18. Which the genteel reader is
recommended to skip, low persons
being here introduced
The evening was still and warm; close and sultry it even promised to become.
Round the descending sun the clouds glowed purple; summer tints, rather Indian
than English, suffused the horizon, and cast rosy reflections on hill-side, house-
front, tree-bole; on winding road, and undulating pasture-ground. The two girls
came down from the fields slowly by the time they reached the churchyard the
bells were hushed; the multitudes were gathered into the church: the whole
scene was solitary.
'How pleasant and calm it is!' said Caroline.
'And how hot it will be in the church!' responded Shirley; 'and what a dreary long
speech Dr. Boultby will make! and how the curates will hammer over their
prepared orations! For my part, I would rather not enter.'
'But my uncle will be angry, if he observes our absence.'
'I will bear the brunt of his wrath: he will not devour me. I shall be sorry to miss
his pungent speech. I know it will be all sense for the Church, and all causticity
for Schism: he'll not forget the battle of Royd Lane. I shall be sorry also to deprive
you of Mr. Hall's sincere friendly homily, with all its racy Yorkshireisms; but here I
must stay. The grey church and greyer tombs look divine with this crimson gleam
on them. Nature is now at her evening prayers: she is kneeling before those red
hills. I see her prostrate on the great steps of her altar, praying for a fair night for
mariners at sea, for travellers in deserts, for lambs on moors, and unfledged
birds in woods. Caroline, I see her! and I will tell you what she is like: she is like
what Eve was when she and Adam stood alone on earth.'
'And that is not Milton's Eve, Shirley.'
'Milton's Eve! Milton's Eve! I repeat. No, by the pure Mother of God, she is not!
Cary, we are alone: we may speak what we think. Milton was great; but was he
good? His brain was right; how was his heart? He saw heaven: he looked down
on hell. He saw Satan, and Sin his daughter, and Death their horrible offspring.
Angels serried before him their battalions: the long lines of adamantine shields
flashed back on his blind eyeballs the unutterable splendour of heaven. Devils
gathered their legions in his sight: their dim, discrowned, and tarnished armies
passed rank and file before him. Milton tried to see the first woman; but, Cary, he
saw her not.'
'You are bold to say so, Shirley.'
'Not more bold than faithful. It was his cook that he saw; or it was Mrs. Gill, as I
have seen her, making custards, in the heat of summer, in the cool dairy, with
rose-trees and nasturtiums about the latticed window, preparing a cold collation
for the rectors, - preserves, and 'dulcet creams' - puzzled 'what choice to choose
for delicacy best; what order so contrived as not to mix tastes, not well-joined,
inelegant; but bring taste after taste, upheld with kindliest change.''