But again Ralph shook his head.
“Then you are resolved to die?”
“Yes! But for my old friend here—save him if you will and can.”
“You will give me no word as to the warrant?”
“Then all is over.”
But going at once to the stables in the courtyard, he called to a stableman,—
“Saddle a horse and bring it round to my quarters in half an hour.”
In less time than that Wilfrey Lawson was riding hard towards Newcastle.
THE BLACK CAMEL AT THE GATE.
Next morning after Rotha’s struggle with Mrs. Garth at the bridge, the rumor passed through Wythburn that the plague was in the district. Since the advent of the new preachers the people had seen the dreaded scourge dangling from the sleeve of every stranger who came from the fearsome world without. They had watched for the fatal symptoms: they had waited for them: they had invited them. Every breeze seemed to be freighted with the plague wind; every harmless ailment seemed to be the epidemic itself.
Not faith in the will of God, not belief in destiny, not fortitude or fatalism, not unselfishness or devil-may-care indifference, had saved the people from the haunting dread of being mown down by the unseen and insidious foe.
And now in very truth the plague seemed to have reached their doors. It was at the cottage by the smithy. Rumor said that Mrs. Garth had brought it with her from Carlisle, but it was her son who was stricken down.
The blacksmith had returned home soon after Rotha had left him. His mother was there, and she talked to him of what she had heard of the plague. This was in order to divert his attention from the subject that she knew to be uppermost in his thoughts—the trial, and what had come of it. She succeeded but too well.
Garth listened in silence, and then slunk off doggedly to the smithy.
“I’m scarce well enough for work to-day,” he said, coming back in half an hour.
His mother drew the settle to the fire, and fixed the cushions that he might lie and rest.
But no rest was to be his. He went back to the anvil and worked till the perspiration dripped from his forehead. Then he returned to the house.
“My mouth is parched to-day, somehow,” he said; “did you say a parched mouth was a sign?”
“Shaf, lad! thou’rt hot wi’ thy wark.”
Garth went back once more to the smithy, and, writhing under the torture of suspense, he worked until the very clothes he wore were moist to the surface. Then he went into the house again.
“How my brain throbs!” he said; “surely you said the throbbing brain was a sign, mother; and my brain does throb.”
“Tut, tut! it’s nobbut some maggot thou’s gitten intil it.”
“My pulse, too, it gallops, mother. You said the galloping pulse was a sign. Don’t say you did not. I’m sure of it, I’m sure of it; and my pulse gallops. I could bear the parched mouth and the throbbing brain if this pulse did not run so fast.”