"Gabriel lately, for the first time since his prostration by misfortune, had been independent in thought and vigorous in action to a marked extent. . . . But this incurable loitering beside Bathsheba Everdene stole his time ruinously."
On this first of June, Gabriel enjoyed the blossoming countryside and, in the ecclesiastical atmosphere suggested by the architecture of the huge and ancient barn, he participated in the ritual and pageantry of the centuries-old rite of sheep-shearing. Each man played his greater or lesser role in the service. In the background, women gathered the shorn fleeces. Bathsheba made sure that the men would shear closely yet give no wounds. Carelessness was reprimanded.
While Bathsheba watched, chattering constantly, Gabriel sheared a sheep in a surprisingly short time — twenty-three and one-half minutes. Cainy brought the tar pot. The initials B. E. were stamped on the newly shorn skin, and the panting animal leaped away, joining "the shirtless flock outside."
Unexpectedly, Boldwood appeared and talked to Bathsheba as Gabriel continued shearing. The girl left, reappearing in her new riding habit. Distracted, Gabriel cut a sheep. Bathsheba reproved him. Superficially unmoved, Gabriel medicated the wound. The other two went off to view Boldwood's Leicesters.
"That means matrimony," predicted one woman, beginning the gossip. Henery, still resentful that he had not been appointed bailiff, was most talkative. Gabriel brooded. All the others looked forward to the feasting which would crown the ritual of the shearing.
Still another fine description of Wessex life is drawn here. The animation and motion are absorbing as we follow the careful work of the shearers.
Gabriel's tension rises when Boldwood appears. "Gabriel at this time of his life had outgrown the instinctive dislike which every Christian boy has for reading the Bible, perusing it now quite frequently, and he inwardly said, 'I find more bitter than death the woman whose heart is snares and nets!' This was mere exclamation — the froth of the storm. He adored Bathsheba just the same." Note that this quotation follows the indirect reference in the preceding chapter to a man's using distraction by a woman as an alibi for not making progress in his profession.