After stopping briefly to catch his breath, David continues on down the Kent Road toward Greenwich. He is worried about having so little money (three halfpence) on hand, so he stops outside clothing shop and, approaching the owner, offers to sell his waistcoat. The owner examines the garment and asks David to name his price, but quickly turns down David's initial proposal and offers ninepence instead. David reluctantly accepts, since he is in a hurry.
Despite knowing he ought to get more for his waistcoat, David quickly yields to the shopkeeper. This is in keeping with his overall passivity as a character, which is a trait he must work to overcome as he grows older.
Leaving the shop, David decides to spend the night outside the walls of his old school. Once there, he falls asleep and dreams about lying in his bed at Salem House, waking up "with Steerforth's name upon [his] lips." He is momentarily frightened, but eventually falls back to sleep. The next morning, he rejects the idea of trying to visit Traddles as too risky and continues along the road to Dover.
David's decision to spend the night near Salem House reflects his tendency toward nostalgia: he thinks that by being close to the students, he can recapture the feeling of being at the school himself. His nightmare, however, is a sign of how circumstances have changed, as well as a moment that foreshadows Steerforth's later betrayal of David's trust.
The sound of church bells ringing causes David to remember the sound of similar bells long ago in Yarmouth. In his present state, the memory distresses him, and he is only able to keep going by once again calling to mind Miss Betsey comforting Clara. All told, he covers 23 miles that day, eventually lying down to sleep near a river in Chatham, as he is afraid to spend any money on lodgings.
Traumatic experiences are not the only ones that can lead to painful memories: as David's memory of the bells demonstrates, it can also be difficult to dwell on past happiness. Nevertheless, the hope of finding a new family encourages David to keep going.
David is tired and sore the next day, and decides to sell his jacket before heading on. He scans the shops in the area and—intimidated by the larger and wealthier ones—eventually enters one that is small, out-of-the-way, and dirty. The shopkeeper is a drunken old man who grabs hold of David and asks him what he wants. David and the man discuss the price for the jacket, and David—frightened—quickly takes up an offer of eighteenpence. The owner begs him to trade with him instead, however, so David refuses, and says he will sit outside the shop until he is paid. This turns out to take all day, and David still does not manage to get the full amount of the owner, who pays him one halfpence at a time.
David's difficulty with the shopkeeper stems from his inexperience and his eagerness to please. Although he realizes he's being taken advantage of and attempts to stand up for himself, he is too frightened and hesitant to insist on the full price from the shopkeeper.
After his ordeal selling his jacket, David buys something to eat and then settles down to sleep under a haystack. He continues on the next day, admiring the orchards and fields he passes through but disturbed by the other "trampers" he encounters. One man threatens to "rip [David's] young body open" if he won't stop to talk to him, and David complies. The man is traveling with a woman he has clearly beaten, and questions David angrily about his destination and intentions. Finally, he demands that David hand over enough money for a pint of beer, but David refuses when he sees the woman shake her head. The man therefore steals David's handkerchief and—seeing the woman urging David to run away—strikes her to the ground.
Although they appear only briefly, the "tramper" and his wife are a reminder of the dangers nineteenth-century women faced. David Copperfield contains many women who suffer at their husbands' or lovers' hands—Clara Copperfield, Miss Betsey, Emily, and arguably even Dora—this is the only depiction of physical abuse, and it underscores how limited women's options were when it came to leaving an abusive partner.
After this experience, David goes out of his way to avoid fellow travelers, and focuses on a mental image of Clara in order to push on; as a result, he later comes to associate the image with his journey down a "sunny street of Canterbury." Finally, on the sixth day, David arrives in Dover, and the image "deserts" him, leaving him "helpless and dispirited."
The fact that David takes comfort in an image of his mother is significant in light of the fact that he's seeking out a woman who will become a mother figure to him—specifically, Miss Betsey. Although David's mother and aunt are very different kinds of women, the fact that Clara in some sense "leads" David to Miss Betsey establishes continuity between David's early childhood and the life he is about to begin; there is even a hint that in going to Miss Betsey, David is fulfilling Clara's wishes.
David asks several people for information about where Miss Betsey lives with little success: some joke about her, while others refuse to speak to David because of his dirty appearance. Just as he is growing desperate, David comes across a carriage driver with a "good-natured" look, and repeats his inquiry. The driver tells him to travel up the cliff toward the houses facing out on the sea and also gives David a penny, since he warns him that Miss Betsey is "gruffish" and unlikely to help him. David follows the man's directions, eventually stopping in a shop to ask for more information. A young woman shopping there overhears David's question and identifies herself as Miss Betsey's servant. She is suspicious of David, but tells him he can follow her back to her mistress's house.
The difficulty David has in locating Miss Betsey is partly the result of his apparent poverty. Simply because he's dirty and underdressed, David finds that people are unwilling to help or trust him.
David and the maid eventually come to a "very neat little cottage" with a beautiful garden, and the woman goes inside. David is left standing outside, anxious and disheveled. His nervousness grows when he notices a man in an upstairs window laughing, nodding at David, and "shutting up one eye in a grotesque manner." Just as David considers leaving, Miss Betsey emerges from the house and, catching sight of him, tells him to leave because she wants "no boys" around. David, however, tentatively approaches her and introduces himself as her nephew, causing her to fall over backwards in shock.
