That night, Pip is convinced he himself must have had something to do with the crime against Mrs. Joe, and that he is the most likely suspect (a guilt he attributes as narrator to having just read the Barnwell play). Yet afterwards, thinking with a clearer head, Pip notices that whoever struck Mrs. Joe did not steal anything, instead just blowing out the candle and striking her, leaving a convict's filed-off leg-iron beside her. The leg-iron does not belong to either of the recently escaped convicts and Joe observes that it was filed open a long time ago. Pip believes either Orlick or the convict with the file placed the iron in the kitchen—but Orlick was seen in town all night and the stranger would have had no motive. He knows he should confess the whole story to Joe but makes excuses to himself to get out of it. The police make a few (wrong) accusations but spend most of their time drinking and do not solve the case.
Though Pip's conscience is strong, his desire to protect his reputation is stronger and he again chooses not to tell Joe the truth about the convicts. This second choice is arguably even more immoral as Pip's theory about the leg-iron found by Mrs. Joe could be important evidence in the case. The police—the enforcers of legal justice—are comically ineffectual. The leg-iron has been a symbol of justice, but here it is a symbol of an attempt to circumvent justice—as Pip's observations indicate (even if Pip doesn't realize it himself) that the leg-iron has clearly been planted to throw off the police.
Mrs. Joe sustains severe brain damage. She trembles and is unable to speak. She no longer has a temper and is calmly patient as those around her try to communicate with her by slate. Joe is heartbroken. Biddy moves into the house to take care of Mrs. Joe and is able to interpret a sign that Mrs. Joe has written over and over on her slate to Pip and Joe's confusion: she asks for Orlick. Orlick is fetched and slouches over to a delighted Mrs. Joe, who seeks to please him with "an air of humble propitiation." Pip is disappointed that his sister does not denounce Orlick. Thereafter, Mrs. Joe asks for Orlick to come to her daily, a wish he confusedly obliges.
Mrs. Joe may not have been the best parent to Pip, but Pip misses her old self all the same. Mrs. Joe's eagerness to see and please Orlick could be explained as a wish to apologize for having treated him unjustly in the past. Still, it is mysterious...