Two days after David's dinner party, he emerges from his room to find a letter from Agnes. To David's relief, the note does not mention the meeting at the theater, but instead simply asks him to come see her where she is staying with her father's agent, Mr. Waterbrook. David has a difficult time composing a response, but eventually writes simply that the note is "like her," and that he will visit at four.
Agnes's tactfulness is in keeping with the behavior expected of a Victorian woman. Her positive influence on David is mostly unspoken—more a kind of aura she exudes than any particular action or suggestion. As a result, she is able to function as David's moral compass without seeming overly assertive and opinionated (and therefore unfeminine).
David is so nervous by the time he arrives at the Waterbrooks' that he takes several minutes just to to ring the bell. Once inside the drawing room, David is immediately overwhelmed by the sight of Agnes and memories of his time in Canterbury. He begins to cry, and says that he would rather anyone but Agnes had seen him drunk. Agnes, however, simply calms him down and tells him to sit down, at which point David says she is his "good Angel." Agnes uses this as an opportunity to warn David about his "bad Angel," Steerforth.
If it wasn't already clear, David's response to seeing Agnes reveals just how much he values her opinion of him. His reference to her as his "good Angel," meanwhile, encapsulates the Victorian gender norms; in fact, "angel" was a relatively common way of describing the purity, gentleness, and morality of the ideal woman.
David protests against this characterization of his friend. Nevertheless, Agnes presses on, saying she is not judging Steerforth by his actions the other night, but rather by the many things she has heard about him. In fact, she says, David's own account of Steerforth disturbs her, in part because of the "influence" Steerforth has over him. Although Agnes acknowledges that she is not a worldly person, she thinks her longstanding friendship with David justifies her concerns. She concedes, however, that David is unlikely to turn against someone he has developed an attachment to, and simply asks that David remember her warning whenever he thinks of her. David, however, insists that he will not "forgive" Agnes for her words until she reassesses Steerforth's character. He wants her forgiveness, though, so he explains the whole story of the dinner party.
What worries Agnes about Steerforth isn't simply his own questionable morals, but rather the extent to which David is willing to blindly follow where Steerforth leads. Even beyond the fact that this could land David himself in trouble, David's deference to Steerforth prevents him from learning to rely on his own judgment, and therefore from growing up. At this point, David is largely unwilling to listen to these warnings, but Agnes banks on her own influence with David—and, in particular, his fond memories of their time together—to slowly bring him around.
Agnes changes the topic and reminds David that he promised to tell her when he fell in love. David admits that he is somewhat infatuated with Rosa Dartle, and Agnes teases him about his many "violent attachments." She then asks if he has seen Uriah, who was in London a week earlier on business; Agnes believes he is going to become a partner of Mr. Wickfield's. Outraged, David asks why Agnes hasn't tried to stop it, and she explains that she suspects, based on her father's demeanor, that Uriah has forced him to agree to the arrangement. Uriah, she says, has encouraged and taken advantage of Mr. Wickfield's alcoholism to such an extent that he now has a hold over his former employer. As Agnes speaks, David realizes she is likely concealing some of her suspicions to protect her father.
David's reaction to the news of Uriah's deceit seems to have as much to do with class as it does with his suspicions of Uriah personally; he describes him, for instance, as "mean" ("poor" or "lowly"), and initially objects to the partnership on the grounds that Wickfield's reputation will suffer through his association with Heep. Agnes's words, however, quickly reframe the issue as one of morality rather than class prejudice, since she reveals that Uriah is manipulating her father and encouraging his addiction.
Agnes explains that while her father seemed distressed by Uriah's trip to London (that is, the prospect of becoming partners with him), he also looked relieved. In fact, Agnes reveals that she herself encouraged Mr. Wickfield to make Uriah a partner to lessen his own workload. She is not sure whether this was the right decision, however, and feels intense guilt over both her actions and the role that worry for her has played in Mr. Wickfield's decline. David attempts to console Agnes, but she quickly recovers her composure and asks him to be friendly and respectful toward Uriah. At that point, Mrs. Waterbrook enters, and David agrees to return the following day for dinner.
As her father's alcoholism worsens, Agnes is forced to assume more and more responsibility herself. Although this speaks well of Agnes's character, it places further strain on a family situation that was already precarious. Increasingly, Agnes feels personally responsible for her father's happiness, and correspondingly guilty over her failure to secure it. However, it's the very fact that Wickfield does center his life exclusively and obsessively around his daughter that's partly to blame for his alcoholism and depression. In other words, Agnes's well-intentioned actions reinforce the unhealthy guilt and codependency that characterize her relationship with her father.
Several additional people are present at dinner the next day, including Mr. Waterbrook, an imposing couple named Mr. and Mrs. Henry Spiker, and Uriah Heep, who fawns over David for much of the evening. One guest, however, is named "Mr. Traddles," and David attempts to learn if it is Tommy Traddles from Salem House (it is). During a conversation with Mr. Waterbrook, David learns that Traddles is studying to become a lawyer, and that while he is talented, he also tends to get in his own way.
It isn't clear exactly what Mr. Waterbrook is basing his criticism of Traddles on, since he praises the work Trraddles does. His repeated insistence that Traddles is a "good fellow," however, does offer one possible clue: Traddles is perhaps too generous and good-natured to become truly prosperous. Later in the novel, for instance, Traddles acts as a guarantor for Mr. Micawber even though doing so goes against Traddles' own interests. Although Traddles does ultimately succeed through hard work and patience, the setbacks he encounters by virtue of his own kindness undercut the idea that success is simply a question of merit.
