Chapters 15-17 Summary
Newman Noggs finds Nicholas and Smike waiting in his rooms (which are in the same building as those of the Kenwigs). He gives the two a place to get dry and to sleep for the evening. He tells Nicholas that Fanny Squeers wrote a letter to Ralph Nickleby; she said Mr. Squeers is now crippled and Mrs. Squeers narrowly escaped death or brain injury from the beatings that Nicholas gave them. Ralph has had no chance to reply to this report, Noggs says, because he has been out of town.
Downstairs, the Kenwigs and their guests speculate on what might be the news that called Noggs away from the party; they think perhaps it is a return of his property after all this time. Soon they hear the baby crying and rush upstairs. They find Nicholas holding her. He explains that the servant who was watching the child fell asleep and set her hair on fire. The others now view Nicholas as a hero, and they comment on his “aristocratic” manners.
The next morning, Nicholas finds himself in an employment office. He notices a beautiful, though sad-looking, young lady who has come for information about placement as a lady’s companion. Nicholas inquires about a place for himself as a secretary. He is sent to Mr. Gregsbury, a Member of Parliament. When he arrives at Mr. Gregsbury’s office, he finds some of the man’s constituents demanding his resignation, which Gregsbury refuses. After the constituents depart, Mr. Gregsbury describes to Nicholas the details of a very time-consuming position that does not pay at all equal to the effort. Although Nicholas is desperate, he turns down the job and returns to Newman’s lodgings. Mr. and Mrs. Kenwig decide that Nicholas would be just the person to serve as a tutor to their four daughters; they would pay him five shillings a week to teach French to their girls. Nicholas, grateful for this new opportunity in such a friendly family, begins tutoring at once.
Kate starts her first day as a milliner’s assistant by overhearing a quarrel between Madame Mantalini and her husband. He is flirtatious toward Kate, which upsets his wife but only in the manner of one who is used to it. As she begins her work, Kate is subject to humiliation from some of the customers and her fellow-workers.
At home that evening, Mrs. Nickleby dreams of the possibility that Kate will eventually be a partner in a millinery business while Nicholas becomes “Dr. Nickleby,” teaching at Westminster School.