Fanny sat in the drawing room the night before her wedding, listening to Edmund read aloud from the volume of Shakespeare. A serene intimacy had settled among the small party as they sat together after tea. When the volume was closed, Lady Bertram looked at Fanny and said, “Perhaps I should write to my sister Price now.”
Fanny stood and walked over to the writing table to take her aunt's dictation. After the appropriate opening greetings and inquiries, Lady Bertram took on a contemplative but curiously vacant expression as she thought of what else she could say. "Do tell my sister Price that I have worn the shawl William brought to me three times this winter." Fanny dutifully complied, then Lady Bertram continued, “Do you remember Fanny? The blue one with the flowers embroidered; I have worn it three times already."
"Yes, ma'am,” said Fanny, “I recall that you wore it with your yellow gown the other night. It looked very well with your yellow gown, ma'am."
After a few minutes of careful thought, Lady Bertram spoke again, "Pray tell my sister Price that Pug has not had her puppies yet or I would send her one, if I could." Then after a few moments she added to Fanny, "It is a shame the puppies were not born in time to send one to Portsmouth with you. I had hoped they would be born by now, but alas, they are not. If only your wedding had been put off but a fortnight longer. ”
Fanny smiled and replied gently, "Recall ma'am that even if the puppies were born they would not be able to leave their mother for some weeks longer than a fortnight, and we go to Portsmouth tomorrow."
"True, very true, but it would be very pleasant for my sister Price to have a puppy, do not you think?"
"My young brothers would enjoy it, I am sure, ma'am, but my mother, I think may not be at leisure to do so."
"Oh yes, little boys always love a puppy, though sometimes they can be cruel. I hope my little Price nephews would not do anything cruel to the puppy."
The gentlemen, in the meantime, were talking amongst themselves. One of them looked at Fanny very often, however, sometimes smiling when he caught her eye. She might blush prettily even after so many weeks of engagement. The others graciously pretended not to notice.
Lady Bertram went on, "Do ask my sister Price to tell me in her next letter how she likes the fringe I am sending with you, Fanny.” Then, she added to Fanny, “I am sending her ten yards of the fringe we made.”
“Yes ma'am, I have already packed it away in my trunk,” Fanny replied.
Lady Bertam continued in the same fashion absently trying to think of things to say to her sister as if for no other reason than making the letter as long as possible to take advantage of its being transported at no cost. At last, after a particularly long period of silence from her aunt's sofa, Fanny asked, “Shall I close the letter now, ma'am?”
Lady Bertram started a little at being addressed. “Perhaps we shall leave off for now, but do not close it; I may yet think of something more to add.”
Fanny moved back to the sofa she had previously occupied, on the other side of the room, smiling to her betrothed who now approached and sat down next to her.
"We may have to hire an additional horse to pull the carriage if this letter to your mother gets much longer.”
Fanny replied, "She will be happy to receive it." Then she added, "You have been very quiet this evening."
"Have I?" He smiled, "I suppose it is only because I am happy beyond all expression."
Fanny shook her head but returned his smile. "Come now, tell me truly, what is on your mind?"
He sighed. “I shall tell you if you wish, but you may not like it.”
“I listen at my own peril.”
He smiled at this. “I cannot help but indulge in a little self reproach; to think of the pain I have caused, and of all the time I spent foolishly blind to your perfections; in short, how little I deserve my present happiness.”
“I wish you would not say such things.”
“Do you? I am surprised. It was not so long ago that you expressed a contrary wish.” She looked puzzled. “You did say, I believe, that you hoped we could be completely open and frank with one another.”
“Very true. I suppose what I meant was that I wish you would not feel that way. You have made mistakes, but so have we all.”
“Of course I have, but I do not dwell on them. I believe you give yours far too much importance.”
“Yes. I am sure you dwell on your past mistakes far more than anyone you believe to have been injured by them.”
He smiled again, "No one shall ever accuse you of flattering my vanity."
"That is why you love me," she whispered.
"That is only one reason of many."
"I hope at least you will abandon these unhappy recollections before tomorrow. You must adopt some of my philosophy: think of the past only as its remembrance gives you pleasure."
"I cannot credit you with any philosophy of the kind."
"It is a new acquirement. I am constantly seeking to improve myself."
"I find it doubtful that there is sufficient opportunity for improvement to make it a constant effort."
"Now you are flattering my vanity."
"Nonsense. You are incapable of vanity."
"And you answer with more flattery!"
"I speak only the truth, and I shall never stop."
Fanny glanced around the room, suddenly awake to the possibility that their flirtatious banter had been overheard; but no one seemed to have noticed due to a little bustle as the card tables were being placed.
The gentleman continued, "And, are you prepared for what tomorrow brings? It is a much greater change for you than for me. I hope you will not be too melancholy in the morning as we drive away."
"If I am, I shall have you there to comfort me."
"Always.” He then looked at her earnestly, "You look very tired."
"I do not deny it," she replied.
He glanced at the others around the room and saw them just sitting down to cards. “It does not appear that it will be an early evening,” he observed.
“No,” she agreed. “But I shall not wait for the others. I believe I shall go to bed now, if you do not mind.”
“I do not mind, so long as you allow me the pleasure of walking with you so far as the foot of the staircase.”
Fanny arose, and bidding good night to the others, took his arm and walked into the hall towards the principal staircase.
When they reached it, she stopped and turned to face him.
"I shall see you tomorrow, I suppose?” he said.
Fanny laughed a little. "Indeed you shall."
"I look forward to it." He took her hand and kissed it gently. "Good night Miss Price."
"Good night, Henry."
He watched her ascend to the landing, then returned to the drawing room to play at cards until his sister and Edmund were ready to return to the parsonage.