The Secret is Out
A few days later, Charlotte Palmer, Mrs Jennings’ younger daughter, gave birth to her first child — a son. Mrs Jennings was delighted, and she now spent many hours each day with her daughter and new grandchild.
When Sir John Middleton heard the news, he hurried to Mrs Jennings’ house in Berkeley Street. He had an invitation for the Miss Dashwoods.
‘My dear Miss Dashwood,’ he said to Elinor, ‘you and your sister must not stay here by yourselves. While Mrs Jennings is with Charlotte, you must spend every day with us in Conduit Street. Anne and Lucy will be pleased to see you and so will Lady Middleton.’
Elinor was too polite to refuse the invitation. But no one was happy with Sir John’s idea, except Mrs Jennings and Sir John himself.
Mrs Jennings thought that the Dashwood sisters and the Steele sisters were the best of friends. Sir John Middleton did not understand that his wife did not take Elinor and Marianne Dashwood. Lady Middleton thought that the Dashwoods were too clever, and that they read too many books. She liked Anne and Lucy Steele because the sisters flattered her and her badly-behaved children.
Anne and Lucy Steele did not like the Miss Dashwoods because both Elinor and Marianne were pretty and honest. The Dashwoods thought that the Miss Steeles were silly and vulgar.
As usual, Elinor was able to hide her feelings and she was always polite to the Steeles. But Marianne could not hide her feelings easily. She always said what she thought. And now the four girls had to meet every day.
One evening, at a party at the Middletons house in Conduit Street, all four young women met Mr Robert Ferrars- Elinor recognised him immediately. He was the handsome young man whom she had seen in the jeweller’s shop in Bond Street.
Robert Ferrars was unlike his elder brother, Edward. Robert was good-looking and confident. He was dressed in expensive, fashionable clothes and he never stopped talking.
He bowed to Elinor, smiled, and began talking to her.
‘You know my elder brother, Edward, I believe,’ he said with a laugh. ‘He visited you and your family in your little cottage in Devon. If I had enough money, I would buy a little cottage. But I should want to live much closer to London. My brother Edward likes the country, of course. He does not like meeting people, and I do. Edward and I are very different, Miss Dashwood.’
‘Yes, Edward is shy,’ Robert Ferrars continued. ‘It is our mother’s fault that he is so uncomfortable when he meets strangers. She made a mistake when he was a boy. I have told her this many times. She sent Edward to a private tutor in Plymouth, but I went to Westminster School in London.
‘At Westminster there were many students and I had many friends,’ Robert went on. I can talk to anyone, as you see. But poor Edward will sometimes sit silently for a whole evening. My brother is not confident. He cannot talk easily when there are large groups of people. He will never change now.’
Elinor was very pleased to hear that, but she did not tell Robert.
When John Dashwood saw Robert Ferrars talking to Elinor, he had an idea.
‘Perhaps we should ask my sisters to stay with us for a time, my dear Fanny,’ John said to his wife. ‘It would help them to meet the best people while they are in London. What do you think, my dear?’
Fanny did not like the idea at all.
‘My dear, I would ask them, of course. But I have decided to invite Anne and Lucy Steele to stay here with us for a few days,’ Fanny replied. ‘My mother is very fond of them and dear little Harry loves them. We can invite your sisters at any time.’
As always, John Dashwood agreed with his wife and the next day, Fanny sent an invitation to Lucy Steele. Lucy showed Fanny’s letter to Elinor as soon as she received it.
‘This invitation makes me feel hopeful for the future,’ Lucy said. ‘Fanny is Edward’s sister and now she has invited me to stay in her house in Harley Street. I shall often meet Mrs Ferrars there — and my dear Edward too, of course.’
Anne and Lucy Steele had flattered Lady Middleton and now they flattered Mrs John Dashwood. Fanny Dashwood was delighted with the Miss Steeles and she hoped that they would stay as long as possible.
Two weeks after the birth of her son, Mrs Palmer was well and strong again. So Mrs Jennings no longer spent all her time at the Palmers’ house in Hanover Square. Elinor and Marianne were delighted to leave the Middletons’ house and return to Mrs Jennings’ house in Berkeley Street.
Lucy Steele was very happy in the Dashwoods’ house in Harley Street. She was already thinking of Fanny Dashwood as her sister-in-law, as well as her friend. But things did not happen as she had hoped.
One day, Mrs Jennings came to Elinor with a piece of gossip that she had just heard.
‘My dear Miss Dashwood!’ Mrs Jennings cried. ‘You will never believe my news! I could not believe it myself at first.’
‘What is it, ma’am?’ Elinor asked in surprise.
‘You will never believe it!’ the old lady said again. ‘Mr Edward Ferrars has been secretly engaged to my cousin, Lucy Steele, for more than a year! And no one knew about it except her sister, Anne! This is what happened. This is how the secret came out.