Chapter LVIII: A Wintry Day and Night
Rumor is already whispering in high society about the fall of the Dedlocks. Sir Leicester in his great house asks to be moved closer to the window so he can see the winter weather. He is given an opiate but wakes to ask if she is back. He tells Mrs. Rouncewell to prepare her rooms for her return. The housekeeper tells her son George, who keeps her company, “I dread . . . that my Lady will never more set foot within these walls” (p. 597).
Sir Leicester is happy to see George, a reminder of old times at Chesney Wold when he would carry Sir Leicester’s hunting rifle. He tenderly lifts the old man to turn him, and gives such comfort that he remains with his mother to nurse him.
Sir Leicester gathers everyone in the house and explains that he wants it understood there is no animosity between him and Lady Dedlock. There has been a slight misunderstanding. In case he does not recover, he wants everyone to witness this fact of his acceptance and love. As the night falls, everyone is nervous. Sir Leicester does not want the candles lit because it is still early. At last, he allows the lights to be lit. George patrols the house all night, soothing the women who can’t sleep.
Commentary on Chapter LVIII
Dickens is skillful in using the weather as symbol and mood, as in the opening chapters using fog. The relentless freezing snow and sleet through the whole search period, from Sir Leicester’s window, or from Bucket’s carriage, help to convey the hopelessness of the search. Anyone on foot with no money or resources would surely freeze to death. It is in every person’s mind, and the pathos of Sir Leicester’s watching the weather and asking for his wife’s chamber to be made ready is enough foreshadowing, without Mrs. Rouncewell’s prophecy and the message from the phantom winter day and night, “Who will tell him?”
Dickens uses film techniques of intercutting between story lines, and this technique is used especially effectively in this chase scene. He leaves Bucket’s search party and cuts to Sir Leicester waiting and then back to Bucket, to create more suspense.