When they were ready to attend their first ball, Mrs Allen declared that Catherine looked exactly as she should. Such admiration was always very welcome when it came, but Catherine did not depend on it. Nevertheless, on this evening it made her confident enough to face any crowd of strangers.
When they entered the ballroom, Mr Allen escaped to a side-room to play cards with a group of husbands. Meanwhile, the two ladies looked around a very full ballroom and, with Catherine holding her chaperone’s arm rather desperately, they struggled through the crowd. They finally found a place on a balcony at the top of the long room with a good view of the company below them. It was a splendid sight and Catherine began, for the first time that evening, to feel that she was really at a ball. She hoped to dance, but did not know anyone in the room, and Mrs Allen did not see anyone she knew either.
‘Surely I should see a familiar face soon. I wish I could find a partner for you,’ remarked Mrs Allen.
Catherine had no time to worry about dancing because before long everyone began to move towards the tea tables. But Catherine and Mrs Allen were at a distinct disadvantage without a party of friends to join or a polite gentleman to assist them. After being pushed and squeezed by the crowd, they finally found two empty places at the end of a long table where a large group was already seated. The two ladies were ignored and left with no one to speak to except one another.
‘Well, I am very pleased that I have not damaged my new dress in this terrible crowd, I assure you. It would have been shocking to have it torn, wouldn’t it?’ said Mrs Allen. ‘I must say that I have not seen one dress in the whole room that I prefer to mine.’
‘It is very uncomfortable with no friends here, don’t you think?’ whispered Catherine. ‘What shall we do? The gentlemen and ladies at this table do not look happy with us here. We seem to be forcing ourselves into their party.’
‘Yes, it is very disagreeable,’ said Mrs Allen. ‘My good friends the Skinners would rescue us if they were here now.’
‘Shouldn’t we leave? There are no cups or plates for us here, you see,’ Catherine said with a worried frown.
‘I think we should sit still,’ said Mrs Allen. ‘We shall be pushed and pulled in every direction if we try to find another place in this crowd. My dress could easily be damaged.’
‘Mrs Allen, are you sure there is nobody that you know in this great assembly of people? You must know somebody.’
‘Oh, if only I could see a familiar face,’ Mrs Allen said. ‘Oh, look! There goes a strange-looking woman. What an odd, old-fashioned dress! Look at the back of it. How awful!’
After some time the two ladies received a polite offer of tea from one of their neighbours at the table. They accepted gratefully and enjoyed a little light conversation with the gentleman, but that soon ended and no one else spoke to them during the entire evening.
When the dancing came to an end, Mr Allen found Catherine and his wife. ‘Well, Miss Morland,’ he said, ‘I hope you have had an agreeable ball.’
‘Very agreeable indeed,’ Catherine replied politely, trying unsuccessfully to hide a great yawn.
As the ballroom began to empty and the crowd grew smaller, our heroine had a better opportunity to be admired. In her hearing, two gentlemen commented on her to one another: ‘There is a pretty girl. Where was she all evening?’
Such words had a strong effect; Catherine immediately thought that the evening had been very pleasant. Perhaps an experienced heroine would expect more, but Catherine left the ball perfectly satisfied with her share of public attention.