At Emminster Vicarage the Clares are nervously waiting for Angel's arrival. The man who comes to the door is unrecognizable, so thin and aged does he seem. Mrs. Clare weeps to see his state but feels more deeply affected by his return than any religious experience. Angel looks like a corpse, and he admits he has been ill. He asks if any more letters have come from Tess.
Hardy shifts the point of view away from Tess and lets the reader discover her fate through Angel's eyes. Angel too has done his penance during their separation. Mrs. Clare loves her child more than she loves God, relating to Hardy's idea that women's religion is more instinctive and emotional.
Angel reads Tess's second, angry letter and despairs that she will never forgive him. Mrs. Clare disparages her as a “mere child of the soil,” and Angel wearily reveals her d'Urberville heritage.
Angel can finally see with clear eyes that Tess is not an idealized Nature-girl or a cruel, doomed d'Urberville, but a unique woman.
Angel decides to break the news of his return slowly in case Tess is still angry. He assumes she is still living in Marlott under his allowance, and so sends a letter there. Joan responds immediately saying Tess is gone away, but she cannot tell him where. Angel is relieved that Tess is well but fears they are all angry with him. He feels guilty for how he treated his wife, and wonders why he did not judge her by will instead of deed from the first.
Hardy breaks the news slowly and painfully, not yet revealing where Tess is but implying through Joan's evasive letter that she has succumbed to Alec. Angel knows nothing of this, and can only regret the unfair judgment he made when he held all the power over Tess.
He waits a while at home but Joan does not write again. Angel rereads Tess's first letter and decides to find her immediately. Mr. Clare says she never asked him for money, and Angel finally understands that Tess was too proud to do so, so she has probably been suffering financially.
Angel was too busy with his idealized Tess to realize that the real Tess had too much pride in her own independence to ask the Clares for money, especially after Angel had rejected her.
The Clares figure out the reason for the couple's separation, and they take even more pity on Tess because of her past sin. As Angel is packing up his things he gets the letter from Izz and Marian.
The Clares are again examples of pure Christian charity. Everything starts coming together for Angel, but he is far too late.