After a week, there’s still no sign of Bathsheba: then Mary-ann receives a letter from her saying she’ll be kept there by business another week. The oat harvest begins. One day the workers have stopped to rest when they see Cain running towards them. Mary-ann says she dropped her key this morning and it broke in two—an unlucky sign, so she hopes nothing is wrong.
As the seasons turn, the events of the novel take place along with the different kinds of tasks and labor of the farm. Once again, the farm hands rely on a kind of folk wisdom that mixes superstitious beliefs with more orthodox Christian ones..
Cain is in his Sunday clothes. He’s had an injured finger so has taken time off; Poorgrass remarks that it was a bad leg that let him read the Pilgrim’s Progress, while Coggan adds that his own father put his arm out of joint to court his future wife. Cain arrives, carrying bread and ham in one hand, and cries, nearly choking on his food, that he’s been in Bath for his finger and has seen the mistress with a soldier, arm in arm like a true courting couple. He coughs—a gnat has flown down his throat—and Coggan gives him some cider so he can continue the story, while the others berate him as he coughs and sneezes.
Among these men, it’s difficult for a story to ever get told without interruptions, delays, and digressions, as each small event reminds someone of something else. Cain’s arrival is meant as a humorous set piece—he may have serious, consequential news to report, but such drama and intensity are deflated and given a picaresque touch by Cain’s ridiculous behavior and almost slapstick plight.
His family has always been excitable, Cain says, and the others agree. Moon adds that Cain’s grandfather was quite clever. But Gabriel interrupts impatiently to ask Cain to continue. He thinks the soldier was Troy: he saw them sit on a park bench, and saw Bathsheba begin to cry. When they left, though, she looked white and happy. When Gabriel asks what else he saw, he begins to talk about the city life in Bath, and Moon and Coggan interrogate him, fascinated.
As is often the case, the locals understand and describe each other as part of a long, generational line, a web of family connections and histories. Gabriel, in turn, has little patience for such digressions—he has had his own trepidations about Bathsheba’s relationship with Troy.
On Gabriel’s prodding, Cain describes Bathsheba’s beautiful dress and hair. After lush descriptions of the houses, shops, and people of Bath, Cain finally concludes that he didn’t see Bathsheba again. Gabriel is exasperated, but asks if he can swear that Miss Everdene was in fact the woman he saw. Cain is wary of swearing that it’s “damn true” and, as Poorgrass sternly rebukes him for his language, begins to cry. Gabriel, shaking his head, turns back to work. When they’re alone, though, Coggan asks him why it matters whom she’s with, if it can’t be Gabriel: that’s what he tells himself, he replies.
Cain’s story concludes comically, as he insists on Gabriel’s patience even though he never has more to say about Bathsheba—though he’s ensured the group’s rapt attention as he talks about sophisticated city life. Although Coggan participates eagerly in the local gossip, he is also a good friend to Gabriel: he recognizes Gabriel’s feelings for Bathsheba and tries to cheer him up.