Tess returns to the road feeling strengthened, but she still cannot be happy as long as Angel condemns her. More men flirt with her, so she puts on her oldest clothes, covers her face, and cuts off her eyebrows. She resolves to be ugly for all other men except Angel. She walks on as a simple fieldwoman, at one with the landscape.
Tess makes herself ugly and wanders the road like an ancient pilgrim or martyr. Her beauty she now sees as a kind of curse, bringing only misfortune. She has become the image of the rural woman, no longer standing out from the rest but entirely blending in with her surroundings.
Tess keeps asking for employment at farms on her path, as she has heard that Marian's farm is especially harsh, but no one has any positions open. She reaches a plateau where the land is cold and unfriendly-seeming, and before her is dreary Flintcomb-Ash, the farm where Marian works. Tess accepts that she is doomed to work in this rough land, and looks for shelter against a warm wall.
Flintcomb-Ash, with its bleak name and landscape, is the opposite of Marlott or Talbothays, and fits well with Tess's unhappiness and lost innocence. Once again she has only been delaying the inevitable by asking for work elsewhere – she must come to this dreary farm as a sort of punishment for her bliss at Talbothays.
The village is empty until one woman approaches, and Tess sees that it is Marian. Tess slowly reveals how unhappy she is, and that Angel is abroad, but she asks Marian not to question her any further. Marian says the place is a rough starve-acre (poor soiled) farm, and her only comfort here is in alcohol. She is sure that Tess is only unhappy because Angel is away, but she agrees to speak his name no more.
Things have really gone downhill since the dairy-farm days. Tess still idealizes Angel and depends on him for happiness, but cannot bear the shame of discussing their situation in detail with someone who knew them both before – just like she could not remain in Marlott.
Tess agrees to work until the holiday of Lady-Day, and they are happy to hire her because women's field labor is cheaper than men's. Tess writes to her parents with her new address, but does not tell them how bad her situation is, as it might reflect poorly on Angel.
Hardy again notes the sexual double standard, this time with regards to pay. Women can do the same work as men but get paid less, and no one questions the system's unfairness.