Maggie and Mrs. Tulliver stand outside to greet Tom on his return from school. Tom tells Maggie that he has a present for her: he has saved up his money for the past quarter of the term to buy her a hook and fishing line so that they can go fishing together. He did this even though his friends physically fought with him because he wanted to save the money for Maggie’s gift instead of buying toffee. Tom then finds out that the rabbits have died because Maggie didn’t feed them. She offers to give him her money so he can buy new rabbits, but Tom refuses angrily, saying “I don’t love you.” He complains that he is a good brother to Maggie and saved up his money to buy her a present, whereas Maggie is always careless and forgetful with his things.
In contrast to Maggie's compassion, Tom has a very different understanding of justice and wrongdoing. He is very loyal and has a keenly developed sense of right and wrong, and he isn’t afraid to stand up for what he thinks is right—as when he risks a fight with his friends to save money for Maggie’s gift. However, he can also be harsh and unforgiving. Although Maggie apologizes profusely for neglecting to feed his rabbits, Tom treats her coldly and punishes her by telling her “I don’t love you.” While Maggie’s impulse is to empathize, Tom finds it difficult to forgive.
Maggie cries and runs upstairs to the attic, where she thinks of hiding and starving herself. Meanwhile, at tea downstairs, Mr. Tulliver asks Tom where Maggie is and chides him to be good to her. He knows Maggie would never willingly leave Tom’s side unless there had been a quarrel between them. Tom goes upstairs and sees Maggie, who begs his forgiveness. He offers her some cake, and they both cry. The narrator comments that children are very transparent about their emotions, while adults have learned to restrain themselves.
Tom eventually forgives Maggie because the bond between them—their shared history and love for one another—is stronger than his stubbornness. As the narrator observes, this is a pattern that will continue into their adulthood. At heart, Tom does love and care for his sister, even though he struggles to forgive her. In their childhood, they are much more emotionally open with each other than they will later become as adults, which makes forgiveness easier.
The next day, Maggie and Tom go down to the Round Pool to go fishing. Maggie asks Tom to put a worm on the hook for her. The narrator comments that Maggie worships Tom and finds his knowledge of matters like fishing very impressive, whereas Tom thinks Maggie is “a silly little thing” since “all girls [are] silly.” Still, he is very fond of her and thinks they will always live together and be happy together, and never go change or go away to school. The narrator observes that in some ways, Maggie and Tom were right that they would always be together, since their love for one another and memories of their childhood will always remain a part of their lives.
From its opening chapters, The Mill on the Floss emphasizes the lasting power of the events and emotions that shaped childhood experience. Some of these memories and behavioral patterns are positive, like Tom and Maggie’s sibling bond and love for each other. Some of the residue from childhood, however, has more unfortunate consequences. From a young age, for instance, Tom clearly sees Maggie as his inferior because of her gender. His view of her as a “silly” girl who should bend to his wishes will have lasting implications for their relationship.