Summary and Analysis
Bathsheba was in the habit of inspecting the homestead before retiring. Almost always, Gabriel preceded her on this tour, "watching her affairs as carefully as any specially appointed officer of surveillance could have done; but this tender devotion was to a great extent unknown to his mistress, and as much as was known was somewhat thanklessly received. Women are never tired of bewailing man's fickleness in love, but they only seem to snub his constancy."
Bathsheba carried a dark lantern, lighting it to peer in corners. She heard the contented munching of animals as she made her return through a pitch-dark fir plantation. Suddenly she heard footsteps and almost immediately stumbled, for her skirt was caught. Recovering her balance, she was aware of the figure of a man seeking to pass her. He asked her to turn on her lantern. The light revealed a scarlet military jacket and also the fact that the soldier's spur had caught the braid trimming of Bathsheba's skirt. His attempts to free her were not very earnest, and finally Bathsheba herself completed the disentanglement.
Gallantly, the handsome soldier, who identified himself as Sergeant Troy, thanked her for the opportunity of seeing how lovely she was. His lavish compliments included the remark, "I wish it had been the knot of knots, which there's no untying!" Flattered and confused, Bathsheba ran to the house, where Liddy told her something of Troy's reputation as a dandy. Bathsheba now regretted having been rude when Troy had probably meant only to be kind. Boldwood suffered by comparison with the sergeant: "It was a fatal omission of Boldwood's that he had never once told her she was beautiful."
Hardy has complicated the design in his pastoral tapestry once again. Bathsheba appears to have won a new admirer. In addition to the faithful, stable Gabriel, who has been dismissed as not good enough for her, and the enamored, troubled Boldwood, a man of property who is still under consideration although Bathsheba does not love him, is the charming Sergeant Troy, who has literally — and perhaps symbolically — snared her.