Flintcomb-Ash is a dreary place not even cared for by its residents, but Tess sets to work hacking at turnips in a field of rocks. The earth and sky are both colorless and she and Marian seem alone on earth. It starts raining but they keep working, as otherwise they won't be paid. Tess becomes colder and wetter than she has ever been before. They escape the present by talking of green Talbothays and the past.
Flintcomb-Ash is the polar opposite of Talbothays, reflecting the stark change in the dairymaids' moods, so once again they seem integral to the landscape. Their idealized memories of Talbothays offers them escape from the unhappy, uncomfortable present.
Here too there is the human desire for pleasure doing battle with circumstances that deny pleasure. Marian drinks as she works, and finds her enjoyment there. Tess's power of dreaming is enough for her.
Hardy frames the struggle of life as people wanting to be happy and fate wanting people to be unhappy. They can only escape fate as best they can.
The mornings are frosty and the afternoons rainy, and Tess works constantly, but still she hopes for Angel's forgiveness. Marian wishes more friends from Talbothays would come, so she writes to Izz and Retty, and Izz agrees to come.
Again the cast of characters is set to reunite in different combinations. All their destinies are inextricably linked. Tess is doing penance for her perceived sins.
The winter is a bad one, and strange birds from the Arctic arrive at the farm, birds that have seen the wonders and horrors of the far North, and they land near to Tess and Marian. One day it starts to snow, and so they have to trudge off for reed-drawing. Izz shows up, along with Car Darch and her sister from Tantridge so long ago, but they do not recognize Tess.
More birds connect to Tess, but these ones are foreign and wild, symbolic of Hellish horrors and sublime Nature. Tess can never escape Trantridge it seems.
They start to work and then the owner, Farmer Groby, arrives. Tess recognizes him as the man from Trantridge she had run from on the highway. He remembers Tess and says now he has “got the better” of her at last. She realizes he is not a threat anymore, and at least he doesn't try to seduce her, but he does belittle her day's labor. Tess can't imagine a worse place to work.
More coincidental meetings of characters. The farmer also wields power over Tess, but he is only interested in getting the most work out of her as possible. She finds this at least simpler and easier to deal with than the sexual desires of Alec or even the romantic interest of Angel.
Izz and Marian remain with Tess to finish the reed-drawing, and they start to reminisce. Tess again asks to not discuss Angel, but Izz presses on with questions. Finally Tess collapses from distress and weariness for a while, but resumes when she hears the other two gossiping. Izz breaks down next, and then it is Tess and Marian.
The past Tess is trying to avoid once more returns to her. Too much talk of Angel combines with her many labors and her body cannot stand the unfairness of fate anymore.
Marian immediately reveals what Izz just told her, which is the story of Angel asking her to come to Brazil with him. Tess goes white and then starts to cry. She resolves to write to Angel, feeling that she has neglected him somehow. That night she tries to write a letter but is disturbed by the image of Angel propositioning Izz so soon after their separation.
This should be a revelation for Tess of Angel's many flaws, but once again she takes the burden of guilt first onto herself and refuses to let go of her idealized image of her husband. It is only later that Izz's tale starts to trouble her, that he was apparently willing to sin with Izz so soon after condemning Tess for the same.