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  ― 43 ―

II.—The Session of Denunciation.

I.

The Ring had been convened. A “session of denunciation” had been called in the manner provided by the traditional statutes of the Society, and Convict Henry Reynell, “Colonial” transport per Coquette, had been duly apprised that on the Sunday following, at three in the afternoon, he was to be charged with having violated the “laws.” He, an initiate, had defied the Ring; he had told Captain Maconochie that “he would prove a true man to him”; and this after the Ring had ordered that in season and out of season the new Commandant was to be thwarted—not so much disobeyed as thwarted.

When, within a month of Maconochie's arrival, it had become plain what sort of a man he was, the “One,” on requisition from the “Three,” had convened a “Council of Order,” at which it was enacted that the new Commandant was an “enemy.”




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The business of a “Council of Order” was to enact “laws” and adopt “regulations.” It was the least potential of the three descriptions of Ring gatherings.

The second was that known as the “Session of Denunciation.” It was convened only when a formal charge was to be laid against some member (“initiate” or “uninitiate”) of the Society, or when some person not of the Society was to be denounced for his treatment of a member.

The third was the “Conclave of Doom.” At this meeting the fiat went forth for punishment, the executioner was appointed, and—if the doom was a capital one and the victim a member of the Society —the vacancy would be filled up.

The “Council of Order” could be attended by any member of the Ring—whether he belonged to the initiated twenty-five, or to the uninitiated, “the novices,” whose number was practically unlimited. It was invariably held during a meal-hour, for then only could a large muster be depended upon.

The “Session of Denunciation” was attended by the “circles” only, or as many of them as could be present. It was usually held on the nights of Sundays or holy-days, in the Iron Room. The “circles” were, as a rule, in irons. “Clinks” and “Trumpeters” were rather regarded as Ring insignia.


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Occasionally it was held in the day-time; Reynell's was to be a day-session.

As for the “Conclave of Doom,” it was constituted only by the “One” and the “Three.” If the “One” was in gaol, or in such other position that his attendance was impossible, then a majority of the members comprising the circles of “Three” and “Five” could proceed with the business. The convening of this culminating assemblage, however, rested absolutely with the “One.” The “Three” could not constitute the Doom-session without his consent; and in this circumstance consisted the “One's” power of veto. The twenty-four men constituting the “circles” might pass a unanimous vote of “Death!” or other penalty, and by his simple refusal to convene a Doom-session within the period indicated by the law and custom of the Society—which period, in Maconochie's time, was three months—the presumed victim would go free.

At the Doom-session, the proceedings were, of course, controlled by the “One”—the Centre.

At the other sessions, the president was one of “Three” circle, who acted as leader. The “One” might be present, or he might not, at a “Council of Order,” or a “Denunciation”; but, if present, he would not take charge of the assemblage. Such a


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step would have been tantamount to revealing his identity to the “Ringers” generally, and would have been a violation of the fundamental law of the Society, which ordered that none but the members of the “Three” should know who was the “One.” To have torn away the veil of secrecy which shrouded his personality would have deprived him of his power. The Unknown is always terrible.note

From the circle of “Nine” to the circle of “Seven”; from the circle of “Seven” to the “Five”; from the “Five” to the “Three”; from the “Three”; to the “One”: so ran the grooves of communication.

What, pertaining to the business or the safety of the Ring, a member of “Nine” circle heard, it was demanded from him, by his sworn duty to the Society, that he should communicate to his colleagues of his “circle.” And the circle, or a majority, should decide whether the facts or the suspicions should be passed on to “Seven” circle.

Reaching the circle of “Seven,” the intelligence,


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if the circle by majority so decided, would pass to the “Five.” In like manner, the “Fivers” would transmit it to the “Three”; and so the “Centre”— the “One”—would hear of it only after long process of filtration and examination.

At any stage of the routine a “circle” might send back a “report” for further evidence and information; or, by refusing to pass it on, veto and quash it. The complaint could not be again made by the lower circle till after the lapse of so many weeks.

Should a matter be first set in motion by an intermediate circle, that circle would communicate the essence of the business to the lower rank, but the latter had no voice in referring it to the final judgment of the “Centre.” All vetoes were similarly communicated, so that the effect was this: Every initiate member knew the nature of all business which by ultimate transmission to “One” became the concern of the Ring; but every member had not a voice in its determination. No initiate could aid in the settlement of a matter originating in a higher circle than his own.

