About a week before her wedding, Fanny was engaged to spend the morning at the parsonage with Mrs. Bertram as the gentlemen were going to Thornton Lacey to finalize arrangements for its new occupant.
Upon Fanny's arrival, the two ladies walked out into the shrubbery and talked lightly of the upcoming wedding and the couple's plans afterwards.
When they reached a bench, Mrs. Bertam sat down and urged Fanny to sit next to her. "Now I must speak to you about something very serious," said Mrs. Bertram, "for I fear neither of your aunts will do their duty by you. I was very fortunate to have Mrs. Grant's counsel before my own marriage and it was of great use, especially given that my husband was as ignorant as myself."
Fanny's eyes grew wide as she now began to comprehend Mrs. Bertram's intended subject. She held up her hand in protest, saying, "Please say nothing further. I am grateful for your good intentions, but I can assure you I have neither any wish nor any need to be counseled on such a subject."
"My dear Fanny, you needn't be so prudish. You are to be married soon and can no longer afford such niceties. You shall, undoubtedly be in very capable hands. Better off than me, I dare say. I am all for morality, as you know, but when it comes to the wedding night, I think it may be an advantage to have a husband who has a little knowledge."
Fanny was now blushing furiously. "Mrs. Bertram, I must insist that you cease further discourse on this subject at once. Truly, I cannot stay if you persist in discussing such matters. I have no wish to know anything about your experiences and I have no anxiety about my own."
"If that is true, if you are truly not apprehensive about the night of your wedding, it is only because you know nothing of the matter."
"I know enough, I assure you. Please let us quit this distasteful subject."
"Fanny, I insist that you allow me to prepare you. You may not think it necessary now, but you will recall my words with gratitude the morning after your wedding, I assure you."
Fanny stood, "Please forgive me, Mrs. Bertram, I must return home at once."
"Stay," said her companion, grabbing her arm and urging her to resume her seat. "Stay and listen to me as a sister."
Being claimed as a sister, was too much for Fanny. She did not wish to quarrel; she did not wish to leave the country next week on unhappy terms with Mary. It would make Henry unhappy. She made no further protest.
"Now you must understand," began Mary, "the act itself, is repulsive. But men must do it. And their wives must endure it. The result, of course, makes it all worth while," she added, in reference to her little boy. She then went on to provide a very detailed description of her own experience as a basis for what Fanny should expect on her wedding night as well as advice on how to lessen the unpleasantness and the duration of the event, concluding with, "for, as soon as it is over, he will fall asleep and at last leave you in peace."
Fanny, could only rejoice when her future sister's speech was concluded. She then said, "Let us speak no more of this matter," and made no further reply. She did, however, resolve never to subject Susan to a similar conversation. They returned indoors and Mrs. Bertram obliged Fanny with music as she practiced a new song for the evening.
Fanny was to remain for dinner and Henry was to drive her home afterwards in Edmund's curricle which they had used to go to Thornton Lacey. But she found, when the gentlemen arrived, that she could look at neither of them without embarrassment. They spoke of the events of their day with animation and Mary responded in kind with an explanation of how the ladies had spent the morning, excluding of course the conversation in the shrubbery. Fanny was quiet, but as it was not uncharacteristic of her to be so, little notice was taken of it -- until she stepped into the carriage with Henry.
"Is something the matter, Fanny?" asked he. "You seem out of sorts this evening."
Fanny was tempted to tell a falsehood here, but she felt it was no way to begin a marriage and said, instead, "I am only a little discomposed by something your sister said. But I shall soon recover."
"You do not wish to tell me what she said that has distressed you?"
"I think it was meant to be a confidence."
"I shall not ask you to breach her confidence, but I do not like to see you in this state."
"I shall be well, Henry, I assure you, after a good night's sleep."
He stopped the carriage and turned to look at her in the moonlight. He smiled but she only turned her face away. He placed his hand under her chin,"Will you not look at me?"
She turned back towards him; but, thinking he had stopped the carriage to avail himself of the opportunity to steal a kiss, she still averted her eyes; and ideas inspired by her recent conversation made her pull back from him a little.
He was surprised, but studied her in silence for a moment before saying, "You have never recoiled from me since ... what have I done to merit your disdain today?"
"Nothing," she cried with feeling, suddenly in tears. "You have been ever the gentleman."
"And these tears?" he asked as he wiped them from her face.
She made no reply.
"Are they of my sister's making?"
"Please forgive me," she said, wiping her eyes.
He handed her a handkerchief from his pocket. She smiled on seeing that it was the one she had embroidered for him. "I am afraid I shall have to insist on having that one back," he said in response to her smile. "Now, what exactly am I to forgive?"
"My outburst a moment ago."
"I am much more concerned with the feelings that caused it."
"My own foolishness in acting in a manner that led you to believe I had feelings of disdain towards you when nothing could be further from the truth. But it is what you have learned to expect from me."
"Not at all. Do not speak so. I have come to expect nothing from you but loveliness. However, I do wish, above anything, that you could confide in me."
"It is not a lack of confidence in you," she replied.
