Nicholas decides to visit the lodgings of his mother and sister. However, Ralph gets there first and recounts Fanny Squeers’s version of Nicholas’s beating of her family and the alleged theft. Nicholas bursts in. He explains the facts of the case, admitting he beat the deserving Squeers and left with Smike. Ralph tells them that neither Nicholas nor anyone who helps him will ever have a penny of Ralph’s money. Nicholas naively leaves his mother and sister again in Ralph’s care, warning him that if any harm should befall them, he will face a heavy reckoning. Nicholas then joins Smike to go seek his fortune outside of London until his name is cleared. Kate loses her job when Madame Mantalini goes bankrupt due to the extravagant behavior of her husband. Kate is set up again by Ralph, this time as companion to a pampered rich woman named Mrs. Wititterly. Nicholas and Smike, meanwhile, head toward the coast to sign on as seamen. Instead they fall in with a theatrical company run by Vincent Crummles, who offers Nicholas and Smike employment as actors and offers Nicholas extra work as a writer of theatrical adaptations of novels. The two gratefully accept.
Nicholas and Smike meet Crummles’s family— his wife, several boys, and the Infant Phenomenon, a girl of perhaps fifteen whose growth has been stunted by an unknown means, possibly alcohol, so that she can continue to play children’s roles. The theater people are kind, but silly; they seem, like children, always to be playing. Nicholas sees their current production the next evening and is very impressed by its quality. The magic of the theater affects him strongly, and he throws himself into writing a new piece for the company. He receives great acclaim from both the company and the audience for this new piece, which we writies and acts in under the name of ‘‘Johnson.’’ This is the alias he has given the Crummleses because he is still in flight from the law. Nicholas helps Smike learn his part as an apothecary (pharmacist) in the play, and after much gentle help, Smike is able to remember his few lines. Chapters 26–30 Kate continues to be harassed by the loathsome boors Sir Mulberry Hawk and Lord Frederick Verisopht. The men go to her residence and meet Mrs. Nickleby, who assumes they are honorable gentlemen vying for Kate’s hand. Meanwhile, Ralph suppresses feelings of remorse for his actions. ‘‘Selling a girl—throwing her in the way of temptation, and insult, and coarse speech…. Pshaw! Match-making mothers do the same thing every day.’’ He arranges a ‘‘chance’’ meeting between the scoundrels and Kate at the theater. Kate narrowly escapes another compromising scene with Sir Mulberry, in which he attempts to touch her. Next, the men hound her at her place of employment, having impressed the status-seeking Mrs. Wititterly with their titles. Kate appeals to her employer for help, but winds up getting fired. Kate next appeals to Ralph for help, but he refuses. Kate says she will ask no more of him and instead will appeal to God for help. Newman Noggs, overhearing, vows that ‘‘someone else’’ shall hear of it soon, too. Nicholas continues to receive rave reviews at the theater. He receives a letter from Newman saying that he may need to return to London. After guessing that Newman’s letter implies further treachery by Ralph, Nicholas has one final triumphant performance and bids adieu to the world of the theater.
Upon arriving in London, Nicholas goes to Noggs’s residence, and, finding Noggs out, goes to a tavern to wait. Nicholas hears Hawk and Verisopht in the tavern discussing his sister in very disrespectful terms and understands at once the breadth of Ralph’s villainy against his family. After giving the men his card, Nicholas demands to know Hawk’s name, but Hawk will not divulge it, nor will Verisopht. Nicholas says he will follow Hawk until he learns it; Hawk gets into his carriage, beating Nicholas away with his whip. Nicholas grabs the whip and strikes Hawk a heavy blow, opening a gash in his face. Nicholas proceeds to remove Kate and his mother from the dismal house in which Ralph has installed them; they all go to live in the friendly lodging house where they had first stayed in London. Nicholas sends a letter to Ralph, stating that the family renounces him and leaves him to his grave.