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"Sway the tide of battle which way it will, human existence is held together by its old, and only tenure of earnest thoughts, and quiet affections."
During the seventeenth century Swaffham Manor House was one of the most picturesque dwellings in Cambridgeshire. It was so old that it had a sort of personality. It was Swaffham. For as the Yorkshireman, in speaking of his beloved rivers, disdains the article "the" and calls them with proud familiarity, Aire, Ure, Ribble, so to the men of the country between Huntingdon and Cambridge, this ancient dwelling was never the Manor House; it was the synonym of its builders, and was called by their name—Swaffham. For it was the history of the Swaffham family in stone and timber, and no one could enter its large, low rooms without feeling saturated and informed with the spiritual and physical aura of the men and women who had for centuries lived and died under its roof.
The central tower—built of the white stone of the neighbourhood—-was the fortress which Tonbert Swaffham erected A.D. 870, to defend his lands from an invasion of the Danes; and five generations of Tonbert's descendants dwelt in that tower, before William of Normandy took possession of the crown of England. The Swaffham of that date became a friend of the Conqueror; the Manor was enriched by his gifts; and the Manor House—enlarged and beautified by various holders—had the singular fortune to be identified with the stirring events of every dynasty.
In the middle of the seventeenth century it still retained this character. Puritan councils of offense and defense had been held in its great hall, and parliamentary soldiers drilled in its meadows. For Captain Israel Swaffham was the friend of General Cromwell, and at the time this story opens was with Cromwell in Scotland. Nothing of good in the old race was lacking in Captain Israel. He was a soldier going forth on a holy errand, hurrying to serve God on the battle-field; faithful, as a man must be who could say after a hard day's fighting,
"Tired! No. It is not for me to let my right hand grow tired, if God's work be half-done."
A great fighter, he had no parliamentary talent, and no respect for parliaments. He believed England's religious and civil liberties were to be saved by the sword, and the sword in the hand of his great leader, Oliver Cromwell; and when the King's fast-and-loose proposals had been discussed by the men of Cambridgeshire, in Swaffham, he had closed the argument with this passionate declaration:
"There is no longer disputing with such a double mind as the mind of Charles Stuart. The very oath of God would not bind him. Out, instantly, all of you who can!"
His three sons rose at his words and the rest of the council followed, for all felt that the work was but half done—there was to be a Second Civil War. Then home was again deserted for the battle-field, and Captain Swaffham's wife and daughter were once more left alone in the old Manor House.
Mrs. Swaffham was the child of a Puritan minister, and she had strong Puritan principles; but these were subject to passing invasions of feeling not in accord with them. There were hours when she had pitied the late King, excused his inexcusable treacheries, and regretted the pomps and ceremonies of royal state. She had even a feeling that England, unkinged, had lost prestige and was like a dethroned nation. In such hours she fretted over her absent husband and sons, and said words hard for her daughter Jane to listen to with any sympathy or patience.
For Jane Swaffham was of a different spirit. She had a soul of the highest mettle; and she had listened to those English mystics, who came out of the steel ranks of triumphant Puritanism, until she had caught their spirit and been filled through and through with their faith. The Swaffhams were a tall race; but Jane was a woman of small stature and slender frame, and her hair, though abundant, wanted the rich brown hue that was the heritage of the Swaffham beauties. No one spoke of Jane as a beauty; the memory of her sister Amity—who had married Lord Armingford—and of her aunt, Cicely Compton, both women of rare loveliness, qualified Jane's claim to this family distinction. And yet she had a fresh, bright face, a face like a sweet single rose of the wood; one could see straight to her heart through it—a loving, cheerful daughter of righteousness; not perfect by any means; subject to little bursts of temper, and to opinions so positive they had the air of bigotry; but with all her faults holding that excellent oneness of mind, which has no doubts and no second thoughts.