Da Silvio certainly takes a long time making his exit. I am, however, within a few pages of the end of Sabra the Astonishing, Soon he will be no more. In the meantime, ladies and gentlemen, Lorenzo Da Silvio.
He took hold of the ornamental wrought-iron banister. Slowly he pulled himself up the curved staircase, red-carpeted step by red-carpeted step, bearing within him his tormenter, his grand inquisitor, and his executioner, three in one, a perfect Trinity, his poisoned, poisoning liver, about which his doctor used to say, “No more drink, Lorenzo,” and shake his head, knowing that it would do no good.
Slowly he climbed, until at last he reached the window parallel with the second floor landing. He pushed aside the curtain, leaning a little out over the veranda’s steep, red-tiled roof.
There it was: pine forest, acre upon acre of it, rolling in the slight breeze like a sea, making a sound like the sea smoothing its shore, broken now and then by a poor, squarish patch of man’s making: there in the distance Raleigh, and if he turned slightly to his left, the smaller cluster of fainter stars, Bright Leaf; between them the silky ribbon of grey road, the winding, looping Jeff D. with its many aliases. Da Silvio sighed.
What had that old devil of a carpetbagger had in mind when he named his house after that bleached mountain in Turkey on which the ark came at last to rest? Did he flatter himself that his ancestors, the issue of his loins, would go out from it to found a new world? And what was his, Ignatius’s, share in all this? That empty tower room, its Moorish arches of open stone tracery now hung with cobwebs, rimed with dust, its mirrors clouded like blind eyes, its brass lamps green and swinging still, but slightly, as the wind insinuates itself in thin threads through the chinks in the windows. This silent room and then the grave, more silent still.
Da Silvio turned wearily and climbed the few remaining steps to the second story. He glanced quickly down the hall to the alcove at its end with its stained glass windows of pelicans wounding themselves in the breast so that they might feed their young with their own blood, and Sacred Hearts like lopsided bombe tomatoes, wound in purple ribbons onto which the family motto was engraved in gilded glass: “Nunquam satis de Maria.”
Surely Noah must have had his doubts, he thought, opening the door to his studio. Surely he must have wondered as he sat atop that arid mountain waiting for the dove to return, watching as the sky cleared and the water receded inch by inch: Am I mad? Was I hearing things? What are my senses that I should credit them? And if it was God’s whose voice I heard, just supposing, then Who is He that I should trust Him? All powerful! An inducement to fear, yes, not trust. And what of my neighbors, whom I have, not forty days since, seen floating like pickles in a barrel, face-up in the brine, their locks streaming out to either side of them and their poor faces white and still in death? They were not all bad, nor I all good. I know my sins. Is this (endlessly fending off the questions of querulous relatives; endlessly shoveling manure), is this Grace? Or is it a trap? Is this a new beginning? Or the beginning of a new end?
His eyes fell upon the easel in the middle of his studio and the painting of the three Mary’s at the Tomb. He leaned against the lintel of the door and covered his eyes with his hand. “Feet!” he exclaimed softly. “The feet are all wrong!”