By devious routes, Oliver gets a few miles away from town by noon. A stone marker informs him that he is seventy miles from London. The fugitive decides to proceed to that renowned metropolis, where he believes that he can find safety.
Without food or money, Oliver undergoes extreme hardships on the road. He begs when he dares and sleeps under the winter sky. Early in the morning on the seventh day of his flight, Oliver has arrived in the little town of Barnet. As he rests on a doorstep, footsore and famished, he is watched from across the street by "one of the queerest looking boys" he has ever seen. This unattractive individual is four and a half feet tall and wears a man's coat much too large for him. The incongruity of his costume is consistent with his adult-like behavior.
The boy strikes up an acquaintance with Oliver and then treats him to food and drink. Oliver's benefactor offers to introduce him to "a 'spectable old genelman" in London who will provide free lodging for the homeless refugee. Oliver's new friend is called Jack Dawkins, better known as "The Artful Dodger." Oliver suspects that Dawkins may not be an altogether admirable sort but consents to accompany him in the hopes of winning the mysterious old gentleman's favor.
After nightfall, Dawkins leads the way into London. The boys enter a dirty, chaotic street and are admitted into a dilapidated dwelling. In the run-down kitchen, Fagin, an old "villainous-looking and repulsive" Jew with red hair, is preparing some food. Four or five other boys are present, smoking and drinking like grown men. These lads offer to be of service to Oliver, but it soon becomes clear that they intend to relieve him of any valuables. Oliver takes some food and then, lulled by a hot drink, falls into a deep sleep.
The exhausted boy sleeps late the next day. While he is still hovering between slumber and full consciousness, he observes the old Jew remove a small box from its place of concealment in the floor. Fagin gloats over the costly horde in the box.
The old man is alarmed at the discovery that Oliver is watching him, for he thought that the boy was still sleeping soundly. Fagin genially explains that the treasure is his life's savings; he diverts Oliver's attention and the box vanishes.
Later, the Dodger comes in with Charley Bates, who had been present the evening before. Bates is notorious for laughing immoderately for any, or no, reason. The arrivals deliver some articles to Fagin and reveal that they have attended an execution. After breakfast, the two practice picking the pockets of the "merry old gentleman."
The game is interrupted by the entrance of two rather slovenly girls, Betsy and Nancy. After the four young people depart, Fagin counsels Oliver to take The Artful Dodger as his special model. Then Fagin gives Oliver his first lesson in picking pockets.
Barnet, a town directly north of London, where Oliver meets Jack Dawkins, is the first specific location that has been identified. Hitherto the locale has been vague, with meager descriptive details of geographical setting. As the two boys enter London, the generalized background is left behind and the action shifts to the concrete surroundings of the metropolis.
Oliver is now introduced to the notorious Fagin and some youthful members of his gang. We are allowed immediate glimpses into the larcenous character of the "merry old gentleman." When he discovers Oliver watching him, he momentarily betrays his vicious nature but quickly recovers his beguiling pose. Fagin's expression of satisfaction at the removal by hanging of five potential threats to the business satirizes popular misconceptions about codes of honor and loyalty among thieves.
Jack Dawkins and all the other boys are characterized by a conspicuous middle-aged manner. It is as though their lives of squalor and crime have robbed them of childhood and youth, making them old in the experience of evil. The girls, Nancy and Betsy, share a single description, suggesting that they are common types of degradation.
The speech of Dickens's underworld characters is rich in authentic thieves' argot. Seldom does he condescend to offer the reader an explicit explanation, but to dispel obscurity the meaning is often rendered self-evident or subtly injected into the story. Thus, it is clear that "wipes" are handkerchiefs; and Oliver deduces that "pad the hoof . . . must be French for going out."