When Lucetta returns from the Ring, Jopp is waiting for her. He meekly offers his services to Farfrae as a working partner, and asks Lucetta if she will speak in his favor. Lucetta says she knows nothing about Jopp, but Jopp insists that she knew him from her days in Jersey. Lucetta quickly leaves, fearful that Donald will notice that she is missing.
Jopp returns to his cottage, where Michael is waiting for him. He asks Jopp to take a package (containing Lucetta's letters) to Mrs. Farfrae that night, and Jopp agrees to do so. When Michael retires for the night, Jopp spends some time considering the relationship between Michael and Lucetta from the days in Jersey to the present. Curious and still angry that Lucetta so haughtily rejected him, Jopp opens the package and sees the bundle of letters. However, he seals up the package once again and leaves to deliver it.
On his walk, Jopp meets Mrs. Cuxsom and Nance Mockridge. They invite him to Peter's Finger in Mixen Lane, one of the most morally vile places in Casterbridge. The furmity-seller, who is giving wisdom to the group, asks Jopp what is in the package. Remembering his hatred of Lucetta, Jopp begins to read the letters aloud. The women are shocked, and murmur that this is a good reason to hold a skimmity ride. Suddenly a stranger enters the pub on his way to Casterbridge. When he asks what a skimmity-ride is, the landlady tells him that it is a funny sight, but expensive. Since the stranger will be in Casterbridge a while, and since he will need to be entertained, he tosses a gold sovereign to the crowd to pay for it. The townspeople eagerly plan the skimmity ride.
The next morning, Jopp delivers the package to the house. Lucetta quickly burns the letters.
The pubs of Casterbidge have declined in respectability through the novel just as the patrons of the pubs have declined. Here we have the seedy Peter's Finger inn, situated in the dirtiest and most dangerous side of town. Ironically, the women have the whitest aprons in this dark and dirty section. It is also the home of the once-important "lifeholders," revealing the tendencies of all those in power to make reckless decisions and fall as well. Peter's Finger is an allegorical name. The finger of St. Peter decides which people will reside in heaven or hell. Here the fingers of the townspeople will point towards the sinners they find--Michael and Lucetta.
More elements of suspense are introduced in this chapter. Who is the stranger, and how will he affect the plot, since we know that each character has a significant effect on the story? How will the skimmity ride affect Michael, Lucetta, and Farfrae?
Casterbridge learns that a member of the royal family will be passing through town very soon. Farfrae and the council are planning a suitable reception when Michael wanders into the meeting. He wants to join the council in meeting the visitor. At the uneasy glances exchanged by the council members, Farfrae refuses the request. Michael decides that he will meet the visitor anyway.
The royal visitor approaches the crowded and decorated town. As the visitor's carriage slows, Michael, dressed in shabby clothing, tries to shake the visitor's hand. Farfrae roughly pushes him into the crowd. Elizabeth-Jane, Lucetta, and the spectators are shocked at Michael's behavior. When someone says that Michael was responsible for Farfrae's rise to power, Lucetta indignantly says that Farfrae won his own success. The royal visitor seems not to have noticed anything. The ceremony is over within moments. The townswomen eagerly plan the skimmity ride, and Jopp announces that it will be held tonight. Coney and Longways, however, decide to write letters telling the Farfraes to stay out of town that night.
As usual, Michael refuses to accept his fate. Instead of meeting the visitor as the lower classes will in a large crowd, he must join the council to assert his individuality and his place as a gentleman. His attempt to greet the royal visitor is not really as dangerous or as shocking as the villagers see it: it is merely an attempt to regain some of the dignity that fate has stolen. Of course, Farfrae acts out of a sense of duty and concern for the visitor's safety in pushing Michael back. Yet that has only helped in spurring Michael's anger.
After Farfrae pushes Michael back, Farfrae sees that "his Calpurnia's cheek was pale." Calpurnia was the wife of Julius Caesar. By comparing Lucetta to Calpurnia, Hardy compares Farfrae to Caesar, implying Farfrae's great head for business and government. However, it also implies that Farfrae has a Brutus too, in the form of Michael. Will Michael actually assassinate his leader?
The townswomen seem more excited by the skimmity ride than the townsmen do, and Jopp is the most excited man. This could be a way of implying that Jopp has weaknesses as the women do. The women (as reflected by Nance Mockridge) want the ride to happen because they want to bring shame to the Farfraes and Michael. However, the men have differing ideas, wanting to protect their fellow man Farfrae by warning him in a letter. The women's actions could symbolize the acts of the Fates, the women of Greek mythology who dole out the proper punishments and cut the thread of life.
Lucetta rests on her laurels: her hand still feels the shake of the Royal hand, and people are saying that her husband will become a knight. Michael feels the shame and anger of being shoved away by Farfrae. Jopp tells him that he also has been snubbed by Lucetta, but Michael is too busy wallowing in his own misery. Michael plans to challenge Farfrae to a wrestling match, and immediately after dinner he sets out to find Farfrae, telling him to meet him at the granary. As Michael waits, he manages to tie one arm behind his back, since he is stronger than Farfrae.
Soon Farfrae arrives, humming a song that he last hummed at the Three Mariners. The melody moves Michael, who suddenly thinks that he can't fight. Nevertheless, Michael explains why he is attacking Farfrae, and seems determined to fight despite Farfrae's suggestion to cool down. Farfrae narrowly escapes a few blows, but soon Henchard's strength holds Farfrae out the window, three stories up. Again, Michael cannot bring himself to hurt the Scotsman, and Farfrae runs away as Michael lies in the corner. Farfrae tells Whittle that he is now going toward Weatherbury instead of traveling toward Budmouth. Wanting to see his friend but knowing it is too late, Michael goes to the stone bridge. He does not hear the noise coming from the village.
