by Thomas Hardy
According to the kinsman who told me the story, Christopher Swetman's
house, on the outskirts of King's-Hintock village, was in those days
larger and better kept than when, many years later, it was sold to
the lord of the manor adjoining; after having been in the Swetman
family, as one may say, since the Conquest.
Some people would have it to be that the thing happened at the house
opposite, belonging to one Childs, with whose family the Swetmans
afterwards intermarried. But that it was at the original homestead
of the Swetmans can be shown in various ways; chiefly by the unbroken
traditions of the family, and indirectly by the evidence of the walls
themselves, which are the only ones thereabout with windows mullioned
in the Elizabethan manner, and plainly of a date anterior to the
event; while those of the other house might well have been erected
fifty or eighty years later, and probably were; since the choice of
Swetman's house by the fugitive was doubtless dictated by no other
circumstance than its then suitable loneliness.
It was a cloudy July morning just before dawn, the hour of two having
been struck by Swetman's one-handed clock on the stairs, that is
still preserved in the family. Christopher heard the strokes from
his chamber, immediately at the top of the staircase, and overlooking
the front of the house. He did not wonder that he was sleepless.
The rumours and excitements which had latterly stirred the
neighbourhood, to the effect that the rightful King of England had
landed from Holland, at a port only eighteen miles to the south-west
of Swetman's house, were enough to make wakeful and anxious even a
contented yeoman like him. Some of the villagers, intoxicated by the
news, had thrown down their scythes, and rushed to the ranks of the
invader. Christopher Swetman had weighed both sides of the question,
and had remained at home.
Now as he lay thinking of these and other things he fancied that he
could hear the footfall of a man on the road leading up to his house-
-a byway, which led scarce anywhere else; and therefore a tread was
at any time more apt to startle the inmates of the homestead than if
it had stood in a thoroughfare. The footfall came opposite the gate,
and stopped there. One minute, two minutes passed, and the
pedestrian did not proceed. Christopher Swetman got out of bed, and
opened the casement. 'Hoi! who's there?' cries he.
'A friend,' came from the darkness.
'And what mid ye want at this time o' night?' says Swetman.
'Shelter. I've lost my way.'
'What's thy name?'
There came no answer.
'Be ye one of King Monmouth's men?'
'He that asks no questions will hear no lies from me. I am a
stranger; and I am spent, and hungered. Can you let me lie with you
Swetman was generous to people in trouble, and his house was roomy.
'Wait a bit,' he said, 'and I'll come down and have a look at thee,
He struck a light, put on his clothes, and descended, taking his
horn-lantern from a nail in the passage, and lighting it before
opening the door. The rays fell on the form of a tall, dark man in
cavalry accoutrements and wearing a sword. He was pale with fatigue
and covered with mud, though the weather was dry.
'Prithee take no heed of my appearance,' said the stranger. 'But let
That his visitor was in sore distress admitted of no doubt, and the
yeoman's natural humanity assisted the other's sad importunity and
gentle voice. Swetman took him in, not without a suspicion that this
man represented in some way Monmouth's cause, to which he was not
unfriendly in his secret heart. At his earnest request the new-comer
was given a suit of the yeoman's old clothes in exchange for his own,
which, with his sword, were hidden in a closet in Swetman's chamber;
food was then put before him and a lodging provided for him in a room
at the back.
Here he slept till quite late in the morning, which was Sunday, the
sixth of July, and when he came down in the garments that he had
borrowed he met the household with a melancholy smile. Besides
Swetman himself, there were only his two daughters, Grace and Leonard
(the latter was, oddly enough, a woman's name here), and both had
been enjoined to secrecy. They asked no questions and received no
information; though the stranger regarded their fair countenances
with an interest almost too deep. Having partaken of their usual
breakfast of ham and cider he professed weariness and retired to the
chamber whence he had come.
In a couple of hours or thereabout he came down again, the two young
women having now gone off to morning service. Seeing Christopher
bustling about the house without assistance, he asked if he could do
anything to aid his host.
As he seemed anxious to hide all differences and appear as one of
themselves, Swetman set him to get vegetables from the garden and
fetch water from Buttock's Spring in the dip near the house (though
the spring was not called by that name till years after, by the way).
'And what can I do next?' says the stranger when these services had
His meekness and docility struck Christopher much, and won upon him.
'Since you be minded to,' says the latter, 'you can take down the
dishes and spread the table for dinner. Take a pewter plate for
thyself, but the trenchers will do for we.'
But the other would not, and took a trencher likewise, in doing which
he spoke of the two girls and remarked how comely they were.
