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 years.