The low prices of grain cause Farfrae to buy after Henchard has resold his grain and lost a significant amount of money. After three days of fair weather, at the end of August bad weather arrives and the harvest is poor. Farfrae who purchased at low prices before the harvest is able to make a large profit as prices rise. Henchard feels as if someone must have been making a voodoo doll of him to bring him such bad luck.
Farfrae times his purchases and sales perfectly with the weather and thrives. Henchard attributes his own bad luck and Farfrae’s good luck to luck or forces outside of their control (like a voodoo doll) rather than attribute the difference to their different business styles.
Henchard frets that Farfrae will soon be mayor, stepping up to fill the leadership position in town that Henchard once filled. Soon their workers take on the dispute between Henchard and Farfrae. One September evening, Elizabeth-Jane and Lucetta hear angry voices outside and discover a collision between two wagons in the narrow street, one driven by one of Henchard’s men, and the other wagon belonging to Farfrae. Henchard’s wagon spills and the two workers come to blows.
Henchard focuses on Farfrae’s social successes as well as his business ones, and worries that Farfrae will become the mayor. Henchard and Farfrae’s workers show surprising loyalty to both their masters. Perhaps this loyalty is based on their desires to maintain their respective master’s business and their own jobs.
Henchard arrives and, seeing the state of his wagon, yells at Farfrae’s man. Elizabeth-Jane and Lucetta run down into the street, and Lucetta says that they saw it all, and that Henchard’s man was most in the wrong. Henchard’s man fires up that the women aren’t trustworthy in what they saw, as all women favor Farfrae. Lucetta and Elizabeth-Jane retreat inside before Henchard is able to speak with him further and question Lucetta about her favoritism of Farfrae.
When Henchard yells at Farfrae’s man, Lucetta supports the worker’s actions. Henchard’s worker interprets this as favoritism rather than honesty. This is a problematic stereotype to assume all women behave in a certain way, but the generalization also reinforces Farfrae’s popularity among many people in Casterbridge.
As Henchard stands in the street, the constable arrives and asks him to fill in for the mayor, who is out of town, for a trial of an old woman to be held the next day. After agreeing to this, Henchard knocks at Lucetta’s door only to be told that she cannot see him that evening, as she has a prior engagement. Henchard hides nearby and watches her door, and at nine o’clock he sees Farfrae arrive and leave on a walk with Lucetta.
The detail of Henchard filling in on a trial the next day seems innocuous. It is unclear that this will be a turning point in the novel. Henchard spies on Lucetta and Farfrae, demonstrating how far he is willing to go, at this point, to discover their connection.
Henchard follows them, but to avoid meeting them face-to-face hides in the field where they are walking and overhears their conversation. He hears Farfrae’s expression of his strong feelings and Lucetta’s commitment to him, although she asks if they might not always live in Casterbridge, should she not like it. Henchard returns to Lucetta’s house and in his agitation opens her door, walks in, and waits for her return in her drawing room.
Henchard overhearing Farfrae and Lucetta’s conversation functions as a literary device for the reader to overhear the conversation as well. Henchard’s agitation and reaction frames the conversation, but the reader is also able to witness the connection between the two younger people.
Lucetta returns and Henchard presses her about her connection to him, alluding to their past in Jersey. He says that it is wrong of her to “throw him over,” and she said she only came to Casterbridge because she believed she ought to marry Henchard, not because she liked him any longer. While she does not explain this, it is clear that her duty and conscience ruled until new love intervened. Henchard says that unless she agrees that night to marry him, before a witness, he will reveal their history, out of fairness to other men.
Henchard confronts Lucetta and attempts to control her actions through his threat of revealing their past together. His reaction to overhearing her conversation with Farfrae is not sadness, but anger, and he tries to control her when he can no longer win her love. Lucetta’s change of heart shows the power love has over her sense of duty.
Lucetta bitterly agrees, and had she settled upon any man other than Farfrae, Henchard might have taken pity upon her in that moment. Elizabeth-Jane is sent for to serve as a witness. Lucetta swears to marry Henchard and then faints. Elizabeth-Jane implores her father not to force Lucetta to do anything that so clearly pains her. Henchard points out that this course of action will leave “him” free for Elizabeth-Jane, but Elizabeth-Jane insists that there is no one to whom the “him” could refer.
Elizabeth-Jane must serve as the witness to Lucetta and Henchard’s promise to marry, which means she is the only other character fully aware of the truth of the situation. Lucetta’s faint demonstrates her emotional distress, but also a stereotypical feminine weakness referenced in novels from this time period. Women, not men, faint when distressed.
After Henchard leaves, Elizabeth-Jane asks Lucetta how Henchard can have this much power over her, and why she calls him Michael, as if she knows him very well. Lucetta will not confess, but Elizabeth-Jane says she will try to reason with her father, until Lucetta says only, “no, no, let it all be.”
Lucetta will not confess her secret to Elizabeth-Jane despite the other woman’s involvement in the situation, demonstrating her inability to speak the secret aloud. She also does not want assistance.