“We are foreigners,” she went on, “as you can tell. I speak your language better than my father does, because I was younger when I learned. It is quite true he is my father. He is an Austrian nobleman, of one of the old families. He was educated in Germany, and of late has lived there.”
“I could have told most of that of you both,” I said.
She bowed and resumed:
“My father was always a student. As a young man in the university, he was devoted to certain theories of his own. N’est-ce pas vrai, mon drole?” she asked, turning to put her arm on her father’s shoulder as he dropped weakly on the couch beside her.
He nodded. “Yes, I wass student,” he said. “I wass not content with the ways of my people.”
“So, my father, you will see,” said she, smiling at him, “being much determined on anything which he attempted, decided, with five others, to make a certain experiment. It was the strangest experiment, I presume, ever made in the interest of what is called science. It was wholly the most curious and the most cruel thing ever done.”
She hesitated now. All I could do was to look from one to the other, wonderingly.
“This dear old dreamer, my father, then, and five others—”
“I name them!” he interrupted. “There were Karl von Goertz, Albrecht Hardman, Adolph zu Sternbern, Karl von Starnack, and Rudolph von Wardberg. We were all friends—”
“Yes,” she said softly, “all friends, and all fools. Sometimes I think of my mother.”
“My dear, your mother!”
“But I must tell this as it was! Then, sir, these six, all Heidelberg men, all well born, men of fortune, all men devoted to science, and interested in the study of the hopelessness of the average human being in Central Europe—these fools, or heroes, I say not which—they decided to do something in the interest of science. They were of the belief that human beings were becoming poor in type. So they determined to marry—”
“Naturally,” said I, seeking to relieve a delicate situation—“they scorned the marriage of convenience—they came to our American way of thinking, that they would marry for love.”
“You do them too much credit!” said she slowly. “That would have meant no sacrifice on either side. They married in the interest of science! They married with the deliberate intention of improving individuals of the human species! Father, is it not so?”
Some speech stumbled on his tongue; but she raised her hand. “Listen to me. I will be fair to you, fairer than you were either to yourself or to my mother.
“Yes, these six concluded to improve the grade of human animals! They resolved to marry among the peasantry—because thus they could select finer specimens of womankind, younger, stronger, more fit to bring children into the world. Is not that the truth, my father?”
“It wass the way we thought,” he whispered. “It wass the way we thought wass wise.”