The action shifts to St. Ogg’s, where eighteen-year-old Lucy Deane is being courted by Stephen Guest, heir to the Guest & Co shipping fortune. Although Stephen has not yet formally proposed, he believes that the sweet, docile Lucy—known as the “belle of St. Ogg’s”—is the perfect wife for him. Lucy tells Stephen that her cousin Maggie is coming to stay, but decides to play a trick on him: she tells him that Maggie has blonde hair and blue eyes, like Mrs. Tulliver. They would like to invite Philip Wakem as well to join the family party, but Lucy explains that there are tensions between the Wakems and the Tullivers. She decides to write a note to Philip explaining that Maggie will be visiting.
Stephen thinks that Lucy is the perfect wife for him because she has all the qualities valued in women in nineteenth-century Victorian society. She is beautiful, generous, sweet, and seems comfortable in conventional femininity and in her social role. As the heir to a shipping fortune and member of the most prominent family in St. Ogg’s, Stephen needs a wife who will be socially acceptable in these ways. However, his valuation of her primarily in those terms suggests that their relationship may not be grounded in emotional intimacy.
Stephen and Lucy sing a charming duet before Stephen leaves for the day. Lucy plays with her dog, Minny, and her horse, Simbad. The narrator reflects that Lucy genuinely enjoys pleasing others—it makes her happy to give Maggie her best room, for instance. Lucy is generous and doesn’t tend to treat other women with jealousy and suspicion.
The narrator comments that Lucy is an exception to the judgment and intolerance that generally pervades the social environment of St. Ogg’s. Lucy doesn’t tend to see other women as her romantic competition and genuinely wants the best for others, including Maggie.