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This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 235 pages of information about A Reckless Character.

IX

“Listen to what I have to tell thee,” she began.  “Thou art no longer a young boy; thou must know all.  I had a good friend....  She married a man whom she loved with all her heart, and she was happy with her husband.  But during the first year of their married life they both went to the capital to spend a few weeks and enjoy themselves.  They stopped at a good hotel and went out a great deal to theatres and assemblies.  My friend was very far from homely; every one noticed her, all the young men paid court to her; but among them was one in particular ... an officer.  He followed her unremittingly, and wherever she went she beheld his black, wicked eyes.  He did not make her acquaintance, and did not speak to her even once; he merely kept staring at her in a very strange, insolent way.  All the pleasures of the capital were poisoned by his presence.  She began to urge her husband to depart as speedily as possible, and they had fully made up their minds to the journey.  One day her husband went off to the club; some officers—­officers who belonged to the same regiment as this man—­had invited him to play cards....  For the first time she was left alone.  Her husband did not return for a long time; she dismissed her maid and went to bed....  And suddenly a great dread came upon her, so that she even turned cold all over and began to tremble.  It seemed to her that she heard a faint tapping on the other side of the wall—­like the noise a dog makes when scratching—­and she began to stare at that wall.  In the corner burned a shrine-lamp; the chamber was all hung with silken stuff....  Suddenly something began to move at that point, rose, opened....  And straight out of the wall, all black and long, stepped forth that dreadful man with the wicked eyes!

“She tried to scream and could not.  She was benumbed with fright.  He advanced briskly toward her, like a rapacious wild beast, flung something over her head, something stifling, heavy and white....  What happened afterward I do not remember....  I do not remember!  It was like death, like murder....  When that terrible fog dispersed at last—­when I ... my friend recovered her senses, there was no one in the room.  Again—­and for a long time—­she was incapable of crying out, but she did shriek at last ... then again everything grew confused....

“Then she beheld by her side her husband, who had been detained at the club until two o’clock....  His face was distorted beyond recognition.  He began to question her, but she said nothing....  Then she fell ill....  But I remember that when she was left alone in the room she examined that place in the wall....  Under the silken hangings there proved to be a secret door.  And her wedding-ring had disappeared from her hand.  This ring was of an unusual shape.  Upon it seven tiny golden stars alternated with seven tiny silver stars; it was an ancient family heirloom.  Her husband asked

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