The next morning, Esther goes to Mr. Jarndyce again. He asks her if anyone knows her secret, and Esther tells him of her mother’s fears about Mr. Tulkinghorn. Mr. Jarndyce knows who this is and feels Lady Dedlock is right to be concerned. Esther then tells him about Mr. Guppy—whom Mr. Jarndyce almost laughs at—and Mademoiselle Hortense. Esther admits that she fears Mademoiselle Hortense greatly because her behavior is so odd. Mr. Jarndyce agrees that he found her strange and remembers the day when she risked her health to walk through the wet grass barefoot. Mr. Jarndyce promises to try and protect both Esther’s and her mother’s interests if he can.
Mr. Jarndyce is a good judge of character and recognizes that Mr. Tulkinghorn is a valid threat. Mr. Jarndyce does not think Mr. Guppy is a threat—hence his near laughter—as Mr. Guppy’s attempts to embroil himself in the mystery have been incompetent. Mademoiselle Hortense, however, gives him pause because he has seen proof that she is a very intense and erratic woman.
Mr. Jarndyce tells Esther that he has a proposition for her but that he would like to make it in writing. He wants to assure her first that nothing she does or says will ever change his feelings towards her, and Esther gratefully responds that she feels the same. Mr. Jarndyce tells her that he will write her a letter, and that when she is ready, she must send Charley to fetch it.
Mr. Jarndyce does not want Esther to feel any pressure to accept his propositions—whatever they may be—and thus assures her that he will still hold her in the same high regard even if she says no. He also does not want to force her to listen to his proposition and thus leaves it entirely up to her when she should receive it in writing.
A few nights later, Esther sends Charley to Mr. Jarndyce’s room, and the girl returns with the note. Esther thinks back over her past and feels amazed at how her fortunes have changed when she reads that Mr. Jarndyce wishes to marry her. The letter is loving but not romantic; Mr. Jarndyce understands if Esther does not wish to marry a man so much older than her, and stresses that, despite his past kindnesses, Esther does not owe him her love. Everything will remain the same between them, he says, if she declines his offer.
Mr. Jarndyce is very considerate of Esther’s feelings. He realizes that she may feel pressured to marry him as repayment for his kindness as her guardian, and he wishes her to know that he understands this and expects nothing from her in return for his past care. While many characters in the novel act only out of self-interest, Mr. Jarndyce genuinely puts others first—something he and Esther both have in common, which would perhaps make them a good match. Readers may also recall that Esther’s face is terribly scarred from smallpox at this point. While this made the shallow Mr. Guppy rescind his proposal, it doesn’t bother Mr. Jarndyce in the slightest—yet another indication that he is a good, honorable man.
Esther is overcome with gratitude and knows that she will accept Mr. Jarndyce’s offer. However, despite her happiness, she feels that she has lost something and weeps for this loss, though she does not know what it is. She sets down her housekeeper’s keys and then does her hair in the mirror. The sight of her scarred face makes her remember Mrs. Woodcourt and, for some reason, this and the memory of Mr. Woodcourt’s flowers makes her cry again. Before she goes to sleep, she finds the flowers—which are pressed inside a book—and burns them.
Esther accepts Mr. Jarndyce, even though she is clearly in love with Mr. Woodcourt, because she does not think that Mr. Woodcourt will ever love her now that her face is scarred. She cries because she knows unconsciously that Mr. Woodcourt once loved her too, and she feels that she has lost this opportunity for love.
The next day, Esther finds that Mr. Jarndyce treats her as he always does. She waits for him to ask for her reply, but he never does. She waits for a week and then visits him in his study. He tells her that he has waited for her letter from Charley, but Esther says she has come to answer him in person and kisses him.
Unlike Mr. Guppy, who badgered Esther endlessly about saying yes to his proposal (prior to her face being scarred from smallpox), Mr. Jarndyce wants the decision to be entirely Esther’s and puts no pressure on her to give him a reply, let alone a positive one.