There is an entirely separate office for Eliza to be about the business of the mistress of Raxdell House. She had some feeling that 'twould not conduce to her authority in a great household did she speak to the servants when necessary in the room in which Quintus and Flora might be playing, Josh might be introducing some new animal into the household that might or might not be civil-behaved, Bess might be having her training in business matters, or bickering with Meg.
But all is now entirely under her hand. Sure she would like to get rid of Dawkins, but a lazy fellow that knows his cellar is perchance to be preferred to one that is too energetic and might go noticing things that, does Dawkins notice, does not bother stirring himself about.
So she has no expectations of any great surprises when taking her monthly survey of the books.
While about this task, making little notes to herself as to matters that will need looking into further, she becomes aware of a faint delicious and very familiar scent. Smiling to herself, she refuses to look up from her task until a beautiful hand places a sheaf of documents beside her on the desktop.
Phoebe, she says, is in the frets over these and says sure there must be some mistake in the reckoning. Mayhap you might reassure her? She will not believe me.
O, loveliest of Clorindas, you quite surprise me!
It is obvious that Clorinda does not believe this in the least.
Eliza looks down at the two hands upon the desktop, side by side. One exquisitely kept, the only blemish the bump on the middle finger of the right hand from holding a pen, something that even Docket’s most vigorous pumicing has been unable to eradicate. The other, her own, the hand of a provincial housewife and mother and former farmer’s daughter. She sighs.
Clorinda looks at her with a little tilt of her lovely head, smiles enigmaticly, and goes to lock the door.
Then returns to sit in Eliza’s lap.
Slowly she picks up Eliza’s right hand. She kisses along the knuckles.
'Tis a very fine hand, my darling, a hand that can milk cows and grow herbs and tend chickens -
Her tongue darts between each of the fingers –
- a hand that can make bread and pikelets and damson cheese and gooseberry preserve –
It is just her hand; only her hand; a hand that these days gentlemen sometimes, to her considerable embarrassment, kiss: but that does not arouse in her the sensations that Clorinda’s gentle nibbling on her fingertips does.
- a hand, she goes on, spiralling her tongue into the centre of Eliza’s palm, that has brought up a fine brood of children, changed their clouts, tended their bumps and bruises, boxed their ears occasional, mended their clothes -
She presses a kiss into the palm, and picks up the other hand. Hands, she says, kissing along the knuckles, that held, did they not, a shotgun when a certain wild young fellow ran into your farmyard to escape from the keepers?
Eliza’s breath comes short, she can feel a flush upon her cheeks. Hands, says Clorinda, in between licking in between fingers and nibbling at their ends, of a clever naughty wicked wild girl that will be about some very pretty tricks when she is with her darlings. Sure I wonder how she ever thought of such things. She raises her eyes from the hand to Eliza’s own as she plants a kiss in the palm.
O my dearest, I love your hands so much. She kisses each one very ceremonious upon the back. But, she says, sliding from Eliza’s knee, sure there is another part I also love very much indeed.
Mayhap there was a moment when she might have protested, but it has entirely flown past by the time Clorinda kneels between her legs and begins daintily lifting her skirts. It does not, indeed, take long for Clorinda to bring her off when she was nigh unto that point from the caressing lips and tongue on her hands alone.
Clorinda rises and smooths down her own skirts, kisses Eliza on the lips and says, I would not hear any deprecation of my darling from any other, and I will not hear it from you.
Eliza goes about setting herself to rights.
There is a light tap upon the door and someone trying the handle. They look at one another.
Clorinda goes to the door and opens it. O, Mr MacDonald! Mrs Ferraby and I were just convoking over some womanly business that we preferred undertake in privacy.
MacDonald’s eyes go from one set of flushed cheeks to the other, and he is brought to somewhat of a blush.