Elinor and Marianne met Anne and Lucy Steele a few days later. Miss Steele was nearly thirty and she had a plain face. She talked a lot, but she had nothing interesting to say. Lucy Steele was about twenty-three. She had a pretty face and very bright, intelligent eyes. She looked carefully at each person that she spoke to, and smiled. Both girls said that they were delighted to meet Elinor and Marianne, but they were more interested in Lady Middleton’s children.
Sir John and Lady Middleton had four children and they all behaved very badly. They shouted loudly, they pulled the young ladies’ hair and they threw the ladies’ handkerchiefs out of the window.
‘How sweet the little darlings are!’ Miss Steele said with a laugh. ‘How they love teasing us!’
As Miss Steele put her arms around Annamaria, her brooch scratched the little girl’s arm. The three-year-old child screamed and screamed until her mother gave her some sweets and took her away.
‘Lady Middleton is a very good mother!’ Miss Steele cried.
Marianne said nothing, but Elinor agreed politely.
‘I love the Middletons’ children!’ Lucy added. ‘They are delightful. They are so clever and lively. Quiet children are so dull. Do you agree, Miss Dashwood?’
‘When I am at Barton Park, I become very fond of dull, quiet children,’ Elinor replied.
Lucy did not know how to reply to this.
Miss Steele spoke next.
‘I am sure that you and your sister were sorry to leave Sussex, Miss Dashwood,’ Anne Steele said with a smile. ‘You must have known many handsome young men there. We cannot live without handsome young men, can we?’
Elinor was very surprised by these vulgar words and Lucy looked unhappy. She frowned at her sister and said, I am sure that there are lots of young men in Barton, Anne.’
‘Well, I hope so!’ Miss Steele cried. ‘But I think that the place is rather dull. Exeter is full of young men. There are too many, in fact. There’s Mr Rose, Dr Simpson -‘
‘Please be quiet, Anne!’ Lucy said sharply. ‘Perhaps Miss Dashwood is not interested in young men. Or perhaps she does not want to talk about them,’ she added. Then she looked at Elinor and smiled a sly smile.
Elinor did not like this kind of conversation and she did not like the Miss Steeles either. Miss Steele was vulgar and stupid- Lucy was sly and did not say what she thought. Elinor did not want to be friends with them. She was pleased when she and Marianne were home again.
However, Sir John Middleton did not think the same thoughts as Elinor. He had other ideas about his young friends. He wanted the Miss Dashwoods and the Miss Steeles to like each other. He had soon told Anne and Lucy Steele all about the Dashwoods and their friends. He told the Miss Steeles that Marianne loved John Willoughby and that she was engaged to him.
Often when Elinor was at Barton Park, Mrs Jennings teased her about the letter F. Then one day, Sir John said, ‘Elinor Dashwood is in love too. Her young man’s name is Ferrars. But it is a secret, so please do not gossip about it.’
‘Mr Ferrars?’ Miss Steele cried. She turned to speak to Elinor. ‘He is the brother of your sister-in-law, Fanny Dashwood, I believe. We know Mr Ferrars very well, Miss Dashwood. He often stays at our uncle’s house, in Plymouth.’
Elinor was very surprised to hear this and she wanted to know more. But Lucy frowned at her sister and Anne stopped talking at once.