Although David no longer works for Doctor Strong, he now lives in the same neighborhood and sees him often. Mrs. Markleham still lives with the Doctor, and uses his insistence that Annie enjoy herself as an excuse to go out herself. In fact, she continually fuels the Doctor's fear that Annie is bored and unhappy to suit her own purposes. One day when David is there, Mrs. Markleham tells Doctor Strong that Annie can't be content being "shut up" inside the way she herself would be. She goes on to say that while the Doctor is an excellent man, his interests (like the dictionary) are naturally different from his young wife's. She is therefore willing to accompany Annie on outings out of a sense of "duty."
Although Mrs. Markleham doesn't seem aware of the rumors surrounding Annie and Jack Maldon, she's apparently willing to damage her daughter's reputation in other ways in pursuit of her own happiness; by suggesting that Annie is bored and in need of entertaining, Mrs. Markleham implicitly calls her devotion to Doctor Strong into question. What makes this especially troubling, from the perspective of the time, is the fact that Mrs. Markleham actually uses her daughter's loyalty to Doctor Strong as a way of manipulating her, suggesting that she would be ungrateful if she didn't comply with the Doctor's "wishes."
Doctor Strong sorrowfully agrees with all Mrs. Markleham says, and the end result is that Annie is often forced out over her own protests. Jack Maldon only rarely accompanies them, however, although Dora sometimes goes. Since David is now convinced that Mrs. Strong is not having an affair, he doesn't object to his wife's friendship with Annie.
Although Annie's devotion and selflessness make her a model Victorian wife, they also leave her vulnerable to suspicion in a strange way. Mrs. Markleham plays on Annie's love for her husband to persuade her to go out and do things against her will—the idea being that Annie would displease the Doctor if she didn't take advantage of his generosity. This in turn seems to confirm to the outside world that Annie is bored and eager to get away from her husband, when in fact she's simply trying to honor her husband's wishes.
Meanwhile, Miss Betsey finds the state of Doctor and Mrs. Strong's marriage troubling and confusing. She suspects Mrs. Markleham is making the situation worse, but Miss Betsey doesn't know how to fix it. She is confident, however, that Mr. Dick has a plan that will work out. Mr. Dick himself has not given any indication of this, but he continues to be close to both Doctor Strong and Annie.
As Miss Betsey suspects, Mrs. Markleham's overbearing presence is causing problems in her daughter's marriage; significantly, the restoration of harmony in the Strong household requires her to occupy a much less visible role than she had previously.
One night when Dora is out with Miss Betsey, Mr. Dick stops by David's house and asks to speak to him. Mr. Dick announces that Miss Betsey is "the most wonderful woman in the world" and then sits down, looking very serious. He asks David what he "considers" Mr. Dick, and—when David replies, "a dear old friend"—clarifies his meaning by tapping his head. Seeing David at a loss, Mr. Dick asks whether he isn't a little "weak," and David hesitantly agrees. This pleases Mr. Dick, and he explains that the business with Charles I has made him "simple," despite what Miss Betsey says. He is grateful to her, however, for saving him from life in an asylum, and is determined to provide for her.
Mr. Dick's relationship with Miss Betsey often resembles a marriage, though one that does not clearly conform to nineteenth-century norms. Here, for instance, Mr. Dick says he wants to provide for Miss Betsey in much the same way a husband ordinarily would. Although he isn't truly able to do this, he comes closer to fulfilling the masculine ideal over the course of the novel by doing things like taking work outside the home.
Mr. Dick moves on to the main subject of his visit and describes how grateful he is for Doctor Strong's patience, kindness, and wisdom. Mrs. Strong, meanwhile, is a "star" in Mr. Dick's eyes. He has noticed "clouds" in the marriage, however, which he doesn't understand. As delicately as he can, David says there is an "unfortunate division" between the Doctor and his wife. Having confirmed that Doctor Strong is not actually angry with Annie, Mr. Dick excitedly says that he knows the solution. He asks why Miss Betsey and David have not intervened, and David says that the subject is awkward. Triumphantly, Mr. Dick then says that a "poor fellow with a craze" doesn't need to obey those kinds of social conventions. Finally, he swears David to secrecy as Dora and Miss Betsey return.
The Strongs' situation reveals just how confining and counterproductive Victorian gender roles could be. Despite having only good intentions towards one another, Doctor and Annie Strong can't clear the air between them on their own; in fact, Annie's devotion to her husband is unintentionally exacerbating the situation, and her modesty and reserve prevent her from speaking freely to either her husband or her mother. What's more, family and marital affairs are seen as so private that no one outside the Strongs' relationship feels they can intervene. In the end, it takes action on the part of someone who exists entirely outside social norms—Mr. Dick—to restore happiness to the Strongs' marriage.
