The people of Trantridge love to drink, and go every Saturday to get drunk in nearby Chaseborough. Tess avoids going for a while, but she finally agrees and then has a good time, finding the other women comical and refreshing. She keeps going back, sometimes alone, but always returns in the safety of a group. One night she starts out later than usual and then encounters Alec at a street corner. Tess tells him she is just waiting to leave. He says they will meet again, and walks away.
The drunk and rowdy women of Trantridge contrast with the innocent, superstitious women of Marlott. Almost all the set-up of this scene, and the first mysterious encounter with Alec, serve as foreshadowing for the events to come. The emphasis on traveling home in a group will also come back to haunt Tess.
Tess finds all the villagers at an eerie outdoor dance, lit by hazy candles in an outhouse. The atmosphere is smoky and the dancing figures appear unreal or mythical. When they leave the haze they seem to transform back into common village-folk. Tess asks if any are leaving and a bystander says the dance is almost over.
The dance seems like a sort of bacchanal, or pagan orgy, with the ordinary folk becoming larger-than-life or somehow inhuman. This is an aspect of ancient paganism that is not associated with the pure and innocent Tess, and it makes her uncomfortable.
The dance keeps going for a while, and Tess is too afraid to walk home alone. A man asks her to dance but she refuses. People start pairing off and then falling together into the dirt. Tess hears a laugh behind her and meets Alec again. She explains her situation and he offers to take her home, but she still distrusts him and refuses. Alec's presence makes the dancers begin to recollect themselves and head home, however, so Tess starts to walk with them.
The dance grows even wilder and more primal, and Alec's enjoyment of it highlights his own essentially bestial nature. The atmosphere is now quite foreboding, and the feeling is that something bad is about to happen.
Tess observes that many of her companions are staggering drunkenly, and the experience reminds her unpleasantly of her father. She sees that one of the women is Car Darch, the “Queen of Spades,” who was recently a favorite of Alec's. They come to a gate and Car goes first with her heavy basket on her head. The rest of the group notices something dark trickling down her back, and they realize that it is treacle from a smashed jar in the basket. Everyone laughs as Car rolls around on the ground, trying to clean herself off.
The dark trickle down the Queen of Spades' back is reminiscent of blood, and though this then turns into a slightly comic scene, the initial shock lingers, and the tone remains ominous. The fact that Car is a recently discarded favorite of Alec's says a lot about his nature and the unhappiness that awaits Tess.
Tess can't help joining in the laughter, and Car hears her and becomes enraged, as she was already jealous of Tess for Alec's attentions. Tess apologizes while Car strips off her bodice and prepares to attack. Tess magnanimously refuses to fight, but accidentally insults the whole group. All the other women start yelling at her as well, and Tess feels guilty and angry. She tries to escape the crowd, but at that moment Alec appears on his horse and demands to know what the trouble is, although he has already overheard enough. He offers Tess a ride home and a means of escaping the situation.
Car Darch appears here as a foil for Tess, violent and passionate against Tess's modesty and innocence, and shows a type of woman not yet seen in the novel. This scene is another example of a situation where Tess is condemned for something that was only barely her fault. In this case the anger of the others seems to do with their jealousy of her beauty and the attention she gets from Alec—attention she doesn't even want.
Tess feels so distressed that she accepts Alec's offer, although at almost any other moment she would have refused. The other women watch them ride off, laughing at the trouble Tess has now landed herself in. They start walking again, and the dew and their misty breath seems like halos around their heads.
The fact that only at this precise moment Alec happens to arrive emphasizes the injustice of Tess's fate. This is perhaps the unhappiest coincidence of her story, and the mockery of the other women once Tess has accepted Alec's offer to take her home only heightens the apprehension.