Elizabeth-Jane, although she now draws Donald Farfrae’s gaze, is still not noticed by the townspeople until her dress evolves to contrast the plainness, which had marked her before. Henchard purchased her a fine pair of gloves, and she bought a bonnet to match them, but found she had no dress to match them, and so, in this way, her wardrobe evolved. The people of Casterbridge feel she has artfully created an effect by dressing plainly for so long in order to make her new appearance the more noticeable by contrast.
Elizabeth-Jane draws the attention and interest of the villagers as she improves her fashion. The villagers suppose her new dress to be an artful contrast to her old style. Fashion, even in this time period, received the interest, attention, and gossip of others. Others misunderstand Elizabeth-Jane’s innocence and purity.
Elizabeth-Jane feels surprised and overwhelmed by the admiration and notice of the town, despite reminding herself that she may have gained the admiration of those types whose admiration is not worth having. But Farfrae, too, admires her. However, Elizabeth-Jane feels, after consideration, that she is admired for her appearance, which is not supported by an educated mind or a truly gentile background. She feels she’d be better off selling her fine things and purchasing grammar books and histories instead.
Elizabeth-Jane takes a logical view of her new popularity, realizing that it is based on her appearance, and not based on her character and her mind. She feels that those qualities are more important, which demonstrates her level-headedness, as well as her confidence that, as a woman, she is worth more than her appearance. She is, however, pleased by Farfrae’s attention.
Henchard and Farfrae continue their close friendship, and yet the disagreement that would break apart their friendship is already beginning. At six o’clock one evening, as the workers are leaving, Henchard calls back and scolds a perpetually tardy young man named Abel Whittle. Abel often over-sleeps and his comrades forget to wake him up. During the previous week, he had kept other workers waiting for almost an hour on two different days.
The source of Henchard and Farfrae’s eventual falling out is a man named Abel Whittle, a perpetually tardy worker. The conflict between Henchard and Farfrae begins when Henchard scolds Abel for his tardiness, demonstrating a different management style than Farfrae’s. Farfrae is generous. Henchard cares about people following his orders.
The next morning at six, Abel does not arrive at work. Henchard finds the other man who was to work with him that day waiting with their wagon at six-thirty. Abel arrives out-of-breath at that minute and Henchard yells at him, swearing that if he is late the next morning that he will personally drag Abel out of bed. Abel tries to explain his situation, but Henchard will not hear him.
Henchard’s shortness of temper is emphasized in his interactions with Abel, as the young man tries his patience. Henchard is interested only in Abel’s performance and not his explanation of his tardiness.
The next morning, the wagons have to travel all the way to Blackmoor Vale, so the other workers arrive at four, but there is no sign of Abel. Henchard rushes to his house and yells at the young man to head to granary—never mind his breeches—or that he would be fired that day. Farfrae encounters the half-dressed Abel in the yard before Henchard returns. Unimpressed with the situation, Farfrae commands Abel to return home, dress himself, and come to work like a man. Henchard arrives and exclaims over Abel leaving, as all the men look to Farfrae. Farfrae insists that his joke has been carried far enough, and when Henchard won’t budge, he says that either Abel goes home and gets his clothes, or he, Farfrae, will leave Henchard’s employ for good.
Henchard’s treatment of Abel goes against propriety, as well as the worker’s dignity. He does not let the young man get dressed, which shames him in front of the other workers. Farfrae stands up for Abel, saying that he will quit if Abel is not treated with decency and respect, and sent home to retrieve his clothes. Farfrae uses his own weight, which is his importance to the business, in order to get his way. His way is, however, the kind and respectful treatment of any worker.
Farfrae and Henchard privately converse, and Farfrae entreats him not to behave in this tyrannical way. Henchard is very hurt that Farfrae would speak to him as he did in front of all the workers. Henchard is moody all day, and when asked a question by a worker, he exclaims, “ask Mr. Farfrae. He’s master here!”
Henchard, who was once the most admired man among his workers and in Casterbridge, is the most admired no longer. A farmer in Durnover sends for Mr. Farfrae to value a haystack, but the child delivering the message meets Henchard instead. At Henchard’s questioning, the child says that everyone always sends for Mr. Farfrae because they all like him so much. The child repeats the gossip in the town to Henchard: Farfrae is said to be better tempered then him, as well as cleverer, and that some of the women go so far as to say that they wish Farfrae in charge rather than Henchard.
Henchard learns from a child that Farfrae is more popular than he is among the villagers. This, it seems to the reader, should have been obvious to Henchard when there have been so many examples of Farfrae’s popularity. Henchard, however, was blinded by his regard for Farfrae. However, as soon as Farfrae challenges him, Henchard begins to feel threatened and to see Farfrae’s popularity as a further threat.
Henchard goes to value the hay in Durnover and meets Farfrae along the route. Farfrae accompanies him, singing as he walks, but he stops as they arrive remembering that the father in the family has recently died. Henchard sneers at Farfrae’s interest in protecting others’ feelings, including his own. Farfrae apologizes if he has hurt Henchard in any way. Henchard decides to let Farfrae value the hay, and the pair parts with their friendship renewed. However, Henchard often regrets having confessed the full secrets of his past to Farfrae, who he thinks of now with a vague dread.
Henchard and Farfrae’s friendship is restored because of Farfrae’s immediate and honest apology when Henchard acts as if he has been offended. Henchard is able, at this point, to accept the apology, but he is never as comfortable and as open with Farfrae again. He fears Farfrae has power over him because of his knowledge of Henchard’s secret.