David thinks there is something to be said for Mr. Dick's plan, but he doesn't hear anything about it for a few weeks and begins to think Mr. Dick has forgotten. One day, however, David and Miss Betsey are going for an evening stroll and pass by Doctor Strong's house, where they find Annie Strong and Mr. Dick in the garden. Mrs. Strong says her husband is seeing someone in his study but will be free soon, and asks David and his aunt to come inside.
Within the context of the Strongs' marital problems, Mr. Dick's disability turns out to be an advantage. In part, this is because (as he himself says) it allows him to say things others couldn't. It also, however, allows him to befriend both Annie and the Doctor in a way that wouldn't be possible for most men; Mr. Dick can safely spend time alone with Annie because he is not seen as a sexual threat, and he can help her in "feminine" pasttimes like gardening because he is not obligated to conform entirely to masculine gender norms.
Mrs. Markleham soon enters the drawing room where David and Miss Betsey are seated, and scolds Annie for not informing her that Doctor Strong was meeting with someone about his will. She then explains how she overheard Doctor Strong confirming that the will demonstrates his "confidence" in Annie and leaves everything to her "unconditionally." According to Mrs. Markleham, she was overwhelmed by the Doctor's generosity to her daughter, and speaks glowingly of his "strength of mind." She also congratulates herself for having encouraged Annie to marry Doctor Strong on the assumption that he would leave her a large inheritance. Finally, she announces that she is going to the study and asks Miss Betsey and David to join her. Mrs. Strong comes along as well, leaning on Mr. Dick's arm.
Mrs. Markleham has no real right to know the contents of Doctor Strong's will, but her casual assumption that she does speaks to her complete disregard for her daughter's privacy. It's also a reflection of her own greed and social ambition, which (by association) casts doubt on Annie's motives in marrying the Doctor. Meanwhile, it's significant that the Doctor chooses to demonstrate his faith in Annie's loyalty by altering his will in her favor: the implication is that Annie deserves his money precisely because she didn't marry him for his wealth. The fact that he leaves her his money unconditionally is also a statement of faith in her judgment, since he could, if he wished, stipulate that she would lose access to the inheritance if she remarried (for example, to Jack Maldon).
Once inside the study, Annie Strong immediately kneels before Doctor Strong. Mr. Dick asks what's wrong as the Doctor tries to raise his wife to her feet, but Annie insists on staying where she is and implores her "husband and father" to "break this long silence." Mrs. Markleham scolds Annie for disgracing herself, but Annie says she is only concerned with her husband at the moment, offending Mrs. Markleham. Meanwhile, Doctor Strong that says any strain in their marriage is his fault and again urges her to stand up. Instead, Annie moves closer and rests her head on her husband's knee and begs "any friend" she has to speak.
Annie's pose makes her look like a fallen woman, begging for forgiveness on her knees in front of her husband. Since Annie hasn't actually done anything wrong, the fact that she assumes this penitent position is odd and troubling: the standards for female sexual behavior are so strict that Annie has to atone for something she hasn't done, simply because of the rumor mill. The fact that she calls Doctor Strong her “husband and father” reflects Victorian ideas about women's supposedly childlike natures, but it also intersects with the novel's interest in the ways parent-child relationships impact later romantic relationships. Annie and Doctor Strong are a rare example of a successful marriage that blurs the lines between these two kinds of relationships, although the age difference clearly does create some strain in the form of misunderstandings.
David hesitantly offers to reveal what he knows and—at Annie's urging—explains the conversation that took place between him, Uriah Heep, Mr. Wickfield, and Doctor Strong. When he finishes, Annie finally allows Mr. Dick to help her stand, saying she wants to "lay bare" all her thoughts and feelings over the course of her marriage. Both Doctor Strong and Mrs. Markleham insist that this is unnecessary, but Annie persists. She begins by explaining how some of her earliest memories involve her father's friend, Doctor Strong, who "stored [her] mind with its first treasures, and stamped his character upon them all." She therefore grew up respecting the Doctor and feeling indebted to him "as a father, as a guide," and was at a loss when her mother began to urge her to marry him.
