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PLOT ANALYSIS AND SUMMARIES
Susan and Elizabeth-Jane reach the King's Arms, where a public dinner is being hosted by the Mayor of Casterbridge, who happens to be Henchard. Susan notices that the two wineglasses next to him are empty. The third tumbler is half-filled with water, which he sips occasionally.
Henchard, besides being the Mayor, is also the most powerful man in town, with business dealings in all types of agricultural produce. The chapter, however, raises a question about Henchard's ethics. A note of dissension is struck in the midst of the dinner celebration when one of the minor tradesmen questions him about the bad wheat he has been supplied. Henchard's reply is that he was unaware of the problem, and if he could change it, he would. He then makes a concession, saying that since his business has become so large, he intends to hire a manager in the corn department. He has, in fact, already advertised for one.
The plot moves foreword in this chapter when Henchard's successes are revealed. The man, who in the beginning of the story was an itinerant hay trusser, has now risen to become the Mayor of Casterbridge, the most influential man in the town, and the leading corn merchant in the area. He has risen to such heights through sheer grit, courage, and determination. The fact that he has not touched any alcohol for over eighteen years is testimony to his will power. Susan is overwhelmed by the changes in him and finds it distressing to meet him face-to-face.
Hardy draws attention to Henchard's temperament, which seems essentially the same as when he was twenty-one. Rather than admit that the wheat he sold is bad, he says he cannot do a thing about it at this point, but will try to rectify the situation in the future by hiring someone who knows about wheat production. He also reveals he still has no patience for weakness.
To Elizabeth-Jane, who is struck by his formidable presence, Henchard appears to be a generous person. She is delighted that she has a relation who is such a powerful figure and wants to approach him immediately. She, however, is held back by the cautious Susan, who has seen enough of his commanding presence for one day.
Another significant aspect of this chapter is the comments of Longways and Coney, who are part of the motley group of Hardy's rustics who give information and opinions about Henchard. Though they stand in awe of him, they feel let down by his supplying bad corn. When the Mayor is questioned about it, it causes a tension in the festive Mood of the dinner celebration.
Two elements of suspense are introduced within the chapter. The reader is made to wonder how Henchard will react to the presence of Susan and to question what kind of manager will he employ to improve his business.
To avoid confusion, it is important to note that England uses the term 'corn' to denote both wheat and maize.
A stranger, a good-looking Scotsman, joins the crowd outside the Kings Arms. When he learns about Henchard's seeking a corn manager, he sends a note to introduce himself. Henchard accepts the note and reads it with interest.
When Elizabeth-Jane sees the Scotsman, she is attracted by him and his northern ways. She hears that the Scotsman is spending the night at an inn called The Three Mariner's and insists that she and her mother spend the night there too. Some time later, Henchard also follows the Scotsman to the same inn.
In this chapter, Fate comes into play as a new character, the Scotsman, is introduced. Several incidents reveal how coincidence, or Fate, works into the fabric of the plot. First, the reader is told that the Scotsman might not have stopped by the banquet "had his advent not coincided with the discussion of corn and bread," implying that he has a personal interest in such matters. Secondly, Elizabeth-Jane coincidentally notices the Scotsman and the note he sends to Henchard. Thirdly, Henchard, in a rush to meet with the Scotsman, just misses his wife and daughter. If Henchard had met Susan five minutes earlier, he might never have gone to the Three Mariner's and the whole story would have a very different outcome. As the plot unfolds, all the main characters -- Henchard, the Scotsman, Susan, and Elizabeth-Jane -- converge at the Three Mariner's. This is one of many coincidences the reader will encounter in the story.
It is important to note that Elizabeth-Jane is more assertive and self-assured than her mother. When she sees the Scotsman and hears where he is staying, she insists upon staying at the same inn. Her mother, who has become even more irresolute and despairing at the sight of her former husband, agrees with her daughter's plan.
Hardy's descriptive power is again seen in his detailed rendering of the Three Mariner's Inn and its quaint occupants: Billy Wills, the glazier; Smart, the Shoemaker; and Buzzford, the general dealer. There is a shabby gentility about this place where 'common' folk stay. In order to fit in better at the Three Mariner's, Henchard attempts to make himself appear less formally dressed than he is.