The Return of the Native 3; 0508

5–Sharp Words Are Spoken, and a Crisis Ensues

When Yeobright was not with Eustacia he was sitting slavishly over his
books; when he was not reading he was meeting her. These meetings were
carried on with the greatest secrecy.

One afternoon his mother came home from a morning visit to Thomasin. He
could see from a disturbance in the lines of her face that something had
happened.

“I have been told an incomprehensible thing,” she said mournfully. “The
captain has let out at the Woman that you and Eustacia Vye are engaged
to be married.”

“We are,” said Yeobright. “But it may not be yet for a very long time.”

“I should hardly think it WOULD be yet for a very long time! You will
take her to Paris, I suppose?” She spoke with weary hopelessness.

“I am not going back to Paris.”

“What will you do with a wife, then?”

“Keep a school in Budmouth, as I have told you.”

“That’s incredible! The place is overrun with schoolmasters. You have no
special qualifications. What possible chance is there for such as you?”

“There is no chance of getting rich. But with my system of education,
which is as new as it is true, I shall do a great deal of good to my
fellow-creatures.”

“Dreams, dreams! If there had been any system left to be invented they
would have found it out at the universities long before this time.”

“Never, Mother. They cannot find it out, because their teachers don’t
come in contact with the class which demands such a system–that
is, those who have had no preliminary training. My plan is one for
instilling high knowledge into empty minds without first cramming them
with what has to be uncrammed again before true study begins.”

“I might have believed you if you had kept yourself free from
entanglements; but this woman–if she had been a good girl it would have
been bad enough; but being—-”

“She is a good girl.”

“So you think. A Corfu bandmaster’s daughter! What has her life been?
Her surname even is not her true one.”

“She is Captain Vye’s granddaughter, and her father merely took her
mother’s name. And she is a lady by instinct.”

“They call him ‘captain,’ but anybody is captain.”

“He was in the Royal Navy!”

“No doubt he has been to sea in some tub or other. Why doesn’t he look
after her? No lady would rove about the heath at all hours of the day
and night as she does. But that’s not all of it. There was something
queer between her and Thomasin’s husband at one time–I am as sure of it
as that I stand here.”

“Eustacia has told me. He did pay her a little attention a year ago; but
there’s no harm in that. I like her all the better.”

“Clym,” said his mother with firmness, “I have no proofs against her,
unfortunately. But if she makes you a good wife, there has never been a
bad one.”

“Believe me, you are almost exasperating,” said Yeobright vehemently.
“And this very day I had intended to arrange a meeting between you. But
you give me no peace; you try to thwart my wishes in everything.”

“I hate the thought of any son of mine marrying badly! I wish I had
never lived to see this; it is too much for me–it is more than I
dreamt!” She turned to the window. Her breath was coming quickly, and
her lips were pale, parted, and trembling.

“Mother,” said Clym, “whatever you do, you will always be dear to
me–that you know. But one thing I have a right to say, which is, that
at my age I am old enough to know what is best for me.”

Mrs. Yeobright remained for some time silent and shaken, as if she could
say no more. Then she replied, “Best? Is it best for you to injure your
prospects for such a voluptuous, idle woman as that? Don’t you see that
by the very fact of your choosing her you prove that you do not know
what is best for you? You give up your whole thought–you set your whole
soul–to please a woman.”

“I do. And that woman is you.”

“How can you treat me so flippantly!” said his mother, turning again to
him with a tearful look. “You are unnatural, Clym, and I did not expect
it.”

“Very likely,” said he cheerlessly. “You did not know the measure you
were going to mete me, and therefore did not know the measure that would
be returned to you again.”

“You answer me; you think only of her. You stick to her in all things.”

“That proves her to be worthy. I have never yet supported what is bad.
And I do not care only for her. I care for you and for myself, and
for anything that is good. When a woman once dislikes another she is
merciless!”

“O Clym! please don’t go setting down as my fault what is your obstinate
wrongheadedness. If you wished to connect yourself with an unworthy
person why did you come home here to do it? Why didn’t you do it in
Paris?–it is more the fashion there. You have come only to distress me,
a lonely woman, and shorten my days! I wish that you would bestow your
presence where you bestow your love!”

Clym said huskily, “You are my mother. I will say no more–beyond this,
that I beg your pardon for having thought this my home. I will no longer
inflict myself upon you; I’ll go.” And he went out with tears in his
eyes.

It was a sunny afternoon at the beginning of summer, and the moist
hollows of the heath had passed from their brown to their green stage.
Yeobright walked to the edge of the basin which extended down from
Mistover and Rainbarrow.

By this time he was calm, and he looked over the landscape. In the minor
valleys, between the hillocks which diversified the contour of the vale,
the fresh young ferns were luxuriantly growing up, ultimately to reach
a height of five or six feet. He descended a little way, flung himself
down in a spot where a path emerged from one of the small hollows, and
waited. Hither it was that he had promised Eustacia to bring his mother
this afternoon, that they might meet and be friends. His attempt had
utterly failed.

He was in a nest of vivid green. The ferny vegetation round him, though
so abundant, was quite uniform–it was a grove of machine-made foliage,
a world of green triangles with saw-edges, and not a single flower. The
air was warm with a vaporous warmth, and the stillness was unbroken.
Lizards, grasshoppers, and ants were the only living things to
be beheld. The scene seemed to belong to the ancient world of the
carboniferous period, when the forms of plants were few, and of the fern
kind; when there was neither bud nor blossom, nothing but a monotonous
extent of leafage, amid which no bird sang.

When he had reclined for some considerable time, gloomily pondering, he
discerned above the ferns a drawn bonnet of white silk approaching from
the left, and Yeobright knew directly that it covered the head of her
he loved. His heart awoke from its apathy to a warm excitement, and,
jumping to his feet, he said aloud, “I knew she was sure to come.”

She vanished in a hollow for a few moments, and then her whole form
unfolded itself from the brake.

“Only you here?” she exclaimed, with a disappointed air, whose
hollowness was proved by her rising redness and her half-guilty low
laugh. “Where is Mrs. Yeobright?”

“She has not come,” he replied in a subdued tone.

“I wish I had known that you would be here alone,” she said seriously,
“and that we were going to have such an idle, pleasant time as this.
Pleasure not known beforehand is half wasted; to anticipate it is to
double it. I have not thought once today of having you all to myself
this afternoon, and the actual moment of a thing is so soon gone.”

“It is indeed.”

“Poor Clym!” she continued, looking tenderly into his face. “You are
sad. Something has happened at your home. Never mind what is–let us
only look at what seems.”

“But, darling, what shall we do?” said he.

“Still go on as we do now–just live on from meeting to meeting, never
minding about another day. You, I know, are always thinking of that–I
can see you are. But you must not–will you, dear Clym?”

“You are just like all women. They are ever content to build their lives
on any incidental position that offers itself; whilst men would fain
make a globe to suit them. Listen to this, Eustacia. There is a subject
I have determined to put off no longer. Your sentiment on the wisdom
of Carpe diem does not impress me today. Our present mode of life must
shortly be brought to an end.”

“It is your mother!”

“It is. I love you none the less in telling you; it is only right you
should know.”

“I have feared my bliss,” she said, with the merest motion of her lips.
“It has been too intense and consuming.”

“There is hope yet. There are forty years of work in me yet, and why
should you despair? I am only at an awkward turning. I wish people
wouldn’t be so ready to think that there is no progress without
uniformity.”

