Marianne finds herself unable to eat or sleep following Willoughby's sudden departure, yet to her mother's surprise, she also does not appear to be expecting a letter from him. However, when Mrs. Jennings remarks that they have stopped their communal reading of Hamlet since Willoughby's departure, Marianne assures her that she expects Willoughby back within a few weeks.
One morning, about a week after Willoughby's departure, the three sisters are out walking when they see a man approach on horseback. Marianne at first thinks it is Willoughby, but the rider turns out to be Edward Ferrars, who is on his way to visit them at Barton. Marianne greets him warmly, but Elinor waits to see how he will act toward them. To both girls' surprise, Edward, though cordial, is much more distant and reserved than they expect a lover to behave. However, Marianne is assured of his affection for Elinor when she notices that he is wearing a locket-like ring that contains a lock of hair; although Edward claims it is Fanny's hair, Marianne remains convinced that it is actually her sister's. Elinor, however, has no recollection of allowing Edward to remove this token of affection.
One day during his week-long visit, Edward discusses his prospects with the Dashwoods. He tells them that he has no intention of finding a profession for himself; he prefers to remain an "idle, helpless being" in spite of his mother's high expectations of him. Marianne assures him that he does not need wealth or grandeur to be happy, but Elinor protests that wealth has much to do with happiness. The daughters then begin to fantasize about what they would do if each were granted a large fortune: Marianne would purchase all her favorite music and books. However, she hints that she would spend the majority of her fortune on facilitating her marriage to Willoughby. Elinor assures Edward that her sister has remained steadfast in her conviction that a person can only be in love once. This leads to a discussion of character and human nature in which Elinor reminds her sister that it is important to treat all people with civility, but that one should not necessarily adopt their sentiments.
After a week of walks, dances, and visits to Sir John's estate at Barton Park, Edward ruefully explains that he must leave them. Elinor tries to account for the brevity of his visit by assuring herself that he must have some task to fulfill for his demanding mother. After he leaves, she tries to occupy herself by working diligently at her drawing table, though she still finds herself thinking frequently of Edward.
The arrival of a large party at Barton Cottage interrupts one of her drawing table reveries. Sir John knocks on the casement and announces that along with Lady Middleton and Mrs. Jennings, he has brought his wife's sister and her husband, the Palmers. Mrs. Charlotte Palmer is a lively woman, expecting a child, but her husband sits reading the newspaper throughout the entire visit. Sir John encourages the Dashwood girls to join them for dinner the next day, and they find themselves unfortunately unable to decline his invitation.
At the beginning of the chapter, Marianne behaves as she believes a disappointed lover ought to act. She cultivates her own grief by reading only what she and Willoughby read together and by singing only their songs at the piano. She makes sure that she does not sleep at all on the first night after his departure and draws her mother and sister into her own gloom. Marianne makes herself and those around her as miserable as possible, unlike Elinor, who conceals her grief from her family; when she believes Edward no longer cares for her, she sits alone at her drawing table in silent thought.
One of the governing themes of these chapters is the value of privacy, but also the confusions that result from secrecy and concealment. Since Marianne conceals any sort of understanding that may exist between herself and Willoughby about their status as a couple, Mrs. Dashwood and Elinor can only speculate about their status based on her misery and her remark to Mrs. Jennings about his expected return in a few weeks. Likewise, Elinor does not greet Edward with the warm and open regard of a lover but instead awaits his reactio; but as he is not forthcoming with his own emotions, this tactic leaves her to wonder if his feelings have changed. Marianne finds Edward's reserve puzzling as well.
In a further instance of willful concealment, Edward clearly dissembles when he claims that the lock of hair in his ring once belonged to his sister, an echo of Margaret's eager whisper to Elinor that she saw Willoughby remove a lock of Marianne's hair. This preoccupation with secrets is evident also in the behavior of the Palmers: Mrs. Jennings leans towards Elinor and speaks in a low voice to inform her that Mrs. Palmer is pregnant, and Mr. Palmer hides his face behind a newspaper for the duration of their visit. Everyone in these chapters seems bent on concealing their own situation from the eyes of others; the ensuing misunderstandings and ambiguities fuel the plot the novel.
The earlier Shakespearean reference to Queen Mab receives a second mention when the Dashwood sisters see a man approaching on horseback during their walk, and Marianne is convinced that it must be her beloved Willoughby. "Queen Mab" was the name of the horse that Willoughby was to give her, yet the horse was never more than a dream, for the Dashwoods could not afford such a gift. In this chapter, Marianne's identification of the horse's rider proves to be yet another vain fantasy like Queen Mab's dreams, for it is not Willoughby but Edward Ferrars who rides up to greet them.
When Edward first rides up to the Dashwood sisters, he comments on the dirty lanes he had to traverse to reach Barton Cottage. Roads are essential to the action of the novel because they facilitate the connections among characters. Austen structures the novel according to journeys, including the Dashwoods' journey from Norland to Barton, Willoughby's and Edward's journeys to Barton, and Elinor and Marianne's journey to London with Mrs. Jennings. Although Mrs. Dashwood sells their carriage when they leave Norland, the Dashwood sisters are still able to maintain a lively social life because of the journeys that Brandon, Willoughby, Edward, the Palmers, and the Steeles undertake to visit Barton. This prevalence of journeys is significant: in Austen's day, improved roads linked parishes and towns to one another and to the nexus of all connections, London. Austen was thus highly aware of the changes roads could bring to people's lives. In a novel built around attachments and connections, dirty lanes are a feature of the landscape as well as a plot device.