Although Esther can never speak to her mother again, she thinks about her often, looks for any mention of her in the papers, and listens for any mention of her in fashionable circles. Meanwhile, Mr. Jarndyce’s worry over Richard increases and, although Ada implores him to be patient with her beloved, Mr. Jarndyce writes to him often to try to undo some of the damage caused by the suit.
Esther accepts that she can’t openly acknowledge that she is Lady Dedlock’s daughter, but she is still curious about her mother’s fate. Meanwhile, Mr. Jarndyce does not want to intervene in Richard’s affairs, but he grows desperate as he watches Richard’s troubles increase.
Ada and Esther beg Mr. Jarndyce to speak with Mr. Skimpole, who is often with Richard, and who spends the young man’s money freely. Mr. Jarndyce is momentarily irritated when he hears this but dismisses the idea that there is anything calculated in Mr. Skimpole’s behavior. Esther says it is a shame that Mr. Skimpole introduced Richard to Mr. Vholes, but Mr. Jarndyce says that this, too, is an accident and that Mr. Skimpole just happened to borrow five pounds from Mr. Vholes.
Esther and Ada think that Richard’s situation might improve if Mr. Skimpole did not keep encouraging him to go into debt and spending his money. This passage implies that Mr. Skimpole accepted a bribe from Mr. Vholes, who gave him money on the condition that Mr. Skimpole introduce him to Richard. Mr. Jarndyce refuses to believe this, however, because it would shatter his illusions about his friend, whom he sees as harmless and who he has often leant money to.
They visit Mr. Skimpole the next day and find him having breakfast. His house is very dirty and cluttered, but he eats lavishly. Mr. Jarndyce brings up the subject of Richard and explains patiently to Mr. Skimpole that he must not allow Richard to pay for everything. Mr. Skimpole protests that Richard is rich, but Mr. Jarndyce tells him that this isn’t true. Mr. Skimpole agrees and seems so utterly helpless and innocent that Esther cannot believe that Mr. Skimpole contrives to use Richard.
Mr. Skimpole always makes sure he is well taken care of, usually at other people’s expense. Mr. Skimpole pretends that he has no real grasp on the concept of money, and thus he cannot tell who is rich and who is poor. Esther cannot believe that Mr. Skimpole intentionally uses and manipulates Richard, even though all the evidence seems to suggest this.
Mr. Skimpole then introduces him to his three daughters: Sentiment, Beauty, and Comedy. They, too, are helpless, charming girls and explain that they can do nothing practical but have “sympathy” for and interest in everything and everyone. Mr. Skimpole says that he will return with Mr. Jarndyce to his house. Mrs. Skimpole is ill, and an angry baker, whom Mr. Skimpole owes money to, is due at the house. Mr. Skimpole says that he cannot bear these things which will ruin his mood. Esther thinks it a shame that Mrs. Skimpole will be left to deal with the baker.
Mr. Skimpole’s daughters are a metaphor for the type of art that does not have a social purpose and that achieves nothing practical. Dickens, like many Victorian novelists, felt that novels—unlike other art forms—could be used for a social purpose: to educate people about the lives of others and to encourage people to support social reform. Mr. Skimpole dislikes this sort of art, however, because it makes him think of something other than his own comfort.
Mr. Skimpole is in bright spirits, however, and sings for them in the library when they get home. Midway through this performance, Sir Leicester Dedlock is announced, much to everybody’s amazement, and he is shown into the room. Esther is stunned and is barely aware of herself as Mr. Jarndyce introduces her. Sir Leicester has come to apologize on behalf of Mr. Boythorn and to assure them that, when they are in Lincolnshire, they are welcome to visit Chesney Wold despite his feud with this gentleman.
Esther is afraid that Sir Leicester has learned of her connection to Lady Dedlock. Sir Leicester is very gallant and wants to show them, even though they are strangers to him, that he is not petty. He cares a great deal about his reputation because he feels it is his public duty to maintain his image.
Sir Leicester is especially eager to meet Mr. Skimpole, who he has heard is an artist. Mr. Skimpole is pleased to meet him and expresses his gratitude for the noble classes who patronize the arts. Sir Leicester approves of this greatly and invites Mr. Skimpole to visit Chesney Wold in future. Sir Leicester then gives Lady Dedlock’s regards to Mr. Jarndyce and mentions that his Lady has told him that she met Esther and Ada in the grounds. With that, Sir Leicester takes his leave.
Sir Leicester likes to patronize artists like Mr. Skimpole, whose subjects deal with nothing unpleasant and are simply entertainments for rich people. Patronage was a common for of artistic funding before the 19th century but writers like Dickens were self-made and earned their own money by writing alone.
Esther is shaken by this encounter and is worried that she may be made a guest at Chesney Wold by her unsuspecting guardian. She decides to confide in him and to ask for his guidance. Esther finds him in his office and asks him if he remembers Lady Dedlock’s reference to her estranged sister when they were trapped in the rain together. Mr. Jarndyce is confused and asks her if she knows that this sister was once Mr. Boythorn’s fiancée. Esther says that she knows this, and that this woman was also the aunt who raised her, Miss Barbary.
Esther cannot spend time with her mother for fear the secret will get out and therefore decides to confide in Mr. Jarndyce so that he does not plan for her to go to Chesney Wold. Mr. Jarndyce thinks that he knows Miss Barbary, Lady Dedlock’s sister, only through his connection to Mr. Boythorn. He does not realize that she is also the woman who wrote to him about Esther—once again, the novel’s characters are far more interconnected than first meets the eye.
Esther asks why Mr. Boythorn and Miss Barbary separated. Mr. Jarndyce says that he doesn’t know, but that, one day, Mr. Boythorn received a letter from her which ended the engagement. Esther confesses that Lady Dedlock is her mother. She is reassured by her guardian’s sympathetic reaction. He asks her to tell him the whole story, and Esther is grateful as ever for his kindness.
Miss Barbary ended her engagement so that she could raise Esther in secret and so that people would not discover her sister’s shameful secret. As usual, Mr. Jarndyce reacts with compassion and patience.