Like her earlier penitent posture, Annie's insistence on revealing all her private thoughts and feelings is disturbing: proving her innocence is so important, both to her and to the novel, that she's forced to completely "bare" herself for approval. With that said, what Annie reveals here is significant, because it offers a window into another person's coming-of-age process. Although Annie credits Doctor Strong with shaping her into the person she now is, she also explains that she didn't immediately realize the significance of this, and therefore hesitated to marry him. This parallels David's own experiences with Agnes, who is the guiding influence in David's life, but whom David nevertheless regards as a sister for most of the novel.
Annie continues her story, explaining that she eventually grew used to the idea of marrying Doctor Strong, and was "proud" that he thought she deserved him. Because she herself had not thought about the Doctor's wealth when she married, it never occurred to her that anyone else would suspect her of marrying him for his money, and when Mrs. Markleham first alerted her to the possibility, she was distressed. She further explains that her mother's exploitation of the marriage—however unintentionally—for her own family's benefit concerned her: Annie noticed that Mr. Wickfield seemed to view her with increased suspicion, and it pained her to think about how her and her husband's love for one another was being misconstrued.
Once again, Annie's narrative reveals how strict the parameters governing appropriate female behavior were in the nineteenth century. To qualify as a good wife, it's not enough for Annie to simply be unmotivated by greed; she has to be so innocent that the thought of anyone marrying for money would never even have occured to her if Mrs. Markleham hadn't made her own motives clear.
The topic of Mrs. Markleham's family brings Annie to Jack Maldon, whom she admits she was once infatuated with. Now, however, she is very grateful she didn't marry him, because "There can be no disparity in marriage like unsuitability of mind and purpose." These words strike David, although he isn't quite sure why. Meanwhile, Annie says she is grateful to Doctor Strong for saving her from "the first mistaken impulse of [her] undisciplined heart."
Annie's youthful infatuation with Jack Maldon continues to parallel David's own storyline, though David himself is only dimly aware of this at the time. The implication, however, is that while Annie's marriage to Doctor Strong saved her from recklessly marrying someone who wouldn't suit her, David gave into his similarly ill-advised impulses by marrying Dora.
However, while Annie wished Maldon would make more of an effort to find work, she tolerated him until his going-away party, when he tried to seduce her. At that point, she says, she realized not only that Maldon was "false," but also that Mr. Wickfield suspected her of having an affair. She was so ashamed, however, that she couldn't bring herself to speak to Doctor Strong. The fact that Doctor Strong insisted on being kind to Maldon for Annie's sake made the situation even more painful for her, and confirmed her feeling that the Doctor ought to have married someone else. Nevertheless, she says, she never meant to reveal any of this, but now that she has learned all the reasons for Doctor Strong's changed behavior towards her (and learned that he trusts her regardless), she feels compelled to declare her fidelity.
Like her early unawareness of her mother's ambition, Annie's initial ignorance of both Wickfield's suspicions and Maldon's intentions proves her sexual purity. Coupled with Annie's embarrassment about the night of the party, this reveals how rigid the standards of purity were at the time; whatever Maldon did to try to "seduce" Annie, he clearly did without her consent, and yet it's Annie who falls under suspicion and is obliged to clear her name. It's also interesting that Annie brings up the episode in the context of discussing Maldon's laziness and ingratitude to Doctor Strong, describing him as "false and thankless." The implication is that since Maldon has no qualms about taking advantage of the Doctor when it comes to advancing his career, he would similarly have no qualms about taking advantage of the Doctor's wife.
Throughout Annie's speech, Doctor Strong has attempted to reassure her. Now that she has finished, the couple embrace, and Annie begs her husband not to let anything else come between them but her own "imperfections."
Annie's explanation restores domestic harmony to the marriage and the household. It's worth noting, however that even as she reconciles with her husband, she insists on humbling herself one final time by alluding to her "many imperfections."
Miss Betsey goes to Mr. Dick and hugs him, saying he is a "remarkable man." Miss Betsey, Mr. Dick, and David then leave, with Miss Betsey remarking happily that Mrs. Markleham has been put in her place. Mr. Dick says that he feels a bit sorry for her, but Miss Betsey insists that the entire situation was Mrs. Markleham's fault, and that it's not appropriate for a mother to cling so much to a married child. David, meanwhile, is deep in thought, mulling over what Annie Strong had said about the importance of like-mindedness in marriage.
What seems to have disturbed Miss Betsey most about the Strongs' situation was Mrs. Markleham's interference in her adult daughter's life; this inappropriate meddling, according to Miss Betsey, was responsible for the entire misunderstanding. In contrast, throughout the novel, Miss Betsey has insisted that her role is to help David learn to become independent of her. David's closing thoughts, meanwhile, hint at his growing realization that Dora is not the proper wife for him.