"Then what is it? If it is only a secret of my sister's then why has it upset you so? Can you not tell me without betraying her confidence? Will you not let me comfort you?"
"I will accept your offer of comfort most readily."
To this he responded by putting his arm around her shoulder and holding her close. "Mary seemed very eager for your visit this morning. She told me there was something very particular she wished to say to you that we (Edmund and I) were to know nothing about. I never imagined it could be something that would upset you so. Mary must not have known you would be so troubled by the subject of her discourse, whatever it was."
Fanny pulled away, "Her intentions were good, I believe. Even after I begged her to discontinue the subject she thought it was best for me to hear her."
"What subject could she have raised that would cause you to beg her to discontinue?"
Fanny said nothing
"Perhaps something about her husband."
Fanny looked at him. "Please Henry, please do not speculate."
"I do not wish to make you feel worse, Fanny. I will not press you further."
He moved to gather the reins but she stopped him. When he looked at her she handed him his handkerchief. He took it from her. "Thank you," she said. "Please understand, it is not my desire to keep anything from you. But some things, I think, are better left unsaid."
"I trust in your judgment, Fanny. If you believe it is best not to talk about it, then it must be so."
"And I hope you will not say anything to your sister about it."
"If that is your wish, I shall not," he replied, urging the horses forward.
Fanny had got her way, but she nevertheless felt very uneasy about it. He had seen her discomfort and it troubled him that she would not talk to him. And his being so disappointed pained her. But how could she discuss such a subject with him?
He looked sideways at her and then, holding both reins in one hand, placed his other hand on hers.
"I have made you unhappy," she said.
"No. You could not possibly make me unhappy."
"I hope it will always be so."
"I have no doubt it will be. But nor would I wish to make you unhappy, which I must have done to make you draw back as you did."
"I thought you were going to kiss me."
"That does not make me feel better," he replied. "Did you not want me to kiss you?"
"No, I ...," she blushed now. "I do not mind it," she said awkwardly.
"Do not mind it?" he asked, a little indignantly.
She feared she had affronted him merely by being too embarrassed to admit the truth. Now she had to say something. "Henry, you must know that I very much enjoy all of your attentions."
"I am pleased to know it. Indeed, I have been suspecting as much for some time; but it does not answer my question about your response earlier."
"I was reminded of my conversation with Mary."
"By your expectation that I intended to kiss you."
"Now you must forgive me, I had almost begun to speculate, but it has been forbidden."
She sighed and, grasping his hand that was still on hers, said, "My own dear Henry." At this he turned to give her a smile. “I will tell you, but you must promise to say nothing about it to your sister."
"I will do as you wish, as you well know."
“Mary only wished to counsel me on what I may expect after my marriage.”
“Did she counsel you on how to manage your servants, or your husband?”
“Neither,” she said, looking away from him.
“I have made light of something that has vexed you. Tell me, why should it trouble you that Mary should wish to give you advice?”
“She meant to advise me on my more immediate duties as a wife,” she said quietly. He looked puzzled. “The wedding night, Henry.”
“Dear God, no.”
“Yes. She was quite … explicit.”
“I cannot believe it. What could possess her to raise such a subject with you?”
“She said she did not think either of my aunts would do so.”
“Perhaps she should have left the matter to your aunt's judgment.” After a pause, he continued, “I see why you found it upsetting that she should talk to you about such a matter.”
“Yes, but it was not only that, it was what she said. I do not think she is happy.”
“She has spoken to you about it?”
“Not in explicit terms as she has done today with you, no, but she has hinted at it. And I dare say we have both seen evidence of their unhappiness. But, Fanny, your experience need not be the same as hers.”
“I know that.”
The gentleman stopped the carriage again and, turning to face her, took both her hands in his. “You are trembling.”
She made no reply.
He drew a little closer to her. “Do you trust me, Fanny?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Then heed this: First, you must forget everything Mary said to you. Think no more about it; give it no credit; do not let it distress you. Second, we needn't rush into anything, wedding night or not. We shall go on in our own good time, according to our own wishes and our own judgment, without regard to the expectations of the world. There shall be time enough to partake in all the joys of marriage together. And third, ...” he drew closer to her until his face was next to hers and when he pushed back her bonnet a little, she thought he meant to whisper in her ear; instead, she felt a gentle kiss on her neck, just below her ear. The sensation caused her to inhale sharply as her breath quickened. He repeated the gesture a few times, and without drawing his head back he ran his finger along the spot he had just kissed. “And third,” he whispered into her ear, “you will discover that the pleasures of marriage are not reserved only for men.”
He drew back and after a lingering look, drove the rest of the way home in silence.
Upon pulling into the front sweep at Mansfield Park, he alighted from the carriage and assisted her to do the same. He walked with her into the house and before he made his bow, she reminded him, “You promised you would say nothing of this to Mary.”
“Not a word,” he replied. “Good night.” With that, he returned to the carriage. Fanny went to bed fairly certain she could disregard everything Mrs. Bertram had told her. And in time, she discovered her experience in marriage to be very different from Mary's description.