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IV.—The Falling Of The Doom.

I.

THE Secret Society of the Ring had, in regular conclave, ordered that Brother William Felix, No. 20, of “Nine” Circle, should, within one lunar month, stab or shoot to the death Brother Henry Reynell, No. 12, of “Seven” Circle. Reynell's offence was (as already related) the promising “to be true man” to Civil Commandant Maconochie. Convict Bill Felix was a member of the sub-gang of which Convict Henry Reynell was the leader; and, inasmuch as Reynell had chosen Felix to be a member of 5 B farm sub-gang, thus freeing him from the constant wearing of fetters and conferring upon him a desirable degree of freedom, Felix had sworn to be his (Reynell's) man “for ever and a day.” The tie of fraternity which linked Reynell and Felix thus was sadly complicated with the obligation of obedience which bound the latter to the Ring. Let Felix obey the Ring, and he would have to enact the doom upon


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the one soul for whom he cared. Let him refuse to execute the death-warrant issued under the seal of the “One”—the dread head or “Centre” of the Society—and the doom he refused to Reynell would be his own. The Ring having given over some one to the doom, would demand the life of the appointed executioner if he failed within the specified time to complete his task. In rare instances a regulation or law of the Society might be modified or altered in effect. But never in its history had there been known a case where a death-warrant had been left unfulfilled and the stated executioner had continued to live. The idol would demand appeasement for its lust, if not in the person of one victim, in another's.

There is an impressive story as to the working of this Medean law. Before the existing “One” it is believed three men had filled the awful office. The second in the administration had been ordered to murder the then Commandant, Captain Wright. He had acquiesced in the need for the crime—otherwise the order would not have been ratified. And, as the “One,” it was his duty to perform the doom on the Commandant. It was a minor but still immutable law of the Ring that the “old man” should only die by the “One's” hands. The honour was accorded to him as a privilege of his dignity. Yet Captain


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Wright lived to be Major and to give evidence before the Select Committee on Transportation of the House of Commons. How was that?

Wright had been suddenly recalled to Sydney. The vessel which brought the summons of recall could not lie off the harbourless island in the storm-season for longer than a week, and instant preparations for his departure were set on foot by the Commandant. The news spread—and twice within the week was his life attempted in vain. He got on board the vessel safe; thus unknowingly he committed the “One” to the wrath and vengeance of the Ring; and the Ring demanded its vicarious sacrifice.

Three days after Wright's sailing the body of one of the most intelligent of the “free” constables was found suspended from a tall pine. The dead man was supposed to have been in pretty general favour with the transports and his fellow-officers; hence it was not believed that he had been murdered, and his death was attributed to suicide. The military surgeon, who made an examination of the corpse, drew the attention of the subaltern of the guard to a curious symbol burnt or tattooed into the flesh of the chest and freshly cut across with a knife. The scarification was, however, only skin-deep, and had


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been done after death. The officers did not recognize at the moment the significance of the scar.note

It was the symbol of the “One.”

Not even the dreaded Head of the Society was free of its penalties.

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Image on page 101: Star within concentric circles

II.

Civil Commandant Maconochie, it will be remembered, had, in his anxiety to acquire a knowledge of the Ring's methods of communication, been trapped into conveying the report of how certain Ringers had voted at the trial of Reynell. “Condemnation


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or Acquittal?” —the question hung thus in the balance when Maconochie had appeared in the yard where the Ring Lodge was in “Session of Denunciation.” Nine were for condemnation—for sending on the accused to the “Conclave of Doom”; but thirteen votes were required by the law of the Secret Society before the condemnation could be passed. And four votes Maconochie had been trapped into conveying.

Without knowing the precise bearings of his action, he had learnt enough to understand that he had given Reynell over to the doom. An interjection by a Ringer who was a loyal friend to Reynell—strange, how in this accursed community of felonry, which a noble member of the House of Lords stated to be deficient in every human attribute, feelings of affection refused to absolutely die out, and thus prove his lordship right!—had informed Maconochie of so much. What was the doom: death, mutilation, or a simple “sending to Coventry”? Maconochie asked several of the officers of the Establishment, but could gain no satisfactory answer. “Most likely death!” he was told by the gaoler. “The Ring didn't think much o' death!”

