The story builds toward a focal point on Christmas Eve. The chapter is divided into seven parts:
Boldwood, surprisingly, had planned a Christmas party. Mistletoe, garlands, and decorations were brought in from the woods, and elaborate preparations were made.
Bathsheba was agitated and reluctant to go. She admitted to Liddy that she was the cause for the party. To avoid gossip, she would wear her widow's weeds.
Boldwood fussed over his newly tailored clothes. When Oak arrived to report on the day's work, Boldwood reminded him that he was expected at the party. "Make yourself merry. I am determined that neither expense nor trouble shall be spared." Gabriel replied that he might be late. He was glad to see Boldwood in better spirits. Boldwood asked whether women keep promises. Oak replied, "If it is not inconvenient to her she may." Boldwood, feverishly cheerful, commented that Oak had become quite cynical lately.
Troy was in a tavern in Casterbridge with Pennyways, who reminded him that his deceit was punishable by law. He could not answer Troy's question about Bathsheba's relationship with Boldwood. This was to be Bathsheba's first appearance at Boldwood's home. Pennyways still bore her a grudge. He told Troy that Oak was still the boss and that Bathsheba couldn't manage without him.
Bathsheba, though plainly dressed, looked very well. Liddy suggested it was because of her excitement. Bathsheba admitted that she was vacillating between feeling buoyant and feeling wretched. When Liddy joked about Boldwood's imminent proposal, Bathsheba gravely silenced her.
As Oak helped Boldwood tie his cravat, he urged him to be cautious and not to count on Bathsheba. Boldwood said he knew of Oak's love, and he wished to reward him for his decency. He would increase the extent of his partnership. When Oak had gone, Boldwood pulled out a small box and regarded a handsome ring. Hearing wheels in the distance, he put the box in his pocket and went to greet his guests.
While Troy was attiring himself in a high-collared greatcoat and traveling cap, Pennyways counseled against his going to Boldwood's party. Troy argued angrily, "There she is with plenty of money, and a house and farm . . . and here am I still living from hand to mouth — a needy adventurer." In addition, Troy knew he had been seen and recognized in town. Pennyways realized he would have to get back into Bathsheba's good graces in the event of a reconciliation, and so, as a first step, he suggested to Troy, "I sometimes think she likes you yet, and is a good woman at bottom." Troy announced that he would be at Boldwood's before nine.
Hardy has kept strict account of the threads running through the novel and here arranges them so that they can be tucked into the complicated tapestry. Structurally, this chapter is carefully outlined in seven sections that indicate what must follow. Troy has a premonition of tragedy, but, characteristically, he shrugs it off and sends for more brandy. Boldwood is keyed up but confident. Bathsheba's feelings vacillate, and Oak is gloomy and apprehensive.