Maggie decides to run away from home and join the gypsies in Dunlow Common, an open field near St. Ogg’s, where her family can’t find her anymore. Since she has always been told that she looks like a gypsy, she thinks she will be accepted and respected among them. On the road from the farm, she encounters a beggar and gives him a sixpence, he laughs at her, and she thinks it’s because of her hair.
Maggie feels so rejected by her family that she decides to run away from home. Her fixation on the gypsy camp suggests that she is looking for people who, unlike her family, would accept her for who she is. Having been told that she is different from other girls—with her long dark hair and dark coloring—she looks for people who share those characteristics.
Walking through the fields, Maggie encounters a little boy and a woman with a baby, who invites her to join their tent. Sitting around the fire, the gypsies call her a “little lady”—which Maggie likes—and admire her dress and bonnet. Maggie finds them very “agreeable” and promises to tell them all about what she’s read in books. She asks for her tea and treacle, but one of the gypsies scowls at her, and a fight breaks out in a language Maggie doesn’t understand. Maggie begins to feel very hungry, confused, and alone. The gypsies are nothing like the romantic image she expected, and she begins to suspect that they are thieves and will cut her up and eat her.
It turns out that Maggie’s knowledge of gypsies is flimsy, as it is based entirely on what she has read in books. Her knowledge is thus severely limited and largely inaccurate. For instance, she does not seem to realize that the gypsies are impoverished and nomadic, and thus will not have middle-class English rituals like “treacle and tea.” Her sudden realization and fear at being alone in the world with strangers—who she is worried might harm of even kill her— demonstrates her awakening from childhood fantasies to adult realities.
Two men come into the tent, and Maggie asks to go home to Dorlcote Mill. One of the men takes her home to St Ogg’s on his donkey, and Maggie is terrified for the entire ride until they encounter Mr. Tulliver on the road home. Mr. Tulliver gives the gypsy five shillings for returning his daughter, and Maggie promises never to run away again. To her surprise, she never receives any punishments for her behavior, since Mr. Tulliver spoke to the rest of the family on her behalf.
Although Maggie’s family dynamic is largely characterized by intolerance and rejection of Maggie’s “odd” ways, here, the family seems to forgive Maggie and accept her mistakes. For Mr. Tulliver, the safe return of his daughter from a potentially dangerous situation trumps any punishment for misbehavior. This forgiveness means a great deal to Maggie, and suggests that she and her father have a special bond and understanding.