When her charge was at length formed, the marriage, not only of the young lady, but likewise of her father, the widower, was resolved on. The widower then finding Mrs General both inconvenient and expensive, became of a sudden almost as much affected by her merits as the archdeacon had been, and circulated such praises of her surpassing worth, in all quarters where he thought an opportunity might arise of transferring the blessing to somebody else, that Mrs General was a name more honourable than ever.
The phoenix was to let, on this elevated perch, when Mr Dorrit, who had lately succeeded to his property, mentioned to his bankers that he wished to discover a lady, well-bred, accomplished, well connected, well accustomed to good society, who was qualified at once to complete the education of his daughters, and to be their matron or chaperon. Mr Dorrit's bankers, as bankers of the county- widower, instantly said, 'Mrs General.'
Pursuing the light so fortunately hit upon, and finding the concurrent testimony of the whole of Mrs General's acquaintance to be of the pathetic nature already recorded, Mr Dorrit took the trouble of going down to the county of the county-widower to see Mrs General, in whom he found a lady of a quality superior to his highest expectations.
'Might I be excused,' said Mr Dorrit, 'if I inquired--ha--what remune--'
'Why, indeed,' returned Mrs General, stopping the word, 'it is a subject on which I prefer to avoid entering. I have never entered on it with my friends here; and I cannot overcome the delicacy, Mr Dorrit, with which I have always regarded it. I am not, as I hope you are aware, a governess--'
'O dear no!' said Mr Dorrit. 'Pray, madam, do not imagine for a moment that I think so.' He really blushed to be suspected of it.
Mrs General gravely inclined her head. 'I cannot, therefore, put a price upon services which it is a pleasure to me to render if I can render them spontaneously, but which I could not render in mere return for any consideration. Neither do I know how, or where, to find a case parallel to my own. It is peculiar.'
No doubt. But how then (Mr Dorrit not unnaturally hinted) could the subject be approached. 'I cannot object,' said Mrs General--'though even that is disagreeable to me--to Mr Dorrit's inquiring, in confidence of my friends here, what amount they have been accustomed, at quarterly intervals, to pay to my credit at my bankers'.'
Mr Dorrit bowed his acknowledgements.
'Permit me to add,' said Mrs General, 'that beyond this, I can never resume the topic. Also that I can accept no second or inferior position. If the honour were proposed to me of becoming known to Mr Dorrit's family--I think two daughters were mentioned?--'
'I could only accept it on terms of perfect equality, as a companion, protector, Mentor, and friend.'
Mr Dorrit, in spite of his sense of his importance, felt as if it would be quite a kindness in her to accept it on any conditions. He almost said as much.
'I think,' repeated Mrs General, 'two daughters were mentioned?'
'Two daughters,' said Mr Dorrit again.
'It would therefore,' said Mrs General, 'be necessary to add a third more to the payment (whatever its amount may prove to be), which my friends here have been accustomed to make to my bankers'.'
Mr Dorrit lost no time in referring the delicate question to the county-widower, and finding that he had been accustomed to pay three hundred pounds a-year to the credit of Mrs General, arrived, without any severe strain on his arithmetic, at the conclusion that he himself must pay four. Mrs General being an article of that lustrous surface which suggests that it is worth any money, he made a formal proposal to be allowed to have the honour and pleasure of regarding her as a member of his family. Mrs General conceded that high privilege, and here she was.
In person, Mrs General, including her skirts which had much to do with it, was of a dignified and imposing appearance; ample, rustling, gravely voluminous; always upright behind the proprieties.