Esther comes downstairs, still dazed and half asleep, and listens with horror as Mr. Bucket reads her Lady Dedlock’s letter. She puts on warm clothes and follows Mr. Bucket outside where a carriage is waiting in the snow. Mr. Bucket drives Esther to the police station and questions her on the way about her relationship with her mother. She tells him that she met Lady Dedlock when she was a guest at Mr. Boythorn’s house.
Esther knows that her mother will believe she is a suspect and will also run from the guilt and shame of her secret.
At the station, another policeman writes up a description of Lady Dedlock and Esther confirms the likeness with her mother. It is already very late, and Esther waits for some time before Mr. Bucket reappears. He entreats her to be calm and, first checking that she has warm clothes for the journey, leads her outside into another horse and carriage.
Dickens shows the investigative procedure in depth based on his knowledge of the Victorian police force. The 19th century was the period in which the police force, as people understand it today, was officially established.
The carriage first takes them to the docks where a sign on the wall reads “Found Drowned.” Mr. Bucket disappears down some steps with another man on the quayside and Esther waits, horrified, until the men return. Mr. Bucket explains that it is just a precaution and tells Esther not to fear. They hunt around the city a while longer, checking bridges and other isolated spots, and then begin the journey out of London towards Saint Albans.
Mr. Bucket has gone to look at bodies which have been pulled out of the river to see if Lady Dedlock is among them and has drowned herself.
The carriage stops at every public house along the way, and Mr. Bucket goes in and chats to the customers and to the owners of the establishment. Esther remains in the carriage, wrapped up against the cold. Mr. Bucket hears that Lady Dedlock has walked this way a few hours earlier and they drive on until they come to Bleak House. Mr. Bucket helps Esther down from the coach and leads her towards the house.
Mr. Bucket goes into the public houses to try and glean information from the customers. He is friendly and sociable so that he will win their trust and they will give him information willingly. Mr. Bucket thinks that Lady Dedlock may have gone to Bleak House to find Esther.
On the way, he asks her if she remembers seeing a man on the road on the night that she took Jo in. Esther says yes and wonders how Mr. Bucket knows about Jo. Mr. Bucket tells her that he was the man and that he is the person who took Jo away. Esther asks if Jo was a criminal and Mr. Bucket says that he told him to stay out of London because he knew too much about Lady Dedlock through Mr. Tulkinghorn.
Mr. Bucket has chosen to protect the interests of wealthy people, like Sir Leicester and Lady Dedlock, rather than Jo, because he can make money when he works for them, and Jo has nothing to offer. Although this seems mercenary, there is little that Mr. Bucket, as an individual, can do for Jo, who has really been failed by a society which disregards the poor.
As they approach the house, Mr. Bucket points at Mr. Skimpole’s room and asks if he is often a guest. Esther asks how Mr. Bucket knows Mr. Skimpole and the policeman explains that he bribed Mr. Skimpole to lead him to Jo that night when Jo was taken. Esther is furious with Mr. Skimpole and Mr. Bucket says that, whenever a person pretends to be innocent or says that they do not understand money, that this is just their way of avoiding responsibility.
Mr. Skimpole did not want Jo at the house because he was afraid of catching his disease, and thus co-operated with Mr. Bucket to get Jo off his hands. This shows that Mr. Skimpole is extremely selfish and that he blatantly disregarded Mr. Jarndyce’s wishes, as Mr. Jarndyce wanted to help Jo. Esther thinks that, perhaps, Mr. Skimpole did not understand the bribe, but Mr. Bucket assures her that he did and that he lies about this to avoid taking responsibility for his actions.
Once inside, they ask the servants if any of them have been near the brickmaker’s cottage. When the servants say no, Mr. Bucket suggests that he and Esther should go there immediately. They find the brickmakers and Liz in another cottage nearby, but Jenny is not with them. Esther asks if they can tell her anything about Lady Dedlock—who Mr. Bucket says has been at their house recently—and Liz gives Esther a look as though she wants to speak to her privately. Her husband kicks her, however, and she is forced to stay quiet.
The brickmakers do not seem to have a permanent home and are constantly between houses. The brickmakers are clearly hiding something they know about Lady Dedlock’s whereabouts. Liz wants to give Esther this information but cannot because her husband will beat her.
Esther asks where Jenny is and if she will be back soon, but her husband answers unpleasantly that she has gone to “Lunnun.” Esther asks if Jenny left after Lady Dedlock’s visit and they say yes. Lady Dedlock came to them to ask if the young lady was at Bleak House but left, after a short rest of about 20 minutes, when they said no. She did not go towards London. Esther asks how her mother looked and Liz answers timidly that she looked ill and exhausted.
The brickmaker says that Jenny has gone to London and confirms that Lady Dedlock came to Bleak House to find Esther. He tells them that Lady Dedlock has gone in the opposite direction of Jenny, into the country, and not back towards London.
Esther tries to find out more, but the brickmaker grows impatient and Mr. Bucket tells Esther that it is time to go. As he leads her outside, he tells her that Lady Dedlock has given one of the brickmakers her watch. He knows this because the brickmaker has told him that he does not own a watch, but also made an exact time of Lady Dedlock’s visit. Mr. Bucket thinks perhaps that Lady Dedlock gave them the watch so that Jenny would carry a message to London for her.
Mr. Bucket seems to have gained all the information he wants from the brickmakers and does not want to cause a scene. He knows that the brickmakers have done some favor for Lady Dedlock as she has given them her watch in return.
They continue out into the country, and the weather grows worse through the night. They travel all the next day, though their progress is slow, and although Mr. Bucket still stops at every public house, he seems unsure of their route. He still hears from people that a woman dressed like Lady Dedlock has gone by, however. The next night, they stop at an inn run by a woman and her daughters. They take Esther inside to get her warm, but she faints when she sees the mounting snow and thinks of her mother alone and outside.
It is urgent that find Lady Dedlock so that she does not die from exposure to the cold. Mr. Bucket seems to have lost the trail, even though people claim to have seen Lady Dedlock.
The women revive Esther with some food and hot soup before Mr. Bucket returns and says that they must be on their way. Although Esther has never seen the women since, she always recalls their kindness towards her. They keep going for several more hours and find no trace of Lady Dedlock. Mr. Bucket seems to have lost the trail when, suddenly, he announces that they must turn around and follow Jenny instead, back to London. Esther pleads with Mr. Bucket not to abandon her mother, but Mr. Bucket asks her to trust him as they race back towards the city.
Esther always remembers the women because they were kind to her during a difficult time in her life, highlighting how even small acts of kindness can be extremely memorable and important. Mr. Bucket seems to realize that it is not Jenny who has gone to London, but Lady Dedlock. He does not tell Esther his suspicion, though and Esther thinks that he has given up on her mother.