As Lucetta arrives at home after her secret meeting with Henchard, Jopp stops her outside. He asks her to put in a good word for him with her husband, as Jopp hopes to be offered a position as Farfrae’s working partner. Lucetta says she knows nothing about the issue, and refuses to offer her help. Jopp points out that she knows he is trustworthy, as they knew each other slightly in Jersey. Lucetta still refuses his request.
Lucetta’s refusal of Jopp’s request is surprising. Until this point in the novel, Lucetta has only interacted with characters who she cares about or who she is manipulating or who have power over her. When interacting with Jopp, Lucetta is dismissive, and acts as if her position places her above him.
Jopp returns to his cottage where Henchard asks him to do him a favor by delivering a package to Mrs. Farfrae. He says that he would take it himself, but does not wish to be seen at their house. Jopp agrees and Henchard retires to his own portion of the house. Jopp sits up and as he looks at the parcel he is supposed to deliver, he wonders about the connection between Henchard and Lucetta. He was aware in Jersey that there was some sort of connection between them. Inspired by Lucetta’s haughtiness to him, Jopp peeks in the end of the parcel and sees that it is full of letters.
Henchard’s request to have Jopp deliver the parcel is innocent, not a scheme. The exchange of the parcel seems fated, however. Many events in this novel exhibit ironic coincidence: Farfrae’s replacement of Henchard in Casterbridge, for example, is perfect and complete. Jopp receives this parcel about Lucetta directly after Lucetta has hurt him. Her treatment of him inspires his retaliation.
Jopp leaves on foot to deliver the parcel and meets Mother Cuxsom and Nance Mockridge, who invite him for a drink in Mixen Lane. Mixen Lane constitutes the poorest part of Casterbridge, full of disease, decay, recklessness, and the lowest class of residents of the town. Mixen Lane is separated from the countryside by a brook, which resident poor folk cross by way of wooden plank bridges lowered by others from the town side. The inn and pub of Mixen Lane is the centrally located Peter’s Finger. The front door is always closed and patrons enter through a hidden side door in an alleyway.
The language chosen to describe Mixen Lane and Peter’s Finger captures the way in which lower class life, poverty, and minor criminal activity compliment each other in Casterbridge. The poverty of this area creates people who are naturally secretive, e.g. they enter their pub through a concealed side door. Mixen Lane shows the economic divide in Casterbridge, and accounts for the unpopularity of the wealthy.
Among the mixed company at Peter’s Finger, where Jopp and his companions arrive, is the furmity-woman, lately settled in that area. Charl tells an animated story about his fight with another man, Joe. The furmity-woman inquires about the parcel, which Jopp holds. Jopp replies that the parcel contains the love letters of a great woman in town, whom he would like to shame. Mother Cuxsom exclaims that they should read the love letters, and Jopp opens the parcel.
It is no surprise to find that the furmity-woman fits in among the crowd at Peter’s Finger. The furmity-woman, like Mother Cuxsom, is curious about affairs that are not her own, like Jopp’s letter parcel. The characters and their stories flesh out the world of Casterbridge, showing a side of Casterbridge that is both impoverished and violent.
As the letters are read, the identities of the main players are revealed. The furmity-woman feels she has saved Lucetta from a bad marriage. Nance Mockridge says the letters are a good foundation for a skimmity-ride, a custom in Casterbridge for exposing scandals and shaming those involved.
The skimmington (or skimmity) ride is presented as a familiar custom. The practice seems to allow the poor to avenge themselves on the wealthy who enjoy very different lives than themselves. They achieve this revenge by shaming the rich, by attacking their reputations.
A whistle is heard and Joe and Charl go to lower the bridge across the brook for a man who is arriving. In the process, they are hailed by a stranger, who asks whether this is the way to Casterbridge. Joe and Charl lower the bridge for this man as well. Seeing the inn, the stranger invites Joe and Charl back in for a bite to eat at his expense, as a thank you for their assistance.
The bridge over the river and the whistle needed to lower the bridge shows the secrecy of Mixen Lane and the close-knit community. The community will, however, welcome a stranger who seems more economically stable.
In the light of the inn, the stranger is revealed to be more finely dressed than expected. Upon seeing the company at Peter’s Finger, the stranger seems uninterested in taking a room there for the night. He overhears the discussion of the skimmington-ride and asks what it is. He offers some money toward the proceedings, saying that he’ll be in Casterbridge for a while and that the skimmington-ride sounds like great entertainment. Having inquired the way into town, the stranger takes his leave.
Despite the stranger’s welcome at Peter’s Finger, the stranger sees himself as above the lodgings. The physical appearance of the location and the people is the basis for the stranger’s decision. Appearance and company could indicate whether or not a place was “proper”. The stranger is not, however, too proud to disapprove of the skimmington-ride.
The skimmington-ride having been planned, Jopp leaves, but does not deliver the letters that night, at the late hour. Jopp delivers the letters the next morning and Lucetta promptly burns them, grateful than no evidence of her unlucky situation with Henchard remains.
Although Jopp delivers the letters, the damage has been done and the secret has been exposed. Evidence is, in this moment, less important than public opinion.