The Palmers returned to Cleveland the next day, and the two families at
Barton were again left to entertain each other. But this did not last
long; Elinor had hardly got their last visitors out of her head, had
hardly done wondering at Charlotte's being so happy without a cause, at
Mr. Palmer's acting so simply, with good abilities, and at the strange
unsuitableness which often existed between husband and wife, before Sir
John's and Mrs. Jennings's active zeal in the cause of society,
procured her some other new acquaintance to see and observe.
In a morning's excursion to Exeter, they had met with two young ladies,
whom Mrs. Jennings had the satisfaction of discovering to be her
relations, and this was enough for Sir John to invite them directly to
the park, as soon as their present engagements at Exeter were over.
Their engagements at Exeter instantly gave way before such an
invitation, and Lady Middleton was thrown into no little alarm on the
return of Sir John, by hearing that she was very soon to receive a
visit from two girls whom she had never seen in her life, and of whose
elegance,—whose tolerable gentility even, she could have no proof; for
the assurances of her husband and mother on that subject went for
nothing at all. Their being her relations too made it so much the
worse; and Mrs. Jennings's attempts at consolation were therefore
unfortunately founded, when she advised her daughter not to care about
their being so fashionable; because they were all cousins and must put
up with one another. As it was impossible, however, now to prevent
their coming, Lady Middleton resigned herself to the idea of it, with
all the philosophy of a well-bred woman, contenting herself with merely
giving her husband a gentle reprimand on the subject five or six times
The young ladies arrived: their appearance was by no means ungenteel or
unfashionable. Their dress was very smart, their manners very civil,
they were delighted with the house, and in raptures with the furniture,
and they happened to be so doatingly fond of children that Lady
Middleton's good opinion was engaged in their favour before they had
been an hour at the Park. She declared them to be very agreeable girls
indeed, which for her ladyship was enthusiastic admiration. Sir John's
confidence in his own judgment rose with this animated praise, and he
set off directly for the cottage to tell the Miss Dashwoods of the Miss
Steeles' arrival, and to assure them of their being the sweetest girls
in the world. From such commendation as this, however, there was not
much to be learned; Elinor well knew that the sweetest girls in the
world were to be met with in every part of England, under every
possible variation of form, face, temper and understanding. Sir John
wanted the whole family to walk to the Park directly and look at his
guests. Benevolent, philanthropic man! It was painful to him even to
keep a third cousin to himself.
"Do come now," said he—"pray come—you must come—I declare you shall
come—You can't think how you will like them. Lucy is monstrous
pretty, and so good humoured and agreeable! The children are all
hanging about her already, as if she was an old acquaintance. And they
both long to see you of all things, for they have heard at Exeter that
you are the most beautiful creatures in the world; and I have told them
it is all very true, and a great deal more. You will be delighted with
them I am sure. They have brought the whole coach full of playthings
for the children. How can you be so cross as not to come? Why they
are your cousins, you know, after a fashion. YOU are my cousins, and
they are my wife's, so you must be related."
But Sir John could not prevail. He could only obtain a promise of
their calling at the Park within a day or two, and then left them in
amazement at their indifference, to walk home and boast anew of their
attractions to the Miss Steeles, as he had been already boasting of the
Miss Steeles to them.
When their promised visit to the Park and consequent introduction to
these young ladies took place, they found in the appearance of the
eldest, who was nearly thirty, with a very plain and not a sensible
face, nothing to admire; but in the other, who was not more than two or
three and twenty, they acknowledged considerable beauty; her features
were pretty, and she had a sharp quick eye, and a smartness of air,
which though it did not give actual elegance or grace, gave distinction
to her person.— Their manners were particularly civil, and Elinor soon
allowed them credit for some kind of sense, when she saw with what
constant and judicious attention they were making themselves agreeable
to Lady Middleton. With her children they were in continual raptures,
extolling their beauty, courting their notice, and humouring their
whims; and such of their time as could be spared from the importunate
demands which this politeness made on it, was spent in admiration of
whatever her ladyship was doing, if she happened to be doing any thing,
or in taking patterns of some elegant new dress, in which her
appearance the day before had thrown them into unceasing delight.
Fortunately for those who pay their court through such foibles, a fond
mother, though, in pursuit of praise for her children, the most
rapacious of human beings, is likewise the most credulous; her demands
are exorbitant; but she will swallow any thing; and the excessive
affection and endurance of the Miss Steeles towards her offspring were
viewed therefore by Lady Middleton without the smallest surprise or
distrust. She saw with maternal complacency all the impertinent
encroachments and mischievous tricks to which her cousins submitted.
