The next day, Henchard goes to the Town Hall to fill in for Dr. Chalkfield, the mayor for that year. The woman on trial is elderly and poorly dressed. Constable Stubberd implies that he caught her in the act of relieving herself right by the church. Stubberd is sworn in and gives his testimony, during which the old woman objects twice, and the bench must consult. The old woman has been in court more times than the magistrates, so they must be careful about how they proceed.
It is clear from the old woman’s trial that she is both intelligent and difficult to handle. She challenges the proceedings in any way she can, which demonstrates that the men who are passing judgment on her do not intimidate her. She is also shown to be a repeat criminal through her knowledge of court proceedings.
Finally impatient with these proceedings, Henchard interrupts and asks the old woman if she has anything to say. She says yes, and refers to a time twenty-years earlier when she was selling furmity at the Weydon Fair. The clerk says that cannot be relevant to the case, but Henchard is startled and forgets to worry about the case at hand. The woman tells the story of a man who sold his wife and child and points out Henchard as that very man.
Henchard is the one who asks the woman to speak, and he is the one whose reputation is damaged irreversibly by the story she tells. The woman tells the shocking story of the man who sold his wife and child before pointing out Henchard as the subject of the story, a rhetorical technique that produces dramatic effects.
The other members of the court protest, but the furmity-woman says the story shows that Henchard is no better than she, and therefore unfit to pass judgment on her. Henchard confirms the truth of the story, and leaves the court, saying he must avoid any temptation to seek revenge on this woman by way of punishment.
Henchard is more strongly impacted by the weight of the woman’s story than anyone else. He admits the truth of it, instead of attempting to discredit the woman. Henchard is, despite his flaws, honest about his past in this moment.
Lucetta sees a large crowd around the Town Hall that day and asks her servant what everyone is so curious about. The servant says that an old woman in court has revealed that Henchard once sold his wife and child for five guineas. Lucetta is greatly disturbed to hear the true character of the man who she is being coerced into marrying.
Lucetta hears the story about Henchard by word of mouth. The story reveals Henchard’s true character to her, she feels. However, his crime of selling his wife and child is barely worse than the way he has already treated Lucetta. Arguably, it is also similar in spirit if not in degree to the way she used Elizabeth-Jane.
Lucetta tells Elizabeth-Jane that she plans to go to Port-Bredy, to the seaside, for a few days. Elizabeth-Jane, perceiving her unhappiness, encourages this plan. While Lucetta is away, Henchard calls at the house only to learn of her absence. He calls the next day, but learns that Lucetta is out walking on the road toward Port-Bredy.
A trip to the seaside was often completed for one’s health, or as a vacation, at this time period. Elizabeth-Jane is not surprised to hear that Lucetta would want to take such a trip, and is not suspicious of her motives.