Alec and Tess ride away, and Tess starts to feel uncomfortable. Alec asks why she is not more grateful to him and avoids his kisses, and Tess admits that she does not love him. He asks if he has offended her with every flirtation, and she does not deny it. They keep riding and the sleepy, distracted Tess does not notice that they passed the road to Trantridge long before. She has been awake since five and it is now one the next morning. She starts to lean against Alec and he puts his arms around her. This immediately makes her pull away again.
Tess and Alec finally speak plainly to each other, and Tess's true modesty and innocence are made clear to Alec. He begins to realize that his flirtations are not working. Tess falling asleep recalls her reverie before Prince's death, and her taking on again of the role of the sleeping victim of catastrophe.
Alec gets angry at her constant distrust and invokes his superiority over her, calling Tess a “mere chit.” Then he compliments her again, and convinces her to let him put his arm around her. A long time passes and Tess finally realizes that they should be home by now. She asks where they are and Alec dodges the question. Then he confesses that they are in The Chase, “the oldest wood in England,” and that he has been prolonging their ride.
Alec angrily reminds her of his power over her, both as a stronger man and as her wealthy employer. Faced with the inevitable, Tess must submit a little. The setting of the dark Chase builds up even more the sense of foreboding, and the feeling that they are among ancient powers that do not care about human happiness.
Tess grows angry again and pulls away. She demands that he let her walk home, but Alec says they are miles from Trantridge and the forest is foggy. Alec lets her dismount but he offers to find the path home while she waits with the horse, as even he is a bit lost. He steals a kiss and ties up the horse. He makes a nest of dead leaves for Tess, and mentions that he has bought a new horse for Durbeyfield and some toys for Tess's siblings. Tess is grateful but conflicted, and when she realizes the depth of Alec's passion for her she starts to cry.
Tess tries to assert her independence again, but now the situation has become impossible, and she must depend on Alec. He mentions her family as a reminder of yet another form of control he wields over Tess, as her ideals keep her bound to sacrifice herself for her family's well-being. The reality of her situation finally hits her in a heartbreaking way.
Alec tries to comfort her and wraps her in his overcoat. Then he goes off into the wood. Tess starts to fall asleep. Alec takes his time but gets his bearings, and then goes back for Tess. The moon has gone down and The Chase is black and foggy. Alec stumbles over Tess in the dark, and sees that she is asleep with tears on her face. She appears as a pale shape against the blackness. He presses his cheek against hers.
Tess falls asleep and again becomes the passive victim. The primeval powers of The Chase take over in the night, and Tess is presented as a figure of tragic innocence, light set against the dark. This is the last action described of the rape scene, and even this was too explicit for critics and many readers at the time of the novel's publication.
The dark ancient trees are all around, and birds and rabbits, but the narrator wonders where Tess's guardian angel is this night. He wonders if the god of her faith is distracted, and why such female innocence should be doomed to violation in this way, and why these injustices happen so often. The narrator hypothesizes that probably many d'Urberville knights had been even more cruel towards peasant girls of their day, and perhaps Tess is being punished for this. But he admits that humans find this kind of justice unsatisfying, and finally he retreats to the saying of the rural folk, “It was to be.” There is no good explanation, but after this she is to be a different woman altogether.
Hardy invokes Nature as Tess's element, but her pagan purity is defenseless against the cruelty of modern man and unjust fate. His meditation on why bad things happen to good people leads to no satisfying answer, just the fatalism of the simple townspeople, as all possible explanations seem unfair. Tess is a “Pure Woman Faithfully Presented,” and her rape is not her own sin but something unfairly enacted upon her. The language of this scene emphasizes that fact in the face of society's criticism.