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Rolliver's is the only alehouse at the Durbeyfield's end of Marlott, and it has a funny set-up: most customers take their drink at an outdoor ledge from the yard, because Rolliver's doesn't have a legal license to serve alcohol on the premises indoors. But regular customers are invited into the house to take their drinks in the bedroom, with a shawl hanging over the window to keep people from seeing them.
About ten or twelve regular customers are piled into the bedroom when the chapter opens—perching on the dresser, sitting on the side of the bed, etc.
Mrs. Rolliver is always nervous whenever someone new arrives, thinking that it might be some government agent who would take away her license for serving liquor indoors.
But it's only Mrs. Durbeyfield, arrived to join her husband.
Joan Durbeyfield sits down by her husband, and tells him that she's learned that there's a rich lady out by Trantridge (at the other end of the valley) named D'Urberville, and that she wants to send Tess over to "claim kin" (in other words, to borrow money on the strength of their family relationship).
Jack Durbeyfield says that this other family must only be a "junior branch" to their family, "long since King Norman's day" (4.15). (Jack is confusing to pieces of information he picked up from Parson Tringham—there was never a "King Norman," but a King William, who was from Normandy.)
Abraham creeps into the room at this point, and overhears the rest of the conversation.
Mrs. Durbeyfield says that the rich Mrs. D'Urberville will be sure to take notice of Tess if they send her to visit, and the two families ought to visit back and forth, since they are, after all, family.
Abraham cheerfully suggests that they all visit, and ride in coaches, and wear nice clothes.
Mrs. Durbeyfield seems remarkably undisturbed by the appearance of her young son at an unlicensed alehouse, and continues telling her husband that she thinks that Tess will marry a gentleman.
In fact, she knows it—because the Complete Fortune-Teller told her so.
The people around them can't hear everything that's being said, but they pick up enough to understand that Tess has something great in store for her because of this new discovery about their family.
One older man mutters that Tess is pretty, but that Joan "must mind that she don't get green malt in flower" (4.27). Hardy doesn't translate this local figure of speech for you, but we will: it means that Mrs. Durbeyfield had better make sure that Tess doesn't get pregnant before she's married.
Just then, Tess herself appears to fetch her parents and younger brother home.
Her parents scramble to their feet as soon as they see her.
Jack Durbeyfield has had so much to drink that he can hardly walk, so Tess and Joan support him between them, and walk home unevenly three abreast.
Jack hasn't actually had all that much to drink, but his bad health means that he can't hold his booze.
Jack continues to sing about his "family vault" at Kingsbere. Mrs. Durbeyfield hushes him, and reminds him that a number of other families in the area were once almost as noble as their own. Then she "thanks God" that her own family was never noble, so she doesn't have to be "ashamed" of her family being debased (4.34).
Tess says that her father won't be able to make the trip with the beehives, but he insists that he'll be okay in a couple of hours.
Of course he's not. Mrs. Durbeyfield goes to wake Tess at 1:30am. 2 a.m. is the latest they'd be able to leave in order to make it to the market on time.
Tess points out that someone has to go, since it's almost too late in the season to be selling beehives, anyway.
Mrs. Durbeyfield suggests that they ask one of the young men who had danced with Tess the day before, but Tess is too proud to ask favors from someone like that—they'd probably read more into it, or expect something in return and, anyway, she doesn't want to let anyone know that her father can't go because he's too drunk.
Tess volunteers to go herself, if Abraham went with her to keep her company.
They get the cart ready to go in a hurry, and Abraham joins her, still half asleep.
Once on the road, Abraham asks Tess if she's glad that they're now "gentlefolk." Tess says she's not, particularly.
Abraham repeats what he heard at Rolliver's about Tess marrying a gentleman. Tess doesn't answer, but stares off into space.
When Abraham asks again, she cuts him off, and they start talking about the stars.
Abraham asks if the stars are all other worlds, and Tess says yes. He asks if they're all like ours, and she says that most of them are splendid, but a few are "blighted." And they happen to live on a blighted one.
Abraham thinks this is very unlucky, since there are so many good ones out there.
After a while, Abraham gets sleepy, so Tess makes space in the cart for him to curl up and go to sleep.
Without anyone to talk to, Tess starts getting sleepy herself, and starts to doze off while sitting up in the cart.
She wakes up with a jolt, and hears a great groan. Another lantern is shining in her face.
It turns out that the mail coach (mail coaches were notorious for driving too fast along country roads to get the mail delivered on time) had been zooming along silently on its new and un-squeaky wheels, and had skewered Tess's horse with the shaft of the cart. The groan she had heard was from the horse, Prince, who collapses on the road in a puddle of blood.
The driver of the mail cart sees that nothing can be done for the horse, so he says that he'll send someone to help as soon as he can, and that she should wait here.
Tess is horrified by what she's done (she feels responsible).
She wakes up Abraham, who thinks it's because they live on a blighted star instead of on a good one.
Later that day, Prince gets carried home in the cart. Jack Durbeyfield was going to sell the body to get some money for the meat (for dog food) and for the skin (for leather), but because Prince is so old and ragged, his body wouldn't be worth all that much.
Even though they could probably use even that little bit of money, Jack Durbeyfield refuses to sell the horse's body, and buries it instead. He says that, back in the old days, the D'Urbervilles didn't sell the carcasses of their great war horses, so he won't sell Prince's.
The chapter ends with a brief description of Prince's "funeral," at which Tess feels like a murderess.