Esther returns to Bleak House and immediately travels up to London to visit Caddy and Prince. Caddy tells Esther that she and her new husband have been extremely busy, but that Mr. Turveydrop is very kind to them. While at his house, Esther observes that he has several “apprentices” who are being educated as dancers but who also wait on Mr. Turveydrop. They remind Esther of chimney sweeps.
Mr. Turveydrop takes on the children as unpaid apprentices but really uses them as servants to do all his domestic work. Children were often used as sweeps because they were very small and could fit into narrow spaces. Dickens was very opposed to child labor of any kind.
Caddy is also learning to dance and play the piano, and she and Esther attend a dance class together with the apprentices. After this, Prince goes out to teach at a school, and Caddy and Esther get ready to go into town. Caddy tells Esther how kind Mr. Turveydrop is to Mr. Jellyby and that the two are great friends. Mr. Turveydrop also extends his kindness to Peepy and allows the boy to run errands for him.
Caddy and Prince work incredibly hard to keep Mr. Turveydrop in comfort. Although they are clearly doing him a favor, they feel that it is a privilege to serve him because they are so taken in by his façade of gentility and benevolence. Although he pretends to patronize Peepy, he really uses him as a servant.
Esther takes Caddy with her to Mr. Guppy’s house and is invited in by Mrs. Guppy, his mother. Mr. Guppy is also present and is startled when Esther walks in. Esther reminds Mr. Guppy that he has expected her—she sent him a note—and Mrs. Guppy seems to find something extremely funny. When Esther asks to speak with him alone, Mr. Guppy irritably dismisses his mother, and Caddy leaves the room with her. Esther reminds Mr. Guppy that he once implied that he had a means of discovering her past and advancing her interests this way. Mr. Guppy remembers this and seems rather alarmed.
Mr. Guppy is shocked by the change in Esther’s appearance and Mrs. Guppy laughs because she knows that Mr. Guppy once proposed to Esther. This passage suggests that Mrs. Guppy finds Esther ugly because of her scars and mocks her son for his proposal.
Esther tells Mr. Guppy that she does not want him to investigate her past, and she implores him to give up any efforts he has already made. Mr. Guppy agrees to do this and Esther thanks him and makes to leave with Caddy. As they make their way out, however, Mr. Guppy stops Esther and makes it clear that he no longer wishes to marry her. Esther calmly explains to Caddy that Mr. Guppy once proposed—to Mr. Guppy’s deep embarrassment—and agrees to accept that this offer has now been terminated.
Mr. Guppy is relieved because he has lost the letters and, therefore, has lost any proof of Esther’s identity. Mr. Guppy is very shallow and does not want Esther to think that he is still in love with her now that she has lost her looks. He is worried that people will laugh at him if they think he is in love with her.