Tess leaves the dance and returns to her small, sparse home. She finds her mother, Joan Durbeyfield, doing housework and singing. She surprises Tess with two pieces of news: John Durbeyfield has been diagnosed with a potentially fatal heart condition, and their family is descended from the lordly d'Urbervilles. Tess's father is at Rolliver's pub “getting up his strength,” but probably celebrating his newfound pedigree. Joan has been consulting the Compleat Fortune-Teller, a book of old superstitions, and she asks Tess to return it to the outhouse because she is afraid of keeping it inside overnight. Tess guesses that Joan has been asking about their ancestry.
The satire of the Durbeyfields/d'Urbervilles continues with the rest of the family celebrating a name with no real meaning or advantages attached to it. John Durbeyfield's bad diagnosis is a reminder to Tess that his days are numbered, and introduces the theme of inevitable doom. Joan's faith in the fortune-telling book is a sign of both the pagan superstitions and belief in the power of fate that still lives in the Vale of Blakemore.
Joan goes off to fetch her husband, and Tess is left with her siblings, of whom she is the oldest. Four years younger is Liza-Lu, then Abraham, Hope, Modesty, and an unnamed three-year-old and baby. The narrator wonders if they would have chosen to be born into such a poor household. It starts to get late and Joan still hasn't returned. The narrator speculates that she is lingering at the bar with her husband to take a break from her duties as a mother. At Rolliver's she can pretend she is young and free of responsibility again.
The narrator's musings about the fate of the Durbeyfield children continues the theme of an inevitable destiny that the characters are born into, rather than choosing for themselves. Joan's pleasure at Rolliver's helps to humanize a sometimes farcical family.
It gets even later and Tess sends Abraham to retrieve their parents. After another half hour no one has returned from Rolliver's, so Tess starts up the dark and winding path to find them.
The description of the twisting road to Rolliver's builds a sense of foreboding for Tess's future.