Between age fifteen, when she attended her first ball, and age twenty Elizabeth Bennet had already gone through hundreds of pairs of shoes. She had never had any trouble with her feet before attending balls, even while dancing with her sisters at home. But as soon as she entered society, she had begun experiencing unaccountable, severe, torturing, pain in both feet. It wasn't just that they were sore from dancing, it was constant, excruciating misery. In fact, it did not deter her from dancing, because though constant, the pain was always worse in social settings and most intolerable when sitting out a dance!
She had been visited by doctors and apothecaries and surgeons who were all equally puzzled by her condition; she had tried countless contraptions, poultices, and potions from all over the world, but to no avail. She had tried all manner of footwear, slippers, half boots, Hessians, even going with no shoes at all, but nothing gave her any relief. She just had to learn to live with her condition. Of course, living in constant agony did not dampen her otherwise cheerful spirits or her playful nature or her love of walking outdoors. These were quintissential attributes of her character.
And so it was at the Meryton Assembly during her 21st year, shortly after Netherfield Park had been let at last, that she was suffering through the misery of sitting out a dance, when she overheard herself being offered as a potential dance partner by the new resident of said Netherfield Park, who happened to be dancing with her sister, Jane, to a friend he had brought with him. The friend, a Mr. Darcy (as he called himself) refused to dance with her on account of her not being handsome enough to tempt him. Elizabeth was not sure whether to be more offended or amused by Darcy's observation, when Mr. Bingley made one last effort to encourage his friend to dance.
"But why do you put yourself through this torment? I know your feet hurt now, but they always hurt less when you are dancing than when sitting out a dance." He paused and upon getting a stern look from his friend he added, "Except when you're dancing with Caroline. I know that's the worst. But I do admire your committment to civility by dancing with her whenever we go to a ball together."
Mr. Bingley's comments about his friend's peculiar condition, of course, caught Elizabeth's attention and she could not help but stare openly at the two gentlemen.
"Speaking of civility," said Darcy, "why is that young lady staring at us in so rude a manner?"
Elizabeth now stood and walked over to the two gentlemen. "Forgive me, Sir," she said to Mr. Bingley. "I could not help but overhear your conversation. Did you say your friend here suffers from a painful affliction of the feet that is only made worse by not dancing?"
"Why yes," said Bingley, "it is the strangest thing. He has stumped every doctor in London. Allow me to introduce Mr. Darcy ...."
Once the introduction was made, Mr. Darcy had no choice but to ask Miss Elizabeth Bennet to dance. She began to explain that she suffered from the same condition but was forestalled by the sudden alleviation of that very condition when she entered the dance with Mr. Darcy. They stared at each other in a stupor as they began the figures of the dance. "How are your feet feeling, Mr. Darcy?" she asked after a few moments, with no small amount of curiosity.
"Surprisingly well," he responded. "My discomfort seems to have abated completely. I cannot remember a time when I felt so absolutely free of pain."
"Yes," she cried, in solidarity, "I seem to be experiencing the same relief! I am very well pleased that you asked me to dance after all. It has done wonders for my feet."
"Are you mocking me?" he asked sternly.
"Not at all, Sir," she reassured him. "I was going to tell you that I suffer from the same condition, but I was distracted by the complete removal of it when we began dancing!"
He seemed surprised. "That is odd," he said rather philosophically, perhaps still not sure whether she was being entirely honest with him. "How long have you suffered from this malady?"
"Since I was fifteen. It started at the first ball I attended."
"Hmm," he scoffed, "that is a little young to be out in society."
"Well, yes, but my sister, Jane, was sixteen and my mother was very anxious to have her out, and I was happy to accompany her." He made no response but seemed to nod in understanding. "How long have you been afflicted?"
"Since my first ball as well, at age nineteen."
"Nineteen? Do not you think that is a little old to enter society?"
"My parents were less anxious, I suppose, to thrust me into the world."
When the dance ended they walked away from the other couples towards Elizabeth's family, but gradually the painful sensations of both began to return.
"Miss Bennet," said Mr. Darcy, "we entered the last dance so late that we hardly got to dance any of it. Would you be kind enough to join me in another?"
"Certainly, Sir," she said with a smile.
This caused a bit of a stir and a buzz among the assembly-goers, so Mr. Darcy thought it best to put up with the pain rather than risk giving rise to rumors and expectations by dancing with the young lady a third time. But he found if he stood near her, the pain was far less intense than if he moved away from her. Soon they had moved to a pair of chairs in a corner of the room, where he kept her engaged in conversation through the remainder of the evening, much to the displeasure of Miss Bingley who looked on with contempt.
