Empty-Nesters, by Bronwen Chisholm

Empty-Nesters, by Bronwen Chisholm

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!

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22 COMMENTS
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DarcyBennett
DarcyBennett
April 14, 2022 1:09 PM

Good luck with your garden.

Jean Stillman
Jean Stillman
April 10, 2022 7:38 AM

Very Cute! I had to chuckle over Gulliver’s Travels for Mrs.Bennet!
Empty nesting is one transition. Just wait until you, too, retire. For me, that was even worse than the empty nesting!

Caryl Kane
Caryl Kane
April 9, 2022 2:51 PM

Fabulous scene!

Wendy luther
Wendy luther
April 8, 2022 2:08 PM

Loved it and I’m an empty nester also lol

Glynis
Glynis
April 7, 2022 10:06 AM

I have never been a keen gardener but the house we lived in before we had children had excellent soil and we grew all our vegetables! The front garden was full of lovely flowers including dahlias, peonies, hydrangeas and lavender! When we moved to my current home the soil had too much clay and the only vegetables we managed to grow were treated as delicacies by the slugs so we gave up! Nowadays I suffer like you so can’t enjoy the garden so much and have a gardener to keep it under control.
I love this short story, especially as Mr Bennet obviously understood that his wife was lonely so chose a book he thought she’d enjoy. I must say that I too would prefer Gulliver’s Travel to Canterbury Tales!

Linda A.
Linda A.
April 6, 2022 9:25 PM

I was just at my parent’s house looking at that half acre of ground that used to be the garden. It looks a LOT smaller now that it is almost entirely grass instead of when we had to hoe weeds, plant then dig up ROWS of potatoes, shuck corn, pick cucumbers, etc. I have to say, I don’t miss it. Small flower beds are easier.

Mary B
Mary B
April 6, 2022 6:31 PM

Delightful bit of writing. Thanks.

Kirstin Odegaard
AuAu
April 6, 2022 2:06 PM

I liked that scene of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet finding a way to share each other’s interests. Very nice.

Good luck with your gardening! I have always wanted to enjoy gardening, but it somehow always feels like a chore. Maybe I’ll pull a Lady Catherine and say that I’ve never gotten into gardening, but if I did, I would be a great proficient.

J. W. Garrett.
J. W. Garrett.
April 6, 2022 12:18 PM

Oh, that was lovely. Who knows, you may one day be part of a group compiling an anthology of shorts and you are ready to go with this excerpt. I was impressed that Mr. Bennet willingly chose to have tea with her and to select a book that he knew she would enjoy. Who knows what will become of their relationship. Thanks for sharing. Good luck with your garden and rebuilding/reordering your nest now that the fledgings have all flown the coop. Blessings.

cindie snyder
cindie snyder
April 6, 2022 10:20 AM

Good luck with the gardening. What a sweet scene! I think Mr Bennett’s choice was a good one. I think he wanted to give his wife something to think about.

Riana Everly
AuAu
April 6, 2022 9:46 AM

All the best with your garden. I also break out in hives if I look at something fresh and green, so I leave the gardening to others. I do love looking at a beautiful garden, though.
And yes – Canterbury Tales might be a bit, er, risque in places. Gulliver’s Travels? Hmmm… We read that in school. I think I fell asleep half way through, but perhaps I should try it again.

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