Summary and Analysis
Dickens goes back to pick up the chronicle of Oliver's adversities. Toby Crackit is the first to advocate abandoning the boy. As the pursuers gain, Sikes drops his burden and disappears over a hedge. Simultaneously, the members of the manhunt lose their zest for the chase and turn back. The group consists of Mr. Giles, butler and steward of the old lady residing in the mansion, Brittles, a general handyman, and an itinerant tinker with his two dogs.
Toward daylight, the air becomes colder and still the rain falls incessantly. Oliver lies insensible in the mud, his left arm soaked with blood. By degrees he recovers consciousness and struggles to his feet. Half delirious, the boy stumbles painfully across the fields. He reaches a road and makes for the nearest house. As he gets close, Oliver recognizes it as the place they attempted to rob. He has no choice: he goes to the door, raps weakly, and sinks against a pillar.
In the kitchen, Giles is detailing a heroic account of the momentous night, upsetting the cook and housemaid. The company are thrown into a panic by Oliver's knock; for mutual protection, they go to the door as a group. The helpless Oliver is triumphantly dragged into the house and news of the capture is shouted up the stairs. A sweet voice conveys her aunt's wishes to have the wounded robber brought to Giles's room. Brittles is sent to bring a constable and doctor from Chertsey.
The old lady of the house, Mrs. Maylie, and her niece Rose are having breakfast when Mr. Losberne, the surgeon from Chertsey, bursts into the room. After a round of amenities, he climbs the stairs to examine the casualty of last night's action. The doctor is gone for quite a while.
Giles has suppressed the information that the victim of his bullet is a young boy, and neither of the ladies has seen the housebreaker. The doctor thinks that they ought to go with him to see the patient, and the old lady consents.
What the ladies behold in the bed is "a mere child: worn with pain and exhaustion, and sunk into a deep sleep." They are incredulous, and Rose sheds tears of pity. The young woman pleads for Oliver, and her aunt declares that she intends to take the suffering boy under her protection.
Mrs. Maylie appeals to the doctor for counsel. He volunteers to get cooperation from Giles and Brittles. Mr. Losberne expects Oliver to awaken in about an hour and proposes to question him in the presence of the ladies. He insists that if it becomes evident that Oliver is in fact "a real and thorough bad one," he will refrain from further efforts to help the boy. The ladies agree to this reservation.
It is evening before Oliver revives. Since the boy is anxious to talk, the doctor recommends that it is all right for Mr. Losberne to interview him then. Accordingly, the boy tells his protectors the story of his unhappy life. That night he sleeps calmly.
The doctor goes to the kitchen, where he finds the local constable with the household staff. Mr. Losberne challenges Giles and Brittles to identify positively the wounded boy as the one whom they saw during the night's fracas. The ruse has its calculated effect of confusing the two men. Just then the Bow Street runners (plain-clothed police detectives) arrive; they had been sent for in the morning by Giles and Brittles.
The officer in charge is Blathers, a heavy-set man of about fifty. He is accompanied by Duff, an unpleasant looking character. When asked about the burglary, Mr. Losberne gives a lengthy account of the affair. Blathers wants to know about "this here boy that the servants are a-talking on," but the doctor evades the inquiry.
The officers inspect the premises inside the house and outdoors. Following this procedure, they hear the versions of Giles and Brittles, which are loaded with contradictions. Blathers and Duff move off to consult in private.
The doctor is worried; he is convinced that Oliver's story will not exonerate him. Only the incriminating matters are obvious, but the favorable details depend upon the boy's unsupported words. Mr. Losberne decides that they must practice bold strategy.
The policemen have concluded that no servants were in league with the burglars. The criminals were experts from London; there were two men and a boy. Blathers now requests to see the boy upstairs, whereupon the officers are hastily prevailed upon to take something to drink. Encouraged by the liquor and Rose's feigned interest, the officers begin to reminisce about some other novel crime. The doctor leaves the room at this time, and when he returns invites the men upstairs.
Oliver appears worse, with no clue what is going on. Mr. Losberne boldly invents a story. The boy, he says, had been shot by a gun trap while trespassing and was subsequently handled roughly by the butler. Giles is baffled and becomes so confused under cross-examination that by degrees he comes to state definitely that Oliver was not the boy who entered the house.
Acting on the doctor's suggestion, the frustrated officers turn their attention to Brittles. Nothing emerges from his garbled story except Brittles's firm belief that he could not possibly identify the boy.
It is not even certain that Giles had actually hit anyone. He'd had a pair of pistols at the time of the botched robbery. One of these had, of course, shot Oliver. The other pistol is found to have no bullet in it, a development that makes a deep impression on everyone except the doctor, "who had drawn the ball [bullet] about ten minutes before."
The investigators from London retire for the night. After some more indecisive activity the following day, they return to the city.
Mrs. Maylie and Mr. Losberne post bail for Oliver's appearance if he should ever be wanted. Under the care of his three new friends, the boy once more begins to mend.
On a cold, wet morning, Oliver is lying in a ditch, unconscious with a bullet wound. His situation can hardly become worse. The alternatives before him are either death or a turn for the better. In one of Dickens's frequent twists of Fate, Oliver's fortunes begin to rise. The disastrous failure of the burglary has delivered the boy from a miserable future.
Now within a secure dwelling, the boy is surrounded by the safeguards of servants, affluence, respectability, and, above all, benevolent friends. From his low point in the ditch, Oliver has experienced a spectacular reversal in the way his life is moving.
Some readers may take exception to the apparent tinkering of Dickens's standards by his representatives of the best in mankind. In his measures to assist Oliver, Mr. Losberne cheerfully goes against respected standards of conventional morality and order. In this he is firmly aided by the upright Mrs. Maylie and her good-natured niece Rose. This compact is all the more questionable because its intention is to thwart the operation of the law, the alleged cornerstone of civilized society.
The doctor invents a bold lie to deceive the police, even to the extent of compromising his own professional integrity. Still worse, he tricks the trusty servants into unwilling collaboration. His master stroke is to tamper with evidence significant in a criminal investigation.
All of this is, nevertheless, in accord with Dickens's fundamental social doctrines. He has little confidence in institutions, including the law, to bring about human betterment He has more faith in the ability of the benevolent impulses of worthy people as an agency of true justice than in the impersonal doings of legal machinery. In any event, Dickens would elevate the claims of mercy and charity above the dictates of arbitrary justice. It could be argued that he comes perilously close to contending that the end justifies the means, with the elusive provision that the end be laudable and the means innocuous.