Her father was a general, her mother died when she was still a baby. After her mother’s death few ladies visited the house; the callers were mostly men. And her father took her education into his own hands.
She went out riding with him, was present at the manoeuvres, took an interest in gymnastics and attended the musters of the reserves.
Since her father occupied the highest rank in their circle of friends, everybody treated him with an amount of respect which is rarely shown to equals, and as she was the general’s daughter, she was treated in the same way. She held the rank of a general and she knew it.
There was always an orderly sitting in the hall who rose with much clanking and clashing of steel and stood at attention whenever she went in or out. At the balls none but the majors dared to ask her for a dance; she looked upon a captain as a representative of an inferior race, and a lieutenant as a naughty boy.
She fell into the habit of appreciating people entirely according to their rank. She called all civilians “fishes,” poorly-clad people “rascals,” and the very poor “the mob.”
The ladies, however, were altogether outside this scale. Her father, who occupied a position above all men, and who was saluted respectfully wherever he went, always stood up before a lady, regardless of her age, kissed the hands of those he knew, and was at the beck and call of every pretty woman. The result of this was that very early in life she became very firmly convinced of the superiority of her own sex, and accustomed herself to look upon a man as a lower being.
Whenever she went out on horseback, a groom invariably rode behind her. When she stopped to admire the landscape, he stopped too. He was her shadow. But she had no idea what he looked like, or whether he was young or old. If she had been asked about his sex, she would not have known how to reply; it had never occurred to her that the shadow could have a sex; when, in mounting, she placed her little riding-boot in his hand, she remained quite indifferent, and even occasionally raised her habit a little as if nobody were present.
These inbred conceptions of the surpassing importance of rank influenced her whole life. She found it impossible to make friends with the daughters of a major or a captain, because their fathers were her father’s social inferiors. Once a lieutenant asked her for a dance. To punish him for his impudence, she refused to talk to him in the intervals. But when she heard later on that her partner had been one of the royal princes, she was inconsolable. She who knew every order and title, and the rank of every officer, had failed to recognise a prince! It was too terrible!
She was beautiful, but pride gave her features a certain rigidity which scared her admirers away. The thought of marriage had never occurred to her. The young men were not fully qualified, and those to whose social position there was no objection, were too old. If she, the daughter of a general, had married a captain, then a major’s wife would have taken precedence of her. Such a degradation would have killed her. Moreover, she had no wish to be a man’s chattel, or an ornament for his drawing-room. She was accustomed to command, accustomed to be obeyed; she could obey no man. The freedom and independence of a man’s life appealed to her; it had fostered in her a loathing for all womanly occupations.
Her sexual instinct awoke late. As she belonged to an old family which on her father’s side, had squandered its strength in a soulless militarism, drink and dissipation, and on her mother’s had suppressed fertility to prevent the splitting up of property, Nature seemed to have hesitated about her sex at the eleventh hour; or perhaps had lacked strength to determine on the continuation of the race. Her figure possessed none of those essentially feminine characteristics, which Nature requires for her purposes, and she scorned to hide her defects by artificial means.