One morning, Farfrae and Michael pass each other. Farfrae merely nods to his former friend, but Michael stops. He asks the young man if he remembers the story he told about the "second woman," and says that the woman will not have him. Farfrae says that he owes the woman nothing more, and the men part. Farfrae is convinced that the woman of the story is not Lucetta, and Michael is convinced that Farfrae is not the rival for Lucetta's affections. However, soon afterwards, Michael is having tea with Lucetta when Farfrae enters. Lucetta becomes so nervous and fluttery that Michael believes Farfrae is the rival. Elizabeth-Jane, who is watching the scene, is disgusted at everyone's behavior.
Michael sends for Joshua Jopp, the former applicant for the position of general manager, hoping that Jopp can still serve as a foreman. Jopp, who has been living in the slums of Casterbridge, names a moderate salary. To further persuade Michael, Jopp says that he lived in Jersey when Michael used to work there. Michael eagerly hires him. Jopp's first assignment is to ruin "the Scotsman's" business any way he can. Elizabeth-Jane learns that Michael has hired Jopp, whom she thinks is unfit for the position. When she tries to express her apprehension, Michael merely snaps at her.
The harvest weather always influences the price of grain. This June, the rains foretell a very bad harvest season, sending grain prices up. Michael wants to have proof that the harvest will fail, so he consults a weather diviner, Mr. Fall (who is called Wide-oh behind his back). Mr. Fall predicts that the harvest will be extremely rainy. Spurred by this prediction, Michael buys all the grain he can. However, soon the weather becomes perfect, and Michael loses money selling the corn at lower prices. He loses so much money that he must mortgage much of his property--and running into a sympathetic Farfrae on the way to the bank does not help Michael's mood. Michael fires Jopp for giving him bad advice, but Jopp swears that Michael will be sorry.
Elizabeth-Jane is once again the voice of reason when all the other characters are blinded by other passions. Farfrae is blinded by love for Lucetta; Lucetta is blinded by love for Farfrae and fear of Michael; Michael is blinded by a hatred of Farfrae. The reintroduction of Jopp figures heavily in this triangle: he hates Michael and Farfrae, and his connections to Jersey could cause him to have some connection to Lucetta. However, we must remember that Jopp is the villain. He lives in the slums of town, reflecting his true nature. His events and knowledge will inevitably lead to ruin.
The description of the farmer's connection to the weather is in keeping with the villagers' beliefs earlier in the novel. As stated before, the people derive their strength from the nature and from the pagan beliefs, even as they progress and use the latest technology. The danger is in believing in the old ways too much, as Michael does in his visit to the weather forecaster. Michael believes that this man can accurately predict the weather, which is simply foolish. The man's nickname gives a clue: "Wide-oh" could easily mean "wide off." Farfrae relies on sound business planning and that certain instinct that true people of nature have, and as a result he is a success.
Mr. Fall's name is certainly an allegory. He stands for the season of autumn, or fall--we can tell by his own reliance on "the sun, moon, and stars." His name is also a warning to Michael. Soon Michael will come to a "fall" in status because of his foolishness.
Farfrae begins buying grain when the fair harvest weather drives prices down. Just as Michael believes that the diviner could be correct, the weather immediately becomes damp. Farfrae turns a large profit, and Michael knows that the strange fate is again ruining him.
One September evening, Lucetta and Elizabeth-Jane hear a great outcry under the window. The hay wagons of Henchard and Farfrae have crashed, and both wagon drivers are loudly blaming each other. As the men begin a fight, Michael arrives. He blames Farfrae's driver, but Lucetta and Elizabeth-Jane, who saw the whole accident, blame Michael's driver. Michael's driver says that the women are just lying because they love Farfrae. Lucetta hurries into the house before Michael can ask her if it's true. The constable rides up saying that there is only one case to hear in court--the case of a disorderly old woman. Michael agrees to hear the case.
