Left on the shelf? Not if Mary Bennet can help it!
An alternative ending to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice
“If any young men come for Mary or Kitty, send them in, for I am quite at leisure.”
Attracted by the laughter emanating from their father’s library, the two young ladies in question were close by when Elizabeth left, closing the door softly behind her.
“Well,” smirked Kitty. “I dare say it will not be long before someone comes for me. I am just as pretty as any of our sisters and, with a brother-in-law like Mr Darcy to grant preferment to the man I choose, my lack of fortune will not signify.” She gave Mary a pitying look and continued, “It is different for you, of course, but you will have Mama and Papa all to yourself after I have gone. And your precious music, of course.” She flounced off to look out a becoming bonnet, as though a cavalcade of eligible young men might ride up to the house at any moment.
Cut to the quick, Mary returned to her beloved pianoforte but found no consolation there. What was wrong with her? Had she always minded being the odd one out amongst the Bennet girls and just refused to admit it until now? If there had been six of them, it might have been different, but Jane and Elizabeth had always been each other’s confidantes and so had Kitty and Lydia. Mary prided herself on being more accomplished than any of them and certainly more sensible than the younger ones, but was it enough? Could she bear to remain at Longbourn until her father’s death and then move with her mother to whichever married sister might offer them a home? She saw the years stretching ahead with herself in the role of maiden aunt to an ever growing brood of nephews and nieces, treated with pity and condescension.
It was not to be borne. Plain she might be, but from that day onwards Mary employed every artifice available to make the best of herself. By the time that her sisters’ wedding day came round, she had achieved such a transformation that some guests almost failed to recognise her. Amongst these was Colonel Fitzwilliam who, seeing that Mary and Kitty had no escorts of their own, gallantly stepped into the breach. Kitty soon wandered off in search of younger and more handsome quarry, but Mary was charmed by his gentlemanly manners and attention to her comfort. It would have surprised everyone who knew her that she spent the hours that followed in pleasant conversation without once attempting to show her intellectual superiority to the rest of the company or offering to play and sing. She made such an impression on the Colonel that he called upon her the next day and laid his heart at her feet.
As the younger son of an earl, he had little fortune to offer, but discreet application to Mr Darcy enabled the couple to marry. A double bereavement shortly thereafter led to Mary’s gleefully outranking all her sisters when she became a countess.
Shortlisted in the Jane Austen Bicentenary Competition to write a 500-word alternative ending to any of the novels.