He looked at her in sheer amazement. It was clear enough that he did not, immediately, know what she was talking of. “The ring gone? Stolen, mother?”
Suddenly he burst into a laugh—so hearty, so spontaneous, so wholly foreign in its fine expression of good-natured raillery, to the tense atmosphere of accusation on the part of Mrs. Vanderlyn and supreme self-abnegation on the part of the old flute-player, which had, until this time, been vibrant in the room, that it seemed strangely, shockingly incongruous.
“John!” said his mother, in a tone of stern reproof, demanding of her son for the victim of misfortune consideration which she, herself, had scarcely shown, “you must not laugh. It is too heartless—right in this poor man’s presence!”
This stopped his laughter, for it puzzled him. He looked from one of his companions to the other with an air of most complete bewilderment. “What’s Herr Kreutzer got to do with it?” he asked.
“Why, he has just confessed.”
“Confessed to what?”
“That he is guilty.”
Kreutzer interrupted earnestly and hastily. He did not wish to have her even tell her son that Anna ever had been suspected. “Yes,” he assured him earnestly, “I—I alone am guilty.”
The youth’s evident amazement doubled. Sinking into a chair he looked from his mother to Herr Kreutzer, from Herr Kreutzer to his mother, with an expression of bewilderment so genuine that, for the first time, his mother was a bit in doubt about her cleverness, for the first time Herr Kreutzer wondered if there might not, somewhere, be a ray of hope for him and for his Anna.
“Guilty of what?” said Vanderlyn, at length. “Of being the father of the dearest girl in all the world, who has promised to become my wife?”
“Your wife!” cried Mrs. Vanderlyn. “Good heavens!” She sank back in her chair as much aghast as Kreutzer had been when she had amazed him by accusing Anna.
“And I bought that ring and gave it to her,” John went on. “The dear girl! It’s our engagement ring.”
Kreutzer, who had been staring at him with the strained and anxious look of one who sees salvation just in sight, but cannot understand its aspect, quite, relaxed now and, also, sank into a chair.
“Oh, mine Gott sie dank!” he fervently exclaimed. “Mine Gott sie dank! You gave it to her! Oh, oh, oh, thank God!”
“Why certainly I gave it to her. It’s our engagement ring. Bless her heart—she’s promised me to wear it as soon as Herr Kreutzer gives consent.”
Mrs. Vanderlyn found this too much for calm reception. She did not wish to, she would not believe.
“Why do you say such things?” she demanded of her son. “You’re just trying to save him. Why did he confess?”
Kreutzer, now, looked at her with calm, cold dignity. His turn had come. Had she been a man he would have taken it with vehemence and pleasure; because she was not a man he took it with a careful self-repression but no lack of emphasis.