“Ah–your mind runs off to the philosophical side of it. Well, these sad
and hopeless obstacles are welcome in one sense, for they enable us to
look with indifference upon the cruel satires that Fate loves to indulge
in. I have heard of people, who, upon coming suddenly into happiness,
have died from anxiety lest they should not live to enjoy it. I felt
myself in that whimsical state of uneasiness lately; but I shall be
spared it now. Let us walk on.”

Clym took the hand which was already bared for him–it was a favourite
way with them to walk bare hand in bare hand–and led her through the
ferns. They formed a very comely picture of love at full flush, as they
walked along the valley that late afternoon, the sun sloping down on
their right, and throwing their thin spectral shadows, tall as poplar
trees, far out across the furze and fern. Eustacia went with her head
thrown back fancifully, a certain glad and voluptuous air of triumph
pervading her eyes at having won by her own unaided self a man who was
her perfect complement in attainment, appearance, and age. On the young
man’s part, the paleness of face which he had brought with him
from Paris, and the incipient marks of time and thought, were less
perceptible than when he returned, the healthful and energetic
sturdiness which was his by nature having partially recovered its
original proportions. They wandered onward till they reached the nether
margin of the heath, where it became marshy and merged in moorland.

“I must part from you here, Clym,” said Eustacia.

They stood still and prepared to bid each other farewell. Everything
before them was on a perfect level. The sun, resting on the horizon
line, streamed across the ground from between copper-coloured and lilac
clouds, stretched out in flats beneath a sky of pale soft green. All
dark objects on the earth that lay towards the sun were overspread by
a purple haze, against which groups of wailing gnats shone out, rising
upwards and dancing about like sparks of fire.

“O! this leaving you is too hard to bear!” exclaimed Eustacia in a
sudden whisper of anguish. “Your mother will influence you too much;
I shall not be judged fairly, it will get afloat that I am not a good
girl, and the witch story will be added to make me blacker!”

“They cannot. Nobody dares to speak disrespectfully of you or of me.”

“Oh how I wish I was sure of never losing you–that you could not be
able to desert me anyhow!”

Clym stood silent a moment. His feelings were high, the moment was
passionate, and he cut the knot.

“You shall be sure of me, darling,” he said, folding her in his arms.
“We will be married at once.”

“O Clym!”

“Do you agree to it?”

“If–if we can.”

“We certainly can, both being of full age. And I have not followed my
occupation all these years without having accumulated money; and if you
will agree to live in a tiny cottage somewhere on the heath, until I
take a house in Budmouth for the school, we can do it at a very little
expense.”

“How long shall we have to live in the tiny cottage, Clym?”

“About six months. At the end of that time I shall have finished my
reading–yes, we will do it, and this heart-aching will be over. We
shall, of course, live in absolute seclusion, and our married life will
only begin to outward view when we take the house in Budmouth, where I
have already addressed a letter on the matter. Would your grandfather
allow you?”

“I think he would–on the understanding that it should not last longer
than six months.”

“I will guarantee that, if no misfortune happens.”

“If no misfortune happens,” she repeated slowly.

“Which is not likely. Dearest, fix the exact day.”

And then they consulted on the question, and the day was chosen. It was
to be a fortnight from that time.

This was the end of their talk, and Eustacia left him. Clym watched her
as she retired towards the sun. The luminous rays wrapped her up with
her increasing distance, and the rustle of her dress over the sprouting
sedge and grass died away. As he watched, the dead flat of the scenery
overpowered him, though he was fully alive to the beauty of that
untarnished early summer green which was worn for the nonce by the
poorest blade. There was something in its oppressive horizontality which
too much reminded him of the arena of life; it gave him a sense of bare
equality with, and no superiority to, a single living thing under the
sun.

Eustacia was now no longer the goddess but the woman to him, a being
to fight for, support, help, be maligned for. Now that he had reached
a cooler moment he would have preferred a less hasty marriage; but the
card was laid, and he determined to abide by the game. Whether Eustacia
was to add one other to the list of those who love too hotly to love
long and well, the forthcoming event was certainly a ready way of
proving.

6–Yeobright Goes, and the Breach Is Complete

All that evening smart sounds denoting an active packing up came from
Yeobright’s room to the ears of his mother downstairs.

Next morning he departed from the house and again proceeded across the
heath. A long day’s march was before him, his object being to secure a
dwelling to which he might take Eustacia when she became his wife.
Such a house, small, secluded, and with its windows boarded up, he had
casually observed a month earlier, about two miles beyond the village
of East Egdon, and six miles distant altogether; and thither he directed
his steps today.

The weather was far different from that of the evening before. The
yellow and vapoury sunset which had wrapped up Eustacia from his parting
gaze had presaged change. It was one of those not infrequent days of
an English June which are as wet and boisterous as November. The cold
clouds hastened on in a body, as if painted on a moving slide. Vapours
from other continents arrived upon the wind, which curled and parted
round him as he walked on.

At length Clym reached the margin of a fir and beech plantation that had
been enclosed from heath land in the year of his birth. Here the trees,
laden heavily with their new and humid leaves, were now suffering more
damage than during the highest winds of winter, when the boughs are
especially disencumbered to do battle with the storm. The wet young
beeches were undergoing amputations, bruises, cripplings, and harsh
lacerations, from which the wasting sap would bleed for many a day to
come, and which would leave scars visible till the day of their burning.
Each stem was wrenched at the root, where it moved like a bone in its
socket, and at every onset of the gale convulsive sounds came from the
branches, as if pain were felt. In a neighbouring brake a finch was
trying to sing; but the wind blew under his feathers till they stood on
end, twisted round his little tail, and made him give up his song.

Yet a few yards to Yeobright’s left, on the open heath, how
ineffectively gnashed the storm! Those gusts which tore the trees merely
waved the furze and heather in a light caress. Egdon was made for such
times as these.

Yeobright reached the empty house about midday. It was almost as lonely
as that of Eustacia’s grandfather, but the fact that it stood near
a heath was disguised by a belt of firs which almost enclosed the
premises. He journeyed on about a mile further to the village in which
the owner lived, and, returning with him to the house, arrangements were
completed, and the man undertook that one room at least should be ready
for occupation the next day. Clym’s intention was to live there alone
until Eustacia should join him on their wedding-day.

Then he turned to pursue his way homeward through the drizzle that had
so greatly transformed the scene. The ferns, among which he had lain in
comfort yesterday, were dripping moisture from every frond, wetting
his legs through as he brushed past; and the fur of the rabbits leaping
before him was clotted into dark locks by the same watery surrounding.

He reached home damp and weary enough after his ten-mile walk. It had
hardly been a propitious beginning, but he had chosen his course, and
would show no swerving. The evening and the following morning were spent
in concluding arrangements for his departure. To stay at home a minute
longer than necessary after having once come to his determination would
be, he felt, only to give new pain to his mother by some word, look, or
deed.

He had hired a conveyance and sent off his goods by two o’clock that
day. The next step was to get some furniture, which, after serving
for temporary use in the cottage, would be available for the house
at Budmouth when increased by goods of a better description. A mart
extensive enough for the purpose existed at Anglebury, some miles beyond
the spot chosen for his residence, and there he resolved to pass the
coming night.

It now only remained to wish his mother good-bye. She was sitting by the
window as usual when he came downstairs.

“Mother, I am going to leave you,” he said, holding out his hand.

“I thought you were, by your packing,” replied Mrs. Yeobright in a voice
from which every particle of emotion was painfully excluded.

