Unless ——

Commissariat-Officer Shanks suggested, with a semi-sneer, the application of old methods. “Try, Captain Maconochie, a platoon! There's pretty considerable of a quietening influence in a volley, sir! That is mutiny, and if you don't get the better of them now, they'll have every iron off their ankles in an hour, and then you'll have to shoot the lot, unless you want us all killed.”

  ― 36 ―

“No!” replied the Commandant. “Ball-cartridge is the last thing I propose to use on society's wrecks. Mr. Gaoler—this thing has gone far enough. Finish the muster and give 'em their dinners!”

“What, sir! Their dinners!” Really, the gaoler was to be excused for his patent astonishment.

“Ay,—the poor fellows shan't suffer for my blunder in tactics. The mistake was mine—I've taken 'em the wrong way to-day.”

And with this remark, so subversive of all the conventions and principles of the System—for whenever before did a penal commandant admit he was in error?—Captain Maconochie touched his cap, in graceful acknowledgement of the salute of his subordinates, and left the muster-yard.

The whole of the Iron Room transports enjoyed their dinners the more for the sauce of triumph. For dessert they were gratified by another delicious morsel.

The Commandant sent an order to the gaoler to despatch by 6.30 a.m. on Monday, Henry Reynell, per Coquette (Colonial), and “four other men that the said prisoner should nominate,” to Farm 5 B, therein to be installed as “sub-gang in charge.” The proceeding was, it is needless to say, altogether

  ― 37 ―
exceptional. But then the Island owned an altogether exceptional commander, and it had proved a day of exceptional occurrences. And it was, doubtless, in accordance with the spirit of the joke that the gaoler, as he communicated the decision to Reynell, mocked him by doffing his cabbage-tree, and addressed him with a scoffing irony.

“Would it please Mr. Reynell to nominate the gentlemen who were to accompany him?”

Reynell took the jest admirably. He craved five minutes to make his selection, and within that time had informed the officer that Osborne, Peake, Barrington, and “Swinger” Felix would form his comradeship. For the committee of the Ring had raised no objection. “'Twarn't going out to the farmsteads, Reynell,” said a high ruler of the league—a Three—“that we complain of, but your promise to be a true man! No chap in the fellowship shall go ‘bad’ without permission. It's breaking oath!”

And consent being thus obtained—we translate the “flash” language habitually employed in Ring business—the choice was, as we have said, made, and 5 B group constituted.

On Monday, when the dormitories turned out at 5.30, the first thing done by the new sub-gang was

  ― 38 ―
to present themselves at the “blacksmith's shop” and have the rivets driven from the bazils.

Felix was last at the low anvil. As the bazil of his left leg fell to the ground he expanded the massive brawniness of his chest with long draughts of tonic morning air; and then clutched Reynell with a wrestler's grasp.

“Why, lad, I be tha' man for ever an' a day. I never 'ud ha' got rid o' them damned clinks but for thee until the day I wed the worms. Felix is tha' man for ever an' a day!”