Mr. Pecksniff is entering his home when the wind blows the door closed and knocks him down. His daughters are relieved that he is unhurt and help him into the house. They tend to his abrasions and make tea. The daughters are very affectionate to their widowed father. The sisters get along well, even though they are total opposites in personality. Mercy Pecksniff, the youngest, is girlish. Charity Pecksniff is sensible.
Mr. Pecksniff is admired as a very virtuous man. He appears to live up to his reputation, though he falls a little short in actual practice. He is an architect that has never built anything. He takes in students and teaches them the trade. He also is the sort of person that likes to use words that sound impressive on the tongue, but he doesn’t always use them correctly.
Mr. Pecksniff, after tea, reflects on how every pleasure is temporary—and how you can’t over indulge without suffering illness or inebriation. He then announces that he has another student. Charity is interested in how much money they will receive from this student’s family for his education, and Mercy is interested in whether the youth is handsome. Their father’s reply to both inquiries is disappointing. This is a charity case.
Mr. Pecksniff asks if John Westlock is gone. The daughters reply in the negative. He asks why. One daughter replies that he dined with Mr. Pinch and stayed the night at the Dragon. Mercy adds that Mr. Pinch smelled of smoke and punch. He looked worse for wear when she saw him this morning. Mr. Pecksniff is offended that Mr. Pinch chose to be friendly with someone who had wounded his feelings. Charity points out that one can’t expect much from Pinch. Her father replies they should always expect people to develop their better qualities. He thinks a less of Mr. Pinch for failing to do so.
Charity mentions that she hears Pinch and Westlock coming to fetch his box now. Mr. Pecksniff bids the knocker to enter. Mr. Pinch beckons Mr. Westlock inside, and Mr. Pecksniff rounds to face them. Pinch says that Westlock desires to leave on good terms, despite his disagreement with Pecksniff. The young ladies exclaim on how he downplays the situation. Confused, Pinch flounders. Westlock comes forward and says he bears no ill will and is sorry if he offended Mr. Pecksniff.
Pecksniff claims he bears no grudge, but he won’t shake his hand. He says he has forgiven him, and that is better than a handshake. Westlock walks away in disgust, saying he won’t have his forgiveness. Pecksniff claims he will—he won’t remember any wrong Westlock has done to him. Westlock retorts he has done no wrong. Mr. Pecksniff has charged him a lot of money for a service he has not rendered him. Pecksniff says money is the root of all evil and has taken hold of Westlock. He forgives him, though, misguided person as he is—even though he has wounded him. Westlock goes away in contempt, telling Pinch he was wrong. They gather Westlock’s box and leave.
Pinch is miserable because he thinks Pecksniff believes him to be ungrateful. Westlock counters that Pecksniff has not given anything that they want—employment, instruction, money, or food. Pinch is grateful to Pecksniff because he took him as a pupil for less than he originally asked. His grandmother, who had been a housekeeper, died happy. He’s grown up in the house, been a confidante and assistant to Pecksniff, and gets a salary. Pinch was born poor, and he isn’t good at the business or anyone else’s.
Westlock says Pinch is one of the finest people in the world. Westlock sarcastically points out what Pecksniff hasn’t done—though it makes it sound like he is making accusations to the contrary. Mr. Pecksniff didn’t take Pinch’s grandmother’s hard savings. Pecksniff didn’t make promises of an advancement that would never happen. He took all she could give him. Westlock claims that Mr. Pecksniff keeps Pinch because Pinch admires him. Pinch’s honesty makes Pecksniff look honest. Pinch’s learning, which he does on his own, makes it look like Mr. Pecksniff look intelligent. Tom Pinch is better than an advertisement. How valuable he is to Mr. Pecksniff because he doesn’t recognize his own value and trusts one who doesn’t deserve it.
The coach comes before Pinch can reply to this. Westlock promises to write. Pinch thinks well of Westlock, but he thinks he has been horribly unjust to Mr. Pecksniff.