Bathsheba’s farm had once been the center of a manor, though now it is more modest. Moss covers the gravel walk, giving a sleepy feeling to the place. The house is creaky and porous, and upstairs Bathsheba and her servant and companion, Liddy Smallbury (about her age), are sorting through papers from the prior owner. Liddy has the features of a lighthearted country girl, half earnest, half prim.
This description of the setting characterizes Bathsheba’s farm, too, as one of the stable sites of the novel around which the characters and their changing situations are clustered. While the scene seems bucolic, in a novel by Hardy it’s never that simple.
Mary-ann Money, the charwoman, is scrubbing outside, when Bathsheba asks her to pause: they hear a horse clap up to the door. Mrs. Coggan, the maid, opens the door to a deep voice. She goes upstairs to say that Mr. Boldwood wants to see her, but Bathsheba is not dressed well enough. She orders Mrs. Coggan to tell him she’s dusting bottles and can’t come down. The voice simply says he wanted to ask if Fanny Robbin had been found, and he leaves.
While the malt-house is a realm of men, the interior of Bathsheba’s home is a space for women’s affairs, only interrupted for a special occasion by men. Bathsheba both helps out around the house like the other women and is to be distinguished from them, as the woman of authority.
Bathsheba asks who Mr. Boldwood is. Liddy says he’s a 40-year-old, unmarried gentleman farmer. He had put Fanny through school, so takes an interest after her. Many girls had tried to have him court her, but to no avail. Teddy Coggan, a small boy, comes up to the women and cries that Mr. Boldwood gave him a penny for opening the gate. He’d asked if Miss Everdene is an old woman, and he said yes, only because he was given a penny for it. Disconcerted, Bathsheba tells Mary-ann to go back to her errands.
As Gabriel relied on the malt-house guests, now Bathsheba—also a newcomer—relies on the local knowledge of her servant and companion Liddy to learn more about the other characters in Weatherbury. Teddy’s story does seem to suggest that Mr. Boldwood was curious about more than just Fanny’s well-being when he arrived at the porch.
Now alone, Liddy asks Bathsheba if anyone ever wanted to marry her. After a pause, she said one man did once, but he wasn’t quite good enough for her, though she liked him. They hear footsteps again, and out the window see a crooked file of men approach.
Liddy and Bathsheba are in some ways friends, but also in an unequal position: Bathsheba can either agree to confide in her, or withhold that camaraderie.