Summary and Analysis
Before the cart goes half a mile it stops, and Peggotty appears from behind a hedgerow. Without saying a word, she hugs David and gives him some cakes to eat and a purse containing money, the coins wrapped in a note in his mother's handwriting, saying, "For Davy. With my love."
Mr. Barkis, the cart driver (who is as slow moving as the horse he drives), consoles David, and during the ride David offers him one of the cakes which Barkis eats "at one gulp exactly like an elephant." Mr. Barkis shyly inquires about Peggotty's cooking and asks if she has any "sweethearts." When David replies that she does not, the cart driver asks David to inform Peggotty that "Barkis is wllin'" — a message David does not understand. (Later, David includes this unusual marriage proposal from Barkis in a letter to Peggotty.)
David sleeps in the cart until they reach Yarmouth, the first stage on his journey to London. Mr. Barkis drops David at an inn where eating arrangements have been made for him under the name of "Murdstone." He is served dinner, but the waiter tells him frightening stories about the food and then proceeds to eat most of David's meal himself.
The trip continues all night, but David is unable to sleep in the crowded coach. In the morning they reach London, "fuller of wonders and wickedness than all the cities of the earth," but no one is there to meet him. David, who is only "between eight and nine" years old, worries if he has been deliberately deserted. But some time later, a gaunt and shabby young man (Mr. Mell), one of the school's masters, calls for him. After David buys something to eat, they go to an alms-house (a poor house) where the schoolmaster visits his poverty-stricken mother.
This short visit over, they complete the journey to Salem House, David's new school. It is a dilapidated old structure with "ink splashed about it" and a general odor of decay. David is admitted by a brutish man with a wooden leg; then he learns that he has been sent to school early as a punishment because the other boys are home for the holidays. He reads the names of the students carved on an old door in the school yard and speculates on what they will be like.
A month passes before David is introduced to the sadistic Mr. Creakle, a former hop-dealer and now the proprietor of Salem House. He is a balding man who can only whisper when he speaks and is usually accompanied by the man with the wooden leg, acting "with his strong voice, as Mr. Creakle's interpreter to the boys." Mr. Creakle pinches David's ear, calls him the "young gentleman whose teeth are to be filed" (because of a misunderstanding, he believes that David bites other people), and informs David that he has "the happiness of knowing" David's stepfather.
Mr. Sharp, another schoolmaster and superior to Mr. Mell, returns the next morning, along with Tommy Traddles, a boy whose name David had read carved on the playground door. David is made fun of by the other boys as they arrive, but it is not as bad as he had expected, due largely to Traddles' help. David meets J. Steerforth, one of the senior boys and the acknowledged student leader, who states that David's punishment is a "jolly shame." Steerforth and David are in the same dormitory, and they become friends, primarily because David allows Steerforth to keep his money for him. Steerforth buys some wine and biscuits for them out of the money, and they dine on them as a treat in the evening. The other boys attend the "royal spread," and David enjoys talking about the school with them.
David's naiveté at the inn, in Chapter 5, is the first of many similar experiences which he will encounter in the world outside of Blunderstone Rookery. He becomes the butt of jokes both during the journey and at the school. He is homesick for Peggotty and his mother, and on his trip from Yarmouth, he observes children in the streets and wonders "whether their fathers were alive, and whether they were happy at home." David himself is unhappy and he looks forward to the opening of school with apprehension.
In Chapter 6, we are concerned with Steerforth's leadership — a quality implied in his name; his suave manner so impresses the naive David that he is unable to see that Steerforth is using David's money to feed the entire "bedroom." A foreshadowing of future action in this chapter occurs when Steerforth asks David if he has a sister, stating that if David has one, he would like to know her. Although David has no sister, we think of little Em'ly, who is very much like David, and we should remember that Steerforth has complimented David on the very qualities that he and Em'ly share.