“And you will part friends with me?”

“Certainly, Clym.”

“I am going to be married on the twenty-fifth.”

“I thought you were going to be married.”

“And then–and then you must come and see us. You will understand me
better after that, and our situation will not be so wretched as it is
now.”

“I do not think it likely I shall come to see you.”

“Then it will not be my fault or Eustacia’s, Mother. Good-bye!”

He kissed her cheek, and departed in great misery, which was several
hours in lessening itself to a controllable level. The position had
been such that nothing more could be said without, in the first place,
breaking down a barrier; and that was not to be done.

No sooner had Yeobright gone from his mother’s house than her face
changed its rigid aspect for one of blank despair. After a while she
wept, and her tears brought some relief. During the rest of the day she
did nothing but walk up and down the garden path in a state bordering
on stupefaction. Night came, and with it but little rest. The next day,
with an instinct to do something which should reduce prostration
to mournfulness, she went to her son’s room, and with her own hands
arranged it in order, for an imaginary time when he should return
again. She gave some attention to her flowers, but it was perfunctorily
bestowed, for they no longer charmed her.

It was a great relief when, early in the afternoon, Thomasin paid her an
unexpected visit. This was not the first meeting between the relatives
since Thomasin’s marriage; and past blunders having been in a rough way
rectified, they could always greet each other with pleasure and ease.

The oblique band of sunlight which followed her through the door became
the young wife well. It illuminated her as her presence illuminated the
heath. In her movements, in her gaze, she reminded the beholder of
the feathered creatures who lived around her home. All similes and
allegories concerning her began and ended with birds. There was as much
variety in her motions as in their flight. When she was musing she was
a kestrel, which hangs in the air by an invisible motion of its wings.
When she was in a high wind her light body was blown against trees and
banks like a heron’s. When she was frightened she darted noiselessly
like a kingfisher. When she was serene she skimmed like a swallow, and
that is how she was moving now.

“You are looking very blithe, upon my word, Tamsie,” said Mrs.
Yeobright, with a sad smile. “How is Damon?”

“He is very well.”

“Is he kind to you, Thomasin?” And Mrs. Yeobright observed her narrowly.

“Pretty fairly.”

“Is that honestly said?”

“Yes, Aunt. I would tell you if he were unkind.” She added, blushing,
and with hesitation, “He–I don’t know if I ought to complain to you
about this, but I am not quite sure what to do. I want some money, you
know, Aunt–some to buy little things for myself–and he doesn’t give
me any. I don’t like to ask him; and yet, perhaps, he doesn’t give it me
because he doesn’t know. Ought I to mention it to him, Aunt?”

“Of course you ought. Have you never said a word on the matter?”

“You see, I had some of my own,” said Thomasin evasively, “and I have
not wanted any of his until lately. I did just say something about it
last week; but he seems–not to remember.”

“He must be made to remember. You are aware that I have a little box
full of spade-guineas, which your uncle put into my hands to divide
between yourself and Clym whenever I chose. Perhaps the time has come
when it should be done. They can be turned into sovereigns at any
moment.”

“I think I should like to have my share–that is, if you don’t mind.”

“You shall, if necessary. But it is only proper that you should first
tell your husband distinctly that you are without any, and see what he
will do.”

“Very well, I will….Aunt, I have heard about Clym. I know you are in
trouble about him, and that’s why I have come.”

Mrs. Yeobright turned away, and her features worked in her attempt to
conceal her feelings. Then she ceased to make any attempt, and said,
weeping, “O Thomasin, do you think he hates me? How can he bear to
grieve me so, when I have lived only for him through all these years?”

“Hate you–no,” said Thomasin soothingly. “It is only that he loves her
too well. Look at it quietly–do. It is not so very bad of him. Do you
know, I thought it not the worst match he could have made. Miss Vye’s
family is a good one on her mother’s side; and her father was a romantic
wanderer–a sort of Greek Ulysses.”

“It is no use, Thomasin; it is no use. Your intention is good; but I
will not trouble you to argue. I have gone through the whole that can be
said on either side times, and many times. Clym and I have not parted
in anger; we have parted in a worse way. It is not a passionate quarrel
that would have broken my heart; it is the steady opposition and
persistence in going wrong that he has shown. O Thomasin, he was so good
as a little boy–so tender and kind!”

“He was, I know.”

“I did not think one whom I called mine would grow up to treat me like
this. He spoke to me as if I opposed him to injure him. As though I
could wish him ill!”

“There are worse women in the world than Eustacia Vye.”

“There are too many better that’s the agony of it. It was she, Thomasin,
and she only, who led your husband to act as he did–I would swear it!”

“No,” said Thomasin eagerly. “It was before he knew me that he thought
of her, and it was nothing but a mere flirtation.”

“Very well; we will let it be so. There is little use in unravelling
that now. Sons must be blind if they will. Why is it that a woman can
see from a distance what a man cannot see close? Clym must do as he
will–he is nothing more to me. And this is maternity–to give one’s
best years and best love to ensure the fate of being despised!”

“You are too unyielding. Think how many mothers there are whose sons
have brought them to public shame by real crimes before you feel so
deeply a case like this.”

“Thomasin, don’t lecture me–I can’t have it. It is the excess above
what we expect that makes the force of the blow, and that may not
be greater in their case than in mine–they may have foreseen the
worst….I am wrongly made, Thomasin,” she added, with a mournful smile.
“Some widows can guard against the wounds their children give them by
turning their hearts to another husband and beginning life again. But I
always was a poor, weak, one-idea’d creature–I had not the compass of
heart nor the enterprise for that. Just as forlorn and stupefied as
I was when my husband’s spirit flew away I have sat ever since–never
attempting to mend matters at all. I was comparatively a young woman
then, and I might have had another family by this time, and have been
comforted by them for the failure of this one son.”

“It is more noble in you that you did not.”

“The more noble, the less wise.”

“Forget it, and be soothed, dear Aunt. And I shall not leave you alone
for long. I shall come and see you every day.”

And for one week Thomasin literally fulfilled her word. She endeavoured
to make light of the wedding; and brought news of the preparations, and
that she was invited to be present. The next week she was rather unwell,
and did not appear. Nothing had as yet been done about the guineas, for
Thomasin feared to address her husband again on the subject, and Mrs.
Yeobright had insisted upon this.

One day just before this time Wildeve was standing at the door of
the Quiet Woman. In addition to the upward path through the heath
to Rainbarrow and Mistover, there was a road which branched from the
highway a short distance below the inn, and ascended to Mistover by a
circuitous and easy incline. This was the only route on that side for
vehicles to the captain’s retreat. A light cart from the nearest town
descended the road, and the lad who was driving pulled up in front of
the inn for something to drink.

“You come from Mistover?” said Wildeve.

“Yes. They are taking in good things up there. Going to be a wedding.”
And the driver buried his face in his mug.

Wildeve had not received an inkling of the fact before, and a sudden
expression of pain overspread his face. He turned for a moment into the
passage to hide it. Then he came back again.

“Do you mean Miss Vye?” he said. “How is it–that she can be married so
soon?”

“By the will of God and a ready young man, I suppose.”

“You don’t mean Mr. Yeobright?”

“Yes. He has been creeping about with her all the spring.”

“I suppose–she was immensely taken with him?”

“She is crazy about him, so their general servant of all work tells me.
And that lad Charley that looks after the horse is all in a daze about
it. The stun-poll has got fond-like of her.”

