Tess wonders if she should ask the Clares for Angel's address. She has been too independent and proud to appeal to them for assistance so far, but now she wants to send a letter to Angel. She has heard that Reverend Clare is a good man, and hopes he will take pity on her. She has to walk to Emminster, so she can only go on a Sunday and has to leave before dawn.
Tess finally decides to act towards achieving her goals of reconciliation. So powerless is she in the relationship that she does not even know where Angel is, and has to walk miles through ice just to entreat his parents. But at least she is taking some agency in her fate now.
On the day she decides to leave Izz and Marian dress her up and sincerely wish her the best, despite their own passions. It has been a year since the wedding. Tess feels hopeful that she can win Mrs. Clare over. She passes by the Vale of Blakemore and feels sad, and then goes near a stone monolith called “Cross-in-Hand,” which marks “a miracle, or murder, or both.” As she gets nearer her confidence fades.
Izz and Marian again show their honest hearts, or else it is just impossible for anyone to hate Tess (which seems plausible, too). Cross-in-Hand will become important later, but for now it is just a vague reminder of the primal pagan forces of the land.
She reaches Mr. Clare's stern-looking church and takes off her walking boots before entering the town. Tess looks for a good omen but none appears. She calls at Angel's house but no one is there – they are all at church. A bloody piece of paper blows down the road. Just as Tess reaches the church the congregation emerges. Everyone stares at her, so she tries to escape, but two young men walk closely behind her.
Fate again treats Tess cruelly, as the bloody paper seems like a bad omen arriving at this vulnerable time. She has experienced the judgmental eyes of churchgoers before, and she flees from the memories as much as the people.
Tess realizes the men are Angel's brothers, and she dreads meeting them. They see a young woman and name her as Mercy Chant. Tess recognizes her significance. Tess then overhears the brothers' conversation. They lament Angel's foolish marriage and lack of communication, and then find Tess's walking boots. The brothers assume they belong to some treacherous person, and they take them to give to charity.
More coincidental meetings – the world of the novel is small and interlaced. Angel's brothers are again portrayed negatively. They judge Angel for marrying a dairymaid and judge the boot-wearer without even knowing who it is. They symbolize the part of society Hardy dislikes the most.
Tess despairs and starts to weep. She cannot help but see the scene as a bad omen and condemnation of her journey. She cannot bear to return to the Clares' house. The narrator muses that if she had met Mr. Clare first instead of Cuthbert and Felix, things would have gone better. The brothers are more liberal but lack the Reverend's charitable heart.
Tess can't help her ingrained superstitions, and her journey was already tenuous. Fate again deals cruelly with her, and Hardy points out the unhappy coincidence that she meets the brothers instead of the father.
Tess dissolves into self-pity and starts the long walk back to Flintcomb-Ash. She does not realize what a mistake this is, as Mr. and Mrs. Clare would surely have taken her in as a lost soul.
Hardy emphasizes the misfortune of her decision, drawing out the tragedy of circumstance once again.
Her journey back is sorrowful and slow, and she does not stop until she reaches a barn with a fiery Christian preacher giving a service. Tess can hear his words as she passes, and he describes how he was once a great sinner, but then was touched by the patience of a parson he had insulted, and so became converted. Tess recognizes the preacher's voice, and she nervously enters the barn to see that he is none other than Alec d'Urberville.
Things just keep getting worse for Tess as everyone from her past eventually returns, culminating with this encounter. It is an elegant plot twist that the antagonist should become a Christian, converted by Angel's father to repent his sins against the heroine, but surely this will lead to more turmoil for Tess.