The moneylender Smallweed has evidence of Lady Dedlock's secret past and intends to use it against her. Cornered, Lady Dedlock makes a terrible decision. Meanwhile, Esther and Bucket try desperately to reach her before it is too late.
Esther's feelings for Woodcourt grow stronger, despite her best intentions; Richard and Ada's news causes great concern for Esther and Jarndyce; Inspector Bucket investigates Tulkinghorn's murder and there is no shortage of suspects.
Richard's obsession with the Jarndyce case has grown to worrying proportions. John Jarndyce agonizes over whether to keep his feelings for Esther concealed. Meanwhile, Lady Dedlock tells Esther something that will change her life forever.
Esther falls sick with smallpox; she recovers but is left badly scarred. George has to make an impossible decision when Tulkinghorn instructs the evil moneylender Smallweed to turn up the heat on his debts.
Young orphan Esther Summerson is brought to the High Court of Chancery, where she is thrown together with two Wards of the Court, Richard Carstone and Ada Clare, both of whom are caught up in the infamous suit of Jarndyce and Jarndyce.