Summary of Chapter LVI: Pursuit
After Lady Dedlock has left, Cousin Volumnia finds Sir Leicester on the library floor. He is taken to bed, and Mrs. Rouncewell nurses him, to his great comfort. He has had a stroke and cannot speak, so he writes on a slate, “My Lady.”
They say she has gone out, and then give him her letter. He begins moaning and asks for Bucket, who is in the house. He lets him read the letter. He writes on the slate, “Full forgiveness. Find” (p. 577). Bucket tells Mrs. Rouncewell her son is safe and “discharged honorable” (p. 578), then goes to Lady Dedlock’s room for clues and finds the handkerchief of Esther Summerson.
He goes to George’s shooting gallery, gets Esther’s address in Oxford Street and asks Mr. Jarndyce to let Esther come with him in search of Lady Dedlock. Jarndyce reads her letter and asks Bucket what he thinks. He says it could be a suicide note. Esther goes with him on a chase that lasts over 24 hours in the dead of a winter storm.
Commentary on Chapter LVI
Dickens skillfully builds our sympathy for Sir Leicester in these last chapters. He has been proud of his family name, but it is not his family name or shame that distresses him. Even in his collapsed state, he yearns for them to find his wife and convey his forgiveness and bring her home. He finds much comfort in having his housekeeper of fifty years nursing him. This is the old way of loyal retainers, who are like family. We cheer to have Bucket on the trail, for if anyone can find her, he can.