‘To leave metaphor. It delights my eye to look on her: she suits me: if I were a king, and she the housemaid that swept my palace stairs—across all that space between us my eye would recognise her qualities; a true pulse would beat for her in my heart, though an unspanned gulf made acquaintance impossible. If I were a gentleman, and she waited on me as a servant, I could not help liking that Shirley. Take from her her education—take her ornaments, her sumptuous dress—all extrinsic advantages—take all grace, but such as the symmetry of her form renders inevitable; present her to me at a cottage-door, in a stuff gown: let her offer me there a draught of water, with that smile—with that warm goodwill with which she now dispenses manorial hospitality—I should like her. I should wish to stay an hour: I should linger to talk with that rustic. I should not feel as I now do. I should find in her nothing Divine; but whenever I met the young peasant, it would be with pleasure—whenever I left her, it would be with regret.

‘How culpably careless in her to leave her desk open, where I know she has money! In the lock hang the keys of all her repositories, of her very jewel-casket. There is a purse in that little satin bag: I see the tassel of silver beads hanging out. That spectacle would provoke my brother Robert; all her little failings would, I know, be a source of irritation to him; if they vex me it is a most pleasurable vexation: I delight to find her at fault, and were I always resident with her, I am aware she would be no niggard in thus ministering to my enjoyment. She would just give me something to do, to rectify: a theme for my tutor-lectures. I never lecture Henry: never feel disposed to do so; if he does wrong—and that is very seldom, dear excellent lad—a word suffices; often I do no more than shake my head; but the moment her “minois mutin” meets my eye, expostulatory words crowd to my lips; from a taciturn man, I believe she would transform me into a talker. Whence comes the delight I take in that talk? It puzzles myself sometimes; the more crâne, malin, taquin is her mood, consequently the clearer occasion she gives me for disapprobation, the more I seek her, the better I like her. She is never wilder than when equipped in her habit and hat; never less manageable than when she and Zoë come in fiery from a race with the wind on the hills; and I confess it—to this mute page I may confess it—I have waited an hour in the court, for the chance of witnessing her return, and for the dearer chance of receiving her in my arms from the saddle. I have noticed (again, it is to this page only I would make the remark) that she will never permit any man but myself to render her that assistance. I have seen her politely decline Sir Philip Nunnely’s aid: she is always mighty gentle with her young baronet; mighty tender of his feelings, forsooth, and of his very thin-skinned amour-propre; I have marked her haughtily reject Sam Wynne’s. Now I know—my heart knows it, for it has felt it—that she resigns herself to me unreluctantly; is she conscious how my strength rejoices to serve her? I myself am not her slave—I declare it—but my faculties gather to her beauty, like the genii to the glisten of the Lamp. All my knowledge, all my prudence, all my calm, and all my power, stand in her presence humbly waiting a task. How glad they are when a mandate comes! What joy they take in the toils she assigns! Does she know it?

‘I have called her careless; it is remarkable that her carelessness never compromises her refinement; indeed, through this very loophole of character, the reality, depth, genuineness of that refinement may be ascertained; a whole garment sometimes covers meagreness and malformation; through a rent sleeve, a fair round arm may be revealed. I have seen and handled many of her possessions, because they are frequently astray. I never saw anything that did not proclaim the lady; nothing sordid, nothing soiled; in one sense she is as scrupulous as, in another, she is unthinking; as a peasant girl, she would go ever trim and cleanly. Look at the pure kid of this little glove—at the fresh, unsullied satin of the bag.

‘What a difference there is between S. and that pearl C. H.! Caroline, I fancy, is the soul of conscientious punctuality and nice exactitude; she would precisely suit the domestic habits of a certain fastidious kinsman of mine; so delicate, dexterous, quaint, quick, quiet; all done to a minute, all arranged to a straw-breadth; she would suit Robert; but what could I do with anything so nearly faultless? She is my equal; poor as myself; she is certainly pretty; a little Raffaelle head hers; Raffaelle in feature, quite English in expression; all insular grace and purity; but where is there anything to alter, anything to endure, anything to reprimand, to be anxious about? There she is, a lily of the valley, untinted, needing no tint. What change could improve her? What pencil dare to paint? My sweetheart, if I have ever one, must bear nearer affinity to the rose—a sweet, lively delight guarded with prickly peril. My wife, if I ever marry, must stir my great frame with a sting now and then; she must furnish use to her husband’s vast mass of patience. I was not made

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