The scene: same messy table, same country house. But now it's the present day, and the only person there is one Hannah Jarvis.
The sensibly-dressed Hannah is looking at sketch books and comparing them with the view from the windows, and then leaves with a theodolite (an old tool used for mapping a landscape).
Enter the flamboyantly-attired Bernard Nightingale (a visitor) and Chloë Coverly (the daughter of the house's current owners).
Chloë goes off to get some boots so that she can go after Hannah in the garden, while Bernard remains in the room.
Valentine looks in, utters the British equivalent of "damn" ("sod"), and closes the door again.
Chloë returns and offers some exposition for what's going on right now at Sidley Park: Hannah is writing a history of the garden, and the house has been cleaned up for an upcoming party (or rather, cleaned out, so as not to tempt the more kleptomaniac guests).
Bernard has apparently heard of Hannah, but doesn't want her to hear of him, since he asks Chloë not to mention his name to Hannah just yet.
Chloë goes off into the garden in search of Hannah.
Gus opens the door, sees Bernard, and closes it again.
Valentine enters, swears his way across the room (ignoring Bernard), leaves by the opposite door, and starts shouting for Chloë.
Valentine returns, and Bernard tells him that Chloë's in the garden.
Valentine says that he's looking for the commode (a term that can describe various kinds of furniture, but is most often used today as a polite word for "toilet"), because it has the game-books in it (so hopefully he doesn't mean the toilet, as that would require one mighty plunger).
More exposition through conversation: Bernard has come to see Hannah about something he's working on, the current Lady Croom is an avid gardener who has read Hannah's bestselling book (and is quite pleased with herself for doing so), and Hannah's new book-in-progress, according to Valentine, is about hermits.
Bernard tells Valentine that they've met before, at a conference where a colleague of Valentine's used mathematical analysis to show that a colleague of Bernard's analysis was wrong, which Bernard himself was quite pleased to see.
Valentine leaves with his tortoise Lightning, and Hannah arrives.
Hannah addresses Bernard as "Mr. Peacock" (Chloë wasn't too creative in her choice of pseudonym), throwing him off, but he soon figures out she actually means him.
Hannah takes off her muddy shoes while Bernard piles on the flattery, both for Hannah and for her book, which we find is called Caro and is about Caroline Lamb (a writer of the early nineteenth century and lover of the famous Romantic poet Lord Byron).
Bernard's flattery is apparently getting on Hannah's nerves, as she threatens to kick him in the balls (literally) if he doesn't cut the crap and get to the point.
The point is our old friend Ezra Chater: Bernard has the copy of The Couch of Eros that Chater inscribed to Septimus Hodge (as seen in Scene 1), and is nosing around looking for clues at Sidley Park, since it's mentioned in the dedication.
Bernard explains the research he's done so far: Chater the poet has been nearly forgotten. The only other Chater from the period he's found is a botanist who found a new dahlia in Martinique (a French Caribbean island) and promptly died of a monkey bite.
Hannah is a bit surprised at Bernard's fawning attitude, and explains why: most professors who have reviewed her book look down on her and her work, especially those professors who are known for their work on Byron.
Hannah asks for the name of Bernard's university, and it reminds her of another name: one Mr. Nightingale, who has written a particularly scathing review of her book.
The conversation turns to the eccentric Coverly family: Valentine is a postgrad at Oxford, doing something with math and grouse (a kind of bird that hunters like to shoot), Gus doesn't talk, and the mother is obsessed with gardening.
Hannah finally answers Bernard's request for information. She tells him that Septimus Hodge was Thomasina's tutor, but Chater never appears in any of the records found.
Hannah explains more about her own project: the Sidley hermit, the disintegration of Romanticism, landscaping, and literature. Basically, she's writing about how everything went to hell when people stopped being reasonable and went all emo at the turn of the nineteenth century (see also "Classicism vs. Romanticism" in "Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory").
Hannah shows Bernard her one picture of the Sidley hermit: it's Thomasina's drawing in Noakes's landscape book, last seen in Scene 1.
But that's not her only resource: the hermit is also mentioned in an essay published fifty years later.
Bernard momentarily gets (smugly) distracted by his own knowledge about Hannah's sources, but he eventually comes back to Hannah's fascination with the hermit at Sidley Park: the hermit, in addition to being basically a garden accessory, spent his time coming up with mathematical proofs of the end of the world.
Hannah's work takes the hermit's madness and the garden's Gothification to make an argument about the way Romanticism took an age of scientists and clear thinkers – the Enlightenment – and turned it into an era of emo posers (for more on this, check out our section on "Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory."
Bernard is unusually impressed by Hannah's thinking, and asks a few more questions about who this hermit was (Hannah doesn't know) and what happened to his papers (they were burned).
Bernard then brings up Byron, wondering if he comes up in any of the Croom family papers, which makes Hannah a bit suspicious that Bernard isn't being entirely open about his motives.
Chloë passes through with the game books Valentine has been looking for and calls Bernard "Mr. Nightingale," tipping off Hannah to his actual identity. She is very much not pleased.
Hannah is ready to send the lying Bernard packing, but he promises that if she works with him they can both take the whole Byron scholarly crowd down a couple of notches.
Bernard explains what he's really looking for: his copy of Chater's The Couch of Eros belonged to Lord Byron at one time. The underlined passages in the book suggest that it was used to write a book review published in the Piccadilly, a magazine of the time. The review was incredibly snarky, so of course it could not have been written by Septimus Hodge, to whom the book was so glowingly dedicated by its author.
That's not Bernard's main thing, however – what he's really excited about are three notes stuck between the pages of the book, which seem to be about a duel.
Hannah is unconvinced, but Bernard is certain that the duel happened and that Byron killed Chater.
Bernard wants to have his own look through the Croom papers for further evidence, but Hannah won't let him.
Once Bernard finds out from Hannah that Septimus and Byron went to school together, his enthusiasm carries him beyond all of her protests.
Chloë returns and Bernard exits to find a place to stay – he's not going to be leaving the area any time soon, no matter what Hannah says.
Chloë wants to set Hannah up with Bernard for the evening's costume ball, but Hannah is not interested.
Chloë says that Gus will be pleased, since he's in love with Hannah, which Hannah dismisses as a joke; just then, Gus himself enters with an apple, which he gives to Hannah.