After changing, Bathsheba enters the kitchen, where the men have gathered, and pours out some coins on the table. Bathsheba begins by announcing that she’s resolved to manage everything herself rather than hire a new bailiff—this is met with amazement. Then she asks if anyone’s found Fanny: no one has, but Billy isn’t yet back from Casterbridge.
Bathsheba is beginning her new role as mistress of the farm in earnest, but her insistence that she’s able to manage everything herself is juxtaposed with the skepticism of the men, who find it difficult to imagine that a woman can be in a position of authority.
Bathsheba calls for Joseph Poorgrass and asks what he does on the farm and what he earns for it. Then she gives him his earnings, plus ten shillings as she’s a newcomer. But she blushes at her own generosity, and Henery Fray lifts his eyebrows. Next is Matthew Moon, and then Andrew Candle (a new man), who stutters, so Henery reports his earnings. Laban Tall approaches next, and his wife steps up as well: she’s forty but claims to be and passes for younger, and is shrill and stern: she speaks for her husband.
One by one, Bathsheba officially meets each one of her hands, and continues to play the role of the confident, cool authority figure. Nonetheless, there are a few moments of uncertainty, as when Bathsheba isn’t quite sure how generous she should be. The relationship between Laban and Susan Tall is an example of a different kind of gendered relationship.
Henery Fray says the shepherd will need someone under him: Cain Ball is a good pick. Bathsheba asks how he came by his name; Henery says his mother, not one to read Scripture, mixed up Cain and Abel at his christening and didn’t find out until too late. They soften the name, though, by calling him Cainy. The poor woman cried and cried: she was raised by heathen parents, so it wasn’t her fault.
Hardy relies upon his readers to know the Genesis story of Cain and Abel: Cain murdered his brother Abel, though Cainy Ball’s mother thought it was Cain who was the holy, chosen victim. The villagers are vaguely familiar with the Bible, but the book plays down its sacred solemnity.
Bathsheba asks Gabriel if he understands his duties: Gabriel does, but is stunned by her coolness—he wonders if her social rise has changed her character. The same happened, the narrator said, with Jove’s family when they moved into the peak of Olympus.
Class differences have perhaps driven a wedge between the pair. Meanwhile, the narrator again elevates Gabriel to mythic proportions, but again this is perhaps tongue-in-cheek.
Billy Smallbury arrives, and says Fanny has run away with the soldiers. Her young man’s regiment has left for Melchester. He only found out that the soldier was higher than a private. Bathsheba says someone should tell Mr. Boldwood. As she rises, she makes a short speech saying that though she’s a woman, she’ll do her best, and no one should suppose that she can’t tell the difference between good and bad affairs. She’ll be awake and at work before anyone, and will astonish them all. They all acquiesce heartily.
The first part of this scene, with the sobering news about Fanny, only creates a greater contrast with Bathsheba’s own confident, authoritative demeanor. Although some of the farm hands have expressed doubt about her ability to manage a farm on her own, as a woman, they seem—at least in her presence—to acknowledge her authority now.