The crowd of poor people watching outside has grown during the conversation in the inn. One young man, ruddy and bright-eyed with a Scotch accent, stands out of the crowd. He quickly writes a note and orders someone to give it to the Mayor. He then asks for lodgings, and the waiter points him toward the Three Mariners Inn. Meanwhile, the note is delivered to the Mayor, who reacts with shock and surprise.
Elizabeth-Jane, who watched the young man with interest, now suggests that she and her mother spend the night at the Three Mariners as well. After the women leave, Michael asks about the note writer. When the mayor learns that the young Scotsman is staying at the Three Mariners, he walks there. Before entering the inn, Michael tries to "tone himself down to his ordinary everyday appearance."
The chapter opens with a description of the young Scotsman, who is "ruddy and of a fair countenance, bright-eyed, and slight in build." Compare this description to that of Michael from Chapter 5: "a man... of heavy frame, large features... his general build being rather coarse than compact." The two men are complete opposites in physical appearance. Here their appearances serve as a sort of foreshadowing of their personalities. We know that Michael behaves as he looks: coarse and bullish, relying upon his strength. We can assume that the young Scotsman will act as his appearance indicates: weak but relying more on his intellect than his strength.
Through his use of metaphorical place names, Hardy shows that his characters are motivated by a power stronger than their free will. Relying first upon the Bible, Hardy sends Michael away from the King's Arms Hotel. The "King's Arms" could represent the control exerted by God's force (the weapons that the King of Heaven uses to guide men). The Henchards are drawn to the Three Mariners in because they act as three mariners, adrift on the tumultuous sea of Chance.
Indeed, chance dominates this chapter. By chance the Scotsman hears the conversation about the corn and happens to have the solution. By chance Elizabeth-Jane notices the young man, and by chance all three stay at the Three Mariners. Michael just misses his family on the way to find the man. Coincidence plays a major role in Hardy's novels. The coincidences in this chapter are just a few examples of the work of a greater power that seems to constantly work against mankind--at least in Hardy's view.
Elizabeth-Jane and Susan arrive twenty minutes before the mayor arrives. They are shown to a room, which is so marvelous that the women fear that they cannot afford such a fine room. Elizabeth-Jane decides to go downstairs and offer her services as a helper, in the hope that the landlord will give them a discount. As she works, the Scotsman calls for supper, and Elizabeth-Jane is ordered to carry his meal. The landlady follows her, and kindly tells her to see to her own dinner. Elizabeth-Jane finds her mother listening to the conversation that is taking place in the room next door--the Scotsman's room.
Michael is there to see the note writer, believing that he is an applicant for the position of general manager, someone named Joshua. The Scotsman introduces himself as Donald Farfrae, a young man leaving for America. He has a method for turning the bad grain into usable grain, and he gives it to Michael freely. Michael is so pleased that he offers Farfrae the position of general manager, but Farfrae declines. Michael says the young man reminds him of his brother, and Farfrae seems to have a wonderful head for figures. Farfrae is touched, and offers to drink with Michael, but Michael tells him about the oath. Farfrae is moved by Michael's honesty, but says he cannot stay because he wants to see the world.
Hardy applies a bit of irony to Elizabeth-Jane's character here. The girl desperately wants to stay at a fancy inn because "we must be respectable." Yet she offers her services in the disreputable job of serving-maid. While Hardy tries to put a noble spin on it, saying that Elizabeth-Jane sacrifices her dignity to save money for her mother, we must remember that the townspeople can still see Elizabeth-Jane acting as a maid, a fact that will return later to haunt the girl.
The inn itself serves as a metaphor for Michael (and Casterbridge as a whole). The inn has so many instances of "awkwardness, crookedness, and obscurity" that it attempts to cover up with "quantities of clean linen." Likewise, Casterbridge is covered up with "clean linen," the false fronts of the villagers, that will eventually be swept away to reveal the crookedness of the gossipy villagers. Michael stands at the center of this, dressed in mayor's clothing that covers the obscurity of his past.
Yet Hardy prevents us from seeing Michael as a completely wicked man. We learn that he regards his previous mistake as a cross to continually bear. Michael seems to be a lonely man, wanting someone to help him run the business and give him advice. Although Farfrae is different in mindset from Henchard (freely giving the solution and wanting to travel to different lands), it seems that he will be a worthy candidate for friendship and partnership. Nevertheless, Hardy gives another hint that Michael is a fickle man--he cannot remember the previous applicant's Jopp's name.
The women hear the whole conversation. Susan is especially affected by the confession of the oath. Elizabeth-Jane collects Farfrae's tray, then hangs back to watch the events in the sitting-room. Farfrae has joined the townspeople gathered there, and at the request of the tradesmen, he sings a beautiful Scottish song, full of pathos. The listeners are moved, and they convince him to sing two more songs. By the end of his songs, the townspeople are charmed by Farfrae, and they try to convince him to stay. Elizabeth-Jane has watched the whole scene, scoffing at the comments of the lower classes and marveling at the beauty of Farfrae's voice and ideals. The landlady tells her to turn down Farfrae's bed, and she hurries off to do so. On her way downstairs, she passes Farfrae on the staircase. Although she is a plain girl, he smiles at her and softly hums a love song to her. The girl flees in embarrassment.
