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Chapter 3

FRANK'S BEREAVEMENT


Early in the evening Mark made his appearance. Supper had been over for an hour, and everything was cold. In a house where there is sickness, the regular course of things is necessarily interrupted, and, because he could not have his wants attended to immediately, Mark saw fit to grumble and scold the servants. He was not a favorite with them, and they did not choose to be bullied.

Deborah, who had been in the house for ten years, and so assumed the independence of an old servant, sharply reprimanded the spoiled boy.

"You ought to be ashamed, Mr. Mark," she said, "of making such a fuss when my poor mistress lies upstairs at the point of death."

"Do you know who you are talking to?" demanded Mark, imperiously, for he could, when speaking with those whom he regarded as inferiors, exchange his soft tones for a voice of authority.

"I ought to know by this time," answered Deborah, contemptuously. "There is no other in the house like you, I am glad to say."

"You are very impertinent. You forget that you are nothing but a servant."

"A servant has the right to be decently treated, Mr. Mark."

"If you don't look out," said Mark, in a blustering tone, "I will report you to my father, and have you kicked out of the house."

Deborah was naturally incensed at this rude speech, but she was spared the trouble of replying. Frank entered the room at this moment in time to hear Mark's last speech.

"What is this about being kicked out of the house?" he asked, looking from Mark to Deborah, in a tone of unconscious authority, which displeased his stepbrother.

"That is my business," replied Mark, shortly.

"Mr. Mark has threatened to have me kicked out of the house because he has to wait for his supper," said Deborah.

"It wasn't for that. It was because you were impertinent. All the same, I think it is shameful that I can't get anything to eat."

"I regret, Mark," said Frank, with cool sarcasm, "that you should be inconvenienced about your meals. Perhaps you will excuse it, as my poor mother is so sick that she requires extra attention from the servants. Deborah, if possible, don't let Mark wait much longer. It seems to be very important that he should have his supper."

"He shall have it," assured Deborah, rather enjoying the way in which Mark was put down; "that is, if he don't get me kicked out of the house."

"You had better not make any such threats in the future, Mark," said Frank, significantly.

"Who's to hinder?" blustered Mark.

"I am," answered Frank, pointedly.

"You are nothing but a boy like me," retorted Mark.

"My mother is mistress here, and I represent her."

"Things may change soon," muttered Mark; but Frank had left the room and did not hear him.

Mark did not trouble himself even to inquire for his stepmother, but went out to the stable and lounged about until bedtime. He seemed very much bored, and so expressed himself.

Frank wished to sit up all night with his mother, but, as she had a professional nurse, it was thought best that he should obtain his regular rest, the nurse promising to call the family if any change should be apparent in her patient's condition.

About half-past four in the morning there was a summons.

"Mrs. Manning is worse," said the nurse. "I don't think she can last long."

One last glance of love—though she could no longer speak—assured Frank that she knew him and loved him to the last.

The memory of that look often came back to him in the years that followed, and he would not have parted with it for anything that earth could give.

Just as the clock struck five, his mother breathed her last. The boy gazed upon the inanimate form, but he was dazed, and could not realize that his mother had left him, never to return.

"She is gone," said Mr. Manning, softly.

"Dead!" ejaculated Frank.

"Yes, her sufferings are over. Let us hope she is better off. My boy, I think you had better return to your bed. You can do nothing for your mother now."

"I would rather stay here," said Frank, sadly. "I can at least look at her, and soon I shall lose even that comfort."

The thought was too much for the poor boy, and he burst into tears.

"Do as you please, Frank," assented Mr. Manning. "I feel for you, and I share in your grief. I will go and tell Mark of our sad loss."

He made his way to Mark's chamber and entered. He touched Mark, who was in a doze, and he started up.

"What's the matter?" he asked, crossly.

"Your poor mother is dead, Mark."

"Well, there was no need to wake me for that," said the boy, irritably. "I can't help it, can I?"

"I think, my son, you might speak with more feeling. Death is a solemn thing."

"There's nobody here but me," said Mark, sneering.

"I don't catch your meaning," said his father, showing some annoyance, for it is not pleasant to be seen through.

"Why should you care so much?" continued Mark. "I suppose you will be well provided for. Do you know how she has left the property? How much of it goes to Frank?"

"I can't say," said Mr. Manning. "I never asked my wife."

"Do you mean to say, father, that you don't know how the property is left?" asked Mark, with a sharp glance at his father.

"I may have my conjectures," said Mr. Manning, softly. "I don't think my dear wife would leave me without some evidences of her affection. Probably the bulk of the estate goes to your brother, and something to me. Doubtless we shall continue to live here, as I shall naturally be your brother's guardian."

"Don't call him my brother," said Mark.

"Why not? True, he is only your stepbrother; but you have lived under the same roof, and been to school together, and this ought to strengthen the tie between you."

"I don't like Frank," said Mark. "He puts on altogether too many airs."

"I had not observed that," said his father.

"Well, I have. Only this evening he saw fit to speak impudently to me."

"Indeed! I am really amazed to hear it," said Mr. Manning, softly.

"Oh, he thinks he is the master of the house, or will be," said Mark, "and he presumes on that."

"He is unwise," said Mr. Manning. "Even if the whole property descends to him, which I can hardly believe possible, I, as his guardian, will have the right to control him."

"I hope you'll do it, father. At any rate, don't let him boss over me, for I won't stand it."

"I don't think he will boss over you," answered his father, in a slow, measured voice, betraying, however, neither anger nor excitement. "Of course, I should not permit that."

Mark regarded his father fixedly.

"I guess the old man knows what's in the will," he said to himself. "He knows how to feather his own nest. I hope he's feathered mine, too."

Mr. Manning passed from his son's chamber and went softly upstairs, looking thoughtful.

Anyone who could read the impassive face would have read trouble in store for Frank.

Horatio Alger