Summary and Analysis
Fagin sits brooding while Dawkins, Bates, and Chitling play cards. By carefully studying Chitling's hand, the Dodger is able to win consistently, putting an end to the game.
The others banter Chitling about being in love with Betsy. Tom grants that he served a jail sentence to protect the girl, whereas if "the poor half-witted dupe" had talked, he might have got off free. Charley's irrepressible mirth exasperates Chitling and he delivers a blow that Bates nimbly evades, and it lands "on the chest of the merry old gentleman."
The bell rings and the Dodger goes out to investigate. When he comes back, he whispers to Fagin, who shows great consternation and immediately sends Bates and Chitling from the room. Agreeable to Fagin's wishes, Dawkins brings someone down from upstairs. It is Toby Crackit — haggard and alone.
Crackit must first relieve a three-day fast. After he has leisurely eaten, he orders the Dodger out. Then he inquires about Sikes. Fagin has read in the newspapers that the burglary failed, but he is dumfounded to hear that Toby also is ignorant of the whereabouts of Bill and Oliver.
Crackit relates that after the robbery attempt was thwarted, the countryside was aroused, and dogs were set on their trail. Since it was every man for himself, the men deposited the wounded boy in a ditch and separated. Fagin cannot endure to hear more and madly rushes from the house.
Fagin walks through the streets until he enters an alley leading to Saffron Hill. Exchanging a few words with a dealer in stolen goods, he asks about Sikes and hurries on. At the Three Cripples, the Saffron Hill public house, he enters a smoky room crowded with disgusting revelers of both sexes. Exhibited there are extremes of "cunning, ferocity, and drunkenness in all its stages."
Fagin beckons to the landlord and confers with him on the landing. The man says that nothing has been heard from Barney but that he may be relied upon. Then Fagin inquires for a person — Monks — about whom he is evidently much more concerned at the moment. The landlord is confident that Monks will soon arrive. Fagin expresses his desire — somewhat reluctant — to see Monks tomorrow.
Next, Fagin goes to Bill Sikes's residence, where he finds Nancy by herself in a state of deep despondency. She cannot offer Fagin any comfort. Provided Sikes escapes unharmed, she prefers that Oliver should be dead and thus out of Fagin's clutches.
Fagin becomes angry and alludes to his power of putting the noose around Sikes's neck. He is vexed at the thought of losing the boy, who represents an investment and potential source of profit. And in his agitation he almost blurts out something involuntarily, but checks himself, trembling "with the apprehension of having himself disclosed some hidden villainy."
Fagin is greatly disturbed to think that Nancy may have discovered more than he would have her know. He questions her, intent on finding out whether she caught the drift of his remarks. Finally, he is satisfied that the girl is too far gone in liquor to have understood the significance of his outburst.
It is almost midnight as Fagin scurries home through the blustery streets. Near the house, he is intercepted by a stranger whose voice he recognizes. Fagin lets the stranger into the house. The boys and Crackit are sleeping downstairs, so Fagin conducts his companion into a first-floor room. The candle is left outside the door, to furnish illumination without showing light through the shutters.
The mysterious figure is Monks; at first he and Fagin converse in whispers. It would seem that the old man is defending himself against accusations from the other. As their voices are raised, Monks complains, "I tell you again, it was badly planned."
They are discussing a boy. Monks insists that Fagin could have made a thief of him and arranged his downfall, with a possible sentence of transportation (being sent to a penal colony) for life. Fagin protests that he has done all that he could, and if the boy is still alive he is trapped.
While Monks is speaking, he suddenly utters a startled exclamation. The frightened man claims that he saw the shadow of a woman pass along the wainscot. The two dash out of the room to where the candle is flickering, but see or hear nothing. Fagin takes his fearful companion on a tour of the building. Monks is gradually restored to an uneasy calm, supposing that his imagination has played him tricks.
These chapters are filled with an air of deepening mystery and menace as new enigmas complicate the plot. Fagin is harassed and invariably on the defensive. His behavior and language become highly suspicious in his interview with the landlord of the Three Cripples, his interrogation of Nancy, and cryptic exchange with Monks.
The introduction of the sinister character Monks almost halfway through the book is marked by a strong element of surprise: the man obviously has played a significant role behind the scenes. His appearance brings forth some explanations that only serve to further obscure the overall situation. Monks clearly has some power over Fagin, who has a distaste for the man, although he has been on Monks's "business all night." This business somehow relates to Oliver, we learn from the remarks between the conspirators. The revelation, however, merely strengthens the evidence of the jeopardy that the boy has been in. We know now that he has not been the object of Fagin's machinations simply in order to draw him into the ranks of thieves but because some resolute foe is actively prosecuting his total destruction, excluding only murder.
While Fagin is engaged in these mysterious inquiries and communications, we do not even know whether the little hero of the tale is dead or alive. A steady tension is accordingly induced. We have only Crackit's version of what happened to the boy. The fact that Bill Sikes has not turned up among his shady associates increases alarm, for he is the only other person who might know something about Oliver.
The strains of anxiety because of hidden dangers reach a peak at the end of Chapter 26. Monks's perception of a shadow moving along the wall may be, as he hopefully supposes, a consequence of jumpy nerves, or it may be indicative of some other mysterious force at work — or even manifestation of the supernatural. Monks's behavior throws light on his true nature; his actions betray his essential cowardice. Fagin shows his contempt for the man's disposition by confidently inspecting the vacant rooms.