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Word reaches Casterbridge that a Royal Personage will pass through the town, and the Council meets a day before the visit to arrange the details of procedure. Henchard approaches the Council and asks to be allowed to participate in the reception. Farfrae, as Mayor, refuses. Henchard then makes plans to welcome the royal visitor himself. At the appointed time, Henchard steps before the Royal Personage, waves the Union Jack, and extends his hand to welcome the esteemed guest. Because it is Farfrae's duty as Mayor to see the proceeding are not disrupted, he grabs Henchard by the shoulder and pushes him away.
The crowd is shocked to see such treatment and state that Henchard was responsible for Farfrae's rise. Lucetta overhears this allegation and denies it, even though she was not around to know the particular circumstances. As a finale to the excitement created by the visit, Jopp plans the skimmity-ride for the same night. Others eagerly await the entertainment.
Hardy effectively conveys the sense of elation in Casterbridge over the visit of a Royal Personage. Because Casterbridge is a small town far from any large city and devoid of much excitement, the visit is very special. All the town's people dress in their Sunday best to make a good impression on the guest. Although they present themselves very nicely, the townsfolk, still serving as a Chorus, prove they are really mean-spirited, gossipy, and critical.
When Henchard's request to participate in the ceremonies is denied by Mayor Farfrae, it makes him even more stubborn and adamant. He defies the social order and attempts to greet the Royal Person, waving a flag. When he is roughly pushed aside by Farfrae, Henchard takes this public insult bitterly and plans on revenging himself.
This chapter ends on a note of apprehension and foreboding when Jopp states that the skimmity-ride against Lucetta is planned for the same evening. People like Coney, Buzzford, and Longways, who like Farfrae and sympathize with him, are opposed to the ride; they want to be seen as decent, law-abiding folks despite their lack of social standing or financial earnings. Others, like Nance Mockridge, the 'furmity woman', and Jopp, eagerly await the entertainment and the pleasure that Lucetta's discomfiture will bring; they have nothing to lose over the skimmity-ride.
After being humiliated by both Farfrae and Lucetta, Henchard becomes enraged. He decides to engage Farfrae in a wrestling match; it is a match to the death as far as Henchard is concerned. Since he is stronger and has the advantage over Farfrae, Henchard decides to make the contest even by tying his left arm to his side. Farfrae enters the corn-shed and Henchard calls him to the loft, where Elizabeth-Jane had seen Henchard contemplating pushing Farfrae down.
Henchard challenges Farfrae to wrestle with him. Even though Henchard's arm is tied, he over-powers Farfrae and soon has him at his mercy. Henchard, however, finds he cannot give him the decisive push down the trap door. Overcome by shame and remorse, Henchard lets Farfrae go. Later, he goes to apologize to Farfrae, who has left town. Henchard remembers overhearing Farfrae tell Whittle that he had been called to Weatherbury. Henchard makes his way to the stone-bridge, where he becomes so engrossed in his own misery that he does not pay attention to the clamoring coming from the town.
Henchard's animosity towards Farfrae is fanned by his public insult and by Lucetta's denial of him. Elizabeth-Jane's fears about his harming Farfrae may become a reality as Henchard starts making preparation to engage in a deadly wrestling-match with his rival. The reader is immediately struck by the fact that Henchard has chosen the same loft he contemplated pushing Farfrae off of once before.
Before the match, Henchard again reveals a sense of justice and fair play. Although he would like to whip Farfrae, he knows he is superior in strength and physique; therefore, Henchard binds his left arm with a rope so that he will not have the advantage. In spite of his handicap, Henchard easily pins Farfrae and again thinks about pushing him down the trap door; but he cannot kill Farfrae in cold blood and lets him go. The reader is again struck by Henchard's response to music, for his emotions are subdued by the song Farfrae was singing before he entered the loft.
Henchard's has a sense of remorse about the wrestling match, which causes his self-esteem to plunge further. His sense of degradation is so great that he is not even curious about an unaccustomed noise coming from the town quarter. There is dramatic irony in the scene, for the reader knows that the clamor comes from the skimmity-ride.
Another important point to be noted is that only Henchard and Whittle know that Farfrae's plans have changed and he is going to Weatherbury. This fact will acquire significance later in the story.