Henceforward she was all in all to her brother. She was a more spirited and amusing companion to him than his mother had been, from her greater activity, and perhaps, also, from her originality of character, which often prompted her to perform her habitual actions in some new and racy manner. She was tender to lile Will when she was prompt and sharp with everybody else — with Michael most of all; for somehow the girl felt that, unprotected by her mother, she must keep up her own dignity, and not allow her lover to see how strong a hold he had upon her heart. He called her hard and cruel, and left her so; and she smiled softly to herself, when his back was turned, to think how little he guessed how deeply he was loved. For Susan was merely comely and fine looking; Michael was strikingly handsome, admired by all the girls for miles round, and quite enough of a country coxcomb to know it and plume himself accordingly. He was the second son of his father; the eldest would have High Beck farm, of course, but there was a good penny in the Kendal bank in store for Michael. When harvest was over, he went to Chapel Langdale to learn to dance; and at night, in his merry moods, he would do his steps on the flag floor of the Yew Nook kitchen, to the secret admiration of Susan, who had never learned dancing, but who flouted him perpetually, even while she admired, in accordance with the rule she seemed to have made for herself about keeping him at a distance so long as he lived under the same roof with her. One evening he sulked at some saucy remark of hers; he sitting in the chimney corner with his arms on his knees, and his head bent forwards, lazily gazing into the wood-fire on the hearth, and luxuriating in rest after a hard day’s labour; she sitting among the geraniums on the long, low window-seat, trying to catch the last slanting rays of the autumnal light to enable her to finish stitching a shirt-collar for Will, who lounged full length on the flags at the other side of the hearth to Michael, poking the burning wood from time to time with a long hazel-stick to bring out the leap of glittering sparks.
“And if you can dance a threesome reel, what good does it do ye?” asked Susan, looking askance at Michael, who had just been vaunting his proficiency. “Does it help you plough, reap, or even climb the rocks to take a raven’s nest? If I were a man, I’d be ashamed to give in to such softness.”
“If you were a man, you’d be glad to do anything which made the pretty girls stand round and admire.”
“As they do to you, eh! Ho, Michael, that would not be my way o’ being a man!”
“What would then?” asked he, after a pause, during which he had expected in vain that she would go on with her sentence. No answer.
“I should not like you as a man, Susy; you’d be too hard and headstrong.”
“Am I hard and headstrong?” asked she, with as indifferent a tone as she could assume, but which yet had a touch of pique in it. His quick ear detected the inflexion.
“No, Susy! You’re wilful at times, and that’s right enough. I don’t like a girl without spirit. There’s a mighty pretty girl comes to the dancing class; but she is all milk and water. Her eyes never flash like yours when you’re put out; why, I can see them flame across the kitchen like a cat’s in the dark. Now, if you were a man, I should feel queer before those looks of yours; as it is, I rather like them, because —”
“Because what?” asked she, looking up and perceiving that he had stolen close up to her.
“Because I can make all right in this way,” said he, kissing her suddenly.