Sir Dedlock is feeling a little better with his gout and so is hosting all his random poor cousins at Chesney Wold. One of them is the really old Volumnia, who lives on a small allowance he gives her and sometimes annoys him by visiting.
Volumnia asks one evening about the very pretty Rosa. Lady Dedlock says that she is her "pet – secretary – messenger – I don't know what" (28.17). You know, just a pretty face that's nice to keep around.
Meanwhile, Sir Dedlock is upset about the fact that Mrs. Rouncewell's son, the Ironmaster (Watt Rouncewell's dad, the guy who owns an iron factory up north) has been asked to run for a seat in parliament.
This is craziness to Sir Dedlock, since Mr. Rouncewell is the son of a servant. He's way too low-born for any such high political office.
Dedlock is really stressed about this.
After Volumnia and all the other cousins go to bed, Sir Dedlock tells Lady Dedlock that Mr. Rouncewell is actually here right now to talk to them about Rosa.
Mr. Rouncewell comes in and doesn't beat around the bush. Dedlock is all the more indignant because Rouncewell doesn't seem at all uncomfortable in their presence.
The gist of Rouncewell's deal is: 1) Watt is in love with Rosa, but they are both too young to marry; 2) he's OK with them getting engaged; 3) if they do, Rouncewell wants to take Rosa away and put her in a school for a couple of years so she ends up being a little more equal in rank to his son.
Sir Dedlock flips out at all of this. Really, really flips out. Rosa needs more schooling? Chesney Wold isn't good enough for her or Watt? And so on and so forth.
Mostly Sir Dedlock is against anyone rising up from their born station in life.
They have a big fight and Rouncewell leaves, saying that he'll try to get Watt to fall out of love. Good luck with that.
Later Lady Dedlock gets Rosa to fess up that she loves Watt too, then promises to do whatever she can to make Rosa happy. She's suddenly all sweet and nice and maternal. Where on earth did that come from?