Miss Betsey's home is a reflection of Miss Betsey herself: it's practical and economical, but with a softer side (like the beautiful garden). This resemblance is in keeping with the Victorian idea that the mistress of a household imbued her surroundings with her own personality. In that sense, the cottage's pleasant appearance is perhaps a hint to readers that for all her unconventional behavior, Miss Betsey is "feminine" at heart and thus a fitting surrogate mother for David.
David recounts the circumstances that have brought him to Miss Betsey, and then bursts into tears. Miss Betsey then pulls David inside the cottage, gives him several disgusting "restoratives," and seats him on a couch, before telling the maid to summon Mr. Dick. This turns out to be the man David saw in the upstairs window, and Miss Betsey—after warning him not to be a "fool, because nobody can be more discreet than [he] can"—explains who David is and that he has run away. She then asks Mr. Dick what she should do with him, and Mr. Dick ponders this before saying that she should wash him.
Despite her business-like manner, Miss Betsey isn't as unfeeling as she pretends. The drinks that she gives David demonstrate her compassion for him and how much his story has upset her: flustered, she grabs bottles at random and ends up giving David salad dressing, among other things. Her gruffness with Mr. Dick also masks how tenderly she feels towards him; in fact, her refusal to treat him differently than anyone else is itself a sign of her respect for him. Her interactions with Mr. Dick are also interesting in the sense that they function as a parody of the traditional relationship between a husband and wife: Miss Betsey allows Mr. Dick to make most of her major decisions for her, but these decisions always seem to correspond to what Miss Betsey was planning to do regardless.
While Miss Betsey and Mr. Dick are talking, David observes his surroundings. His aunt is "austere" but good-looking and wears plain, practical clothes that include a man's pocket watch. Mr. Dick, meanwhile, is "grey-headed and florid" with a "vacant manner." David suspect he may be slightly crazy. The maid (Janet) is pretty and tidy, and David later learns that she is a "protégé" Miss Betsey hopes to dissuade from ever marrying. The room itself is neat and airy, and smells of both flowers and the sea.
Miss Betsey's appearance (particularly her style of dress) is somewhat masculine, but not to the same extent as a character like Miss Murdstone; significantly, she is still an attractive woman. At the time Dickens was writing, this half-compliance with gender norms would have signaled that Miss Betsey is, at worst, a comical figure.
Janet leaves to prepare a bath, but is immediately called back by Miss Betsey crying "Donkeys!" Janet and Miss Betsey then hurry outside to shoo away a group of donkeys (and riders) who had wandered across the grass in front of the cottage. This happens two more times before David actually has his bath, and he ultimately learns that keeping the lawn free of donkeys is a constant preoccupation for his aunt.
For the most part, Miss Betsey's obsession with keeping her yard free of donkeys is simple comic relief (as well as a mark of her broader eccentricity). Within the context of Miss Betsey's past, however, the quirk does perhaps make some sense: given the time period, Miss Betsey would have had to work hard to establish herself as an independent woman after separating from her husband, and it stands to reason that she would be protective of her property.
After David's bath, Miss Betsey wraps David up in Mr. Dick's old clothes and sets him down on the couch to rest. He dozes off, but thinks he notices his aunt brushing his hair away from his face and speaking softly to him.
Once again, Miss Betsey's actions hint at a gentler side to her personality—albeit one she hides when she thinks anyone is watching her.
When David wakes up, he has dinner with Miss Betsey, who then calls Mr. Dick down to join them. She asks David more about himself and his history, before getting into a dispute with Mr. Dick over Clara, whom she feels should not have remarried, even for love: "A mighty pleasure for the poor baby to fix her simple faith upon any dog of a fellow, certain to ill-use her." This segues into complaint about Clara's failure to have a daughter, as well as the ill-effects her remarriage likely had on David's character. She also speaks disparagingly of Peggotty's marriage, at which point David jumps in to defend Peggotty, only to start crying. This seems to impress Miss Betsey, but she is distracted by the arrival of more donkeys before any "softer ideas" can be expressed.
Miss Betsey's experiences have clearly soured her on marriage (and men) in general, but her assessment of Clara, though harsh, is basically the same as the novel's—namely, that Clara wasn't mature enough to marry for the right reasons. Furthermore, her disapproval of marrying for love alone becomes increasingly relevant as the novel goes on, and David begins considering marriage himself. Likewise, her belief that Mr. Murdstone likely influenced David's development negatively echoes comments David himself has made (although Murdstone did not, as Miss Betsey suggests here, cause David to become immoral or untrustworthy).
Later that day, David, Miss Betsey, and Mr. Dick have tea, and Miss Betsey again asks what she should do with David. Mr. Dick suggests putting him to bed, and Miss Betsey and Janet take David up to his room. He is still somewhat anxious about his future and spends some time looking out over the sea, imagining he can see either his fate or Clara there. He is grateful to be indoors and in a bed, however, and soon falls asleep.
Although David's future is still undecided at this point, David feels more at home at Miss Betsey's than he has since leaving Blunderstone. Clara's reappearance—even as an object of David's imagination—is a further hint that David is at last safely settled with a new family.