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 to-night?’
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, anyhow.’
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 me in.’
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.