The Dashwoods were now settled at Barton with tolerable comfort to
themselves. The house and the garden, with all the objects surrounding
them, were now become familiar
, and the ordinary pursuits
given to Norland half its charms were engaged in again with far
greater enjoyment than Norland had been able to afford since the
loss of their father. Sir John Middleton, who called on them every day
for the first fortnight, and who was not in the habit of seeing much
occupation at home, could not conceal his amazement on finding them
Their visitors, except those from Barton Park, were not many; for,
in spite of Sir John's urgent entreaties that they would mix more in
the neighbourhood, and repeated assurances of his carriage being
always at their service, the independence of Mrs. Dashwood's spirit
overcame the wish of society for her children; and she was resolute in
declining to visit any family beyond the distance of a walk. There
were but few who could be so classed; and it was not all of them
that were attainable. About a mile and a half from the cottage,
along the narrow winding valley of Allenham, which issued from that of
Barton, as formerly described, the girls had, in one of their earliest
walks, discovered an ancient respectable-looking mansion, which, by
reminding them a little of Norland, interested their imagination and
made them wish to be better acquainted with it. But they learnt, on
enquiry, that its possessor, an elderly lady of very good character,
was unfortunately too infirm to mix with the world, and never stirred from home.
The whole country about them abounded in beautiful walks. The high
downs, which invited them from almost every window of the cottage to
seek the exquisite enjoyment of air on their summits, were a happy
alternative when the dirt of the valleys beneath shut up their
superior beauties; and towards one of these hills did Marianne and
Margaret one memorable morning direct their steps, attracted by the
partial sunshine of a showery sky, and unable longer to bear the
confinement which the settled rain of the two preceding days had
occasioned. The weather was not tempting enough to draw the two others
from their pencil and their book, in spite of Marianne's declaration
that the day would be lastingly fair, and that every threatening cloud
would be drawn off from their hills; and the two girls set off together.
They gaily ascended the downs, rejoicing in their own
penetration at every glimpse of blue sky; and when they caught in
their faces the animating gales of a high southwesterly wind, they
pitied the fears which had prevented their mother and Elinor from
sharing such delightful sensations.
"Is there a felicity in the world," said Marianne, "superior to
this?- Margaret, we will walk here at least two hours."
Margaret agreed, and they pursued their way against the wind,
resisting it with laughing delight for about twenty minutes longer,
when suddenly the clouds united over their heads, and a driving rain
set full in their face. Chagrined and surprised, they were obliged,
though unwillingly, to turn back, for no shelter was nearer than their
own house. One consolation, however, remained for them, to which the
exigence of the moment gave more than usual propriety,- it was that of
running with all possible speed down the steep side of the hill
which led immediately to their garden gate.
They set off. Marianne had at first the advantage, but a false
step brought her suddenly to the ground; and Margaret, unable to
stop herself to assist her, was involuntarily hurried along, and
reached the bottom in safety.
A gentleman carrying a gun, with two pointers playing round him,
was passing up the hill, and within a few yards of Marianne, when
her accident happened. He put down his gun and ran to her
assistance. She had raised herself from the ground, but her foot had
been twisted in her fall, and she was scarcely able to stand. The
gentleman offered his services; and perceiving that her modesty
declined what her situation rendered necessary, took her up in his
arms, without farther delay, and carried her down the hill. Then
passing through the garden, the gate of which had been left open by
Margaret, he bore her directly into the house, whither Margaret was
just arrived, and quitted not his hold till he had seated her in a
chair in the parlour.
Elinor and her mother rose up in amazement at their entrance;
and while the eyes of both were fixed on him with an evident wonder
and a secret admiration which equally sprung from his appearance, he
apologised for his intrusion by relating its cause, in a manner so
frank and so graceful that his person, which was uncommonly
handsome, received additional charms from his voice and expression.
Had he been even old, ugly, and vulgar, the gratitude and kindness
of Mrs. Dashwood would have been secured by an act of attention to her
child; but the influence of youth, beauty, and elegance, gave an
interest to the action which came home to her feelings.
She thanked him again and again; and, with a sweetness of
address which always attended her, invited him to be seated. But
this he declined, as he was dirty and wet. Mrs. Dashwood then begged
to know to whom she was obliged. His name, he replied, was Willoughby,
and his present home was at Allenham, from whence he hoped she would
allow him the honour of calling to-morrow to enquire after Miss
Dashwood. The honour was readily granted, and he then departed, to
make himself still more interesting, in the midst of a heavy rain.
