Summary and Analysis
On the night that Nancy has her secret meeting with Rose, a familiar couple are approaching London from the north. The man, a gangling sort of creature, is carrying a small package, while the sturdy young woman behind him trudges along under a heavy bundle. They are Noah Claypole and Charlotte. The tired woman hopes soon to stop for the night, but Noah decides that they will go on until reaching the most inaccessible place to be found. The pair have been traveling a circuitous route across country to elude capture: Noah's dutiful admirer has robbed Sowerberry's till.
The fugitives push on into a repulsive section of London. Noah calls a halt at the most disreputable-looking pub he can find, the Three Cripples. They are received by Barney, who serves them in a room behind the bar. Alerted by Barney, Fagin takes a position at a secret observation post and watches the newcomers, listening to Noah's absurd bragging. Noah assures Charlotte that he intends to prosper by engaging in all manner of larceny. It is his ambition to become associated with some gang. That might help them to dispose of the twenty-pound note that Charlotte is carrying.
Having heard enough, Fagin makes his entrance. After friendly preliminaries, Fagin intimidates Noah by exactly repeating some of his words. Noah, coward that he is, accuses Charlotte of being the guilty party. But Fagin dismisses all of this, confiding that he is "in that way of business" himself and that he will shield them.
While Charlotte lugs the bundles upstairs, Fagin offers to exert his influence to get Noah connected with a prominent person. It will cost the twenty pounds, and Noah can see the man tomorrow. Claypole accepts the proposition, partly because he is uncomfortably aware that he is in Fagin's power.
Noah observes that Charlotte is good at what she does and will be productive. As for himself, Noah would like assignments involving a minimum of effort and risk, preferably "something in the sneaking way." After some deliberation, Fagin hits upon the ideal specialty for the new recruit: to steal the coins from young children sent on errands, then knocking them into the gutter. Noah is content with these arrangements and identifies himself and his partner as Mr. and Mrs. Morris Bolter.
The next day, Claypole, alias Bolter, learns that Fagin is himself the "friend" to whom he offered to recommend the clumsy charity boy. Fagin delivers a persuasive lecture on the necessity in the business of each looking out for the others. To emphasize his argument, Fagin laments that he lost one of his best operators yesterday — the incomparable Artful Dodger, who is accused of picking a pocket. If additional evidence is produced, "They'll make the Artful nothing less than a lifer," Fagin concludes.
Charley Bates comes in looking strangely saddened. He explains that there are witnesses against Dawkins, who is sure to be transported for the theft of a snuff box. Fagin raises the boy's spirits by supposing that the Dodger will put on a creditable performance at his trial. Fagin wants someone to report on Dawkins, and Bolter is drafted over his protests. He is dressed as a wagon driver and escorted part of the way to the police station by Bates.
Noah makes his way to the station and immediately recognizes Dawkins when he is brought in to appear. The Dodger impudently tries to make a mockery of the hearing, but a witness testifies against him and he is formally indicted (charged). The young vagabond is led off to jail, and Noah rejoins Bates to deliver the information to Fagin.
The hasty migration of Noah and Charlotte to London forms another connecting link between Oliver's starting point and the city. The pace of the story is accelerating, and Dickens gives specific time references to indicate this. One day after Monks transacted his business with the Bumbles, he consulted with Fagin. Twenty-four hours later, Nancy went to Rose Maylie, while on that same night Claypole and his companion arrived at the Three Cripples.
It may seem farfetched to the reader when the two fugitives from the country visit the very pub where the gang hangs out. But the coincidence has some merit since Noah and Charlotte entered London from the north. Avoiding crowded streets in search of an obscure resting place, they might well have naturally moved toward the sleazy area inhabited by lawless elements.
Noah contributes more confirmation of his character. It is obvious that he allowed Charlotte to carry the loot so that if it became necessary, he could repudiate her to save himself. Dickens nevertheless belabors this point for a paragraph, weakening the effect. On the other hand, there is exquisite irony in the way Claypole categorizes himself as a sneak and a coward.
As Fagin offers instruction to Noah, he plays on the theme that the fraternity of thieves is dependent upon one another for protection. They all share the common objectives of keeping their necks out of the noose. Fagin then turns the Dodger's misfortunes with the law into an occasion for merriment. This is dark humor: lighthearted gaiety affected by those whose days are spent in the shadow of death.
Repeatedly throughout the book, we are shown the criminals' perverted sense of values. For them, violent death, arrest, imprisonment, and execution are part of the normal patterns of existence. To be sure, these are situations to be avoided, but they are nevertheless inevitable for most. The police court where Dawkins is arraigned symbolizes the ultimate end of "depravity, or poverty, or an habitual acquaintance with both," the final act commencing in a "close and unwholesome" room, having "dirt-discolored" walls, a "blackened" ceiling, a "smoky bust," "a dusty clock," "a taint on all animate matter," and "thick greasy scum on every inanimate object."