Northanger Abbey. Part 5

Northanger Abbey. Tea at the ball

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Mrs. Allen congratulated herself, as soon as they were

seated, on having preserved her gown from injury. ‘It would

have been very shocking to have it torn,’ said she, ‘would not

it? It is such a delicate muslin. For my part I have not seen

anything I like so well in the whole room, I assure you.’

‘How uncomfortable it is,’ whispered Catherine, ‘not to

have a single acquaintance here!’

‘Yes, my dear,’ replied Mrs. Allen, with perfect serenity,

‘it is very uncomfortable indeed.’

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‘What shall we do? The gentlemen and ladies at this table

look as if they wondered why we came here — we seem forc-

ing ourselves into their party.’

‘Aye, so we do. That is very disagreeable. I wish we had a

large acquaintance here.’

‘I wish we had any — it would be somebody to go to.’

‘Very true, my dear; and if we knew anybody we would

join them directly. The Skinners were here last year — I

wish they were here now.’

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‘Had not we better go away as it is? Here are no tea-things

for us, you see.’

‘No more there are, indeed. How very provoking! But I

think we had better sit still, for one gets so tumbled in such

a crowd! How is my head, my dear? Somebody gave me a

push that has hurt it, I am afraid.’

‘No, indeed, it looks very nice. But, dear Mrs. Allen, are

you sure there is nobody you know in all this multitude of

people? I think you must know somebody.’

‘I don’t, upon my word — I wish I did. I wish I had a large

acquaintance here with all my heart, and then I should get

you a partner. I should be so glad to have you dance. There

goes a strange-looking woman! What an odd gown she has

got on! How old-fashioned it is! Look at the back.’

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After some time they received an offer of tea from one of

their neighbours; it was thankfully accepted, and this intro-

duced a light conversation with the gentleman who offered

it, which was the only time that anybody spoke to them dur-

ing the evening, till they were discovered and joined by Mr.

Allen when the dance was over.

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‘Well, Miss Morland,’ said he, directly, ‘I hope you have

had an agreeable ball.’

‘Very agreeable indeed,’ she replied, vainly endeavouring

to hide a great yawn.

‘I wish she had been able to dance,’ said his wife; ‘I wish

we could have got a partner for her. I have been saying how

glad I should be if the Skinners were here this winter in-

stead of last; or if the Parrys had come, as they talked of

once, she might have danced with George Parry. I am so

sorry she has not had a partner!’

‘We shall do better another evening I hope,’ was Mr. Al-

len’s consolation.

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The company began to disperse when the dancing was

over — enough to leave space for the remainder to walk

about in some comfort; and now was the time for a hero-

ine, who had not yet played a very distinguished part in the

events of the evening, to be noticed and admired. Every five

minutes, by removing some of the crowd, gave greater open-

ings for her charms. She was now seen by many young men

who had not been near her before. Not one, however, started

with rapturous wonder on beholding her, no whisper of ea-

ger inquiry ran round the room, nor was she once called a

divinity by anybody. Yet Catherine was in very good looks,

and had the company only seen her three years before, they

would now have thought her exceedingly handsome.

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She was looked at, however, and with some admiration;

for, in her own hearing, two gentlemen pronounced her to

be a pretty girl. Such words had their due effect; she imme-

diately thought the evening pleasanter than she had found it

before — her humble vanity was contented — she felt more

obliged to the two young men for this simple praise than a

true-quality heroine would have been for fifteen sonnets in

celebration of her charms, and went to her chair in good hu-

mour with everybody, and perfectly satisfied with her share

of public attention.

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To be continued

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