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Summary Chapter 56

Sir Leicester Dedlock’s supercilious cousin Volumnia, of the pearl necklace and the heavy application of rouge, is bored. She knocks on the library door, and ascertaining that no one is within, she enters. She looks around when her eyes alight on a curious document. She reads and then starts screaming. Subsequently, there is great commotion among the Dedlock servants in the townhouse. Subsequently, Sir Leicester suffers an apoplexy and is temporarily paralysed.

It isn’t until later that night when Sir Leicester regains a semblance of his composure. Nonetheless, he is bed-ridden, and when he speaks, he can only muster his words in a whisper. The doctors who are in attendance agree that Mrs. Rouncewell, the Dedlocks’ faithful servant, knows best. Indeed, it is Mrs. Rouncewell who has an instinctive knowledge of Sir Leicester’s wishes which are incomprehensible to the rest. She hands him a pencil and a slate. Sir Leicester writes, asking about his present whereabouts. Mrs. Rouncewell informs him that he is in his London town house, not in Chesney Wold. Sir Leicester writes, asking for Lady Dedlock. When Mrs. Rouncewell replies that Lady Dedlock is presently away, Sir Leicester writes, demanding where she is. Reluctantly, Mrs. Rouncewell hands Sir Leicester the document the reading of which had prompted Volumnia to lose her head and start screaming: It is the letter of apology which Lady Dedlock had written on behalf of Sir Leicester before she had fled.

Presently, Mrs. Rouncewell ascertains that Sir Leicester would speak with Inspector Bucket and has him fetched. The room is cleared of everyone but Mrs. Rouncewell, and Sir Leicester communicates his wishes to Inspector Bucket. He tells Inspector Bucket that he—Sir Leicester Dedlock—forgives Lady Dedlock, that the Inspector is to immediately go out and find Lady Dedlock, and that Inspector Bucket is to spare no expense in the endeavor. Inspector Bucket assures Sir Leicester that he will do all that he can. During this time, Inspector Bucket identifies Mrs. Rouncewell as George’s mother and assures her that her son has been released from prison and is doing well.

Presently, as Inspector Bucket conducts a quick search of Lady Dedlock’s room, the room’s opulence can’t help but to make the Inspector think that he is a fashionable gentleman who is making preparations for a night out in town. By and by, in a drawer, he finds a curious object: a handkerchief belonging to Esther Summerson. Taking possession of it, he makes his way to George’s shooting gallery. There he learns of Miss Summerson’s present lodgings—Oxford Street. To Oxford Street he goes.

At Oxford Street, Mr. Bucket is admitted to Mr. Jarndyce and Esther’s temporary London lodgings by Mr. Jarndyce who alone is awake at this late hour. Quickly, Mr. Bucket explains his business. He explains the domestic disaster that had befallen the Dedlocks household. He shows Mr. Jarndyce Lady Dedlock’s letter of apology to Sir Leicester. Arguing that Lady Dedlock may be suicidal, Inspector Bucket urges Mr. Jarndyce to awaken Miss Summerson whose presence by his side should mitigate Lady Dedlock’s suicidal tendencies if or when he finds Lady Dedlock. Mr. Jarndyce awakens Esther who agrees to accompany Inspector Bucket in the latter’s search for her mother.

Charles Dickens