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OK, guys, this chapter is kind of hardcore. Everyone sit down and take a deep breath before plunging in.
In London Jarndyce is constantly being hit up for money by all his philanthropist acquaintances. They come at him hard and fast with totally wacko schemes that never actually help anyone or do anything other than make a big show of how helpful they supposedly are.
Jarndyce seems happy when Harold Skimpole is around, because when he asks for money he is at least honest that he's just going to fritter it away.
Skimpole has been sick, but now he's all better. He tells the gang about how he tried to use the idea that "it's the thought that counts" to pay his doctor and butcher. No go. Apparently they want actual money.
Also, he tells them that the fellow who came to arrest him at Bleak House earlier, nicknamed Coavinses, has died. He was widowed with three kids, who are now orphans. Because he was a debt collector he was way unpopular with the locals – and now that unpopularity is trickling down to his kids.
Jarndyce immediately wants to track down the kids. It's easy enough to find them.
Esther, Ada, Skimpole, and Jarndyce arrive at the building and the landlady gives them a large key and tells them that the Neckett children are on the third floor.
They go upstairs and find a 5-year-old boy, Tom, taking care of an 18-month-old girl, Emma, in a tiny, freezing-cold room. They were locked in from the outside for safety. It's so incredibly sad and dispiriting, especially since the boy is totally trying to be a grownup when he talks to them.
Soon, their older sister, Charley, comes in. She's 13 and works as a laundress every day to earn "sixpences and shillings" (pretty much nothing, in other words).
She tells Jarndyce that she's been taking care of the other two kids since their mom died. She is brave, bustling, industrious, chipper, positive, and a little world-weary. It's heartbreaking. (Hang on a sec, Shmoop has something in its eye. Allergies, maybe. Sniff.)
Jarndyce chats with the landlady about how the kids are getting on. Turns out, not only does this 13-year-old have to provide for a 5 and a 1-year-old, but they are being mistreated because of their dad's profession.
Jarndyce asks if Neckett was a good worker, even if his field was unpleasant. Everyone agrees that he was very industrious and serious about his job and was a good man besides.
A downstairs neighbor comes into the Necketts' room. He is gruff and rude, but the kids clearly know and like him.
Scowling and yelling, the neighbor introduces himself as Mr. Gridley... one of the men who comes to the Court of Chancery for resolution of a hopeless lawsuit. His suit isn't Jarndyce, it's another endless piece of nonsense in which the expenses and costs of the lawsuit have already completely bankrupted the estate that the suit is about.
Gridley rants some more and declares that the court is driving him completely insane. It's already turned him from a happy, nice guy into a yelling rage-aholic.
Jarndyce commiserates about the court.
Gridley apologizes a little, then takes Tom and Emma downstairs with him to give them a gingerbread cookie and play with them.
Jarndyce, Ada, Esther, and Skimpole leave. Skimpole is struck by the idea that all this time he's been providing employment to the late Neckett.
Meanwhile Charley wanders off to do more piecework somewhere.