Herein the gaoler was subject to that tendency to error which infected all thoughts and beliefs, of whatever


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nature, held in the University of Depravity.note The Ring thought a good deal of death when that Mighty Leveller was enlisted on their behalf. It was only when Death acted for the authorities that they snapped their fingers in his face and jested pleasantly with him. When the Ring used him, he was to its members an instrument of terror, and they surrounded him in their imaginations with every ghastly, every agonizing, every horrific attribute of which the distorted culture of the Society's founders, or the dark fancies of the most ignorant Ringers—such as those who ever trembled at the verge of madness—could invent and adapt. But, so momentous is the alteration in human feeling, which can be effected by changing the point of view, Death had but to draw his fees from the Establishment to be sneered at, ridiculed, and derisively welcomed. Black Norfolkers went sardonically to the grave at the Establishment's orders, just because the Establishment wished them to do differently.




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III.

Maconochie sent for Johnson, leader at the “Session of Denunciation.”

“Have you any objection, sir, to relate the precise significance of the condemnation which you understand the Ring has passed on prisoner Reynell?”

“'Eaps!” was the laconic rejoinder.

“I beg your pardon! What did you say?”

“'Eaps! I sed I 'av 'eaps of objecshuns.”

“Oh!” Then, after a pause, “I believe, Johnson, you have been a prisoner under the Crown for many years?”

“More'n can count!”

“Yes? Then you must have heard read many times the regulation as to answering truly and explicitly, and without prevarication or evasion or denial, all questions put by persons in properly-constituted authority?”

“Can't say as I 'av, yer Honour!”

“Johnson!”

“Yes, yer Honour?”

“I mean to deal fairly and kindly with every man on the Island—but I will have truth-speaking. I never forgive a lie, except it is uttered under the influence of terror!”




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“In wot 'av I lied, yer Honour?”

“You said you had never heard the regulation enforcing—”

“Savin' yer Honour's presence, I said nothink o' the kind! Yer arsked me 'ad I 'erd it read. Well, I never did! I've 'erd it mumbled ev'ry Sunday since I was a kinchin—but never 'erd it read wunst. There ain't no 'Stablishment orf'cer as can read—unless it's yerself.” The rascal grinned in enjoyment of his own satire.

“You know the meaning of the regulation—what it enforces—however?”

“O' course: to answer th' truth, th' 'ole truth, an' nothink but th' truth w'en 'terrogated by 'Stablishment orf'cer.”

“Then answer me, sir.” (Not imperatively, but with a studied politeness, did Maconochie now speak.) “What judgment—what ‘doom’ as you call it—has your Society ordered upon Reynell?”

Johnson gazed reflectively at the ceiling. He passed his right hand over the corrugations of his forehead, and drew it down the scarred and weather-blighted cheeks to the stern, square jowl that had gripped numberless groans of agony in their utterance, and bid them be dumb. Then he said:

“Mr. Com'dant, Pa'son Taylor tells us that w'en


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th' higher law conflicts wi' th' lower, we must allus obey th' higher—allus th' higher. Do th' pa'son's views meet wi' yer approval, sir?”

The Commandant, already once trapped by Johnson, was dubious of the fair seeming of the interrogation, and declined to answer directly.

“Answer my question!”

“Wi' orl respecks, y'r Honour, I can't till I know wot to obey—that as is th' higher law or that as is th' lower!”

“There is no question of higher or lower law here, my man—none. It is merely a matter of answering my question. What is Reynell's doom?”

“That's w'ere yer an' me jest differ, y'r Honour. 'Tis orl a matter o' higher an' lower law. If I answer th' question, I obey th' law o' th' System. If I don't answer it, then I obey th' law o' th' Ring, an' I'd 'av y'r Honour know as fur me an' sech as me 'tis th' Ring's law as is highest law.”

