Upon awakening the next morning, Michael finds Susan's wedding ring on the floor and the sailor's money in his pocket. He now understands that the preceding night's events are not a dream, and "in silent thought" walks away from the village into the country. At first he wonders if his name is known.
He is angry with Susan, but, as the consequences of his conduct become clearer, he realizes that Susan's simplicity of mind and sober character will require her to live up to the bargain. He recalls her previous threat to take him at his word. He decides to search for his wife and child and, when he finds them, try to live with his shame. But first he goes to a church and swears an oath before the altar that he will not touch strong drink "for the space of twenty-one years — a year for every year that I have lived." He begins the search for his wife and child, but no one has any recollection of having seen them. His search lasts for months until, having carried his quest to a seaport, he learns that "persons answering somewhat to his description had emigrated a little time before." He abandons his search and journeys southwestward, not stopping until he reaches the town of Casterbridge in a distant part of Wessex.
Michael's pride and determination are shown in this chapter. He is willing to search for his wife and live with the shame he has brought upon himself, but his pride will not let him reveal that shame to others, even though such a revelation would certainly help him in his quest. Furthermore, he feels relief that he did not state his name during the transaction. His vow to stop drinking arouses our interest in his future conduct.
It is interesting that Hardy says of Henchard: "there was something fetichistic in this man's beliefs." Hardy has often been accused of fetichism, in the sense of not being satisfied with scientific explanations.
With this chapter we reach the end of what is, in effect, the prelude to the major story of The Mayor of Casterbridge. As in the prologue to a Greek drama, and in the first scene or two of modern plays, the seeds of the dramatic conflict to follow are planted, and their growth is now about to be witnessed.
"the Seven Sleepers had a dog" referring to a portion found in the Koran: Seven sleepers in a cave, and their dog the eighth.
sacrarium the sanctuary, or the place before the altar.