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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.