“Is she lively–is she glad? Going to be married so soon–well!”

“It isn’t so very soon.”

“No; not so very soon.”

Wildeve went indoors to the empty room, a curious heartache within him.
He rested his elbow upon the mantelpiece and his face upon his hand.
When Thomasin entered the room he did not tell her of what he had heard.
The old longing for Eustacia had reappeared in his soul–and it was
mainly because he had discovered that it was another man’s intention to
possess her.

To be yearning for the difficult, to be weary of that offered; to care
for the remote, to dislike the near; it was Wildeve’s nature always.
This is the true mark of the man of sentiment. Though Wildeve’s fevered
feeling had not been elaborated to real poetical compass, it was of the
standard sort. His might have been called the Rousseau of Egdon.

7–The Morning and the Evening of a Day

The wedding morning came. Nobody would have imagined from appearances
that Blooms-End had any interest in Mistover that day. A solemn
stillness prevailed around the house of Clym’s mother, and there was no
more animation indoors. Mrs. Yeobright, who had declined to attend the
ceremony, sat by the breakfast table in the old room which communicated
immediately with the porch, her eyes listlessly directed towards the
open door. It was the room in which, six months earlier, the merry
Christmas party had met, to which Eustacia came secretly and as a
stranger. The only living thing that entered now was a sparrow; and
seeing no movements to cause alarm, he hopped boldly round the
room, endeavoured to go out by the window, and fluttered among the
pot-flowers. This roused the lonely sitter, who got up, released the
bird, and went to the door. She was expecting Thomasin, who had written
the night before to state that the time had come when she would wish to
have the money and that she would if possible call this day.

Yet Thomasin occupied Mrs. Yeobright’s thoughts but slightly as she
looked up the valley of the heath, alive with butterflies, and with
grasshoppers whose husky noises on every side formed a whispered chorus.
A domestic drama, for which the preparations were now being made a mile
or two off, was but little less vividly present to her eyes than if
enacted before her. She tried to dismiss the vision, and walked about
the garden plot; but her eyes ever and anon sought out the direction
of the parish church to which Mistover belonged, and her excited fancy
clove the hills which divided the building from her eyes. The morning
wore away. Eleven o’clock struck–could it be that the wedding was
then in progress? It must be so. She went on imagining the scene at
the church, which he had by this time approached with his bride. She
pictured the little group of children by the gate as the pony carriage
drove up in which, as Thomasin had learnt, they were going to perform
the short journey. Then she saw them enter and proceed to the chancel
and kneel; and the service seemed to go on.

She covered her face with her hands. “O, it is a mistake!” she groaned.
“And he will rue it some day, and think of me!”

While she remained thus, overcome by her forebodings, the old clock
indoors whizzed forth twelve strokes. Soon after, faint sounds floated
to her ear from afar over the hills. The breeze came from that quarter,
and it had brought with it the notes of distant bells, gaily starting
off in a peal: one, two, three, four, five. The ringers at East Egdon
were announcing the nuptials of Eustacia and her son.

“Then it is over,” she murmured. “Well, well! and life too will be over
soon. And why should I go on scalding my face like this? Cry about one
thing in life, cry about all; one thread runs through the whole piece.
And yet we say, ‘a time to laugh!'”

Towards evening Wildeve came. Since Thomasin’s marriage Mrs. Yeobright
had shown him that grim friendliness which at last arises in all such
cases of undesired affinity. The vision of what ought to have been
is thrown aside in sheer weariness, and browbeaten human endeavour
listlessly makes the best of the fact that is. Wildeve, to do him
justice, had behaved very courteously to his wife’s aunt; and it was
with no surprise that she saw him enter now.

“Thomasin has not been able to come, as she promised to do,” he replied
to her inquiry, which had been anxious, for she knew that her niece was
badly in want of money.

“The captain came down last night and personally pressed her to join
them today. So, not to be unpleasant, she determined to go. They fetched
her in the pony-chaise, and are going to bring her back.”

“Then it is done,” said Mrs. Yeobright. “Have they gone to their new
home?”

“I don’t know. I have had no news from Mistover since Thomasin left to
go.”

“You did not go with her?” said she, as if there might be good reasons
why.

“I could not,” said Wildeve, reddening slightly. “We could not both
leave the house; it was rather a busy morning, on account of Anglebury
Great Market. I believe you have something to give to Thomasin? If you
like, I will take it.”

Mrs. Yeobright hesitated, and wondered if Wildeve knew what the
something was. “Did she tell you of this?” she inquired.

“Not particularly. She casually dropped a remark about having arranged
to fetch some article or other.”

“It is hardly necessary to send it. She can have it whenever she chooses
to come.”

“That won’t be yet. In the present state of her health she must not go
on walking so much as she has done.” He added, with a faint twang of
sarcasm, “What wonderful thing is it that I cannot be trusted to take?”

“Nothing worth troubling you with.”

“One would think you doubted my honesty,” he said, with a laugh, though
his colour rose in a quick resentfulness frequent with him.

“You need think no such thing,” said she drily. “It is simply that I,
in common with the rest of the world, feel that there are certain things
which had better be done by certain people than by others.”

“As you like, as you like,” said Wildeve laconically. “It is not worth
arguing about. Well, I think I must turn homeward again, as the inn must
not be left long in charge of the lad and the maid only.”

He went his way, his farewell being scarcely so courteous as his
greeting. But Mrs. Yeobright knew him thoroughly by this time, and took
little notice of his manner, good or bad.

When Wildeve was gone Mrs. Yeobright stood and considered what would be
the best course to adopt with regard to the guineas, which she had not
liked to entrust to Wildeve. It was hardly credible that Thomasin had
told him to ask for them, when the necessity for them had arisen
from the difficulty of obtaining money at his hands. At the same time
Thomasin really wanted them, and might be unable to come to Blooms-End
for another week at least. To take or send the money to her at the inn
would be impolite, since Wildeve would pretty surely be present, or
would discover the transaction; and if, as her aunt suspected, he
treated her less kindly than she deserved to be treated, he might
then get the whole sum out of her gentle hands. But on this particular
evening Thomasin was at Mistover, and anything might be conveyed to
her there without the knowledge of her husband. Upon the whole the
opportunity was worth taking advantage of.

Her son, too, was there, and was now married. There could be no more
proper moment to render him his share of the money than the present.
And the chance that would be afforded her, by sending him this gift,
of showing how far she was from bearing him ill-will, cheered the sad
mother’s heart.

She went upstairs and took from a locked drawer a little box, out of
which she poured a hoard of broad unworn guineas that had lain there
many a year. There were a hundred in all, and she divided them into two
heaps, fifty in each. Tying up these in small canvas bags, she went down
to the garden and called to Christian Cantle, who was loitering about in
hope of a supper which was not really owed him. Mrs. Yeobright gave
him the moneybags, charged him to go to Mistover, and on no account
to deliver them into any one’s hands save her son’s and Thomasin’s. On
further thought she deemed it advisable to tell Christian precisely
what the two bags contained, that he might be fully impressed with their
importance. Christian pocketed the moneybags, promised the greatest
carefulness, and set out on his way.

“You need not hurry,” said Mrs. Yeobright. “It will be better not to get
there till after dusk, and then nobody will notice you. Come back here
to supper, if it is not too late.”

It was nearly nine o’clock when he began to ascend the vale towards
Mistover; but the long days of summer being at their climax, the first
obscurity of evening had only just begun to tan the landscape. At
this point of his journey Christian heard voices, and found that they
proceeded from a company of men and women who were traversing a hollow
ahead of him, the tops only of their heads being visible.

