David and Miss Betsey spend the night catching up. Mr. Peggotty and his family are apparently doing well in Australia, and Mr. Micawber has actually managed to send back some payments towards his debts. Mr. Dick, meanwhile, continues to copy whatever he can to keep "King Charles the First at a respectful distance."
As David, Miss Betsey, and the Micawbers themselves had hoped, Australian society is open and flexible enough that Mr. Micwber is able to succeed in a way that he never was in England; for the first time in the novel, he has paid off some of his debts. Meanwhile, as the novel draws towards a close, the mention of Mr. Dick's memorial serves as a warning about the dangers of becoming lost in memories of the past. This is a danger Mr. Dick himself has now largely overcome thanks to the discipline and purpose he has developed through work.
Eventually, Miss Betsey asks when David is going to visit Canterbury, and he replies that he'll go the following day. He then appears lost in thought, thinking about the time Miss Betsey lamented that he was "blind" for loving Dora. Miss Betsey seems to guess what David is thinking, and says that Mr. Wickfield is a "reclaimed man," and that Agnes is "as beautiful, as earnest, [and] as disinterested" as ever. David hesitatingly asks whether Agnes has any suitors, and Miss Betsey says that she has many. When he asks whether she has found any "worthy" suitor to love, however, Miss Betsey says she believes Agnes has, but that it isn't her place to say. David replies that he wants to see Agnes happy and is sure she will confide in him eventually, and Miss Betsey puts her hand on his shoulder.
The fact that David finds himself reflecting on his former "blindness" in this scene is striking, given that he still fails to grasp some of what is going on around him; to the reader, it's obvious that Miss Betsey is talking about David when she mentions a "worthy" suitor, but David himself is oblivious to this fact. Crucially, however, his current blindness stems from a greater knowledge of his own weaknesses, rather than a failure to appreciate Agnes's virtues. It's this mature self-awareness that makes David deserving of Agnes now.
David goes to Canterbury the next day and lingers outside Mr. Wickfield's house, looking at the office where Uriah and Mr. Micawber used to work. That room is now a parlor, but the house is otherwise unchanged, and when David enters, he sees that everything has been restored to the way it was during his childhood, before the Heeps lived there. As David is looking wistfully out the window, Agnes enters the room.
With Uriah gone, the Wickfield house once again becomes the site of domestic bliss David remembers from his childhood. In fact, the household is happier and more functional now than it was before, now that Mr. Wickfield has quit drinking and relaxed his obsessively protective attitude towards Agnes.
David runs to Agnes and embraces her, trying to thank her for everything she has done for him. Eventually, Agnes's soothing presence calms David down, and she begins to talk about the meetings she had with little Em'ly before her departure, and about the visits Agnes has paid to Dora's grave. As Agnes speaks, David finds that he is better able to bear these painful memories.
Agnes's calm and gentleness have always been a source of strength for David. What is especially significant about this passage, however, is the ability Agnes has to recast David's painful memories into something tolerable. Agnes's support, in other words, is part of what allows David to draw on even difficult experiences in order to learn and grow.
David asks Agnes how she has been, and she says that both she and her father are doing well in their "restored" home. David presses her, and Agnes—guessing he is asking her about suitors—blushes and shakes her head with "quiet sadness." David accordingly drops the subject and asks her about her school, and she says that she enjoys the work. David responds by praising her goodness, causing her to blush again, and change the topic, asking David if he will spend the night. David explains that he has promised to return to Miss Betsey's, but that he will spend the remainder of the day with Agnes and Mr. Wickfield.
According to David, his awkward attempts to learn whether Agnes is in love are an attempt to do his "duty" as a friend by her, as well as to accustom himself to thinking of her with someone else. He doesn't recognize, however, that her "sadness" stems from the fact that she's in love with him—something that becomes especially clear when she blushes at his praise.
Agnes says that she has to leave David for a while, but explains that he is welcome to the house's books and music. David remarks that even the flowers are the same as those that used to be in the house, and Agnes says that she has tried to return everything to the way it was when they were children. She still carries the basket of keys, for instance, and says that it reminds her of those happy times, and her "brother,” David. After she leaves, David resolves never to lose her "sisterly" love, which he believes is the only thing he has left. He then goes for a walk, passing by the butcher and thinking about his childhood infatuation with Miss Larkins. In all this time, Agnes is the only thing that seems to have remained constant.
