“Camelot--Camelot,” said I to myself. “I don't seem to rememberhearing of it before. Name of the asylum, likely.”
It was a soft, reposeful summer landscape, as lovely as a dream,and as lonesome as Sunday. The air was full of the smell offlowers, and the buzzing of insects, and the twittering of birds,and there were no people, no wagons, there was no stir of life,nothing going on. The road was mainly a winding path with hoof-printsin it, and now and then a faint trace of wheels on either side inthe grass--wheels that apparently had a tire as broad as one's hand.
Presently a fair slip of a girl, about ten years old, with a cataractof golden hair streaming down over her shoulders, came along.Around her head she wore a hoop of flame-red poppies. It was assweet an outfit as ever I saw, what there was of it. She walkedindolently along, with a mind at rest, its peace reflected in herinnocent face. The circus man paid no attention to her; didn'teven seem to see her. And she--she was no more startled at hisfantastic make-up than if she was used to his like every day ofher life. She was going by as indifferently as she might have goneby a couple of cows; but when she happened to notice me, _then_there was a change! Up went her hands, and she was turned to stone;her mouth dropped open, her eyes stared wide and timorously, shewas the picture of astonished curiosity touched with fear. Andthere she stood gazing, in a sort of stupefied fascination, tillwe turned a corner of the wood and were lost to her view. Thatshe should be startled at me instead of at the other man, was toomany for me; I couldn't make head or tail of it. And that sheshould seem to consider me a spectacle, and totally overlook herown merits in that respect, was another puzzling thing, and adisplay of magnanimity, too, that was surprising in one so young.There was food for thought here. I moved along as one in a dream.
As we approached the town, signs of life began to appear. Atintervals we passed a wretched cabin, with a thatched roof, andabout it small fields and garden patches in an indifferent state ofcultivation. There were people, too; brawny men, with long, coarse,uncombed hair that hung down over their faces and made them looklike animals. They and the women, as a rule, wore a coarsetow-linen robe that came well below the knee, and a rude sort ofsandal, and many wore an iron collar. The small boys and girlswere always naked; but nobody seemed to know it. All of thesepeople stared at me, talked about me, ran into the huts and fetchedout their families to gape at me; but nobody ever noticed thatother fellow, except to make him humble salutation and get noresponse for their pains.
In the town were some substantial windowless houses of stonescattered among a wilderness of thatched cabins; the streets weremere crooked alleys, and unpaved; troops of dogs and nude childrenplayed in the sun and made life and noise; hogs roamed and rootedcontentedly about, and one of them lay in a reeking wallow inthe middle of the main thoroughfare and suckled her family.Presently there was a distant blare of military music; it camenearer, still nearer, and soon a noble cavalcade wound into view,glorious with plumed helmets and flashing mail and flaunting bannersand rich doublets and horse-cloths and gilded spearheads; andthrough the muck and swine, and naked brats, and joyous dogs, andshabby huts, it took its gallant way, and in its wake we followed.Followed through one winding alley and then another,--and climbing,always climbing--till at last we gained the breezy height wherethe huge castle stood. There was an exchange of bugle blasts;then a parley from the walls, where men-at-arms, in hauberk andmorion, marched back and forth with halberd at shoulder underflapping banners with the rude figure of a dragon displayed uponthem; and then the great gates were flung open, the drawbridgewas lowered, and the head of the cavalcade swept forward underthe frowning arches; and we, following, soon found ourselves ina great paved court, with towers and turrets stretching up intothe blue air on all the four sides; and all about us the dismountwas going on, and much greeting and ceremony, and running to andfro, and a gay display of moving and intermingling colors, andan altogether pleasant stir and noise and confusion.