Page:Life of John Boyle O'Reilly.djvu/86

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ficed to keep the occupant from freezing. An hour's exercise in the yard was allowed every day, the only other variation of the monotonous regime being the daily work of washing and scrubbing his cell, which each prisoner had to do immediately on getting up.

The food was in keeping with the lodgings; sufficient to sustain life, but nothing more.

The severest punishment of Millbank was the silence and solitude, almost unbearable to anybody whose mind was not exceptionally strong or exceptionally stolid. O'Reilly had the blessing and the curse of genius, an active, vivid imagination. He found solace in his thoughts and in the pages of "The Imitation of Christ," which he was allowed to read; but he endured many hours of the keenest anguish. At times his mind was abnormally active; he felt an exaltation of the soul such as an anchorite knows; he had ecstatic visions. Again, his vigorous physical nature asserted itself, and he yearned for freedom, as the healthy, natural man must ever do in confinement.

But he had made up his mind, on entering the prison, to conquer circumstances, to preserve his brain and body sound, and to bear with patience the ills which he could not escape. He took an interest in studying the fellow prisoners with whom he was forbidden to hold the slightest intercourse. The prohibition did not always avail, for human ingenuity can ever circumvent the most rigid of rules. The political convicts in the early days of their imprisonment in Arbor Hill had devised a rude system of telegraphy by tapping on the iron pipes running through all the cells. It was a slow and cumbrous device, but time was then of the least importance to them. There were also occasional chances of exchanging a whisper as they filed to prayers, or meals, or marched in the hour of daily exercise.

Among O'Reilly's MSS. is the following fragment, written several years ago—a curious study of prison life from the inside:

One meets strange characters in prison, characters which are at once recognized as being natural to the place, as are bats or owls to a