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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.

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