Chapter 1 – Tidings of the Comer
From inside Captain Vye's home, Eustacia hears laborers discuss Clym's impending return. They discuss how he has been working in Paris as a diamond merchant, and Captain Vye criticizes the choice to avoid a family vocation. He bemoans the curse of education, which he says teaches the young solely to write offensive graffiti. The laborers discuss what a good couple Eustacia and Clym might make.
Eustacia is excited by their conjecture, and begins to daydream about a romantic match with Clym. While she daydreams, she walks towards his birthplace of Blooms-End, and considers how Paris must be the center of the fashionable world.
Chapter 2 – The People at Blooms–End Make Ready
Meanwhile, at Blooms-End, Thomasin and Mrs. Yeobright prepare for Clym's return. Thomasin laments her own fate in regard to the delayed marriage, and the shame it could bring to her.
Mrs. Yeobright asks Thomasin whether her feelings for Wildeve have changed, and she admits that she used Diggory's information as leverage. They agree not to tell Clym about the situation, and then leave to gather holly to further decorate the cottage.
Chapter 3 – How a Little Sound Produced a Great Dream
As Eustacia looks over Blooms-End, she sees Clym arriving with his mother and cousin. She overhears him speak favorably of the heath, and is surprised. Hardy explains that Clym was born to the environment, whereas Eustacia was an unwilling immigrant to it, so that the land remains alien to her. Eustacia clearly does not understand how an educated and cultured man would appreciate such roughness.
Eustacia returns to her grandfather, and questions him about their relationship with the Yeobright family. He claims that she would consider them too countrified for her social tastes, and says he has not socialized with them since Mr. Yeobright died.
That night, Eustacia dreams of dancing with a man in silver armor. The dream ends when he removes his helmet to kiss her. She is frustrated at not seeing the face of this hero.
Eustacia begins to take frequent walks through the hills, hoping to see Clym. However, after several fruitless forays, she abandons the pursuit.
Chapter 4 - Eustacia is Led on to an Adventure
It is now December 23rd.
Eustacia is upset to learn that Clym plans to leave Egdon the following week, since she has not yet been able to meet him. Hardy explains that it would have been easy to meet him had Egdon been a churchgoing community, but this was not the case.
One day, the mummers, a group of locals who perform annual amateur plays, ask Eustacia if they can rehearse in Captain Vye's fuel house. They are preparing to perform the story of St. George and the dragon at a party being thrown by Mrs. Yeobright at her home.
Hardy gives a brief description of their work as more tradition than entertainment, since audiences and actors see the play as a duty. He further explains that the mummer company is comprised solely of male members whose costumes are adorned by the females. Because the women are more interested in flamboyance than in character purpose, the adornments often confuse audiences because the choices do not conform to the personalities.
Eustacia concocts a scheme to infiltrate the party and hopefully meet Clym. She convinces Charley, whom she knows is infatuated with her, to let her play his part of the Turkish knight. In exchange, she allows him to hold and kiss her hand for fifteen minutes.
Her plan is to tell the other mummers that she is Charley's cousin who has to take his place because Charley was suddenly called to return two heath croppers to the Vye residence. He agrees to the conditions, and then holds her hand until his allotted time is up.
Chapter 5 – Through the Moonlight
Hardy explains how time is measured differently throughout the heath, because there are several differing sources of it: the Quiet Woman inn, Blooms End and Grandfer Cantle’s watch. The mummers thus arrive to rehearsal on a relaxed and varied schedule. Eustacia slips in carefully, and tells them her planned lie about being Clym's cousin.
She had quickly memorized his part, and the other mummers are pleased with her performance. After they finish, they head together towards the Vye residence. They notice that the partygoers are still dancing, and so wait outside until it is appropriate for them to enter. As they wait, Eustacia asks the other mummers why the Yeobrights hold such large parties, and they explain that the parties are meant to involve the whole community. While she talks, the mummers realize who she is, but promise they will keep her secret.
Finally, they are able to force their way into the cottage and perform the play. Eustacia performs well, and retains her dignity by playing her death scene slowly and gradually, rather than as a sudden, dramatic collapse. As she lies on the floor, pretending to be dead, she looks around for Clym.
