page 1 of 2
Gabriel and Coggan learn of the secret marriage the next day, when Sergeant Troy appears, greeting them and throwing money at them patronizingly, to Gabriel's great distress. Gabriel's feelings are registered by Coggan's comment that his face is as white as a corpse's. Soon afterward, Gabriel runs into Boldwood and notices Boldwood's look of despair. He foresees much future misery resulting from the hasty wedding.
The next scene occurs at night, when Gabriel begins to notice signs of bad weather. It is the night of the harvest supper and dance, and Bathsheba and Troy have invited all the workers to celebrate the harvest and their marriage. We see the festivities from Gabriel's perspective. Then, Troy announces that he wants the laborers to be served brandy and water. None of the laborers are used to hard liquor, and Bathsheba objects, but Troy overrules her. She leaves with the women and children, and Troy insists that the men drink brandy with him. Gabriel slips outside and sees yet more signs of a huge oncoming storm: The sheep are huddled together; toads and slugs are seeking shelter. He calculates that with the wheat ricks and barley ricks, Bathsheba has 750 pounds' worth of produce lying exposed to the rain, and he goes to the barn to get help in covering it. Every single one of the workers is lying passed out with Troy in the barn, inexperienced with hard liquor. Gabriel decides he will have to save the wheat and barley single-handedly before the storm arrives. He works heroically to cover the wheat and then heads for the barley.
Chapter 37 gives a dramatic account of the powerful lightning storm that hits just as Gabriel works atop one of the ricks, thatching it to protect it from rain. As he struggles there in the dark, he sees a figure and realizes it is Bathsheba, coming to his aid. As they thatch side by side, in grave danger of being hit by lightning, she confesses that she did not go to Bath with the intention of marrying. This is yet another moment in the novel when Bathsheba and Gabriel engage in an intimate conversation in which she turns to him for guidance, and her confession provides us with our first insight into the motivation behind Bathsheba's mysterious acts. She explains that she had gone to Bath meaning to break off her engagement to Troy. However, upon arriving in Bath, Troy again fell to lavishing compliments on her and said that "his constancy could not be counted on" unless she at once married him. Bathsheba recounts that she was "grieved and troubled," and married him in a state between "jealousy and distraction."
At seven in the morning, once he has sent Bathsheba home and covered the ricks in the rain, Gabriel finishes and heads home. He sees the farm workers just waking up from their excesses, unaware that the ricks were ever endangered, and then he runs across Boldwood. Gabriel asks after Boldwood's own ricks, only to find that he has left them all uncovered. Gabriel is intensely shocked at Boldwood's negligence: "A few months earlier Boldwood's forgetting his husbandry would have been as preposterous an idea as a sailor forgetting he was in a ship." Boldwood ashamedly declares himself weak and foolish, unable to fend off his miserable grief.
Throughout this section, Gabriel acts as overseer and observer, the only truly sane man in a time of trouble. He is a stand-in for the reader, who also sees the folly of Bathsheba and Boldwood's actions but without being able to stop them. Through his sensibility, we are given a measure of the madness that has taken over the others, even the normally reliable, down-to-earth farm workers.
The storm is one of the few catastrophes in the novel inflicted by the natural world. In this struggle with nature, we see how different people respond to forces beyond human control. Gabriel emerges as the person most attuned to the signals of nature and able to read what will happen and control it as well as he can. Chapter 36 gives an extraordinary account of a series of natural signs--a toad on the path, a slug crawling across the table, and sheep huddling together. Hardy first presents this information to us, though we don't know what it means, and then shows how Gabriel is able to interpret it correctly: Gabriel realizes that the sheep's position foretells a long and constant rain after the initial storm.
Take a Study Break!