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Summary Chapter 36

Upon arrival in Mr. Boythorn's house in Chesney Wold, Esther does two things: She writes a letter of thanks to Mr. Boythorn, and she dares to look at herself in the mirror (which she hadn't done since her facial alteration and which Mr. Jarndyce, Ada, and Charley had successfully conspired to prevent Esther from doing). As her looks had deteriorated, Esther has every reason to be despondent, but between taking long walks in Chesney Wold with Charley, corresponding with Ada and Mr. Jarndyce, and interacting with the kind and friendly town folks, Esther forgets about her misfortune and convalesces in mind and body.

One day, while taking a walk with Charley, Esther espies a vague approaching figure which initially startles her to the point Esther summons Charley, who is picking wildflowers, to come to her--Esther's--aid. When the figure reveals itself to be Lady Dedlock, Esther regains her composure but not for long as Lady Dedlock has Esther dismiss Charley and as she confides in Esther with an astounding secret: She--Lady Dedlock--is Esther's mother. She asks for forgiveness. She explains that the life that she has chosen for herself is irreversible; that this will be the first and last time Lady Dedlock will acknowledge Esther as her daughter; and that she will always live in shame though her outward self will denote otherwise.

When they part, Esther has a hard time coming to terms with the truth. Indeed, that same night, Esther lurks in the outer precincts of the Dedlocks manor when she finds herself in the manor's flagged path called the Ghost's Walk. According to legend, a wife of a Dedlock of long ago had had kinsman opposed to the King, which clashed with her husband's loyalty to the crown. Their dispute led to an accident one night, causing the wife to go lame which in turn led to her precipitous decline in both body and mind. Before her death, the wife assured her husband that one day the Dedlocks and their legacy will be completely ruined. It is said that this wife's rhythmic steps on the flagged path is her ghost reminding the Dedlocks of her prophecy. Presently, Esther runs back to Mr. Boythorn's house, convinced that she--Esther--will be the agent of the Dedlocks ruin.

Then the day arrives of Ada's reuniting with Esther. Esther is worried that her changed looks will shock and sadden Ada. But that is not the case at all, as Ada unreservedly embraces her old friend.

Charles Dickens