Afterwards, he tries to visit Lucetta, only to learn that she has another "engagement." From his hiding place in the shadows, he watches as Farfrae arrives for Lucetta. Michael follows them to the Market House. Farfrae and Lucetta declare their love for each other, though Lucetta wishes to have her way in some things. Michael leaves, going to Lucetta's home and waiting for her there. When she returns, Michael threatens to reveal their past connections if she does not agree to marry him. With Elizabeth-Jane as a witness, Michael forces Lucetta into accepting him. Elizabeth-Jane wonders why Lucetta is so familiar with her father.
Now Michael shows his own gift for clairvoyance in this chapter. He predicts that the conjurer was correct, that Farfrae will be Mayor, and that Lucetta's rival is Farfrae. Hardy adds a sly prediction in his noting that Lucetta had an "engagement" to go out. Of course, Michael's "fetishistic" beliefs, such as clairvoyance and superstition, surface in the face of defeat. In losing his grain and his money, Michael believes that someone is "stirring an unholy brew to confound me!"
Like Michael, Lucetta is haunted by the past--in her case, the past in Jersey. Instead of making it right, however, Lucetta chooses to run away from it, saying, "I don't want to hear it!" Michael behaves as he did in handling the marriage to Susan, in a loveless and bullying manner. His rough manner is made worse by the fact that Farfrae is the chief rival, and he will do anything to ruin Farfrae.
As a magistrate, Michael is obliged to preside over the court in the absence of the new Mayor, Dr. Chalkfield. As the constable told him the night before, there is only one case, that of the old woman. Michael looks at the old woman, believing that he knows her, but has no idea why.
Constable Stubberd explains that the old woman was disorderly in a gutter near the church. The old woman says that he is not giving sound testimony, but the magistrates disagree. After stumbling around the curse words that the old woman has said, the constable is stopped by Michael, who wants the woman's testimony. In response, she tells the story of the auction from Weydon-Priors twenty years ago, ending by saying that the man of the story was Michael. Although the magistrates try to stop the woman, Michael admits that the story is true, then steps down from the bench.
Meanwhile, one of Lucetta's servants has heard the story from the old furmity- seller. When Lucetta wonders why so many people are around town today, the servant tells her the whole story. Lucetta has never known why Michael and Susan were separated, so the news comes as a shock to her. She tells Elizabeth-Jane that she must vacation at Port-Bredy for a few days. When Michael calls on Lucetta later that week, Elizabeth-Jane tells him where Lucetta has gone. The next day, Elizabeth-Jane says she has returned, but is walking along the road to Port-Bredy.
Coincidence strikes again--what else could explain the furmity-seller's appearance in a town that is some miles away from her home base of Weydon-Priors? It is ironic that she, as a woman of a lower class and one who almost had forgotten the incident when Susan asked, should appear to bring down the gentleman mayor. The scene serves as a parallel scene to Nance Mockridge's accusation against Elizabeth-Jane in Chapter 20.
Hardy's humor shows again in the ineptitude of the court, with the clerk who cannot keep up with the testimony, and the foolish Stubberd who stumbles around curse words. Despite the wry commentary on the court, the magistrates are all convinced the furmity-seller is not to be believed (they have ruled against her two times before her accusation). Michael could have agreed with the magistrates and discounted her claim. However, we must respect him for his display of morality. The confession is also in keeping with his mercurial character as one of his many sudden decisions.
Lucetta walks along the road to Port-Bredy, eagerly waiting for Farfrae. Elizabeth-Jane appears to meet Lucetta. Suddenly the women become aware of an old bull that has escaped from his pen. As they run to a nearby barn for protection, the bull begins to chase them. Although the women make it to the barn, the bull enters and is ready to attack the women. Then a hand reaches out to grab the bull by his leading stick. It is Michael, who calmly subdues the bull and rescues the women.
