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VI.

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




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“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.”




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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


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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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