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III.

The masked man knew the “Three”—Johnson and Gooch, inmates of the Iron Room, and Peake, of 5 B farm gang. Nevertheless, from each he demanded the password of his circle and the sign of his membership of the supreme rank but one. At the word being given in a low murmur that stirred the darkness like a witch's spell, he began the brief Liturgy of the Conclave.




  ― 84 ―

“For whose service do we meet?” asked the “One.”

In the service of the Devil—the Devil our Lord!” responded the “Three.”

“But the Devil our Lord is Invisible!”

Aye, as invisible as death!

“Yet is death visible?”

Aye, to those who can see!

“Then, is our Lord visible?”

Aye, to those who can see!

“Then how appeareth he?”

In thee, O One! O Mighty One! O Thrice Mighty One!

“Turn thou then, O men of the Circles, men of the mighty Ring, whose meaning is Unity in Infinity, and do homage to thy chief, to the vicegerent of thy Lord! Turn thou! Turn thou!”

The men of the Circles, the noiseless patrol, faced the Conclave, and in the next instant cried as with one voice:

To thee our Lord Satan do we homage!

As they cried their hands were upraised. That much could have been observed, for in that same moment a lurid illumination blazed suddenly upon the scene and hung a garland of flame upon the brows of these human demons.




  ― 85 ―

Through the eye-orbits of a human skull apparently suspended in mid-air, through the opened jaws, through the nasal cavities, and from every fragment of the bony box that had once held the secrets of a human brain, grinned a phosphorescent glare. A mere bit of theatrical mummery, it had a diabolic effect upon weakened nerves already prepared by an incantation muttered in the solemn hush of midnight to be sympathetically impressed. It stamped the seal of supernaturalism upon the ceremonial, and in the perversion of moral sense which characterized the “Black Norfolkers” as it has marked no other community these hundreds of years, it was welcomed with a thrill that had more in keeping with a sensual pleasure than a retributary terror.

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