Britain is in the midst of an election which provides fodder for conversation for Sir Leicester Dedlock and his elderly cousin Volumnia of the pearl necklace and heavy application of rouge. Sir Leicester is generally censorious of the candidates, who are satirically named Sir Coodle and Sir Boodle, an attitude fawningly seconded by Volumnia and by the rest of Sir Dedlock's cousins who are also present. Meanwhile, Lady Dedlock, who has been noticed to be unwell by one of the servants, pretends to be her usual cool, unflappable self while seated by a window. Presently, the conversation turns to Mr. Tulkinghorn's possible role in the elections, which Volumnia speculates upon and which Sir Leicester deems ludicrous when who should enter the scene but Mr. Tulkinghorn himself.
Having exchanged his usual cool greetings with the Dedlocks, Mr. Tulkinghorn makes himself comfortable and enters into the fray of the conversation by mentioning the success of Mr. Rouncewell's success in the elections. The news irritates Sir Leicester who associates Mrs. Rouncewell's son's success in the iron districts as a resurgence of Wat Tyler's spirit. (Wat Tyler led a peasant revolt meant to do away with the British hierarchy in 1341.) Lady Dedlock reacts to Mr. Tulkinghorn's commentaries when they touch upon the fate of Rosa: No, she will not part with her young and pretty personal handmaiden even if Mr. Rouncewell's son, who is in love with Rosa, would like nothing better than to have Rosa depart from Chesney Wold.
Then, to Volumnia's delight, Mr. Tulkinghorn tells a story. It involves a man of similar circumstances to Mr. Rouncewell who had the fortune to have a daughter who attracted the notice of a great lady. As Lady Dedlock regards Rosa, so the great lady regarded the daughter. Unbeknownst to everyone, the daughter was engaged to be married to a young rake, who was also a captain in the army, and who died suddenly but not before siring a child. His death was a godsend, but as it turnded out reports of his death were false. Subsequently, scandalized, the father of the daughter removed his daughter from the great lady's patronage and put his daughter in seclusion.
At story's end, Sir Leicester's cousins express their general disbelief of the story's veracity. The story reminds Sir Leicester of Wat Tyler. And as for Lady Dedlock, she acts as if the story has had no effect on her whatsoever.