Chapters 54-56 Summary
Mr. Bucket comes to see Sir Leicester. He informs him that Mr. Tulkinghorn’s murderer was not Mr. George—it was a woman. He informs Sir Leicester that Lady Dedlock felt distrustful of Mr. Tulkinghorn because he knew her secret. Mr. Tulkinghorn also knew that Lady Dedlock had visited Nemo’s (Captain Hawdon’s) grave dressed in her maid’s (Hortense’s) clothes. As Sir Leicester tries to digest this, Grandfather Smallweed, Mrs. Snagsby, and the Chadbands arrive. Grandfather Smallweed confesses to seizing the letters from Mr. Krook. The letters were signed “Honoria,” Lady Dedlock’s first name. Mrs. Chadband says that she raised Lady Dedlock’s daughter, whom Lady Dedlock believed was dead. Mr. Bucket calls in Hortense, whom he summarily arrests for the murder of Mr. Tulkinghorn. The murder weapon was retrieved from a pond, where Hortense had thrown it. When everyone leaves, Sir Leicester is overwhelmed by what his wife has gone through. He collapses on the floor.
Mrs. Rouncewell and Mrs. Bagnet go to the prison to visit Mr. George. Mrs. Rouncewell states that she has never stopped loving her son or hoping that she would receive word from him. Mr. George falls to his knees and begs his mother’s forgiveness. He begs her not to tell his brother anything about him. He is writing up his own account of his actions the night Mr. Tulkinghorn was murdered. Mrs. Rouncewell goes to see Lady Dedlock and asks her to do something to release her son from prison. She gives Lady Dedlock a letter, which is an account of the discovery of the body, by which was written in blood Lady Dedlock’s name and the word “murderess.” Mr. Guppy arrives to tell Lady Dedlock that the incriminating letters he thought were destroyed might actually still exist. Lady Dedlock knows her secret is now out, so she writes a letter to Sir Leicester, telling him that she is innocent of the murder but guilty of all other rumors he might have heard. She leaves, abandoning all her possessions.
Sir Leicester suffers a stroke and is discovered by his cousin, Volumnia. Mrs. Rouncewell tries to shield him from the fact that Lady Dedlock has disappeared, but eventually he is given her letter. Mr. Bucket arrives, and Sir Leicester begs him to find her. Mr. Bucket searches Lady Dedlock’s room and discovers the handkerchief with Esther’s name on it. He takes it and the letter to Mr. Jarndyce, who fears upon reading the letter that Lady Dedlock is contemplating suicide. Meanwhile, the bedraggled figure of a woman walks in the cold near the brick kilns.