Then my father sat down. O miserable, miserable me! At that very moment I could have proved my darling innocent, but I did not know it!
'The chief of the court asked:
'"Is there any here to defend the prisoner?"
'I rose and said:
'"Why should he steal that hook, or any or all of them? In another day he would have been heir to the whole!"
I stood waiting. There was a long silence, the steam from the many breaths rising about me like a fog. At last one elder after another nodded his head slowly several times, and muttered, "There is force in what the child has said." Oh, the heart-lift that was in those words!-- so transient, but, oh, so precious! I sat down.
'"If any would say further, let him speak now, or after hold his peace," said the chief of the court.
'My father rose and said:
'"In the night a form passed by me in the gloom, going toward the treasury and presently returned. I think, now, it was the stranger."
'Oh, I was like to swoon! I had supposed that that was my secret; not the grip of the great Ice God himself could have dragged it out of my heart. The chief of the court said sternly to my poor Kalula:
'Kalula hesitated, then answered:
'"It was I. I could not sleep for thinking of the beautiful hooks. I went there and kissed them and fondled them, to appease my spirit and drown it in a harmless joy, then I put them back. I may have dropped one, but I stole none."
'Oh, a fatal admission to make in such a place! There was an awful hush. I knew he had pronounced his own doom, and that all was over. On every face you could see the words hieroglyphed: "It is a confession!--and paltry, lame, and thin."
'I sat drawing in my breath in faint gasps--and waiting. Presently, I heard the solemn words I knew were coming; and each word, as it came, was a knife in my heart:
'"It is the command of the court that the accused be subjected to the trial by water."
'Oh, curses be upon the head of him who brought "trial by water" to our land! It came, generations ago, from some far country that lies none knows where. Before that our fathers used augury and other unsure methods of trial, and doubtless some poor guilty creatures escaped with their lives sometimes; but it is not so with trial by water, which is an invention by wiser men than we poor ignorant savages are. By it the innocent are proved innocent, without doubt or question, for they drown; and the guilty are proven guilty with the same certainty, for they do not drown. My heart was breaking in my bosom, for I said, "He is innocent, and he will go down under the waves and I shall never see him more."
'I never left his side after that. I mourned in his arms all the precious hours, and he poured out the deep stream of his love upon me, and oh, I was so miserable and so happy! At last, they tore him from me, and I followed sobbing after them, and saw them fling him into the sea-- then I covered my face with my hands. Agony? Oh, I know the deepest deeps of that word!
'The next moment the people burst into a shout of malicious joy, and I took away my hands, startled. Oh, bitter sight--he was swimming! My heart turned instantly to stone, to ice. I said, "He was guilty, and he lied to me!" I turned my back in scorn and went my way homeward.
'They took him far out to sea and set him on an iceberg that was drifting southward in the great waters. Then my family came home, and my father said to me:
'"Your thief sent his dying message to you, saying, 'Tell her I am innocent, and that all the days and all the hours and all the minutes while I starve and perish I shall love her and think of her and bless the day that gave me sight of her sweet face.'" Quite pretty, even poetical!
'I said, "He is dirt--let me never hear mention of him again." And oh, to think--he was innocent all the time!
'Nine months--nine dull, sad months--went by, and at last came the day of the Great Annual Sacrifice, when all the maidens of the tribe wash their faces and comb their hair.