Summary and Analysis
After a short wait, Bathsheba granted the men an audience. They had settled on benches at the foot of the hall. Bathsheba opened the time book and the canvas moneybag. Liddy sat beside her "with the air of a privileged person."
Bathsheba announced her dismissal of the bailiff and her intention to manage the farm herself. "The men breathed an audible breath of amazement." Then she called the roster, asking each employee about himself. The men were awkward; some joked, and each seized the opportunity to draw the attention of the crowd for a moment. Young Cainy Ball was made undershepherd to Gabriel, who spoke to Bathsheba with confidence.
Bathsheba asked for news of Fanny and learned that Boldwood had had the pond dragged, but to no avail. Then Smallbury arrived from Casterbridge, stamping snow from his boots. The soldiers had left the town, and Fanny with them; rumor had it that her friend "was higher in rank than a private." Bathsheba suggested that someone inform Boldwood.
Before dismissing the help, Bathsheba promised, "if you serve me well, so shall I serve you." She would arise early and be watching. "In short, I shall astonish you all."
Critics consider this chapter representative of Hardy's work in its character delineation and its humor: Bathsheba is mistress of the situation; Gabriel loses none of his stature, although he is properly humble; Liddy is comical with the sense of her own importance; and the idiosyncratic characteristics of the staff members are developed further. The story has received a push forward.