"You are a strange man; Sir!" said the old gentleman, bringing his
gimlet-eye to a point on Clifford, as if determined to bore right into
him. "I can't see through you!"
"No, I'll be bound you can't!" cried Clifford, laughing. "And yet, my
dear sir, I am as transparent as the water of Maule's well! But come,
Hepzibah! We have flown far enough for once. Let us alight, as the
birds do, and perch ourselves on the nearest twig, and consult wither
we shall fly next!"
Just then, as it happened, the train reached a solitary way-station.
Taking advantage of the brief pause, Clifford left the car, and drew
Hepzibah along with him. A moment afterwards, the train--with all the
life of its interior, amid which Clifford had made himself so
conspicuous an object--was gliding away in the distance, and rapidly
lessening to a point which, in another moment, vanished. The world had
fled away from these two wanderers. They gazed drearily about them.
At a little distance stood a wooden church, black with age, and in a
dismal state of ruin and decay, with broken windows, a great rift
through the main body of the edifice, and a rafter dangling from the
top of the square tower. Farther off was a farm-house, in the old
style, as venerably black as the church, with a roof sloping downward
from the three-story peak, to within a man's height of the ground. It
seemed uninhabited. There were the relics of a wood-pile, indeed, near
the door, but with grass sprouting up among the chips and scattered
logs. The small rain-drops came down aslant; the wind was not
turbulent, but sullen, and full of chilly moisture.
Clifford shivered from head to foot. The wild effervescence of his
mood--which had so readily supplied thoughts, fantasies, and a strange
aptitude of words, and impelled him to talk from the mere necessity of
giving vent to this bubbling-up gush of ideas had entirely subsided. A
powerful excitement had given him energy and vivacity. Its operation
over, he forthwith began to sink.
"You must take the lead now, Hepzibah!" murmured he, with a torpid and
reluctant utterance. "Do with me as you will!" She knelt down upon the
platform where they were standing and lifted her clasped hands to the
sky. The dull, gray weight of clouds made it invisible; but it was no
hour for disbelief,--no juncture this to question that there was a sky
above, and an Almighty Father looking from it!
"O God!"--ejaculated poor, gaunt Hepzibah,--then paused a moment, to
consider what her prayer should be,--"O God,--our Father,--are we not
thy children? Have mercy on us!"