Read CHAPTER LXXVI - THE UNEXPECTED RETURN of Mabel's Mistake , free online book, by Ann S. Stephens, on

As General Harrington was dining at his club that day, a note was sent up to him; and, as his meal had reached the last stage of a luxurious dessert, he quietly broke open the envelope, and read:

“James Harrington has found means to see Lina, and she has told
him everything. I shall await you here during the next hour.

The General crushed this note slowly in his hand, a quiet smile stole over his face, and sipping his wine with great complacency, he murmured:

“Well? but the life deeds are safe, what is his anger to me?”

But, directly a less pleasant thought forced itself on his mind; he remembered that the deeds he exulted over, were only binding so long as Mabel Harrington remained contentedly beneath his roof. What if James should take advantage of the knowledge obtained from Lina, as a counterbalancing power against him? What if Mabel should at once use that knowledge to protect herself, and by suing out a divorce, cast all the shame he had threatened to heap upon her, back upon his own head? Certainly, James Harrington would not fail to inform her of the powers of retaliation that lay within her grasp; perhaps even now she knew everything.

He started up from the table, calling for his furred paletot, and gave orders that his sleigh and horses should be brought round. The well-bred waiters, whose duty it was to be surprised at nothing, were evidently astonished at these signs of agitation in the most urbane and reposeful visitor at the club-rooms. With a hurried step he descended to the street, stepped into his sleigh, buried himself to the chin in furs, and the driver dashed off with a ringing of bells and a flourish of the whip around his horses’ ears, that made them dance like Russian leaders.

The day was growing dusky, and General Harrington urged the driver on, for he was eager to reach home and have an interview with his wife, before the younger Harrington could reveal his secret. Trusting much to Mabel’s noble powers of forgiveness, and more to the allurements of his own eloquence, which should so word his contrition that it would be sure to touch a nature like hers, he was only anxious to forestall her anger by what would appear to be a frank confession of his fault; thus, by throwing himself upon her mercy, and challenging the generosity which had never yet failed him, he hoped to retain control of the wealth which had become doubly important from the lavish expenditure of the last few weeks.

Thus, full of anxiety and terror regarding a revelation that James Harrington would have died rather than make to Mabel, the old gentleman dashed on toward home, eager to be in advance with his disgraceful news.

The house was very still when he entered it; faint lights broke through the library windows and from the balcony in front of Mabel’s boudoir, but the rest of the house was dark and quiet as death. General Harrington had left his sleigh at the stables, which were some distance from the house thus the noise of his arrival was lost on the inmates; and, as he let himself in at the front door with a latch-key, no one was aware of his presence.

Flinging off his wrappers in the hall, he looked into the usual sitting-room to assure himself that it was empty; then going to his own room long enough to change his boots for a pair of furred slippers, he went at once to Mabel’s boudoir. A fire burned dimly on the hearth, and over the table hung a small alabaster lamp, that seemed full of imprisoned moonlight, but was not brilliant enough to subdue the quiet shadows that lay like a mist all around the room. Mabel was not there, and the General sought for her in the bed-chamber adjoining, but all was still; the faint light that stole in from the alabaster lamp, revealed a snowy night-robe laid upon the bed, and everything prepared for rest, but the lady was absent.

“Well, well,” muttered the old gentleman, drawing Mabel’s easy-chair to the hearth, and warming his hands by the pleasant fire, “she cannot be gone far, and, at any rate, my hopeful step-son will find himself too late for an interview to-night; so I will quietly await her here. What a dreamy place it is, though; I did not think that she possessed so much of the philosophy of life; but the strangeness reminds me that I have been rather too negligent of late. No matter, she will only be the more ready to welcome me; for, with all her romance and journalizing, the woman loves me: I was sure of that, even while pushing the hard bargain with her cavalier. Faith,” he continued, rubbing his velvety palms together, and leaning toward the fire, “I am glad she did not happen to be present! A little warmth and calm thought will do everything towards preparing me for the interview.”

With these thoughts running through his mind, the old man for he was old, spite of appearances began to feel the effects of a long ride in the cold. The bland warmth of the fire overcame him with luxurious drowsiness, and he would have dropped to sleep in his chair, but that it afforded no easy rest for his head, which fell forward, whenever he sank into a doze, with a jerk that awoke him very unpleasantly.

“I wonder Mrs. Harrington does not select more comfortable chairs for her room,” he muttered, looking around uneasily for something more commodious to rest in. “I will call at King’s to-morrow, and order one of his latest inventions a Voltaire or Sleepy Hollow; no wonder she wanders off for better accommodation. The fire is down in my library, so I must wait for her here. Let me see if there is anything more promising in the next room.”

He went into the sleeping chamber as he spoke, and threw himself upon a couch near the window; but it was so remote from the fire that he soon grew cold, and started up again. Removing Mabel’s night robe from the bed, he flung himself upon it, gathering the counterpane over him, and burying his head in the frilled pillows.

“She cannot come in without waking me, that is certain,” he murmured, dreamily; “so this is the best place to wait in. I did not think the cold could have chilled me through all those furs. Ah! this is comfortable; I can wait for madam with patience now, with, wi”

Spite of his anxiety, the old gentleman dropped off to sleep here, with a luxurious sense of comfort. That was a quiet and profound sleep, notwithstanding the old man had many sins unrepented of.