Red grew my Beltane’s cheek and he looked not to her as he answered:
“Lady, I have no new song.”
“Why then, is thy lesson yet unlearned?” said she. “Have ye no love but for birds and flowers?” and her red lip curled scornfully.
“Is there aught more worthy?”
“O Beltane!” she sighed, “art then so simple that such will aye content thee; doth not thy heart hunger and cry within thee for aught beside?”
Then Beltane bowed his head, and fumbled with his brush and dropped it, and ere he could reach it she had set her foot upon it; thus it chanced that his hand came upon her foot, and feeling it beneath his fingers, he started and drew away, whereat she laughed low and sweet, saying:
“Alack, and doth my foot affright thee? And yet ’tis none so fierce and none so large that thou shouldst fear it thus, messire—thou who art so tall and strong, and a mighty wrestler withal!”
Now, looking up, he saw her lips curved and scarlet, and her eyes brimful of laughter, and fain would he have taken up the brush yet dared not. Therefore, very humbly, she stooped and lifting the brush put it in his hand. Then, trembling ’neath the touch of her soft fingers, Beltane rose up, and that which he had hidden deep within his heart brake from him.
“Helen!” he whispered, “O Helen, thou art so wondrous fair and belike of high estate, but as for me, I am but what I am. Behold me” he cried, stretching wide his arms, “I am but Beltane the Smith; who is there to love such as I? See, my hands be hard and rough, and would but bruise where they should caress, these arms be unfitted for soft embracements. O lady, who is there to love Beltane the Smith?”
Now the Duchess Helen laughed within herself for very triumph, yet her bosom thrilled and hurried with her breathing, her cheek grew red and her eyes bright and tender, wherefore she stooped low to cull a flower ere she answered.
“Beltane,” she sighed, “Beltane, women are not as thy flowers, that embraces, even such as thine, would crush them.”
But Beltane stooped his head that he might not behold the lure and beauty of her, and clenched his hands hard and fierce and thereafter spake:
“Thou art so wondrous fair,” said he again, “and belike of noble birth, but—as for me, I am a smith!”
Awhile she stood, turning the flower in gentle fingers yet looking upon him in his might and goodly youth, beholding his averted face with its strong, sweet mouth and masterful chin, its curved nostrils and the dreaming passion of his eyes, and when she spake her voice was soft and very sweet.
“Above all, thou art—a man, messire!”
Then did my Beltane lift his head and saw how the colour was deepened in her cheek and how her tender eyes drooped before his.
“Tell me,” he said, “is there ever a woman to love such a man? Is there ever a woman who would leave the hum and glitter of cities to walk with such as I in the shadow of these forest-lands? Speak, Oh speak I do beseech thee!” Thus said he and stopped, waiting her answer.