Bulstrode was annoyed on learning that Farebrother had been given the appointment at Lowick. He bought Stone Court from Joshua Rigg “as a retreat,” and is currently doing it up so that he might soon move there. Rigg is greedy, and has always known that he would be skilled as a money-changer. He hopes to have his own money-changer’s shop on the North Quay, and will thus soon leave Middlemarch. One evening, Bulstrode goes to Stone Court to meet Caleb Garth, who is advising him about his improvements to the property. Raffles suddenly appears and greets Bulstrode warmly, implying that they are old friends.
Even though the narrator describes Joshua Rigg as greedy, there is also something touching about the fact that he uses the enormous inheritance from Featherstone to realize his childhood dream. Rigg could easily stay in Middlemarch and use his money and power to try and enter high society; instead, he stays true to his original ambitions.
Raffles drunkenly explains that he came to Stone Court before, when Rigg owned it. He is now seeking Bulstrode’s address, pulling out a crumpled letter from his pocket. Caleb politely says goodbye to Bulstrode and leaves. Bulstrode has gone completely white. Trying to remain calm, he explains that he bought Stone Court from Rigg. They walk together, and Bulstrode angrily tells Raffles to stop implying that they are close and address him with more formality. Once they are inside Stone Court, Raffles invites himself to stay the night. Bulstrode reluctantly agrees, hoping that if he speaks to Raffles in the morning once he’s sober, he’ll be more reasonable.
Just as he did to Rigg, Raffles now shows up in the life of Bulstrode as a kind of ghost representing Bulstrode’s past. Bulstrode may deny that he knows Raffles well, but the fact that he has gone white on seeing him suggests otherwise. Raffles clearly has something on Bulstrode that is making Bulstrode really frightened. At the same time Raffles is evidently an alcoholic, and his behavior is likely to be unpredictable.
Bulstrode returns to Stone Court at 7.30am the next day. He asks Raffles why he came to meet him, and why he came back from America. Raffles says he stayed 10 years but that was enough, and he won’t go back. Bulstrode implies that he is willing to pay Raffles to stay away from him. However, Raffles now wants to anger Bulstrode, and says he likes the idea of making friends in Middlemarch. Bulstrode is horrified; he wonders if he should refuse to see Raffles again, and just call him a liar if he says anything about Bulstrode to others.
Bulstrode’s offer to pay Raffles suggests that whatever Raffles has on him is something genuine—and dangerous. It is also important to recall here that Bulstrode is very strict and righteous when it comes to matters of religious faith. According to his own beliefs, it is unacceptable to bribe someone, no matter what the cause. This makes it clear that Bulstrode is desperate.
Raffles mentions someone named Sarah, who is Bulstrode’s “step-daughter.” He then makes a show of struggling to remember the name of a man that begins with L. He shouts “Ladislaw!” and writes it down so he doesn’t forget again. Raffles leaves soon after, and Bulstrode is consumed with feelings of horror and doom.
The end of this chapter provides a shocking twist: there is something in Bulstrode’s past that connects him not only to Raffles, but also to Will Ladislaw.