Chapters 40-42 Summary
Smike quickly runs away from the place of his imprisonment and takes a circuitous route back to the home of Newman Noggs. Newman and Nicholas are overjoyed to see him, having imagined the worst. Nicholas suspects that his uncle had something to do with Smike’s kidnapping. He goes to the Cheeryble Brothers’ office and unwittingly interrupts a conversation between the brothers and the young lady who caught his eye long ago in the Register Office. Forgetting his intention to discover Ralph’s involvement, he has Newman Noggs follow the young woman. Noggs returns to inform Nicholas that her name is Cecelia Bobster and that she lives with her widowed father. Nicholas has Noggs lead him to the Bobster residence, but it turns out that this woman is not the girl of his fancy after all.
Mrs. Nickleby begins to pay a bit more attention to her appearance following the “gifts” from the man next door. She takes to sitting out in her garden with Kate, who is upset that her mother should take their neighbor seriously. Mrs. Nickleby tells of her past suitors, including one who was exiled to New Zealand as a convict. One day, as they are in the garden, vegetables are again hurled over the wall at Kate and Mrs. Nickleby. Soon the giver himself appears on top of the wall. He wears “small-clothes” (knee pants), which are no longer in fashion. He pledges his love to Mrs. Nickleby and asks for her hand in marriage. Another voice is then heard in the man’s garden, and the would-be suitor disappears. The owner of the voice looks over the wall and explains that the old man proposes to many women. In response to Kate’s question, he assures her that the man is quite mad. Mrs. Nickleby will not accept this but prefers to believe the man’s relatives are only trying to obtain his property.
John Browdie and Tilda are still in London on their honeymoon. Nicholas comes to visit them and stays to dinner. They talk about their first meeting, in which Fanny Squeers decided that she was in love with Nicholas and that he had expressed intentions of marriage. As they laugh about this, Fanny walks in along with her father and brother. Fanny berates Tilda, stating that they are no longer friends and would not name her child after Tilda to save it from the grave. John remarks that it will be a while before Fanny has a child to name anyway, but his wife hushes him. Mr. Squeers accuses John of helping Smike escape, and John does not deny it.