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