He paused and thought of the money he carried. It was almost too early
even for Christian seriously to fear robbery; nevertheless he took
a precaution which ever since his boyhood he had adopted whenever he
carried more than two or three shillings upon his person–a precaution
somewhat like that of the owner of the Pitt Diamond when filled with
similar misgivings. He took off his boots, untied the guineas, and
emptied the contents of one little bag into the right boot, and of
the other into the left, spreading them as flatly as possible over the
bottom of each, which was really a spacious coffer by no means limited
to the size of the foot. Pulling them on again and lacing them to the
very top, he proceeded on his way, more easy in his head than under his
soles.

His path converged towards that of the noisy company, and on coming
nearer he found to his relief that they were several Egdon people whom
he knew very well, while with them walked Fairway, of Blooms-End.

“What! Christian going too?” said Fairway as soon as he recognized the
newcomer. “You’ve got no young woman nor wife to your name to gie a
gown-piece to, I’m sure.”

“What d’ye mean?” said Christian.

“Why, the raffle. The one we go to every year. Going to the raffle as
well as ourselves?”

“Never knew a word o’t. Is it like cudgel playing or other sportful
forms of bloodshed? I don’t want to go, thank you, Mister Fairway, and
no offence.”

“Christian don’t know the fun o’t, and ‘twould be a fine sight for him,”
said a buxom woman. “There’s no danger at all, Christian. Every man
puts in a shilling apiece, and one wins a gown-piece for his wife or
sweetheart if he’s got one.”

“Well, as that’s not my fortune there’s no meaning in it to me. But I
should like to see the fun, if there’s nothing of the black art in it,
and if a man may look on without cost or getting into any dangerous
wrangle?”

“There will be no uproar at all,” said Timothy. “Sure, Christian, if
you’d like to come we’ll see there’s no harm done.”

“And no ba’dy gaieties, I suppose? You see, neighbours, if so, it
would be setting father a bad example, as he is so light moral’d. But
a gown-piece for a shilling, and no black art–’tis worth looking in to
see, and it wouldn’t hinder me half an hour. Yes, I’ll come, if you’ll
step a little way towards Mistover with me afterwards, supposing night
should have closed in, and nobody else is going that way?”

One or two promised; and Christian, diverging from his direct path,
turned round to the right with his companions towards the Quiet Woman.

When they entered the large common room of the inn they found assembled
there about ten men from among the neighbouring population, and the
group was increased by the new contingent to double that number. Most of
them were sitting round the room in seats divided by wooden elbows like
those of crude cathedral stalls, which were carved with the initials of
many an illustrious drunkard of former times who had passed his days
and his nights between them, and now lay as an alcoholic cinder in the
nearest churchyard. Among the cups on the long table before the
sitters lay an open parcel of light drapery–the gown-piece, as it was
called–which was to be raffled for. Wildeve was standing with his back
to the fireplace smoking a cigar; and the promoter of the raffle, a
packman from a distant town, was expatiating upon the value of the
fabric as material for a summer dress.

“Now, gentlemen,” he continued, as the newcomers drew up to the table,
“there’s five have entered, and we want four more to make up the number.
I think, by the faces of those gentlemen who have just come in, that
they are shrewd enough to take advantage of this rare opportunity of
beautifying their ladies at a very trifling expense.”

Fairway, Sam, and another placed their shillings on the table, and the
man turned to Christian.

“No, sir,” said Christian, drawing back, with a quick gaze of misgiving.
“I am only a poor chap come to look on, an it please ye, sir. I don’t
so much as know how you do it. If so be I was sure of getting it I would
put down the shilling; but I couldn’t otherwise.”

“I think you might almost be sure,” said the pedlar. “In fact, now I
look into your face, even if I can’t say you are sure to win, I can say
that I never saw anything look more like winning in my life.”

“You’ll anyhow have the same chance as the rest of us,” said Sam.

“And the extra luck of being the last comer,” said another.

“And I was born wi’ a caul, and perhaps can be no more ruined than
drowned?” Christian added, beginning to give way.

Ultimately Christian laid down his shilling, the raffle began, and the
dice went round. When it came to Christian’s turn he took the box with a
trembling hand, shook it fearfully, and threw a pair-royal. Three of the
others had thrown common low pairs, and all the rest mere points.

“The gentleman looked like winning, as I said,” observed the chapman
blandly. “Take it, sir; the article is yours.”

“Haw-haw-haw!” said Fairway. “I’m damned if this isn’t the quarest start
that ever I knowed!”

“Mine?” asked Christian, with a vacant stare from his target eyes. “I–I
haven’t got neither maid, wife, nor widder belonging to me at all, and
I’m afeard it will make me laughed at to ha’e it, Master Traveller. What
with being curious to join in I never thought of that! What shall I do
wi’ a woman’s clothes in MY bedroom, and not lose my decency!”

“Keep ’em, to be sure,” said Fairway, “if it is only for luck. Perhaps
’twill tempt some woman that thy poor carcase had no power over when
standing empty-handed.”

“Keep it, certainly,” said Wildeve, who had idly watched the scene from
a distance.

The table was then cleared of the articles, and the men began to drink.

“Well, to be sure!” said Christian, half to himself. “To think I should
have been born so lucky as this, and not have found it out until now!
What curious creatures these dice be–powerful rulers of us all, and
yet at my command! I am sure I never need be afeared of anything after
this.” He handled the dice fondly one by one. “Why, sir,” he said in a
confidential whisper to Wildeve, who was near his left hand, “if I could
only use this power that’s in me of multiplying money I might do some
good to a near relation of yours, seeing what I’ve got about me of
hers–eh?” He tapped one of his money-laden boots upon the floor.

“What do you mean?” said Wildeve.

“That’s a secret. Well, I must be going now.” He looked anxiously
towards Fairway.

“Where are you going?” Wildeve asked.

“To Mistover Knap. I have to see Mrs. Thomasin there–that’s all.”

“I am going there, too, to fetch Mrs. Wildeve. We can walk together.”

Wildeve became lost in thought, and a look of inward illumination came
into his eyes. It was money for his wife that Mrs. Yeobright could not
trust him with. “Yet she could trust this fellow,” he said to himself.
“Why doesn’t that which belongs to the wife belong to the husband too?”

He called to the pot-boy to bring him his hat, and said, “Now,
Christian, I am ready.”

“Mr. Wildeve,” said Christian timidly, as he turned to leave the room,
“would you mind lending me them wonderful little things that carry my
luck inside ’em, that I might practise a bit by myself, you know?” He
looked wistfully at the dice and box lying on the mantlepiece.

“Certainly,” said Wildeve carelessly. “They were only cut out by some
lad with his knife, and are worth nothing.” And Christian went back and
privately pocketed them.

Wildeve opened the door and looked out. The night was warm and cloudy.
“By Gad! ’tis dark,” he continued. “But I suppose we shall find our
way.”

“If we should lose the path it might be awkward,” said Christian. “A
lantern is the only shield that will make it safe for us.”

“Let’s have a lantern by all means.” The stable lantern was fetched and
lighted. Christian took up his gownpiece, and the two set out to ascend
the hill.

