I have mentioned before that my husband and I are now empty-nesters. The latest adventure in this new lifestyle is reconnecting on home projects. With the kids gone and my husband counting the months to his retirement, we have been making a priority list of what needs to be done to our home. Painting and carpeting have been planned out, but then I threw my husband for a loop and announced I wanted to plant a garden.
The last time I was serious about gardening was 25 years ago, before our first child was born. My husband can spend days in the yard and is prodigiously proud of his grass, the greenest and thickest in our neighborhood. I, on the other hand, used to break out in a rash if I sat in freshly mowed grass when I was younger. Though I do love a well maintained flower garden, my motive was to have something we could do together.
As I knelt in the dirt last evening planting my roses, lilies, coneflowers, and lavender, I thought about gardening during the regency era. Pushing myself up using my garden kneeler seat while the toe of my sneaker dug into the soil, I thought, “How did they do this in dresses?” Now, I know some of you are saying, “They didn’t, the gardeners did.” But I am sure there were some fashionable ladies who enjoyed getting their hands (or gloves) dirty.
Today, as I wracked my brains to figure out what to discuss with you, I was brought back to the idea of being empty-nesters and finding new (or old) ways to interact with my spouse. It was then I began to wonder what Mrs. Bennet did when she finally reached her goal and married off all her daughters. I hope you enjoy this little scene. (Please forgive any typos or other errors – it was quickly written and unedited.)
A sighed escaped her lips as Mrs. Bennet stood by the window and watched the rain running down the panes. Three days of such weather had left her feeling melancholy, without the strength to even call for her smelling salts. With another sigh, she turned and surveyed her surroundings.
Her favourite drawing room, as it was in the front of the house and gave a view of anyone entering the drive, had undergone several changes since Kitty wed the previous summer. The furniture had been moved about at least three times, some pieces swapped with those from other rooms. Though she was not fully satisfied with the current arrangement, it would have to do. Any further changes required recovering the older, worn pieces or replacing them, and Mr. Bennet had refused to approve expenses which would be benefited more by Mr. Collins than himself.
She huffed as she returned to her seat and took up her needlework, but did not even draw the needle from the fabric before she laid it back on the table. With all her girls settled, something which had driven her life since the moment Jane turned fourteen, she now found herself adrift. Even when the sun shone and she was able to visit and receive visitors, the monotony of it had begun to wear on her nerves. It was one thing to be nervous when there was a reason; another completely to be so when there was not.
Resting her head upon the back of her chair, she wondered what she had done before her life was filled with her daughters, their dresses, and their activities; before she was taken up with caring for them and teaching them to sew or encouraging other accomplishments. Her eyes fell on the assortment of artwork scattered over the walls: from Jane’s precise sampler to Mary’s Bible verse to Kitty’s floral bouquet with its loose threads. Opposite these were Lizzy’s watercolor landscape and Lydia’s flower garden, or whatever the colourful splotches of paint were meant to be.
She sighed once more. Before her girls were born, and when she and Mr. Bennet were not attending gatherings in the neighbourhood, they were busy running Longbourn and attempting to start a family. Now, Longbourn nearly ran itself. Without a son to carry on his legacy, her husband had no interest in making improvements or directly overseeing the tenants. He spent his time in his bookroom, and she could be found in the drawing room.
A frown creased her brow and her lower lip pushed outward. Whatever could be so interesting in the pages of a book? Not that she did not enjoy a good novel from time to time, but what could Mr. Bennet find so enthralling? A sudden need for company and activity drove her to her feet, and she found herself knocking on his door before she knew she had left the room.
“Enter,” her husband’s voice called.
With a deep breath, she did as she was bid.
“Mrs. Bennet?” Mr. Bennet laid his book aside and removed his glasses. “Do you require my attention?”
Her gaze moved over the bookshelves before taking in the welcoming hearth and a companion chair to the one her husband occupied. For years it was where Lizzy could be found, a book in her hand and tea at her side.
“Shall I have Hill serve tea in here today?” she asked with only a slight hesitation.
Mr. Bennet’s brow arched, and he opened and shut his mouth twice before responding. “If that is your wish, Madam.”
With a quick nod, she moved to the bell pull, tugged it, and waited for the servant to respond. “Please bring us a fresh pot of tea and some of those cakes Cook made yesterday.”
“In the drawing room, Ma’am?”
“No, in here. It is cozier on this bleak day.”
The housekeeper left with a nod and Mrs. Bennet sank into her daughter’s chair. “What are you reading, sir?”
The gentleman looked to his book as though the title had escaped him. “The Canterbury Tales.”
“Is it interesting? What is it about?” She leaned forward and looked expectantly at the cover.
He looked at her as though she had donned her gown backward. “I find it so. It follows a group of people on a journey.”
“Shall you read aloud while we take tea?”
Once again, her husband’s jaw opened and closed repeatedly. “You wish for me to read to you? It is not one of those novels you and the girls favour.”
Mrs. Bennet shrugged. “Perhaps I would prefer something different. A journey sounds interesting.”
Before more could be said, the tea tray arrived and she set about fixing the cups and plates to each’s preference. When she finished, she lifted her head to find her husband studying her. She settled back in her seat with her tea and nodded for him to proceed, but he continued to stare at her. Just as she was about to speak to his hesitation, he rose from his seat and crossed to a bookshelf where he selected a different book before returning to his seat.
“I believe you might prefer this one, my dear.” He opened the cover and read, “The author of these Travels, Mr. Lemuel Gulliver, is my ancient and intimate friend; there is likewise some relation between us on the mother’s side. About three years ago, . . .”
Can’t you see Mr. Bennet choosing Gulliver’s Travels as something Mrs. Bennet might enjoy? I hope you liked my little musing. I have no intention of putting this in a larger work, but you never know. Have a happy spring!