When I mentioned on Facebook that I was writing the scene where Anne de Bourgh crashes Georgiana Darcy’s 18th birthday ball (for my work-in-progress, The Ladies of Rosings Park), I started to receive comments from enthusiastic friends about what they thought that scene should contain – creative suggestions I wished I could use for the book but couldn’t, since the book has to match the tone of Pride and Prejudice. Then I had this messaging conversation:
Friend: Wow! Anne crashing Georgie’s birthday ball sounds like it might be fun to read.
Me: Probably sounds more dramatic than it is. These people are all much too polite to cause an ugly scene, more’s the pity.
Me: Maybe I’ll write a mash-up version just for fun!
So that’s what I decided to do for this blog post. Here goes!
Anne de Bourgh made her way determinedly toward the door, outside of which a carriage waited to take her to London. “I am going to Georgiana’s ball, Mama. I am of age now, so there is nothing you can do to stop me.”
Lady Catherine followed close upon her heels, shaking her fist in the air. “You may be of age, but I still hold the purse strings. Just you remember that!”
Her daughter paused to deliver her parting salvo. “Perhaps I will find myself a rich husband at the ball, and then all your threats will be meaningless. In any case, I am going. Good-bye, Mama!”
The astonished but straight-faced butler opened the door, and Miss de Bourgh marched through it and on to the adventure ahead. She was quite shocked, really – probably no less so than her mother – that she had actually done it. She had stood up for herself and declared her emancipation from her domineering parent at last! Perhaps it was the recent upturn in her health that had given her the courage. Or perhaps she had finally reached her limit. It mattered only that she was liberated.
“Woohoo!” she shouted as the carriage left the grounds of Rosings Park. She raised her arms in jubilation, kicking up her heels and laughing hysterically. It was probably not decorous behavior. It was definitely not ladylike, and yet Anne cared no more than a jot. She had missed so much being cooped up in Kent; she did not mean to miss anything else, beginning with her cousin’s eighteenth birthday ball. She had another stop to make first, however.
Several hours later, the de Bourgh carriage, boasting its distinguished coat of arms, pulled to a stop in front of a brightly lit townhouse in Berkeley Square – one belonging to that old and honored family, the Darcys. The young lady who alighted, however, barely resembled the one who had come into London earlier that day by the same equipage. Her clothes – feathered headpiece down to her satin dancing slippers – were all new and up to date, and so was the styling of her hair. A bit of fresh color, expertly applied, highlighted her cheeks and lips.
No, it was not a miracle but the nearest thing to it that could be found this side of heaven – on Bond Street, to be more specific – something the fashionable establishment that performed the transformation called a Complete Makeover (which would soon become the rage among those with plenty of money and less than perfect appearance).
Now, finally, after years of being unfairly kept back from what was rightfully her due, Miss Anne de Bourgh, brimming with confidence, was ready to make her social debut. If only she had held an actual invitation to the ball, she should have felt no qualms whatsoever upon nearly reaching the door. But it was a small detail, one she trusted would be quickly overcome.
A forbidding-looking butler opened the door. “Good evening, Miss,” he said.
“Good evening,” she returned, inclining her head slightly. Anne intended to carry herself through the doorway in a regal manner so there would be no question of her belonging. Unfortunately, her new and unfamiliar slippers caused her to trip and nearly fall to the floor. She would have too, but for the butler’s quick action.
As he caught the young lady, he looked at her more closely. “Do you have an invitation, Miss?” he inquired haughtily.
What happened next is a matter of some dispute. Miss de Bourgh accused the butler of assaulting and otherwise hindering her person. The butler insisted that the lady was somehow to blame. In any case, noise of the scuffle between them soon brought Mr. Darcy to sort out the trouble.
“Is that you, Anne?” he asked, somewhat incredulous. “Heavens! What are you doing here?”
“Sir, kindly tell your man to unhand me!”
