Bathsheba bids Liddy goodnight, saying she doesn’t need her any more, though Liddy offers to remain with the body herself. But first Bathsheba asks if Fanny was sickly, or if anyone had noticed any delicacy: Liddy says no. Bathsheba murmurs that it would be impossible to die of consumption the day after walking for miles. Finally, she asks if Liddy’s heard anything strange said about Fanny, then bursts into tears: Liddy, astonished, says no. Bathsheba apologizes and bids Liddy good night.
While Bathsheba has begun to piece together some elements of the mystery, she still has to determine why Fanny should have died so suddenly, without having a weak constitution and after having walked for so long. Usually Liddy is a useful source of local knowledge and gossip, but here even she is just as blind to the reality of the situation as Bathsheba is.
Bathsheba is no lonelier now than before her marriage, but her loneliness is different. A strange mix of emotions led her to insist on having Fanny’s body here: rebellion against her own prejudices and lack of charity towards a woman Troy loved before he loved her (and Bathsheba still does love him).
Bathsheba’s loneliness now stems from the fact that she is far more aware of the pain and suffering, not just excitement, that life can hold. She now recognizes that life, including love, is never straightforward.
Liddy taps at the door and enters, saying hesitatingly that Mary-ann has heard a rumor: that there’s two people in the coffin. Bathsheba trembles and says that’s not written on the cover. Others don’t believe it either, Liddy says: Gabriel is saying that this story was that of another poor girl.
Liddy does now relay news back to Bathsheba, as she often does with local gossip. It appears that Gabriel is attempting to stop the rumor in its tracks in order to prevent any more pain for Bathsheba.
Bathsheba wearily gazes into the fire for hours. She can imagine a connection between herself and Fanny’s possible tragedy, which Gabriel and Boldwood could not suspect, since they didn’t know she met Fanny on the road the Saturday before. Bathsheba longs for a stronger friend to help her, but there’s no cooler woman than herself on the farm. She wishes she could go to Gabriel, who, though he seems less deep or strong than Boldwood, is better at looking at circumstances without thinking of his own best interests at each turn. If she asked him for the truth, honor would compel him to answer her honestly.
As Bathsheba sits before the fire, she begins to think through what she knows and suspects more explicitly than before, when wild conjectures pushed her to interrogate Coggan and Liddy. Again, Bathsheba recognizes the peculiar isolation of her situation as both woman and figure in authority. Here, too, she begins to see her three suitors and their characters more clearly than before.
Bathsheba walks to Gabriel’s cottage, where he now lives alone. There’s a light on: Gabriel is reading. Then he looks at his watch and gets up. Bathsheba can’t bring herself to tap at the window and thus give him a hint about her misery. She lingers, watching Gabriel appear at the upstairs window and kneel to pray. The picture contrasts with her own agitation and rebellion, convincing her that she must bear her sorrow alone. She returns home.
At the beginning of the novel, Gabriel had peered into a private scene between Bathsheba and her aunt; now Bathsheba does the same thing to him, even though she recognizes that despite her attachment to Gabriel, the choices she has made prevent her from relying on him as a husband, and she must pay the price for that.
Bathsheba pauses in the hall and wishes aloud that Fanny could tell her her secret. After a few moments, she enters the room and, without thinking, opens the coffin. She says to herself that it is better to know the truth. At the girl’s side is a newborn baby wrapped in white linen. Fanny is framed in her blonde hair, the color of Troy’s lock. She looks young and round: her fairness takes away all sense of repulsion.
Part of Bathsheba’s loss of pride and realization that she must pay the consequences of her actions is a renewed cold-bloodedness, not just in terms of her authority over the farm, but for any decision that will give her greater knowledge and help her decide what to do next.
Then Bathsheba returns to reality, and begins to weep. This is the one act that transformed Fanny’s sorry condition into a grand one, her humiliation and failure to triumph and success. The Mosaic law of “burning for burning; wound for wound” applies to the payback of Fanny’s pain with her own. Bathsheba imagines dying herself—but this would only be a copy of her rival. She cries that she could have been angry and cruel to Fanny alive, but cannot now that she’s dead.
Despite her recent resolve and determination, this new sight is almost too much for Bathsheba, who is now faced with proof not only of her husband’s preference of Fanny over her, but also of the true ramifications of her mistake. Penance, here, swells to become a defining feature of another character in the book, not just Bathsheba.
Recalling Gabriel’s figure, Bathsheba too kneels to pray. In a kind of atonement, she takes flowers from a vase and lays them around Fanny’s head. She forgets time. Suddenly, though, a coach door shuts, and Troy enters the hall, looking in on the scene. Troy can’t imagine it’s Fanny: he blankly asks what’s happened. Bathsheba cries that she must go out. But Troy insists she stay: when he grabs her hand, she crumples, and they enter the room side by side. Troy looks into the coffin, and stands still, totally neutral. Bathsheba asks if he knows her: he does, and it is Fanny. He sinks forward, and gently kisses Fanny like an infant.
Even though she couldn’t bring herself to call on Gabriel’s guidance, Bathsheba draws strength from his example. Her wild, distraught emotions have eased into a somber show of mourning when Troy bursts in. Bathsheba has now recognized to some extent the nature of Fanny’s and Troy’s relationship, but she still loves Troy herself and seeks to respond to Fanny’s death with him like a true couple—a desire that is cruelly thwarted by the kiss.
At that sight, Bathsheba springs towards him, embracing him and begging him to kiss her too. Troy looks at her, bewildered, realizing how similar all women are: he can’t believe this is his proud wife, as Fanny’s spirit seems to be there. But then his surprise turns to an imperious gaze and he says he won’t kiss her. Fanny is more to him dead than Bathsheba ever was or will be, he says. He would have married her if he hadn’t been tempted by Bathsheba’s flirting ways. He now deserves to live in torment: he turns to Fanny, though, and says that in the sight of heaven she is his own. Bathsheba wails and asks what, then, she is: Troy says she is nothing to him. She turns and races out.
Bathsheba recognizes that, even in death, Fanny has triumphed over her in Troy’s affections, but she still cannot rid herself of the feelings she has for her husband. Troy’s teasing, flirtatious demeanor, meanwhile, has deformed into cruelty. At the same time, he too is realizing that one’s actions have consequences and that he must pay penance himself for the lack of concern he showed to Fanny. Much of the book’s tragedy is in the way these various personal duties fail to align.