Looking down at the contents of Sarah’s desk, the pages of her letter now added to the mess of papers, it became quite apparent that I would need more space than this to properly sort through her accounts. I retrieved one of the crates the Grocer had left in the Larder for the return of glass canisters and carefully piled in the bills and other invoices. A bit more than half the documents fit inside, and before I retrieved another crate, I gathered a wet dustrag and polished off the end of the dining table closest to the fireplace, where I also set a new fire to ward off the day’s remaining chill.
Having gathered the remainder of the paperwork, I hauled the huge ledger book off the desk with one arm and washed the top of the desk with the dustrag. There was a series of scratches in the varnish on top, but then, the desk was heirloom and unlikely to be in perfect condition. I carted the last of the accounting out to the Dining Room.
There, finally, I took the book out of the velvet-upholstered head chair – some antiquated thing about regional politics – and collapsed into it, sending up a plume of dust that sent me immediately into a coughing fit. I resolved to set the chairs out in the lawn the following morning, barring rain, to be aired out.
I started with the invoices, first separating them by payment status – paid in full, paid in part, and unpaid – a task which in itself took several hours. Being unversed in accounting and financial practices, looking at the bills at first was like reading in a foreign language. Eventually, though, the pieces began to fall together and the terminology used by the various contractors became more obviously similar. Once I had the first three stacks, I made a pot of tea and had a light supper of sliced late tomatoes and salt. I continued the work by organizing the paid bills by contractor, and then, thankfully, had the presence of mind to open the ledger.
The huge book contained an entry for every transaction Uncle Abram and, subsequently, Sarah, had made using their accounts dating back thirty-five years. Rather, I suppose, the first thirty-one of thirty-five, as they came to an abrupt end around the same time I stopped receiving letters from Sarah. Suddenly it seemed that my entire afternoon had been wasted, as every previous transaction had been listed in chronological order, and I was certain that the backdated bills I had sorted were not organized accordingly. Disheartened by my misspent time, I finished my tea, did the washing up, and retreated up the stairs to my adopted Chamber, nearly knocking over at least three of the stacks of fairy stories on my way.
It felt strange to lie in Sarah’s bed, even with the sheets changed. It, like the desk downstairs, was antique, a four-poster with heavy damask curtains drawn on one side, and had likely been Uncle Abram and Aunt Augusta’s marriage bed before she acquired it, and probably had already been passed through several generations prior to them. For the first time, the weight of the history of the House which I now curated pressed upon me. I found myself wondering how Sarah had died, and where she had died, and how many other Chamberlaynes from the last two hundred years had died in the same way, perhaps even in the same place. Sleep was hard, and I woke with a start from a nightmare that I couldn’t remember once I sat up and saw the morning light filtering in through the grubby window opposite the bed. The whole house needed a good scrubbing, and just the thought of it exhausted me. Then I remembered the ledger still sitting downstairs in the Dining Room and almost resolved to return to sleep, but nothing good ever came of avoiding the inevitable.
I gathered a pot of tea and the last of the scones and made my way back to the Dining Room. Since the sky was clear, I carried the chairs outside to the lawn, save the one I had already rid of dust the afternoon before, then started back to work. After studying the entries in the ledger more closely, I realized that they were only written in once the debt was paid, regardless of the date marked on the bill itself, and was relieved to only have to re-sort one of my piles. I did that first, carefully copying the same information in the same format as all the other entries. Once finished, it became apparent that the yet-unpaid bills accounted for a far greater portion of the paperwork than I had realized. The new entries to the ledger only accounted for about six months of the four years that were missing.
I reshuffled the accounted invoices and took them to the Study to be filed, where I noticed again the gouges in the varnish of the desk. It was a shame that I hadn’t been allotted any extraneous funds, and I doubted that any pleas made to Mr. Feldsmith would be approved. That meant the desk would need to wait to be refinished.
I finished organizing the remaining bills and wrapped and addressed them to the office of Mr. Feldsmith, whose address had thankfully been marked in Uncle Abram’s Contacts, as I had not been otherwise supplied with it. The Estate had no postbox, and in fact I doubted that a regular Postman came through the area at all, so secluded as it was. I would need to give them to the Priest when he came to inter Sarah to the Earth. As it was yet another day until then, I left the package in the Study, and went to examine the Cemetery before its ground was disturbed by the addition of Sarah’s casket.
The plot was quite far removed from the Main House, on a back stretch of unkempt lawn whose only distinguishing feature was a well-worn footpath up to the Cemetery gates. A low stone wall surrounded the area of close-cut grass with its outcropping of headstones, most weather-battered and illegible, if not broken or missing altogether. Uncle Abram and Aunt Augusta, however, had been well cared for. Several small urns still held green and flowering plants, and it was obvious Sarah had spent a considerable amount of time here. The space where her grave would be was already marked: an unassuming plot tucked into a corner, but which, it seemed, was as close to her Parents as she could manage.
On the walk back to the House, between thoughts about whether I’d had enough presence of mind to pack a black dress suitable for a Funeral, it occurred to me that Sarah seemed to have put a lot of thought into her death. It almost seemed odd, until I realized that it was likely because she knew she would have no immediate survivors. She had never married, nor had children, and there were none, truly, who ever cared for her as I had. As I still did. And I hadn’t even seen her in fifteen years. I wondered how her face had changed as she aged, if she’d gone grey, and then I had an even more distressing realization. Sarah had never seen me as anything more than a little girl. I was so different now. I wondered if she would even recognize the person to whom she’d entrusted her entire estate.
Back at the House, I worked quickly to bring the dining chairs back inside. It had once again begun to rain.