The official word is that Lady Dedlock went down to Chesney Wold but will be back any minute. But word on the street is that this is not actually true, and that all sorts of scandal is about to break. The Dedlock affair has become a hot topic of conversation, and everyone who wants to seem in the know is gossiping about her.
Meanwhile, Sir Dedlock is getting worse.
He lies and waits for Bucket to return, constantly asking about him at any slight sound in the house. It's getting more and more difficult for him to speak.
Lady Dedlock's rooms are prepared as if she is about to walk into the house.
Outside, it is a horrible, snowy-sleety night.
Volumnia sits near her cousin Sir Dedlock, annoying him with her attempts to be nice. Finally she gives up and chats with Mrs. Rouncewell, complimenting her on her son George.
Sir Dedlock is all, "wait, George is back?"
George Rouncewell comes in, and he and Sir Dedlock flash back many years to when they knew each other at Chesney Wold. It turns out they were close – or, you know, as close as you can be with the son of your servant.
George helps Sir Dedlock sit up and immediately becomes kind of a second nurse, right after his mother.
Suddenly, Sir Dedlock, fighting against the stroke that's making it hard to form words, gives a long speech to Volumnia, George, and Mrs. Rouncewell. He wants them all to act as witnesses to the fact that his feelings toward Lady Dedlock haven't changed. He loves her the same, the monetary situation is the same, he has no complaints or problems with her, and he never will.
This is all in case he dies before she returns, of course, and to combat the rumors.
The speech almost makes him pass out, and everyone is deeply moved to hear him. It continues to be a surprise that he actually loves his wife – maybe because Sir Dedlock is always described by the third-person narrator, whose voice is always sneering and mocking.
Night comes. Then morning. Then day. The weather doesn't let up. Still no word.