The first part of their journey was performed in too melancholy a
disposition to be otherwise than tedious and unpleasant. But as they
drew towards the end of it, their interest in the appearance of a
country which they were to inhabit overcame their dejection, and a view
of Barton Valley as they entered it gave them cheerfulness. It was a
pleasant fertile spot, well wooded, and rich in pasture. After winding
along it for more than a mile, they reached their own house. A small
green court was the whole of its demesne in front; and a neat wicket
gate admitted them into it.
As a house, Barton Cottage, though small, was comfortable and compact;
but as a cottage it was defective, for the building was regular, the
roof was tiled, the window shutters were not painted green, nor were
the walls covered with honeysuckles. A narrow passage led directly
through the house into the garden behind. On each side of the entrance
was a sitting room, about sixteen feet square; and beyond them were the
offices and the stairs. Four bed-rooms and two garrets formed the rest
of the house. It had not been built many years and was in good repair.
In comparison of Norland, it was poor and small indeed!—but the tears
which recollection called forth as they entered the house were soon
dried away. They were cheered by the joy of the servants on their
arrival, and each for the sake of the others resolved to appear happy.
It was very early in September; the season was fine, and from first
seeing the place under the advantage of good weather, they received an
impression in its favour which was of material service in recommending
it to their lasting approbation.
The situation of the house was good. High hills rose immediately
behind, and at no great distance on each side; some of which were open
downs, the others cultivated and woody. The village of Barton was
chiefly on one of these hills, and formed a pleasant view from the
cottage windows. The prospect in front was more extensive; it
commanded the whole of the valley, and reached into the country beyond.
The hills which surrounded the cottage terminated the valley in that
direction; under another name, and in another course, it branched out
again between two of the steepest of them.
With the size and furniture of the house Mrs. Dashwood was upon the
whole well satisfied; for though her former style of life rendered many
additions to the latter indispensable, yet to add and improve was a
delight to her; and she had at this time ready money enough to supply
all that was wanted of greater elegance to the apartments. "As for the
house itself, to be sure," said she, "it is too small for our family,
but we will make ourselves tolerably comfortable for the present, as it
is too late in the year for improvements. Perhaps in the spring, if I
have plenty of money, as I dare say I shall, we may think about
building. These parlors are both too small for such parties of our
friends as I hope to see often collected here; and I have some thoughts
of throwing the passage into one of them with perhaps a part of the
other, and so leave the remainder of that other for an entrance; this,
with a new drawing room which may be easily added, and a bed-chamber
and garret above, will make it a very snug little cottage. I could
wish the stairs were handsome. But one must not expect every thing;
though I suppose it would be no difficult matter to widen them. I
shall see how much I am before-hand with the world in the spring, and
we will plan our improvements accordingly."
In the mean time, till all these alterations could be made from the
savings of an income of five hundred a-year by a woman who never saved
in her life, they were wise enough to be contented with the house as it
was; and each of them was busy in arranging their particular concerns,
and endeavoring, by placing around them books and other possessions, to
form themselves a home. Marianne's pianoforte was unpacked and
properly disposed of; and Elinor's drawings were affixed to the walls
of their sitting room.
In such employments as these they were interrupted soon after breakfast
the next day by the entrance of their landlord, who called to welcome
them to Barton, and to offer them every accommodation from his own
house and garden in which theirs might at present be deficient. Sir
John Middleton was a good looking man about forty. He had formerly
visited at Stanhill, but it was too long for his young cousins to
remember him. His countenance was thoroughly good-humoured; and his
manners were as friendly as the style of his letter. Their arrival
seemed to afford him real satisfaction, and their comfort to be an
object of real solicitude to him. He said much of his earnest desire
of their living in the most sociable terms with his family, and pressed
them so cordially to dine at Barton Park every day till they were
better settled at home, that, though his entreaties were carried to a
point of perseverance beyond civility, they could not give offence.
His kindness was not confined to words; for within an hour after he
left them, a large basket full of garden stuff and fruit arrived from
the park, which was followed before the end of the day by a present of
game. He insisted, moreover, on conveying all their letters to and
from the post for them, and would not be denied the satisfaction of
sending them his newspaper every day.
Lady Middleton had sent a very civil message by him, denoting her
intention of waiting on Mrs. Dashwood as soon as she could be assured
that her visit would be no inconvenience; and as this message was
answered by an invitation equally polite, her ladyship was introduced
to them the next day.
They were, of course, very anxious to see a person on whom so much of
their comfort at Barton must depend; and the elegance of her appearance
was favourable to their wishes. Lady Middleton was not more than six
or seven and twenty; her face was handsome, her figure tall and
striking, and her address graceful. Her manners had all the elegance
which her husband's wanted. But they would have been improved by some
share of his frankness and warmth; and her visit was long enough to
detract something from their first admiration, by shewing that, though
perfectly well-bred, she was reserved, cold, and had nothing to say for
herself beyond the most common-place inquiry or remark.
Conversation however was not wanted, for Sir John was very chatty, and
Lady Middleton had taken the wise precaution of bringing with her their
eldest child, a fine little boy about six years old, by which means
there was one subject always to be recurred to by the ladies in case of
extremity, for they had to enquire his name and age, admire his beauty,
and ask him questions which his mother answered for him, while he hung
about her and held down his head, to the great surprise of her
ladyship, who wondered at his being so shy before company, as he could
make noise enough at home. On every formal visit a child ought to be
of the party, by way of provision for discourse. In the present case
it took up ten minutes to determine whether the boy were most like his
father or mother, and in what particular he resembled either, for of
course every body differed, and every body was astonished at the
opinion of the others.
An opportunity was soon to be given to the Dashwoods of debating on the
rest of the children, as Sir John would not leave the house without
securing their promise of dining at the park the next day.