Lucetta cries that she has left her muff in the abandoned barn, and Elizabeth-Jane runs back for it. On her way back to town, she meets Farfrae, who gives her a ride back into town. As they ride, Elizabeth-Jane tells Farfrae about the meeting with the bull and the rescue by Michael. Farfrae is very upset by the news, but does not attempt to find Lucetta for fear of intruding upon her and Michael. He drops Elizabeth-Jane off and goes home to continue packing for his move.
Meanwhile, Michael is helping Lucetta to town. He tells her that he will agree to an "indefinite engagement." Lucetta wants to do something in return for his rescue. Michael begs her to tell the creditor Mr. Grower that they will soon be married, in order to keep Grower from pressing for a payment. Lucetta cannot agree to this, since Grower was a witness to her wedding with Farfrae. After she heard about the auction, she felt unsafe with Michael. She went to Port-Bredy to marry Farfrae. Michael is so enraged that he sends Lucetta away roughly, threatening to reveal their past connection once again.
Naturally, the bull is a metaphor for Michael, who like the bull has placed Lucetta and Elizabeth-Jane in danger on several occasions. Like Michael, in Elizabeth-Jane's view the bull does not seem so terrifying, perhaps "having intended a practical joke than a murder." (Look for similar words that Michael uses to describe himself in Chapter 35.)
Irony strikes another blow to Michael in this chapter--the first of many blows that will occur in this section. He has risked himself to save the woman he loves--the woman who is actually his rival's wife. Yet there is an element of suspense present: Michael still has Lucetta's past as a deadly weapon. Despite his anger, he is still honorable enough (or perhaps prideful enough) not to take any of the money that Lucetta offers him for saving her life.
This is the first mention of the creditor Mr. Grower in the novel. His name is almost certainly an allegorical one that could represent God, though whether it is the Christian God or a pagan god is unclear. "Grower" hearkens back to the days in village folklore when people believed that certain agricultural gods were responsible for the harvest. Yet Michael and Lucetta seem to speak of him as the judgmental Christian God. Michael says that "it is at [Grower's] hands that I shall suffer if at anybody's," and Lucetta's cry that Grower has witnessed the marriage brings to mind a line from the marriage ceremony: "Those whom God has joined together, let no man put asunder."
Donald tells his landlady to move all his belongings to Lucetta's home. The move had been delayed because he had to take care of some business in Port-Bredy. He finally arrives at High-Place Hall to a warm welcome. Together they agree to tell Elizabeth-Jane about their marriage and to ask her to stay at the Hall. Lucetta meets Elizabeth-Jane and hesitantly begins to tell the girl about her past. Elizabeth-Jane wryly notes that she knows who the lady of the story is, and that her father is the first man in the story. She tells Lucetta that she has two "proper" choices: marry Michael, or remain single. When Lucetta flings her hand out, revealing her wedding-ring, Elizabeth-Jane thinks that Lucetta has married Michael. When Lucetta confesses that she has married Farfrae, Elizabeth-Jane is crushed. She quietly moves out of the Hall to an apartment across the street from Michael's rooms. The townspeople, who have been discussing the secret wedding, wonder if Farfrae will live off Lucetta's vast funds.
This chapter seems to give illogical behaviors to the characters. Farfrae, strangely enough, seems more concerned with securing his business appointments rather than hurrying home to his new bride. Perhaps Hardy means to hint that Farfrae and Lucetta really are not right for each other. Elizabeth-Jane also acts strangely in this chapter. We know that Elizabeth-Jane is a stickler for propriety, and would insist that Lucetta marry her father to save face. Yet we cannot explain why Elizabeth-Jane has not heard any of the gossip surrounding the furmity-seller's accusations. Hardy tries to cover up his logical mishap by saying that she is "never knowing what's going on," but even Elizabeth-Jane's too perfect ears would have heard something about her stepfather. Perhaps Hardy is trying to refer back to the quote from that she throws at Lucetta, which translates as, "Though I approve of the better things I see, I follow after the worse." This ironic quote certainly represents Elizabeth-Jane's tendency to support the "worse" characters of Lucetta and Michael.