Again the fellow's lips parted and his cheeks wrinkled in a gleeful defiance of authority.

“You're talking foolishly,” rejoined the Commandant, bearing the implied taunt with a patience of tone and manner that, if he had only known it, was more likely to penetrate to Johnson's better nature than any number of authority-phrased words; “you're


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twisting Mr. Taylor's sayings to suit your own purpose. Mr. Taylor meant, no doubt, that when human law conflicts with the moral law of conscience or revealed law, then the latter, as the higher law, must be obeyed.”

No more unfortunate admission could have been made by a System's officer; and the ingenious Johnson, whose naturally sharp wits the attrition of adversity had ground to remarkable keenness, while wearing away the moral part of him, eagerly seized the opportunity thus offered of making an embarrassing criticism on the System.

“That's jest it, y'r Honour—that's th' very identical thing as I mean. Now, th' System's laws an' reg'lashuns is th' lower law, an' our laws an' reg'lashuns—th' Ring's laws, that is—they're th' higher, 'cos— But will yer 'ear th' reason, yer Honour?”

“Go on—though you are talking insubordinate nonsense. I will hear what you have to say!”

“This is th' reason. Th' Ring's law is th' moral law 'cos it's founded on justice!” He stooped, and, placing his hands on his knees, crooked his head so as to glare impishly into the Commandant's face to watch the effect of his words, or rather of those he left unsaid.

For not what the wretch said but what he left


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unsaid stung the Commandant. The implication was clear. The System was not founded upon justice. And in his heart of hearts Maconochie knew the accusation was true. Penalties British law justly provided for those who offended against it, but then British law proposed only to punish, and not to give over the offenders to “unusual punishment” and utter corruption. The System did this, however—and the taunt went home. But, what could Maconochie do? Argument imperilled his authority, and, after all, he did not invent the System. So—

“You decline to answer what is Reynell's doom?”

“Aye, y'r Honour, 'cos th' Ring forbids me!”

“You know I can inflict penalties upon you for refusing to answer my plain interrogatory?”

“Short o' puttin' me into an 'oss' necklace, yer can, sir. But yer won't punish me!”

“Why?” Against his judgment, the Commandant put the inquiry. Similar remarks had been made to him before by men up for punishment, but invariably they had been uttered in suppliant or cringing tones. This fellow, however, spoke with the confidence of knowledge.

“W'y? 'Cos yer know wot I ses is true. An' 'cos, although yer an orf'cer o' th' Systum, yer 'art ain't in the Systum's way o' doin' things. That's


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w'y, sir. Yer ain't been long 'nuff 'ere to 'a changed th' 'art o' a man fur th' 'art o' a beast. Yer know who said that, y'r Honour?”

Maconochie nodded.

“Yes, o' course yer do. It struck th' 'ol man, 'im as was jest a-chuckin' o' us into Jack Ketch's mouth like so many sweeties—lor, 'e did love to keep th' carpenters an' gravediggers a-goin', did Billy Burton! —it struck even him orl o' a 'eap! But 'e was wrong 'bout it—an' so is Taylor, an' so are yer, an' everybody else as 'erd o' wot poor Kavenagh said!”

“Wrong—how do you mean?”

“Wot did Kavenagh say? ‘When I landed 'ere I 'ad th' 'art o' a man, but yer 'av plucked it out an' planted a brute's 'art instead!’ That's wot he ses, an' th' jedge an' everybody thinks it's true o' th' pris'ners only. But, man”—he gathered breath to hurl at Maconochie, with greater emphasis, a bitter conclusion—“them words war truer o' th' 'Stablishment orf'cers. Th' System finds orl its orf'cers men, an' leaves 'em orl brutes! Orl o' we don't get 'ardened, but there ain't one o' yer wot doesn't!”




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IV.

