Local workers are building a pile of firewood outside Captain Vye's house. From indoors, Eustacia Vye hears them talking about the imminent return to the heath of Clym Yeobright, who has been working as a diamond merchant in Paris. The local laborer Humphrey mentions that Eustacia and Clym would make a good couple, an innocent remark which sparks in Eustacia's mind intricate fantasies of a romance with Clym.
In the meantime, Clym's mother Mrs. Yeobright and niece Thomasin are preparing for Clym's return to their home, Blooms-End. Mrs. Yeobright remains obsessed with the damage that Thomasin's prolonged and painful engagement with Damon Wildeve has done to the family honor. She genuinely cares for Thomasin, however, and notices that Thomasin herself seems no longer to love Wildeve, ever since he managed to delay their first attempt at marriage; however, Thomasin neither denies nor confirms the truth of this.
The Yeobrights go to meet Clym, and Eustacia contrives to spy on them, in an attempt to get a look at Clym, who has become the object of her fascination in her attempt to find someone better than Damon Wildeve. Eventually, she settles on a scheme in order to see him. The Yeobrights are throwing a Christmas party, at which a group of locals will put on a traditional play (this performance of a ritual play with set roles and lines is known as "mummery"). Eustacia convinces the local laborer Charley to let her play his part, that of the Turkish Knight in a play about St. George. Disguised as the knight, Eustacia goes to the Yeobrights' party; after playing her part--and being recognized by some of the actors--she gets a good look at Clym. Hardy takes advantage of the opportunity to describe Clym for the first time. He is a young man with an extremely handsome face that is being worn away by his internal conflicts: "An inner strenuousness was preying upon an outer symmetry."
Uncomfortable with the revelry of the party and excited at being in Clym's presence, Eustacia goes outside for air, where Clym meets her and guesses that she is a woman playing a man's part. By this time Eustacia has whipped herself into a frenzy: she has "predetermined to nourish a passion" for Clym. A new problem presents itself to her, however. At Blooms-End, Clym is living with Thomasin, and Eustacia is concerned that he might fall in love with his pretty cousin. She therefore sends Damon Wildeve a message--through the omnipresent Diggory Venn--informing him that she will no longer see him. Scorned by Eustacia, Damon is left with only one option to salvage his pride (and, hopefully, to generate new jealousy in Eustacia): he once again promises to marry Thomasin. This time he goes through with his promise, and the two are finally married. It is Eustacia--who happens through no sheer coincidence to be in the church at the time of marriage--who gives the bride away, to the consternation of Damon.
More than a quarter of the way through the book, the title character finally makes his appearance, although even in this section--titled "The Arrival" by Hardy--he hardly does anything of note. But his very presence works a charm on the impressionable and imaginative Eustacia, who conceives of an infatuation with him based not upon his personality or even upon his looks: she is determined to love him even before meeting him. This kind of love, it is implied, is more self-love--or selfish love--than anything else: it is grows out of what Eustacia wants, rather than what Clym is. Thus, Eustacia is incapable of understanding Diggory Venn's putatively unselfish desire to help Thomasin be happy even at the expense of his own happiness: she thinks, "What a strange sort of love, to be entirely free from that quality of selfishness which is frequently the chief constituent of the passion, and sometimes its only one!"
But we do learn a set of important things about Clym in this novel. Aside from Thomasin--who is virtually a non-character, acted upon but never showing any personality of her own--Clym is the only character in the novel who acts without any deviousness whatsoever. In contrast with the other main characters-- Diggory, Wildeve, Eustacia and Mrs. Yeobright--for whom trickery is an accepted means of obtaining a desired goal, Clym seems almost entirely incapable of any sort of disingenuousness: "people who began by beholding him ended by perusing him. His countenance was overlaid with legible meanings." Clym can literally be read like an open book. His thoughts leave actual imprints upon the flesh of his face. Moreover, as a pathologically honest person, he is almost incapable of seeing trickery or imagining deviousness in others. This is the cause of his eventual disagreement with his less honest and more insightful mother, who recognizes in Eustacia a deviousness that Clym refuses to accept.
Mrs. Yeobright is worthy of some discussion. After her death Clym conceives of her as a kind of saint: righteous, quick to forgive, deeply caring and generous. But Clym is a fool for appearances, and is himself overly generous in evaluating character: in fact, the reader sees a great deal of mixed evidence as to Mrs. Yeobright's character. She is entirely willing to alienate herself from her son and niece because she disapproves of their marriages; she is quick to judge others and bears fierce grudges; she can be manipulative and deceitful, as when she summarily rejects Diggory's suit and then uses it as a weapon against Wildeve; and she is painfully and constantly aware of class. She dies upon the heath, when--exhausted by the heat and by exertion--she is bitten to death by an adder; the involvement of this particular animal in her death does not seem altogether random. Clym's misunderstanding of his mother's character may be read as another shortcoming of the ingenuous and over-charitable Clym himself. However, Clym does seem to repudiate his mother to an extent at the end of the novel, when he permits the marriage between Thomasin and Diggory despite his awareness that his mother would not have approved of her niece's marriage to a farmer.