The gathering is startled by the appearance of Lucy, covered with mud from head to toe. Her condition is the result of the attention Tom has paid to her while he has slighted Maggie. To punish Maggie, Tom has offered to take Lucy to see the pike in the pond at the end of the garden, even though they were supposed to stay on the paths. When Maggie comes along, he tells her to get away. This is too much for Maggie, and she takes out her resentment by pushing "poor little pink-and-white Lucy into the cow-trodden mud."
Tom decides that "justice clearly demanded that Maggie should be visited with the utmost punishment," and he goes to tell on her. Lucy runs along with him. Tom takes her in the kitchen and tells the maid that Maggie pushed Lucy in the mud. The maid asks how they came to be near the mud. Tom realizes that he will be incriminated, and he walks quietly away.
While Lucy is being cleaned off, Mrs. Tulliver goes to speak to her children. She finds Tom and sends him to fetch Maggie. Maggie cannot be found, and Mrs. Tulliver is instantly certain the girl has drowned in the pond. But Tom suggests that she may have gone home, and they set out to look for her.
Maggie's imagination is again contrasted with Tom's factual approach to life. He sees things only as they are and has "a profound contempt for this nonsense of Maggie's." But despite his realistic outlook Tom never sees any wrong in his own actions — he thinks of "the injustice of some blame on his own conduct." This is not so much hypocrisy as simple blind egoism.
This egoism compares closely with that of Mrs. Tulliver, who sees all things only as they affect her, even the actions of her children. "As usual, the thought pressed upon her that people would think she had done something wicked to deserve her maternal troubles . . . ."
Lucy's personality thus far consists mainly of her innocence and beauty. Although she becomes more complex later on, she remains essentially a foil for Maggie, a reference point for Maggie's actions and emotions. She is here epitomized in the phrase "poor little pink-and-white Lucy."
Note that when Maggie disappears, Mrs. Tulliver thinks at once that she has drowned. This fear that her children will be brought in "dead and drowned" someday runs throughout the book and is prophetic of the end.