A wall surrounds Casterbridge Unionhouse, except for a gable with a small door, a few feet above the ground: it’s used only for passage to and from the outside. Poorgrass rings the bell and backs his wagon against the high door: a coffin is thrust through. One man writes the name and date atop it in chalk and covers it with a black cloth. Poorgrass places flowers around it, as Bathsheba has requested, and turns back as mist covers the fields and the autumn fogs arrive.
This somber scene again uses description of nature, the mist and fog of autumn, to underline the emotional as well as physical atmosphere of the setting. Fanny may have been without friends or family at the time of her death, but now she has become the collective responsibility of the parish and its inhabitants.
Wishing he had company, Poorgrass continues on, hearing a mournful tapping of dew from the leaves. He stops by an old inn, the Buck’s Head, with a sign hanging from an elm opposite the street. This is an inn where old country slang can be heard: Poorgrass is cheered upon seeing it, and stops to go inside, where he sees Coggan and Clark. He tells them that his companion was beginning to chill him. He drinks with them, then says he must leave for the church yard. Coggan says it’s a shame there’s no one to pay the shelling and half-crown for the bell and grave: Poorgrass says the parish pays for the grave alone, though Bathsheba will probably pay for everything.
Poorgrass, shy and timid as he is, is not exactly the most ideal person to be responsible for transporting a coffin through a silent countryside. He’s most comfortable and at home around the other members of the “Greek chorus” of farm hands, some of whom have now met not at Warren’s malt-house but at another drinking hole. Now the gossip centers around Fanny Robbin and the parish’s role in dealing with her, in the absence of family.
Clark entreats Poorgrass to stay: the poor woman is dead, after all, he says. Poorgrass is a bit worried about Providence: he’s been drunk already this month, and didn’t go to church on Sunday. Coggan calls Poorgrass a dissenter, though he denies it, and says he’s never changed a single doctrine—he’ll stick to his side, and will fall with it if it turns out to be wrong. The longer Poorgrass stays, the less he feels troubled by the duties that await him. Finally, Coggan’s watch strikes six.
The farm hands again mix various belief systems in stitching together a view of their own world and their responsibility for village affairs. Their digressions lend another comic touch to a narrative that has become increasingly dramatic and grave, as alcohol eases Poorgrass’s sense of unease.
At that moment Gabriel appears in the doorway, and cries that he’s ashamed of Poorgrass and Coggan. Clark asks him not to go on so; Coggan adds that no one can hurt a dead woman—if she’d been alive he would have helped her quickly. Clark agrees and begins to sing a tune, but Gabriel snaps at him to stop, and cries that Poorgrass is drunk. Meekly, Poorgrass says he has a multiplying eye—he sees two of everything, as if he was Noah at the entrance to the ark. Gabriel realizes that no one here can take charge of the wagon, so he closes the door and gets in himself.
Once again, it is Gabriel’s arrival that puts an end to the revelry, as he reminds the farm hands of the attitude that they should take in response to Fanny’s death—even if Clark, Coggan, and Poorgrass take a more pragmatic view regarding the cycle of life and death. The comparison of Poorgrass to Noah is another light comic touch that counters Gabriel’s own seriousness.
The village has learned the rumor of Fanny Robbin’s death, but thanks to Gabriel’s and Boldwood’s discretion, no one knows her young man was Troy. Gabriel hopes it will stay silent for a short time, at least. He arrives at the church yard too late for the funeral to take place that night: the parson, Mr. Thirdly, says the body will have to stay at the farm or be carried on to the church.
Usually information like that of Fanny’s relationship to Troy travels rapidly from person to person—very few are as insistent on maintaining such respect for another as Gabriel and Boldwood, who are also, of course, influenced by their feelings for Bathsheba.
Ill at ease, Gabriel goes to ask Bathsheba what she’d prefer. She’s in a strange, perplexed mood: at first she says it’s fine for the body to be brought to the church, but then suddenly wants to care for Fanny, so she decides the body should be brought inside the house and treated thoughtfully. Mr. Thirdly agrees, saying she is still a member of God’s flock though she may have erred.
Bathsheba is dealing with a number of contradictory feelings; it’s increasingly dawning on her that Fanny and Troy may have had a relationship, but she still feels pity for Fanny’s fate, and responsibility for her uncle’s former servant.
Everyone but Gabriel leaves the room, but he lingers. He raises the cloth and sees the chalk writing: it says “Fanny Robbin and child.” He wipes out the two final words, then leaves.
Gabriel continues to put thoughts of Bathsheba before all, as he seeks to at least delay the pain that this knowledge would cause.