Her first glimpse of him, as she held the blazing stick over the edge of the fall, was of a face damp with sweat or with spray, and of his hands reaching up the slimed rock, feeling for a grip.
“Ah, be careful! Shall I come down to you?” For the first time she realised his peril.
“Over rocks that are steepest,” he quoted gaily, between grunts of hard breathing. He had handhold now. “Hero on her tower—and faith, Leander came near to swimming for it—once or twice” (grunt) “Over the mountains, And over the waves—hullo! that rock of yours overhangs. What’s to the left?” (grunt) “Grass? I mistrust grass on these ledges. . . . Reach down your hand, dear Ruth, to steady me only. . . .”
She flung herself prone on the flat rock beside the fire, and gave a hand to him. He caught it, heaved himself over the ledge with a final grunt of triumph, and dropped beside her, panting and laughing.
“You might have killed yourself!” she shivered.
“And whom, then, would you have reproached?”
“You might have killed yourself—and then—and then I think I should have died too.”
“My lord will be hungry. He shall rest here and eat.”
He flung a glance towards the cabin; or rather—for the dusk hid its outlines—towards the light that shone cosily through the window-hatch.
“Not yet!” she murmured. “My lord shall rest here for a while.” She was kneeling now to draw off his shoes. He drew away his foot, protesting.
“Child, I am not so tired, but out of breath, and—yes—hungry as a hunter.”
“My lord will remember. It was the first service I ever did for him.” It may have been an innocent wile to anchor him fast there and helpless. . . . At any rate she knelt, and drew off his shoes and carried them to a little distance. “Next, my lord shall eat,” she said; and having rinsed her hands in the stream and spread them a moment to the flame to dry, sped off to the cabin.
In a minute she was back with glasses and clean napkins, knives, forks, spoons, and a bottle of wine; from a second visit she returned with plates, condiments, and a dish of fruit. Then, running to the cooking-pot, she fetched soup in two bowls. “And after that,” she promised, “there will be partridges. Mr. Strongtharm shot them for me, for I was too busy. They are turning by the fire on a jack my mother taught me to make out of threads that untwist and twist again. . . . Shall I sit here, at my lord’s feet?”
“Sit where you will, but close; and kiss me first. You have not kissed me yet—and it is our wedding day. Our wedding feast! O Ruth—Ruth, my love!”
“Our wedding feast! . . . Could it be better! O my dear, dear lord! . . . But I’ll not kiss you yet.”
“Why, sir, because I will not—and that’s a woman’s reason. Afterwards—but not now! You boasted of your hunger. What has become of it?”