In early September, Mrs. Dashwood, Elinor, Marianne, and Margaret journey to Barton Cottage, their new home. They are welcomed by Sir John Middleton, who is their landlord and Mrs. Dashwood's cousin. Sir John is a friendly, generous man of about forty, but his wife, Lady Middleton, is more cold and reserved. The Middletons live with four children at Barton Park, just half a mile away from the Dashwoods' new cottage.
Sir John and Lady Middleton invite the Dashwoods to their home for dinner. Two additional guests arrive at the party: Mrs. Jennings, Lady Middleton's mother and a merry busybody with rather vulgar tastes; and Colonel Brandon, Sir John's friend and a kind, quiet bachelor in his late thirties. After dinner, Marianne entertains the guests by playing on the pianoforte, and Colonel Brandon seems particularly taken by her performance.
A few days later, Mrs. Jennings announces to the Dashwoods that she believes Colonel Brandon is quite in love with Marianne. Marianne tells her mother that the Colonel is far too old and infirm to fall in love, but Elinor immediately rushes to his defense. Elinor, however, argues that his complaint of slight rheumatism should render him ineligible for marriage. When Elinor leaves the room, Marianne remarks to her mother how strange it is that Edward has not yet come to visit them at Barton and that his farewell to Elinor was so calm and cordial.
One morning, Marianne and Margaret set off to explore the hills near Barton, leaving their mother and elder sister reading and writing in the cottage. Suddenly, it begins pouring rain, and the girls have no choice but to run down the steep hill that leads back to the cottage. While running, Marianne falls and twists her ankle. Fortunately, a dashing gentleman comes along and carries Marianne home. When they reach Barton Cottage, he tells all the women that his name is Willoughby and that he hails from Allenham, about a mile and a half away. Willoughby promises to call on them the next day.
Later, in answer to Marianne's persistent questions, Sir John informs the Dashwoods that Willoughby is an amiable gentleman and an excellent shot who is likely to inherit the fortune of an elderly female relative, whom he lives with at Allenham Court. The next day, when Willoughby visits, Marianne discovers that they share a love for music and dancing as well as all the same favorite authors. When Willoughby leaves, Elinor teases her sister that she and Willoughby have discussed every matter of consequence at their first meeting and will have little to say to each other the next time they meet. Nonetheless, Willoughby continues to visit Marianne every day.
Mrs. Dashwood admires Willoughby, but Elinor fears that he sometimes displays little caution or good judgment. Elinor also becomes increasingly aware of Colonel Brandon's affections for Marianne. She is distressed when Willoughby remarks to the sisters that Colonel Brandon strikes him as rather boring and unremarkable, in spite of his good sense and irreproachable character.