The German raised himself to his full height and stood there towering over her, the very effigy of sublime fatherhood. “She is not guilty!” he exclaimed. “No; it is I—I—I!”
“You!” Mrs. Vanderlyn fell back a step or two, staring at him in amazement. Could the man be crazy? This unexpected turn of the affair brought a gasp of sheer astonishment from her.
From behind the door Herr Kreutzer thought he heard, again, a sound as of swift breath drawn through tight shut teeth, but again he was not sure—nor did it matter. When, an instant later, the door softly opened, then as softly closed and left M’riar there in the room with them, standing, for a second, with her back against the portal which she had just come through, neither of them glanced at her. The situation which involved them was too tense, too fiercely was their full attention focussed upon one another. They scarcely noted that she passed as she went through the room and out the other door.
“Yes,” said Herr Kreutzer, “it is I who took the ring.”
[Illustration: “She is not guilty! No; it is I—I—I!”]
“You who took the ring!” said the astonished woman. “How utterly absurd! You have not been in my house.” She was so amazed by his confession, which, she knew, could not have the least foundation, that, for the moment, she forgot to pose, either as an injured benefactress or as an avenging nemesis.
Now Herr Kreutzer smiled. Having determined on the sacrifice, he was delighted by this first error in her argument. “Yes, Madame,” he said, quite truthfully, “I have been at your house. I called while you were driving. M’riar will tell you. She went with me. I called there to tell Anna that I should expect her here, this afternoon. A servant showed me to her room—showed M’riar and me both to her room. I can prove all of this by M’riar—by your own servants, Madame. I waited for her, for a time, there in her room, and, as I walked to and fro, I saw, through an open door, upon a table—that jewel-box.”
Mrs. Vanderlyn was looking at him in complete astonishment. Even in her artificial soul there rose some admiration for the man who would confess to felony, rather than submit his child to suffering.
“And you—,” she cried.
He bowed before her, almost as he had, in bygone days, bowed low before an appreciative audience. Was not this, as much as ever any solo on the flute had been, a triumph of high art? And more! Was it not the triumph of his love for Anna over, first, this hard-souled, little-minded Mrs. Vanderlyn, and, second, the last selfish impulse lingering within his own unselfish soul?