Summary and Analysis
Late August brought storm threats, and Oak worried for the eight exposed hayricks. Troy had designated the evening for the harvest supper and as Gabriel approached the barn, he heard music. The place was decorated with garlands, and fiddlers played for the dancing. The musicians asked Bathsheba to choose a tune. When she said it made no difference, they suggested "The Soldier's joy." Flattered, Troy led the dance with her. He announced that he had left the army but would remain a soldier in spirit.
Gabriel tried to warn Troy about the hay, but Troy brushed him aside, saying there would be no rain. Besides, this was the wedding feast. Everyone would be served an extra-strong drink, he said. Bathsheba protested that the men had had enough. Troy overruled her and dismissed the women. Furiously, Bathsheba left.
For politeness's sake, Oak stayed a while. As he left, Troy cursed him for refusing a second round of grog. On the way home, Oak accidentally "kicked something which felt and sounded soft, leathery, and distended, like a boxing-glove." It was a toad. "Finding it uninjured, he placed it again among the grass." He knew this to be a warning of foul weather. Indoors, he found another warning: A garden slug had taken refuge in his home. He sat and thought for a while, finally deciding to rely on the instincts of the sheep. He found them "crowded close together. . . . all grouped in such a way that their tails, without a single exception, were toward that half of the horizon from which the storm threatened."
Gabriel, now certain there would be a storm, mentally calculated the potential loss of five wheat ricks and three of barley to be seven hundred and fifty pounds. Returning to the barn to get help to save Bathsheba such a great loss, he saw a peculiar spectacle. The entire male assemblage was sprawled grotesquely in every imaginable position. The central figure was the scarlet-coated sergeant.
Oak realized he would have to work alone. He fetched the key to the granary from Tall's house; rushing back, he found sailcloth and tools. He covered all but two wheat ricks with the cloth, then thatched the barley.
Hardy's depiction of the portents of the approaching storm is yet another example of his closeness to nature.
The contrasting pictures of the men before and after the revel are like a pair of companion canvases. Hardy uses his favorite motif of a red-clothed figure at the apex of the composition. In turn, these word paintings contrast with that of the struggling, solitary figure of Oak.
Gabriel cannot be thought of as merely thrifty and practical: "Such was the argument that Oak set outwardly before him. But man, even to himself is a palimpsest, having an ostensible writing, and another beneath the lines. It is possible that there was this golden legend under the utilitarian one: 'I will help to my last effort the woman I have loved so dearly."'