At the inn, Tess’s young brother Abraham overhears Mr. and Mrs. Durbeyfield discussing their plans for Tess to take the news of her ancestry to the wealthy Mrs. d’Urberville in the hopes that she will make Tess’s fortune. When Tess arrives, she realizes her father will probably be too tired and drunk to take his load of beehives to the market in a few hours. Her prediction comes true, so she and her brother Abraham deliver them instead. On the way, Abraham tells Tess of their parents’ plans, and then the conversation veers onto the topic of astronomy. Knowing that stars contain clusters of worlds like their own, Abraham asks Tess if those worlds are better or worse than the world in which they live. Tess boldly answers that other stars are better and that their star is a “blighted one.” Tess explains that this shortcoming is the reason for all of her and her family’s misfortunes.
Abraham falls asleep, leaving Tess to contemplate. She too eventually falls asleep and dreams about a “gentlemanly suitor” who grimaces and laughs at her. Suddenly, Tess and Abraham are awakened by a calamity. Their carriage has collided with the local mail cart, and the collision has killed Prince, their old horse. Realizing that the loss of their horse will be economically devastating for her family, Tess is overcome with guilt. The surrounding foliage seems to turn pale and white as Tess does. The carriage is hitched up to the wagon of a local farmer, who helps them bring the beehives toward the market in Casterbridge.
Later, Tess returns home ashamed, but no one blames Tess more than she does herself. Tess remains the only one who recognizes the impact that the loss of the horse will have. The farmer helps them return Prince’s body back to the Durbeyfield’s home. Refusing to scrap or sell the body, Mr. Durbeyfield labors harder than he has in an entire month to bury his beloved horse.
In part because of her guilt over the horse, Tess agrees with her mother’s plan to send her to Mrs. d’Urberville. When she arrives, she does not find the crumbling old mansion she expects, but rather a new and fashionable home. She meets Mrs. d’Urberville’s son Alec, who, captivated by Tess’s beauty, agrees to try to help her. Alec says that his mother is unwell, but he says he will see what he can do for Tess.
When Tess returns home, she finds a letter. It is from Mrs. d’Urberville, offering her a job tending the d’Urbervilles’ fowls. Tess looks for other jobs closer to home, but she cannot find anything. Hoping to earn enough money to buy a new horse for her family, Tess accepts the d’Urbervilles’ job and decides to go back to Trantridge.
On the day Tess is scheduled to leave for the d’Urbervilles’ home, Mrs. Durbeyfield cajoles her into wearing her best clothes. Mrs. Durbeyfield dresses Tess up and is pleased by her own efforts, as is Mr. Durbeyfield, who begins speculating about a price at which he will sell their family title. When Alec arrives to retrieve Tess, they become uncertain that she is doing the right thing. The children cry, as does Mrs. Durbeyfield, who worries that Alec might try to take advantage of her daughter.