David frequently sees Dr. Strong and observes that his marriage is becoming more troubled. Mrs. Markleham, the "Old Soldier," drags Annie around to operas, concerts, and other forms of entertainment, even though Annie would prefer to stay at home. Although Dr. Strong encourages Annie to get out more, the selfish Mrs. Markleham widens the gap between the couple. Mr. Dick becomes disturbed over this because both Dr. Strong and Annie are his friends. Aunt Betsey, while speaking with David, predicts that Mr. Dick will soon "distinguish himself in some extraordinary manner."
One night Mr. Dick visits David in his parlor. Mr. Dick expresses his concern over the marital drift between the Doctor and his wife. He asks if the Doctor is angry with her, and David replies, "No. Devoted to her." "Then I've got it, boy!" Mr. Dick replies. Then one evening in the autumn, David and his aunt visit Dr. Strong. Mrs. Markleham is at the house and says that she has just overheard the Doctor making out a will in which he leaves everything to Annie. Mrs. Markleham is pleased about this and thinks that it is only right. Everyone goes into the study, where David notices Mr. Dick standing in the shadow of the room. Annie glides into the room "pale and trembling." Mr. Dick supports her on his arm and lays the other hand upon the Doctor's arm. Annie kneels in front of her husband and begs him "to break this long silence." Dr. Strong will only say that it is not her fault. It is left up to David to explain the suspicion that Uriah Heep has aroused in her husband. Annie then dispels the suspicion that she married the Doctor for his money and exposes her mother as the opportunist. Annie admits that before she married the Doctor she had liked Jack Maldon "very much . . . very much." She also says that they had been "little lovers once" and that she might have come to "persuade" herself that she really loved him and might have married him and "been most wretched." She then assures her husband, ". . . in my lightest thought I have never wronged you — never wavered in the love and fidelity I owe you!" Afterward, the two are reunited, and after the reunion, Aunt Betsey attributes the success of the affair to Mr. Dick. "You are a very remarkable man, Dick!"
David has been married almost a year and is becoming more and more successful in his writing. One night, as he is walking home and thinking about the novel he is writing, he passes the Steerforth house. He is stopped by Mrs. Steerforth's maid, who tells him that Rosa Dartle wishes to speak with him. Miss Dartle asks David if Em'ly has been found, and when David answers that he knows nothing about her, Miss Dartle sadistically suggests, "She may be dead." Miss Dartle calls Littimer into the room to give a report. Littimer explains that he and a Mr. James traveled all over Europe with Em'ly and that she was admired wherever they went. He says that Em'ly, however, was often depressed, and that she and Steerforth frequently quarreled until finally Steerforth left her. Before departing, Steerforth implied that she should marry Littimer. Littimer says that Em'ly was so upset that he had to watch her constantly so that she wouldn't kill herself. He then says that Em'ly escaped from him and has not been seen since. Once again Miss Dartle expresses the hope that Em'ly ("this low girl") may be dead.
The next evening, David goes to Hungerford Market in London to find Mr. Peggotty. David informs him of what he has learned from Littimer, and they agree that the best chance of finding Em'ly would be through Martha Endell, Em'ly's friend, who has been living in London; before they leave to find Martha, Mr. Peggotty sets out a candle and also lays out one of Em'ly's dresses. By coincidence, David and Mr. Peggotty come upon Martha and follow her until they reach an appropriate place to talk.
Poetic justice takes its turn in Chapter 45. Mrs. Markleham is exposed for the selfish person that she is. The "devoted" Doctor and his unwavering wife are reunited, and one of Dickens' subplots has run its course. Dickens also shows himself to a bit of the "champion of the underdog" in this chapter by allowing the weak-minded Mr. Dick to succeed in reuniting the couple.
Dickens slows his narrative in Chapter 46 by allowing Littimer to comment at length on his travels with Em'ly. He states that she speaks different languages and "wouldn't have been known for the same country person . . . her merits really attracted general notice." However, her greatest pleasures seem to be sitting on the beach and talking to the boatmen's wives and children. David is able to picture her "sitting on the far-off shore, among the children like herself when she was innocent, listening to the little voices such as might have called her Mother had she been a poor man's wife." When Em'ly first met David, she feared the sea and wanted to be a "lady," choosing Steerforth over Ham because Steerforth represented to her a chance of escaping the fishing town and becoming a "lady." This episode foreshadows Em'ly's eventually forsaking her selfish ambitions. The attempt to realize an ambition by selfishly ignoring the feelings of others is, according to Dickens, a tragic character flaw that can only end in unhappiness.