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 relation 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 Misses Dashwood of the Misses Steele's 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 Misses Steele, as he had been already
boasting of the Misses Steele 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 anything, 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 Misses Steele 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
"John is in such spirits to-day!" said she, on his taking Miss
Steele'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 Anna-Maria," 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
Misses Steele, and every thing was done by all three, in so critical
an emergency, which affection could suggest, as likely to assauge
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 Misses Steele, 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 creature!" 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 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 shewas.
"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 ain'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 Misses 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 andthe furniture.
This specimen of the Misses Steele 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 Misses Steele. 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 Misses Steele,
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 Misses Steele 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 conjectual; 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 Misses Steele, 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 choose
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.
Sense and Sensibility - Chapter 20 Sense and Sensibility Sense and Sensibility - Chapter 22