Within the room the men fell into chat till their attention was for a
moment drawn to the chimney-corner. This was large, and, in addition
to its proper recess, contained within its jambs, like many on Egdon, a
receding seat, so that a person might sit there absolutely unobserved,
provided there was no fire to light him up, as was the case now and
throughout the summer. From the niche a single object protruded into the
light from the candles on the table. It was a clay pipe, and its colour
was reddish. The men had been attracted to this object by a voice behind
the pipe asking for a light.

“Upon my life, it fairly startled me when the man spoke!” said Fairway,
handing a candle. “Oh–’tis the reddleman! You’ve kept a quiet tongue,
young man.”

“Yes, I had nothing to say,” observed Venn. In a few minutes he arose
and wished the company good night.

Meanwhile Wildeve and Christian had plunged into the heath.

It was a stagnant, warm, and misty night, full of all the heavy perfumes
of new vegetation not yet dried by hot sun, and among these particularly
the scent of the fern. The lantern, dangling from Christian’s hand,
brushed the feathery fronds in passing by, disturbing moths and other
winged insects, which flew out and alighted upon its horny panes.

“So you have money to carry to Mrs. Wildeve?” said Christian’s
companion, after a silence. “Don’t you think it very odd that it
shouldn’t be given to me?”

“As man and wife be one flesh, ‘twould have been all the same, I should
think,” said Christian. “But my strict documents was, to give the money
into Mrs. Wildeve’s hand–and ’tis well to do things right.”

“No doubt,” said Wildeve. Any person who had known the circumstances
might have perceived that Wildeve was mortified by the discovery that
the matter in transit was money, and not, as he had supposed when at
Blooms-End, some fancy nick-nack which only interested the two women
themselves. Mrs. Yeobright’s refusal implied that his honour was not
considered to be of sufficiently good quality to make him a safer bearer
of his wife’s property.

“How very warm it is tonight, Christian!” he said, panting, when they
were nearly under Rainbarrow. “Let us sit down for a few minutes, for
Heaven’s sake.”

Wildeve flung himself down on the soft ferns; and Christian, placing the
lantern and parcel on the ground, perched himself in a cramped position
hard by, his knees almost touching his chin. He presently thrust one
hand into his coat-pocket and began shaking it about.

“What are you rattling in there?” said Wildeve.

“Only the dice, sir,” said Christian, quickly withdrawing his hand.
“What magical machines these little things be, Mr. Wildeve! ‘Tis a
game I should never get tired of. Would you mind my taking ’em out and
looking at ’em for a minute, to see how they are made? I didn’t like
to look close before the other men, for fear they should think it bad
manners in me.” Christian took them out and examined them in the hollow
of his hand by the lantern light. “That these little things should carry
such luck, and such charm, and such a spell, and such power in ’em,
passes all I ever heard or zeed,” he went on, with a fascinated gaze at
the dice, which, as is frequently the case in country places, were made
of wood, the points being burnt upon each face with the end of a wire.

“They are a great deal in a small compass, You think?”

“Yes. Do ye suppose they really be the devil’s playthings, Mr. Wildeve?
If so, ’tis no good sign that I be such a lucky man.”

“You ought to win some money, now that you’ve got them. Any woman would
marry you then. Now is your time, Christian, and I would recommend you
not to let it slip. Some men are born to luck, some are not. I belong to
the latter class.”

“Did you ever know anybody who was born to it besides myself?”

“O yes. I once heard of an Italian, who sat down at a gaming table with
only a louis, (that’s a foreign sovereign), in his pocket. He played on
for twenty-four hours, and won ten thousand pounds, stripping the
bank he had played against. Then there was another man who had lost a
thousand pounds, and went to the broker’s next day to sell stock, that
he might pay the debt. The man to whom he owed the money went with him
in a hackney-coach; and to pass the time they tossed who should pay
the fare. The ruined man won, and the other was tempted to continue the
game, and they played all the way. When the coachman stopped he was told
to drive home again: the whole thousand pounds had been won back by the
man who was going to sell.”

“Ha–ha–splendid!” exclaimed Christian. “Go on–go on!”

“Then there was a man of London, who was only a waiter at White’s
clubhouse. He began playing first half-crown stakes, and then higher and
higher, till he became very rich, got an appointment in India, and rose
to be Governor of Madras. His daughter married a member of Parliament,
and the Bishop of Carlisle stood godfather to one of the children.”

“Wonderfull wonderfull”

“And once there was a young man in America who gambled till he had lost
his last dollar. He staked his watch and chain, and lost as before;
staked his umbrella, lost again; staked his hat, lost again; staked his
coat and stood in his shirt-sleeves, lost again. Began taking off his
breeches, and then a looker-on gave him a trifle for his pluck. With
this he won. Won back his coat, won back his hat, won back his umbrella,
his watch, his money, and went out of the door a rich man.”

“Oh, ’tis too good–it takes away my breath! Mr. Wildeve, I think I will
try another shilling with you, as I am one of that sort; no danger can
come o’t, and you can afford to lose.”

“Very well,” said Wildeve, rising. Searching about with the lantern, he
found a large flat stone, which he placed between himself and Christian,
and sat down again. The lantern was opened to give more light, and it’s
rays directed upon the stone. Christian put down a shilling, Wildeve
another, and each threw. Christian won. They played for two, Christian
won again.

“Let us try four,” said Wildeve. They played for four. This time the
stakes were won by Wildeve.

“Ah, those little accidents will, of course, sometimes happen, to the
luckiest man,” he observed.

“And now I have no more money!” explained Christian excitedly. “And yet,
if I could go on, I should get it back again, and more. I wish this was
mine.” He struck his boot upon the ground, so that the guineas chinked
within.

“What! you have not put Mrs. Wildeve’s money there?”

“Yes. ‘Tis for safety. Is it any harm to raffle with a married lady’s
money when, if I win, I shall only keep my winnings, and give her her
own all the same; and if t’other man wins, her money will go to the
lawful owner?”

“None at all.”

Wildeve had been brooding ever since they started on the mean estimation
in which he was held by his wife’s friends; and it cut his heart
severely. As the minutes passed he had gradually drifted into a
revengeful intention without knowing the precise moment of forming it.
This was to teach Mrs. Yeobright a lesson, as he considered it to be;
in other words, to show her if he could that her niece’s husband was the
proper guardian of her niece’s money.

“Well, here goes!” said Christian, beginning to unlace one boot. “I
shall dream of it nights and nights, I suppose; but I shall always swear
my flesh don’t crawl when I think o’t!”

He thrust his hand into the boot and withdrew one of poor Thomasin’s
precious guineas, piping hot. Wildeve had already placed a sovereign on
the stone. The game was then resumed. Wildeve won first, and Christian
ventured another, winning himself this time. The game fluctuated, but
the average was in Wildeve’s favour. Both men became so absorbed in
the game that they took no heed of anything but the pigmy objects
immediately beneath their eyes, the flat stone, the open lantern, the
dice, and the few illuminated fern-leaves which lay under the light,
were the whole world to them.

At length Christian lost rapidly; and presently, to his horror, the
whole fifty guineas belonging to Thomasin had been handed over to his
adversary.

“I don’t care–I don’t care!” he moaned, and desperately set about
untying his left boot to get at the other fifty. “The devil will toss me
into the flames on his three-pronged fork for this night’s work, I know!
But perhaps I shall win yet, and then I’ll get a wife to sit up with
me o’ nights and I won’t be afeard, I won’t! Here’s another for’ee, my
man!” He slapped another guinea down upon the stone, and the dice-box
was rattled again.

