Elizabeth-Jane concentrates on High-Place Hall and the lovely new stranger who has offered her a position there. The town is talking about the new lady who is coming to live there. One evening she sneaks away to have a look at the outside of the Hall. Because of its location directly over the marketplace, many of the previous owners have not spent very long at the hall. However, the lights upstairs and the movers have signaled that the new owner is here to stay for a while. As she turns to run home, she hears footsteps and runs to hide. She does not see that the footsteps belong to Michael, and he does not see her because she is so well hidden.
When Michael returns home, Elizabeth-Jane asks if she may leave home to go somewhere where she can gain some education. Michael quickly agrees, eager to have the girl out of his sight. Elizabeth-Jane later meets the lady, Miss Templeman, at the churchyard again. Together the women decide that Elizabeth-Jane will move into High-Place Hall that evening. Michael is surprised to see her leave so quickly, and tries to make her stay. Elizabeth-Jane assures him that she won't be far away--just at High-Place Hall. Michael is shocked to learn her destination.
Hardy draws upon his architectural experience again. He describes the facades, parapets, and other sections with the eye of an architect. His talent for architectural detail also benefits the story. High-Place Hall has many little gruesome features that act as metaphors for the corruption within its walls. There are "damp nooks where fungi grew" and a mask over an archway that has been so beaten that it seems to have been "eaten away by disease." In addition, the placement of the house in the center of town is significant. It implies that everyone who lives here will be at the center of the events in town. Since both Elizabeth-Jane and Michael are secretly visiting the house, the house already draws the important personages near.
Elizabeth-Jane and Michael continue to act as opposites. By this point, Michael seems to have no affection for Elizabeth-Jane whatsoever, treating her with "absolute indifference." (Yet, as in his relationship with Farfrae, he also seems to regret sending the girl away so quickly.) However, Elizabeth-Jane continues to have a loving spirit. Not only does she promise to return if Michael needs her, she also regards the house as a place where she can find love--she comes there "with a lover's feeling."
As Elizabeth-Jane considers going to High-Place Hall to see Lucetta, Michael receives a letter from Lucetta saying that she is staying at High-Place Hall. He has learned that the Hall is being rented by a Miss Templeman, not a Miss Le Sueur (the name by which Michael had known Lucetta in Jersey). Later Lucetta sends him another note: she has taken the name of Templeman from a recently deceased aunt, the woman who left the Hall and her fortune to Lucetta. In this note, Lucetta also explains her choice of companion. When Michael comes to visit his daughter, he can conveniently call upon Lucetta at the same time. Michael is pleased by her inheritance and amused by her tactics to lure him to the hall. He leaves immediately to call on Lucetta, but is told that she is engaged and will see him tomorrow. Annoyed by her "airs," he plans to punish her by staying away from her for a few days.
That evening, Elizabeth-Jane and Lucetta talk. Although she planned to introduce herself as a woman from Bath, she tells Elizabeth-Jane about Jersey, the half-French, half-English region. Elizabeth-Jane is fascinated by the young woman, even if she seems a bit flighty.
The next morning Lucetta eagerly awaits Michael's visit. As she and Elizabeth-Jane watch the town from their window, they watch Michael walking through the market. He accidentally meets Farfrae, but ignores him. Lucetta wonders if the girl is interested in anyone outside.
Two more days pass, and still Michael has not visited. Elizabeth-Jane tells Lucetta that her stepfather will not come because he is angry with her. Lucetta bursts into tears because her scheme is failing. She sends Elizabeth-Jane on several errands, then writes a quick note to Michael, telling him that she will be alone today. When someone finally calls, Lucetta hides behind a curtain. She leaps out, only to discover that the caller is not Michael.
The situation that Lucetta suggests acts as a parallel scene to Michael and Susan's plan to fool the residents of Casterbridge. Michael is placed in the position that Susan held. Love does not figure into Michael's plans of marriage either: like Susan, Michael feels that having a wealthy wife can only benefit him "though he was not a fortune-hunter." Lucetta holds the role that Michael had. She suggests that she take the new name and home (as Susan was forced to do). Elizabeth-Jane will again play a part in the courtship: she is again the lure that brings Michael to the house.
Hardy makes Lucetta a stock character as the flighty Frenchwoman, and she serves as a foil to the more upright Elizabeth-Jane. As we saw in Chapter 20, Lucetta is concerned with fashion (while Elizabeth-Jane only flirted with fashion and stuck to her own somber clothing). In this chapter, Lucetta focuses on putting things into pretty French phrases, sitting in pretty poses (as if she were posing for the painter Titian), and manipulating people. How can the somber and shy Elizabeth-Jane ever compare to Lucetta? Although Lucetta manipulates Elizabeth-Jane, she still finds herself telling her new companion her past life. Thus, we see that Lucetta has the capacity for kindness despite all her deception.
Finally, Hardy closes the chapter with a cliffhanger to keep the readers interested in the story. Who is the man? Why has he come? Does he have a connection to Lucetta as well?
As it turns out, the visitor is Donald Farfrae, handsome and impeccably dressed. He has come to see Elizabeth-Jane. Lucetta and Farfrae are embarrassed at their surprise encounter, but soon they find that they are becoming attracted to each other. They converse pleasantly, engaging in light, flirtatious comments the whole time.
Underneath the window, a business transaction takes place. A young man must work on a distant farm, leaving his sweetheart behind. Lucetta and Farfrae are both moved by the great emotion shown by the lovers. Farfrae hurries outside to hire the young man, and Lucetta is touched by his kind spirit. Soon after, Farfrae leaves with the promise to visit again, having completely forgotten about Elizabeth-Jane.