They spoke mostly of shoes. They compared the painful experiences they had endured, the treatments they had attempted, and the condition of their feet, which appeared completely normal. He was explaining that he had special shoes made by a renowned London cobbler at great expense. He removed one of his shoes and exhibited the workmanship to her. She, in turn, was moved by a sudden urge to try it on. And when she did, though his feet were visibly much larger than hers, it fit her perfectly.
Her eyes widened, "This is very comfortable," she said.
"Is it?" he asked in surprise. "Well move about, walk away from me and see what happens."
She did and she found that her pain did not return even when she was across the room from him. "I have tried men's shoes before," she said on returning to her seat, "but never with success."
Instead of handing him back his shoe, however, she handed him hers that she had removed. "Here, you try."
He looked at the shoe, then looked at her. "Don't be ridiculous."
She put her foot next to his and said, "I admit that your foot is visibly much larger than mine, and yet your shoe fit me perfectly! You should try mine."
He took the slipper from her and slipped it on his stockinged foot. It fit perfectly, to his utter amazement. He leapt from the chair and moved around the room in exquisite comfort. "I have not experienced such salutary footwear for nearly a decade! It never occurred to me to try women's shoes. Let me try the other one!"
She handed him her other slipper but he could not get it on. It would not fit. It was too small for his foot. She looked on in wonder and taking his other shoe, experienced the same problem. It was far too large for her foot. They suddenly looked at each other with apparently the same thought. She took off his shoe and put hers back on that foot, then his other shoe fit her other foot perfectly. He did the same, much to the astonishment of both.
"It seems in order to be comfortable, we each have to wear one shoe belonging to the other," said Darcy. "This is oddly fascinating."
"Yes," laughed Elizabeth, "but I don't even care what I must do, if it means I am able to get some relief. By all means wear my slipper home. I am not giving you back yours!"
He laughed in agreement and they left the ball in mutual satisfaction.
Elizabeth continued to enjoy the felicitous relief from her longstanding foot pain the whole way home. She had expected her condition to return the further away from the ball she traveled, but it did not happen. She continued to experience perfect comfort. Well, in her feet at least. Her mother castigated her the entire way home for "stealing" Mr. Darcy's shoe and making a fool of herself with him the entire evening.
"Do you think I care, Mama?" she cried adamantly, "At last I have relief. Do you understand what I am telling you? Oh, you don't know what I've suffered!"
"I am very happy your pain has abated, Lizzy," said Jane with compassion.
"I suppose Mr. Darcy will have to marry you now," said Lydia with a giggle.
"I do comprehend the benefit of such relief after so much long suffering," said Mary, "but I am not sure it is worth the damage to your reputation that must occur as a result of your behavior. And to say nothing of the sin of theft. Remember the commandment: 'Thou shalt not steal.'"
"I did not steal his shoe," cried Lizzy. "He gave it to me. Or, rather, I traded it to him for mine."
"I thought the shoe roses looked very well on him," said Lydia.
Kitty coughed and then broke into giggles with Lydia. The two laughed the rest of the way home.
When the Bennet ladies arrived at Longbourn, all Mr. Bennet had to say to his second daughter was, "You look ridiculous." Then after a moment's thought he added, "But I suppose this Mr. Darcy looks even more so."
But Elizabeth did not care and went to bed wearing her very comfortable mismatched shoes with a pain-free smile, thinking fondly of her happy dances with Mr. Darcy.
The next morning, Elizabeth put on one of her half boots to go out walking. She tried putting on the other one, but her foot pain returned in full force. She slipped on Mr. Darcy's dancing shoe instead, mumbling to herself, "This will not do, I shall have to get one of his boots."
She mentioned it to him when she saw him next at a dinner party. "I was thinking the same thing," he said, "It was not very convenient to go shooting in your dancing slipper."
"No, I imagine not," she said with a smile.
At their next few meetings they each brought a shoe to trade with the other, thus augmenting the collection of shoes they could comfortably wear. When they met at a party at Lucas Lodge, about a fortnight after the assembly ball, Darcy brought yet another boot for Elizabeth but sadly she could not reciprocate. "I am out of shoes, Mr. Darcy."
"Really?" he said with surprise, "I have many more pairs!"
"Somehow that doesn't surprise me at all," she said.
"I must confess something," he said in a whisper.
"Oh?" she asked with interest.
