Summary and Analysis
David is cordially received at the Steerforth residence, especially by Rosa Dartle, who begins asking him questions about Steerforth's activities. She blames David for keeping Steerforth away from home longer than usual, and she hints that something may cause a quarrel between Steerforth and his mother. Steerforth flatters Miss Dartle into playing the harp and singing for them, and David comments that her song is the most "unearthly" he has ever heard. When Miss Dartle finishes playing, Steerforth laughingly puts his arm around her and says, "Come, Rosa, for the future we will love each other very much!" Miss Dartle promptly strikes him and angrily leaves the room. David asks why she did this, but Steerforth says he does not know, but that she is "always dangerous."
Before retiring for bed, Steerforth tells David that should something ever separate them, "think of me at my best." Before leaving the next morning, David looks in at Steerforth sleeping peacefully in his bed. In retrospect, he realizes he would never see Steerforth again as a friend. "Never more, oh God forgive you, Steerforth! to touch that passive hand in love and friendship. Never, never more!"
David arrives in Yarmouth and takes a room in the village inn because he feels that the spare room at Peggotty's is probably taken by "the great Visitor — Death." He meets Mr. Omer in his shop and is told that Mr. Barkis is dying. He inquires about Em'ly, and Mr. Omer says that she has become "unsettled" recently and that he will be relieved when she's married. Word arrives that Barkis is unconscious and beyond help, and David rushes to the house.
At the house, everyone thanks David for being kind enough to come. Em'ly appears and seems shaken and chilled; she turns away from Ham to cling to Mr. Peggotty. Mr. Peggotty explains that it is her youth which causes her to take the dying of Barkis so hard; however, David is puzzled by her actions. David is then taken in to see Barkis, who is propped up and just barely conscious. Peggotty assures David that he will not die until the tide is out (an old superstition of English fishermen). Barkis opens his eyes for the last time and sees David. With a pleasant smile he says, "Barkis is willin'" and goes "out with the tide."
It is obvious in Chapter 29 that Rosa Dartle is in love with Steerforth, despite the fact that she is some years older than he. But it is a neurotic sort of love, mixed with much bitterness and perhaps even hatred. It is doubtful that such a woman could love openly, for she has hidden her emotions behind an attempt to be self-effacing; furthermore, she resents all that stands between her and Steerforth — his mother, even Steerforth himself, and, more recently, David. Steerforth, of course, probably has never known for sure of Miss Dartle's love for him, but he has, of course, sensed it, and he has idly played with it in his self-indulgent way.
Miss Dartle, in implying that something may come between Steerforth and his mother, has shrewdly guessed that Steerforth is involved in some possible scandal. But she does not know any details. She believes that David does and she questions him, but he knows nothing, as yet, about Steerforth's secret activities.
By the time we finish Chapter 30, we are almost half-way through the novel. Dickens has introduced scores of characters, major and minor. With the death of Barkis we begin to see how Dickens disposes of them — to clear the way for further development, to provide drama and pathos, and to pick up loose ends.