At the shooting gallery, Phil Squod explains to his master, Mr. George, his sad childhood, and then his apprenticeship to a tinker. He was in an accident in a gasworks, and blown out of a window, and this is how he came to be so disfigured and ugly. He treats it as a trifle however, and is very cheerful, saying his age is something with an eight in it -- somewhere between 18 and 80. He's a likable chap.
Grandfather Smallweed arrives, along with his pinched and stingy granddaughter Judy. Smallweed talks of Richard Carstone, noting that he has a commision in the army. It is revealed that Richard has borrowed from Smallweed, but that his friends have paid it off.
Mr. George, though respectful, is skeptical of Richard's chances in the service. He becomes less respectful, however, when Mr. Smallweed asks for a sample of Mr. George's old army friend Captain Hawdon's handwriting. George informs him that even if he had it he would not share it with Mr. Smallweed. It is evident that Hawdon owes Smallweed money, and Mr. Smallweed thinks that Hawdon is still alive. Mr. Smallweed alludes to Mr. Tulkinghorn, who would like to examine a specimen of Hawdon's handwriting. Mr. George agrees to see Mr. Tulkinghorn, but to nothing more.
Chapter 27 starts in Tulkinghorn's office. He produces some papers, and asks Mr. George to compare the handwriting with that of Captain Hawdon's. George refuses to cooperate, denying he even has a sample of the handwriting. Tulkinghorn refuses to tell George why he wants the sample, and that cements in George his determination to refuse to cooperate. He wishes to get advice from a friend before going any further. Mr. George also tells Smallweed and Tulkinghorn that Captain Hawdon is dead. After George leaves, Mr. Smallweed vows to squeeze Mr. George of his debt, for refusing to cooperate.
Mr. George goes to his friends the Bagnets, who keep a music shop. Mrs. Bagnet counsels George to not get involved with the deep and canny lawyer and the slippery Smallweed, or with other things out of his depth. Having digested this advice, Mr. George, returns to Mr. Tulkinghorn and refuses to help.
In Chapter 28, the action switches to Chesney Wold. Sir Leicester is entertaining many of his relations, all of whom are poorer than he is. His poor elderly spinster cousin Volumnia is there, along with the Honorable Bob Stables.
One of Mrs. Rouncewell's sons, Mr. Rouncewell, has made money as an ironmaster (which is a manufacturer of iron) and educated himself enough to get into Parliament. Mr. Rouncewell arrives to ask for the hand of Rosa for his young son Watt. The interview between Sir Leicester and Mr. Rouncewell is frosty, for Mr. Rouncewell would like to educate Rosa better than she has been at the village school, which is supported by the Dedlocks. This ruffles the feathers of the Dedlocks, thinking that this ironmaster has become uppity.
Rosa and Lady Dedlock talk, and Lady Dedlock implores Rosa to stay with her a little while longer. Rosa tearfully agrees.
Chapter 29 has the Dedlocks closing up Chesney Wold against the cold, and moving up to London. Tulkinghorn visits and causes internal distress in Lady Dedlock, but nothing passes between them about Tulkinghorn's hunt after Lady Dedlock's secret.
Lady Dedlock has received many letters from Mr. Guppy of Kenge and Carboy's, and finally decides to receive him. There he tells her a few significant points. He wants to know if she knows Miss Esther Summerson. She admits she has met her. He asks her if she thinks that Esther resembles anyone in her family -- she says that she doesn't believe that she does. He explains that, from Mrs. Chadband, he has learned that Esther Summerson was really Esther Hawdon. This is an obviously shocking revelation to Lady Dedlock, but she hides her face behind a fan and does not show her emotion.
Then Guppy tells her that there were some old letters found in a secret place (by Jobling) in Nemo/Hawdon's old lodging, and he plans to get hold of them tonight. He asks if this is agreeable to her ladyship, and she says it is. Guppy goes off on his errand, and Lady Dedlock experiences intense grief. Her sister (Miss Barbary) had lied to her -- she said her child died soon after birth. Obviously Miss Barbary had taken the child, Esther, away, and raised her herself, never letting Lady Dedlock know of her existence or whereabouts. In addition, now Lady Dedlock is sure that Nemo was Hawdon, and died in those horrible circumstances.
The intrusion of Grandfather Smallweed into the relatively happy masculine world of the shooting gallery upsets what little peace of mind Sgt. George has. The evil usurer is always looking for an angle, and he attempts to get the piece of writing of Mr. Hawdon from George himself, and take whatever reward Tulkinhorn would have offered. George, the faithful soldier, goes and investigates, and is disconcerted by the slippery lawyer and his schemes.
He retreats to the first truly happy nuclear family presented in Bleak House. The Bagnets are a model lower-middle-class family; happily married, with enough money to get by, no pretensions, social airs, philanthropic manias, or religious extremism to spoil their happy home. Most importantly, the parents are civil and kind to each other, and the mother, especially, is attentive and loving toward the children. This is almost uncharted territory for this novel, since the only truly happy home we have seen before this is the artificially assembled non-nuclear family of the people of Bleak House.
Within the womb of this happy family, Mr. George is well-counselled by Mr. and Mrs. Bagnet to have nothing to do with Tulkinhorn and his kind. This advice, and Mr. George's subsequent decision, follows the Dickensian theme of rejecting the unreal, document-driven world of the law and business (as represented by Tulkinghorn and Smallweed) for the "real" world of home, family, honor, and duty (as represented by the Bagnets). George is still in peril, however, from the ruthless financial squeezing of Smallweed.
The class consiousness is less based on documents than it is on snobbery in the clash between Rouncewell and Dedlock over Rosa. This element of romantic intrigue for Rosa adds interest, but is not a central element of the story.
Tulkinghorn stalks Lady Dedlock's secret, and it appears, back in London, that she knows of his hunt. She is still the image of propriety, but after Guppy's stunning revelations one wonders how long she can keep up the facade. The melodrama of her finding out that Esther is her child, which she had thought dead, does indeed soften the reader's opinion of Lady Dedlock.
The parallel with Jenny's dead infant, which died in actuality, and Lady Dedlock's supposedly dead infant show up the stark differences between the women, and the similarities. Jenny is limited by class and status from altering her life after the loss of her child; unable to leave her husband, she latches on to her friend's baby as an object of affection. Lady Dedlock, in contrast, retreats to the world of high society, becomming brittle and bored, but places some affection in the girl Rosa, who she seems to adopt as a surrogate daughter (she calls her "pet"). Superficially, Jenny takes the winner's share of virtue in this contrast, as her miserable circumstances insist upon the reader's sympathy; however, the possibility that Lady Dedlock's cold, brittle, bored persona could have been formed out of grief rather than pure privilege makes for a much more complicated and sympathetic figure. Lady Dedlock has lost both of the beings she most loved in the world -- her lover and her daughter. The idea that she could yet encounter one of these two beings drives the chapters to come.