Bathsheba muses that Boldwood is so kind to offer her everything she could want. Many women in her situation, indeed, would have jumped to accept such an offer: he is of sufficient standing, good character, respected and esteemed. But she doesn’t love him, and the novelty of her position as farmer has still not worn off. Nonetheless, she feels uneasy, realizing that she had started the game and should accept the consequences. Though she is impulsive, she also has a deliberative spirit, and now both are at odds.
Bathsheba recognizes that although she has independence and a self-sufficient status now, without a husband she is still, in this society, more precarious, not to mention outside social norms. Bathsheba’s independence battles with her pride, her moral sense, and also a romantic strain in her character.
The next day Bathsheba finds Gabriel grinding his sheers with Cainy Ball. She asks to speak with Gabriel alone. She asks him if people remarked on her private discussion with Boldwood yesterday: he says they did, but didn’t think it odd—they imagined the two would be soon married. Bathsheba scoffs at that idea: Gabriel looks incredulous, sad, but also relieved. Gabriel could give an opinion on what she’s done, he says, but she says she doesn’t want it. Bitterly, Gabriel turns back to his work. Bathsheba does, then, ask what he thinks. He responds that it’s unworthy of a woman as thoughtful and comely as she. She blushes scarlet, and he says while he’s been rude, he thinks it will do her good. She replies sarcastically, losing her temper, and breaking out that he probably thinks she’s unworthy in not marrying him. He’s long ago ceased thinking of that, he says quietly, and when she adds, ‘or wishing it,’ he agrees.
Although Bathsheba didn’t accept Gabriel’s offer of marriage, they share a history together and a longer relationship than any she has forged on the farm—she respects his character and considers him a friend and confidant. But this exchange underlines the awkward gap between the two: Bathsheba wants Gabriel’s advice and opinion, but she is still the mistress, while he is her employee, so she holds a certain power over him. At the same time, she likes to think that Gabriel still loves her, and her pride hurts to imagine that he no longer cares about her—even if she doesn’t want to marry him herself.
Gabriel adds that Bathsheba is to blame for playing pranks on a man like Boldwood. She cries that she won’t allow any man to criticize her private conduct, and she orders him to leave the farm at the end of the week. He acquiesces, taking his shears and leaving her, like Moses left the Pharaoh.
The disconnect between the social and economic positions of Bathsheba and Gabriel becomes tragically clear here, as Bathsheba is able to not only neglect his opinion but punish him for it.