Frank's heart gave a great bound at the suggestion of a telegram. A telegram could mean but one thing—that his mother had become suddenly worse.
He hurried to meet his stepbrother.
"Is that a telegram, Mark?" he asked, anxiously.
"Is it anything about mother? Tell me quick!"
"Read it for yourself, Frank."
Frank drew the telegram from the envelope, and read it hastily:
"My wife is very sick. I wish you and Frank to come home at once."
"When does the next train start, Herbert?" asked Frank, pale with apprehension.
"In an hour."
"I shall go by that train."
"I don't think I can get ready so soon," said Mark, deliberately.
"Then you can come by yourself," replied Frank, impetuously. "I beg your pardon, Mark," he added. "I cannot expect you to feel as I do. It is not your mother."
"It is my stepmother," said Mark.
"That is quite different. But I must not linger here. I will go at once to Dr. Brush, and tell him of my summons home. Good-bye, Herbert, till we meet again."
"I will go with you to the depot, Frank," said his friend, sympathizingly. "Don't wait for me. Go ahead, and make your preparation for the journey. I will be at your room in a quarter of an hour."
"You won't go by the next train, Mark?" said Herbert.
"No. I don't care to rush about as Frank is doing."
"You would if it were your own mother who was so ill."
"I am not sure. It wouldn't do any good, would it?"
"You would naturally feel anxious," said Herbert.
"Oh, yes, I suppose so!" answered Mark, indifferently.
Mark Manning was slender and dark, with a soft voice and rather effeminate ways. He didn't care for the rough sports in which most boys delight; never played baseball or took part in athletic exercises, but liked to walk about, sprucely dressed, and had even been seen on the campus on a Saturday afternoon with his hands incased in kid gloves.
For this, however, he was so ridiculed and laughed at that he had to draw them off and replace them in his pocket.
As Frank and Herbert walked together to the railway station, the latter said:
"It seems to me, Frank, that the telegram should have been sent to you, rather than to Mark Manning. You are the one who is most interested in the contents."
"I thought of that, Herbert, but I was too much affected by the contents to speak of it. I am not surprised, however. It is like Mr. Manning. It jarred upon me to have him speak of mother as his wife. She is so, but I never could reconcile myself to the fact."
"Do you remember your father—your own father, Frank?"
"You need not have said 'your own father.' I don't recognize Mr. Manning as a father, at all. Yes, I remember him. I was eight years old when he died. He was a fine-looking man, always kind—a man to be loved and respected. There was not a particle of similarity between him and Mr. Manning. He was strong and manly."
"How did it happen that he died so young?"
"He was the victim of a railway accident. He had gone to New York on business, and was expected back on a certain day. The train on which he was a passenger collided with a freight train, and my poor father was among the passengers who were killed. The news was almost too much for my poor mother, although she had not yet become an invalid. It brought on a fit of sickness lasting for three months. She has never been altogether well since."
"After all, Frank, the gifts of fortune, or rather Providence, are not so unequally distributed as at first appears. You are rich, but fatherless. I am poor enough but my father and mother are both spared to me."
"I would gladly accept poverty if my father could be restored to life, and my mother be spared to me for twenty years to come."
"I am sure you would, Frank," said Herbert. "Money is valuable, but there are some things far more so."
They had reached the station by this time, and it was nearly the time for the train to start. Frank bought his ticket, and the two friends shook hands and bade each other good-bye.
In an hour Frank was walking up the long avenue leading to the front door of the mansion.
The door was opened by his stepfather.
"How is mother?" asked Frank, anxiously.
"I am grieved to say that she is very sick," said Mr. Manning, in a soft voice. "She had a copious hemorrhage this morning, which has weakened her very much."
"Is she in danger?" asked Frank, anxiously.
"I fear she is," said Mr. Manning.
"I suppose I can see her?"
"Yes; but it will be better not to make her talk much."
"I will be careful, sir."
Frank waited no longer, but hurried to his mother's chamber. As he entered, and his glance fell on the bed and its occupant, he was shocked by the pale and ghastly appearance of the mother whom he so dearly loved. The thought came to him at once:
"She cannot live."
He found it difficult to repress a rising sob, but he did so for his mother's sake. He thought that it might affect her injuriously if he should display emotion.
His mother smiled faintly as he approached the bed.
"Mother," said Frank, kneeling by the bedside, "are you very weak?"
"Yes, Frank," she answered, almost in a whisper. "I think I am going to leave you."
"Oh, don't say that, mother!" burst forth in anguish from Frank's lips. "Try to live for my sake."
"I should like to live, my dear boy," whispered his mother; "but if it is God's will that I should die, I must be reconciled. I leave you in his care."
Here Mr. Manning entered the room.
"You will be kind to my boy?" said the dying mother.
"Can you doubt it, my dear?" replied her husband, in the soft tones Frank so much disliked. "I will care for him as if he were my own."
"Thank you. Then I shall die easy."
"Don't speak any more, mother. It will tire you, and perhaps bring on another hemorrhage."
"Frank is right, my dear. You had better not exert yourself any more at present."
"Didn't Mark come with you?" asked Mr. Manning of Frank.
"I am surprised that he should not have done so. I sent for him as well as you."
"I believe he is coming by the next train," said Frank, indifferently. "He thought he could not get ready in time for my train."
"He should not have left you to come at such a time."
"I didn't wish him to inconvenience himself, Mr. Manning. If it had been his mother, it would have been different."
Mr. Manning did not reply. He understood very well that there was no love lost between Mark and his stepson.
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