One morning the butter churn is not working right, and no butter will come. All the workers gather around. Dairyman Crick complains that are no good “conjurers” left who could fix it if it breaks. Mrs. Crick proposes that someone is in love, making the machine not work.
This is another example of folk-superstitions, but the nature of it seems to implicate Angel and Tess's relationship. Also the idea that love could break a machine is similar to Hardy's theme of modernity versus Nature.
Crick tells a story of a man, Jack Dollop, who had courted and “deceived” a young woman, and then one day her mother showed up to attack him. Dollop hid in the butterchurn while the old woman raged about and the young woman cried. Finally the old woman found him and turned the butterchurn with Dollop inside until he agreed to marry her daughter. Tess is struck by this story, which was intended to be comedic, and Crick asks concernedly about her. She says she will feel better outside. At that moment the churn starts to work again.
The story is humorous to the rest of the workers, who have never had Tess's sad experiences. The weeping girl is only a side character in the tale, but Tess strongly relates to her. This is perhaps one of her “indoor fears,” and she can only feel better by going back outside. It is also notable that when Tess loses her vitality the machine regains its own.
Tess is depressed all afternoon at the thought that none of her companions saw the sadness in the story. The sun seems ugly to her now, and a sparrow's voice “machine-made.” That night she goes first to bed of all her roommates, but wakes up when they enter.
The other women are actually more of Angel's pure ideal than Tess. Even Nature brings her no comfort now, and just seems like another aspect of the harsh modern world.
Her roommates Retty Priddle, Marian, and Izz Huett stand by the window and watch someone in the garden. Soon they start to tease each other about being in love, and at last they all admit that they are, and reveal that Angel is the object of their devotion. Then Marian says that their love is in vain, because Angel likes Tess best. Izz declares that he won't marry Tess or any of them, but someone of his own social class. All three start to cry and eventually fall asleep.
This infatuation is first portrayed as innocent and foolish, but the women's tears at the end start to show how deep it really runs. Their final admission that Angel is from a different society altogether, and none of them have a chance with him, seems to make their rural world hopelessly small.
Tess lies awake, upset. She knows that Angel prefers her, and that he had even asked Mrs. Crick about hypothetically marrying a farm-woman, but Tess feels unworthy of marrying anyone because of her past. She feels guilty for drawing his attention from the other, “purer” girls of Talbothays.
Tess can't help following Angel's line of thinking and associating all the dairymaids with purity and Nature, but now she feels excluded from that symbolic community by her past troubles.