Chapters 18-20 Summary
Kate’s position at Madame Mantalini’s millinery shop is enhanced when the forewoman, Miss Knag, befriends her. She walks Kate to meet Mrs. Nickleby, and the three of them stop in at Miss Knag’s brother’s business. This friendship lasts for three days, much to the amazement of the other female workers. However, when a lord and his family ask specifically to see Kate, it becomes clear that the women of the shop and especially Miss Knag become jealous of the attention Kate receives from the customers. Miss Knag declares that she hates Kate and effectively ends the pseudo-friendship she had instigated. The animosity against Kate from her coworkers continues and increases each day until Kate is glad when Saturday comes.
On the way home with her mother, she encounters her uncle. Ralph invites her to dinner the next day and Mrs. Nickleby feels excited for prospects of advancement for her daughter. Kate reluctantly goes to her Uncle Ralph’s home, where she is introduced to a large group of gentleman. It becomes obvious that Ralph is pushing his niece toward Sir Frederick Verisopht and his friend Sir Mulberry Hawk. Sir Frederick Verisopht is a young man of good fortune; Sir Mulberry Hawk is older and of harsher manners.
At dinner, Sir Mulberry wagers the other gentleman that Kate cannot tell him to his face that she is not at that moment wishing he would make love to her. Kate is dumbstruck at this monstrosity—and that her uncle seems to be encouraging it. In shame and humiliation, Kate runs from the room to seek asylum in a room upstairs. Sir Mulberry eventually tracks her down and grabs hold of her, pulling her toward him. She manages to escape just as her uncle enters the room. Ralph, who had envisioned Kate as a tool to get money out of Sir Frederick Verisopht, orders Sir Mulberry from the house. Kate begs to be taken home, and Ralph accompanies her. He is shocked when, in the carriage, a light falls on Kate’s face and recognizes a similarity to his dead brother.
Nicholas arrives at Miss La Creevy’s home in search of his mother and sister. He eventually finds them just as Ralph is telling them about Nicholas’s attack on Mr. Squeers. Nicholas bursts into the room and announces that it is all a lie. Ralph swears that Nicholas will no longer have any help or financial assistance from him, even it would save his life. Nicholas tells his mother and sister that he must leave London. Nicholas promises to hold his uncle accountable if he should harm them in any way. Nicholas leaves London, accompanied by the ever-faithful Smike.