It is Sunday morning, and Tess, Izz, Retty, and Marian have decided to go to the church a few miles away. It is Tess's first time away from Talbothays since she got there. It stormed the night before, and the river is high but the air is clear. Soon they come to a part of the road that is flooded, and they can't wade through it in their nice Sunday clothes.
It is telling that Tess hasn't left the farm since she got there, as it has become her whole world now, a comfort against outside society and strangers who might recognize her.
Angel comes wading around the corner, dressed in his work clothes. He now prefers the outdoors to church, and today is checking on the flood's damage to the hay. He had seen the girls from far away and hurried to help them, particularly Tess. The four of them look very pretty clinging to the bank, with flies and butterflies trapped inside their dresses.
Angel is in some ways Hardy's experiment of an upper-class intellectual trying to get back to his roots in Nature. The girls with insects trapped in their church dresses is an interesting image of the forces of Nature and Christian convention fighting within them.
Angel offers to carry them one by one through the pool, but he avoids looking at Tess. All of them blush at his offer, and he starts with Marian. Izz builds up the moment before he comes for her, and when he gets Retty he finally looks at Tess. He returns for her and she is ashamed of her excitement.
Here Hardy presents the women as helpless objects of beauty, waiting for a man to carry them across the water. This is a very conservative image and contrasts with his usual scenes.
Angel starts to carry her, and compares her to Rachel from the Bible. Tess tries to compliment the other women, but Angel admits he carried them only to get to her. He exclaims her name and they both blush, but Angel realizes he is in a position of power and goes no further. He walks slowly to prolong their time.
This “rescue” is a contrast to Alec's. Angel realizes Tess is at a disadvantage in clinging to him, and he does not abuse his power. Again he compares Tess to a religious figure, this time Rachel (Jacob's favorite of the two sisters he married. Yet in some ways Angel will come to see Tess as the other sister, Leah, when he feels that Tess has tricked him into marriage just as Jacob was tricked).
The others watch Tess, and then Marian blurts out that Angel likes Tess best. Their good moods have vanished, but they do not blame Tess, as they have the fatalism of their people and accept things as they are. Tess realizes then that she loves Angel as well.
The other dairymaids have a similar mindset to Joan Durbeyfield – what will be will be. They are able to accept that Tess has “beat” them without hating her.
Tess declares that she would refuse Angel if he asked her to marry, but she also doesn't think he will marry any of them. The other women decide to befriend Tess again, but they are deeply upset and suffer with emotions that “cruel Nature” has thrust upon them. They can see the logical futility of their passion, considering their social class, but they can't help it.
Hardy criticizes the arbitrary rules of society that make Angel “unavailable” to the dairymaids, while their emotions are pure and in accord with Nature. Tess again tries to suppress her passion as a kind of sacrifice for Angel's and her friends' sake.
That night the four discuss Angel again, and say his family has picked out a doctor's daughter for him to marry. They talk and weep late into the night. Tess then gives up hopes of marriage. She knows Angel has chosen her above the rest, but compared to them she is inferior in the “eyes of propriety.”
The mention of Angel's other possible wife makes Tess realize that he still cares for social conventions, and it is basically impossible that he should marry Tess because of both her class and her past.