“Since you have come so far,” said Eustacia, “will you see me safely past that hut? I thought I should have met Clym somewhere about here, but as he doesn’t appear I will hasten on and get to Blooms-End before he leaves.”
They advanced to the turf-shed, and when they got near it the firelight and the lantern inside showed distinctly enough the form of a woman reclining on a bed of fern, a group of heath men and women standing around her. Eustacia did not recognize Mrs. Yeobright in the reclining figure, nor Clym as one of the standers-by till she came close. Then she quickly pressed her hand upon Wildeve’s arm and signified to him to come back from the open side of the shed into the shadow.
“It is my husband and his mother,” she whispered in an agitated voice. “What can it mean? Will you step forward and tell me?”
Wildeve left her side and went to the back wall of the hut. Presently Eustacia perceived that he was beckoning to her, and she advanced and joined him.
“It is a serious case,” said Wildeve.
From their position they could hear what was proceeding inside.
“I cannot think where she could have been going,” said Clym to some one. “She had evidently walked a long way, but even when she was able to speak just now she would not tell me where. What do you really think of her?”
“There is a great deal to fear,” was gravely answered, in a voice which Eustacia recognized as that of the only surgeon in the district. “She has suffered somewhat from the bite of the adder; but it is exhaustion which has overpowered her. My impression is that her walk must have been exceptionally long.”
“I used to tell her not to overwalk herself this weather,” said Clym, with distress. “Do you think we did well in using the adder’s fat?”
“Well, it is a very ancient remedy—the old remedy of the viper-catchers, I believe,” replied the doctor. “It is mentioned as an infallible ointment by Hoffman, Mead, and I think the Abbe Fontana. Undoubtedly it was as good a thing as you could do; though I question if some other oils would not have been equally efficacious.”
“Come here, come here!” was then rapidly said in anxious female tones; and Clym and the doctor could be heard rushing forward from the back part of the shed to where Mrs. Yeobright lay.
“Oh, what is it?” whispered Eustacia.
“’Twas Thomasin who spoke,” said Wildeve. “Then they have fetched her. I wonder if I had better go in—yet it might do harm.”
For a long time there was utter silence among the group within; and it was broken at last by Clym saying, in an agonized voice, “O Doctor, what does it mean?”
The doctor did not reply at once; ultimately he said, “She is sinking fast. Her heart was previously affected, and physical exhaustion has dealt the finishing blow.”
Then there was a weeping of women, then waiting, then hushed exclamations, then a strange gasping sound, then a painful stillness.