David sets off on a monthlong journey to Yarmouth, to the home of Peggotty and her family, to decide what profession to pursue. He takes his leave of Agnes and Mr. Wickfield, and Doctor Strong throws a going-away party in David’s honor. At the party, Annie’s mother reveals that Jack Maldon has sent Doctor Strong a letter in which he claims that he is ill and likely to return soon on sick leave. But Annie has received another letter from Jack Maldon indicating that he wants to return because he misses her.
The next morning, David leaves on the London coach and tries to appear as manly as possible. Nonetheless, the coachman asks him to resign his seat of honor to an older man. David spends the evening at an inn, where the waiter pokes fun at his youthfulness and the chambermaid gives him a pitiful room. David attends a play, returns to the inn, and discovers Steerforth in a sitting room. Steerforth is now attending Oxford but is bored by his studies and is on his way home to see his mother. David and Steerforth are happily reunited, and the inn staff immediately treat David with respect.
Steerforth persuades David to stay a few days with him at his mother’s house before going to Yarmouth. Steerforth nicknames David “Daisy,” and the two of them spend the day sightseeing before going to Steerforth’s home. There, David meets Mrs. Steerforth, Steerforth’s widowed mother, and Rosa Dartle, Steerforth’s orphaned distant cousin whom Mrs. Steerforth took in when Miss Dartle’s mother died. Mrs. Steerforth is an imposing, older, more feminine version of Steerforth, and she dotes on her son ceaselessly. Miss Dartle has a scar above her lip from a time when Steerforth, as a child, threw a hammer at her in anger. Miss Dartle views Steerforth’s and David’s words and actions with sarcasm, but both young men are drawn to her.
If anyone had told me, then, that all this was a brilliant game, played for the excitement of the moment . . . in the thoughtless love of superiority . . . I wonder in what manner of receiving it my indignation would have found a vent!
At Steerforth’s, David meets Littimer, Steerforth’s servant, who frightens David because he is so haughty and respectable. David persuades Steerforth to accompany him to Yarmouth to see Ham and Mr. Peggotty again and to meet Peggotty and Little Em’ly. On his way to Peggotty’s, David stops at Mr. Omer’s shop and sees Mr. Omer and his daughter, who is now married to her sweetheart. Mr.
Omer tells David that Little Em’ly now works in his shop. She is a good and diligent worker, but some of the girls in town say she has earned a reputation for putting on airs and wanting to be a lady. David decides not to see Little Em’ly until later, so he continues on to Barkis’s house to find Peggotty.
Peggotty does not recognize David at first, but when she does, she sobs over him for a long time. Mr. Barkis, ill but glad to see David, opens his cherished money box and gives Peggotty some money to prepare dinner for David. Steerforth arrives and entertains Peggotty and David. In retrospect, the adult David muses that if anyone had told him that night that Steerforth’s joviality and manners were all part of a game to him, born from his sense of superiority, David would have dismissed such an idea as a lie. When Steerforth and David arrive at Mr. Peggotty’s house, they find everyone, including Mrs. Gummidge, in a state of high excitement because Little Em’ly has just announced that she intends to marry Ham. After they leave, David delights in the good news, but Steerforth becomes momentarily and inexplicably sullen.