It was good to climb the welds and look back, for in the high lands there was none of this. Below us the levels, with their bright waters, were wrapped in a strange blue haze, that had come with the famine at its worst, and, as men said, had brought or made the sickness. I had heard of it; but it was not so plain when one was in it, or else our shore was free, which is likely, seeing how little we suffered.
After that we kept to the high land, not so much fearing the blue robe of the pestilence as what things of its working we might see; and so it was late in the afternoon that we came in sight of Lincoln town, on its hill, with the wide meres and river at its feet. I have seen no city that stands more wonderfully than this of ours, with the grey walls of the Roman town to crown the gathering of red and brown roofs that nestle on the slope and within them. And ever as we drew nearer Havelok became more silent, as I thought because he had never seen so great a town before, until we passed the gates of the stockade that keeps the town that lies without the old walls, and then he said, looking round him strangely, “Brother, you will laugh at me, no doubt, for an arrant dreamer, but this is the place whereto in dreams I have been many a time. Now we shall come to yon turn of the road among the houses, and beyond that we shall surely see a stone-arched gate in a great wall, and spearmen on guard thereat.”
It was so, and the gate and guard were before us in a few more steps. It was the gate of the old Roman town, inside which was the palace of the king and one or two more great houses only. Our English kin hate a walled town or a stone house, and they would not live within the strong walls, whose wide span was, save for the king’s palace, which was built partly of the house of the Roman governor, and these other halls, which went for naught in so wide a meadow, empty and green, and crossed by two paved roads, with grass growing between the stones. There were brown marks, as of the buried stones of other foundations, on the grass where the old streets had been.
All the straggling English town was outside the walls, and only in time of war would the people use them as a stronghold, as they used the still more ancient camps on the hills.
“Many times have you heard us tell of this place, Havelok,” I said. “It is no wonder that you seem to know it.”
“Nay,” he answered, “but this is the city of my dreams, and somewhat is to happen here.”
For that night we went to the house of the old dame with whom my father and I were wont to lodge when we came to the market, and she took us in willingly, though she could make little cheer for us. Truly, as had been said, the scarcity was not so great in Lincoln, but everything was terribly dear, and that to some is almost as bad.
“No money have I now, dame,” I said ruefully, “but I think that for old sake’s sake you will not turn us away.”