Maggie and Mrs. Moss sit down at Mr. Tulliver's bedside while Mr. Glegg and Tom open Mr. Tulliver's oak chest in search of the Mosses' promissary note for the three hundred pounds he has lent them. While they are looking through papers, the hinges on the oak chest give way, and it bangs shut loudly. The noise rouses Mr. Tulliver from his sleep and temporary amnesia, and he demands to know what they are doing with his papers. They explain to Tulliver that he has been ill and that they've had to look after his affairs. He asks for his wife, and Maggie goes to get her. Mr. Tulliver tells Tom to pay Luke the fifty pounds the family owes him before paying anything else and, in answer to Tom's question, tells him to be easy on the Mosses' about the loan. Mrs. Tulliver enters the room, and Mr. Tulliver asks her forgiveness for the state of their affairs and blames the "raskills" of the "law" for his downfall. He admonishes Tom to get back at Wakem, if he ever has the chance.
Mr. Tulliver begins to drift off again, mumbling directions for the future, as though preparing the family for his death. But Tulliver is not presently dying; his death is to be "a long descent under thickening shadows." Mr. Tulliver sinks back into semi-consciousness, having never remembered that Wakem now owns the mortgage to his property. Tom sets about fulfilling his father's wishes.
Tom leaves for St. Ogg's to see his uncle Deane about getting a job. Tom feels humiliated about his family's condition but does not blame his aunts and uncles, as Maggie does, for not helping them. Tom cheers himself with optimism about his possibilities of getting a good job and making money quickly, as his uncle Deane has done.
In town, the local publican salutes him and mentions Tom's father's downfall, meaning to be friendly. Tom, embarrassed, passes him without speaking, and the publican takes offense. Once in his uncle Deane's office, Tom must wait while his uncle finishes auditing accounts. When Deane has finished, Tom tells him of his wish to get "a situation." Deane points out that Tom is quite young, and possesses no knowledge of the real world, only useless Latin. Tom manages to convince Deane that he cares enough about his own reputation to work hard at whatever job Deane might find him. Deane is impressed by this but makes no commitments.
Tom leaves feeling pained at the full understanding of his own disadvantage. At home, Maggie tries to cheer Tom by joking that she could teach him bookkeeping if she had learned it herself. Tom becomes angry at the implication that she might teach him and says, "You're always setting yourself up above me and everyone else." Maggie tries to explain that he has been misunderstanding her intent and accuses him of being harsh with her often. Maggie runs upstairs to cry and wishes that life were more like her books, where people "did not show their kindness by finding fault."
The Tulliver family sits by Mr. Tulliver's bedside as the sale of their furniture takes place downstairs. When it is over, Kezia, the housemaid, tells Tom that a man downstairs would like to see him.