This quietude was put an end to by a stir out of doors, which was
sufficient to draw Swetman's attention to it, and he went out. Farm
hands who had gone off and joined the Duke on his arrival had begun
to come in with news that a midnight battle had been fought on the
moors to the north, the Duke's men, who had attacked, being entirely
worsted; the Duke himself, with one or two lords and other friends,
had fled, no one knew whither.
'There has been a battle,' says Swetman, on coming indoors after
these tidings, and looking earnestly at the stranger.
'May the victory be to the rightful in the end, whatever the issue
now,' says the other, with a sorrowful sigh.
'Dost really know nothing about it?' said Christopher. 'I could have
sworn you was one from that very battle!'
'I was here before three o' the clock this morning; and these men
have only arrived now.'
'True,' said the yeoman. 'But still, I think--'
'Do not press your question,' the stranger urged. 'I am in a strait,
and can refuse a helper nothing; such inquiry is, therefore, unfair.'
'True again,' said Swetman, and held his tongue.
The daughters of the house returned from church, where the service
had been hurried by reason of the excitement. To their father's
questioning if they had spoken of him who sojourned there they
replied that they had said never a word; which, indeed, was true, as
He bade them serve the dinner; and, as the visitor had withdrawn
since the news of the battle, prepared to take a platter to him
upstairs. But he preferred to come down and dine with the family.
During the afternoon more fugitives passed through the village, but
Christopher Swetman, his visitor, and his family kept indoors. In
the evening, however, Swetman came out from his gate, and, harkening
in silence to these tidings and more, wondered what might be in store
for him for his last night's work.
He returned homeward by a path across the mead that skirted his own
orchard. Passing here, he heard the voice of his daughter Leonard
expostulating inside the hedge, her words being: 'Don't ye, sir;
don't! I prithee let me go!'
'Because I've a-promised another!'
Peeping through, as he could not help doing, he saw the girl
struggling in the arms of the stranger, who was attempting to kiss
her; but finding her resistance to be genuine, and her distress
unfeigned, he reluctantly let her go.
Swetman's face grew dark, for his girls were more to him than
himself. He hastened on, meditating moodily all the way. He entered
the gate, and made straight for the orchard. When he reached it his
daughter had disappeared, but the stranger was still standing there.
'Sir!' said the yeoman, his anger having in no wise abated, 'I've
seen what has happened! I have taken 'ee into my house, at some
jeopardy to myself; and, whoever you be, the least I expected of 'ee
was to treat the maidens with a seemly respect. You have not done
it, and I no longer trust you. I am the more watchful over them in
that they are motherless; and I must ask 'ee to go after dark this
The stranger seemed dazed at discovering what his impulse had brought
down upon his head, and his pale face grew paler. He did not reply
for a time. When he did speak his soft voice was thick with feeling.
'Sir,' says he, 'I own that I am in the wrong, if you take the matter
gravely. We do not what we would but what we must. Though I have
not injured your daughter as a woman, I have been treacherous to her
as a hostess and friend in need. I'll go, as you say; I can do no
less. I shall doubtless find a refuge elsewhere.'
They walked towards the house in silence, where Swetman insisted that
his guest should have supper before departing. By the time this was
eaten it was dusk and the stranger announced that he was ready.
They went upstairs to where the garments and sword lay hidden, till
the departing one said that on further thought he would ask another
favour: that he should be allowed to retain the clothes he wore, and
that his host would keep the others and the sword till he, the
speaker, should come or send for them.
'As you will,' said Swetman. 'The gain is on my side; for those
clouts were but kept to dress a scarecrow next fall.'
'They suit my case,' said the stranger sadly. 'However much they may
misfit me, they do not misfit my sorry fortune now!'
'Nay, then,' said Christopher relenting, 'I was too hasty. Sh'lt
But the other would not, saying that it was better that things should
take their course. Notwithstanding that Swetman importuned him, he
only added, 'If I never come again, do with my belongings as you
list. In the pocket you will find a gold snuff-box, and in the
snuff-box fifty gold pieces.'
'But keep 'em for thy use, man!' said the yeoman.
'No,' says the parting guest; 'they are foreign pieces and would harm
me if I were taken. Do as I bid thee. Put away these things again
and take especial charge of the sword. It belonged to my father's
father and I value it much. But something more common becomes me
Saying which, he took, as he went downstairs, one of the ash sticks
used by Swetman himself for walking with. The yeoman lighted him out
to the garden hatch, where he disappeared through Clammers Gate by
the road that crosses King's-Hintock Park to Evershead.
