So it proved with Clifford. He shuddered; he grew pale; he threw an
appealing look at Hepzibah and Phoebe, who were with him at the window.
They comprehended nothing of his emotions, and supposed him merely
disturbed by the unaccustomed tumult. At last, with tremulous limbs,
he started up, set his foot on the window-sill, and in an instant more
would have been in the unguarded balcony. As it was, the whole
procession might have seen him, a wild, haggard figure, his gray locks
floating in the wind that waved their banners; a lonely being,
estranged from his race, but now feeling himself man again, by virtue
of the irrepressible instinct that possessed him. Had Clifford
attained the balcony, he would probably have leaped into the street;
but whether impelled by the species of terror that sometimes urges its
victim over the very precipice which he shrinks from, or by a natural
magnetism, tending towards the great centre of humanity, it were not
easy to decide. Both impulses might have wrought on him at once.
But his companions, affrighted by his gesture,--which was that of a man
hurried away in spite of himself,--seized Clifford's garment and held
him back. Hepzibah shrieked. Phoebe, to whom all extravagance was a
horror, burst into sobs and tears.
"Clifford, Clifford! are you crazy?" cried his sister.
"I hardly know, Hepzibah," said Clifford, drawing a long breath. "Fear
nothing,--it is over now,--but had I taken that plunge, and survived
it, methinks it would have made me another man!"
Possibly, in some sense, Clifford may have been right. He needed a
shock; or perhaps he required to take a deep, deep plunge into the
ocean of human life, and to sink down and be covered by its
profoundness, and then to emerge, sobered, invigorated, restored to the
world and to himself. Perhaps again, he required nothing less than the
great final remedy--death!
A similar yearning to renew the broken links of brotherhood with his
kind sometimes showed itself in a milder form; and once it was made
beautiful by the religion that lay even deeper than itself. In the
incident now to be sketched, there was a touching recognition, on
Clifford's part, of God's care and love towards him,--towards this
poor, forsaken man, who, if any mortal could, might have been pardoned
for regarding himself as thrown aside, forgotten, and left to be the
sport of some fiend, whose playfulness was an ecstasy of mischief.
It was the Sabbath morning; one of those bright, calm Sabbaths, with
its own hallowed atmosphere, when Heaven seems to diffuse itself over
the earth's face in a solemn smile, no less sweet than solemn. On such
a Sabbath morn, were we pure enough to be its medium, we should be
conscious of the earth's natural worship ascending through our frames,
on whatever spot of ground we stood. The church-bells, with various
tones, but all in harmony, were calling out and responding to one
another,--"It is the Sabbath!--The Sabbath!--Yea; the Sabbath!"--and
over the whole city the bells scattered the blessed sounds, now slowly,
now with livelier joy, now one bell alone, now all the bells together,
crying earnestly,--"It is the Sabbath!"--and flinging their accents
afar off, to melt into the air and pervade it with the holy word. The
air with God's sweetest and tenderest sunshine in it, was meet for
mankind to breathe into their hearts, and send it forth again as the
utterance of prayer.