Gabriel hears that Bathsheba has left the neighborhood for a place called Weatherbury—the separation allows him to idealize her even more. He concentrates on his farming instead. One of Gabriel’s sheep-dogs, George, is clever and trustworthy. His son doesn’t resemble George much—he is slow to learn and yet earnest, eager to chase the flocks in any direction whatsoever.
Rather than watching Bathsheba milk the cows, Gabriel can now visualize her in the abstract, as a beautiful, charming woman rather than an independent one. At the same time, Gabriel continues to work to establish himself in a stable life as a farmer.
On the edge of the hill is a chalk pit, bordered by two hedges, which leave a narrow opening covered only by a rough railing. One night Gabriel returns home and calls to the dogs: only George answers, but Gabriel remembers he had left the two dogs eating a dead lamb on the hill, so he goes to bed. Just before dawn, he hears a strange sound of sheep-bells—realizing that it means the sheep are running quickly.
The first time something went awry, Gabriel didn’t manage to wake up in time and had to be saved by Bathsheba. Now he’s learned to remain more alert, understanding that he holds a great deal of responsibility over his property.
Gabriel jumps out of bed and races up the hill: all the two hundred are gone. At the hedge, a gap appears. Gabriel follows, but they’re not in the plantation, and there’s no answer to his calls. Then he sees, at the edge of the chalk pit, the young dog against the sky, silent and still like Napoleon at St. Helena. Horrified, Gabriel races through, seeing the sheep’s footprints. The dog comes and licks his hand. Gabriel looks over the cliff, and sees the carcasses lying at its foot.
The comparison of Gabriel’s dog to the emperor Napoleon is meant to seem hyperbolic, but it’s also a way for the novel to underscore the high stakes and tragic dimensions of a world that may seem inconsequential, given its distance from urban centers. We are, indeed, meant to see Gabriel as a tragic figure.
Gabriel’s first impulse is to feel pity and sorrow for the fate of the animals—then he remembers that the sheep are not insured, and his life’s savings are gone. He leans against a rail and covers his face with his hands. Soon, though, he rises up, and gives thanks that Bathsheba hadn’t married him.
Gabriel’s general decency shines through even at a moment of tragedy—and this is a tragic moment in the book, one that remains untouched by any comic deflation or ironic touch.
In a daze, Gabriel realizes that the young dog must have been in high energy to drive all the sheep into a corner, through the hedge, across the field, and given them enough momentum to break down the railing and hurl over the edge. The dog is shot at noon that day, the fate of many who take reasoning to its logical conclusion, the narrator says. Gabriel sells everything he owns to be able to clear his debts, and is left with only the clothes on his back.
This tragedy is a sobering lesson for Gabriel about the ways in which circumstances can be beyond one’s own control, and natural forces intervene against the best-laid plans. The shooting of the dog is portrayed as a similarly grim, similarly illogical solution, though also as simply the way things are done.