Just then, Lucy appears in the doorway smeared with mud. When the children went outside to play, Tom continued to give preference to Lucy because he was annoyed with Maggie. He invited Lucy to look at the pond with him and left Maggie behind. When Tom told Maggie that “nobody asked you to come,” Maggie pushed Lucy into the muddy pond. Tom promptly brought Lucy to the house and told the maid that Maggie is to blame.
Maggie’s habit of acting out in brief expressions of rage and distress—like pushing Lucy into the mud—suggests that she finds it very difficult to express her emotions in healthier ways. This is because, as a girl, she is constantly told to be polite, neat, and demure. Her outburst of frustration suggests that she struggles to bottle up her feelings in the way she is expected to.
The Pullets are horrified by having so much mud in the house, and take this as another indication that the Tulliver children are very naughty and will come to a bad end. Felling like a “truly wretched mother,” Mrs. Tulliver goes outside to find her children, and Tom informs her that Maggie is missing. After a search around the house, they decide that she must have walked home, so they go to look for her there.
Here, the Dodson aunts demonstrate their usual rush to judgment without evidence. Rather than inquiring further into the situation between the children (which would have revealed that Tom was bullying Maggie), they immediately condemn Maggie and suggest that this supports their prior expectation that she would come to a bad end.