After Henchard’s failed greeting of the royal personage, he stood behind the stand where the ladies sat. He overheard Lucetta deny to Mrs. Blowbody that he had ever helped Farfrae. Returning home, he meets Jopp. Jopp says that he too has been snubbed by Lucetta, and recounts his story of his request that she put in a good word for him about working with her husband. Henchard is unable to focus on anyone’s plight, but his own.
Overhearing Lucetta’s high opinion of Farfrae and her denial of him is a breaking point for Henchard. To be insulted by Lucetta cuts more deeply than anything else. Jopp tries to commiserate, but Henchard, as has been demonstrated many times, is focused only on his own suffering.
Henchard, without forethought and bent on taking drastic measures, goes looking for Farfrae after supper. Henchard walks to Farfrae’s house where he knocks and leaves the message that he would like to see his employer in the granaries as soon as possible. He goes to the corn stores, which are empty, as no one is working on this celebratory day. He says aloud that he is stronger than Farfrae, and so he takes a rope and ties one of his own arms down to his side. He ascends to the loft, where there is a drop from the edge of thirty or forty feet—the very spot where Elizabeth-Jane once saw him lift his arm, as if to push Farfrae over.
Henchard’s plan to challenge, and kill, Farfrae occurs directly in the backlash of anger toward Lucetta. This means of destroying Farfrae is more fitting to Henchard’s character than using his secret past with Lucetta. Henchard has demonstrated his physical superiority before. He is not, however, unfair, and he wishes to defeat Farfrae fairly, which is why he ties down his own arm. A physical struggle seems to Henchard like a fair contest.
Farfrae arrives, singing the old tune he had once sung at The King of Prussia. Henchard is moved by the song and draws back saying, “No, I can’t do!” Eventually, Farfrae is quiet and Henchard calls for him to come up into the loft. Farfrae does, and asks Henchard what’s wrong and why he isn’t celebrating like everyone else. Henchard says that now Farfrae’s money and his wife cannot lift him above Henchard, as the two face each other man to man.
His statement to Farfrae reinforces Henchard’s sense that a physical struggle is a fair fight, that when they meet hand-to-hand wealth and popularity cannot give Farfrae the advantage. Henchard still deliberates in the moment because Farfrae’s song reminds him of their past and their lost friendship.
Henchard says that Farfrae should not have insulted him as he did by bodily dragging him away from the royal personage. Farfrae becomes irritated at this, saying that Henchard had no right to be there and do what he did. Henchard says that they will fight in the loft, and one of them will fall through the door, while the master remains. Immediately, he attacks Farfrae who can only "respond in kind." The wrestling match brings Farfrae close to the door, but Henchard’s tied arm hampers him.
Farfrae has rarely showed any anger, toward Henchard or any other character in the novel. However, he is angered by Henchard’s approach of the royal personage, presumably because this wild behavior made him, the mayor, look bad. Farfrae is presented as only able to “respond in kind” in the fight. Henchard is clearly the one who instigated the fight.
Eventually, Henchard pins Farfrae at the edge, the young man’s head and arm dangling out the door. Henchard gasps that Farfrae’s life is in his hands, and Farfrae responds that he ought to just take it, as he has clearly wished to do for so long. Henchard is moved and exclaims that this is not true, and that he has never cared for any other friend, as he once cared for Farfrae. He says that although he came there to kill Farfrae, he finds he cannot do it, and he releases the younger man.
This scene is a dramatic climax of the novel: Henchard is moved from a desire to kill Farfrae to unwillingness to do so. His confession of how much he once cared for Farfrae emphasizes how deeply Henchard has been hurt. And while this hurt has often come about through his own doing, it is clear that Henchard has lost all the confidence he once had.
Farfrae leaves and Henchard sits in the loft for a long time, filled with self-reproach. He says aloud that Farfrae once liked him, but that now he is certain to hate him. He wishes to see Farfrae again that night, but, as he sat in the loft, he heard Farfrae come into the yard for his horse and gig. Abel Whittle brought him a letter and he told Abel that instead of heading to Budmouth, as he had planned, he had been summoned to Weatherby. Realizing that Farfrae won’t return until late, Henchard decides to wait for him. As he waits, he hears a confusion of rhythmic noises, like a band, but his humiliation is too great for anything else to catch his interest.
Henchard’s reflection in Farfrae’s loft is one of deep self-hatred and remorse. As with Lucetta and Elizabeth-Jane, Henchard realizes his connection to Farfrae in the moment that he loses him. He hopes to try to patch things up by speaking to Farfrae again, but the reader has already seen the problems with this approach with Lucetta and Elizabeth-Jane. Farfrae leaves for the evening, and only Henchard and Whittle know his change of plans.