My life has been poor. I have consumed my own heart.
* * * * *
As far as I am aware, my father, a widower, was a strictly honourable man. Misfortune befell him, and his whole life was ruined in a moment. An unexpected audit of the accounts of his firm revealed a deficiency. My father had temporarily borrowed a small sum to save a friend in a pressing emergency. Henceforward he was a marked man, at home and abroad. We left the town where we lived. The retiring pension which was granted to him in spite of what had happened sufficed for our daily needs. He lived lost in his disgrace, and I was left entirely to the care of a maid-servant. From her I gathered that our troubles were in some way connected with a lack of money; and money became the idol of my life.
I sometimes buried a coin that had been given me—as a dog buries his bone. Then I lay awake all night, fearing I should not find it again in the morning.
I was sent to school. A classmate said to me one day:
“Of course, a prince will marry you, for you are the prettiest girl here.”
I carried the words home to the maid, who nodded her approval.
“That’s true enough,” she said. “A pretty face is worth a pocketful of gold.”
“Can one sell a pretty face, then?” I asked.
“Yes, child, to the highest bidder,” she replied, laughing.
From that moment I entered upon the accursed cult of my person which absorbed the rest of my childhood and all my first youth. To become rich was henceforth my one and only aim in life. I believed I possessed the means of attaining my ends, and the thought of money was like a poison working in my blood.
At school I was diligent and obedient, for I soon saw it paid best in the long run. I was delighted to see that I attracted the attention of the masters and mistresses, simply because of my good looks. I took in and pondered over every word of praise that concerned my appearance. But I put on airs of modesty, and no one guessed what went on within me.
I avoided the sun lest I should get freckles. I collected rain-water for washing. I slept in gloves; and though I adored sweets, I refrained from eating them on account of my teeth. I spent hours brushing my hair.
At home there was only one looking-glass. It was in my father’s room, which I seldom entered, and was hung too high for me to use. In my pocket-mirror I could only see one eye at a time. But I had so much self-control that I resisted the temptation to stop and look at my reflection in the shop windows on my way to and from school.
I was surprised when I came home one day to find that the large mirror in its gold frame had been given over to me by my father and was hanging in my room. I made myself quite ill with excitement, and the maid had to put me to bed. But later on, when the house was quiet, I got up and lit my lamp. Then I spent hours gazing at my own reflection in the glass.