"Oh!" said Lydia stoutly, "I am not afraid; for though I am the youngest, I'm also the most proficient in the art of tempting the other sex."
The rest of the evening was spent in conjecturing how soon Mr. Bingley would return Mr. Bennet's visit, and determining when they should ask him to dinner.
NOT ALL THAT Mrs. Bennet, however, with the assistance of her five daughters, could ask on the subject, was sufficient to draw from her husband any satisfactory description of Mr. Bingley. They attacked him in various ways—with barefaced questions, ingenious suppositions, and distant surmises; but he eluded the skill of them all, and they were at last obliged to accept the second-hand intelligence of their neighbour Lady Lucas. Her report was highly favourable. Sir William had been delighted with him. He was quite young, wonderfully handsome, and, to crown the whole, he meant to be at the next ball with a large party. Nothing could be more delightful!
"If I can but see one of my daughters happily settled at Netherfield," said Mrs. Bennet to her husband, "and all the others equally well married, I shall have nothing to wish for." "And if I can see all five of them survive England's present difficulties, then neither shall I," he replied.
In a few days Mr. Bingley returned Mr. Bennet's visit, and sat about ten minutes with him in his library. He had entertained hopes of being admitted to a sight of the young ladies, of whose beauty and fighting skill he had heard much; but he saw only the father. The ladies were somewhat more fortunate, for they had the advantage of ascertaining from an upper window that he wore a blue coat, rode a black horse, and carried a French carbine rifle upon his back—quite an exotic weapon for an Englishman. However, from his clumsy wielding of it, Elizabeth was quite certain that he had little training in musketry or any of the deadly arts.
An invitation to dinner was soon afterwards dispatched; and already had Mrs. Bennet planned the courses that were to do credit to her housekeeping, when an answer arrived which deferred it all. Mr. Bingley was obliged to be in town the following day, and, consequently, unable to accept the honour of their invitation, etc. Mrs. Bennet was quite disconcerted. She could not imagine what business he could have in town so soon after his arrival in Hertfordshire. Lady Lucas quieted her fears a little by starting the idea of his being gone to London only to retrieve a large party for the ball; and a report soon followed that Mr. Bingley was to bring twelve ladies and seven gentlemen with him to the assembly. The girls grieved over such a number of ladies, but were comforted by hearing that instead of twelve he brought only six with him from London—his five sisters and a cousin. And when the party entered the ball, it consisted of only five altogether—Mr. Bingley, his two sisters, the husband of the eldest, and another young man.