Since Nicholas denounced their neighbor as a stupid old man, Mrs. Nickleby decides to be kinder to him—believing he is not stupid at all. He couldn’t help but fall victim to her charms.
She remembers her courtship with her late husband. She used to pretend that she hated him. She was surprised he didn’t become so despondent as to leave the country.
Mrs. Nickleby remarks that Smike is very good with the garden to Kate, though he tends to put everything on Kate’s side of the garden. Kate asks her mother if she had many suitors. Mrs. Nickleby counts them off. Their neighbor startles them by coughing. Kate thinks he is trying to get their attention, and Mrs. Nickleby confirms he is doing it to get her attention.
A few minutes later, a cucumber flies over the fence. Other vegetables follow. Kate flees but notices that her mother isn’t following. An old man looks over the fence. Kate cries out to her mother to come in, but Mrs. Nickleby calls her a coward. Mrs. Nickleby asks the gentleman what he wants, feigning displeasure at the intrusion. He makes professions of love and asks why a beauty spurns him. He wishes to ask her a question. Kate wants her mother to come in and wait for Nicholas to come home.
Mrs. Nickleby doesn’t leave. She allows him to ask her his question. He asks if she is a princess. He tells her, when she denies it, that he mistook her for one because of her dignified air. He tells her he is a wealthy man with many enemies who are out to get his property. He asks her to be his.
Mrs. Nickleby says she is flattered. However, she plans to devote herself to her children and remain a widow. She is glad to have him as a neighbor.
He jumps over the fence. Another person grabs his ankles. The old man obediently returns to his yard. Kate asks the man’s keeper if he is insane, and the other gentleman confirms this. The keeper says he has been this way a while, but he is better off. He used to be cruel and wicked. He broke his wife’s heart and turned his children out into the street.
Mrs. Nickleby doesn’t believe he is mad. He is too eloquent. She believes this keeper must be one of his enemies out to get his property.