Foiled by Johnson in his attempt to discover the fate in store for Reynell, Maconochie met with no more success when he interrogated the members of the farm sub-gang to which Reynell and Felix belonged. Peake, Osborne, and “Barrington” each frankly enough declared he knew quite well about the order of doom, but as for telling his Honour—well, the Ring wouldn't allow him.

“If anything happens to Reynell, I shall charge you as an accessory,” said the Commandant to each. And the threat was laughed at. Better the vengeance of the System than the vengeance of the Ring. The former could only hang them—the latter could do more: it could kill them after a ceremony of execration. They were frightened of the last.

From Felix the Commandant received his one fragment of consolation. “I be 'Arry Reynell's sworn man, y'r Honour! An' no harm 'ud 'appen unto him if Bill Felix can stop ut wi' life nor limb.” And, somewhat reassured, Captain Maconochie went then to Reynell himself.

The man was hoeing. He had stopped for a moment to rest, and stood gazing towards the sea and over the township, which was semi-veiled in a lustrous


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mist, as though Nature would hide from the eye of Heaven the halls where the devil and the System held their joint revels. On the soft earth the Commandant's steps were inaudible, and the transport did not know of the official's approach till he was addressed.

“Reynell!”

The convict started, and turned round. He “capped” instantly, and, in the same gesture, Maconochie saw that he had dashed away a tear from his eyes.

“Good-morning, Reynell! The gang making satisfactory work?”

“Yes, sir. I think so! With a fair crop, the Com'sariat 'll have to pay them a good many marks.”note

Them—why not “us”? Maconochie was quick to notice the substitution of the word.

“Why ‘them,’ Reynell? Why don't you, who are the leader and director of the gang, join yourself with the others?”

“Oh,” with a marked hesitation, and a quivering


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of the lips that told of an inward agitation, “'twas a slip, sir!”

Maconochie stepped forward and laid a hand, with kindly pressure, on the transport's shoulder.

“No, Reynell, it was no slip! It meant that already you are separating yourself in thought from your fellow-gangers—it meant that you are under doom of death from the Ring!”

The condemned flamed out into sudden anger. Such strange tricks does the fancy play with a certain order of superstitious minds, that he was jealous that the secret of the Society he thought so much of as to submit himself quietly to its fatal will, should be thus known to an outsider, and that outsider one of the accursed Establishment. “Who told you that?”

“No one. I inferred it—partly from what passed last Sunday—you heard I was present?—and partly from what you say was a ‘slip.’ Come, Reynell—Harry——”

All the patience, all the forbearance, all the tenderness that it was possible for one man—a superior—to extend to his inferior, Maconochie caused to vibrate in his voice. The prisoner, bringing himself in the sudden impulse of surprise to face the Commandant, showed in the workings of his features how the “Harry” had stirred him.




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“Tell me,” Maconochie went on, “if not the doom, how I can help you to escape it. Remember, my friend, that I brought this on you!

“No!” In a low, choking guttural.

“Oh, but yes! I cannot forget that it was because you swore to be a true man to me, and thereby helped me nobly in what I regard as my mission here, that you are under the ban of the Ring. Therefore, as through me you broke, it would appear, the Society's law, it is only right that through me aid shall come to you.”

“There can—be no—aid, sir! All's up!” Reynell let his head fall on his chest. The action was that of a tired man, of an over-wearied bearer of a burden; there was nothing abject in it.

“No. I pledge you my word, Reynell, that I will get you out of this trouble.”

“'Tis no trouble, sir!”

“Listen, sir! I brought you into this quarrel with the Ring because I wanted—well, I wished to count you as one of the trophies of my new methods——”

“Beggin' your pardon for interruptin' y'r Honour, an' it's good of you to put it that way, but it's not true—an' it's no use! I'm doomed—doomed!” And then, with something of that saucy contempt for life which had made him before Maconochie's advent a


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centre of insubordination, he went on: “It's not that I'm afraid of death—not a bit of it! No Ringer is—few of us are!” He waved his hand so as to embrace in its sweep the whole group of Kingston buildings—the dormitories, the gaol, and the exercise and work yards. “None of us are! But no one likes death at the hands of the Ring, for it's disgrace—and besides——”

“What?”

