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

  ― 46 ―
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

  ― 48 ―
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.