When Jonas knocked at the door, Tom's heart beat high; higher when Miss Mercy answered it, and seeing her wounded lover, shireked aloud; higher, when he followed them into the family parlour; higher than at any other time, when Jonas spoke.
'Don't make a noise about it,' he said. 'It's nothing worth mentioning. I didn't know the road; the night's very dark; and just as I came up with Mr Pinch'--he turned his face towards Tom, but not his eyes--'I ran against a tree. It's only skin deep.'
'Cold water, Merry, my child!' cried Mr Pecksniff. 'Brown paper! Scissors! A piece of old linen! Charity, my dear, make a bandage. Bless me, Mr Jonas!'
'Oh, bother YOUR nonsense,' returned the gracious son-in-law elect. 'Be of some use if you can. If you can't, get out!'
Miss Charity, though called upon to lend her aid, sat upright in one corner, with a smile upon her face, and didn't move a finger. Though Mercy laved the wound herself; and Mr Pecksniff held the patient's head between his two hands, as if without that assistance it must inevitably come in half; and Tom Pinch, in his guilty agitation, shook a bottle of Dutch Drops until they were nothing but English Froth, and in his other hand sustained a formidable carving- knife, really intended to reduce the swelling, but apparently designed for the ruthless infliction of another wound as soon as that was dressed; Charity rendered not the least assistance, nor uttered a word. But when Mr Jonas's head was bound up, and he had gone to bed, and everybody else had retired, and the house was quiet, Mr Pinch, as he sat mournfully on his bedstead, ruminating, heard a gentle tap at his door; and opening it, saw her, to his great astonishment, standing before him with her finger on her lip.
'Mr Pinch,' she whispered. 'Dear Mr Pinch! Tell me the truth! You did that? There was some quarrel between you, and you struck him? I am sure of it!'
It was the first time she had ever spoken kindly to Tom, in all the many years they had passed together. He was stupefied with amazement.
'Was it so, or not?' she eagerly demanded.
'I was very much provoked,' said Tom.
'Then it was?' cried Charity, with sparkling eyes.
'Ye-yes. We had a struggle for the path,' said Tom. 'But I didn't mean to hurt him so much.'
'Not so much!' she repeated, clenching her hand and stamping her foot, to Tom's great wonder. 'Don't say that. It was brave of you. I honour you for it. If you should ever quarrel again, don't spare him for the world, but beat him down and set your shoe upon him. Not a word of this to anybody. Dear Mr Pinch, I am your friend from tonight. I am always your friend from this time.'
She turned her flushed face upon Tom to confirm her words by its kindling expression; and seizing his right hand, pressed it to her breast, and kissed it. And there was nothing personal in this to render it at all embarrassing, for even Tom, whose power of observation was by no means remarkable, knew from the energy with which she did it that she would have fondled any hand, no matter how bedaubed or dyed, that had broken the head of Jonas Chuzzlewit.
Tom went into his room, and went to bed, full of uncomfortable thoughts. That there should be any such tremendous division in the family as he knew must have taken place to convert Charity Pecksniff into his friend, for any reason, but, above all, for that which was clearly the real one; that Jonas, who had assailed him with such exceeding coarseness, should have been sufficiently magnanimous to keep the secret of their quarrel; and that any train of circumstances should have led to the commission of an assault and battery by Thomas Pinch upon any man calling himself the friend of Seth Pecksniff; were matters of such deep and painful cogitation that he could not close his eyes. His own violence, in particular, so preyed upon the generous mind of Tom, that coupling it with the many former occasions on which he had given Mr Pecksniff pain and anxiety (occasions of which that gentleman often reminded him), he really began to regard himself as destined by a mysterious fate to be the evil genius and bad angel of his patron.