Mrs. Glegg is the first of the aunts to arrive. She passes the time by complaining how the old ways have altered, now that some of the family are later than others. She declines a bit of cheesecake because it is against her principles to eat between meals, but recommends that Mrs. Tulliver have dinner earlier and lectures her about providing so much for guests.
She is interrupted by Mrs. Pullet's arrival. Mrs. Pullet, a finely dressed woman, comes in sobbing. Mrs. Glegg is scornful when she discovers that her sister is crying for the death of someone who was no kin to them. Mr. Pullet defends his wife with details of the will the deceased woman left. Mrs. Pullet and Mrs. Tulliver go upstairs to compare bonnets until Mrs. Deane comes with Lucy. When Maggie comes in with Tom, she compares poorly with neat, pretty Lucy. Both she and Tom are awkward with their aunts and uncles, who talk about them as though they were inconsiderable creatures. Mrs. Pullet is of the opinion that Maggie's hair is too long.
Her aunt's criticism leads Maggie to decide to cut her hair off and be done with it. She gets Tom to come upstairs and help her. But when it is cut and Tom laughs at her, she realizes how foolish she looks and is mortified. For a long time she refuses to go down to dinner, but Tom at last coaxes her down. Everyone is properly shocked at her rashness, except her father, who takes her part. Mrs. Glegg proclaims that he is spoiling the child.
After dinner the children are sent out, and Mr. Tulliver states his intention to send Tom to Mr. Stelling for an education. It is received with general amazement, and with opposition from Mrs. Glegg. Mr. Tulliver says the expense will be a good investment. Mr. Deane remarks that Wakem the lawyer is also sending his son there, which Tulliver takes as a favorable sign. When her husband makes a jesting remark, Mrs. Glegg reminds him that his advice was not asked, and Tulliver answers angrily that she has been giving that herself. Mrs. Glegg in turn says that she has been ready enough at lending, a reminder that Tulliver owes her money. The quarrel quickly reaches a point at which Mrs. Glegg walks out.
The women soothe themselves by attending to the children, while Mr. Tulliver and Mr. Deane talk politics and business, and Mr. Pullet listens.
The aunts and uncles are to be seen in relation to the comments on the Dodson family given in the last chapter. Mrs. Glegg is the strongest character among them; but her character consists entirely of rigid adherence to the Dodson code. She wears second-best clothes on weekdays no matter what the occasion, for "to look out on the week-day world from under a crisp and glossy front would be to introduce a most dream-like and unpleasant confusion between the sacred and the secular." "Correctness" is all, and she expects it in all her relatives as well as herself. She is as much oriented to things as Mrs. Tulliver is, but she always uses them correctly. And unlike Mrs. Pullet, she always maintains the correct social position — she cries for the death of no one who is not a relative.
Mr. Glegg is a sympathetic character whose words are usually intended to soften for some other character the blow of his wife's harsh judgments. Mr. Pullet is more narrowly characterized, but serves a comic purpose adequately, simply through repeated exposure of his narrowness. In this company the Deanes make hardly any impression except through the things other characters say of them. This may be in order to give adequate distance to them as "rich relatives."
The lives of these characters center on money and the proper disposition of it. Money is to be nurtured and correctly divided among one's kin on one's death. To die without having made a will is shocking. Money is not to be wasted under any conditions; it is best to die leaving more than one was believed to have. This will earn one respect and love — preferably at one's funeral.
Money is partly the root of the quarrel between Tulliver and Mrs. Glegg, but it is mainly a result of the clash of her instinct for correctness with his impetuosity. There are three passages preparing for the outcome of this quarrel: in one Mrs. Glegg notes that Tulliver has spent his wife's fortune going to law and is likely to spend his own; in another the author remarks that Maggie remembered her father's kindness "when everyone else said that her father had done very ill by his children." The third is Mr. Glegg's ironic little ditty:
When land is gone and money's spent,
Then learning is most excellent.
Maggie's closeness to her father is emphasized not only by his special kindness to her, but by her act of impetuosity which matches his. The act of cutting off her hair is typical of her in that she acts without foreseeing any of the consequences and then repents too late.