"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."
"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.