and then receive one from you in reply.

T. Chambers.

This is the answering message of cheer sent in the happy Christmas time, and gratefully preserved by the receiver as long as he lived. When both sender and receiver had passed away, a loyal comrade, Mr. James Wrenn, to whom Chambers had bequeathed it, brought me the paper. It was well worn with many readings, for this terrible "rebel," who had been so severely punished, was the simplest and kindliest of men, and loved O'Reilly with the trustful love of a dog or a child:

Boston, U. S. A., December 22, 1877.

John Boyle O'Reilly
to
Corporal Thomas Chambers, Sixty-First Foot; in prison.

My Dear Old Friend: I cannot go to my home to-night without writing to you and actually saying the words, "May you have a happy Christmas, dear boy," as happy as you may have in your sad surroundings.

Your last letter was more a grief to me than a pleasure. I see your familiar hand in only four hearty words. I am glad, however, that the prison authorities allowed you to have my letter. I feared that it would go the unknown road of many previous ones.

Eleven years ago—and what a long lifetime it seems—we were both young and enthusiastic boys, and I am impressed to-day, somehow, with the vast changes worked on men by time; you in your prison, and I in the world, have both equally changed. When ten more years have passed we shall both look back with pleasure—yes, as sure as you live, old friend—at the dark shadow.[1] When your time comes, as it
  1. The ten years had become eleven when O'Reilly closed the dead eyes of the dear comrade, whom he was soon to follow.