Life continues at Bleak House and Esther notices that Richard grows restless. She also notices, however, that he and Ada are especially close, even though the three of them spend most of their time as a group. Richard still has not selected a profession. Although Mr. Jarndyce writes to Richard’s relative, Sir Leicester Dedlock, asking Sir Leicester to provide an income for Richard, Sir Leicester politely declines, and Richard must find a way to make his own living.
This passage provides evidence of Richard’s unsettled and undisciplined temperament, which has never been reigned in by a stable job and will in fact be encouraged by the uncertainty of the lawsuit. Despite Sir Leicester’s great wealth, he is reluctant to help unknown relatives, making him a stark contrast to a generous soul like Mr. Jarndyce.
Esther observes that Richard is an honest and generous young man, but that he is bad with money. She is very fond of him and enjoys watching him and Ada as the pair fall in love. One morning, Mr. Jarndyce receives a letter from his old friend Mr. Boythorn. The letter announces that Mr. Boythorn will come to visit and will arrive that afternoon.
Richard is spendthrift. This does not bode well for his future, as it suggests he will not be sensible with his income once he does finally land a stable job.
Mr. Boythorn arrives later, after some difficulty with his carriage, and Esther, Ada, and Richard find him very endearing. He is a boisterous, yet kindhearted gentleman whose aggressive personality is contradicted by the fact that he keeps a very tame bird, which climbs on him and eats food from his hand. During dinner, Mr. Boythorn gives his opinion on Jarndyce and Jarndyce—which is one of violent disapproval—and tells them about his feud with Sir Leicester Dedlock. The two men have had a fallen out because of a patch of land between Chesney Wold and Mr. Boythorn’s property, which they both believe belongs to them and which Sir Leicester has tried to fence off to stop Mr. Boythorn from using.
Mr. Boythorn’s gruff exterior and generous temperament suggests that people are not always what they appear. Mr. Boythorn, like Mr. Jarndyce, dislikes the Chancery system, however, Mr. Boythorn is engaged in a property dispute of his own with Sir Leicester. That Sir Leicester has fenced of this disputed land furthers his characterization as an ungenerous man.
Mr. Boythorn has great respect for Lady Dedlock, however, and will say nothing against her. Mr. Boythorn asks if they have heard anything about Jarndyce and Jarndyce and, when they say no, he says that he will write to Kenge and Carboy the next day. After dinner, Esther discusses Mr. Boythorn with Mr. Jarndyce and learns that Mr. Boythorn was once engaged to be married. However, this relationship ended, and the disappointment changed the whole course of his life.
Mr. Boythorn is also involved in the lawsuit and, though he takes little interest, he takes more interest than Mr. Jarndyce and keeps in touch with his lawyers. Throughout the novel, Dickens drops clues about the central mystery surrounding Lady Dedlock to misdirect and increase suspense for the reader.
The next day they receive word that a clerk from Kenge and Carboy will visit them that afternoon. Esther is alone in her study when Mr. Guppy is shown in. He is very smartly dressed, and Esther tells him that Mr. Boythorn is upstairs. Mr. Guppy leaves and returns sometime later, looking shaken by his meeting with Mr. Boythorn. Esther offers him a glass of wine; Mr. Guppy drinks two and then addresses himself to her.
Esther has met Mr. Guppy before, as he was the same clerk who met her when she first arrived in London. Esther assumes that Mr. Guppy is shaken by Mr. Boythorn’s ferocious manner, but the content of the meeting remains unclear.
Mr. Guppy tells Esther that he earns a good salary at Kenge and Carboy, that he owns a little house in a pleasant spot in London, and that he would like to marry her. Esther immediately declines, but Mr. Guppy presses her and says that he is bound to be a success if she will consent to marry him. He tells her that he has loved her ever since they first met and that he will never stop loving her despite her refusal. Esther tells him not to make a fool of himself and tries to ring for a servant. At this, Mr. Guppy agrees to go, but first makes her promise that she will never mention this incident to anyone connected with Kenge and Carboy. Esther concedes and Mr. Guppy forlornly departs.
Mr. Guppy assumes that Esther is interested in social prestige, like he is, and tries to persuade her to accept his proposal by telling her about his social status (his house and his profession) which he thinks she will find appealing. He is clearly very concerned about his position and reputation as he entreats Esther not to make his rejection public knowledge. Social climbers like Mr. Guppy are often figures of fun in Dickens’s novel because they are shallow and want to transcend their class without earning this privilege through virtue or hard work.