Three minutes later, a maid announces that Michael has come to call on Lucetta. Lucetta says she has a headache and will not see him today. Michael leaves. When Elizabeth-Jane returns, Lucetta resolves to keep the girl around as a way to keep Michael from visiting her.
Hardy's wry humor shines through in this chapter. Lucetta's invitation to Farfrae to sit is a good example. Farfrae "hesitated, looked at the chair, thought there was no danger in it (though there was), and sat down." Such ironic humor is typical of Hardy.
This chapter brings Farfrae back into the story and reminds us of his outlook on things. Farfrae has a cautious manner by nature. He explores the chair and all his options before sitting down. He also has a tender heart, as shown in his desire to keep the young man and his lover together. Finally, he plans to continue all his past obligations with Elizabeth-Jane, showing his honesty and faithfulness.
Lucetta is the opposite in temperament. Instead of being cautious, she openly shows interest in the stranger and begins flirting with him. Although she shows a tender heart in wanting the lovers to stay together, she completely ignores the young man's plan to see Elizabeth-Jane and keeps him for herself. She lies to attract the young man: although she insists that she is not a coquette, her flirtatious manner with Farfrae lies for her. She manipulates people again, keeping Elizabeth-Jane around just to keep Michael away from her. Can Farfrae and Lucetta have a true relationship despite their differences?
Elizabeth-Jane is glad to learn that Lucetta will stay. Lucetta's window provides a great view of the marketplace and Farfrae's stall there. Both women secretly steal glances at Farfrae without the other's knowledge.
One Saturday, Lucetta's dresses arrive from London, and Lucetta chooses to wear the new cherry-colored dress on their trip into town. A new seeding machine called a horse-drill is brought to town, and the women wish to travel into town to see it. As they examine the drill, Michael Henchard speaks to Elizabeth-Jane. She introduces her stepfather to Lucetta, who is polite. After mocking the horse-drill, Michael leaves, pausing only to murmur "You refused to see me!" to Lucetta. Elizabeth-Jane wonders what the sentence could mean. Suddenly the women hear Farfrae's humming from inside the drill. He reveals that he has purchased this revolutionary machine. As he talks to Lucetta, Elizabeth-Jane notices that the two seem very close. As the women rest at the end of the day, Lucetta comments upon Michael's distance to Elizabeth-Jane.
Curious, Elizabeth-Jane starts to wonder about Lucetta's own past and life, and she decides to keep an eye on her companion. One day she imagines that Lucetta has met Farfrae, and asks a nervous Lucetta about the meeting. Later Lucetta tells the story of her past, making it seem as if it has happened to another woman. Finally, Lucetta asks what the other woman should do now that "she" has grown fond of another man. Elizabeth- Jane cannot give her a definite answer. However, the girl sighs that Lucetta could not tell her the whole truth--for she knows that Lucetta is "she" of the story.
The drill serves to remind us of the differences between Farfrae and Michael. Farfrae focuses solely on the business, while Michael has to mix business with personal relationships. Farfrae obviously believes in progress and the use of technology in bringing the drill to town. Michael's stubborn conservative streak causes him to ridicule the machine which is "impossible it should act." There is actually no reason why Michael should be against the machine, except for the "jackanapes" who had it delivered.
The theme of being plagued by a blind fate has already become clear to Susan and Michael. Now the same fate is working against Elizabeth-Jane, in the form of a relationship between Farfrae and Lucetta. It is obvious that Farfrae and Elizabeth-Jane are better suited: Elizabeth-Jane shares his love of change, and they both understand the Scriptures (when Lucetta has a "somewhat limited" knowledge of them). However, she learns of their growing infatuation by means of a scene that parallels the meeting of Farfrae and Elizabeth-Jane. As he did when he met Elizabeth-Jane, he hums a tune that blatantly refers to Lucetta. Despite her disappointment and confusion, Elizabeth-Jane remains stoic and quiet, increasing our respect for her.
Farfrae calls upon Lucetta and Elizabeth-Jane frequently. Although Elizabeth-Jane is in the room, Farfrae completely ignores her, choosing to give all his attention to the livelier Lucetta. Soon Elizabeth-Jane realizes that Farfrae is the second man from Lucetta's story--he is blatantly in love with her, with all traces of his past infatuation for Elizabeth-Jane gone.
Michael also calls upon Lucetta. His love for her has increased now that she has proclaimed her love for another man. Lucetta treats him with a cool but cordial air. Michael offers for her hand, and after attempting to change the subject, Lucetta gives an evasive answer. Farfrae rides past as Lucetta and Michael talk, but Michael does not see Lucetta's loving look at Farfrae. Michael leaves, dejected, while Lucetta passionately proclaims that she will forsake the past to love Farfrae.
Elizabeth-Jane watches the whole situation and is crushed that the two most important men in her life do not care about her. Farfrae's rejection makes sense because Lucetta is a very desirable woman. However, she cannot understand why her father has become so cold. Nevertheless, she becomes reconciled to being unloved.
Hardy brings all the major characters together in the house that sits in the center of the square. True to his theme, the cruel fate continues to haunt both Michael and Elizabeth-Jane. However, the way each handles the fate speaks volumes about the better person. When Michael is rejected by Lucetta, he implies that he will keep trying to win the woman, even through blackmail: "What is known in your native Jersey may get known here." Elizabeth-Jane, however, takes rejection with a grain of salt. "She... wondered what unwished-for thing Heaven might send her in place of him."
Lucetta reveals her own tragic flaws here. First, like Michael, she is haunted by her past. She is so terrified by her past that she attempts to remake herself: "How you keep on about Jersey! I am English!" Another flaw is her reckless emotion. "I'll love where I choose!" In the following chapters, these flaws will slowly bring her dark fate as well.