Ralph Nickleby meets Noggs after lunch and expects that his clerk has the letters he is expecting. Noggs tells him that these letters have not come, and nobody has made inquiries about the matter. However, he has received a letter with black wax. Ralph recognizes the writing as his sister-in-law’s and suspects, because of the black wax, that his brother is dead. The letter confirms this, as well as tell him that the widow and two children are in London.
Ralph Nickleby is not thrilled. His brother never did anything for him, and he never saw Nicholas or his family. However, he resents that they turn to him the moment that his brother dies.
He goes to the house where his brother’s widow is staying with her children. He tells the landlady Miss La Creevy that she shouldn’t rent to them. They are poor, and he won’t be responsible for paying their debts. The landlady decides she will evict them with this knowledge, for she can’t afford to lose money.
Ralph Nickleby meets his brother’s wife and children. He is rather gruff with them, causing his nephew Nicholas to resent him. The widow tells him her husband died of a broken heart, and he tells her that is not a real diagnosis. People supposedly die of broken hearts when they can’t pay their debts.
After learning Nicholas Jr.’s age, he asks his nephew what he intends to do. Nicholas says he doesn’t plan on being supported by his mother, and he doesn’t plan on begging assistance from his uncle. Ralph doesn’t like his nephew.
Mrs. Nickleby tells Ralph that they have nothing after paying the creditors. She spent what little they had in coming to London to see him. She was hoping that he’d help her children. Ralph asks what the daughter’s qualifications are. The daughter is well educated, and he plans to get her an apprentice position at a boarding school. The girl replies eagerly that she is willing to do anything to make her way, and his attitude softens towards her.
Ralph’s brother hadn’t provided Nicholas with an education. Ralph criticizes his brother for burdening his widow with a son who couldn’t provide for her. Mrs. Nickleby does regret her choice in husbands. Ralph gloats upon hearing how his brother came to ruin.
He asks his nephew if he is willing to work, and Nicholas says he is. Ralph shows him an advertisement for an assistant at a school. Though the salary is small, he will get an education, food, and housing. It will help him make his fortune later. The advertisement asks for someone with a degree, but Ralph says he can get Nicholas hired without one. Ralph tells Nicholas that he can take the situation, or he can try to find one for himself. However, lacking in friends, money, references, and training, he isn’t likely to find one that is legal. Nicholas asks what will become of his mother and sister. Ralph tells him he will assist them towards independence if Nicholas takes the position. Nicholas agrees, suddenly enthusiastic. He envisions a happy future.
Nicholas decides his first impression of his uncle has been unfair. He goes with Ralph to the establishment to secure the position. Mrs. Nickleby also admits to her daughter that her brother-in-law is kind despite his manner.
Though Mrs. Nickleby loved her husband, Ralph has made her aware of how foolish he was and how she was victimized by it.