Chapter 6 - The Two Stand Face to Face
As Eustacia sees Clym, Hardy describes him for the first time. His intellectual ruminations stands at odds to his physical attractiveness, and it is hinted that his scholarly nature could diminish his physical beauty.
Eustacia keeps her disguise on, though it prohibits her from eating at the party. She does, however, accept Clym’s offer of elder wine. She is, as she expected, captivated by him. However, Hardy adds that this passion was partially pre-decided, and derived from her desire to replace her waning passion for Wildeve.
Eustacia overhears Clym talking with Thomasin, who is avoiding the party, and realizes that he knows nothing about her situation with Wildeve. Eustacia grows jealous of Thomasin, and the latter's proximity to Clym. Absorbed in a tumult of emotions, she walks outside, and Clym follows her. He asks whether she is actually a woman, and why she has taken the mummer’s part. She explains that she engineered to ruse to bring herself some excitement.
Eustacia remembers that she was supposed to meet Wildeve that evening – an arrangement she herself set up. Realizing that Thomasin now stands as potential rival for Clym, she considers that she could manipulate Wildeve to her advantage.
Chapter 7 – A Coalition between Beauty and Oddness
The next day, Captain Vye asks Eustacia what kept her out so late, and she confesses that she acted in the mummer's play. She then walks along the heath, where she meets Diggory, and decides to use him to help secure a marriage between Wildeve and Thomasin. Diggory tells her that he saw Wildeve awaiting her the night before, and then promises to carry a letter to him from Eustacia, in which she will tell him to marry Thomasin.
Diggory has mixed emotions about the plan. He wants to marry Thomasin himself, but if she does not want him, he is resolved to facilitate her happiness. Venn takes Eustacia's letter to Wildeve, who tells him that Mrs. Yeobright had promised to let Thomasin marry the reddleman. Diggory does not trust Wildeve, so he decides to confront Mrs. Yeobright himself about the possibility. However, as he arrives at the Yeobright house, Wildeve exits, having just claimed Thomasin's hand for himself.
Chapter 8 – Firmness is Discovered in a Gentle Heart
The perspective shifts to Thomasin, who has just agreed to marry Wildeve two days later. Clym had recently heard the rumors about his cousin's shame, but had left on a short journey to visit friends. Thomasin hopes to be married by the time he returns, to save him further concern.
Mrs. Yeobright tells her that Diggory had also arrived to ask for her hand, but that she had told him he was too late.
The women prepare for the wedding. Thomasin styles her hair in an elaborate seven-stranded braid, and wears the blue silk dress she had set aside for the occasion. Mrs. Yeobright promises she has forgiven Wildeve, and then throws a slipper at Thomasin in observance of an old superstition. Thomasin then leaves alone for the church in an adjoining parish for the ceremony, insisting her aunt should not accompany her.
Clym returns, concerned that he was never told of the situation with Thomasin. Diggory arrives to tell them that the ceremony has now been completed. He also tells them that Eustacia, who happened to be nearby when the ceremony took place, was the one who gave Thomasin away.
Clym is not familiar with Eustacia. He asks his mother about her. Mrs Yeobright clearly does not like Eustacia. She describes her as proud, but dismisses the rumor that Eustacia is a witch.
Eustacia, described in the first book as a passionate girl in search of a place to direct that passion, finds one in Clym, although it is in less in him than in her idea of him. From the first mention she hears, she equates him with Paris, which she considers the epitome of culture, civilization, and fashion. The fact that the laborers consider her in his league seems to stroke her ego by stressing her distinctness from everyone else on the heath. There is certainly an irony in how she takes their assessment as accurate while instinctively considering them below her, but she is not a position to consider such irony, as she is so desperate for passion and escape.
Hardy, who was always interested in the workings of fate and tragedy, begins to establish the presence of these forces in the burgeoning relationship between Eustacia and Clym. When she initially walks to Blooms-End to spy on him, there is some significant foreshadowing of their later difficulties. For instance, Clym is flanked by his sister and his cousin, which symbolizes the attachments Eustacia will later resent to the point of her destruction. Further, his comment about the heath confuses her - she does not understand how he could appreciate its roughness. However, her ideas of him are already so well-founded that she ignores this facet of his personality. She will continue to ignore it, which will cause her significant trouble later.
