Henchard begins to haunt one of the town's bridges which has become known for its attraction to failures and suicides. One afternoon Jopp encounters him on the bridge and states that Donald and Lucetta have purchased Henchard's old house and are moving in. He also tells him that the man who bought Henchard's best furniture at the auction was in reality bidding for Donald Farfrae. Jopp departs well satisfied that he has wounded Henchard. Henchard's bitterness is increased at the vagaries of fortune. Donald Farfrae arrives in a gig to see Henchard. He repeats the rumor that Henchard is planning to emigrate and asks him to remain in Casterbridge, just as Henchard had once asked him to stay. Donald generously offers Henchard lodging within the same house that he and Lucetta have just purchased. Henchard visualizes this arrangement with repugnance and refuses outright. Donald then offers to give back to Henchard all the furniture which might hold sentimental value for him. For a moment Henchard is struck by Donald's magnanimity and says, "I — sometimes think I've wronged 'ee!"
Later Elizabeth-Jane hears that Henchard is confined to his room with a cold. She immediately goes to him and, after a preliminary refusal by Henchard, administers to him and sets his room in comfortable order. Due to Elizabeth-Jane's repeated visits and tender care, Henchard regains his strength and a more cheerful outlook. Judging that hard work never hurt a young man — Henchard is not much over forty — he applies to Farfrae as a day-laborer. Farfrae employs him, but is careful to relay instructions and orders through a third person. And thus Henchard who once worked as a hay-trusser dressed in clean, bright clothes appears in the yards he used to own; now he wears "the remains of an old blue cloth suit of his gentlemanly times, a rusty silk hat, and a once black satin stock, soiled and shabby."
The days go by and Henchard watches Donald and Lucetta. His old jealousy and hatred return, especially when he hears that Farfrae may be chosen mayor in a few years.
One day Elizabeth-Jane hears a villager say that "Michael Henchard have busted out drinking" again. The twenty-one year "gospel oath" has come to an end. Elizabeth-Jane immediately sets out to find him.
Whereas in the last chapter all of Henchard's property had been auctioned off and Donald had purchased Henchard's former place of business, this chapter is necessary to complete the reversal of fortune. Donald purchases Henchard's house and furniture. Only one more point need be added to furnish the final irony. Henchard himself answers fate's call and takes employment as a day-laborer in Donald's business. It would appear now that Henchard can go no lower; with the hint of Donald's likelihood of becoming mayor, it seems that he can go no higher. The close proximity of Henchard to the newly married couple is what begins to work upon his mind. It is evident that it lies within Henchard's character to wreak some kind of new havoc now that he has begun to drink again.