Despite Tom's delight in being home, this Christmas is not quite so happy as past ones. His father has a new quarrel going, and Tom is "distracted by a sense that there were rascally enemies in the world . . . ." This argument is with Mr. Pivart, a new neighbor who is planning to irrigate his property farther up the river. Mr. Tulliver feels that this is "bound to be (on the principle that water was water), an infringement on Mr. Tulliver's legitimate share of water-power." Tulliver loudly assures Mr. and Mrs. Moss that this will be resisted. Mrs. Moss hopes that her brother will not "be forced to go to law." Tulliver does not know, but he is sure that Wakem is at the back of this matter.
Mrs. Moss tells Mrs. Tulliver that she is sorry to see her brother so "put out," and Mrs. Tulliver replies that she fears she will be driven "off her head" by his talk. Her constant warning is, "Well, Mr. Tulliver, do as you like; but whatever you do, don't go to law." But to Mr. Tulliver, any dissent by his wife represents all the Dodson females and only makes it more certain that he will do as he pleases. But even that does not "heighten his disposition towards" going to law so much as the thought of Wakem, the arch-lawyer.
The situation has not advanced by the time Tom is to return to school, but it has become known that Wakem's son will be sent to Mr. Stelling with Tom. Tom is uneasy, but "Mr. Tulliver in his heart was rather proud of the fact that his son was to have the same advantages as Wakem's . . . ."
Note the image used with the river: it "flowed and moaned like an unresting sorrow." Later it will become an image of the careless joy of love. Note also that once again music has a strong effect on Maggie's emotions.
Important plot matters are again given briefly in a few paragraphs. The background of the quarrel with Pivart is only slightly developed, while Tulliver's reaction to the situation is given first importance. There is a hint of things to come in Mrs. Moss's hope that Tulliver "won't be forced to go to law with him." This, and the fact that Wakem is Pivart's lawyer, begins preparation for the later sudden news that the suit was lost.
Tulliver is "a strictly honest man," but he shows again the bullheadedness attributed to him already, and a strong prejudice against lawyers in general and Wakem in particular. The clash of his impetuosity and his wife's caution is in a different way the same clash that occurs between Maggie and Tom. It is an expression of the conflict that occurs within both Maggie and Tom through their inheritance of Tulliver willfulness and Dodson correctness.