Henchard returns home, and sees a light on in the office where Farfrae is still hard at work. Henchard admires Farfrae’s skill at overhauling the business’s books, as he himself is not inclined to tasks on paper, or tasks that require attention to details. Eventually, he stops the younger man’s work and insists that he join him for supper. Farfrae is already becoming used to the strength of Henchard’s requests and impulses.
Farfrae’s work on the business books emphasizes a fundamental difference between Henchard and himself: Henchard succeeds through strength of personality, and Farfrae through hard work and attention to details.
Henchard wishes to tell Farfrae about a family matter, saying that he is a lonely man, and that he might as well confess all to his new friend. Henchard tells in full the story of how he sold his wife and child nineteen years ago. He says that it has not been difficult for him to remain without a wife for those many years until this very day, for his wife has come back. Farfrae asks Henchard if he cannot make amends with his wife and resume his life with her. Henchard says that is indeed what he plans to do, but, in doing so, that he must wrong another woman.
Henchard confides in Farfrae before he knows him very well. He later regrets this action after the pair’s falling out. Henchard reveals to Farfrae the problem with his plan of marrying Susan, a problem that he did not explain to Susan in the previous scene. Henchard’s tendency to hide the truth to benefit himself is here revealed.
Henchard tells Farfrae of his commitment to another woman who had nursed him one autumn when he fell ill on his trade route through Jersey. This woman fell in love with Henchard and, although their relationship was innocent, their proximity and her affection for Henchard caused a scandal in her community. Henchard told her he could not marry her, out of concern that his wife Susan may yet be living. Recently, however, believing Susan to be no longer living, he decided to marry this other woman, if she would still have him knowing the circumstances.
Henchard’s connection with this woman in Jersey demonstrates the power of public opinion and reputation at this time period. Although their relationship was innocent, the affection this woman had for Henchard was enough to harm her reputation. Henchard feels that he must do what is “right” by this woman and by Susan, without considering his actual feelings for either woman.
Henchard’s agreement to marry the woman who had cared for him was followed directly by Susan’s reappearance. Farfrae is baffled by Henchard’s complicated circumstances, which far exceed his own straightforward experiences. Henchard feels that, despite his later agreement, his first duty must be to Susan. He is sympathetic, however, toward the other woman and decides to send the poor girl some money along with a letter Farfrae helps him craft.
The timing of Henchard’s decision to marry this other woman and the reappearance of Susan will hurt this other woman. His solution is to provide her with money. To Henchard, money seems a fitting replacement for a marriage or a relationship. Once again, money for Henchard is connected to the loss or gain of a human being.
Henchard concludes his tale by telling Farfrae about his daughter and her ignorance of her own past. Despite Farfrae’s advice to tell Elizabeth-Jane the truth and ask for her forgiveness, Henchard says that he will not do so, and that he and Susan will pretend to meet and remarry before renewing their lives together.
Farfrae’s advice is to tell Elizabeth-Jane the truth and to ask for forgiveness. This advice reflects Farfrae’s honesty. Henchard would prefer to conceal the truth than to reveal it and risk losing the girl’s affection.