The ceremony of convening had been gone through, as we say, and the “Centre” had approved of the conclave. So the Threes told the Fives, and the Fives passed the notice on to the Sevens, and Sevens to the Nines. Each “Niner” controlled a body of “novices,” and to such of these as, in all likelihood, would be in the exercise-yards on Sunday afternoon, he “passed the word” for picket and guard duty.

And to one other person was the intimation conveyed that a Ring session was to be assembled. The Commandant was so informed—by a note pushed under his office-door! Young though he was in

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supreme authority, he was at no loss to understand the significance of the pen-printed letter:


It was the boldest challenge to his rule, and that he should not doubt its authenticity, at the foot of the missive was stamped (in candle-smoke) the symbol which formed the official signature of the “One”—the four concentric circles surrounding the double-triangle over the broad arrow.

Over the broad arrow—that stung Maconochie as it had stung Wright, Fyans, Anderson, Ryan, and every other Commandant who had been similarly challenged. For, interpreted, the signature meant that the Ring was supreme over the System. Let the System order, it would be for the Ring to say whether it should be obeyed.

The Commandant consulted the gaoler and such of the overseers as he had divined were not quite enamoured of the old methods of brute force which he was seeking to supersede with kindness, and showed them the message. None could enlighten him as to what would eventuate at the meeting.

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“A Riot?” No; that was unlikely. The Ring had other methods of working than to precipitate an outbreak unless it was thoroughly prepared, and the chances were now against anything of the kind being contemplated.

“Shall I stop it?” Well, his Honour might try, but it would be useless. It would take the whole military force of the Island, and the armed civil guard as well, to break up a Ring meeting; and even then ——

“What?” They would communicate their business all the same, and rob everybody of a night's rest.

“How?” Because the signalling would go on the whole night through. The night-guards could hear the signals distinctly from cell to cell; every Ringer keeps awake and passes on the signal to his right or left as the case may be, though he might not himself understand the significance of the signal.

“But how could the Ring, some members of which were in the gaol-cells, others in the dormitories, others in the Iron Room, communicate, seeing that the three classes of buildings were separated by yards?” Heaven knows!—and the principal Ringers; nobody else!

“It surprises me!” So it did everybody else, the gaoler said.

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“Do you think, Mr. Gaoler, the Ring would consent to my making an experiment?” Perhaps so; how?

“If I wished for an illustration of their facility of communicating, would they grant it?” No doubt; and laugh in his Honour's face while communicating. “Would his Honour like to see a Ringer?” Every officer nearly knew most of the outside Ringers (the uninitiates)—no secrecy was maintained as to that class of membership—but really those fellows knew next to nothing of the Ring proper. The men who formed the outer circles were known also; but the actual participation of each in the working of the Society, why, that could never be proved.

“Were there many regulations in force against the Ring?” Dozens!

“Any definite attempt at suppression?” Yes; and the Battle of Bloody Bridge was the result.

The Commandant sickened at the reflection that here was a force never taken into account by Right Honourable Secretaries of State and honourable members of the House of Commons, or by Judges and Governors. The System might rule by terror in one direction, and by coarse and licentious favouritism in another, but here was a power that defied the tremendous penal organization created by

  ― 54 ―
British justice and British apathy. Buoyed though he was by his intense belief in the truth of his theory, and inspired by his faith in the essential goodness of human nature, he could not, for the moment, resist the awful doubt which now assailed him as to whether it would not be better to let the System proceed on its old lines. A power that continued its machinations under the eye and in the teeth of Authority, surely the only way to deal with it was to crush it by force! These were his thoughts.

Fortunately, however, for his fame, Maconochie resisted the reaction. When the Lady of Despair, whose breath fanned him for that instant, had passed him, he felt it would be at least wise to wait and see what Sunday would bring forth. He intended to accept the challenge,