I esteem you. This expression in the mouth of a young person only means, that she wants a little boldness, to say in downright terms that she loves you.
In the mouth of a coquette it signifies, that she has a mind to play reserve upon you, and impose sentimental delicacy on you.
In certain circumstances, I esteem you, is a salving phrase, and is as much as to say, “You distress me: I do not know how to come off with you: To tell you plainly, that I hate you, would be too much against all the laws of politeness.”
A young man, who tells a disagreeable prude, or a woman on the decline, that he esteems her, means, that she is a fool to entertain any pretensions to his heart; and that he does not esteem her enough to have the complaisance of telling her that he loves her.