In the first draft, Molly’s plotline took up a bit more space. Among other things, Sukey interrupted John’s midnight talk with her in the kitchen…
“I’m sure she is seeing others of her friends,” Sukey said. “You heard what Larry and Mrs. Khaleel said about the ball. She’s the mother of the whole group, I don’t doubt. Couldn’t she—why can’t they come and visit her here? I used to have friends drop in at Mrs. Humphrey’s—just now and again, but if I was careful to keep working she usually didn’t much mind.”
“Mrs. Humphrey ran a boarding house,” John said. “And you received your guests in the kitchen, I suppose.”
Sukey nodded reluctantly.
“Mr. Summers is a private gentleman who won’t want strangers of the laboring classes making themselves free in his home. Nor will Mrs. Khaleel want her kitchen filled with Molly’s weeping friends.”
“Mr. Summers is the vicar. Parishioners visit him all the time.”
It was true, but Mr. Summers had also carefully explained to him how they were to be supervised while they did so.
“What if they came during our needlework?” Sukey said. “They could come in the back door and direct into the laundry. There’s barely even anything for them to steal in there.”
“Then you would have to chaperone them,” John said. “Really chaperone them, and make sure nothing improper or dishonest took place. Your needlework is the one quiet time of day you have.”
Sukey stifled a laugh. “Lord, Johnny, don’t you know by now how dull I find quiet time?”
“Ah. Yes, of course you do.” He ought to be past being surprised by the differences between them. “But I mean it, Sukey. Promise me you’ll take the responsibility seriously.”
She drew back sharply. “And will you even believe me if I promise?”
“Yes.” To his shame, it wasn’t entirely true, but he vowed to act as if it was. To have faith in her. “I will believe your promise.”
He heard her slow intake of breath. “I promise. I do.”
He took her hand. “You’re very good,” he said, and kissed her palm. “I’ll propose it to Mr. Summers on Monday, then, if Molly wishes. Go back to bed. I’ll be there soon.”
“But they can’t always get away in the afternoons,” Molly protested when this plan was laid before her.
“And you can’t get away at all at night,” John said. “The world is imperfectly arranged. It’s frustrating, I know.”
She sighed—but he thought it was not entirely with disappointment.
“Mrs. Toogood has agreed to chaperone them during the time she and Molly are engaged in their needlework,” John said, cautiously hopeful that his talk with Mr. Summers was going well. “They can enter directly through the back door and into the butler’s pantry without disturbing you, and of course the hours and days she is allowed to receive them would be entirely at your discretion, should you wish for quiet at certain times.”
“I cannot allow Molly to receive visitors if the rest of you do not have the same privilege,” Mr. Summers said, an amused gleam in his eye.
John’s heart sank. “Then let us discuss how to arrange that,” he said at once, allowing not a trace of how outlandish a request it was to show on his face.
The vicar steepled his bony fingers, tapping them softly together for long moments. “My flock will say I’m entering my dotage to allow myself to be so imposed upon by my servants.” Abruptly, he cackled. “I shall leave the arrangements up to you,” he said to John’s shock. “Perhaps Larry might prefer to visit his friends at their own abodes, as he is so often out on errands for me. It will be, at least, a privilege whose revocation will speedily correct misbehavior. In truth, it will be nice to have the house a little less empty. When Ned takes up residence here, it will be quite like old times.”
There was no need to feel sorry for him. He had three children living and well, and he and his wife had been married—happily, by all accounts—for the better part of half a century. But John’s chest hurt as he said, “Mr. Summers, if I might presume to share with you an observation of mine…”