Richard visits Bleak House regularly, but Esther worries that he is too fixated on the Jarndyce and Jarndyce lawsuit. During one visit, Esther asks if he feels settled, and Richard admits that he doesn’t because he’s in debt. He worries that he is hurting Ada by being so adrift. He’s no longer interested in law and plans to enlist in the army.
Esther meets up with Caddy Jellyby, who tells her that Prince Turveydrop respects her deeply. Caddy asks Esther to accompany her and Prince when they tell their parents of their engagement. At the Turveydrops, the elder Mr. Turveydrop accepts their news and graciously tells them that he will live with them and that they will provide him with his usual comforts. At the Jellybys’ home, Caddy tries to tell Mrs. Jellyby her news, but Mrs. Jellyby is opening mail and pays little attention to her. She says she would be upset by the news if she wasn’t so busy.
That night, Charley arrives at Bleak House. Mr. Jarndyce has hired her to be Esther’s maid. Esther and Charley are very happy.
Richard tells Mr. Jarndyce he’s planning to enlist in the army, and Mr. Jarndyce calls Richard, Ada, and Esther together for a discussion. Richard admits that he’s in debt, but he feels confident that the Jarndyce and Jarndyce lawsuit will serve as his security. Mr. Jarndyce explodes in anger and says that it’s better to die than get involved with the Jarndyce and Jarndyce suit. He tells Richard and Ada that they must dissolve their romantic relationship and go back to being just cousins because Richard is leaving for a post in Ireland. If they will be together in the future, then it will happen in the future. The two reluctantly agree. Esther says that this is the beginning of an estrangement between Richard and Mr. Jarndyce.
Richard, Mr. Jarndyce, and Ada go to London. George, a former cavalry soldier, visits them at their lodging. He says Richard could be a good swordsman if he would put his mind to it. George glances repeatedly at Esther and asks if he knows her from somewhere. Esther says no.
George tells them about his students, including one Chancery suitor named Gridley who erupted in such violent practice shooting that George asked him to leave. Esther and Mr. Jarndyce are surprised by the coincidence. Gridley is in hiding, and George says he doesn’t know where.
The morning before Richard’s departure, he and Esther go to the court to hear some of the Jarndyce and Jarndyce case. The lord chancellor and many solicitors are gathered there. Bags and piles of papers are brought in, but the case is cut short and the papers must be brought back out again. Before Esther and Richard leave, a woman approaches Esther and introduces herself—it is Mrs. Rachael, from her godmother’s house, now Mrs. Chadband. The two exchange brief pleasantries and part. George then approaches them and tells them that Gridley is hiding at his place. He says Gridley wants to see Miss Flite and asks Esther to get her.
At the door to George’s Shooting Gallery, they encounter an old man who says he is a physician, here to see Gridley. George lets him in, and the man instantly turns brusque, saying his name is Bucket and has a warrant against Gridley. Bucket says he spotted Gridley from the roof through the skylight.
They all go in to Gridley’s room with Miss Flite. Gridley is surrounded by writings. Miss Flite sits beside him and holds his hand. Gridley says the tie between him and Miss Flite is the only tie the Jarndyce case hasn’t broken. Bucket tries to console Gridley, but Gridley is despondent. Bucket is worried that Gridley is giving in to despair. Then Miss Flite screams—Gridley has died.
The narrator says that Mr. Snagsby is unsettled by the role he has played in the affair with Bucket, Jo, and Mr. Tulkinghorn. He doesn’t know what is going on and feels like he is “party to some dangerous secret.” He is edgy and gets nervous when anyone comes to the shop looking for him.
Mrs. Snagsby knows Mr. Snagsby has a secret, and she searches his letters, pockets, ledger, and safe while he’s sleeping. She listens at doors and watches at windows. She is constantly alert. She incorrectly pieces together the random bits of things she learns and hears.
Mr. Chadband has run into Jo on the street and asked him to come to Cook’s Court to be improved. Mrs. Snagsby decides that she will watch Jo and someone else very closely—nothing will get by her. When the group arrives at the house, including the Chadbands, Jo, Guster, and the apprentices, Mrs. Snagsby watches Jo carefully. She thinks he looks right at Snagsby when he enters the room and thinks that Snagsby is sending a signal when he coughs. She jumps to the conclusion that Jo is Mr. Snagsby’s son.
Mr. Chadband orates relentlessly about Jo’s lot in life and the need for improvement. Mr. Chadband likes to fixate on one person in his audience to give his lectures more effect, and tonight he focuses on Mr. Snagsby. Mrs. Snagsby is convinced that Chadband’s glances are weighted with meaning, and she reacts strongly and audibly to his words, eventually sobbing and giving way to spasms. She has to be carried upstairs. Jo finally gets to go home. Before he leaves the house, Mr. Snagsby slips Jo a half-crown and says it was right for Jo to say nothing about seeing him with a lady the other night. The narrator says that Mrs. Snagsby will be with Mr. Snagsby like his own shadow.
Suicide appears in both chapter 21 and chapter 22 and, coupled with the reputed suicide of Tom Jarndyce that was discussed earlier in the novel, forms a dismal motif. In chapter 21, George discusses with Grandfather Smallweed an attempted suicide of a seemingly successful man and then his eventual death by not-quite-accidental drowning. George is using the story as a kind of justification for why he never let himself be “made” by another person. In chapter 22, Mr. Tulkinghorn remembers a friend much like himself who hanged himself when he decided life was too monotonous. Although neither George nor Mr. Tulkinghorn are themselves contemplating suicide, their invocations of it suggest that they are well aware of what can happen when seekers do not find what they are searching for, or when life loses its meaning. Echoes of Richard’s complaint—that his work is too monotonous—are evident in the complaint of Mr. Tulkinghorn’s unfortunate friend, adding to the suggestion that a life without passion and deep engagement ultimately becomes unbearable.
Worlds collide violently in chapter 22, creating a sense of building tension, intrigue, and mystery in the story. The two women caring for a sick baby during Mrs. Pardiggle’s charity visit reappear in this chapter, this time meeting with Mr. Bucket and Mr. Snagsby. Jenny reveals that her baby died, but now her friend, Liz, has a baby of her own. Lady Dedlock’s French maid, Mademoiselle Hortense, surprisingly appears in Mr. Tulkinghorn’s office, adding to the not-so-mysterious mystery of who the woman is that Jo took to the dead lodger’s grave. And Jo, who is becoming an integral figure in the novel, seems to be the one common denominator among these different worlds, leading characters to one another and serving as the link between them. Although Jo makes the same claim again and again that he doesn’t know anything, the fact that he seems to know everyone suggests that he’s aware of much more than he lets on.
Mr. Jarndyce’s outburst regarding Richard’s fixation on the Jarndyce and Jarndyce lawsuit in chapter 24 adds a significantly darker note to the already disturbing case. Richard has always casually referred to his certainty that the lawsuit will provide for him and Ada in the future, but Mr. Jarndyce and Esther usually dismiss his claims wearily. This time, however, Mr. Jarndyce cries that it is “better to borrow, better to beg, better to die” than look to the lawsuit to provide. The extremity of his claim, and his unusual show of passion, shocks Richard, Ada, and Esther. The lawsuit, with its tedious, endless proceedings, usually seems like a hum in the background in the story, a strange mystery that no one is in too much hurry to unravel. At this moment, however, the true danger and darkness of the suit break the surface. When Mr. Jarndyce orders Richard and Ada to dissolve their romantic relationship, in a way he may be trying to protect Ada from Richard’s fervor over the suit.