. . . that no flours be planted on my grave.
& that no man remember me.
To this I put my name.
Henchard continues to worry about what will become of him if Elizabeth-Jane marries. One day, while spying the spot where Elizabeth-Jane and Farfrae normally meet, he sees Newson through his telescope. When Elizabeth-Jane comes home, she has not yet met Newson, but she tells Henchard that she has received a letter from someone asking her to meet him that night at Farfrae’s house. Much to her chagrin, Henchard tells her that he has decided to leave Casterbridge that very evening. Elizabeth-Jane believes that he is leaving because he disapproves of her impending marriage to Farfrae, but he assures her that such is not the case. Alone, Henchard departs town. He compares his fate to that of the biblical figure Cain but declares, “[M]y punishment is not greater than I can bear!”
That evening, at Farfrae’s house, Elizabeth-Jane meets Newson and immediately understands the reason for Henchard’s sudden departure. She is overjoyed at her reunion with the father she had believed dead, but she is upset when she learns of Henchard’s deception. Newson and Farfrae begin to plan the wedding.
Meanwhile, Henchard makes his way through the countryside and eventually arrives at Weydon-Priors, the very spot where he sold his wife more than twenty-five years earlier. He reflects briefly upon those past events and then goes on, settling in a spot some fifty miles from Casterbridge and finding employment as a hay-trusser. One day, he speaks to some travelers who have come from Casterbridge and learns that the wedding between Farfrae and Elizabeth-Jane is to take place on St. Martin’s Day. He decides to go to Casterbridge for the wedding and sets off on his journey. On the night before the wedding, he stops in a nearby town and buys some proper clothes and a caged goldfinch as a present for Elizabeth-Jane.
When Henchard arrives at Farfrae’s house in Casterbridge, the celebration is already underway. As he enters, he leaves the caged bird under a bush near the back of the house. He watches the dancing unseen, until Elizabeth-Jane’s housekeeper informs her that she has a visitor. She comes in to see him and reprimands him for deceiving her about Newson. So coldly received, he decides to leave and promises never to trouble her again.
Several days after the wedding, Elizabeth-Jane discovers the birdcage with a bird—now dead from starvation—inside, and she wonders how it got there. About a month later, after speaking to one of her servants, Elizabeth-Jane figures that Henchard must have brought it as a gift, and she begins to regret the way she treated him. When Farfrae comes home, she asks him to help her find Henchard so that she can make her peace with him. They track Henchard to the cottage of Abel Whittle, who tells them that the man has just died. He gives them a piece of paper that Henchard left, which turns out to be his will. The will stipulates that Elizabeth-Jane not be told about his death, that he not be buried in consecrated ground, that no one mourn for him, and that no one remember him. Elizabeth-Jane regrets her harsh treatment of Henchard the last time they met, and she determines to carry out his dying wishes as best she can.
And in being forced to class herself among the fortunate she did not cease to wonder at the persistence of the unforeseen. . . .
In these final chapters, Michael Henchard succumbs to the defeat he has courted throughout the novel. The plot of The Mayor of Casterbridge is essentially a series of incidents in which Henchard tries again and again to expunge the guilt he feels for his shameful behavior at the fair at Weydon-Priors. The depth of Henchard’s guilt is apparent in many of his actions and emotions: his desperate need to divulge his secret to Farfrae, his determination to remarry a woman he never loved, his willingness to care for Elizabeth-Jane even after he learns that she is not his daughter. Above all, the burden that Henchard bears for his guilt manifests itself in his acceptance of the forces that seem bent upon his destruction.