Summary and Analysis
After a few hours of sleep, the maltster made himself a breakfast of bread and bacon which "was eaten on the plateless system" and flavored with a "mustard plaster." Although he was toothless, his hardened gums functioned efficiently.
Warren's Malthouse served as a sort of clubhouse, an alternative to the inn. Henery appeared, followed by several carters, and expressed the opinion that Bathsheba would not manage the farm successfully. All viewed the prospect of her management negatively. They also disapproved of Bathsheba's new piano and other new furnishings. Henery longed to be bailiff. He felt God had cheated him. A religious discussion followed.
Oak arrived with some newborn lambs to be warmed, for the fields here had no shepherd's hut. When he heard that the men had been discussing Bathsheba, he grew angry and threatened anyone maligning the mistress. The men sought to appease him, flattering him a bit and changing the subject. Joseph now became the victim of taunts directed at his lesser farming skills. Oak admitted that he, too, wished to be bailiff.
Soon Boldwood appeared with Gabriel's letter. It was from Fanny Robin, thanking Gabriel for his help and returning his shilling. She asked again for secrecy and explained that she would be marrying Sergeant Troy. Gabriel showed Boldwood the letter, for he knew that the farmer had been kind to Fanny. Boldwood was doubtful of her marriage plans, for he knew Troy to be unreliable.
Little Cainy broke in, coughing from running, with the news that there were more twin lambs. Gabriel branded the revived ones with Bathsheba's initials. As he left, Boldwood asked Gabriel to identify the handwriting of the mystery valentine. Learning it was Bathsheba's, Boldwood was troubled.
In this chapter we see further evidence of Gabriel's steadfastness and loyalty and his unhurried manner of doing what needs to be done. We meet the gossipmongers again. Another link is added to the Fanny Robin matter. Boldwood fears for Fanny and also broods about the reason for Bathsheba's sending the valentine.
Bill Smallbury's remark, "Your lot is your lot, and the Scripture is nothing; for if you do good you don't get rewarded according to your works, but he cheated in some mean way out of your recompense," is a passing comment on what later became one of Hardy's main themes, the indifference of God to man.