Chapter 21 HOW THEY RANG THE BELLS AT BEECHCOT CHURCH.
As I walked across from the vicarage to the manor house, the moon came out i_he autumn evening sky and lighted the landscape with a brightness that wa_ittle short of daylight. I stood for a few moments at the vicarage gat_dmiring the prospect. Far away to the eastward rose the Wolds, dark an_nbroken, different indeed from the giant bulk of Orizaba, but far mor_eautiful to me. Beneath them lay the village of Beechcot, with its farmstead_nd cottages casting black shadows upon the moonlit meadow, and here and ther_ rushlight burning dimly in the windows. I had kept that scene in my mind’_ye many a time during my recent tribulations, and had wondered if ever _hould see it again. Now that I did see it, it was far more beautiful than _ad ever known it or imagined it to be, for it meant home, and love, and peac_fter much sorrow.
My path led me through the churchyard. There the moonlight fell bright an_lear on the silent mounds and ghostly tombstones. By the chancel I paused fo_ moment to glance at the monument which Sir Thurstan had long since erecte_o my father and mother’s memory. It was light enough to read the inscription, and also to see that a new one had been added to it. Wondering what member o_ur family was dead, I went nearer and examined the stone more carefully. The_ saw that the new inscription was in memory of myself!
I have never heard of a man reading his own epitaph, and truly it gave me man_urious feelings to stand there and read of myself as a dead man. And yet _ad been dead to all of them for more than two years.
“And of Humphrey Salkeld, only son of the above Richard Salkeld and his wif_arbara, who was drowned at Scarborough, October, 1578, to the great grief an_orrow of his uncle, Thurstan Salkeld, Knight.”
“So I am dead and yet alive,” I said, and laughed gayly at the notion. “I_hat is so, there are some great surprises in store for more than one in thi_arish. And no one will be more surprised than my worthy cousin, but he wil_e the only person that is sorry to see me. Oh, for half an hour with hi_lone!”
At that very moment Jasper was coming to meet me. I knew it not, nor did he.
Between the churchyard and the manor-house of Beechcot there is a field calle_he Duke’s Garth, and across this runs a foot-path. As I turned away fro_eading my own epitaph, I saw a figure advancing along this path and makin_or the churchyard. It was the figure of a man, and he was singing some catc_r song softly to himself. I recognized the voice at once. It was Jasper’s. _rew back into the shadow cast by the buttress of the chancel and waited hi_oming. We were going to settle our account once and forever.
He came lightly over the stile which separates the garth from the churchyard, and was making rapid strides towards the vicarage when I stopped him.
“Jasper,” I said, speaking in a deep voice and concealing myself in th_hadow. “Jasper Stapleton.”
He stopped instantly, and stood looking intently towards where I stood.
“Who calls me?” he said.
“I, Jasper,—thy cousin, Humphrey Salkeld.”
I could have sworn that he started and began to tremble. But suddenly h_aughed.
“Dead men call nobody,” said he. “You are some fool that is trying to frighte_e. Come out, sirrah!”
And he drew near. I waited till he was close by, and then I stepped into th_oonlight, which fell full and clear on my face. He gave a great cry, an_ifting up his arm as if to ward off a blow fell back a pace or two and stoo_taring at me.
“Humphrey!” he cried.
“None other, cousin. The dead, you see, sometimes come to life again. And I a_ery much alive, Jasper.”
He stood still staring at me, and clutching his heart as if his breath cam_ith difficulty.
“What have you to say, Jasper?” I asked at length.
“We—we thought you were drowned,” he gasped out. “There is an inscription o_our father’s tombstone.”
“Liar!” I said. “You know I was not drowned. You know that you contrived tha_ should be carried to Mexico. Tell me no more lies, cousin. Let us for onc_ave the plain truth. Why did you treat me as you did at Scarborough?”
“Because you stood ’twixt me and the inheritance,” he muttered sullenly.
“And so for the sake of a few acres of land and a goodly heritage you woul_ondemn one who had never harmed you to horrors such as you cannot imagine?” _aid. “Look at me, Jasper. Even in this light it is not difficult to see how _m changed. I have gone through such woes and torments as you would scarcel_redit. I have been in the hands of devils in human shape, and they have s_orked their will upon me that there is hardly an inch of my body that is no_arked and scarred. That was thy doing, Jasper,—thine and thy fellow- villain’s. Dost know what happened to him?”
“No,” he whispered, “what of him?”
“I saw him hanged to his own yard-arm in the Pacific Ocean, Jasper, and h_ent to his own place with the lives of many an innocent man upon his blac_oul. Take care you do not follow him. Shame upon you, cousin, for the tric_ou played me!”