The exceptions to this general law were two. For the denunciation of an initiate member, the consent of the circle lower than his own was necessary, as


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well as that of his own and the higher ranks. Such cases were considered urgent, and the vote of one member of the lower circle or circles was regarded as sufficing for the whole of that denomination. And a “Three,” invested with scarcely less awfulness than the “One,” could act independently of his co-“Threes” by “One's” authority. It was this latter circumstance which originated the belief amongst many uninitiate Ringers that there was no “One.” They did not necessarily believe that because the “Centre” was invisible, therefore he did not exist, but they doubted his existence when they saw that attributes they supposed to attach only to the dreaded “One” belonged also to the “Three.”

Doubts, however, of this kind belonged to the uninitiates—or novices. The men of the lesser circles—the Nines and the Sevens and the Fives—knew of the “One,” and the Three knew him.

They were sufficient, these degrees of knowledge, for they sustained during long years of maleficent working a dreadful society within an accursed community—an empire of evil within an empire of horror. The character of the System alone did not explain the System. You had to take into account also the Ring, which constantly battled with the


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System, and frequently defeated though it could not subjugate it.

It could not subjugate the System, but then neither could the System destroy it.

The battle was a drawn one: the Ring ceased to exist as the animating soul of all evil things on the Island, only when the System acknowledged itself defeated by the “paralysing stroke of circumstance,”note and abandoned the spot which, designed by Heaven as an earthly paradise, the Englishman had made into a hell. Yet, one thinks, the result should have been different. There was the might of England behind the System—the majesty of her law, the sanctity of her State religion, the wisdom of her administrators. On the other side, there were—what? Twenty-four felons, and the “One”! A feeble handful of yellow-and-grey-garbed prisoners, most of them habitually in irons, scarcely one that had not shivered as the curling “cat” kissed him! Why, the System could have hanged them all any morning and not been put to the slightest inconvenience other than doubling the number of coffin-makers for a week!




  ― 50 ―

Notwithstanding, for fifty years the Ring held its own. Its heads or “Centres”—the “Ones”—must have been changed four times at least; the “circles” were re-organized again and again as death came along, and touched some “Niner” or “Sevener,” or “Fiver” or “Threer,” on the shoulder, and gave him his passport of freedom; the “uninitiates” were decimated by shootings and the Battle of the Bloody Bridge, by escapes and hangings. Still, the Ring lived on. And it would have been living to-day had the System survived.

II.

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:

“WE MEET ON SABBATH NEXT, THREE IN THE AFTERNOON, IN THE IRON YARD. YOU ARE INVITED TO BE PRESENT TO CARRY OUT YOUR THREAT OF BREAKING US UP.”

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


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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,

III.

“O Day most calm, most bright,
The week were dark but for thy light—
  Thy torch doth show the way!”

Thus had quoted the Rev. Thomas Taylor in his sermon at morning chapel to the Protestant prisoners. His words had been in praise of Sunday as a day which relieved for them no less than for their more fortunate fellows in other places the labour of the week. Their irons might still clank, but they did


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not fret and jar so painfully, for the movements were those of rest and change, and were not demanded by task-work. Their hands might still require to describe the salute, but the obligation would be less frequent. And the freedom from labour meant opportunity for reading and thought—for recollection of dear ones far away—for indulgence of bright hopes for the future—and for something of that intercourse with their brother-man which, in its unrestricted and unreprieved fulness, would be the principal delight to be conferred by freedom. Something after this manner spoke the tender-natured chaplain, whose spirits had been greatly invigorated since the advent of the new Commandant.

The chaplain's words had touched not a few hearts and had moistened many eyes. Unlike his predecessor, A——, who was for ever throwing “The Prodigal Son” at their heads; or Parson Ford, of Hobart-town, who was chiefly solicitous that his hearers should prove the value of his teachings by making a decent ending at the gallows rather than in reformation of their lives, Chaplain Taylor invariably impressed the prisoners by dwelling upon the few bright things of the present, and the brighter things their earthly future might still have in store for them. His tribute to the Sabbath was consequently


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highly appreciated, and more than one out of the six hundred transports in his congregation determined to spend the rest of the day peacefully— if the Ring would let them. That contingency had to be faced, for the knowledge was now general that it was a “Lodge Sunday.”

