Angel goes down into the damp, fertile Froom Valley, and feels like he is experiencing life more fully than he did at home. He loves his family but he feels freed from a burden in returning to Talbothays. Everyone is napping at the dairy, but then the bell rings and Tess appears first.
Again the purity and freedom of agricultural life is praised over religious repression or upper-class prudishness. Angel is also a young man rebelling against his parents' world, but Hardy echoes his preference.
Tess does not know Angel is back, and he admires the exuberance of Nature within her unconscious self. She suddenly notices Angel and then remembers their new relationship. Angel puts his arm around her and her heart beats excitedly, but she has to go to work soon.
The comparison of his stifling hometown to Tess's unencumbered natural purity reinforces his conviction to marry her.
Angel offers to help her, so it only they two skimming the milk. Tess experiences the afternoon as a hazy, joyful dream. Angels at last asks her to marry him, but frames the question in logical terms as a farmer needing a farmer's wife.
This afternoon is one of the pinnacles of Tess's happiness, before the realities of her own past and the condemning structures of society take control of their relationship.
Tess suddenly seems to grow old and tired, and she says she can never be Angel's wife. Her refusal breaks her own heart. Angel is amazed, and wants to know why she cannot marry him. She admits that she loves him, but gives the excuse that she is too low-born and his parents would disapprove. Even when Angel says he has already spoken to them she refuses, and he fears he has been too sudden in his proposal.
Finally reality catches up and again Tess must sacrifice her own happiness because of something that was not her fault. Angel still idealizes her, and so he cannot imagine his innocent Nature-girl having any kind of real objection to their marriage.
They go back to milk-skimming but Tess begins to cry. Angel tries to reassure her about his parents' compassion, and asks about Tess's religious beliefs. Her response is vague and sorrowful, but Angel thinks she is sincere enough that even his father could not disapprove.
Tess represents an innate, naturalistic religion. She follows Christian traditions because that is what she was taught, but her inner faith is purer and more amorphous. Angel correctly connects her sincerity with his father's.
Angel talks more about his visit, and then brings up his conversation with his father. He retells the story of the insulting young skeptic, and gives enough information that Tess can tell it is Alec. The reminder of her past hardens her in her refusal, but Angel does not notice her expression.
Again the timing is bad for Tess, and even at the peak of her happiness Alec's ghost comes back to haunt her. She can never escape her destiny, and hopelessly tries to push away her own happiness.
Tess runs back into the open field as if trying to escape her sadness. Now that Angel is back in the valley, marrying a dairymaid seems much more natural than marrying a woman like Mercy Chant.
Tess once more returns to Nature to escape her troubles. Angel is ignorant of her inner turmoil, and still enchanted by his own romantic ideas about her.