When Elizabeth-Jane returns to her room, Susan scolds her for helping out in the inn. Her conduct could bring shame to the Mayor. Elizabeth-Jane believes her mother speaks of Farfrae, and says that he seemed to a charming and refined man. Meanwhile, Michael, who has heard the singing, believes that he would give anything to make the young man stay as a cure for his own loneliness.
Chance appears to play another vital role in this chapter. Farfrae just happens to be able to entertain the guests with his songs, and the villagers happen to be in the mood for his sad, sweet songs. Elizabeth-Jane, who has been eyeing the young man all evening, passes him on the staircase, and seems to have won his heart. Is it all really based upon chance, though?
First, the townspeople take to Farfrae not because they were manipulated, but because the young man has charm. He willingly answers their questions, shows kindness, and sings like an angel. In addition, the fact that he has other talents apart from business and work appeals to the townspeople, who have no time to waste upon creative exploits. Finally, the townspeople love Farfrae's sad songs because they reflect their own lost ideals--love of country, a longing for freedom and home. The townspeople, who have a sour and ill-tempered tone through the chapter, find a symbol of hope and longing simultaneously in Farfrae, just as Michael does.
As for Elizabeth-Jane, she is obviously attracted to the sober and idealistic Farfrae as well. While their meeting on the staircase was an accident, his song to her was teasing. Thus Hardy introduces foreshadowing to the plot. Elizabeth-Jane misinterprets both Donald's song (as a sign of affection) and her mother's "he" (as referring to Donald). These mistakes foreshadow the larger, more damaging miscommunications that will occur later in the story.
The next morning, Elizabeth-Jane sees the Mayor calling up to Farfrae from the street. Farfrae meets the mayor to walk through town before his coach comes. Elizabeth-Jane feels regret at Farfrae's departure. Susan thinks that Michael will accept them, since he accepts the strange young man so easily. As they talk, they see five of Michael's haywagons pass. The sign of such wealth convinces Susan to send a note to Michael. Elizabeth-Jane carries the note through the bustling town. When she finally arrives to meet Michael, she is shocked to find Farfrae there. On the walk to the coach, the mayor begged Farfrae to stay, and Farfrae agreed. The mayor happily makes arrangements in his office, leaving Farfrae to meet Elizabeth-Jane.
This chapter begins the process of furthering the plot by using parallel scenes. Both Susan and Michael have to save themselves with the help of the younger and more idealistic people. Susan decides to salvage her marriage to Michael by sending Elizabeth-Jane with the note. Michael decides to salvage his stumbling business by persuading Farfrae to stay as general manager.
The event that links these reunions of marriage and business is the walk through the city. Elizabeth-Jane's walk not only gives Hardy a chance to show his careful attention to the details of the Wessex town. It also serves to create suspense for the reader, both delaying the meeting between Michael and Elizabeth and shrouding the conversation of Michael and Farfrae in secrecy. More importantly, it reinforces the social standing of Michael as the most powerful man in the community. As we continue through the novel, we will slowly watch that standing fall.
As Elizabeth-Jane waits, someone new is presented--Joshua Jopp, the previous applicant for general manager. Michael coldly sends the man away, saying the post has been filled. He then turns to Elizabeth-Jane, who announces that Susan is in town. Michael is visibly shaken, but he invites Elizabeth-Jane to his dining-room, where he asks about her life. The girl tells her story, saying that her father left them "not very well off." Michael writes a letter to Susan, enclosing a five-pound note. After Elizabeth-Jane leaves, Michael thinks the women could be impostors, but calms down. Still, Farfrae wonders at his new friend's now-cold demeanor.
Elizabeth-Jane delivers the note to Susan. The note says that Susan should meet him at the Ring amphitheater that evening. Susan waits impatiently for the close of the day.
Once again, the two sides of Michael's personality are revealed. At first, he behaves kindly towards Elizabeth-Jane, treating her with tenderness when he learns who she is and who sent her. In addition, he shows great tact in inquiring after Susan's finances, foreshadowing other times when he will care for those in financial need. He even appears to buy Susan back by enclosing the five guineas, showing a great chivalry in the symbolism. From all outward appearances he is a very respectable man, even owning the three books that every respectable household of Hardy's time owned--the Bible, a copy of Josephus (who chronicled Biblical times), and Whole Duty of Man (a book of devotions).
Yet his dark side now begins to manifest itself more openly. He coldly turns Joshua Jopp away, ignoring the promised interview and thus creating a new enemy. Although he is kind to Elizabeth when she is present, later he explodes into a rage, convinced that the women are impostors, and is barely able to calm himself down. Most importantly, his own pride leads him to meet Susan in a secret place--he is too ashamed to meet her openly, lest some villagers learn the truth and mock him. Over time, pride, anger, and tactlessness will continue to bring him down.