His manly beauty and more than common gracefulness were
instantly the theme of general admiration; and the laugh which his
gallantry raised against Marianne received particular spirit from
his exterior attractions. Marianne herself had seen less of his person
that the rest, for the confusion which crimsoned over her face, on his
lifting her up, had robbed her of the power of regarding him after
their entering the house. But she had seen enough of him to join in
all the admiration of the others, and with an energy which always
adorned her praise. His person and air were equal to what her fancy
had ever drawn for the hero of a favourite story; and in his
carrying her into the house with so little previous formality there
was a rapidity of thought which particularly recommended the action to
her. Every circumstance belonging to him was interesting. His name was
good, his residence was in their favourite village, and she soon found
out that of all manly dresses a shooting-jacket was the most becoming.
Her imagination was busy, her reflections were pleasant, and the
pain of a sprained ankle was disregarded.
Sir John called on them as soon as the next interval of fair
weather that morning allowed him to get out of doors; and Marianne's
accident being related to him, he was eagerly asked whether he knew
any gentleman of the name of Willoughby at Allenham.
"Willoughby!" cried Sir John; "what, is he in the country? That is
good news however! I will ride over to-morrow, and ask him to dinner
"You know him, then," said Mrs. Dashwood.
"Know him? to be sure I do. Why, he is down here every year."
"And what sort of a young man is he?"
"As good a kind of fellow as ever lived, I assure you. A very
decent shot, and there is not a bolder rider in England."
"And is that all you can say for him?" cried Marianne,
indignantly. "But what are his manners on more intimate
acquaintance? What his pursuits, his talents, and genius?"
Sir John was rather puzzled.
"Upon my soul," said he, "I do not know much about him as to all
that. But he is a pleasant, good-humoured fellow, and has got the
nicest little black bitch of a pointer I ever saw. Was she out withhim to-day?"
But Marianne could no more satisfy him as to the colour of Mr.
Willoughby's pointer, than he could describe to her the shades of his mind.
"But who is he?" said Elinor. "Where does he come from? Has he a
house at Allenham?"
On this point Sir John could give more certain intelligence; and
he told them that Mr. Willoughby had no property of his own in the
country; that he resided there only while he was visiting the old lady
at Allenham Court, to whom he was related, and whose possessions he
was to inherit; adding, "Yes, yes, he is very well worth catching I
can tell you, Miss Dashwood; he has a pretty little estate of his own,
in Somersetshire besides; and if I were you, I would not give him up
to my younger sister, in spite of all this tumbling down hills. Miss
Marianne must not expect to have all the men to herself. Brandon
will be jealous, if she does not take care."
"I do not believe," said Mrs. Dashwood, with a good-humoured
smile, "that Mr. Willoughby will be incommoded by the attempts of
either of my daughters, towards what you call catching him. It is
not an employment to which they have been brought up. Men are very
safe with us, let them be ever so rich. I am glad to find, however,
from what you say, that he is a respectable young man, and one whose
acquaintance will not be ineligible."
"He is as good a sort of fellow, I believe, as ever lived,"
repeated Sir John. "I remember last Christmas, at a little hop at
the Park, he danced from eight o'clock till four without once sitting down."
"Did he, indeed?" cried Marianne, with sparkling eyes; "and with
elegance, with spirit?"
"Yes; and he was up again at eight to ride to covert."
"That is what I like; that is what a young man ought to be.
Whatever be his pursuits, his eagerness in them should know no
moderation, and leave him no sense of fatigue."
"Ay, ay, I see how it will be," said Sir John, "I see how it
will be. You will be setting your cap at him now, and never think of
"That is an expression, Sir John," said Marianne, warmly, "which I
particularly dislike. I abhor every common-place phrase by which wit
is intended; and 'setting one's cap at a man,' or 'making a conquest,'
are the most odious of all. Their tendency is gross and illiberal; and
if their construction could ever be deemed clever, time has long ago
destroyed all its ingenuity."
Sir John did not much understand this reproof; but he laughed as
heartily as if he did, and then replied,-
"Ay, you will make conquests enough, I dare say, one way or other.
Poor Brandon! he is quite smitten already; and he is very well worth
setting your cap at, I can tell you, in spite of all this tumbling
about and spraining of ankles."
Sense and Sensibility - Chapter 8 Sense and Sensibility Sense and Sensibility - Chapter 10