Context: Nicholas Nickleby, the young son of a man who has but recently died penniless and faced with the necessity of earning his living, is prevailed upon by his cold-hearted but wealthy uncle, Ralph Nickleby, to accept a position as a teacher at a school at Dotheboys, Yorkshire. His employer is the one-eyed sadist, Wackford Squeers, whose school is in reality an institution to which people commit unwanted boys, who either die of mistreatment or in desperation run away. In any event, they are taught little or nothing. Nicholas, who is a fine young fellow, innocently accepts the position and immediately makes preparations to leave his mother and sister and go to Yorkshire. When he arrives at the Saracen's Head Inn, from which place the coach is to depart, he finds Squeers having a luxurious breakfast in the sight of five of his new boys, for whom he orders two pennysworth of milk. This proves to be an extremely small amount, but he knows a remedy for this situation:
"This is twopenn'orth of milk, is it, waiter?" said Mr. Squeers, looking down into a large blue mug, and slanting it gently, so as to get an accurate view of the quantity of liquid contained in it."That's twopenn'orth, sir," replied the waiter."What a rare article milk is, to be sure, in London!" said Mr. Squeers with a sigh. "Just fill that mug up with lukewarm water, William, will you?""To the wery top, sir?" inquired the waiter. "Why, the milk will be drownded.""Never you mind that," replied Mr. Squeers. "Serve it right for being so dear. You ordered that bread and butter for three, did you?""Coming directly, sir.""You needn't hurry yourself," said Squeers, "there's plenty of time. Conquer your passions, boys, and don't be eager after vittles." As he uttered this moral precept, Mr. Squeers took a large bite out of the cold beef, and recognized Nicholas."Sit down, Mr. Nickleby," said Squeers. "Here we are, a breakfasting you see!"Nicholas did not see that anybody was breakfasting, except Mr. Squeers; but he bowed with all becoming reverence, and looked as cheerful as he could.