It's raining cats and dogs in the world's least pleasant place to be, Chesney Wold, the Dedlocks' estate.
Luckily they aren't there (they're in Paris, remember), but their housekeeper, Mrs. Rouncewell, is.
She's been a servant with the Dedlocks for 50 years now and is obviously pretty committed to the whole lord-of-the-manor thing.
She has two sons. One ran off and joined the army and was never heard from again. The other was a born engineer who left for "the North."
The north of England (Manchester and Leeds, mostly) is where the Industrial Revolution is happening as the novel takes place. Not sure what that is? Quick brain snack. In the middle of the 19th century, technologies for producing goods started to advance by leaps and bounds. Instead of small groups of highly skilled people making stuff in little workshops, factories were created, where many low-skilled workers could manufacture the same stuff (mostly cotton fabric) by using division of labor (think assembly line – each guy just does one very specific job over and over again). Cheap workers, sped-up production, and cheap raw materials from England's many colonies ended up lowering prices and in short order made England into the world's economic powerhouse.
So Mrs. Rouncewell's son is all about that. She's kind of bummed though that he didn't go into the family business of being servants, which probably sounded less nuts back in the day than it does to our freedom-loving modern American ears.
Mrs. Rouncewell's grandson Watt (the engineer's son) is visiting.
He's psyched to see grandma and everything, but he's even more psyched to check out the hot new maid, Rosa. OK, maybe hot is the wrong word, since she's shy, modest, and all those awesome repressive things.
Rosa is learning how to be a maid and so far she has learned how to show the house to visitors.
Meaning what? Check it out – you know how nowadays when you go visiting castles and old estates in Europe they are all set up as museums and there are tour guides and gift shops and all that good stuff? Well, back in Victorian times, people still actually lived in those places, but because they were beautiful and had all kinds of fancy art and objects in them, you could stop by and take a tour without having to know the people who lived there. A special servant would take you around and tell you about what you were looking at. So servants would have to memorize the spiel – which is what Rosa has been doing.
There is a knock at the door.
Turns out it's Mr. Guppy and another guy. They are clerks who know Mr. Tulkinghorn, and since they happened to have a few hours free from a case nearby, they wanted to check out the sightseeing.
Rosa takes them around the house and Watt joins the tour group.
Guppy is totally bored the whole time until he sees a portrait of Lady Dedlock and... freaks out.
He swears he's seen the painting or the woman herself before. But that's crazy talk, because how could he ever have seen Lady Dedlock? And no one had ever made a print of the portrait. Guppy can't get over it, though.
Meanwhile Mrs. Rouncewell tells the gang the story of The Ghost's Walk, one of the mansion's terraces. Speaking of which, you know what's not a good name for a pretty terrace? "The Ghost's Walk." Also not awesome? The Ghoul's Crawl, The Demon's Run, or The Vampire's Creep. Seriously, people.
Turns out, a few centuries ago, the then Lady Dedlock cursed the Dedlock family. She also said that her steps would forever be heard on the terrace whenever some horrible thing was about to happen to a Dedlock. Nice.