She saw their sashes untied, their hair pulled about their ears, their
work-bags searched, and their knives and scissors stolen away, and felt
no doubt of its being a reciprocal enjoyment. It suggested no other
surprise than that Elinor and Marianne should sit so composedly by,
without claiming a share in what was passing.
"John is in such spirits today!" said she, on his taking Miss Steeles's
pocket handkerchief, and throwing it out of window—"He is full of
And soon afterwards, on the second boy's violently pinching one of the
same lady's fingers, she fondly observed, "How playful William is!"
"And here is my sweet little Annamaria," she added, tenderly caressing
a little girl of three years old, who had not made a noise for the last
two minutes; "And she is always so gentle and quiet—Never was there
such a quiet little thing!"
But unfortunately in bestowing these embraces, a pin in her ladyship's
head dress slightly scratching the child's neck, produced from this
pattern of gentleness such violent screams, as could hardly be outdone
by any creature professedly noisy. The mother's consternation was
excessive; but it could not surpass the alarm of the Miss Steeles, and
every thing was done by all three, in so critical an emergency, which
affection could suggest as likely to assuage the agonies of the little
sufferer. She was seated in her mother's lap, covered with kisses, her
wound bathed with lavender-water, by one of the Miss Steeles, who was
on her knees to attend her, and her mouth stuffed with sugar plums by
the other. With such a reward for her tears, the child was too wise to
cease crying. She still screamed and sobbed lustily, kicked her two
brothers for offering to touch her, and all their united soothings were
ineffectual till Lady Middleton luckily remembering that in a scene of
similar distress last week, some apricot marmalade had been
successfully applied for a bruised temple, the same remedy was eagerly
proposed for this unfortunate scratch, and a slight intermission of
screams in the young lady on hearing it, gave them reason to hope that
it would not be rejected.— She was carried out of the room therefore
in her mother's arms, in quest of this medicine, and as the two boys
chose to follow, though earnestly entreated by their mother to stay
behind, the four young ladies were left in a quietness which the room
had not known for many hours.
"Poor little creatures!" said Miss Steele, as soon as they were gone.
"It might have been a very sad accident."
"Yet I hardly know how," cried Marianne, "unless it had been under
totally different circumstances. But this is the usual way of
heightening alarm, where there is nothing to be alarmed at in reality."
"What a sweet woman Lady Middleton is!" said Lucy Steele.
Marianne was silent; it was impossible for her to say what she did not
feel, however trivial the occasion; and upon Elinor therefore the whole
task of telling lies when politeness required it, always fell. She did
her best when thus called on, by speaking of Lady Middleton with more
warmth than she felt, though with far less than Miss Lucy.
"And Sir John too," cried the elder sister, "what a charming man he is!"
Here too, Miss Dashwood's commendation, being only simple and just,
came in without any eclat. She merely observed that he was perfectly
good humoured and friendly.
"And what a charming little family they have! I never saw such fine
children in my life.—I declare I quite doat upon them already, and
indeed I am always distractedly fond of children."
"I should guess so," said Elinor, with a smile, "from what I have
witnessed this morning."
"I have a notion," said Lucy, "you think the little Middletons rather
too much indulged; perhaps they may be the outside of enough; but it is
so natural in Lady Middleton; and for my part, I love to see children
full of life and spirits; I cannot bear them if they are tame and
"I confess," replied Elinor, "that while I am at Barton Park, I never
think of tame and quiet children with any abhorrence."
A short pause succeeded this speech, which was first broken by Miss
Steele, who seemed very much disposed for conversation, and who now
said rather abruptly, "And how do you like Devonshire, Miss Dashwood?
I suppose you were very sorry to leave Sussex."
In some surprise at the familiarity of this question, or at least of
the manner in which it was spoken, Elinor replied that she was.
"Norland is a prodigious beautiful place, is not it?" added Miss Steele.
"We have heard Sir John admire it excessively," said Lucy, who seemed
to think some apology necessary for the freedom of her sister.
"I think every one MUST admire it," replied Elinor, "who ever saw the
place; though it is not to be supposed that any one can estimate its
beauties as we do."
"And had you a great many smart beaux there? I suppose you have not so
many in this part of the world; for my part, I think they are a vast
"But why should you think," said Lucy, looking ashamed of her sister,
"that there are not as many genteel young men in Devonshire as Sussex?"
"Nay, my dear, I'm sure I don't pretend to say that there an't. I'm
sure there's a vast many smart beaux in Exeter; but you know, how could
I tell what smart beaux there might be about Norland; and I was only
afraid the Miss Dashwoods might find it dull at Barton, if they had not
so many as they used to have. But perhaps you young ladies may not
care about the beaux, and had as lief be without them as with them.
