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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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