Summary and Analysis
While the party breakfasted at Barton Hall, a letter came for Colonel Brandon. He "took it, looked at the direction, changed colour, and immediately left the room." He soon returned, saying that he was obliged to leave for London and regretting that the party would not be able to go to Whitwell without him. Mrs. Jennings intimated that she knew who the letter was from, and after Brandon left told the group about a Miss Williams, the colonel's natural daughter.
Sir John arranged for the party to drive in the country. Marianne and Willoughby dashed off in the first carriage and returned after the last one, telling no one where they had been. However, during a dance that evening, Mrs. Jennings told Marianne that she had found out where they had been. Having questioned the groom, she learned that Willoughby had taken Marianne to Allenham and shown her over the house. Despite Marianne's embarrassment, Mrs. Jennings continued to banter the girl on how the house would one day be hers.
Elinor reproved her sister for her impropriety in going alone with Willoughby to Allenham. Marianne, at first annoyed, later conceded her error. But her enthusiasm about the place, apparently prompted by dreams of future ownership, superseded any regrets.
While Mrs. Jennings conjectured about Colonel Brandon's business in London, Elinor wondered about "the extraordinary silence of her sister and Willoughby" about whether or not they were engaged. Willoughby was a constant visitor, and he and Marianne seemed to have reached a tacit agreement, which, however, needed verbalization. One day he begged Mrs. Dashwood, "Tell me that not only your house will remain the same, but that I shall ever find you and yours unchanged as your dwelling." Mrs. Dashwood graciously accorded, and an engagement was made for dinner the next day.
The absence of commercial entertainment in Austen's day compelled provincial people to seek relaxation in their own homes and the homes of others. So we find the characters in Sense and Sensibility constantly involved in all sorts of social occasions. Only one novel (Emma) features picnics, but one is planned in Sense and Sensibility. As the month was October, and late for picnics, Elinor was right in preparing to be "fatigued, wet through, and frightened." Only Sir John would have thought of such an idea to entertain his guests.
Notice Austen's use of irony in representing Willoughby's sentimental attachment to Barton Cottage. No change was needed, although the kitchen smoked and the staircase was dark and narrow. Contrast this with Elinor's commonsensible perspective on her home.