The town of Casterbridge shows its Roman heritage in its architecture and every street, alley, and precinct. Farmers in the fields frequently uncover Roman skeletons while digging in the ground. One mark of Roman history is The Ring, a fine amphitheater existing from this earlier civilization. The Ring in Henchard and Susan’s day serves primarily as a spot for furtive encounters, however, it never serves as the site of happy secret meetings between couples. The dark history of The Ring hangs over the place. The town gallows once stood in The Ring and various crimes have been committed in the secluded area. Visitors to the location report having seen ghosts of gladiators in broad daylight.
The Ring is a symbol of both Casterbridge’s history and the furtive dealings that still occur in the town. The Ring is, therefore, the perfect meeting site for Henchard and Susan to keep their business private. The place is haunted by its history of crime and violence, and Henchard and Susan’s reunion is therefore grouped among these events: an illicit meeting between two ghosts from each other’s pasts. Also note how Susan threw off her ring when Henchard auctioned her away. Now a different ring is where they come back together.
Henchard chose The Ring as the meeting location for himself and his long-lost wife. He hopes to maintain his reputation, and therefore cannot invite her to his house after nightfall. The pair meets in the middle of The Ring and does not speak at first, but Susan leans against Henchard who holds her in his arms. His first words are to tell her that he no longer drinks and has not since that fateful night at the fair. He tells Susan that he thought she must have died, wondering why she kept silent and distant from him for so long.
Henchard’s concern for his reputation reflects his awareness that his hidden past is not compatible with the station he has achieved within Casterbridge society. Henchard and Susan’s first gesture upon meeting is one of physical intimacy: a hug that communicates a connection despite the amount of time that has passed since they were together.
Susan explains her confusion and the fact that she believed her commitment to Newson was binding. Henchard says that he thinks Susan innocent in her past actions, but he is frustrated by the thought of Elizabeth-Jane knowing the truth. Susan says she too could not bear for her daughter to know the truth, which is why she was brought up in ignorance. Henchard says that they must be careful to maintain the young woman’s ignorance, as well as to maintain his reputation in the town. He has developed the plan of securing a cottage in town for Susan and Elizabeth-Jane, and then staging their meeting, courtship, and marriage, so the pair may join Henchard in his home.
Henchard’s belief in Susan’s innocence allows him to forgive her for not seeking him out sooner. He wishes to continue to hide the truth from Elizabeth-Jane, and his plan to remarry Susan, after a proper display of courtship, reflects his new interest in both propriety and in providing for those whose care is one of his duties.
Henchard insists that the pair take nicer lodgings, so that they are perceived as genteel. Henchard repeats his anxiety about Elizabeth-Jane discovering the truth, and Susan assures him of how unlikely the young woman is to ever dream of the real story. As the two part, Henchard asks Susan if she forgives him. She struggles to respond, and he asks that she judge him by his future actions, rather than by the past.