David's tenth birthday falls on a foggy school day during March, and he is called into Mr. Creakle's parlor, happily anticipating a basket from Peggotty. Instead he is told by the proprietor's wife that his mother has died. "If ever child were stricken with sincere grief, I was," says David, as he prepares to return home by night-coach the next afternoon, not imagining that he is "never to return" to Salem House. David is met in Yarmouth by Mr. Omer who, along with his three daughters, makes a living preparing funeral arrangements. David is fitted for a funeral suit, and over tea he learns from the funeral arranger that his infant brother has also died and "is in his mother's arms."
Peggotty meets David at the door and ushers him into a silent house, where even the Murdstones don't speak to one another. Miss Murdstone sits imperturbably at her desk each day, writing; Mr. Murdstone alternately sits and paces silently. A day or two before the funeral, Peggotty takes David to his mother's room to see her laid out.
After the funeral, Miss Murdstone gives Peggotty a month's notice and hints that David will not be returning to school. David's presence in the house is almost ignored by the Murdstones, and once more he is able to visit in the kitchen with Peggotty. She tells him that she will return to Yarmouth to live, and that perhaps (the Murdstones approving), David can come and stay with her for a short time. Permission is given by Miss Murdstone, and at the end of the month, Barkis calls to take them on a journey.
After a bumpy ride, during which Barkis quizzes Peggotty about her "situation," they arrive in Yarmouth and are welcomed by Ham and Mr. Peggotty. On the way, Peggotty tells David that she intends to marry Barkis unless "my Davy . . . [is] . . . any-ways against it." David says that he is happy for her.
The household is much the same as David remembers, although little Em'ly has grown more beautiful and has become the family favorite. Mr. Peggotty inquires about Steerforth, and David launches into a long description of Steerforth's noble character while little Em'ly listens intently. David prays that evening that he "might grow up to marry little Em'ly."
Each evening Barkis courts Peggotty by calling at the house with a gift and sits silently in the parlor while Peggotty sews. One day, just before the end of his visit, David, little Em'ly, Peggotty, and Mr. Barkis take a holiday trip together. Mr. Barkis stops the coach at a church, and he and Peggotty go inside. Alone with Em'ly, David professes his love for her, and Em'ly allows him to kiss her. When the couple returns from the church, David learns that Mr. Barkis and Peggotty have just been married.
David returns to the Murdstones and is neglected again. Most of his days are spent reading or daydreaming, with an occasional visit to Mr. Chillip, the family doctor who presided at David's birth. Peggotty comes once a week to see David, and on one trip, she indicates that Mr. Barkis is "something of a miser."
One day, Mr. Murdstone tells David that educating him serves no purpose; what David needs is a fight with the world — and "the sooner . . . the better." Mr. Quinion, the manager of Murdstone and Grinby, wine merchants, has been summoned to escort David to London, where he will work to provide his "eating, drinking, and pocket-money." David realizes that the Murdstones simply want to get rid of him.
The sentimentality of Chapter 9 is partially balanced by the realistic psychological behavior of David, who, finding that he is the center of attention by his schoolmates on that last day, makes the most of it and receives a "kind of satisfaction" which makes him feel very "distinguished." This is paralleled by the attitude of Mr. Omer's daughter and her boyfriend, who, although surrounded by a coffin, mourning clothes, etc., continue their courtship, oblivious of the surroundings. Life continues, Dickens seems to say in this chapter; people seek enjoyment even in the face of unhappiness.
In Chapter 10, David's association with the Peggotty household is strengthened, suggesting a continuing relationship. His glowing account of the virtues of Steerforth suggests that he too will be heard of again, and little Em'ly's wide-eyed interest in David's eulogy hints at future developments.
The description of David's life after his return to the Murdstones is one of Dickens' classic themes — the cruel neglect of children — worse, in his own view, than physical abuse. "What would I have given to have been sent to the hardest school that ever was kept!" says David.