Chapters 55-58 Summary
Nicholas takes Madeline to his own home, where Kate watches over her recovery. Mrs. Nickleby is confused as to why her son and his friends are so intent on preventing Madeline’s marriage. Kate tries to explain but is unsuccessful. Mrs. Nickleby tells Nicholas that she is sure Frank Cheeryble is in love with Kate. Nicholas is horrified rather than pleased. He explains to his mother that he cannot repay the Cheeryble brothers for their kindness by allowing their nephew to marry a girl from so poverty-stricken a family as the Nicklebys. Mrs. Nickleby does not agree, but Nicholas vows to find some way to divert Frank from Kate. Smike, in the meantime, becomes increasingly unwell. Nicholas decides to take him to Devonshire, where he himself lived as a boy; he hopes Smike might regain his health in the fresh air. Smike bids the other Nicklebys good-bye, hoping that he will be reunited with Kate in heaven.
Ralph and Gride argue over the blame of their situation, though Ralph blames mostly Nicholas. Ralph learns that, due to revelation of his conduct, he has lost ten thousand pounds in two mortgages he holds. The two men return to Gride’s home to find that Gride’s housekeeper, Peg Sliderskew, has gone and taken with her some documents that will give testimony to the unethical and illegal dealings of both Gride and Ralph concerning Madeline Bray and her considerable property. Ralph returns home and sends for Mr. Squeers, whom he charges to find the missing documents taking from Gride. In the meantime, he plans revenge against Nicholas.
Mr. Squeers tracks down Peg Sliderskew and pretends to be sympathetic with her plans against Arthur Gride. After plying her with alcohol, he convinces her that it would tell against her if she had so much evidence of her theft and that it would be better to burn what is not necessary. As they are in the act of burning, Newman Noggs and Frank Cheeryble sneak into the room, hit Squeers over the head, and take the papers.
Nicholas and Smike rent a cottage near the Nicklebys’ former home. One day, as the two of them are napping in the garden, Nicholas is awakened by Smike’s screaming. He says he saw the man who took him to Dotheboys Hall hiding behind a tree. Nicholas tries to convince him that it was just a figment of his imagination. Nicholas stays by Smike’s bedside as the end draws near. Smike tells Nicholas the reason he had begun to draw away from the family: He was in love with Kate but knew that she could never be his. He requests that he be buried with the lock of her hair that he has kept around his neck. Seeing visions of great meadows filled with people, Smike dies.