Summary and Analysis
While the marriage of Clym and Eustacia takes place, Mrs. Yeobright stays at home, miserable and unable to avoid thinking about it. When Wildeve calls to pick up something Thomasin was going to get from her aunt, though he doesn't know it is money (100 guineas), Mrs. Yeobright refuses to send the coins with him but decides it would be a good time to send them to Thomasin and Clym, both of whom are at Mistover. She trusts Christian Cantle with their delivery.
Christian falls in with a group going to a raffle at the Quiet Woman Inn and after, to his surprise winning it, walks with Wildeve toward Mistover Knap to deliver the money. On the way when they pause for a rest, Christian is so fascinated by a pair of dice, with which he won the raffle and which Wildeve then gave him, that he wants to gamble with the innkeeper. When Wildeve discovers that Christian is carrying money for Thomasin, the innkeeper decides to win it all, at first to get back at Mrs. Yeobright, but later to benefit himself personally. After he has won all the money from Christian, Wildeve discovers that half of it was intended for Clym.
Having watched the game from the shadows, Venn appears and challenges Wildeve to continue. The reddleman succeeds in winning back all the money from Wildeve, though they must finish the game with light from glowworms and only one die. Not realizing that half of the money is Clym's, Venn stops Thomasin on her way home from the wedding celebration and gives her the 100 guineas.
The raffle at the inn is an annual local event staged by a "packman" or peddler. Christian, the epitome of superstition among the heath folk, wins the "gown-piece," though as he says earlier no woman will have him. At first, he thinks the event is the devil's own work; but having won, Christian is fascinated by the power of the dice, so fascinated that he thinks he is lucky. He is then willing to forget his fears and gamble with Wildeve later on. As elsewhere, Christian is shown to be not different from the other heath dwellers but only an exaggerated version of them.
The scene of the desperate gambling with Wildeve, Christian, and then Venn is an appropriate and powerful symbol in the novel. Several descriptions make its symbolic use clear. Hardy says of Christian and Wildeve: "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." Later, Hardy says of Wildeve and Venn, using a rather commonplace analogy: "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." Great stress is placed on the flat stone; that it is meant to symbolize the world is obvious. They play at dice, but what game they play and exactly what the stakes are they only half know.
Hardy says of man's world in relation to the universe: "Amid the soft juicy vegetation of the hollow in which [Wildeve and Venn] sat, the motionless and the uninhabited solitude, intruded the chink of guineas, the rattle of dice, the exclamations of the reckless players." In short, the actions of men scarcely ruffle the surface of the great world around them. This idea is consonant with the several times Hardy shows Clym aware of his insignificance in the universe.
The symbolic scene is also packed with irony. Christian, who is trusted with the money in preference to Wildeve and who is literally fearful of his own shadow, is puffed up by his assumed prowess with the dice and loses all the money. Winning the money from Christian finally for selfish reasons, Wildeve then immediately loses it to Venn. And Venn, so careful of Thomasin's welfare and risking his own money to get what is hers back, unwittingly gives all the guineas to Thomasin and as a result causes trouble instead of preventing it. Irony piles up on irony in this novel, as is appropriate.
The symbolism of gambling and the many ironies that arise in the scene illustrate the theme of the novel, as its many other aspects do. Certainly this is true of the structure. The curve of expectation is still on the rise here, with the marriage and Clym's confidence and enthusiasm about his plans for a new career. But there is some contrary movement: Mrs. Yeobright's opposition to Eustacia; the mix-up with the guineas. The time is approaching when the curve will begin to descend.