Summary of Chapter XII: On the Watch
The Dedlocks are bored in Paris and ready to come back to Lincolnshire. Lady Dedlock suffers perpetual “Weariness of soul” and her “remedy is always to fly” (p. 117). She receives a note from Tulkinghorn in Paris, read to her by her husband. Tulkinghorn has found the person who copied the affadavit, which drew her curiosity. Lady Dedlock asks the carriage be stopped, and gets out for a walk.
When they get back to Chesney Wold, Lady Dedlock notices the pretty new maid, Rosa, and compliments her. Mrs. Rouncewell’s grandson, Watt, has decided to stay on for a while, attracted by Rosa. Lady Dedlock’s French maid, Hortense, is jealous of Lady Dedlock’s notice of the young Rosa. She does not get the attention she deserves, in her opinion.
The narrator goes into a satire on the party at Chesney Wold with the aristocracy and their “Dandyism” or affectation. They discuss topics like politics in a completely jaded and bored tone, without saying anything of importance.
Meanwhile, Lady Dedlock nervously awaits the arrival of Tulkinghorn. He plays cat and mouse with her, finally telling her that the man who wrote the document is dead of poverty and neglect. No one knows if he died by his own hand, he says. And no one knows his identity. Tulkinghorn and Lady Dedlock play chess with this information, both pretending it is unimportant.
Commentary on Chapter XII
It is now obvious Tulkinghorn is on to something, and that he could be in a position to blackmail Lady Dedlock. He gives the information to her in front of her husband, who does not really catch on to the significance. This reminds her that Tulkinghorn could ruin her with a word. She tries to act bored, but the two are fencing. Tulkinghorn could justify his action on the grounds that he has to protect Sir Leicester’s family name, but like many of the unscrupulous lawyers in the story, he wants power.
Lady Dedlock began in ascendancy, but her reputation is beginning to crack. She has enemies. Tulkinghorn is showing himself to her as an opponent, and her maid, Hortense, is jealous and spiteful. Lady Dedlock treats Hortense with arrogance. In addition, this news about Nemo is very distressing to her. We have also seen Guppy snooping around her house for information. There is a foreshadowing of trouble, as well, because of the legend of Ghost’s Walk, and the fact that Lady Dedlock is connected to the Jarndyce case.