Lucetta walks along the road. Before turning back, she peers into the distance, looking for any approaching figure. When she turns back toward town, an approaching person, Elizabeth-Jane, has decided to come meet Lucetta on her walk. Lucetta she sees a loose male cow on the road. At this time in the year, cattle are driven to and from Casterbridge to be auctioned. Lucetta and Elizabeth-Jane regard the large bull with concern. They notice that a stick hangs from the ring in the bull’s nose, which immediately alarms them, as this animal must have gone wild and escaped from whoever had been holding him.
Lucetta is walking along the road toward Port-Bredy when Elizabeth-Jane joins her. At this point in the novel, the two women seem closer than they ever have been. Elizabeth-Jane is supporting Lucetta by accompanying her. The bull that chases the two women presents a threat from the natural world. The natural world is beyond human control, threatening and influencing human lives.
Lucetta and Elizabeth-Jane see a barn off the road, but as soon as they turn toward it, the bull begins to chase them. As they start to run, the bull charges. They run into the barn and circle inside, as the bull chases them in. At the last possible moment, a man appears, grabs the bull by the stick attached to its nose, and wrenches its head violently. Their rescuer is Henchard.
Lucetta and Elizabeth-Jane flee the bull, but at the last second they are rescued. Henchard is able to establish physical control over the bull, which is both comforting and troubling. Henchard treats the animal violently, reflecting his cruelty and ability to control.
Henchard consoles a frantic Lucetta, saying that he has returned the favor of saving her, as she once saved him (while he was ill in Jersey). He says he followed her on her walk in order to speak with her. As they leave, Lucetta realizes she dropped her muff in the barn and Elizabeth-Jane offers to run back for it. After collecting the muff, Elizabeth-Jane looks at the bull, pitying him now that he stands quietly, his nose bleeding.
Elizabeth-Jane leaves Henchard and Lucetta alone, which gives them time to speak to each other. Elizabeth-Jane’s observation of the bull and her pity for him reinforces Henchard’s act of rescue as, fundamentally, an act of domination. This shows what he is capable of in his treatment of others.
As she returns to the road, Elizabeth-Jane encounters Farfrae driving a wagon. She tells him what has happened and he gives her a ride back to town. Although they see Henchard and Lucetta ahead of them, Farfrae does not hurry his horse in order to catch up with the pair on foot. Farfrae returns home, where his house is in disarray, as his servants learned that day that he is planning to move.
Farfrae and Elizabeth-Jane have not been alone in a long time, and Farfrae’s offer to drive Elizabeth-Jane shows that the two treat each other as friends. Farfrae intentionally gives Lucetta and Henchard time to speak, which indicates that he must sense the tension between them.
Henchard and Lucetta’s conversation on the walk back begins with Henchard’s apology for his insistence the other evening and his offer that they remain engaged until such a time as Lucetta is ready to marry. Lucetta says she is grateful for his help in rescuing her and wishes she could do some other thing in order to repay him.
Henchard apologies for his treatment of Lucetta, but does not budge on the critical point: that she must one day marry him. Lucetta’s gratitude for his rescue shows that she is not completely repulsed by Henchard’s treatment and her knowledge of his past.
Henchard suggests something else she could do to help him. His primary creditor Mr. Grower expects money, which Henchard cannot yet pay, given his financial situation. Henchard hopes that Lucetta will go with him before Mr. Grower to confirm their engagement, which will show that Henchard will be able to eventually pay off his debts. Lucetta says she cannot do this, and, eventually confesses that Mr. Grower was a witness of her marriage—to Mr. Farfrae when they married that very week in Port-Bredy.
Henchard’s favor that he asks of Lucetta shows his focus on his own affairs. He hopes to survive his financial problems on Lucetta’s money, and perhaps this is connected to his insistence that she marry him. Lucetta’s confession of her secret marriage is a surprise for both Henchard and the reader, who did not know until this point whether Lucetta would marry Farfrae, Henchard, or neither man.
Henchard bursts out angrily that Lucetta would marry Farfrae while bound in agreement to him. Lucetta says she knew she had to secure Farfrae before Henchard went so far as to confess the truth of their past situation. The bells of the church are ringing, and Henchard asks if that is in celebration of Farfrae and Lucetta’s marriage. Henchard says that he wishes to punish her for her betrayal by telling Farfrae everything, and Lucetta begs him to not do so, offering to pay off his debts for him. Henchard parts from her angrily.
Lucetta’s underhanded manipulation of both men is clear when she confesses that she had to get Farfrae to marry her before he knew the truth. Henchard, now that he can no longer control Lucetta with their secret, threatens to punish her with it. Lucetta is revealed to be not so different from Henchard in this scene: willing to do whatever it takes to secure her own interests.