“And perhaps it was wise. It was selection. So now they selected. Two of them married German working girls, and those two are dead, but there is no child of them alive. Two married in Austria, and of these one died, and the other is in a mad house. One married a young Galician girl, and so fond of her did he become that she took him down from his station to hers, and he was lost. The other—”
“Yes; it was my father,” she said, at length. “There he sits, my father. Yes, I love him. I would forfeit my life for him now—I would lay it down gladly for him. Better had I done so. But in my time I have hated him.
“He, the last one, searched long for this fitting animal to lead to the altar. He was tall and young and handsome and rich, do you see? He could have chosen among his own people any woman he liked. Instead, he searched among the Galicians, the lower Austrians, the Prussians. He examined Bavaria and Saxony. Many he found, but still none to suit his scientific ideas. He bethought him then of searching among the Hungarians, where, it is said, the most beautiful women of the world are found. So at last he found her, that peasant, my mother!”
The silence in the room was broken at last by her low, even, hopeless voice as she went on.
“Now the Hungarians are slaves to Austria. They do as they are bid, those who live on the great estates. They have no hope. If they rebel, they are cut down. They are not a people. They belong to no one, not even to themselves.”
“My God!” said I, a sigh breaking from me in spite of myself. I raised my hand as though to beseech her not to go on. But she persisted.
“Yes, we, too, called upon our gods! So, now, my father came among that people and found there a young girl, one much younger than himself. She was the most beautiful, so they say, of all those people, many of whom are very beautiful.”
“Yes—proof of that!” said I. She knew I meant no idle flattery.
“Yes, she was beautiful. But at first she did not fancy to marry this Austrian student nobleman. She said no to him, even when she found who he was and what was his station—even when she found that he meant her no dishonor. But our ruler heard of it, and, being displeased at this mockery of the traditions of the court, and wishing in his sardonic mind to teach these fanatical young nobles to rue well their bargain, he sent word to the girl that she must marry this man—my father. It was made an imperial order!
“And so now, at last, since he was half crazed by her beauty, as men are sometimes by the beauty of women, and since at last this had its effect with her, as sometimes it does with women, and since it was perhaps death or some severe punishment if she did not obey, she married him—my father.”
“And loved me all her life!” the old man broke out. “Nefer had man love like hers, I will haf it said. I will haf it said that she loved me, always and always; and I loved her always, with all my heart!”