“Yer won't think me a softy, sir, will yer, for saying it? but I've of'n thought of late—” Again he paused, stumbling for an expression. Maconochie waited.

“I've thought that, p'r'aps, life wouldn't be such a bad thing—if one only had—a chance to keep square!”

Maconochie's heart leapt within him. Here was proof that he was in the right! Bring a creature, however hardened to all seeming, within the circle of human interests and brotherly charities; re-clothe him with manhood and individuality; refuse to treat him longer as a mere Number, as a Thing to occupy a line in returns, as an Object of offence to the Law, and, therefore, to have his badness whipped out of him by the Law's agents; let the unforced music of a kind word sound in his ears; do these, and the


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fountains of a vigorous life would burst impetuously and imperiously from the core of his nature. This was his theory—here was the successful application of it!

He clasped the transport's hand. “You're right, Reynell—you're right, Harry! Life is worth living—the struggle to make yourself a better man will make it so to you! I'll help you all I can, by removing you out of the reach of pressure from the Ring——”

“You're very good, sir,” muttered the convict, “but it's too late!”

“It's never too late to repair the past, Harry!”

“Yes, 'tis—in my case. For—look here, sir—can I trust yer Honour—yer Honour's honour to keep this secret what I'm about to tell ye?”

“If you insist upon it—yes!”

“I do—I do! Why 'tis too late is this—if I don't die, the chap who's to settle me will. That's Ring law!”

“Reynell!”

“'Tis gospel true, sir! An' that's why I've got to bear the doom!”

“I will send you up to Phillip Island yonder till the brig arrives, and then I will despatch you to Sydney,” Maconochie said, confronted with this new revelation of the Ring's potency.




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“No use, sir. If I don't die, the chap 'll who's to settle me. An' besides, they'd reach me there!”

“I will take you into my household and give you a special guard!”

“The cooks'd poison my rations!”

“I'll send you food from my own table!”

“To reach me they'd poison you and your family.”

“Are they devils?” burst out the Commandant, losing self-restraint for the moment.

“Aye, they are that! But who made'em so—who made us so?—for I'm one o' them, sir. The System!” And then, after a pause, while Maconochie rocked himself on his heels in acute distress at these ever-recurring assaults upon the administration of which he was the head, he resumed:

“No, y'r Honour; I joined the Ring wi' my eyes open. I was eager to make a break in my life—it was all work an' punishment, an' sleep, an'devilry, an' then devilry, an' sleep, an' punishment an' work over again—an' the Ring makes a change. An' I'm not goin' beyond Ring custom, especially as my breakin' away would let another chap in for the doom.”

“Tell me who he is, and I'll send him away too!”

Reynell laughed. “You don't know the Ring, Captain Maconochie! Twenty years off, if that


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chap's a true Ringer an' met me, he'd do for me then! No, sir, let it be. P'r'aps I'm better dead than alive. I can't do any more harm dead!”

V.

Maconochie, with the taste of ashes in his mouth, left the farm, but instantly despatched an overseer with an escort of a sergeant and four men, and had Reynell locked in a cell, pending his despatch to Phillip Island, where it was his intention to send him. As the escort passed into Pine-lane—a pine-framed avenue leading from the Settlement to Long-ridge—Bill Felix met them as he was on his way to the hut. As he stood aside and saluted the overseer, he glanced inquiringly at the prisoner. Reynell read the glance, and in the Ring language assured Felix to be under no alarm. “If Felix could not execute the order of doom before the twenty-eighth day (a fortnight had still to elapse), he, the condemned, would perform the ‘cross-road trick.”’ Which was— suicide. The Ring should be obeyed; the idol should not be disappointed of its victim.

A week passed. Under the supervision of two soldiers—one for day and the other for night duty— Reynell was lodged in the solitary hut on Phillip


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Island. And Bill Felix, appointed executioner, knew that his own—or Reynell's—time was drawing near. Peake, Osborne, and “Barrington”—none had spoken to him of the imminent event; to have done so would have violated a regulation of the Society; and yet he knew it was an hourly question with them as to the manner in which he would perform the doom. He smiled to himself at the way he would obey the Ring while disappointing it.

