It’s now the month of March, and on Yalbury Hill between Weatherbury and Casterbridge, a number of men are gathered, including Poorgrass, Coggan, and Cain Ball. After a half hour’s wait, a judge arrives on a travelling carriage: the men return home. Coggan and Poorgrass discuss the judge’s face, and say they hope for the best. They all await the news anxiously.
Time passes and the guilt and penance of another character, Boldwood, are now up for question, as the men who witness so much that happens in Weatherbury first await the news .
All knew that Boldwood was in strange moods that fall, but few other than Bathsheba and Troy suspected his full mental state. In his closet had been discovered several expensive lady’s dresses, muffs, and jewelry cases, each labeled with Bathsheba’s name and a date six years in a future. The farmhands are discussing this at Warren’s Malt-house when Gabriel returns, saying that Boldwood had pled guilty, and had been sentenced to death.
Bathsheba had feared Boldwood would go mad if she didn’t agree to marry him, but here the narrator suggests that Troy too manipulated Boldwood’s mental state, and perhaps also caused it to worsen, by the tricks he played just after his marriage—tricks that, one might say, ultimately caused his own downfall.
All at Weatherbury, though, feel that Boldwood isn’t morally responsible for his acts—introducing as their own proof his neglect of the cornstacks the summer before. They address a petition to the Home Secretary asking for reconsideration. The execution had been fixed for Saturday morning two weeks after the sentence. On Friday afternoon, Gabriel returns from the jail, where he’d been to wish Boldwood goodbye. Looking back, he sees carpenters lifting a post. When he returns, half the village meets him, but he says there’s no tidings, and no hope.
Gabriel, in turn, had known something was awry in Boldwood as a result of his neglect of farming: unlike the other characters, he could not separate his personal conflicts and dramas from the necessities of daily life in the country. Gabriel finds himself still bound to Boldwood, not only because he is his master but also because of the history they share.
Bathsheba is at home, and keeps asking for news, but Gabriel decides not to bother her yet. He asks Tall to ride to town late tonight and wait, just in case. Liddy says the mistress will go out of her mind, too, if he’s not saved. That night Tall leaves, and many wait for him on the Casterbridge road. Finally he returns, and announces Boldwood is not to die: confinement will be his punishment.
Boldwood believed that he would find another way to die if he didn’t manage to kill himself. While the lessening of his sentence is, according to Liddy, enough to keep Bathsheba sane, it is not exactly a diminution of the tragedy.