Part 1, Chapters 5-7 Summary
Silas Wegg, an errand runner and street corner salesman, sets up his wares at the corner near Cavendish Square. He believes himself to be in the employ of an imaginary family of an empty house. Nicodemus (Nick, or Noddy) Boffin, the uneducated servant who has inherited the Harmon estate after John Harmon’s presumed drowning, hires Wegg to be his personal reader. Boffin has bought a set of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (though he mistakenly refers to it as the Russian Empire) and would like Wegg to come to his new home, Boffin’s Bower (formerly Harmony Jail), to read it to him. Wegg agrees and arrives at Boffin’s Bower to be greeted by Mrs. Boffin. After managing to get fed by the Boffins, Wegg begins reading, stumbling over most of the unfamiliar Roman names.
At the Six Jolly Fellowship Porters, Miss Abbey Potterson reigns behind the bar. She tells the customers when it is time for them to go home, much as a mother would. Riderhood, a former partner of Gaffer Hexam, is told by Miss Potterson that he is no longer allowed in the tavern because of his trade of picking the pockets of corpses found in the river. Riderhood resents that Gaffer is still allowed in when he is in the same trade, so he insinuates that Gaffer murders his victims for the purpose of picking their pockets after they are dead. Miss Potterson throws Riderhood out and says that Gaffer Hexam is no longer allowed either. She sends for Lizzie Hexam and tells her that she has to get away from her father and take no more part in his “trade.” She shares the suspicion that Gaffer is a murderer, but Lizzie swears it is only Riderhood’s revenge for Gaffer's severing their partnership. Lizzie goes home and tells her brother Charley that he must escape and go to school. She gives him money and sends him out the door. When she tells her father where Charley has gone, Gaffer exclaims that he is now disowned. As he speaks, he stabs his knife in the air, which terrifies Lizzie. She begs him not to use his knife, and he is overcome by the fear that he has caused his daughter.
On his way home from reading to Mr. Boffin, Silas Wegg stops at Mr. Venus’s shop. Mr. Venus is a taxidermist and an “articulator of human bones.” Mr. Venus has acquired Wegg’s amputated leg, and Wegg is interested in purchasing it, but Mr. Venus doesn’t deal. He is very sad and confesses to Wegg that he has been refused by the woman he wants to marry because of his profession.