Dinner is announced, and David is mildly annoyed that he does not get to escort Agnes to the table. Once seated, the guests begin to talk about social class—or, as Mrs. Waterbrook puts it, "Blood." Everyone seems to agree that blood is the most important quality a person can have, and that it excuses all kinds of character flaws. After dinner, the women leave, and two of the men—Mr. Spiker and Mr. Gulpidge—begin to talk cryptically about a business transaction. This pleases Mr. Waterbrook, who seems to take pride in having important matters discussed in his home.
The discussion of "blood" pokes fun at the rigid class system that social mobility was beginning to chip away at by the 1800s. The Waterbrooks, along with most of their guests, care more about whether someone was born into an upper-class family than whether that person is intelligent, hardworking, or fair.
David is relieved to rejoin Agnes, whom he introduces to Traddles. He is sad to learn, however, that Agnes is leaving London soon, since he feels more impressed by her goodness than ever. Much to David's annoyance, Uriah Heep hovers nearby throughout his conversation with Agnes. Remembering his promise to Agnes, however, he invites Uriah for coffee as they are leaving the party. Uriah at first protests that he is too undeserving to accept, but eventually does.
Even after being promoted to a partner at Wickfield's firm, Uriah continues to rely on sweeping declarations of humility to get ahead. It's increasingly clear, however, that his humbleness is an act, in part because he now feels secure enough to let it slip at times: he addresses David, for example, as "Master Copperfield"—a term that would be polite when addressing a young boy, but that's disrespectful now that David is an adult.
David leads Uriah to his apartment, which Uriah praises at great length. He then asks whether David has heard about the "change in his expectations," but David doesn't immediately answer because he is preoccupied with thoughts of how much he dislikes Uriah. He becomes increasingly annoyed as Uriah talks about his promotion, but Uriah does not seem disturbed by David's obvious displeasure; in fact, he agrees with David that his promotion to a partner was unlikely, and that it is a shame that Mr. Wickfield has been so "imprudent" as to require his help. He says, however, that he is delighted to be able to help Mr. Wickfield, and again thanks David for first "kindling the sparks of ambition in [his] umble breast."
Uriah's "humbleness" benefits him in multiple ways. In this passage, his show of humility effectively disarms all of David's criticisms concerning his promotion; when David pointedly says he didn't truly believe Uriah would ever become Wickfield's partner, Uriah refuses to take the remark for the insult it clearly is by agreeing that it was in fact an unlikely turn of events. Uriah is also able to temper any accusations of ambition by suggesting that he never would have dreamed of aspiring to his current position if David hadn't suggested it—a remark that also implicates David in Uriah's rise.
David begins to fear that Uriah is somehow tricking or taking advantage of him, but finally manages to ask about Mr. Wickfield's "imprudence." Uriah says that any other clerk would have had Mr. Wickfield "under his thumb" by now, and that he is glad he has been able to spare Wickfield this fate. Uriah punctuates these remarks by pressing his own thumb down on the table, making David even more furious.
As the conversation progresses, David begins to sense that Uriah's declarations of humility have placed him (David) in an unwinnable position: Uriah will "humbly" accept any criticism short of outright rudeness. No doubt realizing David's powerlessness, Uriah gloats about the power he now enjoys in a typically backhanded way, noting that someone in his position could easily take advantage of Mr. Wickfield.
Uriah asks whether he can confide in David, and—when David reluctantly agrees—says that David must have noticed Agnes's beauty that evening. David agrees that she looked "superior," and Uriah exclaims delightedly that as humble as he is, he is in love with Agnes. This enrages David to such an extent that he fantasizes about stabbing Uriah with the fireplace poker. He manages, however, to simply ask whether Uriah has told Agnes how he feels, and Uriah says that he has not, because he hopes to win her over through his treatment of Mr. Wickfield. He therefore asks David to keep his secret and "not to go against him."
Unlike David himself, Uriah seems aware of David's feelings for Agnes; Uriah's desire to marry her is not solely a reflection of his ambition, but also of his wish to assert his power over David by depriving him of the woman he's in love with. The fact that David is unaware of his own feelings places him at a further disadvantage, because he has no real grounds for objecting to Uriah's hopes beyond class prejudice. His violent fantasies of murdering Uriah, however, clearly stem from jealousy—particularly because his thoughts of Agnes being "outraged" by Uriah sound very much like thoughts of her being seduced or raped.
Uriah remarks that it is very late, and that the hotel he is staying at will have closed up for the night. Irritably, David says that he can take his bed for the night, but Uriah protests strongly against this and instead sleeps on a makeshift bed in the sitting room. David, meanwhile, hardly sleeps at all, because he is so anxious about Agnes. He also dreams about stabbing Uriah with the poker and goes to check to make sure that he has not; unfortunately, he finds the sight of Uriah sleeping so disturbing that he is drawn back to it again and again "in very repulsion." When the morning finally comes and Uriah leaves, David asks Mrs. Crupp to air out his rooms.
Characteristically, Uriah imposes on David's hospitality by professing that he doesn't wish to impose; by persuading David to allow him to sleep in the inferior bed, Uriah actually asserts his authority over him. Meanwhile, it's telling that David's disgust with Uriah deepens so markedly after learning about the latter's designs on Agnes. On the one hand, it strongly hints that David himself is in love with Agnes. It also, however, gives him a plausible reason for feeling "repulsion" beyond simple class bias.