“Yes. Yes, of course. Henderson, please release the lady. She is my cousin Miss de Bourgh.” Darcy took his fair cousin’s coat and gave it to a waiting footman. “Now, come in, dear Anne. Come in. I was never so surprised to see anybody in my life, and looking so well too! You are most welcome, of course. Georgiana and Elizabeth will be delighted to see you. Indeed, we should certainly have sent you an invitation had we thought there was any possibility of your actually receiving it and also your mother’s permission to come.”
“Yes, well, I decided to come without – an invitation or Mama’s consent either one.”
“I applaud your courage and fortitude, my dear. Now do make yourself at home. You may find Georgiana through there,” he said, pointing the way. “On the other hand, you may not. She has been skittish as a colt tonight, and I have not seen her this half hour. I would almost swear that she has gone into hiding. But you will please excuse me now. I must return to my duties before things get completely out of hand.”
Anne watched the retreating back of her handsome cousin, the man originally intended to be her husband, and she felt… Honestly, she felt only relief that he had found a way to foil the plan. When she thought of marriage, which she did but rarely, she pictured quite a different sort of man – blonde perhaps, slightly built like herself, and spectacles. Yes a bookish gentleman would suit her perfectly.
Recalling herself from her musings, Anne smoothed her gown, struck an elegant pose, and looked about herself. What she saw was a party in full swing. The dancing had not begun, and yet the well-turned-out throng of people had already commenced carrying on. Their spirits were very high indeed, and it seemed that the largest bowl of punch she had ever seen was at the center of it all. What was in that punch, she wondered?
While Miss de Bourgh was noticing the room, the room – at least the male portion of it -had begun noticing her as well. When she strolled through in search of Miss Darcy, every gentleman’s head turned. One asked, “Who is that ethereal beauty? I’ve not seen her before.” “I heard Mr. Darcy call her his cousin, a Miss de Bourgh,” reported another. “Miss de Bourgh!” exclaimed a third. “Why, she is one of the richest ladies in the country. Miss Darcy’s fortune is nothing to hers.”
Within five minutes the report had circulated throughout the entire company, and nearly everybody present knew the newly arrived lady’s name, the exact size of her fortune, and the other singular fact: she was neither married nor engaged.
Anne was oblivious to all this. After stopping to enjoy a generous sample of the punch, which she found particularly refreshing, she continued her search for Georgiana. But the crowd began to press about her, and she could make no headway. Everywhere she turned, there was another smiling gentleman, contriving a way to introduce himself and beg the promise of a dance from her. She no more than succeeded in turning one away when two others took his place.
The situation became desperate. When Anne thought she might succumb to the crush, unable to breath, she spotted help. “Elizabeth!” she cried out with all the remaining air her lungs contained.
Mrs. Darcy heard, saw the lady in peril, and instantly perceived that the situation was indeed dire. She came to Anne’s rescue at once, a way gradually opening between them as the guests heeded her command to, “Step back. Step back, all of you. Give the lady some air. You men go away and stop bothering her or I shall have you thrown out of this house and onto the street, every one of you.”
“Come with me, my dear,” Mrs. Darcy told the lady in distress, leading her to a side room and closing the door behind them. “Now, do sit down and let me have a look at you.” Miss de Bourgh did as instructed. After a moment, Mrs. Darcy said, “There is something familiar… Oh, my goodness! Anne, can it be you?”
“It is, Elizabeth. Please do forgive me for making such a scene, especially uninvited as I am.”
“You are not the problem, Miss de Bourgh. It is the others.” Just then, the sound of a muffled sneeze told the two they were not alone. Elizabeth turned to find the source, which she did behind an ornately embroidered oriental screen. “Georgiana! What do you do there?”
The birthday girl replied, “Oh, Lizzy, I could not bear all those people looking at me any longer – the women wanting to find a flaw and the men hoping to win my fortune. Greetings, Cousin Anne,” she continued, going to shake her hand. “So nice of you to come. It has been ever so long, and my, how extremely well you look!”
“She does, indeed,” agreed Mrs. Darcy. “Now, we must think how best to proceed. Hiding here will not do for either one of you. Let me start by fetching each of you a bracing cup of punch.”