The morning muster after chapel passed off without incident—unlike the previous week's, when Convict Henry Reynell—the same who was now accused by the Ring—had, at the bidding of that body, refused to accept, for his comrades of the Iron Room, Maconochie's bribe of tobacco. And the mid-day meal, of 16 oz. roast-meat, 12 oz. baked potatoes, and the extra Sunday relish—to them who had not been under punishment for the week—of 4 oz. of wheat and barley bread, was unmarked by a quarrel. When the final “grace” was said, and the Almighty thanked in mumbling, parroted parodies for the mercies so amply showered upon them, the mass of the men in the yards felt they were, indeed, deserving of the pleasure which was to be theirs that afternoon. Not a single prisoner had been felled to the cobbled floors, and not one had rushed to the warders with a complaint that his cheek had been gashed open because he had been indiscreet enough to object to the theft of his ration. The peace of


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the beautiful Sabbath-day brooded, dove-like, on the resting throngs.

There were five yards, but we are concerned only with the one on which the Iron Room opened, and the adjacent enclosure. These were the pleasure-grounds of the aristocracy of crime; and the Ring membership was most largely represented in them. A doorway, sometimes closed, but on Sundays usually left open, furnished a means of communication between No. 3 yard and the space devoted to the fettered fraternity. From the elevated sentry-boxes—the “perches”—at the corners, armed guards watched or patrolled the broad-“leafed” walls. Within the radius of a biscuit-throw, two sentries of the military main-guard moved, this one this way, that one the opposite way, from their post at the entrance of a passage leading to the gaol.

At two o'clock the sentries were relieved, and a careful observer might then have seen that a new interest was taking possession of the throngs in both yards. Those who were reading closed their books, talkers became less in earnest, laughers and jesters —these were not wanting, for some men will laugh in hell—abated their merriment, and others who had been nursing their thoughts in abject solitude, shook off their taciturnity and joined one or other of


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the many knots. All, seemingly, began to count the time.

At a quarter-past two the sentries changed beats. The movement was noticed by the prisoners.

Fifteen minutes later, the soldiers rechanged. The prisoners knew the half-hour had expired. Without any apparent concord of movement, the men in either yard formed themselves into larger groups.

By the next change of “Go,” talk had nearly ceased in the two yards. Such laughter and sound of chat as were borne on the breeze were from the other enclosures. And the careful observer aforesaid would perceive that now the movements of the men were taking something of the character of marching and counter-marching. He would have heard no word of command; and yet he should have understood that some supreme will was giving directions, for, in the two yards, though no more than a few men in each could see what was going on in the other, there was a simultaneity of movement and likeness of manœuvring.

And by three o'clock, as the guards were re-adjusting themselves to their original path, the 140 men in the ironed yard, and the 200 in No. 3, were disposed something in this order.

Close to the north wall in the former enclosure


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stood two men. At three paces distance from them, so placed that, had a cord been passed through the hands of each to the others, a circle would have been described, of which the first two men would have formed the centre, stood three more transports. At five paces from these last were another five prisoners. Connect these by a cord, and these five would have surrounded the three. At seven paces, again, from the five transports were a second five, likewise ranged in an imaginary circle order. Nine paces away from this latter five was gathered a group of twenty-two or twenty-three—an outer envelope, as it were, of the inner rings. The mass of the ironed men stood by the south wall—and their faces towards it; but a weak line of communication was kept up by a string of pickets extending to this numerous group from the outer circle.

Thus was arranged the Ring in day conclave. The central two men represented the circle of “Three”; the three, the circle of “Five”; the first five, the circle of “Seven”; and the second five, that of “Nine.” Each circle was separated from its next lower one by as many paces as there were members in the lower circle. And the twenty-two or twenty-three “uninitiates” were divided by nine paces distance from the “Nines.” The pickets were recently


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admitted “uninitiates.” If the Ring had a message for the convicts in general or for the “uninitiates” who, for purposes of intimidation, were thrust amongst the transports who had refused or not been permitted to join the Society, it was transmitted by the pickets.

The circles of the Ring, it will be seen, were short of their proper number. It was seldom possible, indeed, to constitute a full Ring at a day conclave. Of the twenty-four men making up the circles, fifteen only were in the ironed yard. Of the rest, five were at the “mutual responsibility” farm, and four were in the next—No. 3—yard.

