Though Esther desperately wants to speak to or to write to her mother, she doesn't dare, for fear of ruining her. There is a very real fear for her mother, but Esther admits that she thinks of her constantly and very much desires to be with her.
Ada finally wakes up to the fact that Richard may be destroying himself with the pursuit of Jarndyce and Jarndyce, and tries, with Esther, to get to some kind of resolution with Mr. Jarndyce. Mr. Jarndyce proposes that they go to Mr. Skimpole's home. Skimpole lives in dingy but artistic poverty with his sickly wife and three daughters. Mr. Skimpole's sons have run away. His children are like him in their complete lack of interest in time or money.
Jarndyce now enjoins Skimpole to not let Richard give anymore money either to himself or to Mr. Vholes. Skimpole as always claims no knowledge of such matters, but Jarndyce extracts a promise.
Back at Bleak House, Sir Leicester Dedlock, on his way back home to Lincolnshire, calls unexpectedly at Bleak House. He wants to make sure that Jarndyce, his wards, and Mr. Skimpole know that they are all welcome in his house, despite the dispute with Mr. Boythorn. Skimpole had apparently been slighted when he went to view the portraits at Chesney Wold, and Sir Leicester wants to assure him that he toom is welcome. Esther dislikes all the talk of family portraits, for obvious reasons.
Later, Esther confides what she knows to Jarndyce -- namely that she is the daughter of Lady Dedlock. Jarndyce, his his turn, tells Esther that Lady Dedlock's sister, Miss Barbary, who raised her, for her own prideful and inscrutable reasons was the same woman that had "died" to Mr. Boythorn. Miss Barbary gave up Mr. Boythorn to live in seclusion and raise Esther. Esther is amazed.
In Chapter 44, Jarndyce, in his usual generous manner, is prepared to assist Esther and her mother in every possible way. He, too, sees the danger of Tulkinghorn. Esther tells him of her visit to Guppy, warning him off. Esther is also suspicious of Hortense, but doesn't know that she knows anything.
The letter turns out to be a forthright marriage proposal. Esther is shocked and touched, and also conscious of the great love Jarndyce must hold for her to think nothing of her scarred face or the illegitimacy of her birth. When they are alone, a week later, she answers him with a kiss, and says she will be "mistress of Bleak House".
At the end of this conversation, in a strange manner, he asks Esther to send Charley to his room to retrieve a letter, that he will have written to Esther.
In Chapter 45, Mr. Vholes arrives at Bleak House. He brings the terrible news that Richard is completely destitute, and in fact is in debt, and very well may lose his Army commision.
Esther goes to visit Richard in Deal, in the county of Kent (southeast England). She takes Charley along, and a letter from Ada that generously offers Richard her small inheritance. He is in a terrible state (and, Esther notes, not in uniform) and wants to go to London to pursue Jarndyce and Jarndyce once more.
Luckily, Allan Woodcourt is in Deal, freshly returned from the East. Esther is much relieved to have a steady male friend for Richard back in the country, and Woodcourt promises to try to help Richard back onto the straight and narrow. Esther sees that Woodcourt's concern for her scar-ravaged face is not just a doctor's lack of repulsion. She is attracted to him once again, but will not let herself be for many reasons (her engagement to Jarndyce, her scars, her scandalous birth, etc.)
Chapter 46 finds Woodcourt again in London, walking in Tom-all-Alone's where he sees Jenny, the brickmaker's wife badly bruised from yet another beating from her drunken husband. Jenny is back in London with her husband, looking for work. She is sitting on the step waiting for the lodgings to open. Dr. Woodcourt treats her forehead, and turning away he sees Jo and vaguely remembers him.
Jenny runs after him, wanting to stop him. Allan thinks Jo might have robbed her, but Jenny only wanted to talk to Jo. She had taken care of him in St Alban's, and nursed him with the smallpox he eventually gave to Esther. Jo and Woodcourt leave Tom-all-Alone's.
Esther and Ada continue in their pattern of trying ineffectually to help Richard out of his difficulties. The distressing nature of Esther's inability to communicate with the mother, and her mother's iminent peril definitely weighs on her.
The visit to the Skimpoles is in some ways meant to be comedic, but the irresponsibility of their household is such that the lightness of the tone rings false. Esther, especially, is concerned for the "Beauty" daughter, who is married with two children, and looks too young for either state. Skimpole's family is much like him -- infantile and constantly protesting their unworldliness.
The very surprising visit of Sir Leicester softens the reader's opinion of him, a bit. The further revelations between Esther and Jarndyce serve to bring them closer into a kind of intimacy they hadn't had before.
Jarndyce takes this opportunity for his passionless letter-borne marriage proposal, by which Esther feels very flattered and honored, despite the fact that she is not romantically in love with her guardian. This was well-disguised enough by Dickens to be a bit of a shock to the reader who hadn't quite predicted it. Jarndyce had only ever been fatherly, and until recently there was the possibility that Esther had been his own daughter. It is a happy, fortunate development for Esther, but the reader feels that she still must love Mr. Woodcourt.
And just to make the contrast all the clearer, Mr. Woodcourt magically appears at Deal, and is ready to help Esther with the wayward Richard. She is now unable to allow herself to love Woodcourt, because she is engaged to Jarndyce. But no one else yet knows of their engagement. The romantic suspense builds.
Woodcourt, in yet another example of his continually rescuing persona, rescues Jo just in time to give him a death surrounded by friendly faces, with a little comfort. It is a melodramatic scene, but the death of an innocent child can never be unaffecting. It was very well received by its Victorian readers.