Dick Swiveller tries to order food from the local eating house for him and Fred, but the owner tells him he has to settle his account first. Dick sends an order to another eating house, stating he has heard of its fame—and how the local eating house has unfit food for a gentleman. This restaurant delivers the food. When the waiter comes for the payment after the meal, Dick says he’ll come by later and pay it. He writes the address of the street the eating house is on to remind him not to go down it during the day. He has several addresses of businesses that he has unpaid accounts with. He comments that if his aunt doesn’t send him a check soon, all roads will be closed to him. There is only one road open to him now, and he plans to buy some gloves from a store that is on it—and since he can’t pay for them, it will be closed soon to him too.
His aunt, though, is getting harder to persuade to send money. He writes to her very repentant letters, purposely smudging them to make it look like he is crying and in a bad state. Since he hasn’t persuaded her yet after eight letters, he is beginning to despair that she has finally hardened her heart to him.
Fred leaves him. He gets ready to go to the dance at Sophia’s house. As he prepares, he thinks about Sophia Wackles. He likes her because she is a nice girl. However, with his new plans for Nell, he needs to cool it off so that Sophia has no reason to sue him for breach of promise for marriage. He plans to quarrel with her over groundless jealousy.
Sophia Wackles lives with her widowed mother and two sisters. They run a school for young ladies. Melissa, the eldest sister, teaches grammar, composition, geography, and weight lifting. Sophia teaches writing, arithmetic, dancing, music, and general fascination. Jane teaches needlework, monogramming, and samplery. Mrs. Wackles handles the corporal punishment, fasting, and other tortures.
Mrs. Wackles and Melissa don’t approve of Dick, finding him obsessed with vice and not serious in his intentions with Sophia. Sophia keeps hoping he will propose, and has devised a scheme to make him realize his feelings for her by making him jealous with a rival suitor for her affections. The other suitor is named Mr. Cheggs, and he is invited to the same dance. Mr. Cheggs is a market gardener.
Mrs. Wackles, Melissa Wackles, and Miss Cheggs try to influence Sophia to prefer Mr. Cheggs. Miss Cheggs tells Sophia that he could hardly wait to come because he is so smitten by Sophia.
Dick Swiveller is actually angry about the bashful Mr. Cheggs, who he thinks is impudent. To prove his superiority, Dick shows off his dancing skill—which does make him very admired. Miss Cheggs cuts him down to Sophia, claiming he is a ridiculous creature—and see how her brother’s eyes are full of love.
Meanwhile, Jane has been instructed by Sophia to come up to her sister in Dick’s presence and talk about how jealous Mr. Cheggs is of her attentions to Dick. Jane comes off shrewish, though—and rather than voice his desire for marriage as Sophia had hoped, Dick leaves her. She dances with Cheggs, who he glares at.
Later, Cheggs tries to pick a fight with Dick. Dick refuses to meet his eye. He denies wanting to speak with him. Mr. Cheggs says that while he may not have anything to say now, he may later—and he knows where to find him. Dick says he knows, but there is nothing left to say.
Later, Dick overhears Miss Cheggs boasting about the intimate things Mr. Cheggs is saying to Sophia. He goes up to Sophia to tell her farewell. He accuses her of playing him, of being untrue—actually forgetting that he did want to break up with her. He tells her that he has a younger, prettier, and richer young lady who wants to marry him—and he apologizes for bothering with her for so long. He returns home, dreaming of marrying Nelly and burning Mr. Cheggs garden to the ground.