The chapter begins with an image of the proud Lucetta, thinking of her victories from the day. A paragraph later, the fallen Michael is angrily brooding about the man that has ruined his life. By setting the former lovers in opposition, Hardy implies that their fates are similar and intertwined. Just as Michael was once of a high status but fell quickly, Hardy implies that Lucetta will fall from her height just as quickly.
The scene that Elizabeth-Jane saw in the same granary in Chapter 33 serves as a parallel scene to the fight here, at first lacking only a female presence. For the second time, Michael has attempted to murder Farfrae, and with very little resistance from Farfrae. Although Michael has the physical strength to kill Farfrae, again he cannot do so because he is honorable at heart, not a murderer. This time, Michael has lowered himself so far that he actually gives up all claims to manhood. He sits in the corner not as a victorious man, but as servile "womanliness." The "unmanning" of Michael is nearly the final blow, ensuring a total defeat in life for him.
Donald at first wishes to go to Budmouth, but after he receives the note from the townspeople, he agrees to go to Weatherbury. Not only will his change of plans become important, but also the choice of towns is significant. Budmouth seems to be the place of "mouths," or the place where public opinion can reach him (through the gossip about the skimmity ride). The villagers who care about Farfrae send him to a place that they trust, "Weatherbury." It is fitting that the villagers trust a place that has "weather" in its name, as the connections between the farmer and the weather showed earlier.
Farfrae runs downstairs and plans to go to Budmouth as a way to recover from the attack before having to face Lucetta. However, Whittle gives him a note that advises his journey to Weatherbury, and he changes his plans accordingly. The note is from Longways, who is trying to keep the skimmity ride from being a "success." The townspeople do not warn Lucetta, believing that she must bear her scandal.
Lucetta sits in her drawing-room, confident. She overhears some nearby servants wondering which way someone is going. Two stuffed figures, a man and a woman, are riding a donkey. When the description of the woman reaches Lucetta's ears, she leaps to her feet. Elizabeth-Jane immediately enters the room and tries to keep Lucetta away from her window. Lucetta, however, is able to see that the image is of her, and is so shocked that she falls to the floor. Elizabeth-Jane sends for the doctor, who says that Farfrae must be found at Budmouth immediately.
The council members want to arrest the people responsible for the skimmity ride. Mr. Grower leads the council members in searching for the perpetrators. However, Jopp claims to have seen nothing, and at Peter's Finger, the crowd is quiet and orderly.
The inept town council tries to find justice once more. Just as their attempts failed in the furmity-seller's trial, so they fail here. The townspeople all show a willingness to lie for each other. Even Grower, perhaps the symbol of a God, cannot fight the fate that Lucetta must experience. The townspeople are destined to make Lucetta see her fate.
What leads to Lucetta's seizure? Hardy attributes it to a fit of epilepsy. Yet epilepsy is usually a lifelong condition, and Lucetta has never had a fit at any other point in the novel. Perhaps Fate has caused her epilepsy, dormant for so long, to return at this point. More likely, the shock of seeing herself in effigy caused her seizure. However, all her flaws led to this point. Her concern for keeping the past hidden and her pride have led to this attack by the townspeople. Her curiosity led her to see the skimmity ride from her window. Her overly passionate nature sends her feelings into a frenzy that may have led to her seizure.
Michael has returned towards Casterbridge. He sees the figures on the donkey and knows exactly what is happening, but chooses to go home and sleep. Yet he cannot sleep. In searching for Elizabeth-Jane, he goes to the Farfraes' home. Lucetta's servants tell him everything that has happened, and how someone has been sent to find Donald in Budmouth. Michael knows that Donald is on the way to Weatherbury and Mellstock, and tells everyone, but after his recent unspeakable behavior, no one believes him. Undaunted, Michael begins running on the road to Mellstock, hoping to catch Farfrae there.
Michael meets Farfrae on the road, telling him that he must come home immediately because his wife is in danger. Farfrae refuses to believe his attacker--he thinks that Michael is setting up a trap to finish the fight from earlier. Despite Michael's claim that he is true to Farfrae, Farfrae drives toward the next town. Michael returns to town, cursing himself on the way. Jopp meets Michael and says that a "sea-captain" has visited him, though Michael doesn't seem to care.
Later, Farfrae returns home to find that everything is as Henchard has said, and blames himself for not trusting Michael's word. As Farfrae sits by his wife's side, Lucetta tells him about her past with Michael. Michael paces in front of the house all night, making inquiries about the patient. As he paces, he also thinks about Elizabeth-Jane. When a servant finally leaves the house at dawn, she tells Michael that Lucetta has died.
In this sad chapter, Lucetta's death parallels the death of Susan before. Lucetta dies from a sudden attack as Susan did. As the dying Susan confessed to her beloved Elizabeth-Jane, Lucetta makes a confession to her beloved Farfrae. The townspeople also disregard any role they had in her death, pretending that the skimmity ride never happened.
More irony adds to the sadness of Lucetta's death. The townspeople saw the skimmity ride as a joke, but it became a deadly trick. Michael, the man who once would have done anything to keep Farfrae and Lucetta apart, is now the only one who can bring Farfrae to Lucetta's side. Farfrae does not believe Michael, because "there might be ironies" in his words of Lucetta's illnesses. Hardy is especially bitter when he points out that the smallest creature in nature is more peaceful that the noblest man: "the sparrows in his way scarcely flying... so little did they believe in human aggression at so early a time."
Finally, the element of suspense introduced is another plan of Fate to take happiness away from Michael. Elizabeth-Jane has been "the pinpoint of light" in the darkness of the skimmity ride and the death. Michael has just realized her worth as the "sea-captain" returns to see Michael. Could it be Newson returning for his daughter?