Esther lies sick and delirious with fever for several weeks. Charley takes care of her, and Ada is strictly kept out of the room. Esther dreams strange dreams during her illness and is confused about who and where she is. Finally, one day, she is well enough to sit up and have tea with Charley, who cries with relief when she sees that Esther will recover.
Esther feels as though her identity is changing. Although this is part of her fever, it also represents the change to her face and the change her identity will literally undertake, when she learns of her true history, towards the novel’s end.
During this tea, Esther looks around her room and finds things are a little different. She asks Charley what has changed, and Charley is reluctant to tell her. Finally, Esther realizes that the mirror is gone, and Charley begins to cry. Esther understands that her face has been scarred by the disease, but she has expected this. She tells Charley not to cry and comforts her, for she is not surprised by this change and is only relieved to be alive.
Charley does not want Esther to be upset when she sees the change in her face and, therefore, hides the mirror from her and hopes Esther will not notice. As always, Esther puts her own feelings aside to comfort Charley.
Later that day, Mr. Jarndyce comes in, and Esther is relieved that he treats her the same as always and is overjoyed to see her. He tells her how anxious everyone has been to see her recovered and that even Richard has written to ask after her. Esther asks why Richard should not write to him, and Mr. Jarndyce replies that Richard’s letter to him was not friendly; he worries that Richard’s proximity to Jarndyce and Jarndyce has warped his perception of things.
Esther is afraid that her changed appearance will change the way people treat her. However, she is so good to the people around her that they love and accept her no matter what.
Esther is shocked to hear this and asks Mr. Jarndyce if Richard suspects him of thwarting his interests. Mr. Jarndyce replies that this is the case, and Esther is disappointed. Mr. Jarndyce tells her that it is not Richard’s fault, and that it is the nature of Chancery court cases to bring people into this state. Esther resolves to go and see Richard as soon as she is well.
Richard believes that Mr. Jarndyce is his enemy because they have competing interests in the lawsuit. Mr. Jarndyce understands this because he has seen the warped and unpleasant effect that these lawsuits have on people.
Mr. Jarndyce tells Esther that she will soon be strong enough to see Ada again, and tells her of the many well-wishers she has had during her delirium. Mr. Boythorn has written to insist that she must go and rest at his house when she is well enough to travel; he will be out of town for some weeks. Miss Flite has also come out to see her, having walked all the way from London. Mr. Jarndyce and Esther agree that before Esther goes to Mr. Boythorn’s house, they must pay for a carriage to bring Miss Flite to Bleak House.
Esther’s goodness makes her beloved by many people and she receives back the love and kindness that she gives out. Mr. Boythorn wishes to let Esther stay in his house in the country, while he is away, so that she can rest in pleasant surroundings.
Esther is touched to be surrounded by so many people who care for her. She resumes her talks with Ada through the window, but she is too anxious to pull back the curtain and show Ada her face. Miss Flite arrives the next day and enters Esther’s room in a flood of tears. Esther calms the old lady down and sees that Miss Flite wants to tell her something. Esther kindly asks her what it is and Miss Flite says that she met a poor woman at the gates who asked after Esther’s health.
Although Esther has, so far, been loved and accepted by her relatives despite her changed face, she is insecure—perhaps because of her childhood—and still fears rejection.
Esther asks if the woman’s name was Jenny, and Miss Flite confirms that it was. Charley tells Esther that Jenny has often come to the house to speak to her. Jenny has told Charley that a veiled woman has visited her and asked after Esther. Charley asks Esther if she remembers leaving a handkerchief with Jenny, which she used to cover the dead child’s face. Esther says she does, and Charley says that the veiled woman took this handkerchief from Jenny when she heard who it belonged to.
The veiled woman is implied to be Lady Dedlock, as she is described in the same disguise she used when she visited Captain Hawdon’s grave with Jo. Lady Dedlock has taken the handkerchief because she now knows that Esther is her daughter and wishes to have a keepsake of hers. She fears that Esther will die from her illness and goes to Jenny’s house to find out how Esther is, although, of course, she cannot reveal her identity.
Esther cannot explain this but thinks that the woman may be Caddy. Miss Flite suggests that the woman is the Lord Chancellor’s wife and Esther busies herself with tending to the old lady, who is tired and hungry, and orders dinner for her guest. Esther asks Miss Flite how her case is progressing, and Miss Flite says that she expects a judgement any day.
Esther, of course, does not suspect Lady Dedlock because she does not know that Lady Dedlock is her mother.
Miss Flite seems very anxious about her judgement and Esther, seeing her distress, suggests that she should give up the case. Miss Flite says that this would be easier but that it is not possible; Jarndyce and Jarndyce is in her family, and her father and her brother, who are both dead, bequeathed the case to her. Miss Flite says that it is some magic in the court that “draws people on” and leads them, unwittingly, into madness and despair.
Miss Flite has followed in the footsteps of her family members who also went mad while pursuing the lawsuit. It is impossible to become involved with Chancery without going mad. The lawsuits put such strain on people that they go through a predictable cycle and cannot prevent their decline.
Miss Flite says that she can feel this invisible force of Chancery pulling at her, just as it pulled at her father. She explains that her father was once a respectable man, but that he was led on by the court and died in debtor’s prison. The same thing then happened to her brother and sister in turn. One day, just after her sister died, Miss Flite decided to go and see the beast that had destroyed her relatives and, when she saw the court, she was struck too and was drawn into it herself. She can spot the beginnings of this madness in people, she says, and confides in Esther that she sees them now in Richard’s face.
Chancery is given the quality of a corrupt, almost supernatural force which seduces people and purposely leads them on. This relates to the lawyers, who deliberately encourage their clients to invest in cases, even if these suits are useless. However, it is also fate, as there is no escaping the inevitable tragic end, wrought with madness and despair, that Chancery inflicts upon its victims.
Esther feels uncomfortable about this, and Miss Flite says that, when her judgement is finally delivered, she will free her birds. She changes the subject and tells Esther about Mr. Woodcourt. The boat that he had been traveling on was shipwrecked, and Mr. Woodcourt was in the newspaper because he took such excellent care of the survivors. Esther feels immensely proud as Miss Flite reads the article to her and is glad to know such a skilled and generous man.
Miss Flite’s birds, caged until some elusive day in the future, symbolize all the suspended dreams, ambitions, and hopes, which people put off while they wait endlessly for a verdict in Chancery.
Miss Flite says that Mr. Woodcourt deserves a title, but Esther skeptically says that he will not receive one for generous deeds which help ordinary people. Miss Flite reprimands Esther for speaking so and says that many fine men are knighted in England. Esther feels that this is Miss Flite’s madness talking.
Here, Dickens uses Esther’s perspective to criticize the British establishment, which, he claims, never rewards people for doing charitable deeds that help poor people.
Esther gets used to the idea that her face has changed. Her only regret is that she once tentatively believed that Mr. Woodcourt loved her, but that he did not propose because he was poor and had no career. She is glad now that this is not the case and that she does not have to write to him and explain the change in her appearance. He is now free to marry whomever he wants.