Moments after she tells Boldwood that she might marry him, Bathsheba wanders over her farm, as she always does, checking to see that everything is in order. She carries a darkened lantern so she cannot be seen. The narrator tells us that, unbeknownst to Bathsheba, Gabriel performs the same task every evening, a sign of his unending devotion to her.
As she walks through the fir plantation, she hears footsteps nearing her and bumps into someone on the path. It is Sergeant Troy, and his spur has caught on her dress. She cannot free herself, and in the dark the two hold a conversation without identifying themselves. When Troy finally opens her lantern, Bathsheba is surprised to see he is a soldier, having expected a suspicious-looking intruder. Troy, for his part, is also struck by the appearance of his interlocutor; he immediately praises her beauty and delays in his untangling of her dress. She finally frees herself, confused by his praise, and speaking somewhat curtly. She later asks Liddy whether there is a soldier living near the fir plantation, and Liddy tells her that it must be Sergeant Troy. Bathsheba regrets being rude to him.
In the next chapter Hardy gives an account of Troy's character, much as the author has done with Boldwood earlier on. We learn that Troy lives only for the moment and displays the opposite of Gabriel's ceaseless loyalty. He is full of activity without direction and regularly deceives women. Toward the end of the chapter, we learn that he has joined the haymakers in their task for the day. Bathsheba notices him in the fields, and as soon as he sees her, he approaches.
Troy and Bathsheba converse for the second time, and Chapter 26 follows a long dialogue between them, with little description. Troy apologizes for not recognizing who she was in the woods and again compliments her. From her responses we can see that she is flattered, bewildered by his admiration--a very different woman from the scornful, proud individual we have heretofore seen asserting her independence with Gabriel and Boldwood. Troy offers her his watch as a gift, and she refuses but agrees that he may continue to join the hay- makers.
In the next chapter their intimacy is increased when Troy encounters Bathsheba maintaining the bees; he helps her, donning the ridiculous-looking protective gear. When he mentions the famous sword exercise that soldiers learn, she confesses that she'd love to see it, and they set a date to meet.
Bathsheba is reluctant to keep the date but comes at the last minute, and Troy shows her the sword exercise. He persuades her that the sword's edge is blunt as he sweeps the hissing, glittering sword around her. At the end of their meeting, as Bathsheba stands overwhelmed by the beauty and danger of the scene, Troy kisses her and disappears.
Bathsheba has fallen in love. However, the narrator comments ominously, "When a strong woman recklessly throws away her strength, she is worse than a weak woman who has never had strength to throw away." Gabriel, too, feels the danger of her infatuation and decides to talk to her about it. Gabriel and Boldwood are the only ones who know (from Fanny's letter) that Troy was Fanny Robin's lover, whom she intended to marry when she ran away. Knowing this, he tries to hint at Troy's immoral character. Bathsheba refuses to listen, however, and tries to fire Gabriel from the farm again, but he refuses to leave unless she agrees to hire someone else as a bailiff. She will not, so he refuses to leave his post. As they part, he sees Troy coming to meet Bathsheba.
When Bathsheba comes home, she overhears the servants gossiping about her and Troy, and she forbids them to speak about it. Then, she chastises Liddy and confesses that she loves Troy. In the midst of their conversation Bathsheba breaks down in tears; she has lost all her self-possession.
Both Bathsheba and Boldwood are otherwise strong people who nevertheless develop sudden weaknesses for a single person--Boldwood for Bathsheba and Bathsheba for Sergeant Troy. Both of them have spurned earlier lovers. By describing the sensory perceptions of these characters as enhanced, Hardy conveys the fact that they are experiencing emotions unprecedented for them. Bathsheba's first view of Troy is a perfect example; after utter darkness, she sees a handsome man in scarlet and brass. The sword exercise is another; Bathsheba is overpowered by the sensory experience of having the blade surround her from all directions, nearly touching her. Notice that Sergeant Troy is repeatedly linked to a bright, burning color of scarlet. Bathsheba can spot his red uniform in the field with ease.
Hardy's many different narrative strategies are also at work in this section. The first of these is his manipulation of the plot's pace. Boldwood has just extracted a promise from Bathsheba that he will have an answer to his proposal in six weeks. Then, Hardy immediately introduces Sergeant Troy. In each meeting, their intimacy increases noticeably: In the first, they are physically thrown together and entangled; in the second, he receives her permission to work on the farm and offers her his watch; in the third, she agrees to meet him, and in the fourth, they kiss. The speed of this growing intimacy contrasts strongly with the slow development of Bathsheba's relations with Boldwood, thus, commenting on the difference in chemistry between Bathsheba and each man.
Another emerging pattern is Hardy's method of introducing important (and often less important) characters. First, he shows them to us in action: Gabriel sees Bathsheba in her carriage; Bathsheba hears Boldwood ride up to the farm; she meets Troy in the wood; Gabriel meets Fanny Robin in the wood. In each of these scenes, the characters with whom we are already familiar know nothing about the character they are encountering except what they see at the time. Later, the omniscient narrator comes in and gives us background assessments of Boldwood, Bathsheba, Fanny, and Troy, in which we are given generalizations about their character and their approach to life. Finally, then, we come to see the characters at their truest, deepest level by watching how they are transformed by the events in the novel. Notice that the reader has much more room for interpretation when we first meet these characters in action. We have to decide what we think based on the clues Hardy gives us; later, then, we see whether these initial interpretations are borne out.
Chapter 26, Bathsheba's conversation with Troy in the field, is an extreme example of deliberate narrative strategizing. The chapter consists almost wholly of dialogue, almost entirely lacking any narrative commentary or even description. We hear Troy's words, knowing him to be dishonest, and then we hear how Bathsheba responds to them; the narrator withholds his own speculations, putting almost all of the interpretive power in the hands of the reader. We experience the scene as Bathsheba does; however, because we have prior information--in addition to an objectivity she lacks--we know she misreads Troy's remarks, falling too quickly for his charming surface. This narrative situation creates in the reader a tense feeling of frustration as we watch Bathsheba enter Troy's trap.