The aunts and uncles are to be invited to discuss Tom's education, and Mr. and Mrs. Tulliver are working out the details. Mr. Tulliver is not concerned about their opinions, and he cares less than does his wife about the money her relatives might leave to Maggie and Tom. Mrs. Tulliver laments that her children are so awkward with their aunts and uncles and wishes that they were more like their cousin Lucy. But she holds naughtiness to be more excusable in a boy than in Maggie.
Tom and Maggie meanwhile show their independence by escaping with a stock of the pastry being prepared for their visitors. Tom cuts the last cream puff exactly in half and gives Maggie the choice of halves. She tries to take the one Tom wouldn't want, but he makes her choose with her eyes closed. He finishes his piece first and becomes angry when she fails to offer him part of hers. He leaves her and goes off to join Bob Jakin along the river.
Bob is a poor boy who is knowledgeable in matters of rat-catching, tree-climbing, and such matters. He is bound for a rat-catching at a nearby barn. As they go along Bob idly tosses a halfpenny in the air and challenges Tom to call it. Tom correctly calls tails, but Bob covers the coin and keeps it. Tom, with help from his dog Yap, wrestles Bob into giving up the coin. Tom then lets it lie and refuses to go any farther with Bob, saying that he hates a cheat. Bob retaliates by throwing down the knife that Tom once gave him; but when Tom lets it lie, Bob picks it up again.
The Dodson family traditions are the subject of a long comment by the author. There is a rule of correctness for every occasion, and emotion is strictly subordinated to it. Thus, "funerals were always conducted with peculiar propriety in the Dodson family . . . ." The familial egoism which is described is the counterpart of the self-concern which will be shown by every individual member. It is also the source of their self-righteousness.
This is partly involved in the further contrast which we are shown between Tom and Maggie. When Tom divides the cream puff, he is scrupulously fair; but he is indignant when Maggie eats her part after he refuses it. "He was conscious of having acted very fairly, and thought she ought to have considered this, and made up to him for it." Just as later, Tom is not really hypocritical, but self-centered. Maggie thinks mainly of others.
Maggie is also contrasted to her cousin Lucy, who is a "good child." This is goodness by Dodson standards, and consists chiefly in being quiet and dull.
Bob Jakin's appearance here serves two purposes — it gives another example of Tom's capacity for self-righteousness, and it prepares for later development of the plot. Already Bob is a talkative creature, but he hardly seems the same person who shows so much cleverness later. This may be partly because we see so much of Tom and Maggie in the meantime, while Bob disappears until much later in the book. However, Bob already knows what is in his own interest, and he will not let false principle come before it.
Once again there is a reference to destruction by floods, preparing the reader to accept the sudden coming of the flood at the end.