Christopher returned to the upstairs chamber, and sat down on his bed
reflecting. Then he examined the things left behind, and surely
enough in one of the pockets the gold snuff-box was revealed,
containing the fifty gold pieces as stated by the fugitive. The
yeoman next looked at the sword which its owner had stated to have
belonged to his grandfather. It was two-edged, so that he almost
feared to handle it. On the blade was inscribed the words 'ANDREA
FERARA,' and among the many fine chasings were a rose and crown, the
plume of the Prince of Wales, and two portraits; portraits of a man
and a woman, the man's having the face of the first King Charles, and
the woman's, apparently, that of his Queen.
Swetman, much awed and surprised, returned the articles to the
closet, and went downstairs pondering. Of his surmise he said
nothing to his daughters, merely declaring to them that the gentleman
was gone; and never revealing that he had been an eye-witness of the
unpleasant scene in the orchard that was the immediate cause of the
Nothing occurred in Hintock during the week that followed, beyond the
fitful arrival of more decided tidings concerning the utter defeat of
the Duke's army and his own disappearance at an early stage of the
battle. Then it was told that Monmouth was taken, not in his own
clothes but in the disguise of a countryman. He had been sent to
London, and was confined in the Tower.
The possibility that his guest had been no other than the Duke made
Swetman unspeakably sorry now; his heart smote him at the thought
that, acting so harshly for such a small breach of good faith, he
might have been the means of forwarding the unhappy fugitive's
capture. On the girls coming up to him he said, 'Get away with ye,
wenches: I fear you have been the ruin of an unfortunate man!'
On the Tuesday night following, when the yeoman was sleeping as usual
in his chamber, he was, he said, conscious of the entry of some one.
Opening his eyes, he beheld by the light of the moon, which shone
upon the front of his house, the figure of a man who seemed to be the
stranger moving from the door towards the closet. He was dressed
somewhat differently now, but the face was quite that of his late
guest in its tragical pensiveness, as was also the tallness of his
figure. He neared the closet; and, feeling his visitor to be within
his rights, Christopher refrained from stirring. The personage
turned his large haggard eyes upon the bed where Swetman lay, and
then withdrew from their hiding the articles that belonged to him,
again giving a hard gaze at Christopher as he went noiselessly out of
the chamber with his properties on his arm. His retreat down the
stairs was just audible, and also his departure by the side door,
through which entrance or exit was easy to those who knew the place.
Nothing further happened, and towards morning Swetman slept. To
avoid all risk he said not a word to the girls of the visit of the
night, and certainly not to any one outside the house; for it was
dangerous at that time to avow anything.
Among the killed in opposing the recent rising had been a younger
brother of the lord of the manor, who lived at King's-Hintock Court
hard by. Seeing the latter ride past in mourning clothes next day,
Swetman ventured to condole with him.
'He'd no business there!' answered the other. His words and manner
showed the bitterness that was mingled with his regret. 'But say no
more of him. You know what has happened since, I suppose?'
'I know that they say Monmouth is taken, Sir Thomas, but I can't
think it true,' answered Swetman.
'O zounds! 'tis true enough,' cried the knight, 'and that's not all.
The Duke was executed on Tower Hill two days ago.'
'D'ye say it verily?' says Swetman.
'And a very hard death he had, worse luck for 'n,' said Sir Thomas.
'Well, 'tis over for him and over for my brother. But not for the
rest. There'll be searchings and siftings down here anon; and happy
is the man who has had nothing to do with this matter!'
Now Swetman had hardly heard the latter words, so much was he
confounded by the strangeness of the tidings that the Duke had come
to his death on the previous Tuesday. For it had been only the night
before this present day of Friday that he had seen his former guest,
whom he had ceased to doubt could be other than the Duke, come into
his chamber and fetch away his accoutrements as he had promised.
'It couldn't have been a vision,' said Christopher to himself when
the knight had ridden on. 'But I'll go straight and see if the
things be in the closet still; and thus I shall surely learn if
'twere a vision or no.'
To the closet he went, which he had not looked into since the
stranger's departure. And searching behind the articles placed to
conceal the things hidden, he found that, as he had never doubted,
they were gone.
When the rumour spread abroad in the West that the man beheaded in
the Tower was not indeed the Duke, but one of his officers taken
after the battle, and that the Duke had been assisted to escape out
of the country, Swetman found in it an explanation of what so deeply
mystified him. That his visitor might have been a friend of the
Duke's, whom the Duke had asked to fetch the things in a last
request, Swetman would never admit. His belief in the rumour that
Monmouth lived, like that of thousands of others, continued to the
end of his days.
Such, briefly, concluded my kinsman, is the tradition which has been
handed down in Christopher Swetman's family for the last two hundred