With the spring, Bathsheba begins to recover, though she continues to prefer solitude. She does spend more time outside as the summer goes on. One evening in August she enters the orchard for the first time since Christmas. She hears singing from the church and goes into the graveyard, where she reads Fanny’s tombstone, then the new letters below it saying that the remain of Francis Troy lie in the same grave.
As the seasons change and the requirements of farm life shift in turn, Bathsheba too begins to emerge from the climactic horror and tragedy of the Christmas before. Still, her mourning and sense of guilt continue, leading her on a kind of shortened pilgrimage to visit the graves.
Bathsheba listens to the hymn from inside, where the choir is practicing. It’s a somber one, about light leading one on amid gloom. She begins to cry, wishing she could be innocent like the children. Grief, though, now seems to her more of a luxury than a punishment. After some time, she lifts her head to see Gabriel, who respectfully says he was about to enter: he’s one of the bass singers.
The songs sung within the church reflect Bathsheba’s own mood, though potentially also a sense of greater hopefulness than she currently feels. Circumstance, meanwhile, intervenes to thrust her together with Gabriel once again.
Gabriel doesn’t want to drive Bathsheba away: he thinks he won’t go in tonight. They stand, embarrassed, and finally he says he hasn’t seen her for so long. At first he avoids speaking to her about the tragedy, but she says he need not. They stand by the grave. Then, hesitating, he says that he’s been meaning to ask her about a business matter. He’s thinking of leaving England next spring. Surprised and disappointed, she asks why and where: Gabriel stammers that he’s thought of California, and that he has reasons to decline to manage Boldwood’s farm.
The easy conversation that Gabriel and Bathsheba have mostly enjoyed has been compromised by Bathsheba’s long grief and solitude. She still, though, evidently cares for Gabriel (perhaps more than she admits to herself), enough that learning of his decision to leave, despite the fact that she hasn’t seen him in so long, is painful to her.
Bathsheba cries that she can’t do without Gabriel, who has been with her for so long: it seems almost unkind for him to leave when she’s so helpless. But Gabriel says that’s why he feels obliged to go. Anxiously, he leaves. Now Bathsheba is troubled in a new way, pained that the one person who’s always remained on her side is now abandoning her.
Bathsheba has, in the past, taken pride in her independence and ability to manage things on her own. All the while, however, Gabriel has prevented her from complete isolation, both in helping her materially and serving as a friend.
As the weeks go on, Gabriel’s lack of interest in her or her affairs becomes more evident: he is avoiding her, making her feel like he despises her. Christmas arrives, the anniversary of her widowhood. As she leaves church, she hopes to cross his path—she had heard his bass voice from the overhead gallery—but as he comes up the path he looks aside, and vanishes.
As Bathsheba comes to terms with Gabriel’s decision to leave her, the indifferent way he evidently feels towards her becomes increasingly painful, and even perhaps a sign of a negative feeling stronger than indifference.
The next day Bathsheba receives a formal letter from Gabriel saying he will be gone by Lady Day. She sits and cries bitterly, wounded at the withdrawal of his love for her and bewildered at having to regain the energy to survive on her own, at going back to the market, even, which he’s done since Troy’s death.
Bathsheba’s bitterness also stems from the coldness shown by Gabriel, who wrote a formal letter rather than going to speak with her, as well as from the isolation and fragility she feels even more now.
After dinner, Bathsheba goes down to Gabriel’s house and asks to speak with him. Awkwardly, he says he doesn’t have proper accommodation for a lady: she doesn’t mind the wood seats of his chair, but can’t escape a discomfort that they’ve never had between them before. She stammers that she feels she’s offended him, and couldn’t let him leave on that account. He tells her that’s not the case—in fact, he’s not going to emigrate, only take over the Lower Farm.
Finally Bathsheba decides to compromise her pride and go talk to Gabriel herself, even though their meeting at his house underlines once again the gulf in social and economic status that cropped up between them after Gabriel lost everything and Bathsheba inherited her uncle’s farm.
Gabriel adds that he would continue to watch over Bathsheba’s farm, were it not for what’s being said about them. Bathsheba says he must tell her: it’s that he has been waiting around with the idea of “getting” Bathsheba, that is of marrying her. Bathsheba looks alarmed: she begins to say it would be absurd, but quickly interrupts herself to say “too soon” to think of that. Gabriel agrees that it’s “too absurd,” though Bathsheba stammers that she said too soon. He corrects her, but with tears in her eyes, she insists she didn’t say that—he must believe her.
Like Bathsheba, Gabriel too is acutely aware that little news escapes the gossip mill centered around Warren’s Malt-house: he’s most concerned, though, to maintain Bathsheba’s own reputation, as well as both of their sense of pride. Meanwhile, Gabriel reminds Bathsheba implicitly that she knows how far apart they are in status, a recognition revealed by what she almost said.
Gabriel looks into Bathsheba’s face, with tender surprise, and says if he only knew whether he might marry her after all. But she says he never asks—and he ought not to have sent that harsh, cruel letter. Laughing, now, Gabriel says that as an unmarried man managing her affairs he had to watch over his position, especially since people knew how he felt about her—it hasn’t been easy. Bathsheba cries, rising from her seat, that she’s glad she came, though she cries that it’s as if she’d come to court him, a dreadful thought. Gabriel accompanies her home and they speak little of their feelings: their affection doesn’t need pretty phrases. Instead it is the relationship that comes from knowing each other’s worse aspects first, and better character only later: a true camaraderie, the only love as strong as death, and much stronger than passion.
For the first time since he last proposed to Bathsheba, Gabriel again brings up the possibility of marrying her, and again refers to his feelings for her. It now seems that this is what Bathsheba has been waiting for all the while—even if her “dreadful thought” acknowledges the inescapable social and economic gap between them. Nonetheless, the book suggests that complete, profound knowledge of another person, with all his or her faults and personal history, can be enough to supersede such differences, perhaps even allowing for an end to guilt and penance.