Eustacia’s dream is highly symbolic, in that the knight’s identity is not revealed. Later in the story, we realize that the knight is not Clym, but Eustacia herself. It suggests that Eustacia loves the ideal of love, not the individuals whom she believes she loves. When she pursues and achieves the role of the Turkish knight, it symbolizes her willfulness and perseverance, but also her perpetual seclusion from others. The scheme reveals her need to be in control - she will learn about Clym without making herself vulnerable, but this type of seclusion and emotional defense has emotional consequences. Nobody ever lives up to her expectations - and this will certainly be true of Clym - and so she is forced to turn always to herself for solace.
In fact, Eustacia lacks much perspective on herself, ironic because she is so precise in her schemes that concern others. Because she is so independent, she does not realize her connection or duty to anyone else. When she grows jealous of Thomasin, she does not consider her emotions, but instead schemes to unite Thomasin and Wildeve, not recognizing that she herself was the primary obstacle towards that union in the first place. This blindness is a large part of what leaves Eustacia alone later, and leads her to her tragic end.
Eustacia's use of the disguise to meet Clym also serves as an allusion to Romeo and Juliet's first encounter in Shakespeare's play. The allusion is profound, especially because at that point in Romeo and Juliet, Romeo is pining for the loss of a lover, whose memory is quickly banished in favor the young Juliet. Similarly, Wildeve is swiftly obliterated from Eustacia’s thoughts once she has contact with Clym, so much so she forgets their meeting which she had engineered.
Thomasin remains a personification of innocence in this book. When she and her aunt prepare for Clym's arrival, Hardy uses much imagery to stress that innocence. The way she gathers apples from the loft is a particularly strong example of this imagery. She is so innocent that she cannot fathom the possibility of telling Clym about her situation. Even though it is highly unlikely that he would not learn the rumors in such a small community, she is unable to confront the truth of her situation; it is too far divorced from the simplicity of the life she lives and wants.
Venn's chivalry stands in stark contrast to Wildeve's self-interested machinations. However, fate does not necessarily favor virtue, as we see when he loses Thomasin, in large part simply because Wildeve arrives at the house first. Thomasin's impulse in marrying Wildeve no longer derives from great affection for him, but rather from a desire to avoid subjecting Clym to any shame on her part. Therefore, she would likely have made the practical decision to marry Diggory had he arrived first. She is most aware of the pressures placed on a woman.
Hardy's ability for plot is also apparent here. For instance, he establishes Charley's affection for Eustacia quite efficiently, and this will prove an important detail later in the story. His love is a steady one, the type of love Eustacia dislikes, though it will prove valuable to her later.
Finally, Hardy continues to explore the conflict between the old world of the heath and the modern world of education. His description of Clym poses a dichotomy between physical beauty and intellectualism. He suggests that Clym will lose his rugged and natural good looks if he chooses to live a life of study and academics. We cannot have both aspects. However, he does not blindly sing the praises of tradition either. Instead, he discusses the mummer play as an instance of a custom that has lost its emotional power, but persists nevertheless. Likewise, he continues to express an ambivalence about religion. While the lack of churchgoing in Egdon is not attacked in itself, it is implied that this lack of Christian faith leads to a prevailing superstition. Considering that these superstitions will play a part in the novel's tragic end, it is possible to think Hardy is not fully in support of such ancient belief systems.
One tradition Hardy describes in great detail is that of marriage. Thomasin decides to wear a blue silk dress, the color of which denotes true love from the other party. Wildeve may exhibit true love, but Thomasin is not the recipient of it. Thomasin chooses to braid her hair elaborately, to show that she is committed to making it a special day. The tradition of throwing a shoe is a precursor to the contemporary tradition of tying shoes to the car of a wedded couple. It might refer to the ancient tradition of a bride being carried off, which indicates that the bride is not taken without a fight. This interpretation certainly conforms to Thomasin's case, since her aunt originally opposed the wedding. It is sad that this tradition is followed through before Thomasin has met up with her groom. This implies that she is given up by her aunt, but not truly taken on by her new husband.
The tradition of giving a bride away occurs perversely in this case. When Eustacia stands in that position, it suggests a power struggle between her and Wildeve. In many ways, he marries Thomasin to maintain some dignity and ego after being rejected by Eustacia, but she arrives and shows herself unconcerned with his decision. Again, Eustacia is only aware of her own desires, to the point that she does not consider the sacredness of the occasion.