The next morning, Elizabeth-Jane rises early and meets Farfrae as he leaves his house. She says that she has something to tell him about Henchard and did not want to alarm Lucetta by calling at the house. She says that she fears Henchard will insult or harm Farfrae in some way. Farfrae’s reaction is one of disbelief. He does not suppose that the poor man in his employ with whom, he believes, he gets on well would do him any actual injury.
Farfrae is unable to believe that Henchard would hurt him. This is a moment of dramatic irony because the reader is aware of the extent of Henchard’s hatred. Farfrae doesn’t believe Elizabeth-Jane, showing him to be blinded by his goodwill towards all.
Elizabeth-Jane leaves Farfrae, unhappy that she has not been able to impress upon him the seriousness of the situation. Farfrae does not forget the conversation, however, and he knows from Elizabeth-Jane’s serious character that she would not make such a warning lightly. Later that day, Farfrae meets the town clerk about his kind plan to set Henchard up in a new shop. The clerk, Lawyer Joyce, tells Farfrae that others see what he does not: how deeply Henchard hates him.
Upon reflection, Farfrae realizes that the warning has weight because it comes from Elizabeth-Jane. But it takes confirmation from another character for Farfrae to admit Henchard’s hatred to himself. As a popular person, the concept of being hated is foreign to Farfrae and difficult for him to believe or understand.
Farfrae feels obligated to keep Henchard in his employ, as the man was his friend for so long, but he decides to give up on securing him the new shop. He tells the owner of the shop that the plan has changed, and the owner then tells Henchard that a plan of the council’s to set Henchard up in the shop was struck down by Farfrae.
Gossip is harmful in this scene. Farfrae’s decision reaches Henchard as a willful act of harm against him. Although gossip has been used throughout this novel, it has never warped the truth of a situation as it does here.
When Farfrae returns home that evening, he is visibly troubled. He confesses to Lucetta that he is worried about and confused by Henchard’s hatred of him. He says that he cannot understand why Henchard feels so strongly about the situation, saying that he acts as if they are in an old-fashion rivalry of love, rather than a small trade rivalry. Lucetta, pale, wonders what he has heard, but he assures her that the situation is not all that bad. Lucetta says she wishes he would seriously consider her plan of moving elsewhere.
Farfrae comes very close to discerning the truth when he observes that Henchard’s actions resemble the dramatic behavior of an “old-fashioned” love rival. His use of the world “old-fashioned” gives both the character and the author’s understanding of historical romance, in the context of a narrative, which the reader may consider “old-fashioned.”
Farfrae and Lucetta are discussing this plan when the current mayor, a Mr. Vatt, arrives at their house. He shares the news of the previous mayor Chalkfield’s death. Mr. Vatt offers Farfrae his seat on the council, and Farfrae accepts, despite Lucetta’s reminder that they were discussing moving away.
Farfrae prioritizes his social position in Casterbridge over Lucetta’s wish to move away. Although he doesn’t understand Lucetta’s reasons, he is still surprisingly ready to ignore her wishes in the face of this offer.
Lucetta is very troubled from that evening onward. Imprudently, she asks Henchard when she next encounters him about the parcel of love letters she had sent him and then asked him to return to her. He recalls packing them up and then not seeing her on the coach through Casterbridge. Lucetta says she was prevented from arriving at that time by the death of her wealthy aunt, and wishes to have the letters returned to her.
Lucetta's request is imprudent because Henchard had forgotten about the letters she sent him, which are evidence of their history. Henchard has demonstrated his desire to control her and to seek revenge for her marriage to Farfrae, and she has reminded him of the ammunition to use if he wants to hurt her.
Henchard later realizes that the letters are most likely still in a safe in his old home, where Lucetta and Farfrae now live. Henchard is already furious about his mistaken information on Farfrae’s willful end to the plan to give him the seed shop when he learns that Farfrae has been elected to the council. The next day, he asks Farfrae about a package of letters left in the safe, which Farfrae says he has not opened.
Ironically, the letters are in Lucetta’s possession, left in the house where she and Farfrae now live. When Henchard hears that Farfrae has been elected to the council, this is another blow to his pride. He asks about the letters because he plans to reveal the truth.
Henchard calls the next evening to pick up the papers from the safe, having had some alcohol beforehand to prepare himself. He inquires after Lucetta and learns she is already in bed. Henchard asks Farfrae if he remembers the woman who had once been interested in Henchard, but whom he could not marry after Susan returned. Henchard indicates that the letters are from this woman and reads some of the writing aloud to Farfrae. Farfrae asks what has become of the woman, and Henchard says she has married well, saving him from any guilt upon seeing her letters. Henchard had intended to read the name at the end of the letters aloud and so reveal the truth that way, but in the moment he finds he cannot hurt both Farfrae and Lucetta in cold blood.
This scene demonstrates a key aspect of Henchard’s personality: despite his anger, his willingness to blame others, and his long-held grudges, he is not cold-hearted. To scheme and to prepare Farfrae and Lucetta’s destruction is something he cannot do. If he were angry in the moment, he may have revealed the secret. If the secret had been revealed, the course of the novel would have been dramatically changed. The scene is tense for the reader who observes Henchard teetering on the edge of telling the secret. But ultimately, while terribly flawed, Henchard is not a bad person, which in turn only heightens the tragedy of the novel.