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On Christmas Eve, Boldwood hosts a holiday party. From early morning, the preparations are obvious. Most of the villagers are excited about the party, but Bathsheba is visited by a feeling of uneasiness. She knows she is the cause of the party, and she is hesitant to go. As Boldwood is getting ready in his new clothes, Oak arrives to report on the day's work. Boldwood tells him clearly that he expects to see him at the party. Gabriel says he may be a little late. He also warns Boldwood not to entertain great hope of getting a reply from Bathsheba. Boldwood accuses him of being cynical.
Troy is seated at a tavern in Casterbridge with Pennyways, who gives him updates on his wife. He tells him of the party to be held at Boldwood's home and Bathsheba's plans to attend. Troy questions him about his wife's relationship with Boldwood, but Pennyways can give him no information. He does tell Troy that Gabriel is the real manager of the farm and that Bathsheba is very dependent upon him. Troy disguises himself and plans to go to the party so that he can watch the way Bathsheba conducts herself with Boldwood and Oak. Pennyways tries to persuade him not to go to the party.
The chapter shifts back to the home of Boldwood, where Oak is helping the host tie his cravat. He is still trying to warn Boldwood about being too hopeful. Boldwood appreciates Oak greatly. He knows that this kind man still loves Bathsheba, and yet he does nothing to stand in Boldwood's way of marrying her. He thanks Oak and tells him he wants him to have a larger share in his business. Oak, who has forebodings, again warns Boldwood not to plan too much about the future. Boldwood ignores the warnings and puts a beautiful diamond ring in his pocket; he then goes down to receive his guests.
In this chapter, Hardy examines the emotions of his four main characters and prepares the reader for the climax that is soon to occur. Troy is in the tavern drinking and calculating the advantages of reuniting with Bathsheba. As always, he thinks only of himself and plans to attend Boldwood's party in disguise to observe Bathsheba and decide his plan of action. He is plagued by a vague sense of foreboding. Bathsheba is also apprehensive. She knows that the party has been planned for her benefit and that Boldwood expects an answer from her. She vacillates in her feelings. Boldwood, on the other hand, is sure that Bathsheba will accept his proposal. He has made elaborate preparations for the celebration, has fussed over his appearance in his newly tailored suit, and has purchased a lovely diamond engagement ring, which is tucked in his pocket. Gabriel tries to warn Boldwood about being over- confident. He is not certain that Bathsheba will accept the offer of marriage, and he fears Boldwood's reaction if the answer is negative. As Oak leaves, he has a real sense of foreboding about the evening.
Troy is busy examining the legal interest in enjoying the prosperity of the farm, which is flourishing under Oak's stewardship.