Time passed on. Wildeve began to be as excited as Christian himself.
When commencing the game his intention had been nothing further than
a bitter practical joke on Mrs. Yeobright. To win the money, fairly
or otherwise, and to hand it contemptuously to Thomasin in her aunt’s
presence, had been the dim outline of his purpose. But men are drawn
from their intentions even in the course of carrying them out, and
it was extremely doubtful, by the time the twentieth guinea had been
reached, whether Wildeve was conscious of any other intention than that
of winning for his own personal benefit. Moreover, he was now no longer
gambling for his wife’s money, but for Yeobright’s; though of this fact
Christian, in his apprehensiveness, did not inform him till afterwards.

It was nearly eleven o’clock, when, with almost a shriek, Christian
placed Yeobright’s last gleaming guinea upon the stone. In thirty
seconds it had gone the way of its companions.

Christian turned and flung himself on the ferns in a convulsion of
remorse, “O, what shall I do with my wretched self?” he groaned. “What
shall I do? Will any good Heaven hae mercy upon my wicked soul?”

“Do? Live on just the same.”

“I won’t live on just the same! I’ll die! I say you are a–a—-”

“A man sharper than my neighbour.”

“Yes, a man sharper than my neighbour; a regular sharper!”

“Poor chips-in-porridge, you are very unmannerly.”

“I don’t know about that! And I say you be unmannerly! You’ve got money
that isn’t your own. Half the guineas are poor Mr. Clym’s.”

“How’s that?”

“Because I had to gie fifty of ’em to him. Mrs. Yeobright said so.”

“Oh?… Well, ‘twould have been more graceful of her to have given them
to his wife Eustacia. But they are in my hands now.”

Christian pulled on his boots, and with heavy breathings, which could be
heard to some distance, dragged his limbs together, arose, and tottered
away out of sight. Wildeve set about shutting the lantern to return to
the house, for he deemed it too late to go to Mistover to meet his wife,
who was to be driven home in the captain’s four-wheel. While he was
closing the little horn door a figure rose from behind a neighbouring
bush and came forward into the lantern light. It was the reddleman
approaching.

8–A New Force Disturbs the Current

Wildeve stared. Venn looked coolly towards Wildeve, and, without a word
being spoken, he deliberately sat himself down where Christian had been
seated, thrust his hand into his pocket, drew out a sovereign, and laid
it on the stone.

“You have been watching us from behind that bush?” said Wildeve.

The reddleman nodded. “Down with your stake,” he said. “Or haven’t you
pluck enough to go on?”

Now, gambling is a species of amusement which is much more easily begun
with full pockets than left off with the same; and though Wildeve in
a cooler temper might have prudently declined this invitation, the
excitement of his recent success carried him completely away. He placed
one of the guineas on a slab beside the reddleman’s sovereign. “Mine is
a guinea,” he said.

“A guinea that’s not your own,” said Venn sarcastically.

“It is my own,” answered Wildeve haughtily. “It is my wife’s, and what
is hers is mine.”

“Very well; let’s make a beginning.” He shook the box, and threw eight,
ten, and nine; the three casts amounted to twenty-seven.

This encouraged Wildeve. He took the box; and his three casts amounted
to forty-five.

Down went another of the reddleman’s sovereigns against his first one
which Wildeve laid. This time Wildeve threw fifty-one points, but no
pair. The reddleman looked grim, threw a raffle of aces, and pocketed
the stakes.

“Here you are again,” said Wildeve contemptuously. “Double the stakes.”
He laid two of Thomasin’s guineas, and the reddleman his two pounds.
Venn won again. New stakes were laid on the stone, and the gamblers
proceeded as before.

Wildeve was a nervous and excitable man, and the game was beginning
to tell upon his temper. He writhed, fumed, shifted his seat, and the
beating of his heart was almost audible. Venn sat with lips impassively
closed and eyes reduced to a pair of unimportant twinkles; he scarcely
appeared to breathe. He might have been an Arab, or an automaton; he
would have been like a red sandstone statue but for the motion of his
arm with the dice-box.

The game fluctuated, now in favour of one, now in favour of the other,
without any great advantage on the side of either. Nearly twenty minutes
were passed thus. The light of the candle had by this time attracted
heath-flies, moths, and other winged creatures of night, which floated
round the lantern, flew into the flame, or beat about the faces of the
two players.

But neither of the men paid much attention to these things, their eyes
being concentrated upon the little flat stone, which to them was an
arena vast and important as a battlefield. By this time a change had
come over the game; the reddleman won continually. At length sixty
guineas–Thomasin’s fifty, and ten of Clym’s–had passed into his hands.
Wildeve was reckless, frantic, exasperated.

“‘Won back his coat,'” said Venn slily.

Another throw, and the money went the same way.

“‘Won back his hat,'” continued Venn.

“Oh, oh!” said Wildeve.

“‘Won back his watch, won back his money, and went out of the door a
rich man,'” added Venn sentence by sentence, as stake after stake passed
over to him.

“Five more!” shouted Wildeve, dashing down the money. “And three casts
be hanged–one shall decide.”

The red automaton opposite lapsed into silence, nodded, and followed
his example. Wildeve rattled the box, and threw a pair of sixes and five
points. He clapped his hands; “I have done it this time–hurrah!”

“There are two playing, and only one has thrown,” said the reddleman,
quietly bringing down the box. The eyes of each were then so intently
converged upon the stone that one could fancy their beams were visible,
like rays in a fog.

Venn lifted the box, and behold a triplet of sixes was disclosed.

Wildeve was full of fury. While the reddleman was grasping the stakes
Wildeve seized the dice and hurled them, box and all, into the darkness,
uttering a fearful imprecation. Then he arose and began stamping up and
down like a madman.

“It is all over, then?” said Venn.

“No, no!” cried Wildeve. “I mean to have another chance yet. I must!”

“But, my good man, what have you done with the dice?”

“I threw them away–it was a momentary irritation. What a fool I am!
Here–come and help me to look for them–we must find them again.”

Wildeve snatched up the lantern and began anxiously prowling among the
furze and fern.

“You are not likely to find them there,” said Venn, following. “What did
you do such a crazy thing as that for? Here’s the box. The dice can’t be
far off.”

Wildeve turned the light eagerly upon the spot where Venn had found
the box, and mauled the herbage right and left. In the course of a few
minutes one of the dice was found. They searched on for some time, but
no other was to be seen.

“Never mind,” said Wildeve; “let’s play with one.”

“Agreed,” said Venn.

Down they sat again, and recommenced with single guinea stakes; and the
play went on smartly. But Fortune had unmistakably fallen in love
with the reddleman tonight. He won steadily, till he was the owner of
fourteen more of the gold pieces. Seventy-nine of the hundred guineas
were his, Wildeve possessing only twenty-one. The aspect of the two
opponents was now singular. Apart from motions, a complete diorama
of the fluctuations of the game went on in their eyes. A diminutive
candle-flame was mirrored in each pupil, and it would have been possible
to distinguish therein between the moods of hope and the moods of
abandonment, even as regards the reddleman, though his facial muscles
betrayed nothing at all. Wildeve played on with the recklessness of
despair.

“What’s that?” he suddenly exclaimed, hearing a rustle; and they both
looked up.

They were surrounded by dusky forms between four and five feet high,
standing a few paces beyond the rays of the lantern. A moment’s
inspection revealed that the encircling figures were heath-croppers,
their heads being all towards the players, at whom they gazed intently.

“Hoosh!” said Wildeve, and the whole forty or fifty animals at once
turned and galloped away. Play was again resumed.

