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Tess is traveling from her home town of Marlott to the town where the dairy farm is.
It's been just over two years since she returned from Trantridge.
Tess hitches a ride part of the way with a farmer in a cart, even though she can tell he only offered her a lift because she's pretty.
Tess feels a connection to the country here, because it was the country of her "useless ancestors" (16.6).
The first thing Tess notices about this valley, as compared to the Vale of Blackmoor where she's grown up, is that the fields and farms are larger.
She also notices that the air seems lighter, and that lifts her mood.
The narrator reminds us that Tess is only just twenty years old, and that she's hardly finished developing (emotionally and mentally, that is), so it's no wonder that she should find joy in the physical pleasure of sunshine and a beautiful view, despite her tragic history.
Tess goes down the hill into the valley, and isn't sure which way to turn.
She hears someone calling to the nearby herd of cattle, and the cows turn to enter a gate.
Tess follows the cows, which are going in to be milked.
The cows that kick and move around while being milked are put in stalls in the barn, while the better behaved ones wait in rows in the middle of the yard.