As the rivalry over who will take Lizzie's hand in marriage intensifies, Lizzie flees. Meanwhile, the once-kindly Mr. Boffin has become a tyrant to Rokesmith, who evokes the sympathy of the formerly haughty Bella.
Lizzie Hexam, daughter of the corpse robber who found young Harmon's alleged body, is being courted by two desperate characters: Eugene Wrayburn, a dissolute barrister, and Bradley Headstone, a mentally-deranged schoolmaster.
Bella is adopted by Mr. and Mrs. Boffin, inheritors of the dust business in default of young Harmon. The Boffins also hire a very capable but mysterious young man as secretary, John Rokesmith, whose keen interest in Bella holds the secret to his true identity.
A body pulled from the Thames is identified as young John Harmon, heir to a fortune made in dust-contracting. Bella Wilfer, his wife-to-be by terms of old Harmon's will, goes into mourning though she has never met her fianc??.
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