At this Eustacia said, with slumbering mischievousness, "What, would you exchange with him — your fortune for me?"
"I certainly would," said Wildeve.
"As we are imagining what is impossible and absurd, suppose we change the subject?"
"Very well; and I will tell you of my plans for the future, if you care to hear them. I shall permanently invest nine thousand pounds, keep one thousand as ready money, and with the remaining thousand travel for a year or so."
"Travel? What a bright idea! Where will you go to?"
"From here to Paris, where I shall pass the winter and spring. Then I shall go to Italy, Greece, Egypt, and Palestine, before the hot weather comes on. In the summer I shall go to America; and then, by a plan not yet settled, I shall go to Australia and round to India. By that time I shall have begun to have had enough of it. Then I shall probably come back to Paris again, and there I shall stay as long as I can afford to."
"Back to Paris again," she murmured in a voice that was nearly a sigh. She had never once told Wildeve of the Parisian desires which Clym's description had sown in her; yet here was he involuntarily in a position to gratify them. "You think a good deal of Paris?" she added.
"Yes. In my opinion it is the central beauty-spot of the world."
"And in mine! And Thomasin will go with you?"
"Yes, if she cares to. She may prefer to stay at home."
"So you will be going about, and I shall be staying here!"
"I suppose you will. But we know whose fault that is."
"I am not blaming you," she said quickly.
"Oh, I thought you were. If ever you SHOULD be inclined to blame me, think of a certain evening by Rainbarrow, when you promised to meet me and did not. You sent me a letter; and my heart ached to read that as I hope yours never will. That was one point of divergence. I then did something in haste....But she is a good woman, and I will say no more."
"I know that the blame was on my side that time," said Eustacia. "But it had not always been so. However, it is my misfortune to be too sudden in feeling. O, Damon, don't reproach me any more — I can't bear that."
They went on silently for a distance of two or three miles, when Eustacia said suddenly, "Haven't you come out of your way, Mr. Wildeve?"
"My way is anywhere tonight. I will go with you as far as the hill on which we can see Blooms-End, as it is getting late for you to be alone."
"Don't trouble. I am not obliged to be out at all. I think I would rather you did not accompany me further. This sort of thing would have an odd look if known."
"Very well, I will leave you." He took her hand unexpectedly, and kissed it — for the first time since her marriage. "What light is that on the hill?" he added, as it were to hide the caress.
She looked, and saw a flickering firelight proceeding from the open side of a hovel a little way before them. The hovel, which she had hitherto always found empty, seemed to be inhabited now.
"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 up on 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 someone. "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.
"It is all over," said the doctor.
Further back in the hut the cotters whispered, "Mrs. Yeobright is dead."
Almost at the same moment the two watchers observed the form of a small old-fashioned child entering at the open side of the shed. Susan Nunsuch, whose boy it was, went forward to the opening and silently beckoned to him to go back.
"I've got something to tell 'ee, Mother," he cried in a shrill tone. "That woman asleep there walked along with me today; and she said I was to say that I had seed her, and she was a broken-hearted woman and cast off by her son, and then I came on home."
A confused sob as from a man was heard within, upon which Eustacia gasped faintly, "That's Clym — I must go to him — yet dare I do it? No — come away!"
When they had withdrawn from the neighbourhood of the shed she said huskily, "I am to blame for this. There is evil in store for me."
"Was she not admitted to your house after all?" Wildeve inquired.
"No, and that's where it all lies! Oh, what shall I do! I shall not intrude upon them — I shall go straight home. Damon, good-bye! I cannot speak to you any more now."
They parted company; and when Eustacia had reached the next hill she looked back. A melancholy procession was wending its way by the light of the lantern from the hut towards Blooms-End. Wildeve was nowhere to be seen.