“Can you?” said she, wrenching herself out of his grasp and panting, half with rage. “Take that, by way of proof that making right is none so easy.” And she boxed his ears pretty sharply. He went back to his seat discomfited and out of temper. She could no longer see to look, even if her face had not burnt and her eyes dazzled, but she did not choose to move her seat, so she still preserved her stooping attitude and pretended to go on sewing.
“Eleanor Hebthwaite may be milk-and-water,” muttered he, “but — Confound thee, lad! what art thou doing?” exclaimed Michael, as a great piece of burning wood was cast into his face by an unlucky poke of Will’s. “Thou great lounging, clumsy chap, I’ll teach thee better!” and with one or two good round kicks he sent the lad whimpering away into the back-kitchen. When he had a little recovered himself from his passion, he saw Susan standing before him, her face looking strange and almost ghastly by the reversed position of the shadows, arising from the firelight shining upwards right under it.
“I tell thee what, Michael,” said she, “that lad’s motherless, but not friendless.”
“His own father leathers him, and why should not I, when he’s given me such a burn on my face?” said Michael, putting up his hand to his cheek as if in pain.
“His father’s his father, and there is nought more to be said. But if he did burn thee, it was by accident, and not o’ purpose; as thou kicked him, it’s a mercy if his ribs are not broken.”
“He howls loud enough, I’m sure. I might ha’ kicked many a lad twice as hard, and they’d ne’er ha’ said ought but ‘damn ye;’ but yon lad must needs cry out like a stuck pig if one touches him;” replied Michael, sullenly.
Susan went back to the window-seat, and looked absently out of the window at the drifting clouds for a minute or two, while her eyes filled with tears. Then she got up and made for the outer door which led into the back-kitchen. Before she reached it, however, she heard a low voice, whose music made her thrill, say —
Her heart melted within her, but it seemed like treachery to her poor boy, like faithlessness to her dead mother, to turn to her lover while the tears which he had caused to flow were yet unwiped on Will’s cheeks. So she seemed to take no heed, but passed into the darkness, and, guided by the sobs, she found her way to where Willie sat crouched among the disused tubs and churns.
“Come out wi’ me, lad;” and they went out into the orchard, where the fruit-trees were bare of leaves, but ghastly in their tattered covering of gray moss: and the soughing November wind came with long sweeps over the fells till it rattled among the crackling boughs, underneath which the brother and sister sat in the dark; he in her lap, and she hushing his head against her shoulder.