Like David himself, Agnes looks back fondly on the time they spent growing up together—so much so, in fact, that she has tried to recreate those times with the household décor. At the moment, this attempt to recreate the past is bittersweet for both Agnes and David; since neither realizes that the other returns their feelings, both assume that the fraternal relationship they had as children is all that they can have going forward. Meanwhile, Agnes's careful restoration of the household encapsulates the role she plays in David's life, providing him with an unwavering source of support and comfort even as everything around him (and he himself) changes.
David returns to find Mr. Wickfield, who had been out working in a garden he has outside of town. They have dinner and tea with Agnes and several of her students, who leave afterwards. The three reminisce, and Mr. Wickfield says that as much as he regrets things he has done, he doesn't want to change the past, because that would mean losing the memory of Agnes's kindness and devotion. David says he understands, but Mr. Wickfield insists that no one appreciates what Agnes has endured.
Like David, Mr. Wickfield ultimately comes to embrace even his worst memories—in Wickfield's case, because these experiences are so intertwined with memories of Agnes's "patience and devotion," which both move Mr. Wickfield and provide him with an incentive to change and grow as a means of repaying her.
Agnes hushes Mr. Wickfield, and he changes the subject to Agnes's mother, explaining that she married Wickfield against her father's wishes. Her father never forgave her, and she never recovered from his "repulse," dying just two weeks after Agnes was born. Wickfield explains that he was in an "unhealthy" state of mind at the time, and that his love for Agnes was consequently "diseased." Since then, he has often felt that Agnes's personality reflects "something of her poor mother's story," and David—looking at the pair—is touched once again by Agnes's compassion and loyalty.
Mr. Wickfield's account of his marriage makes it clear that it was not just grief over his wife's death that tainted his relationship with Agnes, but also guilt: by marrying his wife, Wickfield estranged her from her father and indirectly played a role in her death. This perhaps explains his obsessive concern for Agnes, who resembles her mother in looks and personality. Ironically, however, the degree of his anxiety contributed to his alcoholism, and therefore to all of the worry and sadness that this caused Agnes.
Agnes plays some "old airs" on the piano, and then asks David whether he plans to go abroad again. He asks for her opinion, and she says that she hopes he won't, since his fame "enlarges [his] power of doing good" at home. David credits Agnes with making him what he is, and says that he has thought so since Dora's death, when Agnes appeared on the stairs "pointing upward." This image has stayed with him, he says, because he feels that Agnes is always guiding him toward something higher and better. Agnes attempts to deny this, but David insists that he will see Agnes in this way for the rest of both their lives. Agnes, touched, says she is proud of David and then resumes playing the piano.
The memory of Agnes pointing upward becomes a symbol, to both David and his readers, of the powerful moral that Agnes has on him. By inspiring David to ceaselessly better himself, Agnes is not only responsible for his worldly successes, but also, ultimately, for his hopes of going to heaven. The image, in other words, reflects the belief that the ideal Victorian woman was not simply a companion to her husband in practical matters, but also a guide in spiritual and moral ones.
David continues to speak, saying that Mr. Wickfield's story seems "part of the feeling with which [David] regarded [Agnes]" at their first meeting. Agnes suggests that he simply felt sorry for her, but David insists that he always felt that there was something "softened" about Agnes that verged on sorrow. He then asks whether she thinks it is foolish of him to think that he could have sensed this, or that he could have sensed her capacity for loyalty, at such an early meeting. Agnes assures him that she does not, but looks upset for a moment. He thinks about her expression as he goes home that night, worrying that she is unhappy. Meanwhile, David is unhappy, but still determined not to confess his love for Agnes.
Mr. Wickfield's story about Agnes's mother confirms something that David had previously sensed about Agnes, but that he hadn't been able to put words to. This is part of a broader trend in the novel whereby actions, events, and feelings only become fully understandable in retrospect. In fact, the very action of writing a memoir, as David is, is in some sense a way of clarifying experiences by incorporating them into a single, logical narrative.