Mrs. Corney, matron of the workhouse where Oliver was born, is just about to sit down for a cup of tea when Mr. Bumble appears. Mr. Bumble explains the concept of out-of-door relief, which is to give the poor people exactly what they don’t want so that they won’t come back. Mr. Bumble gives Mrs. Corney the port wine ordered for the infirmary, and then stays for a cup of tea. Mr. Bumble flirts with her, and then finally kisses her, and she threatens to scream, but right then there is a knock on the door. It is an old woman, who tells Mrs. Corney that Old Sally is dying, and insists on telling Mrs. Corney something before she does.
When Mrs. Corney and the messenger arrive in Old Sally’s room, she is sleeping. While they wait, the messenger gossips with the other nurse. Mrs. Corney gets impatient, but just as she decides to leave Old Sally wakes up and grabs her arm. Sally tells her that years ago she helped give birth to a boy in the room they are in, and the mother died, and as soon as she did, Sally stole a gold necklace from her. She tells the matron that the boy’s name was Oliver, and she is about to tell her the mother’s name when she dies.
The artful Dodger, Charley Bates and Tom Chitling play a game of whist while Fagin stares into the fire. The doorbell rings, and the Dodger goes to see who it is. When he comes back, he whispers to Fagin, who tells Bates and Chitling to hide. The Dodger then leads Toby Crackit in.
Crackit insists on eating before he tells them anything, so Fagin waits impatiently. When Crackit is finally ready to get down to business, he asks Fagin how Sikes is, and then they realize that none of them have seen him. Crackit explains what happened, and that he and Sikes tried to escape with Oliver, but eventually just left him in a ditch and split up in their attempts to evade capture. Upon hearing the news, Fagin rushes from the house and heads to The Three Cripples, the pub where Sikes usually goes. Sikes isn’t there, however, and the man he questions hasn’t heard any news of him or of Barney.
Fagin next goes to Sikes’s residence, where he finds Nancy alone. He tells her Crackit’s news, and she says that Oliver is better off dead than around all of them. Fagin loses control and to Nancy threatens Sikes if he has lost him Oliver, who could have been worth a lot of money. He regrets his explosion, but he thinks Nancy is too drunk to notice. He leaves, and returns home, where Monks is waiting for him. He lets him in, and they discuss Crackit’s news. Monks thinks he sees the shadow of a woman listening to them, but they don’t find anyone. He leaves.
Mr. Bumble, while waiting for Mrs. Corney, inventories her goods, going so far as to rifle through her drawers. Mrs. Corney returns, very flustered at having been so put out by a pauper, so Mr. Bumble gives her a glass of wine. Mr. Bumble proposes to Mrs. Corney, who accepts. Mr. Bumble goes to the undertaker’s to tell him of Old Sally’s death. No one answers the door, so he goes around back and peeks into the window, where he sees a drunk Noah Claypole ask Charlotte to come close for a kiss, upon which Mr. Bumble bursts into the room. Noah tries to blame it on Charlotte. A very offended Mr. Bumble leaves his message for Mr. Sowerberry and leaves.
In running from the house, Sikes yells to Crackit, who has gotten ahead, to come back and help him with Oliver. Crackit obeys the order, for fear that Sikes would shoot at him. Their pursuers come closer, though, and Crackit runs off again, preferring to risk Sikes’s anger to capture. Sikes drops Oliver and jumps over a hedge. The three pursuers are not enthusiastic about chasing him, so decide to give up, reluctantly admitting that they are all afraid. The pursuers are Mr. Giles, the butler and steward, Mr. Brittle, a lad of all-work, and a traveling tinker who, sleeping in an outhouse nearby, had been roused to join in the chase.
Oliver remains where Sikes left him as day breaks. He regains consciousness and manages to get up, but is in a semi-hallucinatory state as he stumbles forward. He comes to the very house that they had tried to rob, and too weak to go anywhere else, knocks on the door and collapses on the porch. Inside, Mr. Giles is telling the story of the robbery to the other staff, when they hear the knock. Nervous, they all go together to answer the door. Mr. Giles drags Oliver inside, and recognizing him, runs to tell the lady of the house that he has caught one of the thieves.
The lady’s niece, in consultation with her aunt, tells them to put Oliver in Mr. Giles bed and go for the doctor and the constable. Mrs. Maylie, Miss Rose and Mr. Giles wait for the doctor to arrive. Mr. Losberne, the doctor, bursts in, and is quite disturbed by the fact of the attempted robbery. After a rather long wait, the doctor comes out and asks if the ladies have yet to see the boy. They answer that they have not, and the doctor says that he thinks that they should.
This section opens with Dickens building suspense as much as he possibly can. The last section closed with Oliver, shot and losing consciousness, being dragged off by Sikes, but Oliver then moves to Mrs. Corney and Mr. Bumble and their awkward and economically-driven flirtation, saying nothing about what has happened to the novel’s protagonist. This is followed by a meta-commentary on this use of suspense, for when Dickens takes us back to the thieves, it is only to see Fagin fail to find anything out, and be slowly tortured by Crackit’s over the top building of suspense.
In Mr. Bumble and Mrs. Corney’s flirtation, Dickens is at his satirical best. Although this is the first “romantic” scene in the novel, as a hapless Mr. Bumble becomes attracted to Mrs. Corney in his accounting of her silver and fine clothes, we see the least idealistic portrayal of human relations possible. Both figures are presented to the reader as comic and certainly not attractive, and their bumbling dance of courtship reflects this total lack of romance.
This is partially due to both lover’s lack of character—both are completely put out and offended when any of the pauper’s entrusted to their care asks for help, both feel no guilt in using the money and resources provided for the paupers for themselves. This also reflects, however, a general distaste for the middle class, who if they cannot feel sympathy for those below them, cannot be imagined to be capable of love.
Courage and cowardice, and the different definitions of the two are important themes in this section of the novel. In the previous section, Oliver was so afraid to participate in the robbery that he physically collapsed, but he is not meant to be seen as a coward. He is instead one of the bravest characters we see, planning to risk his life to warn the members of the Maylie’s house of their impending robbery—he has courage when morality is at stake, and this is the great distinction between him and the less impressive characters.
Bill Sikes and Toby Crackit are both ostensibly somewhat courageous—they make their living in a significantly dangerous line of work. But Dickens focuses much more on their flight from the house than on their bravery in their attempt to rob it, and so we see that their purely selfishly-driven courage is nothing of the sort, and is in fact another form of cowardice.