One night at the end of August, Gabriel stands in the farm stackyard, looking at the ominous sky, with its metallic moon and thick clouds. Thunder is close by: it’ll most likely be followed by a heavy rain, marking the end of dry season. Gabriel looks at the unprotected ricks holding six month’s produce. Tonight is the harvest-supper and dance: as Gabriel approaches the barn, he sees extravagant decorations and fiddlers playing. One suggests they play next ‘The Soldier’s Joy,’ and all roar in approval, especially Troy.
Gabriel is well acquainted with the natural environment and, thanks in part to his constant reading of the stars, understands how to interpret certain natural events. Here, he reads the signs that seem to foretell a violent storm and rain; he knows that the produce, representing both a great deal of time and a financial investment, is at risk.
Gabriel sends a message to Troy asking him to speak with him: Troy refuses, so Gabriel asks the messenger to tell him a heavy rain will fall soon, and they should cover the ricks. The messenger returns to say that it won’t rain and he shouldn’t be bothered any more.
Unlike Gabriel, Troy has little respect for natural forces outside his control—his solution to potential conflicts, natural and otherwise, is to pretend they don’t exist.
Ill at ease, Gabriel leaves: he pauses at the door to hear Troy announce that it’s also their wedding feast, so he’s brought brandy for all the men. Bathsheba asks him not to give them more alcohol: one farmhand agrees that they’ve had enough. Troy scoffs, then says he’ll send the women home: if the men aren’t strong enough to drink, they’ll have to work elsewhere.
Troy pays little attention to the way things are usually done on the farm. He fails to respect Bathsheba’s authority, and he replaces it with his own iron hand, though in the service not of productivity or hard work but of his own sense of pleasure.
Bathsheba leaves indignantly, followed by the women and children. Gabriel stays long enough to be polite, then slips out too. He sees a large toad in the path—a message from Mother Nature. A garden slug comes inside his house, followed by black spiders; he goes outside and sees, over the hedge, the sheep crowded close together in a corner. He is even more certain now that he’s right: the thunderstorm, then heavy rain, is a dangerous mixture.
Bathsheba doesn’t directly challenge Troy’s authority as her husband and, now, master of the farm, though she clearly isn’t happy about it. Meanwhile, Gabriel continues to pay close attention to the signs coming from nature that portend violence, and that can only be mitigated rather than prevented.
Gabriel vows to save the produce, though behind this act is another motivation: wanting to help the woman he has so loved. He returns to the barn to get help, but the laborers are all in a drunken stupor, the glasses and cups littering the table. Troy had insisted that they continue to drink through the night. Depressed, Gabriel slips back out and goes to Susan Tall’s house to get the granary key; then he returns and drags four large water-proof coverings across the yard. He continues to the wheat stacks and barley.
As he’s done earlier, Gabriel decides to commit himself to the farm, explicitly in the interest of the economic investments involved, but also always because of his loyalty to Bathsheba, even if his pride prevents him from sharing with her the fact that he continues to love her. This loyalty is juxtaposed with Troy’s thoughtlessness.