“It shall depend on me!” said Kreutzer, hotly.
“There is but one thing which will lighten the severity of the bad girl’s punishment,” said Mrs. Vanderlyn, didactically.
“And that, Madame?”
“The immediate restitution of the ring. She is here, now, is she not?”
“Yes, she is here, but—”
The poor old man looked helplessly around him. The whole thing seemed too terrible to be believed. He wondered if some dreadful nightmare did not hold him prisoner and half expected, as he let his agonized old eyes roam round the room, to wake up, presently, and find the episode was but a dreadful dream.
“Call her; ask her to give it up—”
“No,” said the old man softly, careful that his voice should not rise so that it could easily be audible in the adjoining room, “I will not ask her to give up the ring, for the ring is not in her possession. She would not know of what I spoke. She would look at me, my Anna would, with soft reproach in her sad eyes and wonder if her poor old father had gone mad to bring an accusation such as that against her soul—so pure—so innocent—so—”
“Certainly she has the ring.” The woman, now, was definitely sneering at his protestations of his daughter’s worthiness.
“No; she has not got the ring. I—have it—”
From his pocket he drew forth his hand and in it lay the little box. Out of the box, with trembling fingers, he removed the ring, and held it up, smiling at her, as he did so, with a wondrous look of triumph—not the look of one who has just placed his feet, quite consciously, upon the road that leads to prison, but that of one who has won victory against great odds. She could not understand that look.
And that was not so strange, for on the face of the old flute-player the expression was like few this selfish old world ever sees—the expression of complete self-abnegation, of absolute self-sacrifice for pure and holy love.
“The ring, Herr Kreutzer!” Mrs. Vanderlyn exclaimed, in relief, sure, now, for the first time, of the recovery of the precious trinket. “The ring! She’s given it to you!”
Herr Kreutzer laid the box upon the table and drew back with studied calm to gaze at her reflectively, as is necessary to a man who, as he stands and talks, must fashion from his fancy a cute fiction logical enough and clear enough to save from overwhelming sorrow one whom he loves better than he loves himself. “I tell you the whole truth,” he said, “on one condition. One condition, mind you, Madame—and that condition must be kept. It is that she—my Anna—shall never be disturbed, annoyed—”
The woman shook her head with emphasis. Self-righteous and indignant, feeling that her confidence had been betrayed as well as her ring stolen, she was determined not to let the guilty girl escape. “I cannot promise that,” she said with emphasis, “for she is guilty.”