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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.


  ― 62 ―
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


  ― 63 ―
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!




  ― 64 ―

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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