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I.

NIGHT in the Iron Room. The majority of the men we saw in the Ironed Yard on last Sunday, when at the “Session of Denunciation,” are lodged here. Perhaps a hundred seek the phantasm of repose on the low platforms of its floors; the rest, some forty or fifty, are privileged to slumber in a smaller dormitory adjacent. And, save by the utterly reckless (ever, alas! all too numerous among the ironed men) the privilege of sleeping in the smaller room was highly valued for several reasons, only a few of which, however, dare be stated. The transports there accommodated were the first to be let out in the morning—that was one reason; consequently they enjoyed the earliest use of the towels—this was a second reason. And a third, and even more important one, was that they were not liable to be disturbed after midnight by a Ring conclave. It was one thing to enjoy the solemnity of the Society's


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proceedings in the daytime; a lodge broke the tedium of the monotony; but it was quite another to lose the superior distraction that came in the shape of sleep, simply because the “One” and the “Three” desired to pursue with adequate rite and ceremony their machinations against the System. Sleep, so precious to all, was trebly precious to the “Black Norfolker.” To the felon denizens of the Iron Room sleep was almost as welcome as his “twin-brother,” death.

And so, when it became known in the Iron Room the Wednesday evening after the Sunday of Denunciation, that in all likelihood a Ring conclave would be held that midnight, the members of the outer circles and the novices of the Ring, no less than the miscellaneous criminals who were not associated with the Society, were somewhat troubled. The day had been marked by one of those hurricanes which, springing with suddenness from the surface of the Pacific, die as suddenly after spending their tropical rage disastrously upon every object within their scope; and most of the men, having been exposed to its violence, were suffering from bodily exhaustion. Maconochie had excelled himself and desecrated the sacred traditions of the Island by ordering warm tea to be supplied to every man engaged in outdoor


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employment, and in some cases, indeed, he had granted hot rum, and had, further, shortened the evening muster by withholding “prayers,” so that the prisoners might seek their blankets the earlier. And now the Commandant's solicitude was to be partially neutralized by the mandate of the “One.” Yet remonstrance, audible and overt, was never once thought of. Had the cases been reversed and it had been the authorities who had with apparent wantonness interfered with the transports' poor comfort, a disturbance would have arisen that would not have been readily quelled. Almost the solitary remark uttered with reference to the Ring's action was that of a wretch, Sam Ward, who from a certain eccentricity of habit—he was for ever speaking to himself—had been refused the greatly coveted honour of admission to the Circles. When the signal went round that a Conclave was to be held and that their rest would be disturbed, he said—“Ah, well—'tis a pity, Sammy! You're always free when you're asleep, and you're so tired to-night, Sammy, freedom'd be all the sweeter!” Beyond these words, the mandate of the Ring met no impediment.

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