"I tracked down the maker of the first slipper you gave me in Meryton to craft a replica for me. But it did not work! The shoe was useless! Then I brought in my specialty cobbler from London and had him make a replica, also to no avail." Then he lowered his voice even further. "The most egregious behavior I have to confess is -- and I feel I must preface my disclosure by saying that my motivation for doing so was strictly scientific curiosity -- I tried on Miss BIngley's and Mrs. Hurst's shoes at Netherfield, but again with no success. Actually, the truth is, the idea only occurred to me after Miss Bingley offered me her shoe when I came home with yours from the ball. I turned her down, of course, but she has been relentless. Then I thought maybe .... But, her shoe made my feet feel worse than ever -- both of them, even though I only tried one shoe. And this evening, when I arrived at Lucas Lodge, I snuck into Miss Lucas' room and tried on her shoes." He sighed. "The result of my little experiment is that it seems I am only afforded relief by wearing exactly one of your shoes, Miss Bennet."
"You have been very busy," she said. Then waving at him dismissively, she added, "I tried every shoe I could get my hands on years ago."
As this sole-searching saga unfolded, Jane Bennet and Mr. Bingley were falling quickly and deeply in love. The morning after the Lucas Lodge party, Miss Bingley invited Miss Bennet to dine as the gentlemen were to be out. Jane rode on horseback through the rain and became ill, requiring her to spend the night. The next morning, Elizabeth went to Netherfield to visit her sister.
While there she and Mr. Darcy continued to discuss the inexhaustible topic of their mutual affliction and footwear. They agreed to consult together to have several pairs of shoes made by Darcy's cobbler while he was still in Meryton. "We will design them to match as closely as possible," he said, "so we look a little less ridiculous in public."
"I cannot thank you enough sir, for offering to undertake such an expense."
Jane and Elizabeth returned home from Netherfield to find a cousin of their father's who had come to visit. Elizabeth was too enthralled by the prospect of new shoes to much notice him or care for his nonsense. Once he was informed that Jane was almost engaged to Mr. Bingley and that Elizabeth had ... well, something going on with one of his friends, Mr. Collins turned his attention to Mary Bennet.
After Mr. Collins' arrival, Elizabeth made the acquaintance of an officer in Meryton named Mr. Wickham, who had known Mr. Darcy in his youth. Wickham immediately began to mock Darcy for always complaining about his foot afflication without ever being able to understand or explain it. This did little to ingratiate him with Elizabeth and she pointedly said she thought Mr. Darcy had delightful taste in shoes and turned the subject.
The day before the Netherfield Ball, Elizabeth received a delivery of several pairs of shoes. She took possession of them and wore each pair, which caused the return of her pain. Then she packed up one of each and sent them on to Netherfield, as she and Mr. Darcy had agreed. Later the same day she received a second delivery of single men's new shoes which matched very closely with the ones she had retained.
On the night of the ball her shoes looked so well one could scarcely see anything amiss in them. She had been pain-free for two months now but when she danced with Mr. Darcy the sensation was well beyond just being pain-free, she practically floated along the dance floor in delight.
After their dance was over, Mr. Darcy led Elizabeth away into the corridor. She thought he must have more shoes for her, but he had already been more than generous, "Where are you taking me?" she asked playfully.
He stopped and, looking back towards the ballroom down the corridor, said, "No further than this, I assure you. I only wanted to speak to you privately."
She looked at him expectantly.
He took her hand, "I have heard of a phenomenon .... Well my sister suggested it when I told her of our ... compatibility. She has read about it in some of her romance books. Have you considered the possibilty that we might be sole mates?"
"Soul mates?" asked Elizabeth. "That cannot be. I do not believe in soul mates. Besides, I don't have a mark on me. Perhaps, your sister should not read so many romance novels."
"No, no, not soul mates," he said, lifting his Elizabeth-shod-foot and pointing to it, "Sole mates ...."
"Ah," she replied. "What are you suggesting?"
"That perhaps we ought to get married."
"It would make sharing shoes much easier," she said contemplatively.
"Yes, exactly," he replied.
"Why not? I won't say no to the prospect of living without that horrible foot pain for the rest of my life."
"Excellent," he replied with a smile.
They returned to the ballroom and announced their engagement. Within two weeks, they had a quadruple wedding with Jane and Bingley and Mary and Collins and Lydia and Wickham (Elizabeth and Darcy had both been too distracted by their sole concern to notice Mr. Wickham's ungentlemanlike behavior in Meryton and he was forced to marry Lydia at the tip of Mr. Bennet's sword).
After their marriage Mr. and Mrs. Darcy discovered they could each return to wearing their own properly paired shoes without suffering the least discomfort. Once in a while though, they would switch it up just for kicks.