When they are in the library, Hannah clasps Sandy’s hands and looks up into his face through her spectacles and says she was so very sorry to hear the sad news, and sure it must be entire devastating for him.
There are those consider Hannah Clorinda Roberts as Flora Ferraby’s shadow: but Hannah is one of those quiet women that sit unnoticed and make their own judgements on matters.
She goes on to say, her papa lately preached a very fine sermon upon David and Jonathan.
He does not know what to say to that: instead, asks do Roberts and Seraphine remain at Raxdell House?
Hannah smiles and says, 'twould break her papa’s heart to leave the gardens now that he has got them into such condition. And his new Lordship and Ladyship do not go interfere with the gardens. Mama leaves a deal of kitchen matters in Miriam’s hands now.
They look at one another and he thinks of all those agreeable hours in the Raxdell House library, before Flora came back from her Grand Tour with Clorinda, Hannah quietly going about putting the books into order and writing up the ledgers.
His Lordship was very fond of you, he says. Greatly admired your talent in arranging flowers. He opened to me once that he should have liked to leave you some remembrance in his will, but thought that might lead to some adverse comment – mayhap that you were some bastard daughter of his or had been his mistress – that would be most unpleasing to you and your parents.
Hannah takes off her spectacles to wipe away the tears. He was always so very kind, she says in a choked whisper.
He was, says Sandy, feeling tears threaten himself, ever the kindest of men.
But of course, says Hannah, I already had a remembrance.
Sandy looks at her frowning, for he cannot quite remember –
Beatrice, she says.
Beatrice is one of the several children that he has supposed orphans or those in similar unfortunate condition, that Flora and Hannah have taken in. Beatrice, he recalls, is one of two that he confides come from among Hannah’s connections, by the duskiness of their skin and the curl of their hair.
Hannah puts a hand to her mouth. O, she says, surely you knew, you must have known.
He looks at her with a puzzled frown.
That His Lordship was her father.
What? (for he knew that Gervase could accomplish the act with women, even though it was by no means his inclination.)
Oh, says Hannah, we thought you must know about the children, surely Her Ladyship –
Have you never heard her say secrets that are not mine to disclose? They are your children?
And Flora’s. But – I am astonished you knew naught of this – one e’en Lady Bexbury was reading Shakspeare’s Sonnets to us, that desire a fellow to go beget copies of himself, and I said, 'twas a great pity that His Lordship had not done so, and so we put it to him, and he very kindly conceded to undertake the matter, and so I bore my lovely Beatrice – he chose the name, 'twas ever his favourite Shakspearean heroine.
Indeed, says Sandy, very shaken by this intelligence. Why had he not – 'tis not really surprising, does he think on it, given his own jealousy; and might also have affected his affection towards Hannah. And he knows that Gervase sometimes regretted that he did not have offspring.
And made a generous settlement upon her tho’ we said was entire unnecessary.
He swallows and says, might I come see her, some day?
Why, of course, 'twould be an entire pleasure: you might come visit for a while.
Hector comes say that dinner is about to be served, and they go down to the dining-room.
It is not a thing that one would go ask: but he has always supposed, since they took up residence in the Surrey house, neither of them displaying any inclination to marry, that Flora and Hannah were of the Sapphic disposition. Though, he also recollects, Lady Jane, who could not be doubted of that disposition, had had a great desire for motherhood.
He also minds that they have, between the two of them, writ several pamphlets drawing attention to the iniquitous way the laws of marriage, and those of society generally, are slanted against women. Perchance they make the practical application.
But he cannot muse long when there are two intelligent young women desiring to know his thoughts on various matters.
Clorinda looks at them all very fondly.
But the next day, after Hannah and Flora have departed, and he takes tea with Clorinda, he goes about to discover how much she apprehends of the situation.
At which she laughs merrily and says, have been entire in the plot these several years. Indeed, when comes the time they may no longer conceal their condition, they go to the Shropshire estate, where they may reside quite eremitickal until they are brought to bed.
He frowns a little. But, he says, I had thought that what you had wanted for Flora was some grand match –
Clorinda laughs again and says, 'twas more that had she desired such, would have been deemed an entire acceptable parti, but I ever wanted for her what would make her happy. And while the condition of women remains entire distressing, gives her a deal of gratification to endeavour improve it. Along with her other studies, and the company of Hannah, and their children.
He knows not how to come at enquiring whether 'tis a Sapphic union, but Clorinda has always been able to detect his unasked questions.
They are the dearest of friends, says she, indeed, like unto sisters tho’ perchance with less brangling than Bess and Meg, but 'tis a sympathy of the mind and the heart, not the body. Sure they like men well enough, but they are not obliged to marry.
I daresay, he says, you will tell me that 'tis secrets that are not yours to disclose, but do you know who are the fathers of their children?
I do: but there are secrets that are not mine to disclose. Tho’, she continues with a slight quaver in her voice, I was like to suppose that Milord would have communicated somewhat of the matter of Beatrice to you, and that the pink diamonds were to come to me in trust for her, when she is come to an age that she will not be a-putting 'em in her mouth and being most disappointed that they do not taste as lovely as they look.
He is silent for a while and says at length he is not sure that there is not some resentment that he himself was not deemed suited as a sire.
There is a little quiver about Clorinda’s mouth. O, she says, the matter was discussed, when we were talking of leaving copies. But, my dear, 'twould be somewhat of a heavy matter to undertake an act you had never before performed with so much at stake in the business.
Upon considering over this, he concedes that she has the right of it. Even could he contrive to perform he doubts not he would be clumsy and awkward about the matter, and should not like to inflict that upon any young woman whom he held in affection.