John went and hung Sukey’s coat and hat by the fire in his mother’s sitting room, thinking it was time he gave her boots a thorough cleaning.
When he returned, Sukey was still gazing about the great kitchen, awestruck. John’s pride in Tassell Hall mingled with a sort of unease. This was his home, but to her it might have been one of the wonders of the world.
And John knew the look on his mother’s face. She was, thus far, highly skeptical. His stomach lurched. He should have bought Sukey a new dress, and those boots…he loved them, but to his mother… At least he might have cleaned them.
Mrs. Toogood’s expression melted into a warm smile as Sukey turned towards her. “You must come and meet my husband, and then I’d love to give you a tour of the old pile. I show visitors about as part of my duties, you know, and I can tell you the whole history of the place.”
In the butler’s pantry, Mr. Toogood was in the midst of a careful inventory of the silverware, polishing tarnish off a fork with a pronounced look of distaste. But he took off his glasses, smiled and embraced John.
His father had been of a height with him until a few years since, when he was abruptly two or three inches shorter. It always amazed John that a human being could shrink. “Mrs. Toogood, this is my father.”
“Mr. Toogood.” Sukey bobbed a curtsey.
“So you’re the young woman who finally turned my sensible son’s head,” Mr. Toogood said with a smile. The underlying message—so you’re the hussy who ruined his career—was probably obvious only to John and his mother, so he tried to ignore it. “A pretty little thing
you are too. Are you sure you’re not too good for him?”
Sukey ducked her head. “Oh, it’s more likely to be the other way round.” Her accent thickened with shyness. He saw his parents exchange glances.
“Not at all,” John said rather sharply. “My father has the right of it.”
Mr. Toogood laughed. “I should thank you. That’s probably the first time my son’s ever said that.”
Sukey twinkled at him. “Make the most of it, for it’s too good to last.” A few more tired puns were exchanged before Mrs. Toogood shepherded them out for the tour.
“I never knew you were such a punster.” John was instantly sorry he’d said it, and sorry for the edge in his voice.
“They do spring to mind now and then, with a name like yours,” Sukey said rather tightly herself.
He’d always been glad she didn’t joke about his name, but it hadn’t occurred to him that she was actively resisting temptation, to be kind. He leaned down to whisper in her ear, “You’re too good to me.”