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 hillside, 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 gray church and grayer 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.”’

‘All very well, too, Shirley.’

‘I would beg to remind him that the first men of the earth were Titans, and that Eve was their mother: from her sprang Saturn, Hyperion, Oceanus; she bore Prometheus—’

‘Pagan that you are, what does that signify?’

‘I say there were giants on the earth in those days—giants that strove to scale heaven. The first woman’s breast that heaved with life on this world yielded the daring which could contend with Omnipotence; the strength which could bear a thousand years of bondage; the vitality which could feed that vulture Death through uncounted ages; the unexhausted life and uncorrupted excellence—sisters to immortality—which, after millenniums of crimes, struggles and woes, could conceive and bring forth a Messiah. The first woman was heaven-born. Vast was the heart whence gushed the well-spring of the blood of nations; and grand the undegenerate head where rested the consort-crown of creation.’

  By PanEris using Melati.

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