Mrs. Tulliver reminds her husband that Mrs. Glegg might ask for her loan of five hundred pounds back from the Tullivers because of Mr. Tulliver's poor behavior. Mr. Tulliver decides to ride to Basset to see his sister and her husband—the Mosses—and ask them for the three hundred pounds that he has loaned them. Basset is a poor neighboring village, and the Mosses live a poor existence, since Mr. Tulliver's sister married a man of little means against Tulliver's will.
Mr. Tulliver has resolved to be firm and his resolve weakens a little at the sight of his sister and her kind inquiries after Maggie. Mr. Tulliver sympathizes with his sister, since she has four daughters. Mrs. Moss replies meekly that she hopes her four sons will always look after her daughters as Mr. Tulliver has done for her and as Tom should do for Maggie. Mr. Moss comes in from the field, and Mr. Tulliver meets with him in the garden, demanding that Moss find a way to come up with the three hundred pounds. Mr. Tulliver leaves the Mosses but has a change of heart on his way out, provoked by the thought of Maggie being left with no one but Tom to look after her after Tulliver's own death. Mr. Tulliver rides back and relents. He comforts his sister and tells her to try to raise some of the money if she can.
Tom, Maggie, Lucy, and Mrs. Tulliver prepare for a visit to the Pullets. The children are making cardhouses—Lucy and Tom are the most adept. Maggie accidentally knocks Tom's house over, but Tom doesn't believe it was an accident. Tom remains cold to her, walking instead with Lucy to the Pullets'. Mrs. Tulliver and the children arrive at the Pullet's and go upstairs so that Mrs. Tulliver can admire Mrs. Pullet's new hat.
Back downstairs, Mr. Pullet plays his music box, and Maggie sits happily entranced. She hugs Tom, accidentally spilling his wine and is chastised by the adults. While the children go outside to play, Mrs. Tulliver spends time convincing Mrs. Pullet to go to Mrs. Glegg and convince her not to call back her five hundred pounds from the Tullivers. Sally, the Pullets' servant, ushers in Lucy, covered with mud, and the women scream.
We discover the events that lead to Lucy's muddy appearance. Once outside, Tom leads Lucy to see a toad, leaving Maggie behind. Lucy calls Maggie over to see, but Maggie now implicates Lucy in her anger toward Tom and silently refuses. Tom leads Lucy to the pond, farther away than the children were supposed to venture. Maggie follows at a distance, and when Tom sees her near them, he cruelly orders her away. Maggie shoves Lucy in the mud, and Tom slaps Maggie. Maggie remains satisfied that their happiness was spoiled.
Seeing Lucy covered in mud, Mrs. Tulliver goes in search of her two children. She finds Tom and sends him to fetch Maggie from the pond, but Maggie is no longer there. A frantic, unsuccessful search for Maggie ensues. Mrs. Tulliver finally decides to go home, hoping Maggie will be there.