It seems to me this was another transitional section, firmly pulling Davy--young though he still is--out of school and preparing to face the real world. Yet it felt a bit more sinister, even though it starts cheerily enough with Aunt Betsey giving him leave (and money!) to visit Peggotty and her family. But then we see the young Mrs. Strong clearly pining away for her cousin in India, and we see Mr. Wickfield notice this and move to separate her from his daughter, Agnes, and we see Davy seeing all of this.
Then Steerforth makes another appearance, and Davy (the grown-up narrator version) finally admits that, perhaps, Steerforth is about to reveal himself to not be all young Davy has thought.
Ham and Little Em'ly? Why does that seem destined to fail? Because Davy told us early on that she's got some bad times ahead of her, or because of Steerforth's attention?
There are other little clues too, such as when Davy takes the coach and has his "first fall in life"--really, Davy? I would have thought that was back when your mother married Mr. Murdstone, leading to all kinds of dreary events. But, then, youth is likely to not look back that way, and he's now determined to be taken seriously as an adult, and this little maneuver on the part of the driver is a setback of sorts.
Then there's the highly respectable Mr. Littiman at the Steerforth home. Surely this will not be his last appearance, since so much is made of his respectability. In my edition, there's a note that points out that the repetition of "respectable" in this case anticipates Mr. Vholes, that oh-so-respectable lawyer in Bleak House. It's worth noting that Mr. Littiman does not seem troubled at all by the east wind of January.
If you follow me on Twitter (@amycrea) you may have seem some discussion over the past couple of weeks, where readers are getting impatient. I'm torn. It took me a while to "get" Bleak House, but once I did, I ended up loving it. Still, I'm anxious for something more to happen. A lot of setting up is going on, a lot of--well, not foreshadowing, since Davy doesn't bother with subtlety but just tells us flat-out that bad things are coming.
What do you think? Next week, chapters 22-24, and then our two-week break.