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.”
“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.
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.