For my part, I think they are vastly agreeable, provided they dress
smart and behave civil. But I can't bear to see them dirty and nasty.
Now there's Mr. Rose at Exeter, a prodigious smart young man, quite a
beau, clerk to Mr. Simpson, you know, and yet if you do but meet him of
a morning, he is not fit to be seen.— I suppose your brother was quite
a beau, Miss Dashwood, before he married, as he was so rich?"
"Upon my word," replied Elinor, "I cannot tell you, for I do not
perfectly comprehend the meaning of the word. But this I can say, that
if he ever was a beau before he married, he is one still for there is
not the smallest alteration in him."
"Oh! dear! one never thinks of married men's being beaux—they have
something else to do."
"Lord! Anne," cried her sister, "you can talk of nothing but
beaux;—you will make Miss Dashwood believe you think of nothing else."
And then to turn the discourse, she began admiring the house and the
This specimen of the Miss Steeles was enough. The vulgar freedom and
folly of the eldest left her no recommendation, and as Elinor was not
blinded by the beauty, or the shrewd look of the youngest, to her want
of real elegance and artlessness, she left the house without any wish
of knowing them better.
Not so the Miss Steeles.—They came from Exeter, well provided with
admiration for the use of Sir John Middleton, his family, and all his
relations, and no niggardly proportion was now dealt out to his fair
cousins, whom they declared to be the most beautiful, elegant,
accomplished, and agreeable girls they had ever beheld, and with whom
they were particularly anxious to be better acquainted.— And to be
better acquainted therefore, Elinor soon found was their inevitable
lot, for as Sir John was entirely on the side of the Miss Steeles,
their party would be too strong for opposition, and that kind of
intimacy must be submitted to, which consists of sitting an hour or two
together in the same room almost every day. Sir John could do no more;
but he did not know that any more was required: to be together was, in
his opinion, to be intimate, and while his continual schemes for their
meeting were effectual, he had not a doubt of their being established
To do him justice, he did every thing in his power to promote their
unreserve, by making the Miss Steeles acquainted with whatever he knew
or supposed of his cousins' situations in the most delicate
particulars,—and Elinor had not seen them more than twice, before the
eldest of them wished her joy on her sister's having been so lucky as
to make a conquest of a very smart beau since she came to Barton.
"'Twill be a fine thing to have her married so young to be sure," said
she, "and I hear he is quite a beau, and prodigious handsome. And I
hope you may have as good luck yourself soon,—but perhaps you may have
a friend in the corner already."
Elinor could not suppose that Sir John would be more nice in
proclaiming his suspicions of her regard for Edward, than he had been
with respect to Marianne; indeed it was rather his favourite joke of
the two, as being somewhat newer and more conjectural; and since
Edward's visit, they had never dined together without his drinking to
her best affections with so much significancy and so many nods and
winks, as to excite general attention. The letter F—had been likewise
invariably brought forward, and found productive of such countless
jokes, that its character as the wittiest letter in the alphabet had
been long established with Elinor.
The Miss Steeles, as she expected, had now all the benefit of these
jokes, and in the eldest of them they raised a curiosity to know the
name of the gentleman alluded to, which, though often impertinently
expressed, was perfectly of a piece with her general inquisitiveness
into the concerns of their family. But Sir John did not sport long
with the curiosity which he delighted to raise, for he had at least as
much pleasure in telling the name, as Miss Steele had in hearing it.
"His name is Ferrars," said he, in a very audible whisper; "but pray do
not tell it, for it's a great secret."
"Ferrars!" repeated Miss Steele; "Mr. Ferrars is the happy man, is he?
What! your sister-in-law's brother, Miss Dashwood? a very agreeable
young man to be sure; I know him very well."
"How can you say so, Anne?" cried Lucy, who generally made an amendment
to all her sister's assertions. "Though we have seen him once or twice
at my uncle's, it is rather too much to pretend to know him very well."
Elinor heard all this with attention and surprise. "And who was this
uncle? Where did he live? How came they acquainted?" She wished very
much to have the subject continued, though she did not chuse to join in
it herself; but nothing more of it was said, and for the first time in
her life, she thought Mrs. Jennings deficient either in curiosity after
petty information, or in a disposition to communicate it. The manner
in which Miss Steele had spoken of Edward, increased her curiosity; for
it struck her as being rather ill-natured, and suggested the suspicion
of that lady's knowing, or fancying herself to know something to his
disadvantage.—But her curiosity was unavailing, for no farther notice
was taken of Mr. Ferrars's name by Miss Steele when alluded to, or even
openly mentioned by Sir John.