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III.

“Reynell!” Maconochie called.

Reynell looked round before answering. Did the Ring raise objection? If it did, there was no visible or audible sign of its refusal. And he stepped forward; and, to the Commandant's pleasure, saluted.

“Reynell, call out four men to assist you!”

“What for, sir?”

“To distribute that tobacco—half a fig to a man.”

Reynell stared at the Captain—then gazed back at the massed men. For guidance—for a hint as to whether he dare take the bribe on their behalf? Most likely so. And so near is weak kindness to


  ― 34 ―
refined cruelty, there was not one man there in those ranks of ironed, yellow, brown-and-grey garbed felons with the symbols of shame on their bodies and the glare of the human beast in their eyes, but hated Maconochie in that moment of ordeal. Not a man there but would have risked severe penalties to obtain a fraction of a fig; scarcely a score of the one hundred and fifty but what had already gone through the mire of humiliation for a “bit.” Therefore their hearts beat with a venomous strength—because he tempted them sorely. For why did they not answer to Reynell's unspoken inquiry?

Those who were not of the Ring dare not speak. In collective action the Ring led the “private” convicts.

And those who were of the Society grew weak with the temptation. But then—to accept it was to acknowledge Maconochie's supremacy, and to confess a defeat.

For half a minute the two parties stood silent. The surf, half a mile away, drove its monotone over the still air. From the wooded sides of Mount Pitt, on the other hand, travelled, not unmelodiously, the screech of parrots. A wedge-tailed eagle poised majestically over the square, and hoarsely flung a taunt to the imprisoned creatures. Save for these


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sounds, the parade was as silent as is the lull before the revolt of thunder against its confines.

Then—first one sharp “No!”—next, two or three were joined in the repetition—and finally, in impetuous volume, the fierce negatives rolled from the ranks. Never did monk of the desert make so great a renunciation! In that volleyed monosyllable those outcasts of civilization refused a pleasure for which, under other circumstances, they would have gleefully bartered their souls.

“No!” A brazen, defiant “No!” which epitomized the curses of Tophet.

Reynell marched back to his place; and Maconochie knew, as the storm of curses and cheers burst out again, that the Ring was triumphant.

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