In the latter yard, allowing for the smaller number of the Ringers, the arrangement was the same. No Threer was included in this enclosure, but a Five, three Nines, and a dozen uninitiates were ranged at the proper gradations of distance. The convicts unassociated with the Ring were crowded under the south wall, with their faces turned from the Society group. Between the twelve uninitiates and the mass stretched, as in the other yard, a line of pickets.

On the stroke of three o'clock, then, this was the order of array in both enclosures. Save for a cough, a clearing of the throat, a friction in the “irons,” there was no sound among the transports. The sentries walked to and fro—and looked to their primings.


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The armed civil guards on the perches quickened their senses, but yet refrained from directly scrutinizing the proceedings. They could see every face, and yet no guard had ever been found who could, on a formal demand, identify any leader of the Ring. That is to say, none since Major Anderson's time. A warder then had declared to the Commandant he would swear to a score of the inner circles. And within a week he lay on his bed, a shattered lump of carrion. A thirst for information is not always judicious.

IV.

The soldiers by the gaol-passage exchanged. And at that instant a sharp, curiously-modulated whistle shrilled from the Threes in the ironed yard, and was instantly answered by another whistle from the next yard. “Lodge” was opened.

A Five broke from his circle, and passed to the group of uininitiates. He paused a second before each man, who stooped and whispered something into his ear. Then, from the uninitiates, he passed successively to the Nines, the Sevens, to his comrades of the Five, and finally, to the Threes. From all he gathered the password save from the representatives of the innermost circles. To them he gave it.


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During his progress there had been countless slightly noisy movements among the massed transports, yet the tension of feeling was so extreme, that many would have sworn there had occurred no sound except that caused by the clink-clank of the irons.

When the Threes received the approving signal, one—Johnson—began to recite the Ritual; the other—Gooch—to lead off the antiphonal responses. Sometimes both the words of the reciter and the response were in vigorous, resonant English; other passages were partly English and partly in the Ring's own variety of the “flash” language; sometimes both were in the argôt. It is unnecessary to say the secrets of the Ring were conveyed in the last form of speech.

Very solemn the liturgy sounded. If the words were sometimes ribald, there was nothing ribald in the manner of their utterance. Except in a Catholic service, no such respectfulness of tone and decency of demeanour were ever voluntarily exhibited by the transports as in a Ring meeting. Any unseemliness was visited with a punishment the more to be feared that its precise measure was unknown to the culprit till the moment of its infliction, but the solemnity of its proceedings was at once the cause and the effect of the Society's influence. The portions of the Ritual


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which were recited in the vernacular were resonantly worded specifically for the purpose of impressing such of the convicts not enlisted in the strange companionship who might be in hearing. Singular though the statement may appear, it was the religious character given to its ceremonies that made it the weapon it was in the service of the devil. Appeals to occult powers, the element of mystery in gesture and language, the measured intonation, the employment of symbolism, the frequent invocation of dread punishment upon men who violated their oath—all were calculated to inspire awe of and devotion to the Society that used it.

The temporary leader of the Ring, who was reciting, reached that passage in the blasphemous liturgy:

Is God an officer of the establishment?

And the response came solemnly clear, thrice repeated:

No, God is not an officer of the establishment.

He passed to the next question:

Is the Devil an officer of the establishment?

And received the answer—thrice:

Yes, the Devil is an officer of the establishment.

He continued:

Then do we obey God?

With clear-cut resonance came the negative—

No, we do not obey God!




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He propounded the problem framed by souls that are not necessarily corrupt:

Then whom do we obey?

And, thrice over, he received for reply the damning perjury which yet was so true an answer:

The Devil—we obey our Lord the Devil!

In a corner, by the south wall, a youth of twenty, in irons for a freak, dropped his face on his hands and stifled a sob. He had been trying since sermon-time to fix indelibly on his memory the sweet melody of George Herbert's hymn:

“O Day most calm, most bright,
The week were dark but for thy light—
  Thy torch doth show the way!”

and now that music was jostled from his mind by the demons' Litany.

