Nicholas tells Charles Cheeryble Smike’s history and why he felt justified in interfering with Smike being reunited with his father. Nicholas expresses his doubts that the man really is Smike’s father.
Charles sympathizes. He reveals that Ralph Nickleby had come earlier, trying to turn them against Nicholas. However, his employers came to his defense—and Ralph’s errand ended in failure. Nicholas is grateful. Charles advises Nicholas to keep quiet about the matter. He doesn’t believe anything will come of it.
Charles then changes the subject, saying he needs Nicholas to handle a confidential matter involving the young lady he had walked in on some time ago. Charles had loved the woman’s mother, and his brother Ned was to marry the mother’s sister. The sister died, and Charles’ love decided to marry someone else. Her husband squandered their money, and the marriage was an unhappy one. The woman died. The man is hiding from his creditors. His daughter is supporting him. Her servant is the woman Tim Linkinwater was going to marry, who has stayed with her out of devotion.
The daughter has refused help from her mother’s friends because she refuses to comply with their demands that she give up her father. She works as a governess and suffers many problems at work. She came to Charles in desperation.
The father is not kind to her, neglecting her needs with his own selfishness. Her mother had loved him despite his cruelty and had asked her daughter to care for him.
Charles has been giving her small amounts of money. She asks for it to be doled out in small amounts, for it is easier to keep it from her father, who would spend it. She collects it at night.
The brothers have decided to pretend to buy her drawings and other ornaments to sell. This would explain how she makes her money, and it would make her feel less indebted to them if she believed they were selling them. Charles wants Nicholas to act the part of the dealer.
The father knows Charles and Ned, so neither of them can act the part. Frank is too flighty and would fall in love with the girl. Charles reveals that Frank was actually defending this girl’s honor—not the waittress’—the night Nicholas met him.
Nicholas is about to confess that he loves her too but decides not to. He believes he can restrain himself, and there seems to be no one else the Cheerybles trust to handle the matter.
Nicholas goes to the Bray house. He pays Madeline, and her father immediately starts spending the money on his needs. She plans not to have Nicholas call for three or four weeks, but the father demands that he call next week.
Madeline meets Nicholas on the stairs and asks him not to mention her mother’s friends to her father. He agrees. He tells her he is her devoted servant.