Weatherbury is silent at night, and the farm is occupied only by Mary-ann. After eleven she awakens with an uneasy feeling, and looks out the window to see, in the paddock, a moving figure seize a horse and lead it out. She thinks it must be a gypsy man, and she rushes to Coggan’s, the nearest house. He calls Gabriel, and they find the horse gone. Then they hear a trotting horse over Weatherbury Hill. Gabriel decides to pursue it, but Coggan says their horses will be too loud—Boldwood’s would be better.
As the narration moves back to Bathsheba’s Weatherbury farm, another kind of conflict seems to arise, as a shadowy figure enters and seizes one of the horses. While Gabriel may well feel resentful regarding Boldwood, who’s also been competing for Bathsheba’s affections, he recognizes that cooperation is the best way to resolve conflict in this environment.
Gabriel runs down to Boldwood’s and returns with two horses. He and Coggan ride to the hill, but the gypsies that had camped there are gone. They continue straight, then decide to try to track the horses. They see a set of tracks that suggest a gallop; after riding awhile, they see another set suggesting a canter; then finally another at a trot, and a final implying that the horse, Dainty, is lame.
In the world of the novel, gypsies are located outside the known, familiar figures of the village, and are as threatening as a violent thunderstorm or crop blight. Gabriel and Coggan, though, are savvy enough to seek out the source of the conflict, in the interest of defending the farm.
Coggan and Gabriel race to the toll gate, and, seeing Dainty and its driver approach, ask the gatekeeper to keep the gate closed, as the driver has stolen their horse. But the keeper’s lantern casts a light over the driver—it’s Bathsheba. She’s driving to Bath, she says: she had to leave at once. Gabriel says they thought the horse was stolen, and she says that was foolish—she couldn’t wake Mary-ann or get into the house, so she simply took the coach-house key and left. She thanks them for the trouble, but says she’s gotten a stone out from Dainty’s shoe and can manage quite well from now on. After Bathsheba leaves, Coggan and Gabriel decide to keep this story quiet.
The potential conflict that Gabriel and Coggan hoped to resolve proves to be another kind of affair entirely, though one that’s no less secretive and mysterious. Bathsheba maintains her cool and her position of authority as she scoffs at the idea that the horse would have been stolen. Still, Gabriel and Coggan’s decision not to say anything reflects their understanding that Bathsheba has more to hide than she’d like to admit.
Bathsheba had decided she could either keep Troy away from Weatherbury, or give up Troy entirely. She dreamed a bit about the happy life she’d have had if Boldwood had been Troy. Then she’d decided to go see Troy himself, asking him to help her in her resolve (not thinking that seeing her lover might not help her make this choice). She’d wanted to prevent anyone from knowing she’d gone to Bath at all—a plan which clearly hadn’t worked.
Bathsheba’s decision turns out to be the result of her meditation following the encounter with Boldwood. Bathsheba indulges a little in dreams, but her rational side returns, though only to the extent of proposing a resolution to the conflict that, the narrator suggests, is not exactly foolproof.