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All that is overdue

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The family have gone. They have escaped to London, ostensibly to avoid the building work that must make good the aftermath of the fire. Maybe that is all they are escaping. Septimus knows that they never understood her, so perhaps they do not see her absence in every face the house turns to them, as he does. But, regardless of motive, they have gone, and it falls to him to tidy away what is left of her.

He finds himself in the schoolroom at what would have been the appointed hour, with no knowledge of how he came to be there. The realisation that she will not come, that she will never come again, hits him suddenly, and he realises, belatedly, that there is no place for him in this house any longer.
No place for her, either, although her books are still scattered about the schoolroom. He moves around, gathering them into his arms, and mounts the stairs to the library to return them to their rightful places.

***

Hannah bangs into the library, dropping books as she goes, and Valentine shouts something about quiet from the next room. She calls an apology, dumps her armload onto the table, and collects the strays from the floor to place beside them. How did she acquire so many books in such a short time? Not such a short time, really. Just seems like it, now she's leaving.

She starts to sort through the piles, working out which belongs where, to make the task of reshelving easier.

***

Septimus carefully lowers the books to the library table, lowers himself onto one of the chairs and sits looking at them. He reaches out and strokes the copy of Childe Harold. She would have been wasted on Byron. All that cleverness, all that life, and the poet would only have seen her face, and, no doubt, grown bored of that before long.

He pulls an envelope from his pocket, and places it on the table in front of the pile of books. Letters from beyond the grave. He laughs bitterly. He can't quite bring himself to burn it. If she had lived... Best not to finish that thought. She's dead, and the letter is no use to anyone now. Perhaps he should slip it inside Childe Harold's cover. She loved the book, maybe that's the closest he can get to her. But Byron didn't notice her in life, so he will not have her in death. Somewhere else, then.

***

Hannah picks up her first pile, and moves over to start replacing books on shelves.

***

Septimus forces the envelope from his mind, and starts sorting through her books. Such a polymath! Fiction, and philosophy, and science. She left no corner of her father's library unplundered, and each time he returns a book to its place he remembers her reading it, and talking about it. To him.

***

Hannah moves some books around to make space for the one she's returning. Amazing how books seem to rearrange themselves without any human input at all - she's sure no one has touched this section since she took this book out, but now there's hardly room for it. She pushes, and further down the shelf, something shifts; some books no longer supported by their neighbours topple over, and one perched on top of them slides off and onto the floor. She bends to rescue it, and spots the faded cream corner of something peeking out of its covers. It's an envelope, and it's addressed in faded ink to "Thomasina Coverley".

She starts to call to Val, but then changes her mind. Holding the envelope gingerly, she sits down at the table and examines it. It's plain. The writing looks like the right period, and she's struck by a thought. Leaving the envelope in front of her, she shuffles through the pile of books until she finds Thomasina's exercise book, and then flicks through until she finds an exercise returned with a comment more extensive than ticks and a grade. The handwriting looks the same. There, the curl on the Y is distinctive. It must be from him.

***

He should burn it, send it to join her. It will do neither of them any good now, and could do him some harm if her mother finds it. But he cannot. The letter is his last link to her. Maybe he should have spoken, when speaking was still possible. But instead he wrote to her, not knowing that she would not live to read his words, and for better or worse, the letter is what he has left.

***

She tests the flap and finds, as she expected, that the adhesive has long since failed. She slides the envelope open, draws the letter out and spreads it on the table in front of her.

***

There are no more books left on the table in front of him. Only the envelope remains, so he must decide. He is suddenly weary of the burden of the decision, and, recklessly, chooses a shelf at random and slides the letter between the pages of a dusty old tome of biography of someone he has never heard of. Probably no one will ever find it, and the house will crumble around it with his words unread and his pupil unremembered.

***

When Hannah has finished reading, there are tears in her eyes. She folds the letter back up, carefully, and slides it back into its envelope. She imagines what Bernard's reaction would be to a find like this, and smiles, but the smile is melancholy. Poor Hodge. Spending the rest of his life mourning Thomasina with reams and reams of mathematics. Puts Queen Victoria's mourning to shame, really. What they could have done, the two of them, if they had only lived now instead of then! But no, perhaps Thomasina's skill had been seeing ahead. Perhaps she would have been just as incomprehensible now. And if she had lived...

***

He stares at the letter's hiding place. If she had lived...

But he is finished, now. Finished in the library, and finished in the house. He must stay until they return, because that was the promise he made, but when they return he will leave. He will not be tormented by memories of her everywhere he looks, although he knows already that escape from his mind will not be so easy.

***

Hannah comes to a decision. She puts the letter back where she found it and swears secrecy to it - a meaningless oath to a piece of paper and ink.

***

They turn to leave, each taking a last look at the letter's hiding place before opening the door. "Goodbye", they each whisper. The door closes softly behind them, and they are gone.