The weather has improved at Chesney Wold, and Sir Leicester and Lady Dedlock are on their way back from Paris, where Lady Dedlock has been very bored. In the coach, Sir Leicester reads his mail and tells Lady Dedlock that Mr. Tulkinghorn has sent her a message; he says that he has something to tell her about the person whose handwriting she inquired after. Lady Dedlock seems unconcerned but says that she would like to stretch her legs and gets out to walk alongside the carriage.
Lady Dedlock maintains an appearance of boredom and reserve so that people will not be able to guess her secrets. Although Lady Dedlock brushes off Mr. Tulkinghorn’s note, it seems like it does bother her greatly, especially given her initial reaction to seeing the handwriting.
They arrive in Chesney Wold the next day and are the subject of so much gossip that even the birds in the trees seem to discuss their return. Mrs. Rouncewell and Rosa greet them, and Lady Dedlock is struck by Rosa’s beauty. She compliments the girl and Rosa is deeply flattered. She discusses her mistress with Mrs. Rouncewell that evening, but Mrs. Rouncewell feels that Lady Dedlock would be better looking if she was not so cold.
Rosa is dark haired and pale, like Lady Dedlock herself, so it seems that Lady Dedlock sees her as a daughter figure. Mrs. Rouncewell is more attached to Sir Leicester, who is true nobility, rather than Lady Dedlock.
Lady Dedlock’s maid, a Frenchwoman named Mademoiselle Hortense, is jealous of the attention that Lady Dedlock gives to Rosa. She mocks Lady Dedlock slyly when she isn’t looking, while she serves the guests who have come to spend some weeks at Chesney Wold. The cheerful party of guests go out hunting in the grounds and frequent the little village church.
Mademoiselle Hortense’s character reflects negative French stereotypes which would have gone over well with Dickens’s English audience. She is a disloyal servant and has contempt for her mistress. She compares unfavorably with loyal servants like Rosa and Mrs. Rouncewell.
Although they are modern men and women, there is something old fashioned and shallow about these guests. The men believe in nothing and yet complain that the poor are pessimistic, and the ladies want everything to be pleasant and saccharine and do not want to be troubled with challenging ideas. Lord Boodle, an eminent noble, is among them and has many conversations with Sir Leicester about how the world has changed for the worse. They complain about the political system and minutely observe the differences between politicians, such as “Foodle,” “Noodle,” and “Koodle.”
Sir Leicester’s cousins are conservative members of the nobility and come from many ancient lines. These groups rely on society remaining static so that their roles and titles are not called into question. They are non-progressive and shallow and view the poor in sentimental terms, as romantic and tragic figures, rather than as real people who may fight for changes in their circumstances. Dickens mocks politicians here; their interchangeable names reflect the idea that they are all the same, while the silly and frivolous nature of their names suggest that they are all totally ineffectual when it comes to achieving social change.
Although the house is very crowded, Mr. Tulkinghorn’s room is always left unoccupied because he may arrive unannounced at any moment. Lady Dedlock watches out for him from the window and seems to anticipate his arrival. Mademoiselle Hortense observes this and Lady Dedlock is irritable with her. One evening, when Lady Dedlock and Sir Leicester are on the Ghost’s Walk, Mr. Tulkinghorn arrives and walks across the lawn to meet them.
Mr. Tulkinghorn is clearly a very important man and wields a lot of influence over Sir Leicester. Mademoiselle Hortense is sly and watches Lady Dedlock carefully, adding to the tension between the two women. The Ghost Walk signifies the ruin of the Dedlock name, which Mr. Tulkinghorn eventually helps bring about.
Mr. Tulkinghorn discusses Sir Leicester’s running feud with Mr. Boythorn, who Sir Leicester feels should be hanged for making such a nuisance of himself. Inside, Mr. Tulkinghorn tells Lady Dedlock that he has found the person whose handwriting she enquired about, but that this person is dead. He explains that the man died of a drug overdose—whether purposely or accidentally is unknown—and that he was clearly very poor but had once, perhaps, been a successful man.
Sir Leicester hates social disturbance and feels that Mr. Boythorn is a nuisance because of his protests. Sir Leicester does not have the power to hang his neighbor, though, and the expression is hyperbolic.
Lady Dedlock and Mr. Tulkinghorn watch each other very intensely throughout this conversation. Lady Dedlock then retires to bed. Mr. Tulkinghorn stays at Chesney Wold for some weeks. Lady Dedlock maintains her inscrutable appearance of utter boredom. Mr. Tulkinghorn remains as silent and unreadable as ever.
Mr. Tulkinghorn and Lady Dedlock watch each other because they are each trying to gauge the other’s reaction to this news. Neither will reveal their true motives. Lady Dedlock wishes to know what Mr. Tulkinghorn knows about her secret connection to Nemo, which has yet to be revealed. And Mr. Tulkinghorn, who does not yet know her secret, watches her reactions to see if she will accidentally give any secrets away.