Seriously ill, Jo has left London and "moved on" to lodge at a brick-maker's house at St. Albans. The brickmakers' wives have sought assistance for Jo from city officials, but to no avail. They now come to Esther for help, and she has Jo placed in a loft of Mr. Jarndyce's stables. Skimpole warns Mr. Jarndyce that Jo has a dangerous, communicable disease. Charley Neckett attends Jo and contracts his disease shortly after the boy disappears. Esther then nurses Charley, but shortly after Charley recovers, Esther herself comes down with the disease and becomes temporarily blind.
Pathos dominates the story at this point as Jo's suffering intensifies and Esther herself is stricken. Jo's disappearance and Esther's blindness are dramatic and seemingly important developments, and as such, they excite our interest in seeing how things will turn out. The illness contracted in turn by Jo, Charley, and Esther is almost certainly smallpox; it was rife in Dickens' era, as it had been in earlier times.