My rating: 8.5/10. Better than expected. Likable main characters gently shine in this sweetly improbable but diverting light read.
In a small Scottish town, Sue Pringle was competently keeping house for her widowed father and younger brother when an unexpected stepmother entered the picture. Now in her twenties, Sue has to bite her tongue at the constant criticisms of the woman who has taken her beloved mother’s place. Worse yet, Sue’s family is pressing for her marriage to a worthy young man working in her grandfather’s grocery business; while Sue likes Bob Hickie well enough in a platonic way she has no interest in him romantically.
When an opportunity to take on a job as a cook for an artist and his wealthy wife arises, Sue decides to make a break and move into Tog’s Mill with the Darnays. She awakens her first morning to find that Mrs. Darnay has left for London taking the single other servant with her, leaving her husband to fend for himself.
Though well aware of the social implications of living unchaperoned in the same house as a young, attractive man, Sue feels guilty about abandoning the unworldly Mr. Darnay to his own limited resources, and she stays on, though her family and the neighbouring villagers look askance at the unorthodox situation.
John Darnay and Sue soon become good friends, sharing a sense of humour and a desire for solitude to pursue their own interests. Immediately nicknamed “Miss Bun” for her father’s occupation (he is town baker), Sue basks in Darnay’s approval, and soon realizes that her feelings for her employer are something stronger than is wise in their situation. She keeps house and cooks and enables Darnay to work on his painting uninterrupted, going so far as to arrange for his growing number of creditors to hold off with their bills, as with Mrs. Darnay gone there is no longer any sort of income coming in, as Mrs. Darnay would really like her husband to return to the city and continue his lucrative trade of painting saleable pictures and society portraits, instead of mucking about experimenting with new techniques and ways to capture his personal “vision”.
The artist is totally oblivious of this situation, until it is brought to his attention by Sue’s grandfather, who, much as he likes Darnay, has some serious qualms about his beloved granddaughter’s obviously doomed affection for a married man, and a penniless artist to boot.
The inevitable happens; the penny drops; and the arrangement at Tog’s Mill comes to an abrupt end, with Darnay leaving for London to work at portrait painting to pay his bills, and Sue seeking refuge with her grandparents while she decides her next step.
Added to the mix are Sue’s younger brother Sandy who suddenly runs away to join the army, a local aristocrat who thinks he just might be Sue’s real father, and a petition for divorce advanced by the absent Mrs. Darnay naming Sue as a co-respondent.
All of these threads twist and turn and eventually come to satisfactory resolutions, but not without a chance for Sue to show what fine and tenacious stuff she’s made of.
An unlikely story, but a grand bit of escapism. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Recommended.
Another brief and favorable review can be found here .