As winter comes and goes, Esther’s friendship with Ada and Richard grows. All the while, Esther is keenly aware of the love that is blossoming between Ada and Richard. As for Richard’s future prospects, Mr. Jarndyce applies to his distant relative Sir Leicester Dedlock but to no avail: Sir Leicester replies that at present there is nothing he can do for Mr. Jarndyce’s charge.
Nonetheless, Richard is undaunted. Indeed, he is downright carefree: When Mr. Jarndyce reimburses Richard the ten pounds he had spent on behalf of Mr. Skimpole, Richard is blasé about giving five pounds of it to the bricklayer’s family and spending four pounds of it for the post-chaise to London and back.
Things are thus going swimmingly at Bleak House, when one day at breakfast, Mr. Jarndyce shares the contents of a letter that he is reading. It’s from an old friend of his, a Lawrence Boythorn, who plans to pay Bleak House a visit. According to Mr. Jarndyce, Mr. Boythorn is a strapping man whose good nature is characterized by a booming laugh.
Indeed, on the night he arrives at Bleak House, Mr. Boythorn’s laughter has the effect of making everyone around him share in the laughter and the joy. Even as he admonishes a local who had given him the wrong direction on account of which he was late arriving at Bleak House, Mr. Boythorn exhibits an infectious exuberance. His colorful personality is enhanced by his pet canary which is so tame and trusting of Mr. Boythorn that it’s often found out of its cage and perching on Mr. Boythorn’s shoulder. By and by, Esther, Ada, and Richard learn that Mr. Boythorn has come on account of a legal dispute vis-à-vis Sir Leicester Dedlock of whom Mr. Boythorn has the most unflattering of opinions. Indeed, in Mr. Boythorn’s opinion, Sir Leicester and his forefathers “are the most solemnly conceited and consummate blockheads!” He does hold a high opinion of Lady Dedlock, however, calling her “the most accomplished lady in the world.”
Presently, as Mr. Boythorn and Richard listen to Ada playing the piano, Esther, who is playing backgammon with Mr. Jarndyce, correctly surmises that Mr. Boythorn, despite being a bachelor, has had a romantic entanglement in his past.
The next day, while Mr. Jarndyce, Ada, and Richard are away on an excursion and while Esther is busy attending to the household bookkeeping, a message arrives from Kenge and Carboy, informing Mr. Boythorn that a clerk will meet with him at noon with regards his dispute with Sir Leicester.
The clerk turns out to be Mr. Guppy who is dressed more extravagantly than when Esther last saw him. By and by, Mr. Guppy has his private conference with Mr. Boythorn upstairs. Alas, the private conference results in a lot of yelling on Mr. Boythorn’s part. Mr. Guppy returns downstairs, looking worse for the conference. Esther invites him to partake of a meal. Seeing that Mr. Guppy has settled down and that he is well provided for both in food and drink, Esther gets up to leave only to be detained by Mr. Guppy.
Explaining that he has received a raise since they last met, and that his mother would gladly accept Esther as a daughter-in-law, Mr. Guppy gets on his knees and asks Esther to marry him. Indignant, Esther rejects Mr. Guppy’s proposal and demands that Mr. Guppy get up from his knees. Mr. Guppy begs Esther not to hold this against Mr. Guppy in the future lest his career be jeopardized. Esther promises that she will never bring it up unless Mr. Guppy gives her cause. Mr. Guppy takes his leave but not before assuring Esther that he will always have a soft spot for Esther in his heart.
Alone, Esther continues with her bookkeeping duties when she suddenly breaks down emotionally.