Summary and Analysis
After a week, Bathsheba had not returned. Maryann received a note that her mistress was detained. Another week elapsed, and the oat harvest began. As the men worked in the fields they saw a runner. Maryann, who was helping bind sheaves, had an uncomfortable premonition, for she had dropped the door key that morning and it had broken.
The runner proved to be Cainy Ball, on holiday because he had an inflammation on his finger and could not work. The men commented on the advantages of an occasional indisposition that afforded time to get other things done, things more to one's liking. Cainy, choking and coughing, exasperated everyone because he was unable to catch his breath sufficiently to deliver his message. They pounded him and gave him cider to drink. Finally, in spasms, he told of having been to Bath, where he had seen Bathsheba with a soldier. "And I think the sojer was Sergeant Troy. And they sat there together for more than half-an-hour, talking moving things, and she once was crying a'most to death. And when they came out her eyes were shining and she was as white as a lily; and they looked into one another's faces, as far gone friendly as a man and woman can be."
Gabriel, deeply affected, tried to question Cainy further, but the boy had nothing more to tell about Bathsheba, and wanted to talk only about the wonders of Bath. Coggan privately advised Oak, "Don't take on about her, Gabriel. What difference does it make whose sweetheart she is, since she can't be yours?"
"'That's the very thing I say to myself,' said Gabriel."
Realistically, Cainy blurts out the narrative between coughs and sneezes. In his discomfort and obtuseness, he arouses the curiosity of the listeners even more. After a long-winded recital of trivia about the town of Bath, he can offer no further morsel of excitement to climax his tale. The account is not without caricature and humor.