One evening, Esther notices with chagrin Charley's futile attempts at learning how to write when Charley apprises Esther of a visit from the bricklayer's wife Jenny. When told that the purpose of the visit was on behalf of a very sick boy, Esther can't help but to go and see whether she could be of any help to Jenny and the boy. Thus, with Charley in tow, Esther heads towards the brick kilns the vicinity of where Jenny currently resides.
When they arrive at Jenny's squalid dwelling, the sick boy, who is being nursed by Jenny, takes fright, believing Esther to be the lady who had given him the two sovereigns for directing her to Captain's Hawdon burial site. Charley, who has a maternal instinct despite her youth, assures the sick boy, who is none other Jo, that Esther is not who he fears her to be. Meanwhile Esther and Jenny consult on what to do with the boy. Jenny's husband is due to arrive shortly, and as he will have nothing to do with the boy, Jenny will have no other choice but to have the boy leave.
Subsequently, the boy is made to leave Jenny's dwelling when Esther catches up to him and offers him shelter for the night. Reluctantly, Jo follows Esther and Charley to Bleak House where Mr. Jarndyce accommodates the boy for the night and makes arrangements for the boy's welfare despite Mr. Skimpole's argument that the boy should turned out and left to his own devices immediately as his sickness is contagious.
Come morning, Esther learns that the boy Jo is missing. The presumption is that delirium has caused him to get up and leave. A search is undertaken which goes on for five days to no avail.
Meanwhile, Charley gets sick, joining Ada who is already quarantined and compelling Esther to nurse Charley. With Esther's ministrations and a stout spirit, Charley convalesces in due time. Her triumph, however, is short-lived as Esther gets sick, compelling Charley to look after Esther.