In Lincolnshire, at Chesney Wold, the rain continues to fall. The house is quiet—Sir Leicester and Lady Dedlock are in Paris—and the horses in the stables and the dogs in the kennels dream of summer days. Mrs. Rouncewell, the housekeeper, looks out at the rain from her sitting room at Chesney Wold. Mrs. Rouncewell knows the house better than anyone. She is a widow and has worked at Chesney Wold for 50 years, since the time of Sir Leicester’s father.
Mrs. Rouncewell is very familiar with the Dedlock family as she has served two generations of them. Dickens includes the perspective of animals in this sequence, which suggests that the fates of all creatures are intertwined and important, regardless of social standing.
Sir Leicester is a good master and relies on Mrs. Rouncewell to manage all household affairs. Mrs. Rouncwell has two sons, but one joined the army when he was young and was never heard from again. Mrs. Rouncewell still grieves for him and has a habit of wringing her hands whenever he is mentioned. Her other son could have become Sir Leicester’s steward at Chesney Wold, but he became an Ironmonger instead, growing very successful in the Iron business in the north of England. Sir Leicester is rather perturbed by this and thinks that this son of Mrs. Rouncewell’s may be of a revolutionary disposition.
Servants have a very personal relationship with their masters and are often privy to their master’s secrets and weaknesses. In Victorian society, reputation was extremely important, and trusted servants like Mrs. Rouncewell were considered valuable assets. Sir Leicester dislikes the young Mr. Rouncewell’s success because he is a “self-made” man who has not relied on inherited wealth or patronage to makes his fortune but has earned it in trade. Conservative men like Sir Leicester were wary of these changes in society which gradually became more common as the century progressed.
Mrs. Rouncewell’s grandson, Watt, is currently down at Chesney Wold for an apprenticeship and is in the sitting room with his grandmother. Watt asks Mrs. Rouncewell about one of the maids in the house, who he thinks is extremely pretty, and Mrs. Rouncewell tells him that her name is Rosa.
Watt is Mr. Rouncewell’s son and is clearly romantically interested in Rosa. That Watt is at Chesney Wold for an apprenticeship suggests that he will be a self-made man like his father, forced to support himself through a trade rather than an inheritance.
As they sit and talk, a carriage appears outside. Rosa enters the room and tells them that two men have come to view the house. Mrs. Rouncewell is indignant because the house is not currently open to visitors, but Rosa insists that the men are very interested to see it and gives Mrs. Rouncewell a card from one of the men, which reads “Mr. Guppy.” Mrs. Rouncewell complains that she does not know who this is but agrees to show them the house. Rosa and Watt accompany them.
It was common for people to visit rich people’s houses as heritage sites and as a form of entertainment in the Victorian era. Although manufacturing and trade were the most effective ways to make money in this period, the noble, land owning classes were aspirational because they were the upper classes and had inherited their wealth rather than earned it. Earned wealth was considered vulgar.
Mr. Guppy and his friend find the tour very boring, but Mr. Guppy suddenly livens up when he sees a portrait of Lady Dedlock. He seems very struck by the picture and remarks that he knows the lady’s face. When they pass the Ghost’s Walk terrace, Watt asks Rosa to tell them the ghost story attached to the house, but Mrs. Rouncewell says that it is not given out to visitors.
Over the course of the novel, it becomes clear that Mr. Guppy is a social climber and wishes to ingratiate himself with the upper classes and to gain social power. This perhaps speaks to why he came to tour Sir Leicester’s house, hoping to be surrounded by the trappings of wealth even temporarily. That he thinks Lady Dedlock’s face is also significant, though it’s unclear if he’s perhaps seen Lady Dedlock before and that’s why she looks familiar, or if he knows someone who looks like her.
When Mr. Guppy and his friend have gone, however, Mrs. Rouncewell relates the story to Rosa and Watt. During the English Civil War, when Parliament rebels overthrew Charles I, Sir Morbury Dedlock married a woman whose brother joined the revolution against the crown. The lady’s brother was killed during the skirmish and, after this, she swore revenge on the Dedlock family.
The English Civil War was fought between the Royalists, who supported the King, and the Parliamentarians, who sought to overthrow the monarchy. As a noble, land-owning family, the Dedlocks are naturally Royalists and dislike revolution and social change.
On the night before a famous battle, Sir Morbury caught his wife in the stables attempting to lame his horse, which he would ride into battle the next day. He managed to stop her, but the horse kicked her, and she walked with a limp for the rest of her days. She never recovered from this injury, but she took to walking on the terrace, brooding silently over her fate. One day, her husband saw her collapse on the terrace and tried to carry her inside. She refused his aid, however, and, before she died, promised that she would walk the terrace until the Dedlock line was punished. When that day came, she said, they would hear her footsteps approach.
Sir Morbury’s wife tries to sabotage her husband’s ability to find and, therefore, weaken the Royalist forces. The story of the Ghost’s Walk foreshadows Lady Dedlock’s eventual downfall. The sound of footsteps refers both to the ghostly footsteps from the story and the sound of the rain that falls on the porch. It is, therefore, ambiguous whether the ghost story is true or not.
Mrs. Rouncewell concludes that the lady’s steps are still heard today whenever there is a death or an illness in the family. Watt suggests that it comes when “disgrace” occurs, but Mrs. Rouncewell says it is not possible to disgrace the Dedlock name. She says that Lady Dedlock often hears the footsteps on the Ghost’s Walk, and that the sound is impossible to block out. She asks Watt to wind up a clock in the corner of the room and takes Rosa to the window. The rain is still audible over the chimes of the clock.
Mrs. Rouncewell comes from an older generation than Watt and thus has great faith in the nobility, who she has always served. This generational difference shows how British society changed rapidly in the 19th century, and that while class was still extremely important, the rigid barriers between classes began to break down and to be less accepted.