Johnson had arrived at the “prayer”:

Render us, O Satan, always flourishing in thy work, always happy in obeying thy law, thou who art eternal, who art always young, who never lackest worshippers and servants to do thy will, who art always rich, and never forgettest those who place their offerings at thy altar—

when from No. 3 yard came a long, involved whistle: and in the instant following a murmur ran along the line of pickets.

Captain Maconochie had accepted the challenge.




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V.

He walked through No. 3 yard unattended. His predecessor had never entered it on a Sunday afternoon without an escort of two soldiers. As he passed he acknowledged pleasantly the few salutes he received, and gave no sign that he noticed the majority of the enclosure's occupants declined to recognize his presence. They were waiting to see what the Ring would do.

And the Ring? Save for that murmur of the pickets the session expressed no consciousness of the visitor. The reciter finished the prayer in an even tone:

“Render unto us the rewards of them who obey thee always and God never.”

And then suddenly changing his tone from the key of religious solemnity to a simple announcement, said, “The Com'dant!”

In the same instant he saluted and smiled—smiled derisively in Captain Maconochie's face, as the latter, appalled at the abominable import of the Ritual's words, stood still, showing his distress very plainly.

“Good heavens, men! Did I hear aright? Did I hear you blaspheming your Maker so dreadfully?”

“Wot, sir?” asked Johnson. “This is the first


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degree of a Ring meetin', y'r know! We but say wot we're tol' to say. It's all in the Ritooal, sir!”

“You are in Ring Lodge now?”

“Yessir! First degree!”

“And you blaspheme like this in all your degrees?” Maconochie stammered and stuttered in his horror.

“Wud yer like to know, sir?”

“Yes.”

“Then that's jest wot yer won't get to know from me, y'r Honour!” replied Johnson, and the retort provoked a roar of laughter, half-timid, half-defiant, from the circle. Sunday or no Sunday the laughers would have been tied to the triangles by any other Commandant for that outrage, but Maconochie, albeit severely tempted, overlooked the insult.

“When do you hold your other degrees?”

“In present session, at wunst—unless yer a-goin' to break us up!” Again the fellow laughed.

“I am not going to break you up to-day——”

“Nor any other time!” exclaimed the leader.

“'Ear, 'ear!” seconded some “Fives” and “Sevens.”

VI.

“Go on with your Ritual!” said the Commandant, after a pause.




  ― 67 ―

“That's wot we intend to do, yer Honour,” Johnson, with measured insolence, responded. “An' d'yer mean to stop and 'ear us?”

“I do!”

“I 'opes as yer Honour'll be vastly interested!” And once more the Commandant was compelled to listen to a laugh that was a jibe. He let it go by, like the others.

Then the leader resumed his devil's business, and gave, in the next half-hour, the Captain a lesson as to the ingenuity of felonry that he never forgot. Better versed than any Penal Commandant, before or since (save Price), in the “flash” slang or thieves' language, he yet scarcely comprehended a word of the many concluding parts of the ceremony brought to his ears.

For, as there were grades in the Ring, there were varieties in its speech. There was the variety understood by all novices as well as initiates—the variety known to “Nines” and all above—another familiar to “Sevens” and “Fives” and “Threes”—one in which only the “Fives” and “Threes” were educated. All these forms of argôt were used that afternoon, accordingly as the “Three” in charge addressed himself to a higher circle or a lower.

And, not content with that patent offence to the


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Spirit of the System, the Ring perpetrated yet another. It held communication with its gesture-language—when a movement of the limbs or head expressed a number, and the number indicated a word or phrase in its “initiate” code—and in its dumb-talk and its whistling vocabulary. These two last were provisions for use when the legs were ironed and the hands in “bracelets.” And of all the “talk” and signalling, the Commandant understood next to nothing. All he knew was that the proceedings shaped themselves something like those in a court of justice.

There were addresses from the leader “Three” and his colleagues—slowly and impressively delivered; there were steppings forth from the outer rings of men who evidently gave testimony of some sort with right hand uplifted; and there was a brief and apparently impassioned speech from a “Seven”—the prisoner's feelings prompted him in his excitement to drop into a phrase of plain English, which he corrected instantly upon being checked by Johnson. And, finally, there was the pronouncement of a verdict. Amidst a grim silence, broken only by the shuffling and rubbing of the second “Three's” irons as he moved from rank to rank of the Circles to gather the judgment, the decision was come to. The


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whole mass by the north wall heaved a sigh of relief as Johnson lowered his head to receive the announcement.

