Mrs. Tulliver has prepared a delicious puff pastry in preparation for a visit from her sisters, Deane, Pullet, and Glegg. She complains that Tom and Maggie are awkward around their aunts and uncles, and so are unlikely to get any inheritance from them. She compares Maggie unfavorably to Lucy Deane, a very sweet and obedient girl whom Mrs. Tulliver loves as if she were her own child. The narrator describes Mrs. Tulliver’s family, the Dodsons, who are very convinced that they know the proper way to manage a household and tend to be suspicious of outsiders.
In the narrator’s telling, the primary Dodson family trait is contempt, suspicion, and intolerance for all outsiders. This is because the Dodsons are convinced that their way of life—even in the case of small matters of household management—is always the superior way of doing things. This self-satisfaction and insularity leads to a rigidity and intolerance for others who don’t share their priorities and values.
Whenever their Dodson relatives arrive, Tom and Maggie tend to run away for the day. Today, they sit under a tree eating jam puff pastries. Tom cuts the last pastry in half and tells Maggie to close her eyes and choose the side at random. She selects the side with the jam running out, and he sulks and runs off when she doesn’t share it with him, which makes Maggie miserable. When she finds Tom again, he is with a local “naughty” boy named Bob Jakin, whose job is to scare the birds. Tom admires Bob’s knowledge of different types of birds and tends to prefer his company to Maggie’s.
This seemingly trivial incident between Tom and Maggie—an argument over who gets the better half of the puff pastry—is in fact very revealing about their relationship. When Maggie does something that displeases Tom (even if she does so unknowingly or accidentally), he tends to be harshly judgmental and slow to forgive. In this case, he punishes Maggie for a minor offense by playing with Bob Jakin and preferring his company to hers, which deeply distresses her.
Tom and Bob walk along the river with the Tullivers’ dog, Yap, to go rat-catching. They play heads and tails for a halfpenny, and when Tom wins the coin toss, he demands that Bob hand it over. They fight, and Tom pins Bob on the ground, declaring that he hates a “cheat.” As Tom walks away, Bob throws his pocket knife after him ineffectually. The narrator remarks on Tom’s well-developed sense of justice and feeling that the guilty should be punished. Tom always tends to believe he has done the right thing, whereas Maggie always wishes she had done something different.
This contrast between Tom and Maggie—Tom always believes he did the right thing, while Maggie always wishes she did something different—is also indicative of their differing attitudes toward tolerance and forgiveness. Maggie tends to see more ambiguity, unsure about the correctness of her actions and the actions of others. Tom, on the other hand, firmly believes that he has the moral high ground in all situations, including in the fight with Bob Jakin. Tom says that he hates a “cheat,” demonstrating his strict adherence to ideas of justice and fairness.