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The book begins with a bonfire celebration on the fifth of November, Guy Fawkes Day. It is a tradition on Egdon Heath, and many of the village folk have gathered. They discuss the recent events of the heath, and much of the conversation centers on Thomasin Yeobright and Damon Wildeve, who were supposedly married earlier in the day. When Thomasin's aunt, Mrs. Yeobright, finds out from her niece that the marriage has not taken place, she goes into the inn that Wildeve owns, "The Quiet Woman," to demand an explanation from him. With the arrival of heath people to sing to the supposed newlyweds, aunt and niece slip out the back, and Wildeve leaves for a tryst with Eustacia Vye, his former lover who has signaled him to come to her again.
With the help of Johnny Nunsuch, Eustacia is tending a bonfire before the house of her grandfather, Captain Vye. She is awaiting the arrival of Wildeve, who was her lover before his latest infatuation with Thomasin. The beautiful Eustacia is not about to let Wildeve go or forget about her. That is why she has signaled him. Almost at her beck and call, Wildeve arrives. Neither Eustacia nor Wildeve, however, is willing to openly pledge their love for one another
Venn, the reddleman and an admirer and rejected suitor of Thomasin, accidentally comes to hear of the meeting between Eustacia and Wildeve from Johnny Nunsuch, who also tells him the couple will meet again the next day. He eavesdrops on their conversation when they meet at Rainbarrow. Venn goes to Eustacia and requests her to help Thomasin, revealing that he knows of her meetings with Wildeve. Venn, in turn, offers to marry Thomasin; however, Mrs. Yeobright only uses Venn's offer as a weapon to force Wildeve into marrying Thomasin, but her plan backfires. Wildeve rushes to Eustacia and asks her to leave with him for America. She does not give him a definite answer. Meanwhile the news of the arrival of Clement Yeobright becomes common knowledge in every house on the heath.
Clym has returned to Egdon Heath for good and wants to become a schoolteacher for the poor and needy. He has given up what his mother considers a promising career, that of business manager to a diamond merchant in Paris. She strongly disapproves of his career decision and of his growing attraction for Eustacia Vye. Clym soon proposes to Eustacia and is accepted. Eustacia is hopeful that they will soon permanently leave the heath, which she hates, and return to Paris.
Mother and son quarrel over Clym's love of Eustacia. Clym leaves his mother's house and rents a cottage in Alderworth. He then persuades Eustacia to marry him immediately, and Mrs. Yeobright does not attend the wedding. As an act of reconciliation, Mrs. Yeobright sends a small inheritance of a hundred guineas both to her son Clym and her niece Thomasin. Christian Cantle is to deliver the money, but he loses all of it while gambling with Wildeve, who is angry that Mrs. Yeobright did not trust him with the money. Venn wins the money away from Wildeve and gives the entire sum to Thomasin, not knowing that half of it was meant for Clym.