Elinor reflects on Lucy's news and reasons that her engagement to Edward must have been the product of youthful infatuation. She is certain that Edward could not possibly still love Lucy after four years of getting to know this frivolous and ignorant woman. She is also relieved that she does not have to share Lucy's news with her mother and sister, since she has been sworn to secrecy. She and Lucy converse at length about Edward Ferrars during a dinner party at Barton Park shortly thereafter. While Marianne is playing the piano and everyone else is absorbed in a card game, Elinor and Lucy sit rolling papers for a filigree basket for Lady Middleton's daughter, Annamaria.
Lucy confesses to Elinor that she is a very jealous woman, but that she has no reason to suspect Edward of unfaithfulness. She states that it would be madness for her and Edward to marry while he has only two thousand pounds; they must wait until they inherit Mrs. Ferrars's wealth. If they were to announce their engagement while Mrs. Ferrars was still living, the headstrong woman would disinherit Edward and give all her money to her younger son Robert; thus, they must be patient and secretive. Following this conversation, Lucy loses no opportunity to speak to Elinor about her secret engagement, much to the latter's consternation.
Lucy expresses disappointment that Elinor has no plans to come to London in the winter, but soon after this Mrs. Jennings invites the Dashwood sisters to join her at her home in town near Portman Square. At first, the girls decline her offer on the grounds that they cannot leave their mother alone at Barton, but Mrs. Dashwood assures them that it would give her great pleasure to allow her daughters to enjoy themselves in London. Marianne is overjoyed that she will get to see Willoughby at long last, but Elinor is apprehensive about the journey because she does not want to find herself in the company of both Lucy and Edward together.
After a journey lasting three days in Mrs. Jennings' carriage, the Dashwood sisters arrive in London. Elinor immediately writes a letter to their mother, while Marianne composes a brief note announcing their arrival to John Willoughby. Marianne eagerly awaits Willoughby's visit, and is exceedingly disappointed that evening when Colonel Brandon shows up instead. Marianne leaves the room in frustration and Colonel Brandon delivers the message that Mrs. Palmer plans to arrive the next day.
When Mrs. Palmer arrives, she goes shopping in town with the Dashwood sisters and Mrs. Jennings. Immediately upon their return home, Marianne rushes to see if she has received mail from Willoughby, but there are no letters for her. When Mrs. Jennings comments on the rainy weather, Marianne reasons that Willoughby must be stuck in the country on account of the rain.
Sir John and Lady Middleton arrive in town and host a ball at their home for about twenty young people, including the Palmers and the Dashwoods. Because Willoughby is not in attendance, Marianne is dejected and withdrawn. When they return from the party, Mrs. Jennings informs them that Willoughby had been invited to the ball but declined the invitation. Marianne is astonished and miserable, and Elinor concludes that she must ask her mother to inquire into Marianne and Willoughby's status once and for all.
Colonel Brandon arrives at Mrs. Jennings's London home to speak with Elinor. He asks her if it is true, as everyone claims, that Marianne and Willoughby are engaged. Elinor is surprised that so many people are discussing an engagement that has not been officially announced. She diplomatically informs Colonel Brandon that though she knows nothing of her sister's engagement, she has no doubt of their mutual affection. Brandon leaves after expressing his wish that Marianne be happy--and that Willoughby endeavor to deserve her.
Even when Lucy Steele is revealing her greatest secret to Elinor, she must do so in hushed tones and with an atmosphere of concealment. As the rest of the dinner party plays cards, Lucy whispers to Elinor the story of her long and secret engagement to Edward. Although Lucy describes the history of their relationship accurately, her claims about Edward's steadfast faithfulness and their mutual affection are as fabricated as the basket in her hands; Edward, as Elinor assures herself, has eyes for her alone.
Marianne's name suits her well: like the Mariana of Shakespeare's Measure for Measure, who waits by the moated grange for her lover, Austen's heroine pines away for Willoughby and awaits his visit from the moment she first arrives in town with Mrs. Jennings and Elinor. Marianne's name is also a mirror image of Annamaria, Lady Middleton's spoiled young daughter, who will be "miserable" if her filigree basket is not completed before she goes to bed. By this close kinship of names, Austen suggests that Marianne's excessive sensibility and romanticism resembles the eagerness and impatience of a spoiled little girl.
Willoughby does not appear in any of these chapters, yet he figures prominently in the thoughts of those characters who do. Mrs. Jennings implies that Marianne would welcome the opportunity to travel to town with her in the hope of seeing Willoughby, and Marianne is enthusiastic about the prospect for this very reason. When they arrive in town, she is increasingly wretched with each passing day that he does not visit. Elinor, too, thinks of Willoughby at length because she is concerned about her sister's welfare. Even Colonel Brandon calls on Elinor in order to discuss Marianne's relationship with Willoughby and to inform Elinor that everyone in town is discussing their engagement. These frequent references to Willoughby heighten our anxiety concerning the true nature of his commitment to Marianne, and enable us as readers to experience some of Marianne's longing for that which is never present.
Though Willoughby does not appear, Marianne mistakes Colonel Brandon for him when the latter comes to visit the Dashwood sisters in London. This is one of many suggestions in the novel that people may be substituted for one another: Marianne had earlier mistaken Edward Ferrars on horseback for John Willoughby; Elinor mistakes Lucy's hair for her own in Edward's ring; and Elinor initially mistakes Robert for Edward as the object of Lucy's affections. These scenes in which some characters fail to recognize others provide subtext for a novel in which one young woman (Marianne) thinks she is in love with one man but ends up loving someone else, and another young woman (Lucy) becomes engaged to one brother but then decides to marry the other.