By the laws, to condemn a “Nine” a bare majority of all present sufficed; to “settle” a Seven, an absolute majority of the Circles present or absent was necessary; for a “Five” or “Three” was required a majority of his own circle as well as the majority of the lower ranks. Proxies were used for absentees, if the latter knew of the business. Reynell was represented by proxy.

Now, of the fifteen chief Ringers present in this Iron Yard but seven voted for Reynell's condemnation. On that vote he would have been discharged of the accusation, for it required thirteen to convict him. But, as we have said, five (including the accused) were at the “mutual responsibility” farm, and four were in Yard No. 3 adjacent to the Iron Yard. Two out of the five voted, by proxy, “guilty,” making nine! Would the other four go the same way?

There was a lull in the “talk” and dumb show, while “Threer” Johnson pondered an ingenious— but quite satanic—notion that came into his head. He guessed Maconochie would wish for some indication of the Ring's mysterious power to communicate


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at long distances. That singular capacity had irritated and defeated his predecessors, and naturally he would think with them on that point, however he might disagree on others. Johnson communicated his notion to his brother “Three” in a whisper, and the other applauded it. Whereupon, “Wud yer like to see, y'r Honour,” Johnson questioned very respectfully, “'ow we send messages?”

“Yes!” cried Maconochie. If he could but gain some insight into the Ring's methods he would defeat them, he thought. “Yes—yes!”

“Then y'r Honour'll give us yer word as a gen'elman that yer won't use the knowledge yer gain wi'out formal information on oath from other parties?”

The Commandant felt he was justified in saying he would not.

“Then, sir, there are four Ringers in nex' yard— standin' by this 'ere north wall. I'll send 'em a message so you can see 'ow it goes, an' if yer like, sir, yer can bring the answer!”

Should he do it? Was it a trap for his dignity? The Captain reflected, and decided to take the risk.

“I will bring the answer!”

“Then, sir, I'm going to send this message!” Johnson clanked to a foot's distance from the Commandant,


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and lowered his voice: “Do yer vote as the majority 'ere? The reply, sir, as yer'll get 'll convince yer jest that question and no other's gone through. Now, sir, watch!”

The pickets, we have mentioned, stretched from the cluster of the novices to the south wall. At a sharp word from Johnson, they moved, as quickly as their irons would permit, to continue the line to the gate opening into No. 3.

“Now, sir,” went on Johnson, “that there message is a-goin' to the end of that line. Yer follow it from man to man. Then, sir, do you, please, join this line to the picket inside No. 3. They will pass the message on, an' yer'll get the reply!”

Anxiously Maconochie watched the procedure. Johnson, in dumb-talk, “spoke” to a Nine; the fellow passed the message to a novice or “uninitiate” by a gesture; he, turning, repeated it in their slang to a picket. So it went to the line's end. Each man, as he received it, revolved on his heel, and transmitted it to the next, the Commandant pacing by their side down to the last picket. Some of these novices trembled because of his proximity; others simply grinned; the sentries and armed civil guards, in their amazement, grew more positive than ever that the Commandant was “looney.”




  ― 72 ―

The Commandant—and the message—entered the next yard. The pickets took it up. Man by man, with repetitions of slang, passed it to the group of uninitiates, and then to the three “Nines.” Then the solitary “Five” in that yard received it. Maconochie would have sworn that nothing passed from man to man save a few syllables of gibberish. And yet, within a minute, he had been given the reply.

“Yes, sir!” said the “Five,” saluting, “we four here votes with the majority!”

Grieving deeply over this misapplication of ingenuity, and wondering how he should meet it and defeat it, Maconochie walked back to where the leader of the Ring awaited him in silence at his proper station.

“Well, sir?” questioned, as deferentially as one could wish, Johnson.

“The prisoner said the four would vote—”

“How—how?” came in hard-breathed exclamations from among the circles.

“With the majority!” The Commandant finished the sentence.

Some laughed at the news; some laughed at the exquisitely humorous notion of making the Commandant the bearer of the fatal decision; and one


  ― 73 ―
man—a “Niner,” a friend of Reynell—said snarlingly (to his own hurt at a later time), “Yer've given Reynell over to his doom!”

Indeed he had done so, though in all ignorance. How the doom fell we shall tell you later.

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