Henchard returns to town after standing and thinking on the second bridge. He witnesses the skimmington-ride procession as it passes and understands its meaning. He tries to see Elizabeth-Jane and learns that she is not at her home, but with Lucetta at Farfrae’s. Henchard calls there and learns how ill Lucetta is, and that Farfrae is being sought on the Budmouth road. Henchard says that he knows Farfrae has actually headed toward Weatherby, but Henchard’s position and opinion has been so far discredited that the servants will not believe him.
Henchard’s reaction to the skimmington-ride is to seek Elizabeth-Jane’s support. He is more dependent on the support and care of his step-daughter than he fully realizes at this point. When Henchard learns of Lucetta’s illness and how Farfrae is being sought in the wrong place, he genuinely attempts to help. But, like the boy who cried wolf, Henchard’s genuine advice is no longer trusted.
Henchard resolves to seek Farfrae himself. He intercepts Farfrae’s gig on the road from Weatherby as he is heading to Mellstock. Henchard insists that Farfrae needs to return home and that is wife is ill. As he repeats this news, he realizes Farfrae’s complete distrust of Henchard and his story. Farfrae says that he must go to Mellstock and will not follow Henchard down the road to Casterbridge, where, Henchard realizes, Farfrae thinks that a man who tried to kill him that very day may have confederates hiding.
Henchard does not realize how fully he has undermined himself and his good intentions with Farfrae until he confronts him on the road and tells him the truth. Farfrae is unwilling to believe him, and Henchard has, if anything, achieved the opposite, and caused Farfrae to avoid returning home. Henchard has done something that he sees he cannot reverse.
Henchard returns to Farfrae’s house alone, dismayed at this failed attempt to do something for Farfrae’s good. He asks Elizabeth-Jane, who is at the house, how Lucetta is doing. Elizabeth-Jane says that she fears the townsfolk have killed Lucetta. Henchard reflects on Elizabeth-Jane and the care and affection she continues to show him, as no others do. He begins to realize that even though she is not his daughter, perhaps they may care for each other as father and daughter.
Henchard realizes how important Elizabeth-Jane is in his life. This realization is, primarily, about himself. He notices how she is the only one who is still kind to him. With Elizabeth-Jane he might be able to reverse the past. He also sees, for the first time, Elizabeth-Jane’s selflessness.
Henchard returns home to Jopp’s cottage. Jopp’s face is anxious as he mentions the bad news of Lucetta’s illness, but Henchard does not suspect his part in it. Jopp says that a man, a sailor, has called for Henchard while he was away.
Henchard is not suspicious of Jopp, despite his distressed reaction to Lucetta’s illness. It is clear that Jopp meant to hurt Lucetta, but not so dramatically. The mysterious sailor is that this point unexplained, although there is only one sailor of note in the novel: Newson.
Farfrae returns home late and is greatly distressed to see his misinterpretation of Henchard’s motives. Another doctor is sent for, and Farfrae stays by Lucetta’s side throughout the night. He doesn’t hear the details of the skimmington-ride, as the news of Lucetta’s severe illness and miscarriage spreading throughout the town silences any mention of the cause of her situation. How much of the true story Lucetta may have confessed to her husband during the night remains Farfrae’s secret alone.
Lucetta’s situation is characterized as a miscarriage, showing fully the dangerous situation for a woman of this time period. The villagers who hear this news do not mention the skimmington-ride. The secret is concealed, rather than confessed to Farfrae, who may, however, hear some of the story from his wife.
Henchard calls at Farfrae’s throughout the night, to check on Lucetta’s condition, but also to see Elizabeth-Jane. Every other hope and connection having been removed from his life, causes Henchard to focus more and more on the stepdaughter who still cares for him. At Henchard’s final call at about four o’clock in the morning, he sees a servant taking a muffling cloth off the knocker on the door. The servant says that any visitors may knock as loudly as they will now, but the lady of the house will hear them no more.
Henchard focuses intensely on Elizabeth-Jane, this intensity growing in the hours after his realization of her worth. This focus also coincidences with his realization of how irreparable is his connection with Farfrae. Lucetta’s death is represented by the knocker, which, when no longer muffled, shows that the invalid can no longer be disturbed by noise from this world.