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Joshua Rigs sells Stone Court in haste to Bulstrode, an arch- enemy of his father, Featherstone. The old house is being renovated and the farmland improved by Bulstrode with loving care. Bulstrode is a person who believes that his worldly success is a sign of divine approval of his life and acts. In his youth, Bulstrode had cherished a desire to become a missionary in foreign lands. Now, this purchase of farmland in the country reminds him of those days and gives a sense of hope.
Just then, a stranger in mourning rides into Stone Court and claims Bulstrode as an old friend. Shocked at first, Bulstrode recovers slowly and to his horror, recognizes the man as Raffles, mentioned earlier in the novel as Rigg’s stepfather. He has come again to squeeze out money from Rigg and to inform him that his mother has died. To Bulstrode’s ill luck, it is he who encounters Raffles. Raffles has earlier picked up a letter from Bulstrode to Rigg; hence it’s not a mere coincidence. That seedy-looking individual hails Bulstrode in a swaggering manner. Gradually, it turns out that he knows a dark secret from the past that of Bulstrode's stepdaughter, whose legacy he had appropriated. Raffles is the man employed by Bulstrode’s first wife to find her daughter, and after finding her, he is bribed into silence by her second husband Bulstrode. Their conversation reveals that he had been parked off to America by Bulstrode, and has long since returned. He makes a disreputable living and practices occasional blackmail. Bulstrode, traumatized by this ghost from the past, hands over two hundred pounds and Raffles departs. However, the story is not over, and all Bulstrode’s sense of virtue and pleasure in his property is shattered.
Bulstrode’s character is one of the major ones in Middlemarch. His is a flawed character with dynamism, shrewdness, and a progressive outlook in something - all poisoned by double standards and pious hypocrisy. He has convinced himself that his prosperity has divine support and hence his means are morally correct. Just when he is basking in the fruits of the "blessings," the author has fate, in the unlikely shape of Raffles, which creeps up on him. Raffles’ statement - "I am not so surprised at seeing you old fellow, because I picked up a letter - what you may call a providential thing"- is darkly ironic. Bulstrode’s complacency is based on the wealth he feels providence has rewarded his piety with. The trick now played on him by providence exposes his whole philosophy.
"Book Five: The Dead Hand" ends here. The tittle relates to just one of the events in the section - the attempt by Casaubon to manipulate events after his death.