Esther does not tell Ada about her discovery out of respect for Lady Dedlock’s secret. However, Ada is very curious about the mistress of Chesney Wold. Charley informs them that Lady Dedlock has left, however, and that she has gone to her house in London. Not long after this, Charley appears again and tells Esther that she is requested by Mr. Grubble, the landlord of the village pub. Esther is extremely confused but follows these instructions and finds Mr. Grubble waiting for her at the door of the pub.
Lady Dedlock cannot bear to be near her daughter in case her love for Esther causes her façade to slip and reveals her secret.
Mr. Grubble leads her into a back room where Esther is surprised to find Richard. Richard tells her that he has come down on his break from Chancery and that Mr. Skimpole is with him. Esther is dismayed when Richard talks of Mr. Jarndyce in a disparaging tone, but Richard brushes this off. Richard has paid for Mr. Skimpole to join him because Mr. Skimpole was determined to see Esther. Esther thinks this is rather suspicious, despite Mr. Skimpole’s charming manner when he is shown into the room.
Richard has not come to Mr. Boythorn’s house directly because he fears that Mr. Jarndyce is there and avoids his guardian, who he mistakenly believes is plotting against him. Mr. Skimpole takes advantage of Richard and has fun at his expense, despite his façade of friendliness and naivety.
Esther is distressed to find that Mr. Skimpole encourages Richard in his Chancery suit because he finds it very poetic. Esther leads Richard and Mr. Skimpole back to Mr. Boythorn’s house and shows Richard into the living room where Ada is seated. Ada is very pleased to see him, and Esther can see that she still loves Richard dearly.
Mr. Skimpole does not think about the real-life consequences for Richard but encourages Richard because it entertains him to do so. He is totally selfish and only cares about his own enjoyment.
The next morning, Esther and Richard walk in the grounds and Richards tells her that when the lawsuit is resolved, he will move to the country for some peace. Esther suggests that this is possible before the end of the suit, but Richard says that he cannot live “in an unfinished house.” Esther recalls Miss Flite’s words and the story of old Tom Jarndyce. Esther tries to remind him of Mr. Jarndyce’s warning, but Richard scoffs when he hears this name and says that Mr. Jarndyce has his own interests in the suit and wishes to thwart him.
Richard is clearly exhausted by the lawsuit and now wishes that it was all over. He will not give it up, however, because he cannot stand the uncertainty of it hanging over him and feels that he must resolve it before he can have peace. Esther is haunted by the memory of Tom Jarndyce, Richard’s grandfather, who shot himself after the Chancery suit sent him mad.
Esther reprimands Richard and asks him to remember Mr. Jarndyce’s generosity. Richard seems a little ashamed, but he maintains that he must make his own way in the case. He says that once the case is solved, he will be able to see Mr. Jarndyce clearly and understand his real motives. Richard admits that Mr. Jarndyce has written to him, but he wishes to keep this a secret from Ada as he does not want to draw her into any unpleasantness. Esther commends this in him and understands that he really does love Ada, but that he is very confused and unsettled.
The Chancery suit acts like a delusion, or a fog which surrounds Richard, and prevents him from seeing clearly. Although Richard acts unkindly towards Mr. Jarndyce, Esther can see that he is a good person underneath but is warped by madness and paranoia.
Esther asks Richard if he has any debts. Richard says that he has, but that he does not worry about this because he is bound to inherit something when the case is complete. Esther is worried because Richard relies entirely on these hypothetical ideas and does not seem to listen to anything she says. Richard leaves that afternoon, and Esther confides in Ada about her fears about Richard’s future.
Richard rests all his hopes on his supposed inheritance and takes great risks in his present which he hopes his future inheritance will resolve. Like Miss Flite, Richard is now beyond help and reason, and Esther can see that any persuasion or sensible advice will be lost on him.
Ada writes Richard a letter and tells him that he has inadvertently wronged Mr. Jarndyce. She also begs him not to go into debt or trouble himself about the lawsuit for her sake. When he receives this note, Richard again comes to visit, but rather than dissuading him from following the suit, the note seems to have made him pursue it more doggedly.
Ada tries to exert her influence over Richard. Rather than put Richard off the case, however, Ada’s involvement spurs Richard on because it reminds him that he hopes to gain the inheritance not only for his sake but also for Ada.
Mr. Skimpole often comes with Richard and, one morning, Esther takes him aside and attempts to talk him into being responsible for Richard. She wants him to stop encouraging Richard to go into debt and spend money. Mr. Skimpole seems bemused by this request and says he can take no responsibility when it comes to money because he cannot count. Esther tells him it is everybody’s duty to be responsible, but Mr. Skimpole rejects this idea and says that, compared to him, Esther is a paragon of responsibility.
Mr. Skimpole insists that there is no common ground between himself and Esther. While Esther is extremely responsible and thinks of other people, Mr. Skimpole claims he is incapable of this. Mr. Skimpole does not try, however, and seems to actively encourage people to make bad decisions, which suggests he knows more than he lets on.
Richard and Ada join them, but Richard hurries off again to meet a man who approaches across the gardens. Mr. Skimpole says that this is Mr. Vholes, Richard’s lawyer, and a most respectable and responsible man. Mr. Skimpole has been in debt to Mr. Vholes in the past, and it is he who introduced the lawyer to Richard because Mr. Vholes paid him to. Richard introduces Mr. Vholes to them, and Esther observes that he looks “lifeless.”
Mr. Vholes has bribed Mr. Skimpole to introduce him to Richard because he knows that Richard is an important client and is very invested in Jarndyce and Jarndyce. Since Jarndyce and Jarndyce is notoriously complex, however, it seems unlikely that it will ever resolve and, therefore, Mr. Vholes intentions for Richard are suspect.
Mr. Vholes has come to tell Richard of a development with the case, and Richard agrees to go to London with him that evening. Richard is delighted to hear this news and rushes away with Mr. Vholes as soon as he can. Esther and Ada are very uncomfortable to see him go, and Mr. Skimpole remains behind with them for one more night. That night, Ada tells Esther that she will be faithful to Richard no matter what the future holds.