“You came between me and the girl I loved,” he said fiercely. “All is fair i_ove and war.”
“Coward!” I said. “And liar, too! I never came between her and thee, for sh_ad never a word to give such a black-hearted villain as thou hast prove_hyself. And now, what is to prevent me from taking my revenge upon thee, Jasper?”
“This,” he said, very suddenly, whipping out his rapier. “This, Maste_umphrey. Home you have come again, worse luck, and have no doubt done you_est to injure me in more quarters than one, but you shall not live to enjo_ither land, or title, or sweetheart, for you shall die here and now.”
And with that he came pressing upon me with a sudden fury that was full o_urderous intent.
Now I had no weapon by me save a stout cudgel which I had cut from a coppic_y the wayside that morning, and this you would think was naught when se_gainst a rapier. Nevertheless I made such play with it, that presently _nocked Jasper’s weapon clean out of his hand so that he could not recover it.
And after that I seized him by the throat and beat with my cudgel until h_oared and begged for mercy, beseeching me not to kill him.
“Have no fear, cousin,” said I, still laying on to him, “I will not kill thee, for I would have thee repent of all thy misdeeds.”
And with that I gave him two or three sound cuts and then flung him from m_gainst the wall, where he lay groaning and cursing me.
After that I saw Jasper Stapleton no more. He never showed his face i_eechcot again, and in a few days his mother, Dame Barbara, disappeared also; and so they vanished out of my life, and I was glad of it, for they had worke_e much mischief.
When I reached the manor-house I let myself in by a secret way that I knew o_nd went straight to the great hall, where sat my uncle, Sir Thurstan, wrappe_n cloaks and rugs, before a great fire of wood. He was all alone, and hearin_y step he half turned his head.
“Is that Jasper?” he inquired.
“Nay, sir,” said I. “It is I—Humphrey—and I am come home again.”
And I went forward and kneeled down before him and put my hands on his knees.
For a moment he stared at me as men stare at ghosts, then he gave a great so_f delight, stretched out his arms, put them about my neck, and wept over m_ike a woman.
“Oh lad, lad!” said he. “If thou didst but know how this old heart did griev_or thy sake. And thou art here, well and strong, and I did cause thy name t_e graven on thy parents’ tombstone!”
“Never mind, sir,” said I, “we can cut it out again. Anyway I am not dead, bu_ have seen some rare and terrible adventures.”
“Sit thyself down at my side,” quoth he, “and tell me all about them. Aliv_nd well—yes, and two inches taller, as I live! Well, I thank God humbly. Bu_hou art hungry, poor boy,—what ho! where are those rascals? Call for them, Humphrey,—thou must be famished.”
“All in good time, sir,” said I, and went over to the rope which led to th_reat bell and pulled it vigorously, so that the clangor filled the park belo_ith stirring sound. And Geoffrey Scales, waiting impatiently at the inn, heard it and ran round with the news, and they rang the church bells, an_very soul in Beechcot that could walk came hurrying to the manor and woul_ave audience of me in the great hall.
Thus did I come home again. And having told my story to my uncle, Si_hurstan, and to Master Timotheus Herrick, we agreed that for the present w_ould leave Jasper Stapleton’s name out of it. But somehow, most likel_ecause Jasper and his evil-tongued mother disappeared, the truth got out, an_re long everybody knew my story from beginning to end.
Within a few weeks of my home-coming Rose and I were married in Beechco_hurch, and again the bells rang out merrily. Never had bridegroom a sweete_ride; never had husband a truer or nobler wife. I say it after fifty years o_lessed companionship, and in my heart I thank God for the delights which h_ath given me in her.
And now I have brought my history to a close. Yet there is one matter which _ust speak of before I say farewell to you.
It is about twenty years since one of my servants came to me one summe_vening and said that an old man stood at my door waiting to see me. _ollowed him presently, and there saw a tall, white-haired, white-bearde_igure, dressed in a rough seaman’s dress and leaning upon a staff. He looke_t me and smiled, and then I saw that it was Pharaoh Nanjulian.
“You have not forgotten me, master?” he said.
“Forgotten thee! May God forget me if ever I forget thee, my old, tru_riend!” I said, and I led him in and made him welcome as a king to my hous_nd to all that I had. And with me he lived, an honored guest and friend, fo_en years longer, when he died, being then a very old man of near one hundre_ears. And him I still mourn with true sorrow and affection, for his was _ighty heart, and it had been knit to mine by those bonds of sorrow which ar_carcely less strong than the bonds of love.