Then proceeded to its conclusion this mummery. Its rites and ceremonies—the devices of ingenious and fertile minds compelled by Fate to that most Sisyphian of all tortures, the working upon themselves for want of an outlet for their inventive and imaginative faculties; or of souls capable of forging

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thunderbolts and of venting forked lightnings, but condemned by society to the unrelieved, hopeless misery of petty taskwork—were, as yet, incomplete.

The “One” had to travesty in blasphemous syllables the prayer commonly used at Norfolk Island executions when a Protestant was to be hanged. The original prayer was this—

“Oh, Almighty God, who according to the magnitude of Thy mercies dost so truly put away the sins of those which truly repent, that Thou rememberest them no more, open Thine eyes upon this Thy servant who most earnestly desireth pardon and forgiveness. Remember him, most Loving Father; whatsoever hath been declared in him by the fraud and malice of the Devil or by his own carnal wilfulness, do Thou forgive.”…

The infamous parody of that pathetic appeal as recited by the “One” dare not be quoted. Invert every petition of the original; substitute the name of the Adversary for that of the Deity; invoke as the cause of the victim's ruin and death the loving-kindness of God and the benignity of British Justice, and you will have a faint idea of the prayer he used. The parody was the richest fruit of the System. Were you to clothe with literary form the mouthings of the creatures led by Hébert, as they danced round Lais and Phryne enthroned as Goddesses of Reason on the desecrated Church altars of Revolutionary

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Paris, you would scarcely parallel it in point of blasphemous horror.

The recitation ended, the “One” and “Three” commended themselves and the Ring to the care of the Lord of Evil, and finally—the Circles being once more bade to do homage—the Convict Oath was chanted in chorus. With foot against foot and palm meeting in palm, the Bond of Obligation was renewed.

Only, there was no drinking of blood from one another's pin-pricked veins. Was it because of the darkness that the libation was omitted? Was it because time was passing?

No; the blood was not drunk because, in the presence of a superior infamy, an inferior shame is superfluous.

A “Conclave of Doom,” at which was marked the period of some Ringer's life, fulfilled yet another awful function. It at once elected some one to the newly-created vacancy. There were always waiting aspirants for admission to each circle from the grade below it. The man eligible for promotion from the novices or uninitiates was almost invariably in attendance, but if his presence could not be secured— say, because he was in gaol, in Longridge Barracks,

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or at the Cascades—he was admitted by proxy, the proxy, one of the initiates, being compelled to administer the rite to the newly-elected at the earliest opportunity.

Now, Reynell being a “Sevener,” the vacancy in “Seven” Circle had to be filled by the appointment of a “Niner.”

Felix, the nominated executioner, was chosen. This step followed the usage. The executioner, having at supreme risk obeyed the Ring, was worthy of promotion if the deed of death created a vacancy.

To fill Felix's place and thus complete “Nine” Circle, a novice was called up by name from the silent, wearied, but docile throng by the door. As the wretch stumbled in the darkness up the length of the uneven boards towards the first line of patrols, his movements were followed by a plaintive wail from Sammy Ward.

“Ain't you going to elect me? It's my turn!” And he was hardly stopped by the smothered exclamations which burst from those equally unprivileged with himself. “Hush, you fool! hush!”

The newly-honoured convict reached the first patrol. There he was stripped—and passed on.

When he came within arm's reach of the “Three,” the flash of the bull's-eye blazed into his face, and,

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for an instant, blinded him. This was done to identify him. Once, two years before, when a man had been called from the outsiders to be graced with his new honours he grew, at the last moment, craven. The man next him whispered that he would go in his stead. He did so, and—up to that night the lantern had not been used for that last flash of identification—was initiated beneath the cloak of darkness. The next day he claimed, as he was entitled to do by his rights of admission, instruction in the “cant” language from an elder member of the Ring. Then he stood revealed as one who had fraudulently obtained admission to their mysteries. The morning following he was found dead in his bed-place; obviously strangled. “But what was the use of an inquiry?” questioned the Acting-Commandant Bunbury. “To hang the murderer we should have had to hang one hundred and twenty men!” So the flash of identification became necessary.

The man passed the scrutiny—he was the right one, the one who had been called and chosen, and he was initiated.

Gagged in the moment when the light blazed in his face, he could but writhe in the grasp of two “Fivers,” and utter throat noises as the “One”

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thrust a hand against his chest, and punctured its skin with, it seemed, a hundred needle-points. In the shock of pain the neophyte scarcely knew what followed. Into the hundreds of minute wounds, as soon as the needles had been withdrawn, was rubbed a handful of gunpowder. When healed, the scar would describe a solitary circle. Thus was the symbol of the “Niners” impressed upon its new member.

The impression of the symbol was, however, only the first part of the ceremony of initiation. What completed it may not be described, nor even hinted.

Suffice it to say that if by any lucky chance—it was all a business of pure chance—the neophyte had not to the moment of his initiation into the Ring committed any capital offence, the completion of the ceremony placed the rope round his neck. Every member of the Ring was, by virtue of his membership, liable to be hanged. It was really an organization of the condemned. And so absolute was the moral ruin of “Black Norfolkers,” that that terrible fact was considered the most brilliant trophy wrested by the Secret Society from the Law.