Several more days passed. Maconochie himself was on the alert with his telescope at seven o'clock in the morning and five in the afternoon when the sentry on Phillip Island would fire off his musket and thus give the “all's well” signal. Although the distance between Norfolk and Phillip was but two miles and a furlong, the surf fringing either island made the boat-passage dangerous, and as the Commandant did not feel justified in despatching a boat to the rock save on every third day, he had arranged the gun-fire signal. The report could not be heard, but with a spy-glass the flash could be seen. Flag signals from Phillip's had been discontinued since they had been worked by convicts to destroy a boat's crew.

For seven days the report-speaking musket was fired morning and evening, and Maconochie felt


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hopeful. He had got it into his head, in spite of what he had learnt, that if the month would pass without the violent death of either Reynell or some other prominent villain being reported, the doom would pass also. And to-morrow would end his suspense. He would send a boat over in the morning.

But on the morrow he himself missed the observation of the musket-fire. He was busy investigating the cause of death of William Felix, No.39-204 per Coromandel, shot dead by the sentry at the outer gaol-tower.

VI.

Bill Felix, with no room in his head for two ideas at one and the same time, had been at first strangely confused by the conflict of the obligations to which he had subjected himself. The Ring held by grips of steel which would not relax, and yet his vow to Reynell tugged at his heart. Reynell had chosen him, Felix, from among seven score of men in irons, and had freed him from “them domned clinks,” which, encircling his ankles, bit with their subtle corrosion also into his vitals. Most prisoners chafed physically under the compression of the irons; but others—and curiously enough these were not exclusively the naturally refined class—fretted savagely


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under it both in body and soul. Men who, before exile, had spent their existence for the most part out of doors, in the delicious enfranchisement of wild nature—men who had been shepherds and farm labourers, poachers and gamekeepers, gipsies of the land, or those gipsies of the sea, the merchant-sailors —were fettered doubly. And ex-farm hand Felix— “an incendiary monster,” Sir William Follett called him at Manchester Assizes—who had been one of a crowd which burnt a farmer's ricks, and who had as much evil in his nature before transportation as he had intellect, refused to love his chains. They tortured and burnt him. “Oh, Mister,” he had said to Major Ryan, Maconochie's predecessor, “tak' th' domned clinks off, an' yo can flog me week in an' week out, an' yo 'ud!” What Commandant Ryan had refused to do, Transport Reynell had virtually done. Therefore, with the best elements of him, he thanked Reynell—adored him—was prepared to sacrifice himself for him. And in his case, as in most others, affection cleared the wits, and enabled him to perceive the paramount duty.

To the Ring he was bound by respect, fear, terror. To the condemned, he, the executioner of the Ring, was linked by love and gratitude. During that four weeks' reprieve, the debate went on between his


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poor, dulled brain and his quickened heart. And as the day of doom drew near, so did his apprehension of how he should satisfy the doom become the more distinct. At last he saw his course of action.

It was midnight on the last night but one. Within twenty-four hours must the doom fall, or he himself be condemned and for ever accursed in the annals of the Ring. As he rose from his bunk in the hut on 5 B farmstead he quivered superstitiously in the ghostly darkness. The moon was not yet up; and he had a long—oh, so long a way to go in the myriad-shaped blackness of the night. “An' he war terr'ble afeard o' th' neet!”

“Be you sleepin', Peake?” he whispered to the hut-mate who slept on the same side as himself.

“No!”

“I be—off—t' do ut, Peake!”

“That's a good cove, Bill, an' ye shall come up higher in the Ring quicker for it!”

Was it fancy alone that thrilled Peake's ears with the words, “Gord forbid!” or did Felix really breathe them? The scoundrel fell asleep again while trying to solve the problem as to whether his hearing had deceived him.




