In September the Greenhill Fair takes place, the annual sheep fair that draws crowds from far away. Bathsheba’s and Boldwood’s flocks require a great deal of attention to make it there, though Weatherbury isn’t as far. They wind over the fields and hills and file in around nine in the morning, joining other South Down and Wessex horned breeds, all bleating and panting while buyers wind around the pens.
Amid the personal and social dramas and tragedies of Weatherbury, daily life does go on, and the running of the farm continues, necessitating constant care and attention; the Greenhill Fair is the culmination of months of work at the farm.
On another part of the hill a circus tent is being erected, preparing for the “Performance of Turpin’s Ride to York and the Death of Black Bess,” retelling an 18th-century tale of a famous highwayman. Coggan and Poorgrass, among many others, jostle each other to enter the tent. At the back, in one of the dressing tent, is Sergeant Troy.
The fair is not only an economic highlight of the year but also a social one. Suddenly, into this frivolous and entertainment-driven setting, drama intervenes again in the appearance of Troy.
After Troy had embarked in Budmouth he had traveled to the United States and earned his keep as professor of gymnastics, sword exercise, and fencing. After a few months of this precarious life, he recalled his taste for comforts, and knew he had a home waiting for him. Finally he did return to England, though kept putting off going home because of the unpleasantness that would await him—not to mention his responsibility for Bathsheba should the farm fail.
The narration dips back into the last several months of Troy’s life, including his wanderings around the world—wanderings that signal again Troy’s self-centeredness and lack of determination or ambition, as well as his relatively lack of pride compared to Bathsheba, Gabriel, or even Boldwood.
That summer, Troy fell in with a travelling circus, where he was hired based on his shooting skills from his time in the army. He decided to stay on when he was offered the role of Turpin for a few weeks, though he had no definite plan for after that.
Troy has relied on his army skills in the past to impress and woo Bathsheba; now he uses them as a crutch again in order to stay afloat amid uncertainty.
Now Bathsheba too is curious to see Turpin, the grandest show in the fair. As she waits outside, Boldwood comes up to her and asks her nervously about her sheep. They begin to talk about the Turpin play: Boldwood says he’d be pleased to get her a seat, and when she hesitates he says he’s seen it already, so he won’t stay. Bathsheba agrees and Boldwood escorts her to her reserved seat. The rest of the public is standing on the edge, so many turn to look at her.
The sheep prove to be an unproblematic conversation point between Bathsheba and Boldwood, though also an opportunity for Boldwood to try to get closer to her yet again. Still, he knows now that it’s better not to break forth with passion as he did in the past.
Troy peeps out of the tent to see his wife sitting like a queen above the rabble. He realizes she’s bound to recognize his voice, and feels entirely unprepared, especially now that Bathsheba looks so charming and powerful. He also now feels a new shame at her finding him in such embarrassing employment. He rushes over to the manager, and exclaims that he has an enemy in the tent who will nab him if he opens his mouth. The play must proceed, the manager says, but Troy refuses to open his mouth. Finally the manager tells him to go on with it, without the speeches: no one will know they’ve been left out.
Only now, when he sees Bathsheba in person, does Troy recall a sense of pride—a sentiment that isn’t an independent character trait for him so much as part of his general attitude towards women, whom he always wants to impress and seduce. Troy uses his quick wit to get out of speaking out loud in front of Bathsheba and buys some time to reflect on his next move.
Indeed, nothing goes awry, especially since Troy disguises himself with even more make up. But he’s relieved to have it over. At the end of the second performance, where he does speak aloud, he catches sight of the Bailiff Pennyways, his wife’s enemy, who has surely recognized him. Now he knows his only chance is to make a friend of Pennyways.
Bathsheba had fired Pennyways after he had been found stealing: Troy recognizes a fellow trickster in the bailiff and understands that in order to get what he wants (whatever he decides that means) he’ll have to work with another.
Troy dips into the refreshment tent, where he cannot see Pennyways, though he can see Bathsheba at the other end. He goes around the back and listens: she’s talking to a man. He makes a cut in the tent cloth so as to peer in from above: she’s with Boldwood, and Troy feels another unexpected jolt of attraction. But he again thinks of her pride and how she’d respond at learning he’s a circus performer.
Initially, Troy is indignant that Bathsheba is talking to a man, as he continues to think of her as his own “property.” In addition, the presence of Bathsheba reminds Troy that he was always, indeed, attracted to her physically, which makes her continue to have a certain power over him
Bathsheba thanks Boldwood for her cup of tea, and she insists on paying for it herself. Suddenly Pennyways enters and tells her he has private information for her. She coolly says she can’t hear it now. He says he’ll write it, and writes, “Your husband is here. I’ve seen him. Who’s the fool now?” then folds it and tosses it into her lap, leaving with a laugh.
Troy learns both that the meeting between Bathsheba and Boldwood isn’t exactly a romantic one, and—thanks to his position spying on the pair—that Pennyways has in fact recognized him and threatens to ruin his advantage of surprise.
Boldwood offers to destroy the note, but Bathsheba says carelessly that it would be unjust not to read it, though it can’t be anything important. She holds it in her hand and, taking a piece of bread, allows her hand to drop close to the tent. Suddenly, skillfully, Troy slips his hand under the cloth, snatches the note, and races away as she screams in astonishment. He goes in search of Pennyways, whom he finds in the dancing tent: he whispers and beckons to him.
Bathsheba’s indifference extends even into the realm of gossip and intrigue that so often characterizes village life in the novel. Meanwhile, relying on his skills of sly subterfuge, Troy manages to head off disaster and also turn Pennyways’ own desire for intrigue back to his advantage.