Mr. Jarndyce, Ada, and Esther return to Bleak House, leaving Lincolnshire and Mr. Boythorn's house. Esther didn't have any more meetings with Lady Dedlock, except to see her in church.
Back at Bleak House, Esther is visited by the strange and intense Mademoiselle Hortense. She calls Esther "amiable" and asks to be employed by her as a maid. Esther declines, and Hortense leaves in a black mood.
Caddy Jellyby asks Esther to come to London and help her talk to old Mr. Turveydrop and her own mother abut her and Prince's engagement. Esther does so, and the discussions with both parents are successful. Old Mr. Turveydrop is assured that he will be the young people's first consideration, and Mrs. Jellyby is resigned to the fact that Caddy has no sympathy for Africa. Esther renews her friendship with Peepy and the other neglected Jellyby children. Mr. Jellyby is suicidal, and attempts to throw himself ineffectually from the window, because of the horrible state of his finances.
Mr. Jarndyce, unbeknownst to Esther, has made arrangements for the Neckett family. Little Tom is in school, the baby Emma is being cared for by Mrs. Blinder, and Charley has been rescued from the Smallweeds and brought "as a present" to Bleak House. Esther is much worried at first that Charley is to be separated from her siblings, and she is a bit perturbed at Jarndyce's presumption, but when she is assured that Charley will see little Tom and Emma monthly she is placated.
Richard is unsatisfied with the law, and, maddeningly, turns to the idea of entering the army as an officer. He confides to Esther that he is in debt, and the further dissolution of this promising young man seems certain.
In Chapter 24, Richard does obtain a commision in the Army through the offices of the Lord High Chancellor. Mr. Jarndyce, as well as Esther and even the Court of Chancery, consider Richard to be capricious and unstable, and Mr. Jarndyce asks Richard and Ada to break their engagement. Ada does not want to break her engagement with Richard, for she loves him, but she does so out of deference for her cousin John's wishes.
A serious rift is caused between Jarndyce and Richard for the first time. Richard cannot forgive Jarndyce for making him break his engagement to Ada, and also for their disagreement over the Jarndyce case.
Richard practices swordsmanship with Mr. George. During a discussion with Mr. Jarndyce, Mr. George lets slip that he has all kinds coming to his shooting gallery: "even French women...show themselves dabs at pistol shooting."
Esther briefly meets Mrs. Chadband, the former Mrs. Rachael, at Kenge and Carboy's. The young people go to George's shooting gallery, and there they learn that poor Mr. Gridley is dying, and is hiding out in the shooting gallery, sheltered by Mr. George and Phil. His dying wish is to see Miss Flite.
Miss Flite is brought, and tries to give Mr. Gridley her blessing. Mr. Bucket, who has pursued Gridley for contempt of Court, has been looking for him for weeks arrives disguised as a doctor, but talks kindly to Gridley as he sees he is dying. While they are talking, Mr. Gridley dies, causing Miss Flight great grief.
In Chapter 25, the action moves back to the Snagsbys. For some time Mrs. Snagsby has suspected her husband of keeping a secret. She leaps to the conclusion that, because of his many kindnesses to Jo, he must be Jo's father.
Since Mrs. Snagsby has been "in a pious mood of late," she asks Mr. Chadband to interview Jo at the Snagsby's house, which he does with much bluster and florid language. He scolds Jo for he is not a beleiver, never having had anyone to teach him religion. From this interview Mrs. Snagsby thinks she is confirmed in her suspicions.
Guster takes a liking to the boy, and gives him a good supper, and pats him gently. The boy has never known any such kind personal attentions. Guster, who is also an orphan, feels so bad for the boy that she has to withdraw, for she feels a fit coming on.
Snagsby sees Jo before he goes, and gives him some more money. Jo flies off into the night, and Mrs. Snagsby sees this transaction and is further confirmed in her suspicions.
Esther, with her calm femininity and adherance to duty, is contrasted sharply with the vengeful, angry Hortense. Dickens has built up quite an aura of ideal femininty around Esther, and to a lesser extent Ada, and most of the other female characters in the novel, including Lady Dedlock, do not compare favorably to their near-perfection of virtue.
Richard is changing status from a merely confused and directionless boy to a dangerously unsettled youth. He is the example of the young man of potential who cannot keep to any one employment. However, it is not for want of initiative, for he has no end of energy when it comes to the Jarndyce suit. This is another illustration of how the ills of Chancery can suck all the life out of people, as has fatally occurred with Gridley. Miss Flite and Gridley are the older examples of what Richard may become.
Jarndyce's presumption in plucking Charley from the Smallweeds and giving her "as a present" to Esther starts to arouse suspicion that Mr. Jarndyce may be emotionally attached to Esther in a way other than a guardian to a ward. The reader is pleasantly rewarded, however, with the complete salvation of Charley and her little siblings, who are now well cared for in this world, with some hope for the future. Charley is one orphan, at least, who will not be ground to death in the streets -- but again it is significant that she was not rescued by any institution such as government, philanthropy, or the Church, but rather by Jarndyce's personal charity and decency.
Ada and Richard having to break their engagement is a red herring to the reader, evoking the possibility that the two young lovers will not be together. In fact, the reader is led to hope that Richard will apply himself to his military commision. The disagreement between Jarndyce and Richard is another ominous cloud, and the first real instance of gloom in the little domestic world of Bleak House.
The ridiculous scene at Snagsbys is another example of the unhealthy mania of unhappy people like Mrs. Snagsby. Mr. Chadband is a singularly bad example of the ineffectuality of the church of England. Jo, however, gets a little relief after being subjected to the sermon.
The possibility of Frenchwomen being able to shot a pistol well is transparently planted by Mr. George's comment about his sometime customers. Dickens is very obviously setting up Mr. Tulkinghorn's murder. But it is an early clue, and can be soon forgotten in the midst of red herrings thrown around during the time of the murder.