  ― 122 ―

VII.

Along the pine-bordered lane—a tunnel to hold in the bleak blasts—passed Bill Felix. Gibbering shapes walked with him, “t'owd squoire an' pa'son, an' mither an' feyther from th' whoam village,” and dead and gone brother Ringers, and at least one of the three constables to whose death he had been an accessory. They shrieked at him in the gusts that shook the branches of the tall pyramidal pines, and he heard their sobs plainly in the sound of the sullen surf. He could have sworn some of them laid hold upon him; and great drops of perspiration beaded his forehead and soaked his peakless cap. The wonder was that he did not turn back in sheer affright. But the blind mute impulse which not rarely wins men to heroism when their wills bid them act the coward, held him to his path.

By Government House, the sentinel's shadow silhouetted by the door-lamp on the white garden-wall as he stood in front of the thirty-two-pound gun on the slope, startled him afresh. “O Gord!” he gasped. He had forgotten that by his oath to the Ring he should have called on Satan.

Past the Deputy-Assistant-Commissariat-General's cottage he stumbled, the scents of rose-tree, spice-plant,


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and magnolia from the carefully-tended garden banishing for a second some of his dread. He would have liked to have plucked a banana to refresh his parched lips, but dare not jump the fence. He did not want a bullet before his time.

Over the culvert by the Commissariat offices, creeping down by the low wall fearful that the soldier posted there might see him cross the fanshaped beam of light from the one unblinded window, he reached the Grass-plot. He paused then, leaning against the palisade that surrounded the flag-staff. He heard, rather than saw, the balled flag rustle softly as it hung suspended against the foot of the mast. He would have spat upon it could he have reached it. But he could curse it. To-morrow— nay, this very morning—the ball of bunting would run up quickly to the truck and would reveal itself magnificently as the Union Jack at the precise hour, perhaps, the requisition went in for his coffin. So he cursed it, beneath his breath.

At last he stood within a yard's length of his goal. See that narrow stream of light, shooting outwards from midway up that great rim of massy blackness? It projects from the loophole of the guard-tower at the north-eastern angle of the gaol. Six feet above the loophole stands, as Bill knows well, a soldier, with


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firelock ever ready; mute himself, save at half-hour intervals when he hurls into the night a grim, ironical “All's well!” or, more rarely, when he issues a challenge; and his old Brown Bess is mute too—till there is occasion for her to speak. A pace and a half, and Bill would be visible in the flash of light. Thirty-six inches this side of Eternity! And he had always calculated that it would take a drop of ten feet to dislocate his neck. Decidedly death was nearer this way than from the scaffold—by six feet or thereabouts!

Would Reynell do him justice? Would the Ring? Would the Ring, after all, think he was shot by mischance, instead of from his own purpose? “God!”—again! He had never thought of that! Would his sacrifice be all in vain, then? Suppose that the Ring still held Reynell to his doom? “God!”

In the agony of doubt he must have exclaimed aloud. Suddenly the challenge parted the darkness.

“Who goes there?”

He did not give himself time for another thought; he stepped boldly into the light.

“Who goes there? Answer, or I fire!”

“Fire, an' be domned t' tha!”

He challenged Fate as well as the soldier. And both answered.




  ― 125 ―

When they bore him into the guard-room he was still alive. He gasped two sentences. “Yo'll tell—Pe–ake—this be th' doom. An' give my lo–ave t' 'Arry Reynell, 'ull yo?” and in a little while passed out of the ken of an aggrieved System.

Maconochie, bending to view the wound, saw that the ball had entered between the rims of two circles described on the man's chest. One—the larger—was an old scar; the other—the inner circle—was still of a festering newness. The latter was the symbol of Bill's recently gained membership of No. 7 Circle.

“Bony” Anderson,note from the signal-station on Mount Pitt, came down to report that there had been no gun-fire from Phillip's at seven o'clock. A boat was despatched, and returned with the body of a suicide. Bill Felix's sacrifice was in vain, after all. Harry Reynell had anticipated the doom.

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