Summary and Analysis
Autumn passed and winter came. "Bathsheba, having previously been living in a state of suspended feeling which was not suspense, now lived in a mood of quietude which was not precisely peacefulness." She kept the farm going, however, finally appointing Oak bailiff, a role he had, in fact, been filling anyway. Boldwood lost his crops through neglect; even the pigs rejected his rotted corn. He suggested that Gabriel administer his farm, as well as Bathsheba's, and Bathsheba languidly assented to this plan. "Gabriel's malignant star was assuredly setting fast."
Oak could now be seen "mounted on a strong cob, and daily trotting the length and breadth of about two thousand acres in a cheerful spirit of surveillance . . . the actual mistress of the one half, and the master of the other, sitting in their respective homes in gloomy and sad seclusion." This led to talk that Oak was "feathering his nest fast." Actually, Bathsheba paid him a fixed wage, but Boldwood gave him a share of the profits. Gossips considered Oak miserly because he continued to live exactly as he had in the past.
Boldwood's devotion to Bathsheba was becoming a madness. Bathsheba's mourning — she had been prevailed upon to wear it — let him hope that there would be a time, however far off, when his waiting would be rewarded. Shortly, Bathsheba paid a two-month visit to an old aunt in Corcombe, and on her return, Boldwood questioned Liddy as to his prospects. She told him that Bathsheba had once spoken of the seven-year period before the legal declaration of Troy's death.
"Poor Boldwood had no more skill in finesse than a battering-ram, and he was uneasy with a sense of having made himself to appear stupid. . . . But he had, after all, lighted upon one fact by way of repayment. . . . though not without its sadness it was pertinent and real. In little more than six years from this time Bathsheba might certainly marry him." Meanwhile, late summer was approaching, bringing on the week of the Greenhill Fair.
This transitional chapter serves to show a change in Bathsheba, the reward for Gabriel, and the birth of new hope for Boldwood. Hardy alludes to the biblical story of Jacob serving for Rachel and the importance of the sacred number seven. He was obviously very familiar with the Bible, and his works are liberally sprinkled with such references.
Note that the time has advanced from late autumn to the next summer.