It was now September and the weather was fine. The journey from Sussex to Devon was a very long one. The Dashwoods had to travel for many hours in a carriage before they reached their new home. At first, the family felt miserable. But as they got nearer to Barton, they became happier. Devon was a beautiful county and the Dashwoods saw interesting views as they looked out of the carriage windows. There were narrow roads, and steep hills covered with trees. The land in this county was completely different from Sussex.
Barton Cottage was a small, well-built and comfortable little house. It stood beside a road in a valley. The village of Barton was on one of the hills behind the cottage. In front of the cottage, there was a lawn of green grass. A fence with a small wooden gate separated the lawn from the road. At the back of the cottage, there was a pretty garden surrounded by a wall.
Mrs Dashwood opened the small wooden gate and walked up to the front door of the cottage. Soon the family were standing in the sitting-room and looking around happily.
‘Well, here we are, my dears,’ Mrs Dashwood said to her three daughters. ‘Our new home is not large, but we can have extra rooms built very easily. Marianne’s piano looks very fine by the window. Now we must unpack our books and your paintings, Elinor. Then Barton Cottage will start to look like our own home.’
The three girls and their mother began to unpack their things at once. And the next day, just after breakfast, they had their first visitor — Sir John Middleton of Barton Park.
Sir John was a forty-year-old, good-looking, very friendly gentleman. Two servants came in his carriage with him. They brought fruit, vegetables and other food for Sir John’s cousins. Sir John also brought a polite message from his wife, Lady Middleton. Mrs Dashwood was delighted. She invited the Middletons to visit Barton Cottage and they both called the next day.
Lady Middleton was tall, well-dressed and good-looking. She was about thirteen years younger than her husband. She was not very clever or well-educated, and she did not have much to say. But as she had brought one of her young sons with her, all the ladies talked about him.
Before the Middletons left the cottage, Sir John invited the Dashwoods to dinner at Barton Park.
‘We both love having visitors,’ he said. ‘Our house is not far — just half a mile through the park. It is a very pleasant walk.’
Barton Park was a large, well-furnished house and the Middletons both enjoyed inviting young people to stay there. Sir John was a sportsman and he often went hunting and shooting with his friends. Lady Middleton spent most of her time with her children, but she enjoyed entertaining her neighbours too.
The Middletons were delighted with the Dashwoods. The three girls were charming and pretty and their mother was a very pleasant friend. Sir John was waiting to greet them when they arrived.
‘Welcome! Welcome to Barton Park,’ he said, laughing happily. ‘I am afraid that we do not have many other guests here to meet you today. But my wife’s mother, Mrs Jennings, has just arrived. And my good friend, Colonel Brandon, is staying with us. He lives at Delaford, which is not far away. So he is your neighbour, as well as mine.’
Mrs Jennings, Lady Middleton’s mother, was a cheerful, fat old lady. Her two daughters had both married rich men. Her elder daughter was married to Sir John. Her younger daughter, Charlotte, had married a member of Parliament named Thomas Palmer. Now Mrs Jennings’ main interest was to find good husbands for all the unmarried ladies in the neighbourhood. Mrs Jennings was a kind woman but her manners were not always good. She loved to gossip. She found out other peoples’ secrets and private business, and she talked about them.
At dinner, she sat between Elinor and Marianne.
‘Well, my dears, you must tell me all about yourselves,’ she said. ‘I am sure that you both left young men in Sussex who were fond of you. They must have been sorry when you went away. But they will be coming to Barton soon, I am sure!’
Elinor smiled politely and Marianne shook her head. Neither sister answered the old lady, so she laughed and teased w them.
‘I shall find out your secrets very soon, Miss Dashwood and Miss Marianne,’ she said.
Colonel Brandon was a quiet, sensible man and he said very little. He was tall, with a serious face and good manners. The Colonel was about thirty-five years old and, as Mrs Jennings soon told the Dashwood girls, he was not married. Marianne and Margaret thought that he was too old to be interesting.
After dinner, Mrs Jennings continued to tease the Dashwood sisters. She made jokes about love and lovers. Lady Middleton looked bored with the conversation and said nothing. She only smiled when her four noisy children ran into the room and began to shout loudly.
Later in the evening, Sir John asked Marianne to play the piano and sing. Everyone praised the young woman’s singing, but only Colonel Brandon listened carefully and with real pleasure. Mrs Jennings noticed this and she was soon teasing the Colonel and Marianne too.