Yes, Thank You, Mary
The first dew drops of night were falling as Mary Bennet gazed pensively at her piano and released a sigh. It was not, as many might imagine for the last unmarried of five sisters, a sigh of misery or sorrow. Rather, it was a sigh of satisfaction. Kitty's marriage had come and gone with the usual and expected commotion. And now, she was gone. The new Mrs. Edmund Montgomery was gone to join the ranks of Mrs. George Wickham, Mrs. Charles Bingley and Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy. She too would produce well-bred offspring, host well-attended parties and converse with well-established personages. And Miss Mary Bennet was well-satisfied to be excused from such a role.
It was all very fine, she conceded, to have the love of a good man. Wonderful, even. However, if such a man could not be found (and for her, such a man could not be found), it was better to be without any at all. Yes, Elizabeth was a lucky woman on this count, as indeed was Jane. Lydia, however, was of about as much importance to her husband as theological concerns are to a field mouse. Kitty, sadly, was not much better. Her husband valued her more, but for equally dishonourable reasons. He desired heirs, house-keeping and a hostess in that order. Nothing more. Would Miss Mary Bennet aspire to such a life? Certainly not.
Adding a log to the happily crackling fire, she considered herself. She was the middle daughter, forever wedged between two sensible women and two frivolous girls. As such, she had always been uncoupled and, thus prompted to fashion herself alone. She had read widely. She had an aptitude for complexity, a capability in abstract thought, and a keenly-honed moral sense. Not to appear self-satisfied (for this was abominable), but Miss Mary Bennet was a sensible, well-educated woman. If she were to be taken as any man's wife, she would have herself taken for these very reasons. If it were not be so, then she was in no humour to pine for it.
She was not a lonely woman by any means. Even in solitude, her mind was an instant source of activity. She was not bound to desire that exclusive companionship sought by so many other women. No more was she enticed by the charms of motherhood. Honourable and natural though such feelings undoubtedly were, Miss Mary Bennet felt that motherhood was not the desired state of all those possessed of the physical facilities. Children were indeed lovely, and still lovelier, she decided, when they were not one's own.
Mary sighed once more, but this time, with the merest hint of regret. There were times when she thought she ought to have been other than what she was. Specifically, there were times when she thought she ought to have been a man. For men, she had observed, seemed to rise almost effortlessly within the world despite their overwhelming ignorance or maddening misconceptions. They seemed to have been designed for this sole purpose. If she had only been a man, why, she would certainly rise at twice the average pace and to twice the average height. She would not only write, but be published; not only argue, but be heeded; not only listen, but be listened to... Yes, Miss Mary Bennet had only regret in life, if it could indeed be called such; this was that she was born a woman, and as such, she was bound to the shadows of the world. But such idle speculation was fruitless, she reminded herself briskly. Besides, she felt certain that times would change. Women like her would surely one day be discovered to exist and operate and be treated accordingly. Then, the life of the unmarried female would purge its shameful taint and acquire a golden lustre of possibility and worth. True, she would probably not be admitted to the pleasure of seeing such a day, but she felt sure it would come. She remained content in the knowledge that she had been among its visionaries and had rejoiced inwardly at its splendour.
"Oh, Mary!" exclaimed her mother, collapsing in a chair by the hearth. "Four daughters married. Would that it were five! Oh, how perfect it would be! What a fine thing for you all!"
"Finer still to be, for the first time, the only Miss Bennet, Mama!"
"Oh, how can you say such a thing? Foolish girl! Don't you know Mr. Montgomery has five thousand a year? What a fine thing for any young woman! The only Miss Bennet! Lord, what a notion, child!"
Mrs. Bennet continued to rant in this fashion for several minutes until she lost interest and returned once more to the happy reflection of having four daughters married.
Miss Mary Bennet smiled contentedly, happy and proud to remain as she was; the last, and now, finally, the only Miss Bennet.