While Elizabeth was gone, Anne turned to her cousin. “Oh, Georgiana, I have done it at last! I have done what you encouraged me to do in your letters; I have taken a stand against Mama. As you know, she forbid me to ever see you or your brother again. But I told her I was going to your ball, whatever may come.”
“That was very brave of you, dear Anne! I hope you may not soon regret it.”
“Mama can threaten all she likes to disinherit me, but she has nobody else to leave her money to. Besides, I told her I will not need it because I intend to marry a very rich man.”
“And do you?”
“I suppose I would if the right one came along. What about you, dear Georgiana? But you are very young to concern yourself with finding a husband yet. You must dance and make merry – all the things I was deprived of at your age. You must not waste a single minute.”
“You make me very ashamed of myself, Anne. I urged you to take courage against your mother, and here you find me hiding from my own guests!”
Elizabeth returned with the promised punch. “Here we are, ladies. Drink this. I am sure it will do you good. I had some myself and found it highly therapeutic.”
Anne and Georgiana did as they were told; they each drank down a large draught of punch.”
“Feeling better?” asked Elizabeth. Both the others agreed that they were. “Excellent. Now let us all go out and enjoy your ball, Georgiana. Your brother has been waiting for you to begin the dancing.”
Thus fortified, the three women did just that. Miss Darcy soon discovered she was not as nervous as before, and Miss de Bourgh found the amorous gentlemen much more easily managed since Elizabeth had scolded them. They both danced and danced.
A good time was had by all, in fact, and the ball was an infamous success. All the papers said so.
Much was made of the two young heiresses and their entourage of followers. Speculation continued long about who Miss Darcy would marry in the end, since she showed no particular preference for one gentleman over another. But everybody in the know had already awarded Miss de Bourgh’s hand to Sir Nigel Harrington – a slight, bespectacled young nobleman who had never shown much aptitude for attracting the ladies before, despite all his thousands in the bank. The logic went like this: “Did Miss de Bourgh really dance a full ten dances with Sir Nigel? Then there can be no doubt in the matter; they must be secretly engaged.”
This kind of society gossip and speculation was rather standard fare however – entertaining for a time or until the next big thing came along. What made Miss Darcy’s ball truly unforgettable was something else entirely.
During the supper break, another scuffle was heard in the hall, followed by indignant words. “Unhand me, Henderson! You forget yourself. I am here to collect my daughter, and I will not be prevented!”
The indignant lady was soon identified as Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Her daughter heard the noise and came at once to see what could be done about it.
“Ah, there you are, Anne,” continued Lady Catherine upon seeing her approaching. “You are coming with me this instant.”
“Mama!” cried Miss de Bourgh in alarm. Then, after a moment’s consideration, she knew what to do. “Mama, you look tired.”
“Of course I am tired! You have given me much trouble today, you ungrateful child.”
“Yes, tired and overwrought. Come and have some punch to refresh yourself after your long journey.”
“Well… perhaps I will,” she said starting forward. “Then we must be off…”
Some say Lady Catherine stumbled all on her own. Some say she was tripped – by her daughter or by other means. What is known for certain is that the great lady somehow careened headlong, coming to rest with her face buried deep in the bowl of punch. Before she could be helped out again, she had apparently consumed a fair amount of the contents. She staggered and blustered her discontent, making an ugly scene before a host of witnesses. Mr. Darcy, therefore, had little choice. He gave the command that his aunt should be taken upstairs to one of the guest apartments and put to bed straightaway so that the party could continue, which it did until early morning’s light.
Ah, yes, it was truly a night to remember!
I hope you enjoyed this lively version of events at Georgiana’s ball. In The Ladies of Rosings Park, the scene will take place at Pemberley and play out a little differently, although still with some fireworks. Please stay tuned!
“I am sure he fell in love with you at the ball; I am sure the mischief was done that evening. You did look remarkable well. Everybody said so…” (Mansfield Park, chapter 33)