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 every day.
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
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 monkey tricks."
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
"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
"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 quiet."
"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 addition always."
"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 furniture.
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
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
"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.