Sir Leicester has recovered from his gout and is at Chesney Wold. The weather is bad, however, and Sir Leicester’s cousins have come to visit. Among them are Volumnia Dedlock and Bob Stables, elderly yet eminent members of Bath society. These cousins are lesser, poorer members of the Dedlock family, but Dedlocks nonetheless. They inhabit the lower branches of the Dedlock line and receive incomes from Sir Leicester, who tolerates their company.
Bath was a social center during the previous century and would be considered outdated and unfashionable by Dickens’s Victorian middle-class readership. This suggests that the cousins are relics of a past age and both socially and politically irrelevant. Sir Leicester does his duty by these relatives because they are members of the Dedlock family, of which he is the head.
Lady Dedlock is very popular with these cousins. One evening, Sir Leicester, Lady Dedlock, and Volumnia are in the drawing room, when Volumnia comments on how pretty Rosa, Lady Dedlock’s maid, is. Lady Dedlock says that Mrs. Rouncewell discovered Rosa and Volumnia asks about the housekeeper. Lady Dedlock tells her that Mrs. Rouncewell has two sons, and Sir Leicester remarks incredulously that one of these sons—an ironmaster—has run for Parliament.
The cousins seem to be drawn to Lady Dedlock because of her social status. Meanwhile, Sir Leicester is horrified by the idea that a man who is not of noble birth might appear in government. Recent reforms had made it possible for men who did not own land or have titles to run for Parliament for the first time, a major upheaval in British politics at the time.
In fact, says Sir Leicester, Mr. Rouncewell is waiting downstairs to speak to them about Rosa. Volumnia and the other cousins hurry to bed and Mr. Rouncewell is shown in. Sir Leicester is rather haughty, but Mr. Rouncewell holds his own. He explains that his son, Watt, has become engaged to Rosa and that he would like to take them both north with him so that Watt can learn the iron trade and Rosa can be educated. Sir Leicester is indignant, but Mr. Rouncewell seems rather proud. Sir Leicester regally announces that Mr. Rouncewell may do as he pleases and that both he and Rosa are welcome at Chesney Wold. With that, he terminates the interview.
Sir Leicester looks down on Mr. Rouncewell because he is a self-made man and has rejected Sir Leicester’s patronage. Mr. Rouncewell, however, clearly feels proud of his hard-earned achievements and is unashamed of his lower-class status. Mr. Rouncewell understands that the world is changing and that it is more useful to learn a trade and make money that way than to rely on patronage from the upper classes, a system which was gradually becoming irrelevant at the time.
That night, as Rosa helps her prepare for bed, Lady Dedlock asks her maid if she is in love with Watt. Rosa is startled and says that she thinks she is, but that she is not sure. Lady Dedlock chides her for her secrecy and tells Rosa that she wants her to be happy. Rosa begins to cry and Lady Dedlock seems to hear something in the distance, possibly a step upon the Ghost’s Walk. The next day, Sir Leicester speaks at length to the cousins about the collapse of society—which he thinks is due to the current government—and, soon after, the cousins, in a flock, depart from Chesney Wold.
The footstep on the Ghost’s Walk, coupled with Rosa’s tears, make this scene seem ominous and foreboding, suggesting that conflict is to come. On another note, Sir Leicester feels that any social change is degenerative rather than progressive, because he is a staunch conservative and always supports the continuation of old systems rather than risk change.