Summary of Chapter LIV: Springing a Mine
Bucket meets privately with Sir Leicester, preparing him for sorrow, saying that he knows that gentlemen are capable of bearing up, like their ancestors. He intimates that Lady Dedlock “is the pivot it all turns on” (p. 550). Bucket relates the background of Lady Dedlock, her lover, the lost child, the suspicions of Tulkinghorn and his argument with Lady Dedlock, and her visit to her lover’s grave. Sir Leicester is in shock but is stoic.
Bucket tells him not to say a word as he deals with people connected to the case who are trying to make money from it, but to nod when he refers to him. Smallweed, the Chadbands, and Mrs. Snagsby are let in and speak their parts.
Smallweed wants to know what happened to the letters. He found the letters from Captain Hawdon to Honoria (Lady Dedlock) at Krook’s shop, read them, and gave them to Tulkinghorn, and he wants to be paid for them. Bucket says they are in his possession and tries to negotiate with Smallweed, at a nod from Sir Leicester.
Next, Mrs. Rachel Chadband explains Esther’s birth, and Bucket says she probably wants a reward for that? Mrs. Snagsby is the most ridiculous, and in her scrambled testimony, we learn that she had told all her troubles to Tulkinghorn about her husband and Jo. She thinks they were all “in it,” against her. It was she who brought Mrs. Chadband and Tulkinghorn together. Sir Leicester says nothing but looks at Bucket, “relying on that officer alone of all mankind” (p. 556). Bucket says he will get back to them about their rewards but puts each in his or her place.
He tells Sir Leicester he is now going to expose the murderer; it was a woman. Sir Leicester is bracing for it to be Lady Dedlock, but Bucket brings in Hortense, the French maid. He first introduces her as his own lodger, and then arrests her for murder. He explains that he had Mrs. Bucket spying on her and following her, and thus collected his evidence. All three were there that night: Mr. George, Lady Dedlock, and Hortense, but she shot him. He never thought Mr. George did it, but it served as a decoy.
Sir Leicester is left alone with his tragic thoughts. Lady Dedlock has been the core of his life, and it is of her he thinks with compassion as he falls to the floor in a stroke.
Commentary on Chapter LIV
Though all the suspects had reason to kill Tulkinghorn, Hortense’s character is shown to be violent and hateful, the only one who could have done it. She tried to implicate Lady Dedlock with anonymous letters. Fortunately, Bucket is one of the legendary detectives of fiction. It is satisfying to have all the pieces woven together finally, and the mystery solved. Even more satisfying is the way Bucket handles the hypocrites who want to claim some reward money. Bucket is one of the few who can intimidate and shut up Smallweed. He has been able to make sense of the mangled ideas of Mrs. Snagsby. He has the measure of the Chadbands. Sir Leicester depends on Bucket to manage the nightmare he never knew existed under his nose. And after all, one has respect for Sir Leicester, for he truly loves his wife and thinks only of her. This is the climax of the mounting tension of the mystery that began in the first pages. There is still some unwinding of the plot to find out the fate of the main characters.