Lightning begins to strike. Gabriel sees a light in Bathsheba’s bedroom, and then more flashes, illuminating the fields. Gabriel wearily wipes his brow and carries a tethering chain up the ladder, as a lightning rod. In another flash, the figure of Bathsheba is illuminated beneath him. He’s thatching on the rick, he calls down to her. She cries that the stacks are all neglected despite her husband’s promise: she asks what she can do, and resolutely begins to follow Gabriel’s orders.
As the storm rolls over the countryside, Gabriel prepares himself for a long, exhausting night, one that he recognizes may not be met with any grateful thanks. But then Bathsheba—who has been thoughtless herself before—arrives, seemingly inspired to act against her husband’s carelessness and do her part in saving the farm’s produce.
As Bathsheba fetches reed sheaves for Gabriel, they hear the first “Stygian” thunder following the heavenly light. She clutches Gabriel’s sleeve in fear. After a few minutes, the lightning and thunder continue, and Gabriel marvels at the terrible beauty, and at the feeling of Bathsheba’s trembling arm.
The storm is described as straddling heaven and hell; “Stygian” thunder refers to the river Styx of the underworld in classical mythology: the drama of this allusion is equaled, for Gabriel, by Bathsheba’s touch.
Then, though, lightning slices the tall tree on the hill down its length in a loud crack: Gabriel tells Bathsheba they narrowly escaped, and she should go down. After a silence, they say that the storm seems to have passed. Gabriel marvels that no rain has yet fallen: now he’ll go up again to continue thatching.
Chance and circumstance alone save Gabriel and Bathsheba from being struck themselves: having suffered from cold natural laws himself, Gabriel recognizes the need to respect such contingencies.
Bathsheba continues to help, as they’ve checked the barn and the others are still in a stupor. Bathsheba says tentatively that Gabriel must think she galloped away to Bath that night to get married. She wants to explain that she went fully intending to break off her courtship with Troy: owing to circumstances there they got married. She hopes for his better opinion now. She was alone in a strange city, and immediately began to fear scandal. Then Troy said he’d seen a more beautiful woman than herself that day, and couldn’t be constant if they didn’t get married: between jealousy and distraction, she whispers, she did.
As Bathsheba helps Gabriel, she also reveals herself to be still in search of Gabriel’s good opinion and respect—even if her pride prevents her from acknowledging how much she cares about his feelings for her in any less vague way. Still, her frankness and honesty show that she’s lost some of her insistence on pride, since she reveals to Gabriel the real, not quite romantic reason for her marriage to Troy.
Gabriel doesn’t reply, and Bathsheba quickly adds that Troy wasn’t to blame. She doesn’t want him to say anything more about it, and continues with the sheaves. Gently, Gabriel tells her to go to sleep: he can finish this alone. She thanks him gratefully, and Gabriel continues to work, musing on how contradictory her female nature can be. Suddenly he hears the vane shift: the change in wind foretells a disastrous rain.
While Bathsheba has an impulse to confide in Gabriel, she’s also concerned to keep some of her pride; and while on some levels she recognizes that Troy’s behavior is unsavory, she also continues to love him. Gabriel’s thoughts on female contradictions don’t do full justice to this complex dance.