The next few chapters establish the rhythm of life on Bathsheba Everdene's farm and introduce a new plot line into the novel, Bathsheba's relationship with Mr. Boldwood. The day after Gabriel's arrival, the dignified bachelor Mr. Boldwood knocks on Bathsheba's door as she and her servant Liddy Smallbury are cleaning. Boldwood comes to ask if there is any news of Fanny Robin, whom he had helped when she was younger. From Liddy's gossip we learn that Boldwood is a confirmed bachelor whom many of the local women have tried unsuccessfully to woo. Bathsheba calls a meeting of the farm workers to announce that she has dismissed the Pennyways for thieving and that she will take on the bailiff's responsibilities herself. She also asks for news of Fanny Robin, who is still missing. Chapter 10 describes the meeting and consists primarily of a roll call, in which the various farm laborers identify themselves and their trades to both Bathsheba and the reader.
Chapter 11 reveals what has happened to Fanny Robin; here we see her arrive at the barracks of Sergeant Troy, many miles north of Weatherbury. The narrator describes the scene from a distance; we see Fanny as "a spot" almost lost in the snow. She throws snowballs at a window to get the sergeant's attention, and they have a brief conversation in which she reminds him that he has promised to marry her. He responds callously but agrees to uphold his promise. When he shuts his window, the other soldiers are laughing.
In the next chapter, it is market-day, and Bathsheba tries out her new role of farmer. The only woman in the group, she nonetheless comports herself well. The only man oblivious to her beauty is Mr. Boldwood, who does not look at her once, as Liddy remarks on the way home. When Bathsheba and Liddy are at home on Sunday, Bathsheba is about to send a valentine to a young boy when Liddy suggests that she send it to Boldwood instead. On a whim, Bathsheba agrees, setting in motion one of the novel's tragedies. The valentine contains a meaningless ditty, "Roses are red, Violets are blue..." but Bathsheba impulsively stamps it with a seal that reads, "Marry Me." The narrator reflects that Bathsheba knows nothing of love.
Unfortunately, the letter has a profound effect on Boldwood. It is the one ornate object in a puritanically plain home, and he places it on the mantlepiece, disturbed and excited. Then he receives a second letter; in his excitement he opens it hurriedly, only then noticing that it is addressed to Gabriel. He delivers it to Gabriel the next morning and Gabriel shares its contents with Boldwood: It is a letter from Fanny identifying herself as the girl Gabriel met in the forest and returning the shilling he had given her. The letter also announces her engagement to Sergeant Troy. As he leaves, Boldwood asks Gabriel to identify the handwriting on the valentine, and he tells Boldwood that it is Bathsheba's.
The most important event in this section is the sending of the valentine and the unintentional effect it has on Boldwood. This one act will haunt both Bathsheba and Boldwood until the end of the novel. Hardy uses this set of circumstances to analyze one of his favorite concerns: how a person's life is determined by minor, seemingly insignificant events. Sometimes these events are questions of luck or forces beyond human control. Here, however, Hardy examines human agency: Bathsheba sends the valentine in jest, without thinking, but her act results in extraordinary consequences.
Another theme throughout this section is the imbalances of affection in human relations; this imbalance characterizes the relationship between Gabriel and Bathsheba, as well as that between Sergeant Troy and Fanny Price, and Liddy tells us that Boldwood has been unaware of several local women's efforts to win his affections. While this asymmetry is a natural part of relationships, its consequences can be dire.