She was the second child of Adam Zelle and his wife Antje van der Meulen (decent of Manado and Holland) and only sister of four Zelle boys. Her father was a wealthy businessman. Margaretha Geertruida (Mata Hari), throughout her youth was accustomed to servants and a life full of luxury and aristocracy. She was affectionately called M’greet. As she later recalled, her father seemed to regard her as “an orchid among buttercups.”
Initially, she enjoyed a privileged childhood but when she was thirteen years old, her father’s business failed and he left home. Two years later, her mother died.
Sent to live with relatives, she started training as a schoolteacher. However, she was dismissed following an indiscreet affair with the headmaster. Then, at the age of eighteen, she responded to a newspaper advertisement on behalf of an army officer seeking marriage for the purpose of career advancement. So, she met 38-year-old Captain Rudolph MacLeod, a Dutchman of Scottish ancestry, and on 11 July 1895, they married.
Life finally changed, they had two children, a son Norman born on 30 January 1897 in The Netherlands. This bundle of joy brought happiness in their lives and what’s more the MacLeods were now close together, but in financial crisis due to the expenses of wedding and honeymoon and finally a baby too. As revealed by her later, at the time of divorce, Margaretha cried bitterly and pointed out that when Margaretha had given birth to a baby, John was having sex with a native girl in the next room. After five months of the baby’s birth they finally decided to shift to the Dutch East Indies. Margaretha thought this was going to be a great adventure. She now turned 20 years old while John was 41. After having shifted to the East Indies, a daughter Jeanne-Louise born on 2 May 1898 on the island of Java in the Dutch East Indies. Jeanne was nicknamed ‘Non’, that is an abbreviation for a Malayan word ‘Nona’, which means a young girl. However, things were not much different for Margaretha. There were daily fights and arguments and of course some unpleasant situations still continued.
Life was now slowly changing for Margaretha. She was now a mother too apart from being a wife. Rudolph was slowly realizing what it meant to marry an exceptionally pretty girl and the one who was very young too. Rudolph had experienced many such incidents when men on streets had tried to flirt with Margaretha, and Rudolph, left with no choice, had to defend her honor. When things started going beyond his control he started accusing Margaretha of flirting with other men. He had a Casanova kind of an attitude, and he did not change much after marriage. His old ways and habits stuck to him like glue. He was many times accused of being too rough with his wife by many of his friends. He used to accuse Margaretha in public too.
John then got transferred to Medan, another city. Margaretha would be called there later and in the meanwhile he would get settled in Medan. Margaretha, however left their home and started living with the Van Rheedes. Van Rheedes served as the chief accountant for the Dutch army in the East Indies. This was the time when Margaretha really did what she liked. She used to like dressing in the native ‘Sarong’ and ‘Kabaja’, in English those dresses would be a skirt and a blouse. Also among the usual other dresses were laced up, tight-fitting corsets. She enjoyed the brightly patterned clothing. Her keen interest got her invitation to one of Javanese dance dramas and it went on for days and days. Slowly her fascination for history, language and culture of Indonesia grew and slowly and secretly she started learning Malay bit by bit, though she could not speak much of the language fluently but she somehow could manage to speak a word here and there.
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