Finally Boldwood does call on Bathsheba, but she isn’t at home—he’s forgotten that she is mistress of an estate. Indeed, he has idealized her. But by now the wild extremes of his love have settled into a persistent, manageable feeling. He goes to see her at the sheepwashing pool, where Gabriel, Coggan, Moon, Poorgrass and Cain Ball are assembled. Bathsheba stands by them in a new riding habit, while the men push the sheep into the pool.
Like Gabriel, Boldwood is wont to idealize Bathsheba—which means, here, “forgetting” about her non-traditional authority position. At the sheepwashing, nonetheless, Bathsheba reigns naturally over a number of men, who seem to accept her authority over them.
Boldwood comes up and says hello to Bathsheba, who finds him severe and serious, and tries to withdraw. Boldwood, though, pursues her. Simply and solemnly, he says he’s come to make her an offer of marriage. Bathsheba tries to stay entirely neutral, as he says he was a confirmed bachelor, but has changed upon seeing her. She stammers that while she respects him, but cannot imagine accepting his offer. Now abandoning his solemn dignity, Boldwood exclaims in a low voice that he loves her and wants her as his wife, even if he lacks the gracefulness to flatter her. He wouldn’t have spoken if he hadn’t been led to hope—and she realizes that it’s the valentine.
Bathsheba had been satisfied with Boldwood merely noticing her—she didn’t expect, and didn’t really consider the possibility, that such attention wouldn’t stop there. Now Bathsheba faces her second offer of marriage, and second vow of love. She initially admired Boldwood’s dignity, but has now been the cause of his loss of dignity, as he stoops to begging her to marry him. Bathsheba recognizes that this is all in many ways the fault of her own vanity.
Bathsheba stammers that she never should have sent the valentine, as it was thoughtless. Boldwood exclaims that it was not thoughtlessness, but rather the beginnings of her feelings for him. Bathsheba says she hasn’t fallen in love with him. Boldwood continues to try to convince her, listing all she’ll have as his wife. Feeling great sympathy for this man’s simplicity, she protests and asks him to let the matter rest. Finally, she agrees to think for awhile, and asks him to let her be while she does so.
While Bathsheba tries to clarify her actual reasons for sending the valentine, Boldwood cannot imagine that anyone could be so thoughtless, especially because his character is so unlike that. Bathsheba is not cold or unfeeling—she does feel sympathy and pity—and those feelings prompt her to agree to consider the proposal despite her lack of love for the man.