The narrative jumps ahead two months to a Saturday evening in October. Bathsheba and Troy are traveling up the steep Yarbury Hill, coming from Casterbridge to Weatherbury. They have been at the markets. Bathsheba rides in the gig, while Troy walks alongside her.
This is the first glimpse we have of the two of them alone together, and the marriage does not seem to be going well. Bathsheba complains about all the money Troy has lost at the horse races. Troy has bought his discharge from the army and is dressed as a fashionable farmer. As they argue, Bathsheba begins to cry, and Troy tells her, "You have lost all the pluck and sauciness you formerly had," implying that he regrets having married her.
As they proceed, they pass a woman who asks Troy the way to Casterbridge. When he replies, she utters a cry and falls down, recognizing his voice: The woman is Fanny. Bathsheba is alarmed, but Troy makes the horse carry her on up the hill while he stays and talks to Fanny. We learn that he has had no idea where to reach her, and that she was afraid to write to him. He realizes that she needs money, and agrees to meet her two days from then at Casterbridge. When he catches up with Bathsheba she is suspicious, accusing him of knowing the woman's name and not telling her. Troy denies all acquaintance with the woman.
Chapter 40 tells the extraordinary story of Fanny's difficult walk to Casterbridge that night. We know it is Fanny, but the narrator identifies her only as "the woman." Stumbling weakly, she comes to a haystack and falls asleep beneath it. Upon waking, she thinks she may be dead by the time she is to meet Troy. She persuades herself to go on by counting the milestones, frequently pausing. She takes two sticks to use as crutches but falls. A dog appears, and she leans on him the rest of the way. Finally, near morning, she reaches Casterbridge.
In the meantime, Bathsheba and Troy have been sullenly avoiding all conversation. On Sunday evening, Troy asks her for 20 pounds, saying that he needs it badly. He eventually admits that it is not for horse racing, but he will not tell her what it is for. As they argue she notices a curl of yellow hair in his watch and asks him about it. He explains that it belongs to "a young woman I was going to marry before I knew you." After she demands that he burn it and he refuses, Bathsheba bursts into great sobs, hating herself for being so weak as to fall for Troy.
The next day as she rides around the farm, she sees the laborer Joseph Poorgrass talking to Gabriel and Boldwood. Poorgrass then approaches her with the news that Fanny Robin is dead from an unknown cause. As the chapter continues, Bathsheba begins to suspect that Fanny Robin is the woman Troy had loved and that she has died giving birth to a child. She questions Poorgrass and Liddy to test her suspicions. She offers to bury Fanny, as Fanny worked for Bathsheba's uncle, and sends Poorgrass to collect the body.
Chapter 42 describes Joseph Poorgrass's journey from Casterbridge with the body. As he carts the coffin back, a fog descends, and Poorgrass begins to fear the dead body. He stops at Buck's Head to have drinks with his friends Mark Clark and Jan Coggan, and gradually these men persuade him to stay later and later, drinking. As the men converse, Poorgrass keeps announcing he will continue on, but his friends persuade him not to. After some hours have passed Gabriel finds them there, chastises them for their carelessness, and brings the coffin to the farm himself.
Gabriel is eager to keep the truth from Bathsheba, but by the time he reaches the farm, the parson has postponed the funeral to the following morning and asks Gabriel to leave the coffin in the farm for the night; Gabriel reluctantly brings it to a sitting room for the night. Before he leaves, he partially rubs off the chalk marks on the coffin, which read "Fanny Robin and child," leaving only the name "Fanny Robin."
Hardy waits until this section to give his readers any insight into the workings of Troy and Bathsheba's marriage. He leaves us to imagine for ourselves the quality of their life together, based on a few conversations. Through Troy's harsh words to her, we see how weak she has become after maintaining such independence for so long.
Chapter 42 is notably slower in pace than other chapters in this novel, and Hardy's description of Fanny's intense exhaustion painstakingly depicts every step that Fanny has to take, as well as the heaviness of her body, making us feel them with her. Throughout the novel, the sections dealing with Fanny together constitute a study of the type of person who slips through the cracks in society; what kind of person is this, neglected by others, forced to live a transient and impoverished life? Hardy uses an anonymous, distanced tone to describe Fanny, thus, conveying the lack of attention that others pay her.
Much of this section centers around Bathsheba's attempt to solve the mystery of Fanny Robin's relationship to Troy, and Hardy carefully structures the narrative to keep his readers in suspense, as well. We do not know of Fanny's death until Bathsheba does: The narrative leaves Fanny in Casterbridge, and on Monday morning, Troy leaves, presumably to meet Fanny, but we hear nothing more of him even once we know that Fanny is dead. Hardy's most powerful tension-building device is his plodding description of Poorgrass' trip with the coffin: He gives us detailed accounts of the men's conversation at Buck's Head, which does nothing to advance the plot, while the whole time the reader must wait, waiting to hear how Fanny died, wondering if something might happen to her untended coffin outside, wondering where Troy is, whether he yet knows of Fanny's death, and anticipating Bathsheba's imminent discovery of Fanny and Troy's previous relations.
In addition to building tension, Poorgrass' comic drinking scene offers insight into the leisure time of the laborers. On a more profound level, this episode analyzes the effect of chance and circumstance on human lives. Had Poorgrass gone straight home, the funeral would have occurred that day, the coffin would never have lay waiting in the sitting room, and Bathsheba might never have suffered under the knowledge she is about to attain: that Fanny died giving birth to Troy's child.