Boldwood owns Lower Farm, as close to aristocracy as possible here in Weatherbury, and the one place where it’s possible to see good society. His house is a step back from the road, and Boldwood is pacing in his stables, meditating. While Gabriel has the mediocrity of inadequacy, the narrator says, Boldwood has the mediocrity of counterpoise, that is, his calm stems from being in perfect balance between antagonistic forces. Now that he’s thrown off, he’s subject to extremes, though Bathsheba would never be able to imagine such intensity coming from him.
The narrator compares Bathsheba’s first two suitors to each other, unafraid to portray them frankly in all their faults. Both men are rather average—indeed, the beginning of the book had chronicled Gabriel’s “mediocrity” at length. While a tragedy changed Gabriel, what begins to alter Boldwood’s character is an event prompted by Bathsheba herself.
Boldwood comes to the stable door and looks towards Bathsheba’s farm, seeing her, Gabriel, and Cainy Ball. Seeing Bathsheba lights him up, and he resolves to go speak to her. As he approaches, Bathsheba looks up from the lambs that they are treating, and Gabriel too turns to look at him. Gabriel immediately suspects Bathsheba of some kind of flirtation. Suddenly uncertain, Boldwood realizes he has no way of judging a woman’s behavior, and decides to continue on down the road as if he hadn’t meant to join them. Bathsheba, meanwhile, recognizes that it’s because of her that he’s come, and is troubled that although she hasn’t been scheming for marriage, her actions have indeed been those of a flirt.
Boldwood is in some ways on an equal footing with Bathsheba, as both of them manage neighboring farms. Here, though, Boldwood doesn’t feel able to meet Bathsheba as an equal, given his uncertainty regarding love and courtship. Bathsheba, meanwhile, begins to better understand the full implications of her careless action, especially since she knows she prefers her independence and doesn’t want to get married at all.