Ten minutes passed away. Then a large death’s head moth advanced from
the obscure outer air, wheeled twice round the lantern, flew straight
at the candle, and extinguished it by the force of the blow. Wildeve had
just thrown, but had not lifted the box to see what he had cast; and now
it was impossible.

“What the infernal!” he shrieked. “Now, what shall we do? Perhaps I have
thrown six–have you any matches?”

“None,” said Venn.

“Christian had some–I wonder where he is. Christian!”

But there was no reply to Wildeve’s shout, save a mournful whining
from the herons which were nesting lower down the vale. Both men looked
blankly round without rising. As their eyes grew accustomed to the
darkness they perceived faint greenish points of light among the
grass and fern. These lights dotted the hillside like stars of a low
magnitude.

“Ah–glowworms,” said Wildeve. “Wait a minute. We can continue the
game.”

Venn sat still, and his companion went hither and thither till he had
gathered thirteen glowworms–as many as he could find in a space of four
or five minutes–upon a fox-glove leaf which he pulled for the purpose.
The reddleman vented a low humorous laugh when he saw his adversary
return with these. “Determined to go on, then?” he said drily.

“I always am!” said Wildeve angrily. And shaking the glowworms from
the leaf he ranged them with a trembling hand in a circle on the stone,
leaving a space in the middle for the descent of the dice-box, over
which the thirteen tiny lamps threw a pale phosphoric shine. The game
was again renewed. It happened to be that season of the year at which
glowworms put forth their greatest brilliancy, and the light they
yielded was more than ample for the purpose, since it is possible on
such nights to read the handwriting of a letter by the light of two or
three.

The incongruity between the men’s deeds and their environment was great.
Amid the soft juicy vegetation of the hollow in which they sat, the
motionless and the uninhabited solitude, intruded the chink of guineas,
the rattle of dice, the exclamations of the reckless players.

Wildeve had lifted the box as soon as the lights were obtained, and the
solitary die proclaimed that the game was still against him.

“I won’t play any more–you’ve been tampering with the dice,” he
shouted.

“How–when they were your own?” said the reddleman.

“We’ll change the game: the lowest point shall win the stake–it may cut
off my ill luck. Do you refuse?”

“No–go on,” said Venn.

“O, there they are again–damn them!” cried Wildeve, looking up. The
heath-croppers had returned noiselessly, and were looking on with erect
heads just as before, their timid eyes fixed upon the scene, as if they
were wondering what mankind and candlelight could have to do in these
haunts at this untoward hour.

“What a plague those creatures are–staring at me so!” he said, and
flung a stone, which scattered them; when the game was continued as
before.

Wildeve had now ten guineas left; and each laid five. Wildeve threw
three points; Venn two, and raked in the coins. The other seized the
die, and clenched his teeth upon it in sheer rage, as if he would bite
it in pieces. “Never give in–here are my last five!” he cried, throwing
them down.

“Hang the glowworms–they are going out. Why don’t you burn, you little
fools? Stir them up with a thorn.”

He probed the glowworms with a bit of stick, and rolled them over, till
the bright side of their tails was upwards.

“There’s light enough. Throw on,” said Venn.

Wildeve brought down the box within the shining circle and looked
eagerly. He had thrown ace. “Well done!–I said it would turn, and it
has turned.” Venn said nothing; but his hand shook slightly.

He threw ace also.

“O!” said Wildeve. “Curse me!”

The die smacked the stone a second time. It was ace again. Venn looked
gloomy, threw–the die was seen to be lying in two pieces, the cleft
sides uppermost.

“I’ve thrown nothing at all,” he said.

“Serves me right–I split the die with my teeth. Here–take your money.
Blank is less than one.”

“I don’t wish it.”

“Take it, I say–you’ve won it!” And Wildeve threw the stakes against
the reddleman’s chest. Venn gathered them up, arose, and withdrew from
the hollow, Wildeve sitting stupefied.

When he had come to himself he also arose, and, with the extinguished
lantern in his hand, went towards the highroad. On reaching it he stood
still. The silence of night pervaded the whole heath except in one
direction; and that was towards Mistover. There he could hear the noise
of light wheels, and presently saw two carriagelamps descending the
hill. Wildeve screened himself under a bush and waited.

The vehicle came on and passed before him. It was a hired carriage,
and behind the coachman were two persons whom he knew well. There sat
Eustacia and Yeobright, the arm of the latter being round her waist.
They turned the sharp corner at the bottom towards the temporary home
which Clym had hired and furnished, about five miles to the eastward.

Wildeve forgot the loss of the money at the sight of his lost love,
whose preciousness in his eyes was increasing in geometrical progression
with each new incident that reminded him of their hopeless division.
Brimming with the subtilized misery that he was capable of feeling, he
followed the opposite way towards the inn.

About the same moment that Wildeve stepped into the highway Venn also
had reached it at a point a hundred yards further on; and he, hearing
the same wheels, likewise waited till the carriage should come up. When
he saw who sat therein he seemed to be disappointed. Reflecting a minute
or two, during which interval the carriage rolled on, he crossed the
road, and took a short cut through the furze and heath to a point where
the turnpike road bent round in ascending a hill. He was now again in
front of the carriage, which presently came up at a walking pace. Venn
stepped forward and showed himself.

Eustacia started when the lamp shone upon him, and Clym’s arm was
involuntarily withdrawn from her waist. He said, “What, Diggory? You are
having a lonely walk.”

“Yes–I beg your pardon for stopping you,” said Venn. “But I am
waiting about for Mrs. Wildeve: I have something to give her from Mrs.
Yeobright. Can you tell me if she’s gone home from the party yet?”

“No. But she will be leaving soon. You may possibly meet her at the
corner.”

Venn made a farewell obeisance, and walked back to his former position,
where the byroad from Mistover joined the highway. Here he remained
fixed for nearly half an hour, and then another pair of lights came down
the hill. It was the old-fashioned wheeled nondescript belonging to the
captain, and Thomasin sat in it alone, driven by Charley.

The reddleman came up as they slowly turned the corner. “I beg pardon
for stopping you, Mrs. Wildeve,” he said. “But I have something to
give you privately from Mrs. Yeobright.” He handed a small parcel; it
consisted of the hundred guineas he had just won, roughly twisted up in
a piece of paper.

Thomasin recovered from her surprise, and took the packet. “That’s all,
ma’am–I wish you good night,” he said, and vanished from her view.

Thus Venn, in his anxiety to rectify matters, had placed in Thomasin’s
hands not only the fifty guineas which rightly belonged to her, but also
the fifty intended for her cousin Clym. His mistake had been based upon
Wildeve’s words at the opening of the game, when he indignantly denied
that the guinea was not his own. It had not been comprehended by the
reddleman that at halfway through the performance the game was continued
with the money of another person; and it was an error which afterwards
helped to cause more misfortune than treble the loss in money value
could have done.

The night was now somewhat advanced; and Venn plunged deeper into the
heath, till he came to a ravine where his van was standing–a spot
not more than two hundred yards from the site of the gambling bout. He
entered this movable home of his, lit his lantern, and, before closing
his door for the night, stood reflecting on the circumstances of the
preceding hours. While he stood the dawn grew visible in the northeast
quarter of the heavens, which, the clouds having cleared off, was bright
with a soft sheen at this midsummer time, though it was only between one
and two o’clock. Venn, thoroughly weary, then shut his door and flung
himself down to sleep.

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