Mr. Tulkinghorn returns to his rooms and is very pleased with himself. Not long after, Lady Dedlock arrives and confronts the lawyer. She asks him how long he has known her story and if it is true that her secret is known among common people. Mr. Tulkinghorn is impressed by her poise and the lack of emotion despite her inner turmoil.
Lady Dedlock wants to know if her secret is common knowledge, or if Mr. Tulkinghorn has spread it among her acquaintances, because then she will be prepared for it to reach Sir Leicester.
Mr. Tulkinghorn tells Lady Dedlock that his story was hypothetical, but Lady Dedlock thanks him because she is now prepared to be exposed. She says that, if he wants, she will write a confession or do anything else she can to persuade Mr. Tulkinghorn to keep her secret or to spare her husband’s feelings. Mr. Tulkinghorn tells her to be calm, but Lady Dedlock says that she fully expects to be punished.
Lady Dedlock understands that Mr. Tulkinghorn meant the story as a threat and has come to show him that she is not afraid and that she is prepared to withstand whatever he intends to do to her. She is concerned for her husband’s sake, however; she knows that Sir Leicester truly loves her.
Lady Dedlock tells Mr. Tulkinghorn where her jewelry is kept and that she has a little money, but that she is not wearing her own clothes. Mr. Tulkinghorn does not understand, and Lady Dedlock explains that she will leave Chesney Wold that night and never return. Mr. Tulkinghorn shakes his head at her and Lady Dedlock asks him why she shouldn’t leave; her presence, she says, is a “stain” on Chesney Wold. Mr. Tulkinghorn assures her that he has not forgotten this. She tries to leave but he tells her that, if she does, he will ring for the servants. Lady Dedlock remains in the room, cold with fury.
Lady Dedlock tells Mr. Tulkinghorn where her valuables are because she assumes that he wants to blackmail her for money. She has worn a different dress because she does not want to be found when she flees. Mr. Tulkinghorn has no mercy; he despises Lady Dedlock and wishes to control her rather than allow her to run away and escape her shame.
Mr. Tulkinghorn says it is unfortunate that they must talk in this way, but that it is not his fault, since she revealed her secret to him. Lady Dedlock rushes to the window and he seems concerned for a second that she will jump out. She stands and looks out, however, and, again, Mr. Tulkinghorn is impressed by her strength of will. He says that he has not decided how to treat her case and that the real consideration is Sir Leicester and the Dedlock line, with which Sir Leicester is inseparably attached.
Mr. Tulkinghorn takes no responsibility for discovering Lady Dedlock’s secret. He implies that he only suspected the truth and told the story to test her response. Her arrival in his study has confirmed his suspicions and so he blames her for revealing herself to him. He loves to have power over people and wants to keep her in suspense while he decides what to do.
A discovery such as this would destroy Sir Leicester, Mr. Tulkinghorn insists, and he wishes to prevent this. Lady Dedlock says that, if she leaves, this will be avoided, but Mr. Tulkinghorn says her flight would be a lethal blow to her husband. Instead, he advises her, to keep her secret and wait for him to make the first move. Lady Dedlock is horrified by this suggestion. She asks him if he expects her to live with her guilt and that suspense of knowing that she will one day be exposed. Mr. Tulkinghorn confirms that this is the only option he offers.
Mr. Tulkinghorn pretends that he works for Sir Leicester’s best interest, but, in fact, he works for his own to satisfy his own desire for power. He emotionally manipulates her because he suggests that, if she leaves, she will be responsible for Sir Leicester’s death.
Lady Dedlock considers for a moment and Mr. Tulkinghorn presses her to agree. Lady Dedlock concedes and Mr. Tulkinghorn politely shows her to the door. He is amazed by her rigid, emotionless state and would understand her better if he could see her for what she is in private—a distraught woman, wild with grief. Mr. Tulkinghorn goes to bed happy that night, and Sir Leicester and the cousins, and the Dedlocks in the family vault, sleep soundly beneath the stars.
Mr. Tulkinghorn has trapped Lady Dedlock because he knows that she cares for her husband and fears her secret’s exposure for his sake. She is an extremely strong woman, however, and is used to keeping her emotions inside and not allowing them to show on her face.