Read CHAPTER LXXXI - THE MANIAC of Mabel's Mistake , free online book, by Ann S. Stephens, on

All night long the slave woman crouched down in the middle of her bed, with the blankets drawn over her like a tent, and her eyes looking out into the darkness, waiting for the morning, and yet shrinking with terror whenever a gleam of light appeared. At last, when the morning broke, grey and cold, she crept forth in her clothes as she had been all night and stood for a time listening as if she expected some unusual sound. But all was still, no servant was yet abroad, and she sat down upon the bed, waiting with a dull heavy gleam of the eye that had something awful in it. At last she was aroused by a loud ring at the hall door, which brought a smothered scream to her lips; but she arose and went down stairs, opening the door with a sort of mechanical composure. Ralph Harrington stood upon the threshold, and a little way off winding up the circular carriage sweep was a sleigh, in which she discovered James Harrington and the pale face of Lina. The sight made her tremble in every limb, and her eyes were terrible to look upon.

“Is my mother up yet?” said Ralph, without regarding the woman, who did not answer, for her teeth chattered when she made the attempt.

“Well, then we must arouse her; of course the fires are kept up such nights as this; take Miss French to the breakfast-room while I inquire for Mrs. Harrington.”

But Lina would not be restrained: joy at the sight of that dear old home gave her temporary strength; she ran up the steps, passing James and Ralph, in the speed of her love.

“No, no, I cannot wait. Let me go to her room. I will awake her as of old with my kisses they will not frighten her.”

Before the sentence was finished, Lina had reached the door of Mabel’s boudoir, and throwing it open, flew into the bed-room. A close stifling vapor enclouded her as she entered, but in the ardor of her love she rushed through it, flung back the bed-curtains, and throwing her arms over the sleeper there cried out

“Mamma, awake! it is Lina your own Lina come back to live at home, mamma mamma”

The last word died away in an exclamation of horror, for the face she touched was cold as marble, and she fell forward struggling for breath.

Ralph had followed her to the door, and lingered there, waiting for his mother to summon him, but there was something in the atmosphere which crept through into the hall that awoke his apprehension, this was increased by Lina’s sudden silence.

With a quickened beat of the heart he went in, but a stifling haze filled the room, which was so dark that he could only see Lina, lying motionless across the bed. He rushed to the window and tore back the curtains, filling the room with a dull luminous fog, through which he saw Lina, pale as marble, and gasping for breath, but with her eyes wide open, and fixed on the face of his father.

“My God oh, my God! what is this?” he cried, staggering forward.

“It is your father, Ralph, cold as death.”

Ralph uttered a cry so sharp and piercing that it reached James and Benson, who came in alarm from the breakfast-room nay, it penetrated farther, and aroused Mabel from her comfortless sleep in the chamber above. She arose with a thrill of unaccountable awe, and glided down the stairs, passing the mulatto chambermaid, who stood motionless as a bronze statue outside the door. As the woman saw her she gave a cry and her eyes dilated with unspeakable horror; slowly, as if she had been forced into motion by some irresistible power, she turned and followed after Mabel, step by step, till both stood in the room of death. The eyes of those two women fell on the dead body of General Harrington at the same moment; Mabel burst into tears. The mulatto seemed turning to stone she did not breathe, she did not move, but stood with her lips apart, helpless, speechless, stricken with a terrible horror.

James Harrington saw the furnace standing on the hearth with a handful of white ashes at the bottom.

“It is the fumes of charcoal he has been smothered who brought this here?” he exclaimed, looking at the woman.

If he expected to see that ashen grey upon her cheek, which is the nearest approach to pallor that her race can know, he was disappointed. She neither changed color nor moved, but a gleam of horrible intelligence came into her eyes, and as her lips closed, a faint quiver stirred them.

She did not heed his question, but turned in silence and went out.

Half an hour after, when the first great shock was over, and James Harrington sent to have the movements of this woman watched, she was nowhere to be found. The servants had seen a handsome and richly dressed lady pass through the front door, and walk swiftly toward the highway. The chambermaid could not have passed without being observed. Yet no human being ever saw her afterward.

The day on which General Harrington was buried, the funeral procession passed by the house in which Lina had lived during her painful sojourn in the city. As it went by, a woman rushed to and fro in the house, uttering the most piteous cries, and tearing at everything within her reach. From that little fairy-like conservatory she had torn down the blossoming vines, and broken the plants, crowning herself fantastically with the trailing garlands, and trampling the blossoms beneath her feet with bursts of wild laughter, alternated with groans, that seemed to rend her heart asunder. As the funeral cortege went by, these groans and shrieks of laughter aroused the neighborhood. Some members of the police entered, and took the maniac away.

It was a year after General Harrington’s death, a steamer was passing through a channel of the East River, leaving Blackwell’s Island on the left. Sitting upon the deck was a bridal party: that morning had made Lina, Ralph Harrington’s wife. James Harrington had given her away, having first richly endowed the young couple, and Mabel made one of the wedding party.

Upon the shore near the end of Blackwell’s Island, stands that most painful appendage to a lunatic asylum, the mad-house; looming over the water like a huge menagerie, in which wild animals are kept. Through the iron lattices, which gird in the granite walls of this building, you may at any time see the maniacs roaming to and fro, sometimes in sullen silence, sometimes shrieking out their fantasies or their rage to the winds as they whistle by, and the waters that flow on forever and ever, unconscious of the miserable secrets given to their keeping.

As the boat containing the bridal party swept by the mad-house a beautiful but most fiendish face looked out between these bars; a clenched hand was thrust through, and a storm of terrible curses hailed after Mabel and her newly married children. But the boat swept calmly by, leaving them behind. Mabel saw the clenched hand, but the curses rushed by her in one confused wail, which touched her only with gentle compassion; for she little thought that Zillah, the woman who, in seeking her life, had murdered her husband, was hurling these fiendish anathemas after her.

So in her happiness, for Mabel was happy then she turned away from the mad-house, touched with momentary gloom and, taking James Harrington’s arm moved to the other side of the boat, and leaning upon him watched the sun go down. Thus, with the rich twilight falling softly around them, these two noble beings drifted into their new life.