A Noble Woman by Ernest Protheroe
' Edith Cavell fearlessly looked about the court
The trial of Edith Cavell took place behind an almost impenetrable veil of secrecy. A fortnight after the execution of the victim certain German newspapers printed an account that was mainly a brief for the prosecution, while the accused were put in as unfavourable a light as possible. Fortunately an eye-witness afterwards afforded M. de Leval additional details, by which we are enabled to picture the scene with tolerable certainty; and surely never since Joan of Arc faced the corrupt Bishop of Beauvais has the light of heaven looked down on a more merciless and brutal caricature of law and justice.
The secret court-martial was held in the Brussels Senate House, where thirty-five persons were charged with similar offences. The judges' names were not made public. Of the accused, the principal were Edith Cavell and Princess Marie de Croy, the Comtesse de Belleville and Mademoiselle Thulier, and M. Philippe Bancq. Prince Reginald de Croy did not stand his trial, for the simple reason that the Germans had been unable to lay hands on him. Armed guards had escorted the prisoners to the court, where soldiers with fixed bayonets stood between them.
The court-martial was not likely to be a long and tedious affair, for the prisoners had been questioned and cross-examined _ad nauseam_ long before this final stage, and in most cases the accused had signed depositions admitting
The outstanding figure among the prisoners was Miss Cavell, the typical Red Cross nurse, whom sick soldiers love and reverence, whose incomparable devotion to duty places her in the forefront of the world's womanhood. She appeared in the uniform in which she had been arrested: the white cap covering the back of the head; the stiff collar around the neck; starched bow beneath the chin; and on her arm the Red Cross, the badge of her merciful mission.
Even in a British court of justice perfectly innocent people are overawed by their surroundings, causing them to be self-conscious, nervous, and distracted at a time when cool collectedness should be the first line of their defence. But Miss Cavell knew that she was arraigned before unjust judges, who lacked the virtues of charity, sincerity, humanity, and probity, without which the exercise of judgement is a mockery and a sham.
Her clear and expressive eyes looked out of a countenance that two months of close confinement had made deathly white. She was of the stuff of which martyrs are made. For what amounted to no more than a series of acts of womanly compassion she had become the sport of dire misfortune; but 'misfortune is never mournful to the soul that accepts it; for such do always see that every cloud is an angel's face.' Edith Cavell fearlessly looked about the court, viewing with evident curiosity the row of malevolent-looking officers in gorgeous uniforms, who occupied the judges' bench under the black Prussian eagle that is now the emblem of a nation's degradation. Occasionally her delicate features were illumined with a commiserating smile to encourage those who shared her own imminent peril.
The case for the prosecution was that the accused were the principals in an organization that assisted British, French, and Belgian soldiers to escape from Belgium. It was alleged that fugitives were first smuggled into Brussels, where they were hidden either in a convent or in Miss Cavell's hospital. Later, as opportunity offered, they were disguised and conducted in tram-cars out of the city, and handed over to guides who led the way by devious routes to the Dutch frontier.