Marianne particularly disliked the Steeles for their impertinence and vulgarity. Elinor, meanwhile, found the younger Steele sister, Lucy, occasionally agreeable as a companion. One day, while Elinor and Lucy were walking together to Barton Cottage, Lucy asked Elinor whether she knew Edward’s mother, Mrs. Ferrars.
Now that the Dashwood sisters have some sense of the Steele sisters, they are able to form opinions on them. Marianne has some esteem for Lucy, who is more tactful and mindful of manners than her sister Anne.
Elinor answered that she did not know Mrs. Ferrars. Lucy apologized for the “impertinently curious” question, saying that she was in an uncomfortable situation she did not want to trouble Elinor with. Finally, she admitted to Elinor that she was engaged to Edward.
Lucy is trying to navigate delicately through a difficult social situation, and finally feels the need to tell Elinor the enormous secret of her engagement to Edward.
Elinor was shocked, but tried not to show her amazement. Lucy said that it was a secret engagement, that only she, Edward, and Anne knew about. She said she and Edward had been engaged for four years. Elinor tried to keep her distress to herself and continue talking politely. She asked if they were speaking of the same Edward Ferrars. (They were.)
Elinor struggles to restrain her shock and distress and behave properly even though she has just learned terrible news that ruins her plans of possibly marrying Edward. (By contrast, Marianne would hardly be able to maintain any composure in a similar situation.)
Lucy asked Elinor to keep the secret of the engagement. Because Lucy did not have a fortune, she feared Mrs. Ferrars would not approve of Edward marrying her. She told Elinor that Edward had been staying with the Steeles before he came to visit the Dashwoods, and was in low spirits because he had to keep his engagement secret.
Mrs. Ferrars’ main concern in Edward’s future marriage is that he marry someone with a sizable fortune. Unlike Mrs. Dashwood, she prioritizes wealth over her children’s happiness in marriage.
Lucy showed Elinor a letter from Edward and Elinor recognized Edward’s handwriting. Lucy mentioned that she had given Edward a lock of hair that he kept in a ring, and Elinor could have no doubts that Lucy really was engaged to the same Edward she loved. At this point, they arrived at the cottage and had to end their conversation, to the relief of the distressed Elinor.
Elinor now has proof of Lucy’s engagement, and can barely contain her emotion. Now she realizes that the lock of hair she thought was a symbol of her bond with Edward is actually a symbol of his relationship with Lucy.