Ralph has also procured a job for Kate, at the establishment of a milliner, Madame Mantalini. Kate is to work from nine in the morning until nine at night for five to seven shillings a week. Madame Mantalini has a lewd and flirtatious husband, the first of many such brutes Kate will contend with. Ralph tells Kate he has an empty house she and her mother can live in temporarily until he rents it. Newman Noggs, who Kate recognizes as having a kind spirit, conducts them to their new lodging, an awful place with animal bones on the floor. It stands near a wharf on the Thames River. Kate’s life is now as cheerless and frightening as her brother’s. Nicholas realizes that not only is Fanny in love with him, but she also believes that he is in love with her, a misapprehension he attempts to correct immediately. He believes that his only hope is to leave Dotheboys Hall without looking back. This is one of many times when Nicholas speaks or acts from his emotions, one sign in Dickens of a true hero, and a behavior that differentiates him from Ralph, who acts only from cold calculation. Nicholas confides in Smike and tells him that he plans to leave the school as soon as possible.
Smike escapes from Dotheboys but is soon caught and brought back. As Squeers prepares to beat the feeble boy, Nicholas intercedes for the first time in Squeers’s brutal treatment of his charges, shouting, ‘‘‘Stop!’ in a voice that made the rafters ring.’’ Squeers strikes Nicholas first, and Nicholas, ‘‘concentrating into that one moment all his feelings of rage, scorn, and indignation’’ beats Squeers until ‘‘he roared for mercy.’’ Nicholas then sets out on foot for London. On the road he meets John Browdie, who, hearing of the treatment meted out to the schoolmaster, bellows with approval and presses money on Nicholas, so that he can have lodging for the night. On the second night, Nicholas takes shelter in a barn. On waking he finds Smike, who has followed him and who begs to be allowed to stay with him. Nicholas agrees. The two set out for Newman Noggs’s boardinghouse, arriving there at two in the morning. A jolly party is going on in the lodgings of the Kenwigses, a family with modest means and many daughters. It is a comic scene, and it underscores the importance of girls’ wealth in making good marriages—a theme that will recur later in the romances of both Kate and Nicholas. When two ‘‘queer-looking people, all covered with rain and mud’’ are announced to Noggs, Newman grabs a candle and a cup of hot punch and runs to welcome them. Newman advises Nicholas not to see his mother and sister until he has first seen his uncle, and produces a copy of a letter Ralph has already received from Fanny Squeers. The letter greatly exaggerates her family’s injuries at Nicholas’s hands and accuses him of also stealing their jewelry.
Nicholas visits the General Accounting Office, an employment agency, seeking work. While there he becomes smitten with a beautiful girl who is also looking for work, but he fails to learn her name. The clerk refers Nicholas to the office of a member of Parliament, Mr. Gregsbury, who needs a secretary. Here Dickens has another chance to ridicule the British government, because Gregsbury refuses to do even one of the things he promised to do during his campaign, but also refuses to resign. Gregsbury enumerates the endless responsibilities the secretary’s job entails, which include all the work that would normally be expected of a member of Parliament himself, and names the paltry salary. Nicholas, already less naive than he was when he agreed to work at Dotheboys, declines this job. But the Kenwigses, hearing of his need for work, engage him as a French tutor for their daughters. They believe this nicety will add to the girls’ marriageability. In the meantime, Kate toils through difficult days at Madame Mantalini’s millinery shop. The shop forewoman, the nosy middle-aged spinster Miss Knag, at first champions Kate, then becomes jealous when Kate rather than she is requested as a model. The unemployed Mr. Mantalini makes improper advances to Kate. Kate consoles herself with the thought that at least Nicholas is faring better at his place of employment—or so she imagines. Kate encounters Ralph as she is leaving work one night. He invites her to dinner at his house; there she meets the vile aristocrats Sir Mulberry Hawk and Lord Frederick Verisopht. She is the only female present at the dinner, a situation that invites scandal and could compromise her reputation. The men are vulgar and in debt to her uncle. They bet on whether Kate is wishing one of them will court her. She hurries from the room to hide, crying. Hawk follows her; they are completely alone, a situation that can ruin her chances to make a good marriage. Ralph appears, and Hawk accuses him of using Kate to lure Verisopht, the richer and younger of the two, into greater debt. Ralph acknowledges the truth of the accusation. He then takes Kate home, and seeing her tear-stained face brings back a memory of her father. He ‘‘staggered while he looked and went back into his house, as a man who had seen a spirit from some world beyond the grave.’’ This is the first of several occasions in which Kate’s misery provokes a fleeting feeling of guilt in Ralph.