'I have forgotten, Doctor,' said Mrs. Strong's mama, when we were seated, 'to pay you the compliments of the day - though they are, as you may suppose, very far from being mere compliments in my case. Allow me to wish you many happy returns.'
'I thank you, ma'am,' replied the Doctor.
'Many, many, many, happy returns,' said the Old Soldier. 'Not only for your own sake, but for Annie's, and John Maldon's, and many other people's. It seems but yesterday to me, John, when you were a little creature, a head shorter than Master Copperfield, making baby love to Annie behind the gooseberry bushes in the back-garden.'
'My dear mama,' said Mrs. Strong, 'never mind that now.'
'Annie, don't be absurd,' returned her mother. 'If you are to blush to hear of such things now you are an old married woman, when are you not to blush to hear of them?'
'Old?' exclaimed Mr. Jack Maldon. 'Annie? Come!'
'Yes, John,' returned the Soldier. 'Virtually, an old married woman. Although not old by years - for when did you ever hear me say, or who has ever heard me say, that a girl of twenty was old by years! - your cousin is the wife of the Doctor, and, as such, what I have described her. It is well for you, John, that your cousin is the wife of the Doctor. You have found in him an influential and kind friend, who will be kinder yet, I venture to predict, if you deserve it. I have no false pride. I never hesitate to admit, frankly, that there are some members of our family who want a friend. You were one yourself, before your cousin's influence raised up one for you.'
The Doctor, in the goodness of his heart, waved his hand as if to make light of it, and save Mr. Jack Maldon from any further reminder. But Mrs. Markleham changed her chair for one next the Doctor's, and putting her fan on his coat sleeve, said: