“May be true,” I continued, “though I will not believe it, to whomsoever his words may apply. That no such treason as they have suggested ever for one moment entered, or could enter, the heart of her who knelt with me, in presence of many now here, before that Throne, I will vouch by all the symbols we revere in common, and with the life which it seems is alone threatened by the feminine domestic treason alleged, from whomsoever that treason may proceed. I will accuse none, as I suspect none; but I will say that the charge might be true to the letter, and yet not touch, as I know it does not justly touch, the daughter of our Chief.”
A deep relief was visible in the faces which had so lately been clouded by a suspicion terrible to all. Esmo’s alone remained impassive throughout my vindication, as throughout the apparent accusation and silent condemnation of his daughter.
“Has any brother,” he said, “counsel to speak respecting the question actually before us?”
One and all were silent, till Esmo again put the formal question:—
“Has he who was our brother betrayed the brotherhood?”
From every member of the assembly came a clear unmistakable assent.
“Is he outcast?”
Silence rather than any distinct sign answered in the affirmative.
“Is it needful that his lips be sealed for ever?”
One or two of the Chiefs expressed in a single sentence an affirmative conviction, which was evidently shared by all present except myself. Appealing by a look to Esmo, and encouraged by his eye, I spoke—
“The outcast has confessed treason worthy of death. That I cannot deny. But he has sinned from fear rather than from greed or malice; and to fear, courage should be indulgent. The coward is but what Allah has made him, and to punish cowardice is to punish the child for the heritage his parents have inflicted. Moreover, no example of punishment will make cowards brave. It seems to me, then, that there is neither justice nor wisdom in taking vengeance upon the crime of weakness.”
In but two faces, those of Esmo and of his next colleague on the left, could I see the slightest sign of approval. One of the other chiefs answered briefly and decisively my plea for mercy.
“If,” he said, “treason proceed from fear, the more cause that a greater fear should prevent the treason of cowardice for the future. The same motives that have led the offender to betray so much would assuredly lead him to betray more were he released; and to attempt lifelong confinement is to make the lives of all dependent on a chance in order to spare one unworthy life. The excuse which our brother has pleaded may, we hope, avail with a tribunal which can regard the conscience apart from the consequences. It ought not to avail with us.”