That night at the ball, the Thorpes and Allens meet. James wants to dance with Isabella, but Isabella declares that she will not dance with James until Catherine can dance with John, who is in the other room. Catherine is grateful for this, but several minutes later Isabella says that James is impatient to dance and goes off to dance.
Isabella wants to show loyalty to Catherine by waiting with her until John returns, but she also wants to dance with James. To show her interest in James, she does the opposite of what she says, as if she is irresistibly drawn to him, then puts the blame for leaving Catherine alone on James’s shoulders.
Catherine is left alone with Mrs. Allen and Mrs. Thorpe. She feels sure everyone around her believes that she was unable to secure a partner. This kind of trial often occurs in the life of a heroine, observes the Narrator. After ten minutes, Catherine sees Mr. Tilney across the room, but he does not see her. Mr. Tilney is talking to a young woman, but Catherine does not assume him to be married, throwing away a chance at falling into despair. She assumes this woman must be his sister, because he has not acted like a married man, and she is guided only by what seems likely.
This minor setback for Catherine is compared to the trials and tribulations faced by the typical heroine of a sentimental novel on her path to find love and happiness. But Catherine’s sensibleness means that, unlike the typical heroine in a novel, who might have fainted at the sight of the man she loves with another woman, she assumes that there has been no secret wife, but only a sister she already knew about.
Mr. Tilney gives Catherine a smile of recognition, then approaches her party along with Mrs. Hughes, a woman who is accompanying his sister Miss Tilney and knows Mrs. Thorpe. He addresses himself to both Catherine and Mrs. Allen, who says that she is very glad to see him and feared that he had left. Mrs. Allen goes on to say how pleasant it is in Bath and complains that Mr. Allen does not want to stay. Mr. Tilney asks Catherine to dance, and, with real bitterness, she turns him down, because she must keep her promise to dance with John.
Like Catherine, Mr. Tilney’s sister is accompanied by a woman who can look after her. Instead of trying to ease Catherine’s social life in Bath, however, Mrs. Allen engages in some of the small talk about life in Bath that Mr. Tilney had mocked the first time he and Catherine met.
Finally, John Thorpe appears. He does not apologize for keeping Catherine waiting and talks about his friend with whom he plans a swap horses and dogs. Catherine is not comforted in her loss of an opportunity to dance with Mr. Tilney, and looks back at him frequently. Catherine is also separated from Isabella and James and reflects that she was mistaken in believing herself lucky to go to a ball already set to dance with a partner.
Having already gone to one ball where she had no partner, Catherine had looked at John Thorpe’s early invitation to dance as a security against being looked at by those around her as a girl who cannot attract a partner. But the ill-mannered John Thorpe has kept Catherine waiting so long that his early invitation to dance has become a burden.
Mrs. Hughes approaches Catherine and asks if Miss Tilney can stand near her during the dance and Catherine eagerly agrees. Miss Tilney is pretty and agreeable. She is not attention-seeking or boldly fashionable, but has a quality of real elegance. Catherine is very eager to get to know her, but she can only think to make small talk.
Here we see that Mrs. Hughes is serving as a much better guardian to Miss Tilney than Miss Allen serves for Catherine. Mrs. Hughes was likely hired by Miss Tilney’s father to accompany her to Bath, while Catherine has herself been brought to serve as a companion.
Isabella approaches and grabs Catherine’s arm, complaining that James kept her from coming to find Catherine and saying that she has been scolding him for his laziness. Catherine points Miss Tilney out to Isabella, who exclaims at her beauty and asks where Mr. Tilney is. When James tries to join the conversation, Isabella scolds, saying that they are not speaking of him, and even if they were, he should not listen. Catherine feels a bit suspicious at how easily Isabella forgot her curiosity to see Mr. Tilney. As a new dance starts, Isabella tells Catherine that James insists on dancing again, which she says she thinks scandalous. Isabella asks Catherine if she would be shocked if she danced with James again, and Catherine says she would not be, but they should not dance if it will make Isabella uncomfortable. Isabella soon walks off to dance again with James.
Here once again, Isabella wishes to portray herself as a loyal friend to Catherine while also showing no interest in Catherine’s interests. She turns the topic of Mr. Tilney into a topic to flirt with James about. Instead of trying scrupulously to obey the rules for appropriate behavior between young men and women as Catherine does, Isabella wishes to create the impression that she is bending those rules for James’s sake. In this way, she presents herself as both more modest than most women, while also dropping clear hints that she is in love with James, which she hopes will make him love her.
John has walked away and Catherine hopes Mr. Tilney will ask her to dance again, so she returns to the older women, hoping to see him. Mrs. Allen says that Mr. Tilney had said he wanted to dance and she thought that if he ran into Catherine he would have asked her. Then they see Mr. Tilney leading another woman to the dance floor. Mrs. Allen says that Mr. Tilney is a very agreeable young man, and Mrs. Thorpe says she thinks him the most agreeable man in the world, although she is his mother. Mrs. Allen remarks to Catherine that Mrs. Thorpe must have thought that they were talking about John Thorpe.
This is one of the few instances when Mrs. Allen has an original thought—and it is about her competitiveness with Mrs. Thorpe, who only talks of her children, while Mrs. Allen only talks of clothing. Mrs. Allen has done nothing, meanwhile, to help facilitate Catherine and Mr. Tilney dancing, but merely repeats her praise of him in a fixed phrase, saying that he is a very agreeable man.
John Thorpe approaches Catherine and says he supposes they ought to dance again. Catherine says she does not want to dance, nor does she take him up on his offer to walk about and tease people. The rest of the night, she hardly sees Mr. Tilney or Miss Tilney, and Isabella gives her very little attention.
Here we see the first major instance of John Thorpe’s incredibly rude presumption and sense of entitlement. He does not pay attention to the social niceties that make a man a gentleman, but seeks to show that he is one by treating other people highhandedly.