Susan and Elizabeth-Jane arrive at the Three Mariners Inn and take a room. Fearing that the accommodations are too expensive, Elizabeth-Jane persuades the landlady to allow her to work in exchange for a more affordable rate. The landlady asks her to bring the Scotch gentleman his supper. After completing her chores, Elizabeth-Jane takes a tray of food to Susan. She finds Susan eavesdropping on a conversation in the adjacent room, which is occupied by the Scotchman. The mayor, Susan reports, is conversing with the young Scotchman. The women hear Henchard ask the young man if he is Joshua Jopp, who replied to his advertisement for a corn-factor’s manager. The Scotchman announces that his name is Donald Farfrae and that, while he too is in the corn trade, he would not have replied to the advertisement because he is on his way to America. He then demonstrates to Henchard the method for restoring grown wheat described in his note. When Henchard offers to pay him for this information, Farfrae refuses. Henchard offers him the position of manager of the corn branch of his business, but Farfrae declines, intent on traveling to America. Farfrae invites Henchard to have a drink with him, but Henchard confesses his vow to avoid alcohol because of a shameful incident in his past.
After Henchard leaves, Farfrae rings for service, and Elizabeth-Jane goes to take away his dinner tray. Once downstairs, she pauses to listen to the musical entertainment. Soon, Farfrae joins the guests and wins them over by singing a song about his homeland. When they learn that Farfrae is just passing through Casterbridge, they express their sorrow over losing such a skilled singer. Watching from the background, Elizabeth-Jane thinks to herself that she and Farfrae are very similar. She decides that they both view life as essentially tragic. As Farfrae prepares to retire to bed, the landlady asks Elizabeth-Jane to go to his room and turn down his bed. Having completed this task, she passes Farfrae on the stairs, and he smiles at her. Meanwhile, Henchard reflects on his fondness for his new acquaintance, thinking that he would have offered Farfrae “a third share in the business to have stayed.”
The next morning, Elizabeth-Jane opens her windows to find Henchard talking to Farfrae. Farfrae tells Henchard that he is about to leave, and they decide to walk together to the edge of town. Susan decides to send Elizabeth-Jane to Henchard with a message. Upon arriving at Henchard’s house, Elizabeth-Jane is surprised to find Farfrae in Henchard’s office. The narrator explains that when the two men reached the edge of town, Henchard persuaded Farfrae to stay on and work for him, telling the young man that he could name his own terms.
While Elizabeth-Jane waits to speak with Henchard, she overhears a conversation in which Joshua Jopp arrives to accept the position of manager. Henchard tells Jopp that the post has already been filled, and Jopp goes away disappointed. When Elizabeth-Jane finally meets Henchard, she delivers the simple message that his relative, Susan, a sailor’s widow, is in town. Upon hearing this news, Henchard ushers her into his dining room and asks her some questions about her mother. He then writes a note to Susan telling her to meet him later that night, encloses five guineas, and gives it to Elizabeth-Jane for delivery. She brings the note back to Susan, who decides to meet Henchard alone.
The placement of rural, agricultural Casterbridge on the border between manufacturing and agricultural life makes it the ideal setting for a showdown between Michael Henchard and Donald Farfrae. Even though their relationship is, at this point in the novel, marked by strong mutual affection, Hardy plants the seeds of their eventual competition in these early chapters. When, in Chapter VII, Farfrae claims that he has “some inventions useful to the trade, and there is no scope for developing them here,” he suggests that Cas-terbrige is not only a town straddling the divide between city and country life but also between orthodoxy and modernity or tradition and progress.
Casterbridge under Henchard’s reign is too remote and too removed from the scientific, social, and technological advancements that were sweeping through England during Industrial Revolution in the mid-nineteenth century to offer Farfrae the “scope” he seeks. Indeed, before Farfrae arrives, no one in Casterbridge had ever heard of—let alone developed and perfected—a method of restoring “grown wheat.” Farfrae brings with him new methods of organizing and running an agricultural business. His dazzling abilities—there is the suggestion of something miraculous in his knowledge of how to transform damaged grain into palatable bread—work their magic on Henchard and, later, the entire town. But the degree to which Henchard is seized by admiration has more to do with the nature of his own character than the quality of Farfrae’s impressive and obscure knowledge. What may initially attract Henchard to Farfrae’s methods is the promise of transforming something clearly damaged into salvageable goods, a process that Henchard hopes to apply to his own life in order to atone for his sins.