As Esther, Ada, and Richard ride to Bleak House via Barnet and St. Albans, they are delighted by the sights offered by the countryside. At one point, they pass a wagon which is hitched to a team of beautiful horses, and Richard wonders if the impressive vehicle belongs to their benefactor John Jarndyce. Sure enough the passing vehicles stop, the two postilions exchange a word, and then Esther, Ada, and Richard are each handed a letter. The letters are from their benefactor John Jarndyce who emphasizes his wish to meet as friends. He also wants the young people to refrain from thanking him as that would entail a sort of standing on ceremony which Jarndyce wants to avoid at all costs. Ada relates a story about their benefactor’s aversion to standing on ceremony to the extent he would rather flee than be the recipient of words of gratitude.
Presently, the trio arrives at Bleak House; they are warmly greeted by John Jarndyce. Mr. Jarndyce asks about Mrs. Jellyby. Though Ada is reluctant to say anything negative, Esther, who has recognized Mr. Jarndyce to be the gruff man that she had shared a coach with all those many years ago when she had left her deceased godmother’s home to go to the boarding school in Reading, admits that Mrs. Jellyby ought to give her priority to her family and housekeeping and put Africa on the backburner. At this, Mr. Jarndyce admits the Jellyby children are in a bad state and attributes the ills of the world to the winds blowing from the east. However, Richard assures Mr. Jarndyce that today the winds were blowing from the north.
By and by, the young people are shown their rooms all of which are clean, neat, and wonderfully decked out in all the amenities one could ever hope for. When they rejoin Mr. Jarndyce, Mr. Jarndyce apprises them of a Mr. Harold Skimpole who, Mr. Jarndyce claims, is a child despite being a man of Mr. Jarndyce’s age (in the fifties). Apparently, Mr. Skimpole had got into debt, and having no family and being a friend of Mr. Jarndyce, the latter had extricated the former from his difficulties to the extent of allowing him to live at Bleak House.
When the young travelers’ luggage arrives, Esther goes to her room to change. As she finishes changing, one of the servants enters and hands Esther a basket wherein are two sets of keys. They are the housekeeping keys. Esther will be in charge of the house affairs as she is to be governess of Bleak House. Esther confides in Ada of the keys and of the trust and confidence that Mr. Jarndyce has entrusted her with before they return downstairs. There they meet Mr. Skimpole.
As Mr. Jarndyce had indicated, Mr. Skimpole exhibits a naïve charm akin to a child. He asserts that he knows nothing about money, worldly affairs, and measurements, and that his only demand is for the world is to give him “conversation, music, coffee, landscape, fruit of the season, a few sheets of Bristol Board [drawing implements], and a little claret;” i.e. to let him live free as one would the birds and the bees.
Presently, a maid urges Esther to go with her, claiming that Mr. Skimpole has been “took”. Esther follows the maid. By and by, Richard who is with Mr. Skimpole informs Esther what the maid meant by “took”. Mr. Skimpole is in debt, and a debt collector has arrived to collect. Should Mr. Skimpole fail to pay, he will be taken in custody and held at Coavinses. Mr. Skimpole, who is in debt for the amount of twenty-four pounds, sixteen shillings, and seven-pence halfpenny, explains that he has applied for Richard and Ada’s help as he doesn’t wish to bother Mr. Jarndyce for yet another hand-out. Esther and Richard decide to pay for Mr. Skimpole’s debts out of their own pockets. Thus the matter is resolved.
It isn’t long before Mr. Jarndyce discovers what Esther and Richard have done on behalf of Mr. Skimpole. Arguing that Mr. Skimpole has a habit of having others pay his debts, Mr. Jarndyce admonishes Esther and Richard for their charity and exhorts them never to do it again. He blames the wind which he claims is blowing from the east when Richard makes light of it, arguing that Mr. Skimpole is too much of a child to even think of taking advantage of anyone. Richard’s reminder—that Mr. Skimpole is a child—appeases Mr. Jarndyce, and he returns to his former jolly self.
Before Esther goes to sleep, she fancies that Mr. Jarndyce is her long lost father. But she erases the thought and resolves to live her new life with a “cheerful spirit and a grateful heart.”