A daughter of rich parents, 30-year-old Štěpa yearns to get married and have children but according to the social norms she cannot marry under her class. However, she is too freethinking and independent for her provincial suitors. In the end she marries her cousin Pavel, a former army officer. Štěpa gradually finds out that Pavel was infected by syphilis during his turbulent years in the army. The untreated disease devastates and irreversibly paralyzes his body, and starts to eat away at his brains.