The second chapter of Return of the Native is entitled “Humanity Appears Upon the Scene Hand in Hand with Trouble.” The title is both an entrance to the action of the novel and a furthering of the thematic material from the first chapter: Nature on its own is good, contemporary civilization is the trouble.
We meet two characters walking along a road through the heath: An old man and a reddleman (a man who carts red clay used for pigment). The reddleman is given some importance in the chapter as he is described as “curious, interesting, and nearly perished link between obsolete forms of life and those which generally prevail” (9). He is a link between the past and the present. It is also made known of this character that he is from a station higher in life than that of a reddleman, though he remains unnamed.
As the men converse, the reddleman reveals that there is a young woman sleeping the in his cart. The woman is not his relation, though he has met her before and he admits she is above his social station and only in his cart because she had no other option.
The men part ways, Hardy’s attention shifts to the figure of a woman on the horizon. She fits into the landscape of the heath like a part to the whole: “The form was so much like an organic part of the entire motionless structure that to see it move would have impressed the mind of a strange phenomenon” (14). This woman, whom we will eventually know to be Eustacia Vye, seems to be a perfect fit for the heath and for Hardy’s naturalism society. She hides and flees the scene as more men come up the road carrying lanterns.