Profusion of light slips soundlessly through sky, climbing clouds, illuminating blasts shattering the nebulous black amphitheater of the night, a moment of silence, then the deafening peal of thunder that threatens to split the sky and crumble the earth beneath with its monstrous force. Sheets of icy rain fall miles and, caught in the wind, blast the shifting treetops, the long cobblestone drive that sweeps across the field, and upward, through the stone arch of the gatehouse to the broad, squat manor house. Carriage and horses sweep past, through the rain, over the bridge, through the portal of the gatehouse and up to the main gates. Lone, unfortunate figure emerges from the shadows into the storm to open the wrought iron gates, admitting the carriage to the courtyard. The driver leads the team to his right, circles past the bottom of the stone steps that flank the courtyard, that lead to the grounds on either side of the building, past the two guardians of the nearby forest, the stone lions, reclined, brings the carriage around to a stop in front of the two main doors.
Two figures emerge from the warmth of the house and descend the glistening front steps. The first to reach the carriage opens the door and extends his hand to assist the large form climbing out; the second has opened a parasol to shelter the master of the house from the storm as he climbs the wet stone steps into the shelter of his home, clutching, with both hands, a well wrapped parcel. Another peal of thunder, or perhaps it’s the two large doors slamming simultaneously into place behind him, the sound a stone would make rolled over the mouth of a tomb, the sound echoing away from him into the house, down the distance of long, lonely, hallways.
He looks up to see Evelyn descend a few tentative steps at the top of the front staircase, dressed in black, a wraith, a silhouette. Two hands take his parcel, and an entourage of servants proceed to remove his wet overcoat, to take, from him, his hat and leather gloves and, receiving his parcel once again, he turns and steps out of the brief bustle around him, turns to look wordlessly up the staircase at her, turns and forces himself to climb one step, then a second. Silent ascent, slow like a procession, and he hears the servants scatter behind him, feels their eyes on his back, feels the weight of his own regret, and horror. Another step, and another, and he holds the bundle close to his chest in a damp embrace, as if it were the body of his son. Shaking, still chilled by the rain, wiping a dry hand over his moist face, he takes another step, and another, limbs heavy, feeling the gravitational pull on his bones, the pull of the grave.
Finally at the top, and he looks, wordlessly, at his wife, wishing he could reach out to her, wishing he could comfort her, but afraid. He feels their shared sense of guilt, sees it in her glistening eyes. They have done this thing together, he thinks. Blinded by their sense of propriety, by their self-conscious sense of repute, they will share this ugliness as they have shared everything else, and will live on. If he reaches to her now, will she embrace him or push him away, lashing out at his face in the sudden release of weeks of accumulated and silent grief?
She waits for him to reach out, to set the wrapped parcel on the hall table and hold her, watches the uncertainty in his eyes, and feels something slowly close, with finality, in her chest as he turns away to move silently down the darkened passage into the belly of the house, his form slowly disappearing into the shadows.
It is a relief to be alone in his study, to no longer see the reflection of his helplessness in her face. It is easier, here, to disappear, to let go of his sense of self-possession, until he has nearly ceased to exist. And, as his sense of self slowly slips away until his is just a body in a room full of books, so, too, his pain eases and his guilt begins to dim to a dull throbbing under his arms. He relaxes his grip on the wrapped bundle for the first time, never realizing, until this very moment, how tightly he had clutched it, and sets it on a broad, sturdy table of spread maps.
Unfolding the coarse cloth one layer at a time, he finds himself looking at the battered leather volume, thick and filled with William’s handwriting, his son’s handwriting, looking at the maps trapped beneath it, at the leather chair with large gold studs and heavy feet, at the boy asleep, again, in its arms, just a boy, again. So many nights in this place, safe from the storm. The photograph of his father the boy held tightly that night now so long ago, now on the bookshelf, and he remembers the limp weight cradled in his arms, the warmth of the boy’s breath, face in his neck, asleep, passing half empty wine glasses, moving up the broad staircase to the child’s room. I guess you’re free now, aren’t you, little sparrow. Fly away, then.
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